The Christian life is far from easy. (I know I’m not telling you something new there!) It’s not something we can pick up in the morning and lay back down at lunchtime. It doesn’t work like that, because relationships don’t work like that. And, because we live in a post-Christian culture it’s even more difficult. We don’t necessarily have the Patagonia store attendant, Google’s search engine manager, your favorite micro brewery’s bartender, au pair, sibling, or parent even, always directing (or redirecting us back to) what is true, good, and beautiful.
This is not foreign to the history of believers though. A large majority of the written lives of the saints were lived during non-Christian times. As a matter of fact, Jesus and the disciples lived during non-Christian times. (This new way of life was just being “developed”!) It was also not a culture that was thrilled about the way of life Jesus preached. But Jesus never apologized for what He preached and what He asked of the disciples and all people. He was confident in what He offered, and we can be confident in it too. Because He is who He says He is. He was all for Love. The Resurrection proved that for us. (Do you need more proof? Google: “Eucharistic Miracles.”)
This confidence can take some time though. So, thankfully, our journey to God has stages. We grow in understanding of who God is and who He is calling each of us to be. I think this is just one more example of what a loving God He is. He doesn’t plunge us into the depths all at once. He invites. We’re nurtured, loved, challenged, stretched, and purified, before the greatest of all things can happen: complete union with Him in Heaven. Recall the story of Moses, if we’re not prepared for it, we can not see God and live (Ex. 33:18-20). Again, we must be prepared to participate in the fullness of Love. Along with the growth in understanding, we are invited into an entire process of renewal.
Regrettably, this growth, which is the call to perfection that is dependent on God’s grace and our openness, can be hurtful to our feminine hearts if not understood correctly.
The Call to Perfection and the Need for Change
I am accompanying a woman in spiritual direction who is growing in understanding of her worth and identity. She has experienced a great deal of rejection by family and friends. She has never felt accepted or loved for who she is. She’s always had to change herself to something that she’s not in order to feel loved, accepted, and even for others to want to spend time with her or go the extra mile to be in an intentional relationship. She explained to me that the purification process, or as she phrased it “the need to change to be in union with God,” is just one more experience of rejection. It’s God telling her that He too needs her to change to love her. Thankfully, this is far from the truth.
Saint Pope John Paul II explains that to grow in holiness, and to ultimately be in union with God, we have wounds from original sin and personal sin that must be healed and transformed. Dr. Ralph Martin, President of Renewal Ministries, says this can be a process that has painful moments. He explains:
“The pain of purification is called by John of the Cross the “dark night.” It is important not to be surprised by the painful moments of our transformation but to know that they’re a necessary and blessed part of the whole process. […] [W]e need to know that all the effort and pain is worth it. Infinitely worth it. The pain of the journey will appear in retrospect to have been light, compared to the weight of glory that we were prepared for (see 2 Cor. 4:16-18) (Fulfillment of All Desire).”
We are being invited to healing and transformation that will make us more fully who God designed us to be. By inviting us into the purification process, it is the biggest compliment God could ever give us. He is telling each one of us that he loves YOU and that sin is not part of you. He wants to remove that so He can be in a relationship with you and nothing else. And, sisters, believe me, because of this purification, we will be much happier! And, we shouldn’t settle for less.
Our Journey to Total Union with God is a Process
As we live an intentional Christian life and grow in relationship with God, we journey through stages that have been described by the spiritual doctors of the Church. The stages that are most commonly used to explain the process of healing and union or spiritual progress are described as the purgative, illuminative, and unitive stages.
These are helpful for many reasons, one of them being an awareness of where you are in your journey and where you need to be so as to fully be who God has created you to be, and ultimately in total union with Him.
Here’s how you can learn to identify each stage of your growth journey (note: elements of the stages can happen simultaneously and not always confined to one or the other stage):
Purgative Way (Beginners Stage)
- It’s difficult to overcome daily temptations (you fall to sin frequently)
- You experience an inner battle as you practice virtue
- You move to the Illuminative Way when you repent of your sins and are proactive not to offend God
Illuminative Way (Intermediary Stage)
- You have a clear understanding of God’s will in your life
- You occasionally participate in sin
Unitive Way (Final Stage)
- You have a constant awareness of God’s presence
- You naturally conform your will to God’s will
- You possess a total love for God and others
Give Me Jesus
The surest and quickest way through the stages of healing and unification is through Jesus.
Father Timothy Gallagher says:
“We pray with the life of Jesus in the Gospels to draw near to Jesus, to seek interior knowledge of Him to love Him more and follow Him more closely. This strengthens and illuminates the mind, lifts it from earthly things, and makes it more fit to perceive and embrace God’s will and to overcome all obstacles (Discerning the Will of God).”
The contemplation of Christ in the Scriptures, reception of the Eucharist, prayer in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and the seeking of Him in our daily lives will unite us most quickly with the heart of the Father. After all, when we seek Jesus, we seek the Father.
By praying and being silent with Jesus before God, we do something significant. We acknowledge God’s Kingship. We are honest about our identity. God is the creator, and we are the created.
We need to be honest about who we are according to God’s design. This needs to show up in our day-to-day, and even in the way we communicate with God in prayer. By doing this, we give God permission to work in us to bring about any needed healing and growth and receive the graces to have the strength to act and live the way we are being called: perfection (Mt. 5:8).
While these are stages and a process is involved, don’t drag your feet about it; seize the day so as to die in friendship with God.