We are wrapping up the fall semester at the Farm. Yes, we are all beginning to look forward to the Christmas break. But, in these final days, I have been reflecting on how good this semester has been and finishing strong.
We are just completing “The Fulfillment of all Desire”, a book written by Ralph Martin, a good friend of our Community and a gift to our Church.
This book is a powerful read and in my modest opinion, destined to become a spiritual classic. Ralph lays out the basic foundational thoughts of many of the doctors of the church (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena, etc.). He presents their wisdom in an approachable way, as both the map and the means of achieving spiritual growth in our lives.
The basic premise is that we pass through three distinct phases in the spiritual growth.
We begin with the purgative stage. Here we have to root out the larger, more hurtful, and obvious patterns of sin in our behaviour. These patterns of sin limit our ability to grow in the Spirit. This is the rough work of the early pioneering our faith.
The second phase is illuminative, where we start to see the operative grace at work in our lives. There is still sin, but more of the venial kind. Fear is still a motivation - we try to do good so as not to receive punishment. Yet, we are making progress, keep going!
We want to end up in the unitive stage. Here, God’s will and our own will are essentially one, we live the faith fully in all aspects of our life. The main motivation becomes pure love, our love for God and God’s great love for us.
"If you are familiar with the three circles that CCO uses to describe the faith journey, this is definitely the third circle, with Christ at the centre of our lives."
I have read this book several times and often recommend it to parishioners. This time through, I had a new, key insight. As we move through the illuminative stage and approach the unitive, it is less and less about avoiding sin and more and more about reflecting the glory of God.
We no longer simply want to avoid committing sin. We begin focusing on the sins of omission and the greater good that we are all capable of doing for others. There is so much more in my heart that I have the potential of achieving, if I would give God permission to work.
If we are honest, many of us fear what we think growth in the Spirit would look like. We think our life would become dreary and bland, and that God is calling us to a stoic and tasteless existence. We believe the strange idea that being a “good” Catholic means living a boring life.
What the great saints are trying to tell us is just the opposite, we become more fully alive the closer we come to God. Food tastes better; the beauty of nature sings out the louder; our own ministry becomes more effective and more creative. We become “the most complete and full versions of ourselves” (Mathew Kelly) disciplining in the most effective and life giving way.
So let us sum it up in Ralph Martin's words,
“God is going to do most of the work. We still have to make some effort. Yes, there will be some suffering involved. It will be so incredibly worth it!”