When shall we start to pay attention to “bearing fruits”?
1- Question: During the first lesson of the First level Course, you said that the fruits come after the Union with Jesus. “Union with” Jesus is like when a tree reaches maturity, so after that stage the tree is supposed to start to bear fruits. Or, union with Jesus is like marriage and after marriage one has children. My question is: while we are in the state of purification (in order to reach “Union with Jesus”) could she start paying attention to “bearing fruits”? The fear is that the fruit will not be really fruit, because the self who is giving that fruit is not pure yet… So shall we refrain from giving fruits, thinking that we are still in the purification phase?
1- Answer: It depends what you call “fruits”. If you mean by “fruits” the time “after union the union with Jesus” (Spiritual Marriage), then you are right: there is a difference between one act made after Union and all the acts made before. Saint John of the Cross says about that: “an act of pure love [i.e. made after purification] is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together [made before], though it may seem as if nothing were done” (Spiritual Canticle B, Stanza 29, Introduction) because the act after union is “informed” (the form is given by) the Holy Spirit. Of course, saint John of the Cross’ statement is quite strong, and it should push us to do all what we can in order to grow. This is exactly what saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus did when she read that passage.
But, under another angle, “purification” is a sacred work and should be considered as a goal in itself (through it, we reach the union); it is of course an intermediate goal. The phase of purification can perfectly be considered as a “fruit”. Each step in the phase of purification is a “fruit”.
From day one, through Listening to the Daily Word of God, we are listening and putting into practise the Daily word received. The real fact of putting into practise this Word is in itself a Fruit, a fundamental fruit, a real change, a real step ahead, and this happens right from day one. And if we do not do it, there is no need to dream of any spiritual future. This is the condition sine quae non in order to reach the further different phases of purification and the later steps.
So maybe, it would be better to have one more understanding of the concept of “fruit”. “Loving our neighbour” for instance doesn’t wait until we reach the union with Jesus – oh no!! But, certainly, the quality of our love after union is way different/better. But, mind you, if we don’t start from day one to love our neighbour, we will never reach union. So there is an effort made in order to grow (ascending curve) and there is a more direct effort made in order to bear direct fruits. Each, in its own timing is vital, essential and non-negotiable.
What about sins and weaknesses?
2- Question: Even after Salvation (Jesus work on the Cross), what about the sins and weaknesses in us that are forming obstacles to return to that real human being (the original likeness of God)? i.e. how can we understand the relationship between Salvation and actual sins?
2- Answer: The deep analysis of the spiritual journey shows us that there are real changes in the human being. Bad habits stop from existing, sins stop,… (I mean serious sins). When the Power of the Resurrection of Jesus enters in us, real change starts to happen. Otherwise, there is no growth, there is not transformation, there is no purification. The very definition of purification is brought to us from the understanding of a real change: an old “form” in us is taken away by the Holy Spirit, and a holier “form” is brought instead, replacing it. A real change happens, therefore sins and weaknesses (that are sins) do tend to disappear, starting from the lower ones (more materialistic).
Mind you, many Christians don’t believe in real change, they don’t believe that a real change can occur in them. We don’t change our nature, or our character and temperament, but sins do disappear. If the human being on earth doesn’t change, this wouldn’t be real Christianity; this wouldn’t be the message of the Gospel. Some Christians do believe that once Jesus covers us with His Blood that’s enough and this compensates for anything we do later; i.e. we remain as we are, roughly. This is a wrong understanding of the application of Salvation to us. All the Christian Masters of Spiritual Life do state clearly that the human being changes, and they describe the steps of this deep inner (and external) change.
Mind you: the inclination/tendency to sin is not a sin. Let me explain that: if I see a lovely chocolate pudding, yummy, I’ll feel a certain natural inclination/attraction toward it. This is not yet a sin! Baptism doesn’t remove that inclination to sin, it is left in us for the spiritual warfare that will generate real growth and change.
Same for the case of weaknesses that are not sins, or character/temperament. One must read the great saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus who revolutionised Spiritual Life and Spiritual Theology. (Even if we read correctly saint John of the Cross we will find the same teaching.) She introduced the possibility of having errors, faults (fautes) that are not sin, and that don’t sadden God. Making this difference is subtle but important.
More than that: spiritual growth (purification) doesn’t generate in us greater strength, but greater weakness. Jesus says in the Gospel: “blessed who is poor in spirit” and to saint Paul who was asking him to remove a “thorn” from his flesh, thinking that that would be “perfection”: I rejoice and work in your weakness – this means: you’ll remain weak, and therefore my Grace will work better in you, so you don’t lean on your new strength but on my Grace. This is a different take on Perfection. We should renew our understanding of “perfection”, “holiness”, the real goal we are seeking.
We are heading toward a spiritual growing discovery of our weakness, and a growing spiritual experience of the Mercy of God.
As you see: Many understandings, many elements of spiritual life, will be put upside-down, during our spiritual growth.
Are there sins after Union?
3- Question: After the Union with Jesus, is there still a sin in the phases after?
3- Answer: God is Freedom. Jesus is God. When a person reaches Union with Jesus, one doesn’t have less freedom, but more freedom. Certainly the person is transformed in God, in Jesus, but this doesn’t deprive the person from his/her freedom. Remember Adam: he was close to God, in the beginning, and he still sinned.
When saint Theresa of Avila speaks about the union with Jesus she mentions the example of Salomon (who started well his spiritual life, but ended very badly, worshiping the gods of his foreign wives) just to show us that nobody is exempt from the possibility of sinning (God forbid of course).
During this lifetime we have a body, we have freedom, we can perform acts: therefore we can sin. This is why Jesus said that we need to persevere “till the end”, and that nothing is guaranteed. Of course nobody wants to sin, neither Jesus nor us. This is why as well we need the final perseverance and we need to remain in the Grace of God till the end and we ask it in the Hail Mary: “pray for us, …, in the hour of our death. Amen”
What is perfection?
4- Question: Can we picture the Union with God?
4- Answer: Jesus explains to us some aspects of the Union with God when He says: ””You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mt 5:48)
What is perfection? According to Jesus words, perfection is to love both your friends and your enemies. Love is coming from an inner abundance, springing from our heart. The one who believes in Jesus opens himself to the Abundance of Spirit flowing out of God. Accepting Jesus’ Gift (the Holy Spirit) transforms our heart. The Holy Spirit puts Jesus in the centre of our heart. So we can say: “its not me who lives, but Jesus lives in me” (st Paul) and acts through me and with me.
Jesus has His Heart opened all the time, and springing of Holy Spirit, unconditionally, to everybody. For this reason one of the most common images used to translate this openness, unconditional abundance is the Sun. Jesus is our real Sun, giving his rays all the time.
The perfection of God is a perfection of Love. “Love is to give oneself.” This Perfection of God’s nature bears in it “abundance” and “unconditional” love. The very nature of God is to give, unconditionally. God loves because He is Love. He finds the reason to love in Himself (not in us). The power of love, this capacity to love, this springing unconditional abundance is what characterises the very nature of God, his holiness and his perfection.
We often tend to imagine perfection in an esthetical way, like a Greek statue, with no errors in its forms, proportions, beauty, expression, and numbers. While we are called to change our vision of God’s perfection and holiness.
This is essential, in order to be able to “imagine” or “picture” the perfection and holiness we are called to reach. “Union with God” is union with the One who is abundant, who loves unconditionally, and who finds in Himself an endless source of Love. He is the one who encompasses every being in the bosom of his Mercy. He is the “most low” (and not the “most high”), since His Being (Love), brings Him to the lowest parts of humanity (like the water of the rain that trickles down the high mountain).
Perfection won’t then be striving toward the strongest, the most powerful, the highest, etc. perfection according to the true God is: “going down”, humility, Love, Compassion, Mercy.
The greater in Mercy, is the one who is more united to God. The greater in patience, is the more united to God.
The greater in humility and understanding, and excusing his brothers and sisters is closer to God.
The one who receives in his heart everybody, unconditionally, is the one who has been transformed into God.
Perfection is not a competition to win the highest mountain climb. It is not either the most aesthetic movement in our acts. It is to have our heart full with the Love of God and love not with our own strength, but God’s.
Perfection is letting God transform our heart into His Heart, so we can be and act like Him.
The one who believes will have streams of Living Water (Holy Spirit) coming out of his bosom (John). Streams of Mercy, of Love, of Compassion to his brothers and sisters.