Thursday, February 25, 2016

Love: End of the Spiritual Journey

In the spirituality column in the Peace Weekly, a seminary professor introduces us to the traditional three stages of the spiritual journey: Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive. This is using figurative language for the journey of the spirit, the same journey towards God in different stages.

Modern studies of the spiritual life have no proof texts, but they use scriptural verses to exemplify what they mean by the three stages: "Turn from evil, and do good; seek peace, and follow after it" (Psalm 34:15). Avoiding evil is the first step, doing good is the second and peace is the unitive stage expressed analogically.  

Another scriptural  passage used is Luke 9:23. "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps." Denying oneself is the first stage, carrying the cross the second, and following in his steps the third. 

Church Fathers had different ways of expressing this journey.  Clement of Alexandria used the words of St. Paul: faith, hope and charity. Faith controls enthusiasm, avoids evil; hope prepares for the practice of virtue, and in the last stage, we have the motivating force of love.

John Cassianus, stressed the fear of punishment and evil is overcome by faith. By hope, one turns away from bodily pleasures and aims for goodness; love inflames the heart to move closer to God.

Saints have examined the words of St, Paul and have commented on their meaning. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, worked with four steps on the journey to God's love: Loving oneself for the sake of oneself; Love of God for self's sake, to receive his graces;  Loving God for God's sake and finally loving self for God's sake. This last step requires the help of grace.  

St.Thomas Aquinas has three steps in spiritual growth: beginner-in order not to lose charity, avoids sin and overcomes inordinate passions. In the advanced state, one grows in love and practices virtue. Last stage one empties oneself and desires oneness with Jesus this love makes us grow closer to God.   

In conclusion, Christians' efforts in growth become passive: the person is being led, and the columnist  wants the readers to be alert to this movement in the spiritual life.