In speaking with several folks lately, an interestingly common pattern in their spiritual lives seems to have emerged over time. It begins with having no truly meaningful relationship with God, sort of a Sunday-only kind of Catholic. Following a period of spiritual awakening there is a swing almost to the opposite extreme. Finally, if the person survives the swing, there seems to be a leveling of the seesaw, but with some strong spiritual underpinning. We can look at each of these phases separately, and see how they come together.
Many Catholics think they have a close relationship with God, but in reality have little more than a passing acquaintance. By going to Mass every Sunday, or nearly every Sunday, they feel they are doing all that is necessary to be close to God, even if they seldom or never think of Him during the week. Doing the minimum for God is thought to be quite sufficient, never thinking of how Jesus acted in just the opposite way for us when He allowed Himself to be sacrificed for our sins. Spending as little as a half hour a day in prayer is a foreign notion. Spending time in family prayer, and reading scripture regularly, are things for which they just don't have time. Spending time spiritually preparing for Mass never crosses their minds, and teaching their children about Mass and how to behave in church seldom gets past the issue of how many fistfuls of Cheerios, or how many toys or coloring books, will be needed to get them through the hour at Mass. You can go to virtually any Mass at any church across the country and this pattern repeats itself. Very few parishes are what could truly be called spiritual communities of faithful in union with the Trinitarian community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So, what is wrong here? Why don't people prepare for Mass? Why don't they work harder educating their children on the importance of behaving during Mass? Why don't people enter the Church with recognition that it is a place consecrated for the specific purpose of worship? Why don't they understand the significance of the altar, which is consecrated for offering the Sacrifice of The Mass to the Eternal Father? Why do they not see their spiritual connectedness with each other as members of the common Mystical Body of Christ?
Part of the answer lies in education, specifically education from the pulpit and in religious education in general. But a large part also lies in the apparently forgotten and unlived first of the two Commandments, found in Deuteronomy (6:6) and Leviticus (19:18) and repeated by Jesus, Commandments on which, as He said, all the law and the prophets were founded. That first Commandment is "You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul." Does our prayer life suggest this is how we love God, or even love Him at all? Does it suggest we know Him well enough to love Him? Do we ever think about how much He loves us, or how He showed, and still shows, He loves us? In what ways do we show Him we love Him? Clearly we cannot say we show this love if all we do is participate distractedly in the Mass on Sunday, and then often only because the Church requires it. That is servitude, not love. When you love someone, you desire to be with them, to be near them. How do most people show God they love Him? If you ask this question and get silence for an answer, that silence speaks volumes about the relationship.
When people finally hear the call of the Holy Spirit and respond, they often do so with vigor. They have a surge of initial activity which then often settles down to a consistent and habitual level of participation which includes daily prayer, daily Mass as often as can be accomplished, perhaps even joining a prayer group. At some point many of these people, who usually spend considerable time doing spiritual reading, encounter the doctrines of the Indwelling Trinity and the divinization of the soul through operation of sanctifying grace, often as a result of asking questions about what has been read in scripture. How they respond to these all too infrequently taught doctrines determines the rest of how the relationship with God progresses.
In building this new relationship with God, there is a certain excitement which drives them to want to learn more about God, to know God better, to love Him more. Much time, sometimes many years, is spent in this phase of the relationship reading and discussing things that are felt will deepen the relationship. Often, such a person will express regret for not having begun this effort much sooner in life. Prayer itself also gets a large share of attention; both the doing of it and studying about it.
At this point, the soul is, to follow the analogy of St. Teresa of Avila in Interior Castle, one which has come into the castle, has discovered some of the Mansions and their rooms, and is exploring ways to find the others. The soul seeks God and also explores itself. It begins to learn about itself and learns true humility. In an almost unconscious desire to make up for lost time, the soul spends a large part of its available time involved in this quest for a loving relationship with God. At some point, however, some will become weary or discouraged and will fall away, feeling the search requires too high a price in terms of commitment. Some will feel they are very close to God and have a very special relationship, and then fall away when something they have prayed earnestly for does not come their way. These souls have not yet acquired the virtue of perseverance, as Jesus taught in the gospels, or have not yet learned to love the God of consolations instead of the consolations of God. Most have not yet learned the virtue of obedience to the will of God, demanding instead that God answer their prayers the way they want Him to and not according to His will. In any case, there will some subset of those who began this journey who do persist in their search for God.
Of those who persist, some will tend to remain at a certain level, content to explore what God has to offer where they are and unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to move forward. They may be satisfied with the evidences they have of their relationship with God, perhaps asceticism having become a part of that relationship. Others will desire that closest of all relationships, the Transforming Union, where they truly are touched in the depths of their soul by the searing love of God, and are substantially transformed in Him. When this happens, an interesting change takes place.
One of the best guides there is for the lay person to gain an understanding of this fully evolved relationship is St. Teresa of Avila. In Interior Castle and Life, she gives us a road map for discovering God. But she then tells us something unusual, something intuition would not lead us to conclude. She says that after she had reached the heights of her relationship with God, she no longer had many mystical experiences as she had before. They occurred only infrequently, and almost never in public. She went about her daily life fully able to devote all necessary time and attention to what are apparently the duties of this world. What happened? Did God forget about her? Did He say, in effect, "I've got her now. Let me go after someone else"? Hardly. God doesn't work that way.
To understand what happens, we have to understand what is going on interiorly and not exteriorly. Our real relationship with God takes place in the depths of our soul. God calls us from the external world, asks us to explore the world of the interior with Him, and then returns us to the exterior world transformed. Another way to think about this is to say He sends us back into the world fully integrated.
If we think of integration rather than transformation, it is easier for some to see the effect of the transformation. As we begin to explore our relationship with God, He pours out His grace into our souls. As He fills us with sanctifying grace, we develop a desire for more. We go to the sacraments, we go to daily Mass, we go to frequent Confession. The more sanctifying grace we receive, the more of His Divine nature He communicates to our soul, and the more we are filled with His infinite Love. We develop a love for the Trinity dwelling within, and our relationship grows internally. The more this happens the less we need the confirmations of external sensory input such as spinning suns, the smell of roses, rosaries turning gold, and the like. The more this transformation happens, the more our soul participates in the Divine nature, and the more deeply within the soul our relationship with God takes place. The more deeply this relationship takes place, the more fully we are merged with, or integrated into, God Himself.
Now, what Teresa said begins to make sense. Her relationship with God did not diminish, it grew stronger and deeper, until she was eventually in such continuous contact with God in the depths of her soul that she no longer had any spiritual need for external manifestations or confirmations. God was always there, continuously with Her, or rather she with Him, so that any time her attention turned to God, He was consciously there to her. She could devote her full attention to her worldly duties knowing that He was always there, always in communion with her. Thus, He could tell her, in effect, "You attend to my work, and I'll attend to yours." He was an integral and intimate part of everything she did, including her work in this world. Whereas before she had prayed to die so she could be with Him, she now desired to remain here so long as she could do His will and bring souls to Him. She could feel this way because He had become so integrated into her being, and she in His. She lived each moment of her life in continuous and intimate integration of her soul with God. She already was with Him each moment of every day. If He wanted to call her home, she was ready. Death posed no fear to her, for she was already with God. It was merely, for her, passing into the Eighth Mansions.
Thus, we, too, approach God persistently and when we find Him and are integrated into Him, our spiritual seesaw comes back to balance. We fully attend to the things we must in this world, doing His work as best we can, and in so doing we seek to be as fully, as perfectly, human as we possibly can be, for then we give maximum glory to God by striving to be, as perfectly as we can, the fully human person He made us. While this is happening, He is always with us, in continuous contact with us in the depths of our souls, inspiring us, calling us to union with Him in the depths of our interior, living a life of love with us that is known only to us and Him, and those with whom we share this Love. Living this life of God is living a life of love, and living it in the deepest sense possible. We now pray, we go to Mass, we help others, we continue to seek to know God better so we can love Him more, all because we love Him and want to be as close as we can be to Him. Servitude is now a foreign concept. Love is the sole motivator of the relationship. In doing this, we encounter God and His love in others, and form spiritual unions with those others which are largely unperceived by those of the world, but readily recognized by those others who are in, but not of, this world.
THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST
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