Thursday, 8 September 2016

A book: The Spiritual Journey

This is a book that came out in 2003, sold only during the Courses in London:

The Setting for Christian Hope

Presentation of the book:

The Spiritual Journey, the Setting for Christian Hope is a milestone not only in Spiritual Theology, but more broadly for Christianity. Comprehending the full picture of the Spiritual Journey is essential for each Christian who receives Jesus’ call to follow Him. Having a clearer vision of Jesus as our Way in our call to holiness, allows us to embark with confidence in Jesus- the-Way and daily renew our act of Hope.

The author shares the fruit of his long research in Spiritual Theology, doing so with clarity, in accessible language, based on Jesus’ life and journey. A new understanding of the Gospel emerges, both convincing and captivating. The Journey of following Jesus can then start.

No Christian who prays or who loves Jesus and longs for the Holy Spirit can ignore this teaching.

“The more God wants to give, the more He makes us desire it.”
(St. John of the Cross, Letter XI, 8/7/1589)

“Oh it is incredible how all my hopes have been realised.
When I was reading St John of the Cross,
I beseeched God to realise in me what he says [...].”
(St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Yellow notebook, n°9 31/08/1897) 

The Spiritual Journey – reader’s review.

Upon emerging from the depth of Jean Khoury’s ‘The Spiritual Journey – the setting for Christian hope’, I became acutely aware of how vague and poorly defined much of my Christian thinking and practice had been to date.

‘The Spiritual Journey’ sets before its reader an account of the Christian ‘raison d’etre’ in a lucid, accessible way and, under the most capable and inspirational guidance of its author, we embark upon a journey of transformation.

Jean details the extraordinary meaning of our faith and – most importantly -  points us towards our true goal and the means by which to achieve it. He defines and illuminates the pathway to holiness (on this earth) setting down distinct milestones by which to chart our progress as we follow in Christ’s footsteps.

By drawing together the essential strands of Christian practice (prayer, the Eucharist, Lectio Divina, sacrifice, charity) with rich reference to the Scriptures and writings of the saints, Jean sheds a new, brilliant light on the real meaning of the Christian call to faith.

The work is uncompromising and highly challenging, demanding a radical shift in the reader’s  perception of what it actually means to follow Christ in everyday life.

It is essential, valuable reading for any Christian who wants to move beyond a lukewarm, pedestrian practice to embrace Jesus in His entirety and reap the rewards of God’s love for us on this earth.

M. K.

"I cannot thank you enough for this book which gives us a clear view of our spiritual journey. I am blown away to learn of this second stage of the spiritual journey about this "weight of love". Its beyond me to think there is so much more than I would have imagined after "acquisition of the Holy Spirit". The diagrams have been extremely useful in helping understand your text. I think it is necessary to re-read them a few times as there is so much depth in them!"

R. B.
  Here are the links to the different chapters of the book:

 6- The Spiritual Journey (Diagram 4)
 8- The Spiritual Journey (Diagram 5)
 9- The Spiritual Journey (Diagram 6)
10- The Spiritual Journey (Diagram 7)
11- The Descent (Diagram 8)
15- The Complete Journey (Diagram 11)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

163: Lectio Divina in Daily Life 11: The Call and Lectio

Continuation of "Lectio and Vocation".

a) Lectio permits us to walk this road

In lectio Christ comes first and I second. He speaks and I listen. The danger exists that Lectio, instead of being a time for listening, becomes a moment of decision making for me, where I appropriate the Word for myself. When I do this, I take the place of Christ, and I am no longer listening. For this reason the Holy Spirit helps me to listen, to adjust my relationship with Christ by ceding to him.
There is also a risk of calling oneself, of deciding by oneself the meaning of the Word of the day. But the movement of listening is just the opposite: He begins to speak. The invocation of the Holy Spirit puts us in our right place.
By daily listening to Christ, who calls us to follow him, we find the steps we need to take. And so we walk in Christ’s footsteps.

b) Practicing lectio implies a commitment

Lectio also supposes that one is committed to Christ. The exercise of Lectio is particularly demanding, and it is difficult to listen as long as one is not fully devoted in one’s heart to searching for the truth and to meeting Christ.

St Matthew's Call, Caravaggio, Rome
Lectio and accompanying vocations

Evidently, in order to make a good discernment of a vocation it is necessary to listen to the Lord every day. It is not possible to say that one has a vocation if one does not practise Lectio. That would be tempting the Lord (1). Each person who is called or who wishes to discern, according to his or her possibilities, should practice Lectio. Nevertheless, it is evident that if the Lord calls, or seems to call, (and he calls everyone to follow him), it is not normal to allow only a few possibilities for him to speak to us. Tempting the Lord manifests a lack of wisdom. If one continues to be engrossed in a thousand different things and states: ‘The Lord is calling me; if he does this, he knows what he is doing and he will be able to direct me in another way if he wishes’. But no, the Lord expects us to choose with our will and our intellect. Without us he cannot and will not act. If he does so as an exception he does so in mercy; but normally we come to see that we are inverting the values, and that as a consequence we need to change the rhythm of our lives, even if it comes at a price. Of course, it is good to talk with a priest or an experienced guide. But sooner or later our life needs to progress toward the recognition that lectio needs to be done on a daily basis.

Many people are called and many end up by loosing their call. This does not mean that the Lord has stopped calling them (the Lord does not take back his gifts), but we have regressed to the point of losing what we had gained. A call is like a small seed that must become a big tree. If the seed is not watered, nourished and taken care of, it cannot reach maturity. When the first storm or temptation comes, or another voice, it gives way. People trample on it and the call seems to be definitively lost. Now, Lectio allows the seed to grow, protecting it like a guard tower against everything and everyone. The humble person, who practices Lectio everyday, has incredible strength; he or she is able to confront all the contradictions through the grace coming from the daily encounter with Christ who speaks, consoles and securely guides him or her.

Sometimes people think that a retreat for discernment is sufficient. But before or after the retreat they neglect to be faithful to daily Lectio. If we have discerned that the Lord is calling us and suppose that we have been “put on the right track”, that “all will go well”, we are fooling ourselves, because we have to live faithfully every day!

When mediation blurs

Sometimes certain people do not really discover their vocation: they are oriented; they receive counselling and are directed; but, although they “advance”, they are still distant from Christ. Mediations, instead of being transparent to Christ, they become opaque. The vivifying encounter with Christ does not occur “freely”, and this happens because people do not listen to the Call directly. Now, Lectio puts us into direct contact with Christ. He is the vocation of each baptised Christian; he gives strength and energy; he seduces and draws; he convinces and commits. All mediation serves this relationship, and ought to promote it. But when the mediation is self-interested - often unconsciously - when spiritual direction becomes a projection onto the person being accompanied, a screen is erected which breaks the relationship instead of furthering it. In this case, lectio itself may be compromised.

(1): When the devil tempted the Lord in the desert “he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the Temple, and said to him, `If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here, for it has been written: ‘To His messengers He will give charge concerning you, to watch over you,’ and: ‘On hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.’” But Jesus replied: “‘It has been said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”(Lk 4:9-12). Progressing in one’s vocation without the support of lectio is like throwing oneself down from the pinnacle of the Temple and saying: “The angels of the Lord will save me, since I am God’s child!” It is impossible to advance in one’s vocation without the substantial help of lectio; this would simply be “tempting God”.

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: To know more about Lectio Divina see: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Please remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

162: Lectio Divina in Daily Life 10: Lectio and Vocation

Continuation of : 156: Lectio and Mission

This post on “Lectio and Vocation” is motivated by a frequent and painful observation: the question of what one will become in life, of what form one’s life will take is often asked. Religious consecration? Marriage? Celibacy? Commitment? And so on… We suffer greatly from this preoccupation. And, conversely, we give much less importance to our daily faithfulness to God. In fact, we invert the order of our preoccupations; and this does us harm. We are able to go on a retreat just to find out what we should do in life, but that we should have as great an “anxiety” concerning our faithfulness to God in day-to-day life is a thought that never really touches us.

The aim, then, of this fourth paragraph is to propose an important point of discernment so that we may live better on a daily basis and bring our life to fulfilment  We will come to perceive that there is actually only one call: to follow Christ, to know him – no matter the form in which this will be incarnated. Indeed this call resembles a tree; and lectio is one of the strongest means to ensure its growth. Whereas, the incarnation of our vocation (marriage, religious consecration, etc…) appears in its time like a ripened fruit of this unique tree of faithfulness to God.

To help us in our reflection to determine our practical vocation, let us take the example of the tree. If we do not have much knowledge of the many kinds of trees, and if we see a tiny little tree, we cannot say of what sort it is: an orange tree or an apple tree… We will be able to determine what kind of tree it is by seeing its fruit. The same is true of a vocation. It appears on the tree in the form of a ripened fruit and tells us what kind of tree it is. If we see an apple, we will know that it is an apple tree. So, instead of asking ourselves, and torturing our minds, centring our prayers on this preoccupation, we should instead apply our attention to watering the tree. In fact, if we spend our time asking questions instead of watering the tree, we will be preventing the realisation of our vocation.

Lectio is offered as one of the best means for helping the tree to grow. Through it, we may know directly, when the time comes and not before, what we are destined to be. God could indeed reveal this to us, but this knowledge might lead us to travel too quickly, missing some important steps and inverting priorities. This is why he often hides this knowledge from us for a long time, and sometimes right up to the last moment. He is then using a pedagogical method which teaches us to attach ourselves to what is essential: Himself, day after day. Because what good is it finally to know what we are to become if we are unable to listen to the Lord on a daily basis. Our fidelity in the accomplishment of our vocation will not last.

Let us consider this more closely.

1. Vocation

   a) What is a vocation?
   b) Christ is the Way
   c) We are all called
   d) Conditions for answering the call
   e) The Vocation, following Christ, a tree
   The growth of the tree
   The vocation is the fruit of the tree

a) What is a vocation?

The Calling of St Matthew by Hendrick Terbrugghen
The etymological meaning of vocation - from the Latin vocare - is “call”. In order for a call to exist there needs to be someone who calls and someone who is called and a relationship between the two. The Gospel is neither an ideology nor a comfortable nest. It is a living and personal relationship with Christ today. A relationship presupposes movement and progression. Christ is not static: He advances and invites us to follow him. His call is a personal one; he comes to each human being, looks at him profoundly at a given moment in his life, reveals His Life to him and offers him His hand, inviting him to walk in his footsteps.

b) Christ is the Way

Christ is our basic vocation. The particular vocation (marriage, religious consecration, celibacy, a particular mission as a lay-person, etc.) is the manner in which each of us is going to live out his or her basic vocation; in this sense the particular vocation is secondary. On account of our deformed inclination, we have a tendency to invert things and we give more importance to the particular vocation than to the basic one of following Christ. But following Christ step by step - no matter what our situation may be – should be the heart of our life: Christ is our Way.

c) We are all called

All of us are called to follow Christ; this is our basic vocation. He died for all people on the cross, thus everyone is called to follow Him. Lectio will be the royal highway to listening to the One who is calling us, and He will teach us to become like him by following in his footsteps.

St. John, in Chapter 6, contains statements that may make us doubt about our being chosen or called by the Lord1. How can we explain this complex problem that, whether we like it or not, plunges us into the divine plan concerning predestination? All have been tormented by this problem, those who are famous the same as those of humble origins.

We actually find the answer in the fact that God calls every person, since he wants the Salvation of all and died on the Cross for everyone. So I can have no doubt about God’s calling me. In other words, the sun can only shine, and if I am overshadowed by darkness or doubt (my own thoughts) they do not come from Him. Above these clouds, the sun is always shining. In fact, everything is determined by my answer. I can answer by myself, taking myself as the starting point and constructing my own way of following Christ. But I can also ask the Holy Spirit to help me listen to the One calling me, to follow Him step by step at his rhythm, by doing his will. This is of course much more demanding, but, in this way, the call is accomplished. Otherwise, I think that I am responding, but in reality my actions are coming from my “ego”. I direct the answer to the call. At the end, I will say to the Lord: “I preached your Name, and did this and that for you…”, and He will reply: “Go away from me; I do not know you.”
The Lord is the one who addresses the call, He gives the strength to accomplish it day after day, in the manner he chooses, and it is He who realises its accomplishment.
We enter lectio with the idea of discovering some plans, to get a general view of our life or our future as related to God’s plan. But this is impossible because we are called to change. We cannot know what we will become, so how could we understand an entire plan or orientation? Divine pedagogy does not work like this, it does not blind us with sudden revelations; it advances progressively. Our human haste more often than not obstructs his work with our own. We have the task of discovering, day after day, what we should understand and do in daily life. He has His plans. It is the task of our intellect to execute them.

d) Conditions for answering the call

One may only decide on a vocation freely and after being well informed. It is therefore necessary to acquire a minimum of experience, of acquaintanceship with Christ, and to be freed by Him in order to be able to choose. Maturity is therefore necessary, as well as being rooted in Him.

e) The Vocation, following Christ, a tree

Thus, a vocation is like a tree. On the one hand, it needs to grow and, on the other, seeing the fruits, helps to determine what kind of tree it is.

The growth of the tree

As we have seen in the first book, through lectio Christ becomes flesh in one “mouthful” at a time. Each day a part of us is renewed. The new man slowly takes his place and grows, while the old man perishes. One area of our will after another is renewed and recreated daily. Christ truly grows in us. He slowly takes possession of us, transforms us and directs us. He comes to life in us. The Kingdom of God is like a seed, the tiniest of all seeds, which becomes a big tree. This is the growth of Christ in us.

The Vocation is the fruit of the tree

One cannot determine a vocation, i.e. it is impossible to say what kind of fruit our tree will bear until it has reached its full size. The growth of the tree, of Jesus in us, which receives great sustenance from lectio, allows us to determine our particular vocation. So let us see how lectio is integrated in the discernment of our vocation! We recognise a vocation by its fruit. Faithfulness to God, by listening to him each day, through the solid friendship based on His living Word, strongly helps the tree of vocation to grow (whatever kind it may be). Then discernment becomes easy; sometimes it is harvested as a mature fruit, just in time! Moreover, lectio, since it fosters maturity and the capacity to make decisions, leads us also to the fundamental choice of truly becoming friends of Christ, thanks to a personal acquaintance.

1 “All that the Father gives to me will come to me” (Jn 6:37); “No one is able to come to me, if the Father who sent me does not draw him” (Jn 6:44); “No one is able to come to me, if it has not been given him from my Father” (Jn 6:65).

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: To know more about Lectio Divina see: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Please remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

Monday, 22 August 2016

161: The Mystical Instinct


In a previous post I discussed the "unavoidable mystical dimension of christianity" (click here). Here I would like to speak about the mystical dimension, but as an instinct. I am not alluding to the natural instinct or desire that every human being has to seek God, the divine, but the supernatural desire, i.e. the desire that is the result of a Call from Jesus and a Grace given by God to a specific person, at a specific time in his or her life, and done in a specific way. This, as will be seen, is not an innate instinct but a new grafted instinct that will pervade the very depths of our being and permeate our very lives.
St Paul endorses this when he invites us to be led by the Holy Spirit (Ga 5:25; Romans 8:14). He goes on to mention that in the new spiritual life thus engendered and given by Jesus, there are at the core of our being (our heart) impulses or movements generated by the Holy Spirit. These are akin to a new supernatural instinct grafted onto us. In addition to this, I would like to explore the "instinctual" aspect of it. Do we become like robots? Does being led, moved by the Holy Spirit, turn us into spiritual “puppets”. How is our freedom affected? In which sense would we call it “instinct”?

Important Note: This post's subject is very rich and covers a great variety of connected subjects. Therefore, herein, whenever it is needed, I will allude to previous posts in order to offer the reader every possibility to deepen the subject of his choice.

What is the meaning of "mystical"?

“Mystical” means hidden. By extension it has been applied to all the manifestations of a developed spiritual life, which in turn implies direct connection with God, visions and supernatural phenomena. Very often it is viewed essentially as being closely linked to the discovery and exploration of God's world, its graces and growth of intimacy with God.
With this in mind we should distinguish clearly between what is the core of mysticism, open to everyone, and what is not the core (levitation, stigmata, physical visions,...), given only to some. In order, then, to understand the difference between peripheral phenomena (mystical phenomena) and the core reality, and in order to learn discernment for this please read here.

St Therese of the Child Jesus who is the perfect embodiment of a supremely mystical life (a spiritual life) that gives no evidence of any extraordinary and peripheral graces.

Is it a natural instinct or a spiritual gift?

St John of the Cross states that the human being desires God in two ways: naturally and supernaturally, i.e. under the influence of a grace given by God. What interests us is the latter because it is this grace that is invited to grow and to help us reach Union with Christ - the Sacred Threshold of the Kingdom.

What is the "mystical instinct"?

How can the "mystical instinct" be defined? Going back to the Fathers of the Church we find that they developed a spiritual doctrine stating that once the spiritual journey is embarked upon, under the action of the Holy Spirit, inner spiritual senses do develop in us; new capacities/senses that are spiritual are gifted to us - pure effects of the grace of God - developing in us a new range of senses that will allow us to find our bearings in God's world. We can then see God, hear Him, etc... If for the sake of an entirely theoretical explanation, we unite these new senses, blending them together, we can say that this amalgam resembles a new theological "instinct" that guides us toward God, helps us to sense Him, follow Him and serve Him - and thereby allows the new man in us to grow. It goes without saying that these senses, and this instinct, are directly fed by the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. These three alone connect us directly to God.
This instinct, it must be remembered, has been given to us in a seminal form during baptism, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit which, together with our collaboration, causes it to grow. This goes to show that the mystical instinct is far from being a purely animalistic instinct, but proves rather that the new organism, embodying this new sense, is now developing. From this we can now imply that it undergoes different phases of growth.

Furthermore, this mystical quality - through the action of the theological acts - connects us with God who has been leading us in the first place. It can be compared to the inter-connection of the eyes, hands, feet, heart and will. With the ensuing growth, the more the new man has the upper hand, the more the Holy Spirit's impulses are sensed (see Romans 8).

Is being guided by our "mystical instinct" going against reason?

Going against reason is never the case. St John of the Cross in fact emphatically states: come to terms with reason, common sense should guide us as well in deep spiritual life. But, it must be avowed that the mystical instinct is sometimes beyond reason: it comes from God and goes back to Him.
However, the solid base to which we must paradoxically often return is reason. The grace of God will often help us fulfil our daily duties. Is that against reason? No, on the contrary. We are all subject to the universal time-frame of seven days per week and twenty-four hours per day, with no additions possible... our day is universally ordered into times for sleeping, eating, resting, entertainment, prayer, work,... Providentially, rather, this new instinct, with its attendant graces, will help us, exteriorly, to do the same things, but in a vastly improved manner, with greater attention to quality and detail. What is noteworthy here, is that the difference lies in the fact that this instinct will guide us from within to do everything in a completely different way, a way that is connected to God.
What, then, can totally attract us with such magnetism to God? Only the Mystical Instinct. Will it force us to act against reason? No, on the contrary, it will move us from within to connect directly with God while we are apparently undertaking our normal routines. The difference lies in the deeper inner world.

Can any human being have it?

Yes, providing he or she has been through a conversion, and spiritual growth has commenced.

Is there a call for a mystical life?

Yes there definitely is. We are all called to follow Jesus. And this journey is by definition “mystical”. Please see the following posts:
The unavoidable mystical dimension of Christianity 1 (here) and 2 (here).

Can it be triggered?

Jesus' words “I called you, not you called me” (John 15:16) clearly indicate that the initial move is made by God. However, much depends on us (see here).
A more detailed theological explanation of the difference between"general help" and "particular help" with St Thomas Aquinas.

Can spiritual growth be further developed ?

It most emphatically can: this new instinct is constantly refined, by the addition of a developing and in-depth discernment. It is to be remembered that God is Spirit and cannot be deceived. We can only learn to discover Him... He is our sole teacher. (See below):

Can it be hindered?

Of course it can. Ignorance, is one of the main reasons for hindering growth. Spiritual laziness only exacerbates this.

Can one develop it more than others?

Most definitely, as holiness has grades and levels; in fact we could say, with St Therese, to Jesus: “I want it all, I don't want half measures.”

Are some temperaments more prone to it?

We all are invited to have a share in it. (see 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 15:15)

Can it be faked?

Unfortunately deviations are possibles. The Devil can easily interfere and the Lord allows this in order to test our obedience to Him. Charlatans exist as well, in the name of religion.

Can it be dangerous?

Anything in the spiritual life not led by discernment (through spiritual direction) can lead to real disaster.

Is the mystical instinct the same as the contemplative instinct?

Some people would consider themselves more contemplatives, and others more active. These distinctions tend to be misleading. Although we cannot deny that some human dispositions are more contemplative, introvert, and others are more active, extrovert, we cannot completely dismiss the contemplative (mystical instinct) dimension in extroverts and the active dimension of spiritual life in introverts. Balance, and communication between the two dimensions is valid for all - the rest encompasses only grades of intensity.

How can I know if I am called to it?

Being personally and directly called to it does differ from the general theoretical statement: all are called to it (please see the Post "Acall is a call").

How can we understand the "instinctual" aspect of it?

“Instinct” means an almost uncontrollable way of thinking or acting - a more spontaneous way of acting. Providing this spiritual instinct grows in us, and grows properly, in the correct direction... we can say that this is the result of God's new life in us: the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

Do we become like robots?

Is being led, moved by the Holy Spirit, turning us into a species of spiritual puppet? What happens to our freedom?
Of course not. The example of dancing (think of a waltz) sheds an interesting light on the relationship between our free will and God's impulses. When learning to dance it can sometimes take years of exercise for a learner to master this art. Does dancing require only one of the partners? No, it requires both. Does dancing mean that the lady leads? No, this is not the case. Paradoxically, when you see both dancing you have the impression that the lady is as light as a feather, and that she is following all the hand and body movements of the gentleman, like a puppet. But is she a puppet? Quite the contrary, for over the years of learning she has been deeply transformed. The same applies to us: do we become the robots of the Grace of God? What happens to our free will? The answer lies here: hours and hours of exercise, becoming connected, docile, in harmony with the Divine Partner.

In which sense would we call it "instinct"?

In the sense that this long friendship has seen the development of these virtues to the point that they now seem instinctual rather than painful and implying effort.

How does it relate to fervour?

The more we grow spiritually, the more this instinct grows. But there are phases of growth which follow the normal curve of holiness. See thecomplete journey of growth here.

How does it relate to spiritual emulation?

Spiritual emulation as well as “mystical instinct`” is the result of a fervent spiritual life.

Defining Spiritual Theology 1 (here), 2 (here) and 3 (here).

Will the "mystical instinct" differentiate us from the rest of the crowd?

The Mystic within us sees his “mystical instinct” grow, become surer, more discerning. But in the final analysis, as above-mentioned, it does not go against reason, for it comprises an inner instinct to seek out and connect with God all the time, to keep the Fire of His Love alive in us. Therefore, paradoxically, the "mystical instinct" make us more respectful of the authorities, and allows us at the same time to seemingly blend in with the crowd.
If we follow this instinct we will do great things, as Jesus said. Without Jesus we are powerless (see John 15). This instinct, by drawing us closer to Him, will keep us connected with Jesus. And if by any chance we go astray, it will bring us back, with even greater humility.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

160: The Second Level of Discernment

New Stage of Spiritual Growth

To discern is to sift, to filter, and more precisely to separate two things that at first sight look the same. Discernment is penetration into something at a deeper level. It requires closer examination to seek out differences. Distinguishing between two or more things means, in fact, that we have the capacity to discern between them.
In the Scriptures, God is asking us to discern which spirit is guiding us: is it God's Holy Spirit, or a bad spirit? Let us bear in mind that we have three enemies (three bad spirits): the Devil (bad, filthy spirit), the World (the thoughts and ways of the world) and the Flesh and its bad inclinations.

The first level of discernment in spiritual life is to discern between something good or spiritual and something bad. The first choice comes from God, and is an invitation to follow Him. The second one comes from one or more of our enemies, asking us to follow them. We remain at this level of discernment for a while, so that we are enabled to grow and become more rooted in God. We find ourselves implementing a new way of life, having times for prayer. In this first stage, the more we choose God and follow His Path, the more we grow spiritually. We become therefore a "spiritual person".

When a person grows spiritually and becomes more rooted in God, henceforth having a committed daily spiritual life, when the person starts to receive graces in abundance, on a daily basis, becoming therefore a "spiritual person", at a certain point, another level of discernment imposes itself as necessary: discerning between a "true good" and a "false good". Both look good, but one is truly good and the other is so only in appearance! Hence the need to discern: which one is really good to the core? Discernment here implies that we need to go deeper, beyond the top layer, in order to see the reality. Why and how can this happen?

The reality is that we are no longer being tempted to choose between a bad sinful thing and a good holy thing. Rather, now, God is allowing us to be tempted by two “goods”, one being truly good and the other having only the appearance of being good/spiritual.
On closer examination we see God's loving-kindness at work for, initially, what He gives us is the "spiritual milk" (see Paul 1 Cor 3, 1-2) which appeals to not only the new man in us, but to both the old man and the new man in us. In fact the old man in us at this juncture is very big, while by contrast the new man in us is still very small. The result is that God has to lower himself and talk the “old man” language to us - the "spiritual milk", - otherwise, being so weak, we would not be able to cope and to grow spiritually. These “candies” so to speak, then, support this initial weakness and are more adapted to our low capacities. In truth we are babes as yet, even if we think we have already reached the goal of conversion! He then proceeds progressively to propel us forward to allow the new man to grow, as He helps and guides us to make acts of Faith, acts of Hope and acts of Love.

Once the human being is well rooted in his new spiritual life, God starts to change tack: instead of giving "milk" He slowly moves to “solid food”… and here a new stage of discernment is needed. We are no longer dealing with spiritual "beginners", but with "advanced" spiritual persons! This turning point is to be understood as very important and has to be well managed. The newness of the teaching and doctrine is simply mind-blowing, and almost shocking to normal "spiritual persons".. Why? Because we start to discover the immense difference between what it implies and what we previously thought it implied. Should this be disappointing? On the contrary! It should be thrilling to find something new and correspondingly to grow! However, it can still come as a great shock because much of what one thought was spiritually correct to do, has now to be avoided!

The great master of this new level of discernment is St John of the Cross. There are three places, at least, where we can find his solid doctrine on the second level of discernment. Here they are not mentioned in their order of appearance in his works:
1- One in the Dark Night of the Sense (Dark Night, Book I), Chapter 1 onward.
2- The Second Book of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, especially the first ten chapters.
3- The drawing of Mount Carmel made by the Saint himself.

1- Dark Night Book 1: In these chapters, he takes the list of the seven mortal sins and applies them in the spiritual sense: spiritual pride, spiritual greed, spiritual lust, spiritual laziness, spiritual gluttony,... He calls them the "spiritual imperfections".
It is very rare to have such lucidity amongst the Spiritual Masters of the Church.
The fact that St John of the Cross speaks to a "spiritual" person and points out serious spiritual imperfections (spiritual sins) is in a way almost unheard of in the history of spirituality. It is part of his genius and mission in the Church.
Usually being a spiritual person is considered to be something good, because the person converted to Jesus is now on the right path, and should be praised for all her effort and for her new life (new habits, new spiritual life and commitments). Here, St John of the Cross goes against that received, very obvious and common opinion. He says: be careful, there is a new level of discernment to be achieved now; after having had a long committed initial spiritual life, the time has come for a deep change (a new conversion)! He opens our eyes to the existence of two paths to follow in the spiritual world (please see the explanation of the drawing of the Mount below): one is large, to the left and one is a narrow path, in the middle. Initially, the "spiritual person" sees them as one, one good thing!

2- Ascent of Mount Carmel Book II: We find here, especially in the first ten chapters, a more technical explanation of the new discernment. The Saint explains the "true spirit" or " the true spiritual purity" required in order to be united with God. In these ten chapters he explains what is spiritual purity, i.e. seeking God/Jesus for himself and not for what we can get from Him. He lays down the guiding principles that he will apply, case after case for the Act of Faith, the Act of Hope and the Act of Love (the rest of Book II and Book III).

3- The Drawing of the Mount: This drawing is the true sword of discernment. And a drawing is worth a thousand words.

Copy similar to the original

Better rendering of the 3 ways
First of all, let us have a look at the drawing. Above we have three drawings of Mount Carmel as conceived by the Saint. The first one is a very close drawing from the original made by the Saint himself. The second is a literal translation of it into English. The third is a better rendering of the three ways of the Mount Carmel. The summit of the Mount represents the "Union with Jesus" or "Spiritual Marriage". The human being needs to climb the Mountain of Holiness in order to reach Jesus in His Fullness.
The genius of St John of the Cross is that he presents three possible ways and not two:
a- To the right: the way of the lost (or misled) spirit (the translation on the drawing is wrong)
b- To the left: the way of the imperfect spirit
c- In the middle: the path of the perfect spirit.
The revelation St John of the Cross is bringing to us is, first, the existence of b and c and, second, the necessity to stop (after a certain time of being fed by the milk) feeding into b (the way of imperfect spirit).
St John of the Cross' genius and "newness" of teaching and doctrine is to show us that there are real spiritual “goods” (the road to the left) that are NOT in any way God himself! They are created goods and not the Uncreated very God. This is news to us and is shocking. This IS the second level of discernment: spiritual good and the Naked Jesus as he calls Him. What this means is that we discover the necessity to love Jesus for himself and not for the “goods” that we receive (and often sense) from Him!
These “goods” are created “goods”, whether we want to believe it or not. And at the new turning point, God allows the Devil to tempt us with a subtle but increased power: inducing us to become attached to and seek the spiritual “goods” Please note the road to the left on attachment to spiritual goods ("goods of heaven"): spiritual knowledge, glory, pride, consolation, rest... This road is not leading to Jesus, the Jesus wanted purely for himself...
Why do we have to neglect such spiritual goods? Things we thought initially were good to be sought out? The answer lies in the Old Man who initially was in control of us and of our spiritual life. God, then, had to lower himself and present us with the bait of taste, consolation and feelings which we get from Him. But this is only a path for beginners. When the person starts to be more rooted in God and in new spiritual habits, God seeks to change the way he acts, switching to a different way of dealing with him, trying out this “solid food, and encouraging the person into a higher way of dealing with God: to seek, now, Jesus purely for himself, the Naked Jesus.

The second level of discernment can be explained by another image: the Divine Fisherman offers bait to the Fish. Then, when the Fish firmly bites into the hook, and is solidly attached to it, the Fisherman knows that if He lifts him up out of the water he will not escape. Similarly, the mother, after breastfeeding for a period of time, will start to wean the baby when she feels it is the right time... and start to give him more solid food. Otherwise there will be no growth!


Finally, if we want to understand the spiritual imperfections and sins specific to this stage of spiritual life (it is important to note that this is not to be required of beginners otherwise we would be going against God's work), we need to read the profound and strong doctrine of St John of the Cross presented and explained in the first chapters of Book 1 of The Dark Night.

If we want to understand the true spiritual purity, the pure spirit, how to deal with God in purity, we need to read and study the first ten chapters of the second book of the Ascent of Mount Carmel.

Lastly, a general synthetical overview of discernment is to be found when looking at the drawing of Mount Carmel. First level of discernment is to distinguish (a) from (b + c). Second level of discernment, is to distinguish between b and c.

Relying only on the first stage of discernment as the only known possible means of discernment has been the case for many spiritual directors and writers for centuries. St John of the Cross felt great pain seeing so many people whom God was starting to lead into the next stage of spiritual life, being erroneously led to to "feel" that God was taking away the spiritual milk; seeing too how they were treated with very little discernment, how they were being tortured by asking them to check hidden sins,... This is what moved him to write. Please do read the Prologue of the Ascent of Mount Carmel where he discusses this.

Note 1: Please bear in mind that in the Saint's thinking, the Ascent and Dark Night, are one book, not two. The first, Ascent, explains what we have to do in order to grow at each stage (1 and 2) and the second, Dark Night, explains what God wants to realise in us and what happens if we put into practice what we have learned in the Ascent.
Note 2: Please remember that one cannot apply the second level of discernment to beginners. It can seriously damage their spiritual life and go against what God has to do initially in them. Each of the two levels of discernment is very different from the other and therefore they should be used with discernment and prudence, applying them wisely, otherwise we will not be serving God in people.
Note 3: The Second Level Course, Initiation into Spiritual Life, goes into full detail about this second stage. Please have a look at the initial videos. If you want to see the rest of the Course please do contact me at jeancyrille @ Thank you.

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