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The Spiritual Life: Notes

The Spiritual Life:
Some More Notes

(Excerpts)

They deceive themselves who think that
union with God
consists of
ecstasies and delights in Him. 
It consists of nothing else than
the submission of our will,
with our thoughts, words, and actions,
to the will of God.
Union is perfect when the will is detached
from everything
and adheres totally to God in such a manner
that its every movement is nothing other
than the pure will of God.
This is the true and essential union
which I have always desired
and unceasingly asked of God.
—St. Teresa of Avila

 

 

A gradual conversion, turning away from a self-centered worldly way of life to a God-centered Christian way of life, over a period of, say, three months to three years, is more common than a sudden or dramatic conversion such as we see in the life of St. Paul.

At each new level of grace and charity in the spiritual life we need to adjust to a new way of being and of operating in our thoughts, words and deeds that is more Christlike and spiritual, more humble and holy.  As the “old man” weakens, withers, and dies inside of us, so, too, do our old ways of thinking, talking and acting that are unChristian or sinful.  New ways need to be found and followed, by the grace of God, so that we can grow up in God and become mature Christians, able to follow the inspirations and enlightenments of the Holy Spirit, along with right reason as needed.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I came not to bring peace, but the sword.” (Matt. 10:34)  We cooperate with the grace of God in putting the “old man” to death by using the sword of self-hate to dig out and destroy the sin within us that has been revealed to us by the light of the Holy Spirit.  This self-contempt or self-hate, rightly understood and practiced, is contempt or hate for the “old self” or “old man,” the puffed up pride inside of us, the false or phony ego of the “old man” together with its selfish attachments and desires, all of which needs to die in order for the new life of Christ and His Divine grace, the “New Man,” to take its place.  This “self-hate” may seem extreme or radical, but it is the Gospel.  “If any man comes to me, and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)  Clearly, our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ must come before all else in the Christian life.  Consequently, we are to hate whatever hinders us from fulfilling God’s will, whatever weakens or wounds our relationship with God (whether that be from the devil, the world, or the flesh).  At the same time, we are to love our neighbor as ourself, which is to love whatever comes from God and leads us to Him, whatever good there is in ourselves or others that can bring us closer to God and help us to be more united to Him, but to hate sin because it separates us from Him.

The self-examination and active purgation of sin, in cooperation with grace, that is necessary at the beginning of the spiritual life should lead to self-forgetfulness in the presence of God and abandonment to His Holy Will as soon as possible.  It is only to make more space for grace, to experience the Divine presence on a deeper level, that we need to root out and remove, as far as we can, the obstacles of sin within.  By becoming more like Christ in our thoughts and attitudes, in our practice of charity and virtue and holy desires, we can help prepare the way for the coming of Christ into our lives on a deeper level and in a new way—“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.’” (John 14:23)  This indicates a deeper conversion, a spiritual resurrection and the beginning of infused contemplation.

Many times in the spiritual life, God keeps us in the dark, in the sense that He chooses not to reveal more about our spiritual state of soul, of where we are at in the spiritual life, in order to protect us from spiritual pride or vainglory on the one hand, or from undue fear and discouragement on the other.  Either way, it is Wisdom Incarnate (Christ the Lord) who leads us.  Hold on to Him in your thoughts and desires, in your heart and soul, even when you do not “feel” His presence or “see” Him in the same way as before.  When you are ready, when the time is right, He will reveal more to you by the light and love of the Holy Spirit.  After the dark night comes the morning sunlight of spiritual freedom and peace in God’s presence.

The two parts of “Abandonment to Divine Providence” were perfectly practiced by Our Lady of the Angels, Holy Mary.  The passive part is signified by her words at the Incarnation—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  The active part is signified by her words to the waiters at the marriage feast—“Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

We deserve nothing, but God has given us everything.  It is all a gift of His infinite love, mercy and forgiveness, kindness and goodness.  Out of nothing He created everything, and every human person with their own intellect and free will, soul and body.  We can take credit for nothing.  Whatever good we do, in thought, word or deed, we could not do if we did not exist, and whatever good we do with the help of grace can only come from God’s active participation, “for without Me, you can do nothing”—that will bring us closer to God and union with Him, our only true happiness and salvation. (John 15:5)  Free will is free, and merits a reward from the Lord for making good choices, but not absolutely.  We could not “merit” anything if we did not exist or did not have a spiritual soul with intellect and free will.  Good choices made with grace and according to God’s will are meritorious not because we deserve it or have it coming in strict justice, but because God has chosen to bless our efforts at cooperating with Him, as is fitting, but not required, strictly speaking.  Everything is a gift.  All good comes from God, ultimately.  Let us praise and thank Him, and in the reality of humility, let us take credit for nothing but our sin, and give God all the honor, glory, praise and thanksgiving—all the credit—for all that is good.  He will not fail to fulfill His promises beyond imagining, if we do not fail to love Him to the end, with undaunted and intrepid faith, unrelenting hope, and final perseverance.  “All glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving be to the Most Holy Trinity!—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.  Amen.”

 

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