The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin

Called to holiness

“You therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).

4 principles from Pope St. JPII to a basic understanding of the spiritual journey –

[1] Union with God of this depth is totally unattainable by our own efforts; it is a gift that only God can give; we are totally dependent on His grace for progress in the spiritual life.

[2] At the same time our effort is indispensable.

[3] It’s important to assess what’s required before undertaking a task if we want to successfully complete it.

[4] We need to know that all the effort and pain is worth it!

The whole purpose of our creation, the whole purpose of our redemption is so that we may be fully united with God in every aspect of our being. The only way to the fulfillment of all desire is to undertake and complete the journey to God.

This journey is for everyone.

“In the first place it should be known that if anyone is seeking God, the Beloved is seeking that person much more” – St. John of the Cross

 

 

1st Stage – The Purgative Stage

 

Awakening and Conversion

[1] Carelessness about sin

“As for venial sins, I paid little attention; and that is what destroyed me.” – St. Teresa of Avila.

Teresa makes a very important distinction between deliberate, freely chosen venial sin (advertent) and venial sin that is not deliberately and freely chosen (inadvertent). Making a decision never to freely choose to commit even a small sin is an important turning point in the spiritual journey. Freely choosing to commit a “small” sin isn’t really a little thing if we are trying to live a life pleasing to God.

[2] Not avoiding the near occasions of sin

We need to ask God for the wisdom to identify those situations that weaken our resolve to resist sins and avoid them as much as possible.

[3] Self-reliance

A common reason people get discouraged early in the spiritual journey is due to relying on their own strength or intellect rather than on the Lord. There is a powerful tendency in fallen human nature to drift from God-reliance to self-reliance. Without Christ we can do nothing. It is prayer which roots us in this truth.

[4] Not valuing the graces of God

“But if the Lord sees that after He places the kingdom of heaven in the soul’s house this soul turns to earthly things, He will not only fail to show it the secrets there are in His kingdom but will seldom grant it this favor.” – St Teresa of Avila

We must grow attentive to the barely perceptible “lights” and “nudges” that the Holy Spirit wishes to give us: “he who visits in spirit comes secretly and stealthily like a shy lover.” – St. Bernard

 

The Biblical Worldview of the Saints

“All life is short, and the life of some extremely short. And how do we know if ours won’t be so short that at the very hour or moment we determine to serve God completely it will come to an end? This is possible. In sum, there is no reason to give importance to anything that will come to an end. And who will not work hard if he thinks that each hour is the last? Well, believe me, thinking this is the safest course.” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

The fear of the Lord – It is not just a concept, but an experience that predisposes us to wisdom (Ps 111:10). Fear of the Lord is a gift of God; it is not opposed to love, but prepares for it.

 

The transformation of thought, desire, and action

As we take on the “mind of Christ” we also take on His desires and participate in the dynamics of His active love.

If heaven exists, all of life on earth has to be evaluated in its light. Life on earth is passing; heaven is eternal; this has consequences for how we believe and make choices now.

“When the human heart gives itself to God, it loses nothing of its innate tenderness; in fact, this tenderness grows when it becomes more pure and more divine.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

“God gave me the grace of knowing the world just enough to despise it and separate myself from it.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

“Nothing but what belongs to the service of God should be the object of our joy. Any other joy would be vain and worthless, for joy that is out of harmony with God is of no value to the soul.” – St John of the Cross

 

The struggle against sin

Hatred for sin is important. Confidence in the mercy of God is even more important.

Jesus is patient with us, for He doesn’t like pointing everything out at once to souls. He generally gives His light little by little. We need a joyful resignation to the lifetime struggle with faults. To see that the more one advances, the more one sees the goal is still far off.

 

The importance of prayer

The spiritual life is not primarily about certain practices of piety and techniques of prayer, but about a relationship.

“Prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends” – St Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila makes the point that it isn’t whether the prayers are memorized or not or said out loud or not that determines their value, but whether we pay attention to what we’re saying and to whom we’re speaking.

“Refused to be satisfied with merely pronouncing the words.” – St Teresa of Avila

Don’t seek feelings of consolations in prayer. Seek the Lord, seek to conform your will to His!

 

Daily self-denial of St. Therese

Take advantage of the little things of daily life to deny yourself and take up your cross out of love for God and others.

“Don’t allow one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.” – St. Therese

Do not make excuses when you are blamed for something that isn’t your fault. At the last judgment everything will be revealed.

 

Spiritual gluttony

St. John of the Cross points out the danger of seeking pleasure in prayer rather than union with God.

“Once they do not find delight in prayer, or in any other spiritual exercise, they feel extreme reluctance and repugnance in returning to it and sometimes even give it up… They are like children who are prompted to act not by reason but by pleasure. All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; they can never read enough spiritual books, and one minute they are meditating on one subject and the next on another, always hunting for some gratification in the things of God.”

 

Dealing with temptation

Francis identifies 3 steps in the process of temptation:

[1] Sin is proposed to the soul.

[2] We are either pleased or displeased by the proposal.

[3] We consent to or reject the temptation to sin.

Francis points out that a crucial decision is actually made right after the temptation presents itself, at the stage where we are either initially pleased or displeased by it. Even if we have no intention of giving in to the temptation the decision to take pleasure in thinking about it for a while before rejecting it is both dangerous and damaging in itself.

We must reject both the pleasure and the temptation.

St. Catherine of Siena talks of the two-edged sword with which we fight the spiritual battle: one side is hatred for sin, the other is love for virtue.

Resisting temptations and enduring trials is one of the primary means of spiritual growth. The very attacks intended to defeat us in fact before the means to victory if we apply the wisdom of the saints in dealing with them.

We often pray for God to make us holy and then run away from the answer when it arrives in the form of trials and ordinary suffering. Many flee from the narrow road of life (Mt. 7:14) and seek the broad road of their own consolation, which is that of their own perdition (Mt. 7:13), thus they do not allow God to begin to grant their sanctification.

 

 

 Part II – Reaching Stability but Moving On (The Illuminative Way)

 

A Certain Stability

The saints speak of two main obstacles that hold us back from making progress on the journey: a lack of knowledge and a lack of desire.

[1] Lack of knowledge – combines self knowledge (beauty of our soul and understanding of our wounds from sin) and knowledge of God which leads to humility – a key step in the spiritual journey. “While we are on this earth nothing is more important to us than humility.” – St John of the Cross,

[2] Lack of desire – the alternating experience of both the presence and absence of God is intended to increase our desire for God. The more the soul knows of God the more the desire and anxiety to see Him increase. If we struggle with our desire for God, ask for it! and it will be given. Not all at once necessarily, but gradually, over time, as we persevere in asking. Ask the Father to draw us to Him by wounding us with love and purifying our desire through affliction. It’s important to realize how active the Lord is as we struggle along the road to full union with Him. It is He who “draws us.” Contemplation has a twofold dimension – contemplation that imparts understanding to the mind, and contemplation that inflames the will with love. We need a reasonable balance between the two.

 

Growing in freedom

Everything that exists is a gift from God. Yet oftentimes we look to the things and creatures created by God for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God Himself can provide.

Many spiritual writers call the process of unwinding this possessive, self-centered, clinging, and disordered seeking of things and persons “detachment.” The goal and process of detachment is not to stop loving the things and people of this world, but, quite the contrary, to love them even more truly in God, under the reign of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are almost always painful dimensions to this process of “letting go” in order to love more, but it’s the pain of true healing and liberation.

“They were made for you, not you for them, and so they can never satisfy you. Only I can satisfy you.” – Jesus to St. Catherine of Siena

It is neither the presence nor the absence of things that indicate true detachment, but rather, the interior freedom of heart that puts its trust not in things – possessing or keeping what we already have, or longing for what we don’t have – but rather in the Father’s care.

“The miser hungers like a beggar for earthly possessions, the man of faith has a lordly independence of them. The first is a beggar no matter what he owns, the latter by his very independence is a true owner.” – St Bernard

The wealth we have doesn’t belong to us, but has been given to us by the Lord, in trust, to be utilized under His rule.

Father Benedict Groeschel tells a story of his visit to a very impressive house of a religious order. He remarked, “If this is poverty I’d hate to see what celibacy is like.”

God has created earthly pleasures as signs, foretastes, and invitations to the pleasure of eternity. When they are sought apart from God as ends in themselves and not in accord with their purpose, they become obstacles.

“Law was given so that we might seek grace and grace was given so that we might observe the law.” – St. Augustine

Patience – it is not uncommon for us to be selectively patient – patient with the things we think it is reasonable to be patient with, or that we have a sympathy for, but impatient with the rest. Francis de Sales points out that our patience has to become a universal submission to the will of God, in humility.

Impatience is often rooted in pride, as it is an expectation that things should go the way I want them to go. True humility must involve detachment from our own impatient reactions, expectations, and judgments that are rooted in pride.

“The soul, therefore, who chooses to love me must also choose to suffer for me anything at all that I give her. Patience is not proved except in suffering, and patience is one with charity.” – Jesus to St. Catherine

Your neighbors – Other people are the pathway to growth of virtue. “You test the virtue of patience in yourself when your neighbors insult you. Your humility is tested by the proud, your faith by the unfaithful, your hope by the person who has no hope. Your justice is tried by the unjust, your compassion by the cruel, and your gentleness and kindness by the wrathful. Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth, just as the evil give birth to all their vices through their neighbors.” – St Catherine

The emptying that detachment brings about prepares us for an infilling of something greater. The something greater is not only a greater delight in God but a greater and truer delight in all He has created.

Humility – we must choose to humble ourselves, love our own weakness and spiritual poverty, accept the necessity of humiliations from God and from men. But it depends upon our response – meet humiliation with cheerfulness: “It was good for me that you humiliated me” (Ps. 118:71). Paul is an example of a man who joyfully accepted his humiliation and therefore received an infusion of God’s grace (see 2 Cord. 12:9).

God will sometimes permit our reputation to be taken away from us to either give us a better one or make us profit by “holy humility, of which a single ounce is preferable to a thousand pounds of honor.” – St Francis de Sales

 

Growing in Love

What the spiritual journey is all about is growing in love, fulfilling the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbor completely.

Jesus gave us a challenge in the Sermon on the Mount: to extend the boundaries of our love and our hearts beyond the natural affections of family and friends.

Love of neighbor – the more the soul grows in love for God, the more the soul will also grow in love for its neighbor. We were made to need one another, not just for material things but for spiritual things as well. Ways to love our neighbor – intercessory prayer, good example, counsel, advice, and spiritual and material help. Also, be willing to leave the preferred state of “contemplation” to meet the needs of others.  We can love our neighbors in the same way that He loves us, gratuitously – that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself.

The surest way to love our neighbor, St. Teresa of Avila advises, is not to dream of doing big deeds for our neighbor “one day,” but to take advantage of the little, everyday opportunities that present themselves in ordinary life.

If you see a person praised, the Lord wants you to be much happier than if you yourself were praised. This, indeed, is easy, for if you have humility you will feel sorry to see yourself praised. When you see faults in your neighbor, be sorry and hide the fault as though it were your own. Strive to accept work so as to relieve your neighbor of it.

Beg our lord to give you perfect love of neighbor. For if we fail in love of neighbor we are lost.

The value of godly friendships – find a spiritual friend as a help and a guide. Since friendship is “mutual love”, it should be formed only with those who can share love for Christ and the life of virtue. St Thomas Aquinas considered true friendship a virtue. “Perfection consists not in having no friendships, but in having only those which are good, holy, and sacred.” – St Francis de Sales. Love and relationships that are in Jesus are the only love and relationships that can fulfill the dream of the human heart.

 

Growing in Prayer

Growing in prayer is simply another dimension of growing in love.

The greatest labor for prayer and meditation is in the beginning because it is the beginner who works while the Lord gives the increase. Simply “showing up” for prayer time evidences our desire to be with the Lord.

If we just do the little bit we can, He’ll be able to continue the process of transformation, even if prayer is sleepy and dry. Even if we are not fully attentive in our prayer, little by little, even imperfect prayer will change us.

Even if our prayer doesn’t seem to be bearing fruit on the level of our conscious intellect, it may very well bear fruit on the level of strengthening our will. By persevering we embrace the Cross.

“For there are many who begin, yet they never reach the end. I believe this is due mainly to a failure to embrace the cross from the beginning; thinking they are doing nothing, they become afflicted. When the intellect ceases to work, they cannot bear it. But it is then perhaps that their will is being strengthened and fortified, although they may not be aware of this.” – St Teresa of Avila

Even if our prayer seems barren and unproductive, our perseverance serves and gives pleasure to the Lord.

“Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us” – St Teresa of Avila

It’s important to remember that for all the saints, prayer is not something that is primarily about technique, or having certain experiences, but it’s about growing in a relationship.

 

Help from Heaven

God increases the desire in us for Himself by means of various graces. We seek for ways that we can respond by spending more time in prayer and eliminating unnecessary things that distract from this union. This “greater solitude” can involve reducing or eliminating certain entertainments or activities that aren’t necessary or are excessive. It can also involve decisions to increase times of prayer, spiritual reading, etc.

The test of the authenticity of spiritual experience is the fruit it produces in how our lives are actually lived, the test of love and virtue.

The Kingdom Principle: He who is faith in responding to small graces will be given greater.

The key to remember for all types of visions, prophecies and words from God, is to focus on building up our relationship with God, rather than in the specific vision of word from God itself. We must “walk in faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). God is preparing our soul for union by giving us these graces but our job is not to possessively grasp them, but simply let them do their work and move on towards the goal of union with God Himself.

 

A Deeper Purification

Pride – Beware of actions in the spiritual life that come from prideful self-will to impress our spiritual directors, vying to outdo our spiritual “rivals”, speaking of spiritual things so as to be praised, or by condemning others in our heart who don’t appear to have the same devotion as us. Our relationship with God needs to be the sole reason for our spiritual actions.

Spiritual avarice – many never have enough of pursuing “spiritual input” through hearing talks, seeking advice, or reading books, and become discontent if they don’t find the consolation in these things that they are seeking. Attempting to “possess” or amass spiritual things is ironically just the opposite of that poverty of spirit that is necessary to enter the kingdom. This attachment to decorated images and rosaries, to one cross over another, to relics, etc – this attachment leads to possessiveness of heart and is contrary to poverty of spirit, which is intent only on the substance of the devotion. True devotion comes from the heart.

Anger – not uncommon for people making progress on the spiritual journey to become angry at the sins and failings of others, “setting themselves up as lords of virtue” St John of the Cross says.

Spiritual gluttony – can express itself by desiring to do the pious practices that we prefer rather than what is most helpful and most in harmony with our state in life or in obedience to a spiritual director. The desire for spiritual gratification can be an underlying motivation rather than a desire to conform ourselves to God’s will.

For example, with your heart set of frequent Communion, you make confession carelessly, more eager just to receive Communion than to receive it with a pure a perfect heart… In receiving Communion, they spend all their time trying to get some feeling and satisfaction rather than humbly praising and reverencing God dwelling within them. They fail to understand sensory benefits are the least among those that this most blessed Sacrament bestows, for the invisible grace it gives is a greater blessing.

Spiritual sloth – beginners in the spiritual journey become weary in exercises that are more spiritual and flee from them since these exercises are contrary to sensory satisfactions. Because of their sloth, they subordinate they way of perfection (which requires denying one’s own will and satisfaction for God) to the pleasure and delight of their own will.

This purification isn’t optional. It’s necessary. It’s not a question of “if” but “when.” If the purification doesn’t take place in this life it will have to happen in purgatory if we are to be able to see God.

Suffering trials – Saint Vincent de Paul speaks of the violence of the sculptor who chips off marble that doesn’t belong so that the beautiful figure that he is carving may be revealed. Everything unclean must go. Everything twisted and bent as a result of sin must be straightened. Every attachment that is not to the Lord and in the Lord must be broken.

Why do we go through trials? This purification is necessary for humility to deepen and to know our total dependence on God. It is not an end in itself but raises us to a higher level of union with God. And the more the purification that can be undergone here on earth, the better.

 

Part 3 – The Unitive Way

 

Deep Union

The painful aspects of the journey, as the saints tell us, are “worth it” because of what they make possible, what the saints call spiritual marriage or nuptial union.

… [ to be continued ]

 

 

Comments

  1. This is awesome, thanks for the hard work!

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