|THE REAL PRESENCE||CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST|
Many of those on a spiritual journey often wonder where they are, where others are, and how to recognize the more evident sign posts along the way. Several of the prominent works on spirituality, some of which are the Dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena, the Spiritual Conferences of Johann Tauler, O.P., Three Ages of the Interior Life by Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., The Mystical Evolution by Fr. John Arintero, O.P., the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola, especially his spiritual diary, the works of St. John of the Cross, especially Dark Night of the Soul and the Spiritual Canticle, and the works of St. Teresa of Avila, especially her Interior Castle, any many others not mentioned above, all in one way or another try to help us along the way. It is worthy of note that St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila are extensively referenced in almost all other works on spirituality which followed them in time, and therefore they, together with St. Catherine of Siena, are a very rich source of advice. We must also recognize that these giants of spirituality often did not work in isolation. St. John of the Cross was, for a time, the spiritual director of Teresa of Avila, and we can only guess as to how they must have helped each other, both having become Doctors of the Church. And we know that Teresa of Avila was quite influenced by the works of Ignatius of Loyola and Louis of Grenada.
One of the things found in almost all these works is an understanding of the three major levels of conversion we must go through in order to reach the ultimate destiny desired by Our Lord for all souls, namely that state generally described as the transforming union or spiritual marriage of the soul with God. The intent here is to try to summarize what those three conversions are, why they are necessary, and the signs to look for which tell us when they are necessary.
First, we must recognize that conversion is not a single discrete event. Even when St. Paul was knocked from his horse, that was only the beginning of his conversion process, not the complete event. Conversion is thus a process. It may begin with a discrete event, but it is a progressive state characterized by a desire of the soul to come closer to God, coupled with the grace shed on the soul through which God communicates Himself to the soul to some level and degree. The whole process is fueled by one thing; love. Love of the soul by God, and love of God by the soul, is the force which draws the two beings, God and the soul, together like opposite poles of magnets until, absent resistance by the soul, the two eventually unite spiritually while also preserving the individual identity and function of the soul.
As we progress through the conversion process, the soul is largely the determinant of the extent to which the process will reach. It is the soul's cooperation with grace that will determine whether it experiences all three levels of conversion, or even any conversion at all. As the soul progresses, it is helpful to remember that the soul will enter into three stages of relationship with God, each characterized and initiated by a conversion experience. We begin as strangers to God, and being such we are generally in that category of souls Teresa of Avila would describe, in her Interior Castle, as being outside the walls of the castle. How far outside, how far away from the castle we are depends on how much we have rejected the grace of God and embraced the temporal gods of this world. If we respond to the call of grace and desire to enter into the castle, we may then progress from stranger to servant, from servant to friend, and, finally, from friend to the state of spiritual union with God, the transforming union.
I tend to think of this whole process as if the world were a large, flat plain teeming with souls, each preoccupied with the delectable things of this world. Rising out of this plain are three plateaus all in a line, each successive one higher than the preceding. The first and lowest plateau has a ladder from the ground to the top. Between the three plateaus there are two connecting bridges that one must cross to get from the top of one to the top of the next. The ladder, and each bridge, represents a conversion process we must go though to get to the next level of relationship with God.
Every now and then, someone living on the plains will look up from their all-consuming preoccupations with the world, notice the ladder on the first plateau, wonder what is on top, and begin to climb the ladder, dragging up with them the things of the world to which they are still attached. On top of this first plateau they will meet others who were similarly curious and who are exploring what is there. The more they explore and discover God's treasures, the more they discard their worldly treasures in exchange for some of the spiritual treasures God provides for them. However, they still hold fast to some of the treasures they brought with them. Eventually, someone will notice the next plateau, and will work their way to the connecting bridge. To cross this bridge, one must leave behind most of the worldly treasures he or she brought up with them, for the gate leading to the bridge, and the bridge itself, is too narrow for it all to fit through. For reasons not always well understood by the soul, the treasures found on the plateau seem to fit through the gate quite easily, and are no hindrance in crossing the bridge. It becomes apparent one must purge oneself of the appetites for the world and seek the additional treasures which one now understands will be on the second plateau. This transition to the second plateau is what Teresa describes in her pivotal fourth mansion in the Interior Castle.
Many souls remain on the first plateau for the rest of their earthly existence, unable to shed enough of the world. Either because of their strong attachments to those few precious things of Earth they still have, or, mindful of Jesus' admonition in Mt 10:38 and Lk 9:23 to take up our cross if we wish to come after Him and be worthy of Him, and because they fear to face the purgations they know they must endure, they never respond to the grace in a way that will lead them toward that first bridge over which they pass into spiritual adolescence. Only a relative few souls choose this path, mindful of the ecstasy awaiting them, and disregarding any cross they might have to endure to get there.
Naturally, during each stage of conversion there is a progressive advance. The writers mentioned above all tell us that there is no such thing as standing still in ones relationship with God. One either progresses or one falls back. There is no marking time in place. We each take very different times to move through a given stage depending on how well we cooperate with the graces we receive. Some may get so far and not be able to progress farther toward the next plateau because of their preferential attachments to things other than God. Their situation is similar to that of the rich official in the gospel of Luke, at Luke 18:18-23. He kept the commandments, and lived a good life, but could not completely turn his back on his worldly treasures. In such a case, these souls must content themselves with seeking whatever grace and virtue they can among the treasures on the plateau where they are, even if they always remain on the first. If they do not continue this search, they find themselves in danger of sliding backward toward that second ladder, previously unnoticed, which leads back to the plains below. Others on the plateau may progress very rapidly, and may even move almost immediately to the third plateau, into the spiritual union, because of a special call and grace for a task God has for that soul. This rapid progress is the exception, not the norm.
It is important to note here that it is possible, in fact it is the desire of God, that all souls reach the final destiny of mystical union with God, regardless of their state and vocation in life. Mystical union is not a state reserved only to those in the monastic community. All are called. How many respond is almost exclusively a function of cooperation with grace. No one has the excuse that he or she was not called. They who do not respond can only acknowledge their preference for things of this world, or their fear of what might be requested of them in order to complete the journey. This fear is usually a characteristic result of a lack of trust in God, the result of a diminished knowledge and understanding of His infinite love for the soul. This may be their own fault, or the fault of those who were their teachers. It is usually only through prayer and meditation that this hesitation can be overcome, and to reach the fulfillment of God's desire for us we must pray unceasingly.
The first conversion is found in those who respond to the grace by which they desire to climb the ladder to the top of the first plateau, to enter into the first mansions of Teresa's Interior Castle. This can be likened in many ways to the call of the apostles by Jesus in Matthew 4:18-22. "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men", He told them, and they responded. The analogy was apparently not lost on these men as they responded to grace. As fishermen, they knew that fish were living, but when they were caught they died. But when they would fish for men, the men would be spiritually dead and through Jesus and His apostles they would be given the life of grace and gain eternal life. At this initial stage, when first called, the soul is in an exploratory and searching mode. Its relationship with God is one of servitude, possibly one of fear, and the punishment of hell may be a major initial motivator.
However, regardless of the initial motivator, the soul comes to realize that the development of an interior life is essential, even exciting, involves the whole person, is an exploration that will take a lifetime, and thus must be a life's work. The soul realizes conversion is not a one time event, and that once on the journey the soul is now changed forever. It hears the call of St. Paul to "put on the new man".
The soul finds it now has a serious concern for the interior life. The person avoids mortal sin, avoids deliberate venial sin, and begins to practice forms of both interior and exterior mortification, and develops a serious prayer life. For some, usually only a few, this purgation of the senses, the turning away from the appetites for the world, is intense, while for others it is somewhat less than intense, and some may even fall into serious sin from time to time. They will usually, however, have the actual grace to seek out the sacraments and return to a state of sanctifying grace.
At this stage, theology is very important, although it will become less important later. It is important because it serves as a framework, a scaffolding so to speak, that helps shape the structure of our growing interior life, and keeps it from collapsing because of bad design and error. The principles of theology taught through the ages in Scripture and enhanced to the apostles by Jesus, and the framework Jesus gave us of His Church and its teaching magisterium, give us the governance we need to build a spiritual life on solid foundation. This will be very important as we encounter resistance from the world and later as we approach the time of our second conversion.
We find developing within the serious beginner a zeal for souls, for to love God we desire that all men do likewise. And we find that the more we share God with others, the more we possess Him ourselves. We begin to see, Garrigou-LaGrange tells us, that a desire for material possessions divides us, for no two of us can fully posses the same material thing. But the possession of God unites us, for the more we possess Him the more we share Him, and the more we share, the more fully we possess Him. Thus the search for God in our lives becomes a primary motivator. We appreciate more fully the gospel promise at Mt 7:7, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you." Jesus did not just hold out a possibility, but rather gave us the certainty that if we will truly seek Him out, we will find Him. And so we must "seek first the kingdom of God".
As the soul progresses in this beginning stage, it enjoys certain consolations from God, given by Him to inspire and encourage the soul to continue its discovery of Him. We find that rosaries turn gold, people see the spinning sun, they have all manner of spiritual experiences that are not explained by the laws of nature. They feel the interior call of God deep within them and they desire to respond. For what may be the first time in their lives, they understand God has a personal interest in them as an individual, not just as a member of the larger human race.
As we begin to explore this first plateau, we look down at the plains below and see more clearly the effect of a world which tries to live without God. We had lost the sense of what love is about, and found ourselves 'loving' things, possessions, power, fame, and especially self, above all else, including God. So part of this exploration is an exploration of self, while also a discovery of God. We think of the name of God and recognize that our names identify who we are among so many others, but God's name identifies what He is, not who, for He is unique. He is I AM, the Ancient One, the Almighty One, and Our Father. The awesomeness of son-ship with God, to partake of His nature through sanctifying grace, begins to gel within us as we see references throughout scripture to the possibility of this new condition. The excitement mounts, and as we seek to close the gap between ourselves and God, we also find the vastness of the differences between us and God. All the marvelous qualities in our selves that we took such pride in when we lived on the plains, now pale in comparison to even an iota of the power and majesty and beauty and love of God upon Whom we realize we are completely dependent. And yet we are also filled with Hope, for we realize the infinite love He has for us which has brought us here, and how much He wants to unite us with Himself.
And so we continue to explore ourselves and our relationship with God. As Teresa would say, we explore the various rooms of the first, second and third mansions. We learn some of how God works in our lives, and we learn the necessity of cooperation with His grace so that we might love Him more. We discover a growing desire for spiritual cleanliness, a desire for sanctifying grace. Our attendance at Mass, which might have been done, if at all, once a week through a sense of duty, is now done, as often as possible, out of a desire to grow in grace and wisdom as we partake of the gift of the Eucharist and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We now have a new goal, to "be ye perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48)", and suddenly we are profoundly aware of the absolute dependence we have on God to achieve this state. We can help through cooperation with grace, but God has to bring us to that state. No matter how gifted we may be, we cannot get there on our own. We approach God through the eyes of Faith, not through the clarity of the Beatific Vision. The closer we come to God, the more of Himself He communicates to us, the more insignificant we understand we are compared to Him, and the more we understand the power and extent of His infinite Love for each of us individually. The more this happens the more easily we discard the worldly baggage we brought with us.
We have undergone our first conversion. We have passed from mortal sin to a state of sanctifying grace. We have passed from indifference toward God, lukewarmness towards Him, to a growing fervor and desire to possess Him as fully as possible. We are tending to go beyond ourselves, and to make God the center of our lives instead of ourselves. We live for Him, and all the while we grow in love for Him and for each other. The more we love the more we understand it is God's gift of love that we experience, for true love itself is always His supernatural gift. By giving us love, He is sharing Himself with us and communicating knowledge of Himself to us. We have learned the meaning of seeking God first. We begin to understand what the gospel is telling us: "Instead seek His kingdom and these other things will be given you besides. (Lk 12:31). But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides. (Mt 6:33). For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Lk 12:34, Mt 6:21." None of this will happen if we continue to seek first the things of the world. For many, it is a wrenching experience.
In this first state as a beginner, beginning in spiritual infancy, we were going through an active purgation. We have been maturing toward adolescence, shedding our attachments to the world as best we could, and developing a different set of attachments, ones more fitting to a spiritually mature person. We have been developing attachments to God, replacing activities in the world with activities directed toward God, and have been developing an active life of prayer and meditation. With the action of grace, God has been positioning us, through self-knowledge, humility, and love for God and fellow man, for a transition, a second conversion, from beginner to proficient. We believe we are ready to enter the gate leading onto the first bridge, the one which will bring us to the second plateau. In the Interior Castle, Teresa identifies this as the fourth mansions.
If we do cooperate, we will be prepared for the second conversion through a more passive purgation of the senses. If we are successful and do cross over the first bridge, as we step upon the surface of the second plateau we enter what is referred to as the illuminative way. To get there, we have a spiritual crisis to handle, and thus we have a need for a second conversion. John of the Cross speaks of this in Dark Night, and this second conversion is one of purgation of egoism.
God's love for us brought us from being a stranger to being His servant, and now we perceive He wants to make us His friends, if we will but cooperate. We understand the need for humility, for we have a clear knowledge that the awesome power of the sanctifying grace, which is gradually divinizing our souls more and more, is a purely gratuitous gift of God, a pure gift of His love for us, and not something we deserve or to which we are entitled as a matter of right on our own merits. We are now passing from spiritual infancy to spiritual adolescence. In this as yet unfamiliar terrain, Tauler tells us to "Cling to those who cling to God, so that they may draw you with them to God. And may our loving God Himself help us to this end." This is good advice for those on any plateau, and those on the plains below.
In the terminology of spirituality, on this second plateau we are transitioning from beginner to proficient. This process may take a few weeks or a few years. Generally, it is not a quick process, but each of us is different. If we fail to cross this first bridge, we either return to a life of sin or exhibit a condition of arrested spiritual development. Some, like the prodigal son of the gospel, confuse liberty with license and, by returning to a focus on themselves and the world at least for a time, lose all they had gained. We are gradually approaching that first bridge. How do we cross over onto the second plateau? Do we have the courage?
Initially, we are able, through only our reason, to come to a knowledge of God as First Cause. Having done so, we could come to a relationship with God characterized as master-servant. On our own, through reason, we can go no farther. We are His servant, not His child. We will have admiration, awe, and respect for God, all the things that characterize a servitude. But by operation of sanctifying grace received through the sacraments, His free gift to us, we are able to come to the true natural end of the soul, that of a filial relationship with God. And even more, we learn that even while here on earth we can come to union with Him. God brings us to a condition of friendship with our Savior, and we inherit with Him the filial status of an adopted son of our heavenly Father. We enter into a Divine life through which we have a relationship of encountering the indwelling Trinity. In Heaven, we will see God as He sees Himself, in all His glory, in all His aspects; all united in one simple, supreme, uncreated and infinite Being whose force and power is communicated always through His infinite Love. It takes time to grasp all this. It takes preparation on the first plateau, and on each succeeding plateau.
Thus there is the need to cast away all that hinders our unification with God, all that acts as a barrier to His Love. We begin as a pane of glass that is clouded and filthy, and the more we purge ourselves of the things of the world and the more grace we obtain, the cleaner the glass becomes, until finally the power of God's love for us streams through and fills the soul with His nature. This is accomplished within the framework provided by our growing knowledge of God gained through scripture, tradition, theology and the teaching magisterium of the Church. These shape and mold our growing understanding in the way God intended, for these are the tools He gave us to use. It is also necessary to live the virtues. Tauler tells us in his Spiritual Conferences (pg. 47) that the three virtues we should concentrate on are Humility, love and prudence. He says, "Humility must be the foundation and we must build on it with love and reason and prudence. Children, there are many who have gone far in developing their intellectual powers, and made great reputations for themselves as scholars, but have not traveled along this way. They will all tumble down, and fall into the abyss. The higher the mountain, the deeper the valley." He tells us further (pg. 50) that even though many have attained the state of proficient, "they go on indulging in the activity of their own intellect, and take such great pleasure and joy in this that they cannot attain to the highest truth." If this condition persists, they can not progress beyond the second plateau. They will never come to union with God. Tauler calls them God's false lovers who do all things, not for pure love of God, but always with an eye for their own advantage.
This second conversion, like the first, has its own scriptural counterpart in the apostles. It occurred for them at the time of the Passion. The apostles, concerned more for self than for God, abandoned Jesus in His hour of need. The conversion experience occurred for Peter when he had denied Jesus three times, and as Jesus looked at him when the cock crowed. Peter wept bitterly, humiliated by his weakness. He recognized himself more then than ever before, saw his true self, and experienced profound contrition. Just prior to this second conversion, the apostles having been prepared for it for three years by Jesus, He gives them His lesson on friendship during the last supper. In John's account of the last supper, Peter and the others refer to Jesus several times as Master, not brother or friend. During the washing of the feet, Jesus tells the apostles, "You call Me 'teacher' and 'master', and rightly so, for indeed I am (Jn 13:13)". But a little while later, during the discourse on the vine and the branches, Jesus gives them their lesson on becoming His friend. He gives them the commandment to love one another as He has loved them, and says, "You are My friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from My Father." (Jn 15:14-15). Thus, Jesus has set them apart, He has prepared them in everything necessary, He has brought them up from the status of servant to the status of friend. The condition is that they do as He commanded them. One among them would not, and He excluded Himself from the friendship of God; God did not exclude him. After their second and third conversions which would soon follow, all but one would suffer martyrdom for this love. They, and John, too, proved their friendship; they passed their test. They loved God more than self. We must do the same.
The need for this second conversion often comes as a surprise for us, usually because we do not know ourselves as well as we think. Jesus predicted His Passion several times, so it should have come as no surprise to the apostles. Jesus, at the last supper, also predicted the apostles would not remain faithful during His Passion. Peter, thinking he knew himself and believing he loved Jesus enough, vehemently denied that he would ever do such a thing. Jesus then told Peter that before the cock crowed twice Peter would deny Him three times. Peter was incredulous. However, as we now know, Peter was weaker than he thought, and had to go through his humiliation to experience his true self, to find the limits of his own strength, to recognize his dependence on God, and to affirm within the depths of his soul his now evident dependence on God. Realizing what had happened within himself, the gospels tell us that he wept bitterly. It was another beginning for Peter. His conversion experience here set him up for his third and final conversion at Pentecost. St. Catherine tells us in her Dialogue that the soul always fears until it arrives at true Love. For Peter, this arrival at true love happened at Pentecost, at which time he experienced his transforming union.
John, too, had his second conversion. He had abandoned Jesus with the rest, but by a powerful conversion experience he was called to the foot of the cross so that he could stand there with Our Blessed Mother to be the proxy for us all as Jesus gave us to her as her children, and gave her to John as Our Mother. He was the only apostle to be with Jesus as He completed His act of perfect redemption, the only one to witness this act of Divine love.
For most of us, we find that we have been trying to lead a Christian life, we have thought seriously about our salvation, and have done what we thought was our best to become companions of our God within us, to do as Jesus asked of us - to walk in His Way, and to accept our daily cross. But most, nevertheless, tend to revert to our former state. It is almost as if what we have done is somewhat artificial and now we tend to revert to our 'real' self, our natural self. We are in need of the passive purgation of the senses spoken of by John of the Cross. St. Catherine of Siena also speaks of this second conversion in chapter 63 of her Dialogue. One result of this second conversion is that we will tend to devote ourselves more fully to the service of God. This desire is one of the fruits of the conversion.
But what about us who live everyday lives? What signs do we have that a second conversion is necessary, and is happening? Why cannot we just walk across the bridge, so to speak? St. Catherine, in chapters 60 and 63 of her Dialogue, tells us the faults we generally have that require a second conversion experience. Even the apostles, formed by Jesus Himself, had need of this second conversion, and so in all probability we will also have a like need. This second conversion affects the soul at much greater depths than our first conversion. God is digging out, spooning out, the things that are barriers between Him and us, and will replace them with Himself. But for many, this digging out, this purging, hurts. We still have attachments to our ego and to some of the things of this world that stand between us and God. It actually takes great courage to undergo this purgation. Peter had it, Judas did not. The more tightly we hold onto things of this world in preference to Christ, the more wrenching an experience it will be. It is usually the sole result of our own negligence that we do not successfully go through this second conversion. We cry "Uncle" too quickly, for we do not trust in God enough. We trust ourselves too much, desire to maintain control rather than give God control. We have not developed enough of the virtue of patience. Jesus had promised, even before His Passion, He would send the apostles the Holy Spirit, yet they still cowered in the upper room, doors locked, huddled in fear. Later, Peter had to restate his love for Jesus three times, once for each time he had denied Our Lord.
One fault which St. Catherine notes is a strong egoism, perhaps much stronger than we realize ourselves. This manifests particularly as self-love. She describes it as the mercenary love of the imperfect. Because of it, we find we still fall prey to numerous habitual faults and venial sins, even if we remain free of mortal sin. Some characteristics are that we, "without being conscious of it, serve God from self-interest, because they are attached to temporal or spiritual consolations, and who shed tears of self-pity when they are deprived of them." St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of it as the mixture of sincere love of God and inordinate love of self. In a sense, it is like a mixture of two competing loves, a sort of alloy. This description of St. Thomas will become more important in the third conversion. We still have to learn how to love God for His sake alone. It takes patience. It takes time to develop a sense of the continual presence of God.
In the 60th chapter of Dialogue, we find that even those who have a sincere love of God and devote themselves to His service, do so for their own profit and satisfaction, and not for the sake of God alone. This imperfection shows itself when the consolations of God are withdrawn. When this happens, "their love fails and can no longer survive. It becomes weak and gradually cools..." as the consolations are withdrawn. Yet God does this to show the soul how imperfect its love is, and to bring souls to perfection. He sends difficulties and afflictions to help us know ourselves, just as He did for Peter, and to learn that "of themselves they have no grace". If the soul does not recognize its imperfection, and if it does not thereby develop a desire for perfection, it will certainly fall back and progress no farther. It generally must do a lot of ego-shedding. Through the adversity we face, we should, if all is going as God wills, seek our refuge in Him, not in ourselves. Our only other solution is to fall back on our selves, to rely on self to satisfy the void we feel when the consolations are withdrawn. However, to rely on self is trusting in a house built on sand. We must become another Peter, not another Judas. We must run to our Father, fall at His feet, and beg His beneficence, forgiveness, and our daily bread. We must grow to love Him for Himself, not because of the consolations He gives us.
If a child does not continue to grow, we say it is stunted, or has arrested development. The same analogy can be said of the soul. The soul does not merely stop, but rather it experiences stunted development. And it all depends on how we respond to the lessons God sends us. Perhaps this is why Jesus said so very often , "Be not afraid".
John of the Cross, in Book I, Chapter 9, of Dark Night, gives us three signs by which we can recognize that the second conversion, this purging of ego, is taking place so that we can cooperate with this grace rather than resist it. "(1) The soul finds no pleasure or consolation in the things of God, or in any thing created. (2) Ordinarily the memory is centered upon God, with painful care and solicitude, thinking that it is not serving God, but backsliding, because it finds itself without sweetness in the things of God. (3) The soul can no longer meditate or reflect in its sense of the imagination. ... For God now begins to communicate Himself to it, no longer through sense, as He did aforetime, by means of reflections which joined and sundered its knowledge, but by an act of simple contemplation, to which neither the exterior nor the interior senses of the lower part of the soul can attain." God Himself now feeds the soul directly. In this regard, St. Catherine of Siena warns the imperfect soul to take great care, for these souls often try to seek the Father alone, without following the way of Jesus crucified, because they have a strong aversion to the suffering they know is required.
Why put ourselves through all this? What are the requisite motivations? One motivation is because of the primary commandant, to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind. We reserve none of these for ourselves. We must do it void of any inclinations to self-love or self-attachment. Our whole focus is on love of God. We do what it takes for that to happen. We do not love God as a servant, but rather as a faithful child. We love our Father because He is our Father, not because He gives us gifts. Thus, in the second conversion, through operation of sanctifying grace, we progress from servant of God to child of God. As we become His true children, He communicates Himself to us more deeply through the gift of contemplation, a special knowledge communicated directly to the soul by God.
Another motivation is the price He paid for us to be united to Him, the price of His Blood. The value of that Precious Blood is what it opened up for us, what it provided for us to become, for through this Blood shed for us, we are enabled to become adopted children of God. The realization of what this truly means to us is part of the conversion process and motivates us to endure the passive purgation of the senses that accompanies this second conversion, that purgation during which the consolations of God are removed and we seek Him through our love of Himself alone, not for what He gives us.
But if we have this love as our motive, we will also have a zeal for souls as an accompanying motive, for how can we love God and not love Him in other souls, not love the souls for whom He paid such a high price? We have the examples of many souls who have been selected by God to be victim souls just for this purpose. This zeal for souls we experience is a result of God's infinite mercy working in us, and an act of His love by which He allows us to participate in His redemptive work through the operation of the Mystical Body.
We see Him now with the eyes of Faith; we love Him with the love He gives us, which we can perceive only imperfectly as His own Divine Love. We can only love Him with His own gift of Love. When we reach Heaven, we will see Him in the Beatific Vision, and will love Him with the same Love with which He loves Himself.
As we undergo this second conversion, as we enter into the illuminative way, we reap further benefits of God's love. One such benefit is an entry into contemplative prayer. We begin to contemplate the great mysteries of our Faith; the great mysteries of the Incarnation, the Cross, Redemption and the indwelling Trinity. We gain an even greater appreciation of the price of His Blood paid for our individual soul. Our relationship with God, our encounter with Him, now becomes more continuous as opposed to occasional. We are becoming His constant friend and companion, not just a servant who comes when beckoned. We become much more aware of God within us, of His constant presence within our soul. We become more aware of His continued presence and governance in our lives. The statement we have heard so often, that in a life with God there are no coincidences, now takes on real meaning. We experience the reality of becoming not just sanctified, but sanctified in Him. The burning in the heart the apostles experienced on the road to Emmaus should also be our experience as we encounter God more fully.
Love is the key to contemplation. In contemplating the indwelling Trinity, we are reminded of Jn 14:23, where the evangelist recounts the promise of Jesus. "If any one loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him." When the Father and Son love each other, that Love is personified as the Holy Spirit. If they love us, and dwell within us, we are the temple of the indwelling Trinity. But this infinite Love is so powerful that when we are the object of that Love, we, too, are transformed and take on the nature of that Love, we take on the Divine nature, for we can not withstand the effects of the power of that Love by which God desires to unite us to Himself. How it must hurt Him when we turn our backs on this Love through sin. In the first letter of John, 1 Jn 4:16, he also tells us that "he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him". Therefore, love brings sanctifying grace, which is the eternal life already begun in us. Thus, Luke tells us in Lk 17:20, "For lo, the kingdom of God is within you". St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that God's love does not presuppose that there is anything in us which is loveable, but rather creates that lovableness in us.
The life of contemplation is a life of intimacy with mystery. The great mysteries of our faith are the subjects of our contemplation. In the Incarnation we might contemplate the awesome desires in the heart of God that led to the Creator of the universe becoming a tiny embryonic human, a most helpless being, all for love of us. Mary has just spent the last twelve years immersed in study in the Temple. Suddenly, this young fifteen year old woman, full of grace and steeped in the Mosaic Law, is told by the angel that she will be the mother of God. She does not panic, but simply asks the pivotal question. What infused knowledge of the Trinity must she have received for her, this purely motheistic believer, to give her fiat? What trust she must have had in God to give this fiat before being married. What infusion of grace and knowledge had to occur for Elizabeth to so readily recognize Mary as "the mother of my Lord"? When Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem for the Presentation, what joy, humility and awe was in Mary's heart as she presented Jesus to Him whom she knew to be Jesus' Father; as she considered her selection and her role in this pivotal event in salvation history? How much of all this did she understand?
In contemplating the Passion, in addition to the suffering of Jesus, we might contemplate the extent to which Mary understood it was her children who were the players in what her only-begotten Son was suffering, and what that did to her heart. We might contemplate what Jesus saw from the Cross; the looks in the faces around Him, the walls of the city soon to be destroyed, the Temple that would stand no more. If we contemplate the Eucharist, we might ponder the essential relationship between the Eucharist and the indwelling Trinity, and to what extent love affects the level of grace received during reception of the Eucharist or during Eucharistic adoration. We can also let our eyes scan the pages of scripture until some word or phrase reaches out and grabs our heart. When this happens we stop, and continuing to look at this passage, we let God work within us.
Our life of contemplation grows without need for consolations from God, almost in replacement of consolation. For some, the purgation suffered is very hard, for the crutch of consolation has become a focal issue. They love the consolations of God rather than the God of consolation. Sometimes the hold of the world is still strong, even though not fully realized. As God begins to act in our lives, He may withdraw not only our consolations, but also those things to which we hold dear. He has to bring us to a state where we truly live the commandment to love God with our whole being. In some cases, He may remove either things, or people, or both from our lives. He may remove a loved one, or remove personal health, or social status, or the esteem in which we are held in the eyes of others. As these things happen, the suffering soul may cry out and try to hold on even tighter to the things to which they are attached, holding on so tight their knuckles turn white. Then He may remove the knuckles. He continues until finally the soul falls to its knees, and looking up at God cries out, "Why me? Why now? What more will you take from me? What else do you want from me?" He will look on the soul with love and reply, "Whatever it is you prefer to hold onto instead of holding Me." Then He will offer His hand, and if we are able to respond to this grace and place our hand in His, He will fill us with Himself and we will finally understand what He has been trying to offer us for so long, and we will have our 'Peter' experience. We have finally stopped denying Him, stopped preferring self, and have accepted His Mercy and Love. We now desire to love Him above all else, so now, finally, He can work in us largely unimpeded.
In this period of mixed trial and ecstasy, we learn the intimate relationship between Divine love, suffering, and conversion. They come together, and are held together, because of Love. We cannot do an end around run to avoid any one of the three. The degrees may vary among us all, but, because we love God, we march through, we endure, we persevere - as Teresa so often advises us, to come out the other side whole, purified, and more fully converted, more fully in love with God, than ever. We literally fall in love with the Eucharist.
During this time, we also understand how difficult it is to speak with those still on the first plateau and communicate to them a true understanding of what you have become after this second conversion. We see this in Teresa's Interior Castle. She will say at about the fourth mansions, and again at the sixth, how she cannot explain what she really means, but those who have been through it will understand. It is like an adolescent trying to have a meaningful conversation about teenage kinds of things with a three year old. You can understand what they are experiencing but they cannot understand what you are experiencing, for they have no relational basis for absorbing what you say. Nowhere is this more true than when you contemplate Divine Love, or the indwelling Trinity, and then try to explain to someone on the first plateau what has been infused in you about them. All you can say is something like, "God loves you", or "God dwells in you", and the more you try the more frustrating it becomes, for no words exist to convey what you know interiorly with such certitude and in such depth. It is reminiscent of what Jesus told His disciples in the account of the washing of the feet in the gospel of John; "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later".
The proficients on this second plateau observe those on the first plateau and see their lay brethren still enamored with the latest car, or fashion, or vacation spot, or technology, or any of the hundred other things that seem so very important. People collecting thousands of sports cards, as if they had real intrinsic value. People devoting enormous amounts of time and money to all sorts of things having no spiritual value whatever. You see priests who view themselves as the object of servitude from others instead of being the servants of souls; whose zeal for souls has waned; who are so focused on self they have completely missed the whole concept of being a good shepherd, of the obligation to bring the beauty and truth of the Faith home to rest in the hearts of those souls entrusted to them, a beauty and truth given life by Love. They fail in their duty to teach, but more importantly they fail in their duty to love. These people of God never seem to understand why they are still beginners in spirituality, even after many years in the priesthood or religious life. Tauler, in his Spiritual Exercises, explains it as follows:
Secondly there are the people who are devoted to religious life,
enjoying great esteem and a reputation for holiness. They think
that they have left the darkness far behind them; and yet in their
hearts they are Pharisees, full of self-love and self-will, and in
fact interested in nothing but themselves. If you judge only by
externals you cannot see them for what they are, but if the Spirit of
God is within you, you will know them. In fact, even outwardly there
is one way of distinguishing them from those who truly love
God: you will always find them sitting in judgment upon other
people, even upon God's true lovers, but never upon themselves;
whereas those who truly love God judge only themselves.
And so we see lay brethren, religious and priests who are like the shallow soil in the gospel. They hear the message, become enthused for a time, but the commitment is not there, the love does not run deep. And so they receive the seed, it sprouts in them, but the commitment has not been nourished by mortification, prayer of the heart, and love of others instead of self. Love of self is still too strong to release. Tauler tells us that to overcome self-love, "the only thing which works is for God to take possession of you and inhabit you; and this He only does for those who love Him". These misguided souls will wander always on the first plateau, or will slide down the second ladder, back among the masses on the plains. Vocations are lost or never fulfilled. Work in the vineyard is left undone, or has to be done by others already busy in the vineyard. The greatest value many of these misguided souls have to the work of God is to provide someone to love who is not easy to love, an opportunity for others to live the gospel. These souls with stunted growth remain too fixed on what is being left behind to appreciate what is to come. Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." Lk 9:62
But even the proficients on this second plateau are not ready to cross that second bridge bringing them to union with God. There is a still another spiritual crisis facing them. There is one last bridge to cross, one last conversion to experience.
It is not inappropriate to ask at this point why a third conversion is necessary, why that second bridge has to be crossed. What is there that is left to correct? In this state, the soul must undergo another purgation. This time it is not a purgation of the senses, but a purgation of the spirit. The focus here is on the intellect and the will, the deeper parts of the soul. In order to receive the graces of Pentecost, the apostles had to have a purgation of the spirit to fully prepare their spirit to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In receiving the Holy Spirit as fully as they did at Pentecost, the apostles experienced the gift of illumination, and they received the power of the Holy Spirit. This conversion was a complete transformation of the soul. In this conversion, the apostles were filled with infused contemplation of the profound mystery of what they had recently experienced, the profound mystery of the Cross.
The effects produced in them flowed out from them and into those they encountered. When we obtain the grace of contemplation, we contemplate the mysteries of Faith. When we receive the grace of infused contemplation of these mysteries, are we not on the normal path to sanctity, just as the apostles? What then are the remaining faults which must be purged before we can enter into union with God?
St John of the Cross enumerates a few in Dark Night, Book II, which deal only with the inner soul. He tells us that if he were to try to list all the faults, the list would be endless. The list will also be filled with faults we would never recognize on the first plateau, some which we might even have thought semi-virtues. This is necessary because at this final level, where the soul passes from proficient to perfect, in fulfillment of Christ's command to be perfect as the Father is perfect, we must have a true purity of soul, and must gain a much more profound understanding of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. St. John of the Cross calls this final purgation the removing of rust from the intellect and will. Some of the faults and signs he enumerates which still need purging are:
Indeed, considering the second and third faults noted above, in her Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila tells us in chapter nine of the sixth Mansions that some souls who think they have intellectual visions of God in reality have an "imagination that is so weak, or their understanding is so nimble, or for some other reason their imagination becomes so much absorbed, that they actually think they see everything that is in their mind. If they had ever seen a true vision they would realize their error beyond the possibility of doubt." One clue she gives us that the soul has fallen for this trick of the mind is that a true vision will be extremely brief. She tells us that "When the soul is able to remain for a long time looking upon the Lord, I do not think it can be a vision at all. It must rather be that some striking idea creates a picture in the imagination: but this will be a dead image by comparison with the other [a real vision]." She tells us that a true image is very fleeting, often like lightening, during which God communicates great and secret things about Himself instantly through infused contemplation.
In this third conversion we recognize very powerfully the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as it was His work with the apostles at Pentecost, so it is His with us. As He works in us and digs deeper within our soul, purging it of all that is not of God, He must, for a time, darken our intellect and control our will through aridity. The dryness we experience is characteristic of the work of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we must reach down in the very depths of our soul and find that Rock upon which Jesus built everything. We must find that anchor of Faith, that vessel of Hope, that wellspring of life which is His Love. The spiritual structure of the soul formed much earlier through the scaffolding and mortar of sound theology and teaching, now withstands the test. It endures the spiritual storm. When we experience our aridity, just as the apostles did between the Ascension and Pentecost, we fall back on what He has given us, just as the apostles did. We hunker down and wait for Him in Hope to rescue us.
In this purgation, we are being tested in the spiritual fire. On page 10 we referred to St. Thomas Aquinas' description of the mix of self love and love for God within us; that alloy of loves. Now, in this final purgation, the self-love must be purged. The soul is tested with the fire of God's Love. The gold of God settles, and the impurities of self-love are skimmed off the top. All that remains is the gold, which is love for God. We are finally prepared for union with Him Whom we love above all others, above all else, and above self. We hold ourselves as nothing, God as everything. He now gives us all; He gives us Himself. "How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" Lk 11:13
The intellect is filled with understanding as God now communicates Himself to the soul, the gift of infused contemplation. The will is filled with Divine Love for God. We experience God as we have never before experienced Him. We have an experience similar to that of the apostles. An example is in Acts 2:22-36, where Peter now understands the mystery of Redemption, now understands why Jesus had to be a willing victim, finally understands the value and merits of the Precious Blood for him and for each one of us. Priests who reach this level develop such a profound love for the Mass, and experience it as they never could have before. They truly live the Mass. The beauty of God's love is that now we, too, can live the Mass.
Many who read and think about the Pentecost story tend to focus on the outward signs, the gift of tongues in particular, since the gospel emphasizes it so. It is not the gift of tongues that was the real gift, but rather the profound understanding of the mysteries of Faith, an understanding and Faith which God charged the apostles with spreading. Thus, the Holy Spirit gave them the gift through which they could do this most readily. This is why St. Paul tells us the gift of tongues is the least of the gifts.
Another gift we often don't think much about, one Jesus mentioned many times in His conversations with the apostles and others, is courage. "Be not afraid", He told them. Courage is one thing. Courage to the point of martyrdom is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And so as we stand on this third plateau, we will each be called by God to some task of love. The tasks are many, the trials many and in some cases severe, but there is one common objective and motive for us all. That objective is love for God, and Him alone. We cannot have a higher call. We cannot accomplish a greater work. We cannot have a greater work accomplished in us by Him. And we arrive here by being little, by serving, by being willing to be the least among others; by humility, love and prudence.
THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST
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