1- The Spiritual Journey
When we define “Spiritual Theology”, we have to define at least three things:
1- the goal of spiritual life (actually we have two goals: union with God and the fullness of Love)
2- the stages of the journey
3- the means to achieve the goals.
Knowledge of all the stages of the Journey of our transformation in Jesus is fundamental.
Knowing the stages is not a vain knowledge, a waste of time or mere curiosity. It helps us to know, in each stage:
a- what God wants to do,
b- what we are supposed to do, and
c- the result of our correspondence to His Grace, our transformation, what God really does. Therefore, knowing about the stages will help us, at least to a degree, “re-cognise” where we are.
When you read saint John of the Cross and saint Theresa of Avila, you find that a large part of their works, if not all of it, are following the development of Spiritual Life, describing, at each stage, the three elements mentioned above: a, b and c. These two saints are Doctors of the Church for Spiritual Theology.
Let us now embark in this discovery of our Journey.
The real measure of time
In order to understand the stages of growth of our Spiritual Life, let us start by understanding the normal vision of our Faith: how we see the Gospel, how we see Jesus’ life, how we understand it, and how we understand it in relation to us.
Our vision of Jesus’ public life is quite linear, chronological: our understanding of the Gospel is simple, straightforward. Jesus’ life is divided in mainly two parts:
1- His ministry, his preaching and healing in Galilee and Judea.
2- His time in Jerusalem, his Passion, his Death and his Resurrection.
|1- The static linear vision
Nobody can argue, or challenge this vision. It sticks to the facts.
But at the same time, if we remain with this linear vision, two main aspects of Jesus’ life are not addressed with the attention they deserve:
1- The fact of Incarnation and its various mystical consequences for us.
2- The mystical dimension of salvation: i.e. the direct relationship between Jesus and each one of us.
These two aspects presuppose the presence of an interaction between God and the human nature, and between Jesus and each one of us.
In the linear vision of Christian life, the consequences of Incarnation don’t really appear enough. We are just view Jesus’ public life, in its two main parts.
This simplistic way of presenting the Life, Message, Mission, and Redemption of Jesus might be considered good, but the perception of time they offer is simplistic.
The unit of measure for Christianity should not be only “time” as we know it on our watches. The unit of measure should be “transformation”. Transformation that happens in God (He will take flesh) in Jesus (Incarnation, His union with each one of us, Redemption). We should be attentive to the developments in Jesus’ life, and then in ours.
Our life is about believing in Jesus and in what he did for us. Is what He did for us just a static short act of salvation on the Cross and nothing more? Or is there more to it?
The dimension of transformation is a much richer unit of measurement than mere “time”.
I would like to start the deepening of these three related facts:
1- the way of Jesus, the steps in His own life and then
2- Jesus as our Way (what He did for us), and
3- what He wants to realise in us, and finally the stages of our transformation in Him.
The more we progress in our analysis of the Gospel, of Jesus, the more we’ll notice how these facts are intimately, mystically related, more even: they are one.
2- The Journey of the “Son of God”
Let us take a closer look at the “Journey” of the Son of God. When we say “Son of God” we obviously mean the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, who is God.
In order to follow the full movement of His descent we will be following the text of the letter of saint Paul to the Philippians.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; “Christ Jesus: rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death
even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8)
For the sake of showing the various steps in the descending movement of Incarnation, I will split that text in different moments as follows:
|2- The journey of the Son of God
But, as you see, Jesus will grow, in His human nature, as saint Luke says: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Not only that, but in His mission, He has various steps.
1- The moment of Incarnation: The Son takes flesh in Mary’s womb.
2- At the age of 30, he starts his ministry: “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23).
3- After probably around 3 years, He heads toward Jerusalem: “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem” (Luke 19:28).
4- He enters in His Passion, and becomes “like a slave” (Philippians 2).
5- On the Cross, for 6 hours, he dies, giving Himself to us.
During the moment of Death, there is an exchange: Jesus receives us in Him, and gives us his life. He takes our death, our sins, all our being, as he is, far from God, all in the darkness, and gives us His divine life, his Body, his Soul, his Spirit.
As we can see, there is a development in Jesus life, in the Son of God’s life on earth. These further steps show us that we can’t just understand His life as being a linear plane, with just one great act at the End, the act of Redemption on the Cross.
Our perception of “time” and of its elapse is starting to change.
For instance, there is a big difference in Jesus’ life between the years before His ministry and after. Similarly, there is a big difference between the months (/years) before He heads toward Jerusalem and after. This is the same as well for the moment He enters in His Passion.
Let us keep this in mind while deepening our understanding of the Incarnation, and Jesus’ way, for his human nature.
Remember as well
We are saved by His human nature, by His own human will (see Third Council of Constantinople: 680-681 A.D.). His own human nature and his own human will had their own journey of growth and will constitute for us our own journey of growth, because He is mystically carrying each one of us in order to become our Way.
PS Please, just be patient, we are going, step by step, and it requires some more posts to have a better picture.
3- The Journey of the Son of God
is a descent in us
to unite Himself with us
Let us now go deeper in the meaning and implications of the Incarnation, not only seen as a short moment in time (when the Son of God comes in Mary, during the Annunciation (see Luke 1:26..)) but as a whole process, i.e. longer, deeper and mystical. “Longer” in time, and “deeper” in the meaning and in the implications and “mystical” in the relationship it creates between Jesus and each one of us: “By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man” (John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 13; Vatican II, G.S., 22)
The Incarnation is not a historical event that is independent from us, distant from us, that we can watch, as we would watch TV. It is not only something that happened to one being (Jesus born from Mary) 2000 years ago, in a town called Nazareth. It is not circumscribed in a very short period of time and “that’s it”: 9 months in the womb of Mary. It is not either only just some event that we can consider, and be moved by. It is infinitely much more. Incarnation changes everything and we should become aware of the changes and their implications on us.
To say: “when the Son of God takes flesh, in a certain way, he unites himself to you and me” is very different to saying: “a Prophet is born 2000 years ago”.
When we say that when He appears to the world at the age of 30, and is baptised, we need to understand that He is baptised in us, in our humanity, in our condition, he is like a “sponge” that absorbs each one of us and carries us, this makes a big difference.
Then I understand that if He is carrying me in Him (mystically) He becomes “my way” (Jesus is “The Way”). That when he goes through the temptation in desert, it is for the aim of doing for it himself first, and therefore opening the way for me. He does it “for me”, carrying me in him.
This means that you and I are contemporaries of any event we read in the Gospel.
Are you with me?
This is simply: Huge.
It is something not to be taken lightly: if somebody, of that ilk, made such things for you, you can’t just say: “Incarnation is when the Son of God takes flesh in the womb of Mary”. He didn’t just “take a human nature”. No, no. He took infinitely much more: he took you and me. Carried you and me, in Him, in his human nature. His made of his human nature our dwelling place, our tent.
The “lamb” (Jesus seen as “the Lamb”) is a word that fundamentally expresses a mystical dimension, a mystical Being who is capable of absorbing other beings in him (out of Love, and by Love). John, the one who performs Jesus’ Baptism, calls Him: “the Lamb” (see John 1:29). Of course he alludes first to the daily sacrifice of a Lamb in the Old Testament (see Exodus 29:38-42) but he certainly, by the Holy Spirit, sees further, sees the Sacrifice of the Cross.
Jesus is about to start his Mission, he enters in the river Jordan, symbol of our humanity, of the body, soul and spirit of each one of us. This is surely mystical (for the “mystical dimension” of christianity please see this article: “The unavoidable mystical dimension of Christianity”)!
This movement of union with each one of us, movement of “entering” in each one of us, a descent in us, will continue until it reaches its greatest height: the Death of Jesus on the Cross.
As you can see on the diagram below we are deepening our understanding of the steps of the Incarnation.
|3- The Journey of the Son of God is a descent in us to unite Himself with us
Incarnation: is not only “entering in mere time and space” of the Eternal God. It is much more. It is not just entering in human nature (“taking flesh”). It is about using this “flesh” as a “Tool” in order to enter, mystically, deeper, in each human being.
The Son of God is the Redeemer, therefore, His Incarnation is finalised by this goal. The Incarnation itself, its own texture, is a journey of entering in the human being, in order to then “carry” him, inside, like a sponge, and bringing him back to God. Therefore the incarnation doesn’t end when he is born from Our Lady. It continues. He continues His journey of getting closer to us, in order to Redeem us. This is the way of Love. Love attracts and unites the one who loves, to the object of his love. “Love” is the Holy Spirit, the main Author of the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit attracts Jesus toward us, in order to be united with us. But we are darkness, half-dead, far from God, we are “sitting in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-79 and Is 9:1). Jesus follows this “Law” of attraction, of desire to be united, that moves Him constantly. This “Law” in Him is the Holy Spirit.
The Son of God has to reach the depths of the human being in order to be able to carry them, bring them back to the Light, to God. This is to save. It is a “physical” incarnation in the human being.
This journey of descent in us is also a journey of purification: He purifies us.
In order to do so, He proceeds by steps, stages. From outside of our being, He enters toward the deepest layers of our being.
– He purifies our body, by all the efforts of his body, his fasting, his sacrifices, his ascesis, his acceptance of the body sufferings (thirst, tiredness, …).
– He purifies our emotions (part of the soul): he loves everybody, even those that cause him a lot of pain because of their heart, which are hard like stone. He walks the extra mile in order to help the ones that need more, who’s souls are troubled. He is patient with all.
– He purifies our deepest part (the top of the soul, its “eye”, the spirit, or heart). He accepts to bear the darkness of our separation from God (“God God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:45-46)). He becomes sin (2 Co 5:21).
– He wants to reach the totality of our being, He accepts to die for us, for each one of us, realising the total exchange of His Being with ours.
The life of Jesus, his ministry, his Redemption, acts in different stages. Each main step in His life corresponds more to specific depths of His Action in us.
His Action, again, is about: getting closer to us, purifying us, transforming us into Him, all this is done by the Holy Spirit.
We can see better now the relationship between His Life, His Action in us, and the Transformation that it realises in the Apostles.
Their account (the Gospels) is not only the book that tells the story of Jesus. It is much more than that. It is the account of Jesus’ work of purification and transformation in us. The book of His descent in us, done out of His Amazing Love. The Gospels are as well the account of the transformation of the Apostles.
For instance, if one would like to follow Peter, to see how Peter followed Jesus, he’ll find these various steps of transformation in Peter:
1- First Peter is generous, entire, and leaves everything for Jesus.
2- Peter of course acts humanly. Even if his goal is divine (Jesus), like everybody, he starts by receiving Jesus’ “Milk” in the sense that he perceives what Jesus does rather in a human way. Jesus starts with him, by purifying his senses, human attachment to material things (clothes, food, pleasures, human glory…). He shows him the first steps.
3- Peter reaches the peak of this first part of his spiritual journey (see Mt 16) when he recognises, by inspiration from God, the Divinity of Jesus. This shows the journey accomplished, the first freedom he reaches, he who left everything to follow Jesus. But a lot is still to be transformed in him, he can’t go deeper unless Jesus “drags” him to it. He strongly (out of his short sighted views) refuses to accept Jesus’ death, or that anybody would even harm him. He is holding, humanly, to Jesus.
4- Jesus starts to behave differently from Peter’s perspective (Jesus heads to Jerusalem).
5- This is the peak of his change, and deep purification: when Peter has to face the apparent total loss of all what constitutes his life: Jesus. Jesus will die. Peter says he will defend him, he does so with his sword, but in the end, he doesn’t know what he is doing. He ends up, with his “human way of following Jesus”, experiencing the total weakness of his way, his total incapacity to follow Jesus. He ends up by saying: I don’t know Him. Peter reaches the peak of his purification, he experiments his nullity, his nothingness, his radical incapacity.
He then has to face Mary.
He then has to face Jesus, Risen.
Peter is now different. He knows he is nothing, and that he can’t follow Jesus, with just generosity. One needs much more.
Do you see my point? Do you see how the Gospel is the first book of “Spiritual Theology”, because it tells, by the Apostles, their autobiography, how they “followed Jesus” and the steps in following Jesus. They had the audacity, supreme audacity, of telling us their fiasco, their total, and radical failure. You do not find in any religion the sincere recognition from the first disciples of a founder of a religion of their nullity.
Nobody believed in the Resurrection! This should attract our attention to the fact that the Gospel is a kind of an “autobiography” of his first followers. Or better: the Gospel is the book of the spiritual journey of transformation of Jesus’ follower.
Do you see my point? We follow their footsteps.
Peter is really the head of the Church, not because he did this or that. He is the head, because he embodies the way of following Jesus, he shows us, in himself, in his life, the stages of “following Jesus”. His failures are normal, and they embody the curve we are all invited to follow, in order to die, and rise with Jesus. The stages of his spiritual transformation are offered clearly to all of us.
Please do read and meditate on the above diagram (click on it to enlarge it). See the stages of Jesus’ descent in us. Try to see how Jesus in fact, after his Incarnation, is still entering deeper and deeper in us, in Peter. See the quotes you find on the diagram that help understand the different stages.
4- What is the point of “knowing the stages of spiritual life”?
The knowledge of the stages of the action of the grace of God is fundamental for our life. It gives us a better idea of:
– what God wants to realise in us,
– the abundance of the Graces He wants to give us
– what we are supposed to do in order to receive all these graces
– the richness of the Synergy He wants to have with us
* Synergy: is a Theological expression, which comes from the Greek Fathers. It belongs to the Theology of the Holy Spirit, or the Theology of Grace. Synergy is the common, combined action of God and us, united. In this action God is always the first one, who calls, who initiates. He is the one that accompanies us during the action. He is the one that helps accomplish, realise, and give its perfection to our action. The action comes from Him and goes back to Him, glorifying him. When it goes back to Him, it goes back Him & us, us & Him.
– In front of such knowledge we remain in awe, grateful to God, to Who He is, to all His Goodness.
– In the beginning, this knowledge is only in a “form of science”, not yet an “experience of God”. If, step by step, it is not put into practice, this knowledge can turn against us and condemn us saying: “you knew it, why didn’t you put it into practice?” This is true.
– But in the same time we cannot choose between “knowing” and “not knowing”. It is the duty of each Christian to “seek the Truth”, in order to conform his life to it (putting it into practice). It is as well a sin not to seek the Truth. Jesus came to reveal to us not only the life of God, the Trinity, but to lead us to this life, showing the Way that leads to it, and the stages of such journey.
– Such knowledge is a place for new discoveries of what the Lord prepared for us. By it, we get to know better the content of the Revelation. These discoveries are a great source for graces in our life.
– The benefits of such graces are that they push us, they encourage us to dig deeper, to have a greater understanding of our life and of what it is worth. They build/shape our “act of hope”: they show us where God wants us to go, what He wants to realise in our life. Without the “act of hope” our life is emptied from its contents.
– We can’t afford to remain ignorant of that specific knowledge and the Power it brings with it, in setting upright our Hope. If one doesn’t know which door to knock at, how will he/she obtain all the graces that are enclosed behind the right door? This knowledge is vital for triggering the journey of our growth. It is necessary to help us reach the fullness of the height of Jesus (see Ephesians 4:13), i.e. the fullness of our salvation.
– Each stage and level is in fact the result of a deeper purification, and therefore brings a deeper and greater level of the Action of the Grace of God in the area that it freed/purified. Of course the Holy Spirit needs to reach the roots of our being in order really to “possess” the human being and really act with greater synergy/freedom in/with him. Until then, one cannot be totally “in the Hands of God”. Knowing all that is very important in order to prepare ourselves to receive all these graces, and to remind ourselves each day of them. It makes us accountable to them. This knowledge forms our conscienceand helps us make the exam of conscience. As we see: who says “conscience”, says “exam of conscience”.
A better understanding of Jesus’ Action
Let us now continue to deepen our understanding of the direct, inner, mystical Action that the Holy Spirit has in us in each stage of the Life of Jesus. Jesus wants to be our Way, this means that He opens the way for us, in order to come back to the Father, step by step, until we reach the Union with Him and the Father. Each step of His life has a meaning for us, belongs to us and is a teaching and purification.
In the diagram below one can see the little arrows that go from Jesus’ life to us. So the “descent” of Jesus is really a descent in us, and a purification action in us, that goes deeper and deeper in us, until He reaches the “bottom of our being”.
|4- Jesus’ descent in us, out of Love
As we see, we have to descending arrows, one in red (Jesus’ one) and one in blue (our one). From each stage of Jesus’ life, we have arrows that go from Jesus to us. The redemptive, transformative action of each act in Jesus’ life brings graces to us. The grace, the influence of Jesus on us is symbolised by the little arrows we see going from the red descending line, to the blue one. The purification Jesus is performing is each stage of His life is seen this way:
1- The first main stage of the purification Jesus performs in us starts with the beginning of His Ministry.
Christ purifies our body, our senses and our attachment to earthly things. Remember: this phase starts with his Call to the first disciples and therefore they leave everything (as it is stated in the Gospel) and follow Him. They leave their dear ones, their work, their ambitions, their dreams. They found the Messiah, therefore, they found everything in Him. They will follow Him for three years, they will be healed by Him, and receive His teachings. They will receive as well the power to heal and preach.
2- The second stage of their purification is when Jesus, after rooting them in Him, starts to predict for the first time his Passion and Death. The “end” of His Life, doesn’t look anymore positive. Definitely, he is not an earthly Messiah. Things start not to work in a human way, according to the human view of Jesus follower. It is not all positive, successful, magic and easy. Jesus starts to show a different way, it is like a junction on the way. Jesus starts to go deeper in his formation and purification of his apostles. He purifies their emotions, their heart. He teaches them to love not out of the goodness of the person they love, but out of the Goodness enclosed in God. Instead of just establishing a human reign, Jesus starts to head, with determination, toward Jerusalem, and toward His supreme Sacrifice.
3- The third stage of the purification of the Apostles is when Jesus enters his Passion, with His Last Supper when he offers his Body and Blood to his disciples. He starts to get sad, knowing he is facing his Passion and Death, having to carry all our sins, having to drink the cup of our sins and of our darkness. Knowing that he has to undergo all the suffering, the unjust treatment, for our sake. Jesus starts to enter with his human nature deeper in Our Soul. He carries our darkness, like a sponge he sucks all our being, grabbing us in His Hands, in order to bring us to the Father.
He purifies our Soul, absorbing in Him our darkness, the distance between us and God.
4- The Fourth and last part of Jesus’ purification that He performs on us, is to reach the Cross, and be crucified for 6 hours. 3 with the Sun, and 3 without sun. That shows the degree of darkness he was in. In this vital great moment of salvation, Jesus is totally absorbing us in His Being, becoming us, out of Love, i.e. by the Action of the Holy Spirit.
5- A Question
Question: “In your diagram, what do you mean by “culturally” ready to absorb our humanity?”
Answer: When I do mention this expression, I am speaking about the time when Jesus starts His Mission, at the age of 30. He is first Baptised. Here is how I did put it in the Diagram: “Baptism of Christ: at the age of 30 (see Luke 3:23), He starts His ministry. Christ is ready to receive us in Him. The Sponge is culturally and humanly ready to absorb our humanity.”
As I did mention in “The Spiritual Journey 2”, Jesus grows, in His human nature, as saint Luke says: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). His Divine Nature doesn’t grow, doesn’t require any growth.
To Save us “out of love”
Since God wants to save us with His human nature, considering His Human Nature as a noble living “tool”* we need to pay attention to the way God does it.
*”tool”: first, let us not be offended by the expression “tool”. It has to be taken and understood and an image, and only taking part of the similarity not all of it. Because a normal “tool” we use in our daily life is rather a “dead” one. While we can’t say that about the “human nature” that the Son of God takes. It is alive. A body, a soul and the highest part of the soul: the spirit, are very alive, they have their functions, and their relative autonomy according to their very nature. They are called here “tool” only in a analogical way. They have their total and full dignity. So let us not take the negative aspect of the image.
It would have been much “easier” for God to save us with his Divine Nature alone, but this wouldn’t be an “out of love” way to save us, it would have been “out of power”. Love makes the one who loves similar to the beloved.God loves us, and it is because He loves us that He wants to save us and bring us back to Him. God is moved by love, by His very Nature (the Divine Nature): Love.
So, since Love (the Holy Spirit) makes the One Who loves (Jesus) similar to the loved one (us), He wanted to get as close as possible to us (including all what constitutes us as “humans”, i.e. culture). He then wanted to be like us, as much as He could (except for sin). This means that all the pores of his Human Nature (body, soul and spirit) had to open, develop, and be similar to ours, and “discover” us. Of course in His Human Nature, He is purer than us. But “pure” means as well with greater sensitivity, greater intelligence, greater capacity to love.
|“He [humanly] learned obedience” (He 5:8)
He wanted to be similar to us, starting with His Culture: He is born amongst the “chosen People of God”, in a specific moment in history, in a specific land, with a specific language, specific habits, traditions, concepts: in a word: He had a specific Culture.
He certainly, out of love, did observe us humans, and studied us, in order to love us more, and to help us better. Of course He had high knowledge, coming from his Divinity and from the Holy Spirit, reaching his soul. But still, in order to use his “human nature” according to the laws and functioning of his human nature, out of love, He had to “undergo” the speed (the slowness) and capacity of digestion of the human process of growth (it takes years, rightly)!
Sometimes we pay less attention to the 30 years of preparation of Jesus. At 12 he becomes adult according to the Jewish tradition. He goes to the Temple.
|Jesus, at 12, in the Temple
Then, after that, he comes back to his home town and to his home town. And continues the human process of growth, from 12 to 30: this means 18 years of “work” of preparation. “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” (Luke 2:51)
|Jesus and Joseph
This great “work” He goes through is very important in order to understand the whole process of Salvation/Redemption.
He saves us with His humanity (as pointed out in a previous post (Spiritual Journey 2), mentioning a Council that defined that issue, “Constantinople III, 680-681”), and His Human Nature (body, soul and spirit) is like a “hand” (or a “sponge”) that is supposed to “grasp” us, hold us, embrace us, surround us, absorb us, be united with us.
His Body holds and embraces for inside our body,
his Soul our soul, and
his spirit our spirit.
(his “spirit” is the highest point of his soul; saint Thomas Aquinas calls it in latin: mens)
In order to “hold” us tightly, and be united with us, His human Nature (the “tool”) has to be ready: mature, adult, knowing his own culture, the words, the mentality, the habits, and tons of things that constitutes a “culture”.
With His Human Nature he had to undergo this journey in order to get closer to us. So these years (from 12 to 30) are very important for that purpose.
During these years He is constantly getting (with his human nature) closer and closer to us, getting a better inside understanding of “who we are”, our weaknesses… He is our Saviour, and he took the human journey of growth to be as well “perfectly human” (as it is needed for that type of salvation: the salvation “out of love”).
In order to save, out of love, according to God’s vision, He needs to be perfect God and perfect human. Coming out of the womb of our Lady doesn’t make him (or any other being) a fully human being. In the animal world, us humans (we are more than animals but it is just a comparison), we are the specie that requires the greatest number of years to achieve maturity, and readiness for life. The process in long. We do not become humans by just coming out of the womb of our mother. We need years and years.
So, in order to become our Perfect Saviour, Jesus had to become Perfectly Human. In order to reach that “perfection”, he had to undergo, out of love, this journey of human, cultural growth.
He wanted for us Mercy, He wanted to understand us, from inside of his Human Nature, therefore, He went through this journey. This is why, I said that at that time (at the age of 30), when he started His Public Mission, he was ready, in his Human Nature.
Of course, at each age, He was perfect: He had the human perfection of each age. But He still had to go through all the ages. If He really wants to save us “out of Love” he had to be as close as possible to us, and similar to us as much as possible. So we can recognise in Him not only “the God that knows everything”, but “the Human Nature” that feels us, that carries us, that underwent through all that trouble to Save us.
The preparation of His Words
Plus, you have to add the fact that His words, all the words that He will use to save us, were like prepared, backed, in his Human Nature, during all these years. They came out of His Human Nature (brain, soul,..), full of Divine life, truthful to God, but as well truly truthful to us humans (having a human aspect to them).
Jesus had to “form” them in Him.
It is too easy to consider that everything landed in his humanity, in his human nature, from above, by the action of the Holy Spirit. But this understanding is heretical, in the sense that it doesn’t respect a theological rule that says that each nature had to work and act according to its own rules and functions (see st. John Damascene, “De fide orthodoxa”, taken on board by st. Thomas Aquinas “Summa Teologica” IIIa Pars).
The words He uttered, these words that are described as “Spirit and Life” (see John 6), i.e. that contain “Holy Spirit” and “Divine Life” have been formed in His Human nature throughout the years: his sensibility, his choice, his brain, his culture, what he saw and received in his culture from his mom, his adoptive father, his family, his human experience, what he noticed and observed.
These words that He uttered and that saint John, in his Gospel, admires, are really a great achievement. They are like Him, in the same fully Divine and fully human. They took time to “bake” in Him, adhering to His human rhythm of growth, forming them, in Him, by the help of the Holy Spirit and his prayer. (Here I am speaking about the human side of Jesus).
His Perfection, at each stage of His human life, is not at all undermined by that growth. He is God at all the stages of His life. He has as well the human perfection of each stage of His life. But still, he “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
6- The Spiritual Journey 5/11
In this 5th diagram (see below), we continue our deepening of Jesus’ descent in us. Doing so is the first step in trying to understand the complete shape of our “spiritual journey”. In order to “understand the Way” itself (the steps of our Spiritual Journey) we have first to understand “what Jesus did for us”, “how He opened the way for us”, “how He became the Way for us”. As you see they are both directly related. Understanding Jesus’ journey helps us understand our journey, through the new way He opened for us(about the “new Way” He opened for us see He 10:20; Is 35:1-10; Is 11:15-16).
Remark: As you see, “real dogmatics” lead to “real Spiritual Theology”. They are two sides of the same coin, totally adapted to each other, they match perfectly. They attract each other, they call upon each other. They sift each other as well, in the sense that when dogmatics become too abstract (i.e. not “practical”) it should be revised, purified; remember “all Theology becomes Economy”, according to the Father’s adage. Both, Dogmatics and Spiritual Theology, put together, they constitute “Integral Theology”. We’ll come back to “Integral Theology” another day.
This fifth diagram we are about to study is all commanded by this quote from saint Luke where Jesus says: “I have to undergo an Immersion” (Lk 12:50). As you can see, the verb “immersed” is preferred to the word “baptised” that you’ll find in the majority of the translations. “To immerse” translates the verb “to baptise”. So, it is better to put “immerse” in order to remember what it means and not to jump into rapid conclusions (about “baptism”) that are not in the text.
Jesus’ choice of the verb “to be immersed in” is very deep and opens in front of our eyes a whole mystical dimension to the operation of salvation He undergoes. Here we will explore some of its angles. “mystical dimension” means that we are invited to dive in the deep waters of the expression, and not to fall in the trap of just giving it the reading or interpretation that our brain today can grasp. It is a real mystery. Like an ocean, the mystery invites us to dive in it and explore it. A “mystery” is not dissuasive (it doesn’t deter us), it incites (it invites us). “mystical dimension” means that it is not “one dimensional”, but it has many dimensions and implications. “mystical dimension” means that “salvation” (the immersion) is not a mathematical, or a juridical operation, it implies the existence of a real interaction between Jesus and us. He mystically reaches each one of us during His lifetime and more especially during his Passion and Death. Deeply, and invisibly (but truly), He touches us, transforms us, and is united mystically to us – He does it of course from His part, and we will have to receive all what He does for us. Not being able to see it with the naked eye doesn’t mean the eye of the soul and the eye of the spirit can’t see anything. Blessed are the mystics who can see what is happening and can describe it and enrich our faith and love!
“I have to undergo an Immersion”
Jesus has to undergo an immersion. All His Mission is to achieve this Immersion. All His life is a long Immersion, a long descent in us. When Jesus says it (Lk 12:50) He is obviously alluding to His Passion and Death. This is obvious. To a degree, this is the toughest part of his Immersion, so the global is named after the part.
We shouldn’t reduce though the “immersion” to a limited moment of Jesus’ life (his Passion and Death). The Incarnation itself of God, in a body-soul-spirit, is itself a first step in the long journey of immersion that the Second Person of the Trinity, God, is undergoing. As we previously said, this journey doesn’t stop there, it continues until it reaches the very moment of Jesus’ Death, where He reaches the bottom of our being, uniting himself totally to us.
This immersion covers not only the whole length of Jesus’ life, it covers as well:
– all humans (each human being)
– all places
– all times.
Nobody is excluded from this immersion. In this sense, any human being, in any moment in history, in any place in the globe, can contemplate a moment of Jesus’ life and say: “this moment belongs to me, and I see my Lord entering in me, trying to offer me His transformative Spirit, in order to purify me and make me “His” “.
It covers as well all the human being. From the most exterior part of ourselves, to the most interior and deepest part of us: our spirit, passing through our soul. All our being is assumed, purified, transformed and saved by by the Son of God. He enters and enlightens all the parts of our being.
Blue: waters of our human nature
The blue colour used in this diagram, from light blue to deep dark blue symbolises the waters of our being where Jesus has to be immersed. This choice of colour helps us visualise better that journey of descent, from the most “light”, exterior part, to the most “difficult”, interior part of us.
|5- Jesus’ immersion in us
Washing our dirty feet
Another quote may attract our attention: “I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet” (John 13:14). This quote explains more specifically what the Lord performs mystically during His Passion. Here, the image the Lord is using is still “water” but in a different way, not a baptism but a simple direct washing. Of course the meaning is the same, because “to baptise” is to wash and purify.
Here, the Lord is the one who uses the water of His Love and Sufferings, the water of His Human Nature, united with His Divinity and full of Holy Spirit, in order to wash and purify us.
He says that He is washing our “feet”. “feet” are the lowest part of our being, the part of the body that is most exposed to dirt. If He washes our “feet”, this means that he washed “all our being” (see John 13:10 “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean”). If the toughest part is done, this means that it is preceded by the easiest parts. Purifying our spirit is the toughest, then the soul, then our body.
This image of “cleaning the feet” sheds a light on the “immersion in us” He is performing. Immersion brings cleansing, immersion is cleansing. They, Purity brings Union.
Drinking the cup of our sins
Another image can help us enter in the divine meanings of this “Immersion”: “drinking the cup” (Matthew 26:39 “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this Cuppass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
The “cup” here alludes to the cup full of our sins. It is a “bitter” cup. Sin is a distance from God. Therefore “drinking” the cup means that He integrates in Him, He experiences the distance between us and the Father, the darkness where we are (see Is 9:1:), the darkness we became. “Drinking” here shows how we are intimately assimilated to Him. We become part of Him. What a frightening concept to get that close to Darkness for a Being who is ONLY “divine LIGHT”.
Carrying our sins
One final image can help us understand better the “Immersion” that Jesus is undergoing: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) He is the Lamb of God. The characteristic of the “Lamb of God” is his permeability, his “capacity of absorption”. He carries the sins. But not only the “sins”, He carries first and foremost all the Human Being.
Plus, one has to mention the capacity of exchange: He takes our being, He takes our sin, our darkness, and, in the same time, He offers His Divine Life. He communicates His Holy Spirit.
This is the double way action of the Holy Spirit: from one side: He purifies, and from the other He communicates Divine Life.
The Body of the Lamb absorbs our Body, His Soul absorbs and carries our soul, and is united to it, and His spirit as well.
The Pastor carries his sheep
An image that goes with this last one is the image of the “Pastor carrying on His shoulder his sheep” (Luke 15:1-7). The deep analysis of the “immersion” we are going through, suggests that in reality the Pastor (Jesus) is not only carrying us on His shoulder, but “inHim”… His Body carries our body, His Soul carries our soul and His spirit carries our spirit and brings it back to life.
7- The Spiritual Journey 6/11
With this 6th diagram (see below) our presentation of the Spiritual Journey has a turning point. We are not anymore addressing just “Jesus’ Journey in us”, and “His Action in us”, we start to consider our own journey, as a direct result of Jesus’ Action in us.
As you will recall, this series of diagrams is meant to present and explain the total shape (topography) of our “spiritual journey”. We had first to see Jesus’ Journey, Jesus’ action in us, because it shapes our future Journey. His journey is inseparable from ours.
Now that we clarified Jesus’ journey, we start to focus on ours (our “spiritual journey” is rooted in Jesus-our-Way). This is why the diagram has an ascending curve. We are climbing the Mountain of Perfection that leads to the Union with Jesus-God. We are going upward.
- The Goal of Spiritual Life
You may notice at first that the goal of the ascent is not God himself (the Divine Nature). This would mean that the top of the mountain goes directly to the Trinity. Here, you have a slight difference. But in fact it is not a small difference, it is a very important and big difference. We aim to reach Jesus, the One who is “perfect God” and “perfect Man”. Our ideal is to be united with Him, to be like Him, so our life on earth becomes an extension of His Life. He is our ideal, because He is not God only, but Man as well (“Son of Man” says the Gospel). Our ideal is not to reach something beyond Him. In Him we find the fullness of Divinity and we get ready to our journey of greater service, with Him and in Him.
- Note: many authors did make the mistake of putting that in spiritual life we aim to reach the “Union with God” and then after we die. But “God” here, understood as the goal of our life (union with God) is not precise, and can mislead. We cannot have as an ideal a Being that is not incarnated. We cannot put an end to our spiritual life right after the “union with God”, this is not what Jesus wants from us: the perfect disciple follows the example of His Master. All the Apostles did die like their Master. This “deviation”, or incomplete initial vision of the journey of spiritual life did happen because of many factors: one of them is the influence of Greek philosophy during the first centuries of Christianity. Their ideal was the “theoria”, or “Theology”, which is to reach the One, God, and contemplate Him. This is not at all wrong (this is why it was widely accepted as a christian position) but it is incomplete.
In fact, we want to reach Jesus, the fulness of Jesus, the fulness of his height, as saint Paul put it. And “reaching Jesus” is not the final stage of our spiritual life. We want to be “in Jesus” and “Jesus in us”, alive and acting, in order to continue His mission on earth and reach the “fullness of love”. This is the real final goal.
In the Journey of our spiritual life, we have then like two poles/goals:
- to reach the top of the Mountain: the union with Jesus: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Ga 2:20)
- to reach the bottom of the Mountain: the fullness of love: “I complete in my flesh whatever remains of the Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Col 1:24) All this, especially the second part of our spiritual journey, will appear in the coming diagrams.
This is why, already in this diagram, the arrows that symbolise Christ’s Journey and our spiritual journey, not only do unite in the end (Christ starts to live and act in us), but the tip of the arrows does point downward (and not upward). It is anticipating the journey of descent, at the image of Christ who, being fully man, did choose for our sake and for the sake of our salvation, to descent more: Christ “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; “Christ Jesus: rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a Cross!” (Phil 2:5-8) We can say that reaching the “Union with Jesus”, we do not consider our union with Jesus-God something to be used to our own advantage… we humble ourselves, by becoming obedient to Jesus’ command, imitating Him, to death, a death on a Cross.
For now, let us focus on the ascent, and how it happens in us, how it follows Jesus’ life as it is presented in the Gospels, as we saw it in the previous diagrams.
|6- Jesus’ influences along the Spiritual Journey
As we can see, for now, we have at least 6 stages in our spiritual life, that coincide with Jesus’ Journey in the Gospels. Remember: the journey of Peter and the Journey of Jesus are matching: in each stage, Christ has a more specific action on the apostles and his followers. On the Diagram above, you can notice the two lines of ascension: Christ one (in darker colours) and ours (in clearer colours). You can see the little arrows that rise from Christ’s line to ours, they symbolise the mystical transformative Action of Jesus in us, in each phase.
- Note: Of Course, Christ is free to act in the order He wants, according to our need seen by His Wisdom. Normally though, He acts this way: from the most exterior part of us to the deepest. Purifying us, step by step, going deeper, changing the way He acts (from the “milk” to the “solid food”), the intensity of His Action grows, since the purer we are the less obstacles we oppose to His Action in us.
Here are the 6 stages of the journey that we can discern for now (we will explore more stages later), and they follow the description of the majority of the Spiritual Masters who mentioned the steps of our spiritual journey (saint John of the Cross and saint Theresa of Avila):
- First part of Jesus ministry: “Purification of the Sense”
- Second part of Jesus ministry: Turning point, Peter’s Declaration, Jesus predicts his passion and death, Jesus heads towards Jerusalem: “Purification of the Soul” (emotions)
- Third part: Jesus enters in His Passion: “Purification of the Spirit”
- Fourth part: Jesus dies: ends of the purification, “Spiritual Betrothal”
- Fifth part: Jesus Rises, Appears for 40 days, Ascends into heaven at the Right hand of the Father: “Spiritual Marriage”
- Sixth part: Pentecost: the Coming of the Holy Spirit: the Living Flame starts to Sparkle. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
If Jesus’ action in the first 3 stages is of “purification”, the 4th is more of illumination, and the 5th of Union. This is according to the classical division of the journey inherited from Greek Philosophy.
8- The Spiritual Journey 7/11
“Christ is our Way”
Christ said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and Life” (John 14:6).
– He is our “Life”, our “inner breath”, “the way we connect to the Grace of God”. Saint Paul says it his way: “it is not me who lives, it is Jesus who [dwells in me and] lives in me” (Ga 2:20).
– He is the “Truth”, our Truth, who we are according to God and who we should be. He has a human nature like us, perfectly man: body, soul and spirit, like us. He is our truth, the “Son of Man”. We have to worship God the Father “in Him”, the Truth. “true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:23).
– He is “the Way”: He opens the way for each one of us, He acts “for us”, he makes all the acts we will have to do during our life, so we are made ready (by receiving the Grace) to do them.
He opened this “New Way” for us on the Cross: “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh […]”. (He 10:19-20). We can’t reach the Father if we don’t go through this Way of transformation: “nobody can reach the Father without going through Me” (John 14:6).
Let us contemplate the “Way” He opened for us, the “Journey of Transformation” He “ploughed” for us with His Body, His Soul and Hi Spirit. He opened in himself our Journey so we can grow, climb Him, until we reach His Heart, or Side. The Side of Jesus is the exact place of our New Birth: “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” (see John 19:33-37)
The different moments of Jesus’ life are like stages of transformation for us, transformation in Him. Step by step, our body, our soul, and our spirit are transformed in His body, His soul and His spirit.
The “new man”, the “new creature” can then appear.
The journey shown here in the diagram (see below) could be seen as the journey of climbing a Mountain (Christ Himself).
This journey, the Layout of the journey, is our secure “Spiritual Way”, the journey of our realisation and transformation, the only Adventure that is worth living here on earth, the meaning and purpose of the journey of our life on earth, the definition of the core of our life.
Spiritual Theology: Part I of the Journey
Technically wise, according to “Spiritual Theology”, we cannot invent a different Journey and other Stages than the ones shown by Christ, in the Gospel. Our Journey is fundamentally “christological”: it follows Jesus’ path. The transformative action of the Holy Spirit in us aims fundamentally to conform us to Christ, following the trail of His “Ploughing”.
The theological exposition of the “Spiritual Journey” and its “Stages” in “Spiritual Theology” manuals should follow very closely Christ in the Gospel. Otherwise, the risk is to invent steps that are not the Truth, our Truth. Jesus is our Truth, the shape of our Journey.
We need to understand and study “Christ the Way”, the reason why there are stages in our formation and transformation, and deepen this understanding by doing proper “theological research”. Some people should dedicate their life to this study and Service in the Church. The need is immense.
The easiest way to understand this journey is just to put ourselves in the shoes of Peter, and just follow the curve of the Gospel, of Jesus’ life, and Peter’s way of following Him, as presented in the Gospel.
For now we have 6 main Stages. Later we will see how the Journey continues after these 6 stages, because the “Union with Jesus”, and “being filled with the Holy Spirit” are the end of “Part I” of the Journey and the beginning of “Part II”. So there is a lot to come in the next posts.
The stages of course start with “Jesus’ call” for us. This doesn’t mean that there is no life before, no preparation, on the contrary. When Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him and he leaves everything and follows Him (see Mt 9:9-13), certainly there are hidden stages of preparation before.
When we start to follow Jesus, we can discern the presence of at least 6 stages. The “stages” are the “stages of the work of purification and transformation pursued by the Holy Spirit in us”. These stages, as shown on the diagram, are as follow:
1- Purification of the sense
2- Purification of the soul
3- Purification of the spirit
4- Spiritual Betrothal
5- Spiritual Marriage (Union with Jesus-God)
6- Acquisition of the Spirit
As we repeatedly said, they follow all together 6 stages in Jesus’ public life and 6 stages of Peter and the Apostle’s response to Jesus.
9- The Spiritual Journey 8/11
With this 8th diagram, we start a totally new part of the journey, the second and final part: the descent.
The descent, at the imitation of Christ.
Once we reach the “union with God”, once we reach the top of the mountain, we are not meant to loose that state, but we are meant to imitate Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8) Having reached the Union with Jesus, He is our Master, our example, we are not higher than Him, we are just invited to become like him. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40) Like him, we have to start our descent.
When Jesus is humbling himself, He never stops from being God. Something similar happens to the person that reaches “Union with Jesus”. When we reach the Union with Jesus-God, we do not stop from being united with Him, deep deep in us, but we do strive to imitate Him, in order to continue the application of the Salvation to our brothers and sisters. We are lead by the Holy Spirit toward this descent.
Paradoxically, after the Union with God, it is not death that is awaiting for us (as many manuals of Spiritual Theologyseem to say), but the second part of our journey: continuing Jesus’ Journey on earth.
Instead of aiming “higher”, toward a death that will give us God, we are invited to look down, to go down, following Jesus, the Logic of Redemption. We are invited to start a new journey of great achievements. Note that the frame remains Christological.
So from a Greek (Greek Philosophers) vision of the climbing journey toward the One, we switch to a christian, christological, vision. This point is fundamental in order to have the right global vision of the whole journey, in its entirety.
What has been achieved until now (the Union with Jesus), allows us, allows Him in us, to perform “great works”, “completing in our flesh” the work of Salvation, or better said: the application of the Salvation obtained by Christ on the Cross on our brothers and sisters.
It is only “being rooted in Jesus” that something so high could be achieved, with total synergy between Christ and us.
Let us now read carefully this 8th Diagram, it deserves all our attention:
Seeing the diagram, first of all one has to notice the curve. Once one reached the top of the mountain, there is curve, a descending curve. If part of our being remains “on top of the Mountain” (the spirit (and therefore the whole being) remains united to Jesus), the rest of our being (soul and body) has to come down, be mystically united to our fellow brothers and sister (by the Holy Spirit), in order to help them, helping Jesus’ apply his Redemption to them. Of course all our being is now rooted in Jesus.
Secondly, one has to notice that this descending journey of the soul, after “the Union with Jesus-God” is following Jesus’ journey. There is nothing “new”, there is no new journey. The Disciple now is much more at the resemblance of his Master. The Master is alive in him. The disciple is not inventing another journey, the Truth is that he has flesh, like the Son of Man, and the latter is in fact his role-model, showing the way for him.
The second part of the journey has the following main stages:
1- Acquisition of the Holy Spirit
2- Turning toward the depth of Charity (the curve)
3- Enrolled in participating into Christ’s Passion
4- Death, out of love, giving our life to our brothers (martyrdom or equivalent)
This is a rapid outline. A lot should be said about each stage, and all what is happening inside.
The “mystical dimension” in the disciple’s life is constant. It has been inaugurated by the Union with Jesus. Of course it started to exist and grow much before, with the Growth of Charity in us, during the purification time.
It would be good to see the diagram, to contemplate it and meditate on the various quotes and thoughts that are on it, in order to engage in this “turning point”: from the ascent to the descent.
Again: the “descent” is not about loosing Jesus, it is about letting Charity (the Power of Love of the Holy Spirit in us) guiding us toward “greater things”. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) The works we do in the descending curve are much “greater” than the ones done in the ascending curve. Why? The reason is simple: the Union with Jesus makes all the difference. The Merit of any act after the union is different. This is why it is very urgent to grow in love and in the quality of love, then to make ourselves busy, noisily busy, with a thousands of things, thinking that we serve the Lord, forgetting that the One Who gives efficiency to our acts is the Holy Spirit.
Let us read what saint John of the Cross says:
“Observe, however, that if the soul has not reached the state of unitive love, it is necessary for it to make acts of love, as well in the active as in the contemplative life. But when it has reached it, it is not requisite it should occupy itself in other and exterior duties—unless they are matters of obligation— which might hinder, were it but for a moment, the life of love in God, though they may minister greatly to His service; because an instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together, though it may seem as if nothing were done. Thus, Mary Magdalene, though her preaching was most edifying, and might have been still more so afterwards, out of the great desire she had to please God and benefit the Church, hid herself, nevertheless, in the desert thirty years, that she might surrender herself entirely to love; for she considered that she would gain more in that way, because an instant of pure love is so much more profitable and important to the Church.
When the soul, then, in any degree possesses the spirit of solitary love, we must not interfere with it. We should inflict a grievous wrong upon it, and upon the Church also, if we were to occupy it, were it only for a moment, in exterior or active duties, however important they might be. When God Himself adjures all not to waken it from its love, who shall venture to do so, and be blameless? In a word, it is for this love that we are all created. Let those men of zeal, who think by their preaching and exterior works to convert the world, consider that they would be much more edifying to the Church, and more pleasing to God—setting aside the good example they would give—if they would spend at least one half their time in prayer, even though they may have not attained to the state of unitive love. Certainly they would do more, and with less trouble, by one single good work than by a thousand: because of the merit of their prayer, and the spiritual strength it supplies. To act otherwise is to beat the air, to do little more than nothing, sometimes nothing and occasionally even mischief; for God may give up such persons to vanity, so that they may seem to have done something, when in reality their outward occupations bear no fruit; for it is quite certain that good works cannot be done but in the power of God.
O how much might be written on this subject! this, however, is not the place for it.” (Spiritual Canticle B, 29:2-3)
10- The Spiritual Journey 9/11
The complete shape of our Spiritual Journey
We are continuing the discovery of the shape of our Spiritual Journey, of our spiritual growth, the new goal and the new stages. The last diagram (8/11) showed us a new part in our spiritual journey. It showed us that the goal of Christian life is not just to reach the “union with God-Jesus” (reaching the top of the mountain). It showed us that, after reaching the Union with Jesus-God, we still have a lot to do, like the Son of God himself when He took flesh. He didn’t jut incarnate, he went much further, He realised a mystical union with each one of us, and the final step in this “mystical union” was our Redemption realised during his Passion, especially during the Crucifixion, bringing us from “darkness” to “Light”. We know how much this cost Him.
This is then for us a “turning point”. Our Journey doesn’t aim only toward “candies” it aims as well (at the image of Christ’s journey) toward Redemption, trial, real love. Instead of aiming to a higher point (God, the very Nature of God, a final Union with the immensity of God, the Beatitude, the Eternal Happiness), we change the angle, and start to look down, and start to “study” the descent… a descent toward a more intense, grounded, serious love to our brothers. We will learn it from Christ, and He will come in us to live it! Pursuing His mission through us.
There is no greater love than to lay our soul, our life, for our brothers and sisters, says Jesus. My new Commandment is to do as I did: to love as I did. You can’t do it just by yourself, you can do it only if you are transformed in Me and Me in you. Otherwise you can’t bare it, its too heavy! When the disciple will be totally formed, he’ll be like his Master (and not “greater than Him”: just seeking Beatitude, not wanting to follow his footsteps). Saint Paul says it: “I am offered like a libation” (2 Tm 4:6), and “I complete in my flesh what lacks in Jesus’ Passion “for his Body””. All the Apostles went through martyrdom (even John who didn’t die from it, went through it). The perseverance in the imitation of Jesus should reach its full realisation, reaching its end goal.
So, when we reach the Union with Him, we are like brought to the point of His Incarnation (when the Son of God takes flesh). We are ready to start the journey of collaborating with Him in the work of Redemption, or more precisely: we are ready to take our share in the application of the Redemption He acquired for each one of us on the Cross, in its application to the rest of the human beings, our brothers and sisters.
The work of “acquiring” Redemption depends totally on Him (because He is the only being who is in the same time God and man, therefore the only Redeemer), but the work of “application” depends on His Mystical Body, us. This is His choice and His will, out the of the mystery of His love for us. He wants us to work with him, to take our share in the work of salvation of our brothers and sisters (its application).
It is already a great love for us, His love that makes us be united with Him (reaching the top of the mountain). But there is even a greater love : to make us share His work of Redemption, so we can work on applying it to our brothers and sisters, and be part of the their salvation.
The full shape of our Journey
The full shape of our Journey is to complete both parts of the Journey: ascending, and descending. With this diagram, we can start from now to see the full shape of the journey: we start our ascent from the bottom of the mountain, we climb the Mountain (Christ himself), being purified by the Holy Spirit, step by step, until we reach the Union with Jesus, and then after a while we start our descent, attracted by the weight of Charity, heading toward a greater love of our brothers and sisters.
Again, going up we are following Jesus’ journey in the Gospel, receiving the purification from Him, and going down, we are following Jesus’ journey in the Gospel, but this time, He is in us and us in Him, giving Him to our brothers and sisters, participating in their growth, purification, reception of the Redemption realised by Christ.
|The full shape of our Journey
Both ways we meet Jesus, His Mission and His Passion; we follow the same journey of His. The first part by receiving Jesus, and the second by rather giving Jesus to our brothers.
We are all invited to reach this great love: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”(John 15:13)
11- The Spiritual Journey 10a/11
We meet Jesus’ Passion and His Cross two times
It is important to understand that in our life time, we are supposed to meet the Lord’s Passion, Crucifixion and Death (and Resurrection, it goes without saying) twice. Of course, this is in case we fulfil all our call to follow Jesus, if we realise the whole journey. (Otherwise, some steps are “aborted”.) The two moments are quite different. The first time is – we may say – an “ascending moment”, toward the union with Jesus-God. So when we meet the Passion, it is a fundamental purification time for us. The deepest purification that prepares us for the Spiritual Betrothal and the Spiritual Marriage. This purification is what S. John of the Cross calls: “Dark night of the spirit”.
Note: Let us remember the deep meaning of the “Spiritual Marriage”. It is a deep and real “union with Jesus” who is God. It is something that one has to really study, in order to understand the new synergy that emerges from it, and constitutes it. Saint Paul says something about it when he says: “it is not me who lives but Jesus who lives in me”. Do we really understand what is to have Jesus living in us? Do we know the exact proportion between “Jesus’ Spirit” (the Holy Spirit) and “us” in this synergy? Do we grasp “how it works”? These are fundamental questions each Christian should know, should study. Because this is the meaning of Baptism, and it’s first realisation (the Union with Jesus), this is the meaning of our life on earth.
Jesus lives in us, acts with us, through us. The merits of our acts are His’. It is only by understanding the greatness of this spiritual state that we can address the second part of the Spiritual Journey. To my eyes it is a condition, otherwise we will make a very un pleasant psychological projection.
While the second time (that will usually come much after) we meet the Passion of the Lord happens when we start to understand the “weight of love” (as saint Augustine calls it), how it brings us down toward the earth, toward our brothers, toward the “lower parts of the earth” (see Isaiah 9:2), the people who are walking in the darkness, waiting for their deliverance. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in her Manuscript C mentions as well the “weight of Love”.
The power of the Holy Spirit in us, starts to make us hear in a much greater strength the voice of “those living in the land of deep darkness” (Isaiah 9:2). So we “roll up our sleeves” and start to lay down our life (see John 15:13), in the Hands of the Holy Spirit who offers us (as a “lab” or “womb”) for our brothers and sisters, where salvation can happen: “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Ga 4:19) says a man, saint Paul.
Here is one of the best descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit in this crucial period of descent, when we meet again Jesus’ Passion: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and Someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).
It deserves a commentary. “stretching out our hands”… becoming, because of spiritual marriage, so humble, and in total synergy, docile under the Action of the Holy Spirit. “Someone else”: the Holy Spirit.
Or if you prefer, there is a more “symbolic” description: you get up “from the meal” of the Wedding (its joys, celebrations, enjoyment), like Jesus (see Philippians 2) you “take off your outer clothing”, you empty yourself like Jesus, in Jesus (see Philippians 2), you “wrap a towel around your waist” (purified, and transformed, the Power of the Holy Spirit has much greater grip over you), “After that” you “pour water into a basin and begin to wash your friends’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around you” (See John 13:4-5) Great and deep description of what is offered to the bride of the Lord. He truly made of her a “mother” for others.
The two periods (I- ascent and II- descent) will probably be separated by a “resting” time, an enjoyable time. We may call it a “honey moon”. Right after the “spiritual marriage”, the soul needs to rest a bit, after the deep radical toughness of the purification. Spiritual growth continues, always, there are no limits in Love, in the Action of the Holy Spirit.
So, as we see, in a synthetical way, we have two journeys that end with the Passion (see the Cross on the diagram). One ascending: the purification, always deeper and deeper, and the other, descending: the participation to the Passion of Jesus, for the sake of our brothers.
“Dark night” or “Participation to the Passion”
The two are very different. The description made by the saints of each spiritual stage might look the same (same words, same darkness, same toughness, …), and the bad trend today is to call anything that is a bit tough a “dark night”. “Dark night” is an expression taken from Saint John of the Cross (see his book called: “The dark night”). It is a bad trend/fashion to do that because he is the one who shaped that expression, and in his writings it has one main meaning: purification (and not just any suffering).
You can’t then use that expression and apply it to what happens to the soul when it is invited to “sit at the table of the sinners” (see the Gospel when it is said that Jesus is sitting amongst the sinner for a meal. It is an expression of saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Manuscript C). You can’t help in the purification process of your brothers if you are not even in the Light yourself!! Totally absurd! But the “spiritual literature” today is full of these absurdities that some still call: spiritual theology.
Of course, some small purifications will always continue to happen after the Union with Jesus (Thérèse speaks about them, see Manuscript B, the little bird), but the state of a human being is totally different before the “great trial” of the great purification (end of the ascending curve, meeting the Passion) and after it. By the “great purification”, the soul joins the group of the anawim, the poors of spirit, lead by Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
So, again: we meet the Cross, the Passion, in at least two main moments, ascending and descending. But not in the same way, and not for the same purposes.
One should read the deep and correct analysis Father Louis Guillet ocd made of Thérèse’s so called “trial of faith”, in the end of her life: “Gethsémani ou l’amour crucifié”. He obviously reaches the “conclusion” that what she is going through can only be a participation to the Passion of Jesus, and not the “dark night of the spirit” as many still say.
The “dark night of the spirit” happened much before in Thérèse’s life, just check her letters before early 1893. The years before, she goes through something very tough: it is “the dark night of the spirit”. We’ll come back to that another day.
Just enjoy the vision of the total shape of the spiritual journey.
12- The Spiritual Journey 10b/11
After having presented the whole picture of the “Christian Journey”, we need now to come back to the final goal of Christian life, which is as well the goal of the second part of the journey we are exploring: “dying out of love”, or more classically expressed: “martyrdom”, or simply “Christian death” (not any death).
Martyrdom is the Royal way. The best imitation of Jesus, “the highest level of holiness” in the understanding of the Church, the closest transformation in Jesus. When Jesus sees a Martyr He can say: “now I have a real brother” (saint Francis of Assisi said that when 5 of his brothers died, killed for their faith, in Morocco).
“There is no greater love than to give one’s life to his brothers” (John 15:13). “the disciple is not greater than his master”, he’ll have to die like him: He is the Martyr par excellence.
When we say “holiness is the goal of our Christian life” we need to be more precise and state it this way: “becoming martyr is the goal of our life”.
– Who set that goal? Us (the Church) or Jesus?
– Jesus obviously, and He did it when He asked us to follow his footsteps: “I have the power to give my life and to take it”.
Jesus, The first Martyr
Jesus is the first Martyr. He is “The Way”, He is our Way. We are invited to follow Him, to do as He did, to allow Him to come in us and continue the mystery of His Salvation through us. “Since Jesus, the Son of God, manifested His charity by laying down His life for us, so too no one has greater love than he who lays down his life for Christ and His brothers.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 42) Indeed, Jesus is our example.
Martyrdom, the highest ideal
“From the earliest times, then, some Christians have been called upon – and some will always be called upon – to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 42) In dying as martyrs, we participate to the work of Salvation of Jesus. Help spreading the Good News in a very powerful way. We help the Grace of God change the world. “The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian), it allows the transformation of people. See Saul – who is supporting the killing of Stephen, first Deacon – is touched by the Grace of the death of the first Martyr. It is a kind of a mysterious “exchange”.
|S. Stephen’s Martyrdom (Acts 7). One can see Saul, sitting, watching and approving.
As saint Paul will say later in one of his letters: “death works in me, and Life in you”. Jesus involves him in the work of salvation, by the Power of the Holy Spirit he receives the evil that is working in people, and “transforms” it (the Spirit does that) into Higher Good. This is “the Power of the Cross”, “the Power of the Blood of Jesus”, this is “the Power of the Lamb”! The Crucified only had that unique power, capable of really changing the Evil into a Higher Good.
The blood of the Martyr is the most sacred thing after Jesus. In the early Church, christians used to celebrate Mass on the body of the Martyrs; they are transformed to the highest point into His Body and His Blood. The Perfect imitation of Jesus.
Not only the blood of the Martyrs is the most sacred thing after Jesus, but it is capable of being (by the power of Jesus, and by His unique Merits, being the Only Saviour) seeds for new Christians. Watering the earth with their blood, one can see new shoots of Christians blossoming. This is how Christianity can change the World. The Power of the Martyrs, the Power of their Love, the Love of God outpoured in them.
What is Martyrdom?
“The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world – as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 42)
What about me?
“Though few are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make this profession of faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 42) Are you aware that this text expresses our Faith, yours, mine, and that this teaching is for all of us. This text alone sums up for me all the Council Vatican II. This is how the Church becomes everyday “Sacrament of Salvation” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 48).
This means that: I have to be prepared for martyrdom. This is simply frightening! But in the same time, attracting… fascinating… it puts everything in my life upside down. This is THE measure, THE criteria of being Christian, wouldn’t you agree? So let us “get serious” about our GOAL in life.
Dying out of love, deepening Martyrdom
Since we are all called to the fullness of love, and martyrdom is the classical common expression of this love, it is important to deepen our understanding of martyrdom, so it becomes more accessible to any person. It is important to bring it to its right proportions.
Many many saints desired to reach martyrdom. Just to mention two of the most known ones: saint Francis of Assisi, and saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Both of them desired Martyrdom with great great aspirations and sought it. They both failed in finding it, but for different reasons. The main reason is that God wanted to show them that if the realisation of it is rather rare, realising “the essence of Martyrdom” is accessible to any person, without necessarily dying killed out of hatred of faith (or of any virtue related to faith).
At mount Alverna, Saint Francis of Assisi received the Stigmata. One can see in them the answer (finally) to his prayers wanting to become a martyr. But Thérèse of Lisieux as well sought martyrdom, with all her heart and all her life, and her desire grew exponentially with her spiritual life (see Manuscripts A and B where she mentions it). Instead of dying killed, or receiving the Stigmata, she just simply “died in a bed”, as she said. Apparently one can say: “what a disappointment!”. But in fact, it was an occasion for her and for all the Church to deepen the understanding of the “essence of Martyrdom”. This is an important step for all the Church toward understanding the Way (the stages) that leads to Perfection, to the fullness of the Christian vocation. Remember that Thérèse’s mission was to offer a Way, valid for everybody, and that any person can practice. This is very important.
She understood (and made us understand) many aspects related to martyrdom. We can’t right now explore all of them but we can mention at least the followings:
1- Through her reading saint John of the Cross and his explanations of the deep transformation in God, she understood better Martyrdom, and that it is, in its essence: “dying out of Love”. One finds his explanation of dying really Christianly, in his last Masterpiece: “The Living Flame of Love”. You can read as well something that I am not sure Thérèse did read: his fantastic, and luminous explanation of the essence of Martyrdom, in the third book of the “Ascent of Mount Carmel”.
2- She understood that her desires of Martyrdom are inspired by God. If God inspires something to us, this means that He is capable of realising it.
3- She understood that there is a way to reach martyrdom, starting with the small acts of martyrdom: the daily faithfulness to Jesus. Not dying “out of a sword”, but dying on a daily basis by the “little needles” of daily normal struggles, lived in Jesus, with the help of His Grace… the “little needles” as well of the “dry land” of the apparent absence of the Beloved. Please read her letters to her sisters from her noviciate until early 1893.
4- On day, after that first stage of preparation, purification, transformation, she is lead to discover to which extent she has to rely on the Fire of Love of God, the Holy Spirit, and understands to which extent Jesus-God wants to be love by her (9th of Jun 1895). She offers* herself to the Transformative Power of the Love of the Holy Spirit. She understands that her desires for martyrdom can finally be fulfilled.
13- The Spiritual Journey 11/11
With this final diagram (see below), you have the full picture of our christian journey. Baptism is a Divine Seed: Jesus in us. He needs to grow and reach His fulness, and pursue, through us, His Mission. The stages of growth of that seed are shown in this simple Diagram.
It took us 11 diagrams to move on, from
1- a static vision of Christianity, or better said: a “binary vision” (“on/off”: I am in a “state of grace”, or I am in a “state of sin”). Many people live their whole Christian life without even imagining the existence of something more. They just try to live their life, as “good christians”, and it ends here. They just look forward to “be with God” only after death, as a recompense,
2- through an incomplete vision offered to all, setting the Union with Jesus as its goal, and then we die a little time after. One thinks that we can’t reach higher than that, so we have nothing to do except just aspiring more and more to meet God (to die) and be with Him, during eternity,
3- to finally reach the complete vision, “offered to all” as well: a totally Christocentric Road (at the image of Christ’s journey itself). An Ascent, of the Mountain (Jesus) and, with Him and in Him, a Descent.
As you can see, the journey is parted in two parts, putting a Cross in between, where the heart of the Cross (the meeting point of the two bars) coincides with the “Union with Jesus”.
Is that whole picture for all of us?
You might say: – “Objection: why would Jesus today want us to go through that second part of the journey? Well, He accomplished His Mission, and doesn’t need us.” You can then come up with plenty of quotes corroborating what you say.
– I am not the one who said: “there is no greater love than to give one’s life to the others”. I am not the one who set the goal that hight.
If reaching the “Union with Jesus” means “experiencing something so amazing on earth”, then reaching the fullness of Love (dying like Jesus), is something even “more amazing”. If we consider the fact that Jesus is offering us on earth to be united with Him is an amazing sign of His love for us, and a great work He achieved on the Cross, it is certainly greater to see that He is still offering us something greater.
From the point of view of God, what is greater for Jesus: to “save us, and transform us”, or “to make us with Him and in Him, saviours”? (certainly the latter)
Jesus Himself said: “you’ll do greater things than the one I did” (John 14:12). “God is glorified in His saints”. The Glory that God receives from His saints, i.e. from “earth”, is greater than the glory He receives from “heaven”. It is still His glory that appears on earth. But it is greater to make of “a sinner” a “saviour with Him”, transformed, purified, capable then of doing amazing things, than making a pure being (Jesus Himself) just Save.
Let us remember that our transformation gives God a greater Glory. Let us remember that transforming a sinner into a person capable of loving his brothers with the Love of God and dying for them, is much much greater manifestation of Jesus’ Glory on earth. Again: it is always the same Jesus, and the same glory that work in His Saints. But God achieves much much more glory and victory this way.
So, let us, humbly accept our Vocation, in it’s fulness, and let us accept to give God a greater Glory, here on earth, on the “earth” of our being.
“Amen, amen I say to you, if you believe in me, you will do the same things that I do. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Accepting the full picture
As you see, we needed 11 diagrams in order to be introduced to the complete vision of our “Christian journey”. Do you think it would have been possible to show you the full vision from day one? Would you have been able to “see” the full picture from day one? to digest it? to understand it? And to simply accept it? I really would be very interested to know that. You know why? Because it is of the utmost important for the Church, for the salvation of our brothers to have from day one the full vision. It nourishes our act of Hope, the Theological act of Hope. Without hope, and without clear hope, our act of hope doesn’t really work and doesn’t really make us grow and walk toward the goal. The “Act of Hope” is the propeller of Christian life.
Each Christian should have a full understanding of the whole journey, in order to prepare himself for it. We need to nourish our act of hope correctly, so we are propelled correctly in Life.
We can’t constantly claim that “we are all called to Holiness” and be sort of helpless when it comes to describe the goals, the means, the entire journey. Wouldn’t you agree?
We need to find ways and means to help each christian to really know how great is his/her call, how amazing is the love of God that He not only wants to save us (unite us totally with His Son, through a journey of purification) but wants us to help Him, wants us to receive a greater and more powerful love: to love our brothers, working in their salvation, not with our poor vision/means, but with Him in Us, performing “greater things”.
Please do enrol in this complete vision, please do come and help us. Put your energy, put your enthusiasm at the service of the greatest cause of all: showing the Way.
For further reading:
- “The Interior Castle” of St Teresa of Avila
- “The Spiritual Canticle” of St John of the Cross
- “Intenerary of the Soul” of St Bonaventura
- “The Spiritual Ladder” of St John Climacus
- “Moses’ life” of St Gregory of Nissa
- “Commentary on the book of Numbers” by Origen