I am always amazed when I see a little child get excited about the smallest things. It is amazing to see how their faces brighten up with things like eating an ice-cream cone, or witnessing the first snowfall of the year, or even opening presents on their Birthday. Jesus calls us to be like little children: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4) God wants us to always have a sense of wonder and beauty about God and the things of God.
In the spiritual life, there are various stages that we must go through on the road to holiness. These stages help us to open our eyes wide like a little child and discover the beauty and goodness of God. As a result, we come to know God and ourselves in a more profound way. The purgative stage is the first stage which can be described as the entrance into the life of grace. As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans: “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 acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) This stage marks the beginning of conversion. Conversion basically means to turn around, to have a change of heart. Conversion involves turning away from a past life in order to be transformed by God. Usually an individual entering into the purgative stage has had a conversion experience to Christ where they know that God is good and forgiving and that they are loved by Him. In this stage the individual begins to realize that certain vices need to be uprooted and purged and virtues need to take their place. The person who has entered this stage realizes that they must avoid near occasions of sin by changing their lifestyle and turning away from sin and sinful attachments. Hard to do!! This brings to mind St. Augustine, who struggled a long time with living a life of chastity. In his early stages of conversion to Christ he prays, “Oh, Lord make me chaste but not yet!!” (Confessions 8,7) Changing our lives is very difficult, but with the grace of God, prayer and the Sacraments all things are possible.
A person who is in the purgative stage realizes that in order to be healed of their past life, and to be on the path to the life of eternal happiness, they must begin to follow the Commandments of God. I like to think of this stage like a patient who approaches the doctor with aches and pains. The patient realizes that they need help, and that this pain or ache is not going to go away on its own…they need healing. This happens in our spiritual life too! We are awakened to the fact that there is some ache, pain, loneliness, loss, discouragement, a sense that this world does not fulfill us… and we need a spiritual doctor!! Our spiritual doctor just so happens to be God Himself, who is the greatest healer.
Persons who have had this conversion towards to Lord also realize that there is a duty now to have a habit of prayer, both vocal and liturgical prayer, as well as meditation with the Scriptures. They begin to pray the prayers of the Church such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be etc… They begin to practice various forms of piety such as regular confession, spiritual reading, retreats, and sacred study. They realize that in performing acts of charity and works of mercy, virtue is just beginning to develop and vices are beginning to be exposed, uprooted and thrown away.
The result of a person who has passed through the Purgative stage of their journey is that they begin to have a regular, stable life in the Church where they are now living the life of faith. Even though there might be storms and struggles that occur in the Church, their faith is rooted in Christ who gave us the Church. They are able to respond fully to the Lord because they have discovered the loving mercy of God and they want to love Him more. St. Teresa of Avila tell us:
“Through the blood He shed for us, I ask those who have not begun to enter within themselves to do so; and those who have begun, not to let the war make them turn back…Let them trust in the mercy of God and not at all in themselves, and they will see how His majesty brings them from the dwelling places of one stage to those of another…and they shall enjoy many more blessings than one can desire….blessings even in this life I mean.”
But we are only at the beginning everyone…only the beginning…more to come!!!