You are irreplaceable! No one can take your place. God made us unique…there is no one exactly like you. God loves us…even when we get into messes… God loves us! I really love going through old photo albums and I remember seeing so many pictures of babies with chocolate cake all over their faces…painting all over the kitchen floor and walls…playing in the sandbox! Messy…but priceless!
When we were kids, we got into many messes! At the time, we needed help cleaning ourselves up! God, like a loving Father wants to help us clean our spiritual messes (sins, imperfections, temptations etc…). He gives us everything we need, especially the love of His own Son!
So, we have already talked about the purgative way which is basically the stage of cleaning house and looking at those areas of our lives that need to change. St. John of the Cross speaks about the next stage of the spiritual journey called the illuminative way. We will continue looking at this spiritual journey by sharing some thoughts of St. John of the Cross, a little more from Ralph Martin’s book The Fulfillment of All Desire, and some reflections of the saints to help us out!
So the illuminative way…just saying “illuminative” makes me think of light. We have come to this awareness of ourselves and we are working with the help of grace on resisting temptations, enduring trials, and centering our life on prayer. This means we are developing a greater self-knowledge. This means that there are certain parts of us that need healing and purification that perhaps we have not seen before. Picture this: when you walk into a dark room, you might conclude that the room looks very clean. However, when you open the curtains you are now able to see the dust and cobwebs in the room. It is only when light enters the room are you able to see the dirt and dust. The illuminative way simply means that God’s light shines through, brighter then it ever has, and we are able to see ourselves and others more as God sees.
I once took a course on John of the Cross and there are a few key aspects that the professor drew when considering the illuminative stage. He said that this is a stage where prayer and contemplation help us to rest in God’s love and truth. This is also a stage where virtues become stronger and where God strengthens these virtues through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. He also indicated that this is the stage where there is a deepening of love of neighbour. This is the stage where we can see Christ in others more beautifully. There is also a greater moral stability in individuals who are in the illuminative way. Since souls are striving to gain more self-control over their passions, they are more attune to obeying the laws of God. This means that their souls are strengthened by the power of the Cross. They are able to see that in carrying the Cross there are tremendous graces, and through it all they are able to surrender themselves completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In this stage, the professor said that there is a greater detachment from all that is not sin. This means becoming detached from creatures and transformed so that there is a greater desire for union with God.
Having more self-knowledge also helps us to have a greater stability and a greater freedom. St. John of the Cross says that at this stage, someone is able to occupy themselves with thoughts of God and their joy is more interior and more abundant then before. Even though the purification of the senses is not yet complete, St. John of the Cross says there will be temptations against the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. He warns that there will be times where God will permit natural causes to afflict the soul such as the persecutions of men and the ingratitude of friends. What is called for in this state is what St. John of the Cross calls “patient suffering.” Don’t let these things worry you! These trials are really meant to help us grow. If we did not have trials and struggles, would we grow in our love for God? If the road was not difficult sometimes, would we see our need for God? God permits these things to help us become more whole, and even though they are hard at the time, the end result is worth it! We become transformed into Christ who was also persecuted, betrayed, abandoned, yet HE LOVES!!!
We know that God is love and mercy. St. Bernard explains what true self-knowledge should look like:
“As for me, as long as I look at myself, my eye is filled with bitterness (Job 17:2). But if I look up and fix my eyes on the aid of the divine mercy, this happy vision of God soon tempers the bitter vision of myself.”
In saying this, Bernard is expressing that the more we acknowledge the mercy of God, the more we look at ourselves with more mercy. His mercy takes away some of the heartache that we have for ourselves of our own misery and messiness. It is easy to be really down on ourselves, but when we consider the mercy of God we have hope that even in our sinful, messy state, God loves us unconditionally.
As we make our way throughout the illuminative way we discover that in this stage, there is growth in self-knowledge and there is a deeper awareness of the mercy and love God. We know that God loves us in our messiness. We are priceless…messy but priceless!
I mentioned earlier about sense purifications. These we will speak about in the weeks to come….