Beginning of the Soul’s Journey to Union with God
Have you ever heard the expression: if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen! There is something very uncomfortable about heat and very dangerous about getting close to fire…You get burned! However, in the spiritual life we are called not only to get burned, but to be totally consumed with the fire of God’s love! How does this happen? The Feast of the Purification of Mary calls to mind the need of our interior purification. Many of the saints spoke about how purification in the spiritual life is like a cleansing fire: “a fire that rages against vices only to produce a healing unction in the soul” says St. Bernard. There are parts of us that need to be cleansed and purified in order for us to become love. To obtain this cleansing we must pray like the psalmist: “Create a clean heart in me oh God and put a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
I once heard a story about two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled.
Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.”
“I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him:
“Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.”
To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.”
And so they were not able to have a quarrel.
Monastery of Christ in the Desert. Sayings and Stories of the Desert Fathers. Accessed February 3, 2020.
I like this story because it reminds me of the peace that is present when we learn to combat vice and embrace virtue. We could say that these two men had interior peace and were not attached to anything created. Their hearts were purified! Remember in the beginning of time how Adam and Eve had it all! They had sanctifying gifts (infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit) and preternatural gifts (knowledge, harmony, freedom from death)! That must have been a nice life! But, after they had sinned, the wound of original sin, which we are all infected with, put a major wall between us and God. Concupiscence (inordinate desire for pleasure), weakness (shying away from work), malice (self-love) and ignorance (difficultly learning) are these wounds of that filthy, rotten, stinky, original sin. The filthy, rotten, stinky sin also causes pride in us and concupiscence in our flesh and eyes. We have a tendency to sin, and we are weak. We need to ask ourselves: What can I do to purify my soul and prepare it for union with God?
We have been pondering on God’s love for us and our response to God’s love. Now, we will begin to talk about the stages of the Spiritual Life according to writings by St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Bernard, St. Therese and so many others! In order for us to grow in holiness and love for God, we need to understand the movements that the Holy Spirit is making in our soul, and the ways in which He is purifying us. In this way, we will come to know how to cooperate with God.
When God sees that a soul is truly trying to give themselves completely to God, He loves that soul and wishes them to be like Himself: Christ strips the soul, yet He clothes it with His own divine Life. Remember at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to His Father for perfect union saying: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John17:21). When we consider the Passion of Jesus, we are reminded that our purification cost the Son of God Innocence itself. Keeping this in mind we realize that we can endure purification since we have offended God so often. Purification is the work of God’s love for us, and our acceptance of purification is proof of our love for Him. If a person is prone to anger, God will give many opportunities to practice patience. If someone is prone to follow lustful desires, God will give many opportunities to practice chastity and custody of the eyes. If someone is prone to pride, God will give opportunities to practice humility most often in the form of humiliations. If someone is prone to sloth, God will give many opportunities to give generously. If someone is prone to envy, God will give many opportunities to practice gratitude. If someone is prone to fear and anxiety, God will give many opportunities to practice courage in spite of the fear and stress. We must not be afraid of this, but must be convinced that purification is the work of Love. In light of all this, let us take the words of St. John of the Cross seriously: “To love is to labor to detach and strip ourselves for God’s sake of all that is not God.”