A Journey Through the Spiritual Life (#3)
Jesus is Lord of your life
Around the time I returned to the faith, my father sold me his Mercedes-Benz. At the time Mercedes did not sell entry level cars, so I was excited to be able to buy a luxury car that had been well taken care of at a reasonable price. I fell in love with the car.
My most vivid memory of how much I loved the car involved the feeling when I picked it up at the airport after a business trip. Often returning late at night from a week of travel, I would pick up my car at the airport, settle into the driver’s seat and smile. It was a warm, comforting feeling and made me happy to drive my car home from the airport.
As I became more active in my spiritual life, I was praying more and learning to examine the movements of my heart more closely. I started to notice my love of the car. I paid attention when I had that warm happy feeling driving the car. It did not seem right to me—it was a disordered affection and a strong feeling. Trying to “let it go,” however, really did nothing. So I started praying about it, asking the Lord to deliver me from this attachment to a possession.
One trip, I returned home late to Dulles airport. I retrieved my car, put the suitcase in the trunk and climbed in. I realized that the feeling was gone. I no longer “loved” my car in a disordered way. Thanks to Jesus, I was able to die to self in this area of my life.
What are you attached to that is holding you back from a deeper relationship with God?
The Scriptures teach us that the path forward as a Christian begins with self-denial. Jesus told His disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”1 In St. Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”2 St. Paul spells out how this works spiritually in more depth in his Letter to the Romans—"if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him."3
The first age of the spiritual life involves the purgation and perfecting of the senses with the objective of purity of heart.4 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”5 This process involves cleansing our hearts from all stain of sin, making satisfaction for our faults and rooting out all evil inclinations and disordered attachments.6 In other words, we need to get rid of the spiritual barnacles! My love for my car was one of many disordered attachments and imperfections that I needed to—and still need to—work through with the Lord. It is a process.
God ministers to us where we are. Before our soul is purified, our senses are very involved in our relationship with God. The soul is not in a position to experience those lights which are entirely spiritual.7 If we were to experience a mystical touch of God, it would only throw us into confusion as God’s presence confronted our imperfections. “God mercifully conceals such things from fervent souls so that they will not be overwhelmed or discouraged. He discloses these imperfections only by degrees and in the measure needful to purify souls and subject them to new trials.”8
This purification is necessary to receive God’s love. “If our hearts are full of selfishness and sin we can never receive the pure selfless loving of God, in this world or the next.”9 Our daily exercise routine of prayer disposes us to receive this love. “The very essence of all authentic Christian prayer is that we continually try to raise our hearts and minds to God in acts of selflessness, and not in seeking instant self-satisfaction in the way of inner peace or mindfulness.”10 Therefore, we must embark on the path of self-denial. “No one can see God, or even hear His voice, unless he dies to self.”11
The tools of humility and mortification (i.e. the spirit and practice of detachment from sensible things and from self) prepare us for the deeper life of prayer.12 To reach the illuminative way and move forward in the spiritual life, the soul must advance toward God in sanctity and purity of life.13 “If we work seriously to annihilate self and give no heed to pride and self-love, but wholeheartedly accept the little contradictions we encounter, then little by little we shall cease to be disturbed by what is thought or said of us or the way we are treated.”14
Denial of self also means not doing things our way, but doing things the Lord’s way. “We must allow ourselves to be led by the path which our Lord has chosen for us. . . . The good Shepherd leads His sheep as He judges best. . . . He leaves certain souls for a rather long time in difficulties in order to inure them to the struggle.”15 During the process of active purgation, we discover that we are seriously wounded; our evil is extensive and deeply rooted. We cannot do it ourselves; we need divine help to root it out.16 We must not make peace with our faults!17
Have courage—God comforts us in the process of purification by giving spiritual lights, rewards, consolations and sensible fervors.18 But we only receive this encouragement from God if we persevere in prayer. “Prayer is a process of continual inner conversion that involves gently trying to turn, open and surrender the heart to God.”19 “This grace of [the prayer of] simplicity is not obtained by speculation, but by a great purity of heart and true mortification and self-contempt; whoever flees suffering, humiliation and death to self will never enter it. This is also the reason why there are so few who advance in it, because hardly anyone wishes to give up self.”20
If we are faithful to prayer and work on overcoming our faults and imperfections, God will eventually lead us into the desert. God tills the soil. He pulls out the evil roots and remains of sin; he shows us the vanity of the things of this world and the quest for honors.
To move forward, one must go through a second conversion in which we are stripped of consolations. “Gradually, a new life begins, as in the natural order when the child becomes an adolescent.” But this new life begins only if we have taken the time to build a life of daily prayer, founded on Christian meditation.21
My prayer for you today in the Name of Jesus is that God would grant you courage to persevere in humble prayer and mortification of self-love, that the Holy Spirit would guide you onward in your journey and illuminate any worldly attachments that are blocking a more intimate relationship with Him, and that you would be granted true consolation in the spirit from our Lord Jesus Christ to encourage you to persevere in daily prayer. Take strength in the truth that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”22
Power Tools for Prayer, Chapters 3-4 (Righteousness & Obedience).
The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life (frequently cited in footnotes), Active Purification of the Imagination and Memory, pp. 342-352, Active Purification of the Intellect, pp. 353-364, Active Purification of the Will, pp. 365-378, The Mental Prayer of Beginners, pp. 444-454.
Phil. 2:6-11; Luke 6:46-49; Mark 2:23-27; Acts 10:34-43; Romans 6:5-14; Mark 14:32-42; Revelation 1:10-18.
Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry.
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Fr. John G. Arintero, OP, Vol. 2, The Mystical Evolution, at 49 (1951). “The shortest and surest way of attaining to perfection is to study purity of heart.” Id., at 60 n.23 (quoting Lallemant, Spiritual Doctrine III, 1, art. 2).
Mystical Evolution, at 50.
Id., at 69.
Id., at 64.
Id., at 263.
Mystical Evolution, at 65 (see Exodus 33:20).
Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life, at 454.
Mystical Evolution, at 65.
Id., at 63.
Three Ages, at 459.
Mystical Evolution, at 63.
Id., at 319.
Id., at 69.
Primacy of Loving, at 40.
Three Ages, at 452.
Lectio divina, praying meditatively with the Scriptures, is the most common form of Christian meditation. It is important to learn how to meditate consistent with the Christian tradition, and not participate in modern or New Age types of “meditation.” Christians should not participate in New Age practices or spirituality under any circumstances. See Letter on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (1989).