Wednesday, 31 October 2012

55: Prayer of the Heart #3: St Thomas Aquinas' explanation

Here is the whole article of saint Thomas Aquinas where he explains the difference between the “general help of the Grace of God” and the “particular help of the Grace of God” (see previous post, on saint Theresa of Avila) followed by a short comment that explains the practical point of it, in continuity with the previous posts.
Remember that we are addressing a very specific issue in the theology of the Prayer of the heart, in order to understand theologically what is the exact difference between the two types of graces: the one that allows us to offer ourselves to God ("Prayer of Recollection" according to Theresa of Avila) and the one that takes us and put us in God Himself ("Prayer of Quiet").
Here, in green, is Saint Thomas' Article taken from the Summa Teologica I-IIae Q. 109, A.6:

Can a man prepare himself for Grace
by himself and without the external aid of grace?

Saint Thomas gives first a series of 4 false objections. They seem right and convincing, but only apparently. They all have a flaw that he will show subsequently:


1: It would seem that man, by himself and without the external help of grace, can prepare himself for grace. For nothing impossible is laid upon man, as stated above (A[4], ad 1). But it is written (Zech. 1:3): “Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you”; Now to prepare for grace is nothing more than to turn to God. Therefore it seems that man of himself, and without the external help of grace, can prepare himself for grace.

2: Further, man prepares himself for grace by doing what is in him to do, since if man does what is in him to do, God will not deny him grace, for it is written (Mat. 7:11) that God gives His good Spirit “to them that ask Him.” But what is in our power is in us to do. Therefore it seems to be in our power to prepare ourselves for grace.

3: Further, if a man needs grace in order to prepare for grace, with equal reason will he need grace to prepare himself for the first grace; and thus to infinity, which is impossible. Hence it seems that we must not go beyond what was said first, viz. that man, of himself and without grace, can prepare himself for grace.

4: Further, it is written (Prov. 16:1) that “it is the part of man to prepare the soul.” Now an action is said to be part of a man, when he can do it by himself. Hence it seems that man by himself can prepare himself for grace.

Then saint Thomas opposes to these objections the "right teaching" saying:

On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 6:44): “No man can come to Me except the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him.” But if man could prepare himself, he would not need to be drawn by another. Hence man cannot prepare himself without the help of grace.

Saint Thomas develops the "right teaching":

I answer that, The preparation of the human will for good is twofold:

- the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works, as stated above.
- There is a second way in which the human will may be taken to be prepared for the gift of habitual grace itself. Now in order that man prepare himself to receive this gift, it is not necessary to presuppose any further habitual gift in the soul, otherwise we should go on to infinity. But we must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish.

For in these two ways do we need the Divine assistance, as stated above. Now that we need the help of God to move us, is manifest. For since every agent acts for an end, every cause must direct is effect to its end, and hence since the order of ends is according to the order of agents or movers, man must be directed to the last end by the motion of the first mover, and to the proximate end by the motion of any of the subordinate movers; as the spirit of the soldier is bent towards seeking the victory by the motion of the leader of the army---and towards following the standard of a regiment by the motion of the standard-bearer. And thus since God is the First Mover, simply, it is by His motion that everything seeks to be likened to God in its own way. Hence Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that “God turns all to Himself.” But He directs righteous men to Himself as to a special end, which they seek, and to which they wish to cling, according to Ps. 72:28, “it is good for Me to adhere to my God.” And that they are “turned” to God can only spring from God's having “turned” them. Now to prepare oneself for grace is, as it were, to be turned to God; just as, whoever has his eyes turned away from the light of the sun, prepares himself to receive the sun's light, by turning his eyes towards the sun. Hence it is clear that man cannot prepare himself to receive the light of grace except by the gratuitous help of God moving him inwardly.

He then addresses each of the first 4 objections int he light of the central teaching he just stated:

Reply to Objections

1: Man's turning to God is by free-will; and thus man is bidden to turn himself to God. But free-will can only be turned to God, when God turns it, according to Jer. 31:18: “Convert me and I shall be converted, for Thou art the Lord, my God”; and Lam. 5:21: “Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted.”

2: Man can do nothing unless moved by God, according to Jn. 15:5: “Without Me, you can do nothing.” Hence when a man is said to do what is in him to do, this is said to be in his power according as he is moved by God.

3: This objection regards habitual grace, for which some preparation is required, since every form requires a disposition in that which is to be its subject. But in order that man should be moved by God, no further motion is presupposed since God is the First Mover. Hence we need not go to infinity.

4: It is the part of man to prepare his soul, since he does this by his free-will. And yet he does not do this without the help of God moving him, and drawing him to Himself, as was said above.


Let us see in detail saint Thomas' answer: "I answer that, The preparation of the human will for good is twofold" He will then explain the two graces:

1- The main Grace, the infused one: one is the one we need and await in order to "enter in God" (merit eternal life). This is the particular help of the Grace of God that introduces us in Him.

2- and the other grace is the one that prepares us to it, that leads us to it, that helps our free will to choose God, go toward Him in order to receive his grace. This the "general help of the Grace of God", that leads us to the "border" or "meeting point", that "prepares us", makes us ready to receive the Main grace. As one can see, the second leads to the first one. One cannot separate the "prayer of recollection" and the "prayer of quiet". One is ordered to the other. Let us now re-read saint Thomas in his key passage:

the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works, as stated above.

Without this Grace we cannot be introduced in God, drink God, "enjoy God" and "operate rightly" in Him. This is the Main Grace we need from God.

Now, how can we receive this grace? This is the central issue of this 6th article. Do we need to help from God to receive the Main infused supernatural Grace? This article is a key article. Because our spiritual life is about receiving "Grace upon Grace", and the question is: how can we receive the Grace? How can we prepare ourselves? Here comes saint Thomas reply:

There is a second way in which the human will may be taken to be prepared for the gift of habitual grace itself. Now in order that man prepare himself to receive this gift, it is not necessary to presuppose any further habitual gift in the soul, otherwise we should go on to infinity. But we must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish.

This is the key word: "a gratuitous gift of God". This gratuitous gift is constantly given, to everybody, it is the "general help of the grace of God" that saint Theresa of Avila mentions (see previous post). We can complete this with his reply to the 4th objection: "4: It is the part of man to prepare his soul, since he does this by his free-will. And yet he does not do this without the [general] help of God moving him, and drawing him to Himself, as was said above."

As we can see: it is our part to prepare ourselves in the sense of: "to go inwardly" as he stated, to get closer to the meeting point were we are supposed to receive the main grace (in the diagram below the meeting point is the surface of the water). Moving ourselves and offering ourselves to God is done by the "General help of the grace of God, represented by the arrow (1-) in the diagram below:
These are all together central and practical issues. They are not only the "theology of Grace", they are as well the "economy of Grace" (i.e. Spiritual Theology) and its application in our Spiritual Life. In this article we see how "theory" is the theory of a practical issue, we see how all the theory is invited to become flesh in us. These notions saint Thomas is teaching us are Pearls, Divine Seeds of the Word of God.

I hope this helps.

Monday, 29 October 2012

54: Prayer of the Heart #2: The Sacred Threshold of the Kingdom

If we read the Gospel of saint Matthew for instant, we'll rapidly notice the abundant use he makes of the word “kingdom”. In fact, Jesus speaks a lot about “entering the kingdom” and in doing so, He puts conditions. Like for instance: if you are rich you can't enter in the Kingdom, if you are not “like a child”, the same, you can't enter. What is the “Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of heaven”? The Kingdom is the area of God, the “space” of His being, the “space” of His freedom, of His Life, the inner life of the Trinity.

In her writings, Saint Teresa of Avila mentions the "General help" and the "Particular help" of the Grace of God (see Life 14,6; 3 Mansions 1,2; 5 Mansions 2,3). We can understand the “Particular help of the Grace of God” as the fact of “entering in the Kingdom”. Or, if you prefer, the direct and personal Action of the Holy Spirit in you. The "Prayer of Recollection" uses the "general help" and the "Prayer of Quiet" uses the "particular help" Saint Theresa of Avila calls the latter: "the supernatural" (see 4th Mansions chapter 1,1).

Between the “general help” and the “particular help” there is a red line, a “sacred threshold”. We are invited to cross that “Sacred Threshold” by using the “general help of the Grace of God”, offering ourselves to Him, asking for His Holy Spirit (His Love).
Saint Theresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Here is what saint Theresa of Avila says:

"For many purposes it is necessary to be learned; and it would be very useful to have some learning here, in order to explain what is meant by general or particular help (for there are many who do not know this) and how it is now the Lord's will that the soul should see this particular help (as they say) with its own eyes; and learning would also serve to explain many other things about which mistakes may be made." (Life 14,6)

She will then explain that in order to practice the "prayer of recollection" we need to use the "General help" of the Grace of God that is constantly given to us. We should use it, until the prayer of recollection becomes like a new acquired habit (see “Way of Perfection” chapters 28 and 29). To this act of “recollection” God replies with His Action (the Direct Action of the Holy Spirit). She calls this action: “Prayer of Quiet”. In the "Prayer of quiet", we are receiving the "Particular help" of the Grace of God that is supernatural (4Mansions 1,1) and infused.

These notions belong to the Theology of Grace that we learn while doing the basic 4 years of Theology. For instance, saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa T., I-II Q.109 a. 6, addresses this issue (see next post). He mentions two needs: one is the main need, which is to receive the Grace of God "and the second precedes it: to prepare ourselves to receive this first and main Grace". We need the second grace in order to receive the first and main grace. Since the grace that prepares us leads us to the main Grace, "knowing the existence of this preparative grace, and learning how to use it" are decisive and vital for all our spiritual life, worship and Christian life.

This preparative grace is "the general help of the Grace of God" (that help us move in the water from the bottom of the sea to the surface), that we use in the Prayer of recollection, to get closer to God, offering ourselves to Him, putting ourselves in the Hands of God.
The Main grace is when He comes, takes us and put us in Him: this is the particular help of His grace, the main action of the Holy Spirit that put us in a direct and personal relationship with the Risen Lord.

When Jesus says: “ask and you shall receive” He is just explaining the relationship between the “general help” (ask) and the “particular help” (you will receive) and the sacred threshold between them, this “red line” that defines the meeting point of the two freedoms: God's freedom (the kingdom) and our freedom (using the general help in order to show our choice, ask, beg, knock, ...)

Let us cross that “sacred threshold”, this is our vocation, our call. We need first to learn about it, and second: put it into practice, in order to receive the Action of God in our heart (the Prayer of the Heart).

Sunday, 28 October 2012

53: Prayer of the Heart #1: How to Meditate

The Movement of the Prayer of the heart

The line of the surface of the water is the "sacred threshold". See next post, on the "Sacred Threshold".

To meditate is to be introduced in Jesus' Heart, Furnace of Love.
The Priest in the Mass says: "Lift up your hearts..."

"Meditation" is one, but has two parts:

Friday, 26 October 2012

52: P Pio, the Stigmata and Jesus' Passion

Two days ago I was watching a film on P Pio. P Pio is the first Priest to receive the Lord's Stigmata (His 5 physical wounds: 2 hands, 2 feet, and the side) . For 50 years, he lived what in fact was lived by the Lord during few hours: His Holy Passion.
What a mystery! Jesus comes amongst us, in us, through us, and lives again and again His Unique and unrepeatable Passion.

The amazing thing with P Pio is that what was very common during the first 3 Centuries of Christianity, but lived for only few hours or maybe few days, he lived it for 50 years! I mean by that what the Martyrs went through: participating into the Passion of the Lord, or better said, as the accounts of the Martyrs point it out: Jesus comes in the Martyr and suffers again and again, in His "Mystical Body", His Passion (please do delve in the early accounts of the Christian Martyrs). Martyrs are the Passion of Jesus extended in time.

Some might think that these things are a bit “too much”, or a “catholic deviation”. Well, not really. Remember that saint Luke, in his second work, the Act of the Apostles, when he mentions the first Martyr (Stephen), he takes great care of showing him following the steps of Jesus, almost dying like Jesus (Acts chapter 7): being persecuted, martyred to death, and forgiving his murderers. Saint Luke shows us that if Jesus is seated that the Right Hand of the Father, He is in His "Mystical Body" as well, on earth, continuing his suffering, His Passion and His work of salvation. Salvation has been done once and for ever on the Cross. But this unique Passion has to reach people and in order to do so, Jesus wants us to help Him, to give Him space and time (give Him our existence), so He can come in us, and continue to live His Mystery and His Salvation. There are no two (or more) salvations, there is only one. But this only one needs to reach all humans; and this relies on us. This is why Jesus says (see John 15): be in Me and Me in you, so you can “do” something. The only “action” of the Lord is “to save”. So, in order to let Him save through us, we need to dwell in Him and Him in us.

P Pio is just an example of what should be normal for us. I don't mean that we all have to receive the visible stigmata, but there is plenty to delve in as for "sufferings" in order to help Jesus. Some might still doubt that and would like to allow it only for few exceptions. This is wrong. You may go back to the series of 11 diagrams describing the total length of our Spiritual Journey of growth (please click here). You'll notice that, in the end of our journey, in the descending curve, all of us are invited to “participate to the Passion of the Lord". Note that there is another moment, much before this one, where we meet and benefit from the Passion of the Lord, in order to be purified: this would be in the ascending curve (see the Diagram).

Remember saint Paul, and please consider carefully what he says, because he went through the same journey: “I do not live, but Jesus lives in me”, “I complete in my flesh what lacks in the Passion of Jesus, for the Church His body”, and as well: “I carry in my body the stigmata of Jesus” (Ga 6:17).
I am sure you noticed that powerful expression: “the stigmata of Jesus” (in Greek saint Paul says: “Stigmata”). For people who still doubt that, let us read this long passage of saint Paul. Please do read it, having in mind P Pio, all his life, the 50 years baring the Stigmata of Jesus:

But we have this Treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing Power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
We always carry around in our body the Death of Jesus, so that the Life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but Life is at work in you.
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (2 Co 7,7-15)

This passage in itself deserves a long commentary. Don't you think?

Friday, 19 October 2012

51: Anatomy of “Prayer of the Heart”

“Prayer of the heart” is good for your health: body and soul. It is proven scientifically.

“Prayer of the heart” is a very ancient Christian way to meditate deeply, connecting us with God in our Heart. Remember the “lift up you hearts” we have in the Mass.

We need to practice the “Prayer of the heart” in order to get not only “spiritual benefits” but as well physical and psychological ones. Remember that we lead a very stressful life and that 60 to 90 percent of visits to doctors are in the mind-body, stress-related realm poorly treated by any drugs or surgery (Cummings, VandenBos, 1981; Kroenke, Mangelsdorff, 1989).

In the early 70s Dr Herbert Benson (Harvard) published a series of articles on the effect of meditation on the body. What he and his team found was that when people practiced Meditation, there were a set of profound physiologic changes that were opposite to those of stress ("Relaxation Response"). Namely, decreased metabolism, decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rate, decreased rate of breathing, and also slower brain waves. (see the diagram below)
Studies and research show many medical conditions that can be either greatly relieved or altogether eliminated by utilising meditation. Here is a list of such conditions:

Angina pectoris, Infertility, Cardiac arrhythmia's, Insomnia, Allergic skin reactions, Nausea and Vomiting during pregnancy, Anxiety, All forms of pain – Abdominal, muscle, arm, and leg pain -, excessive anger and hostility, Mild and moderate depression, Joint aches, Postoperative pain, Bronchial asthma, Herpes simplex (cold sores), Postoperative swelling, Cough, Premenstrual syndrome, Constipation, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes, Side effects of Cancer, Dizziness, Side effects of AIDS, Fatigue, Hypertension (High blood pressure) (Herbert Benson, 2000).

Since, as Catholics, we have a very powerful type of meditation, the "Prayer of the Heart", it very important to discover it and start to practise it.

Here is a Presentation of “the Prayer of the Heart” in 4 parts of 23 to 30 minutes. This is the first part:
I hope you'll learn about the Prayer of the Heart, start to practise it, experience it's benefits for the body and the soul. Please drop us your comments.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

50: Distractions during “Prayer of the heart”

I- Definition: Distraction is the unwilling presence, during prayer, in our conscious mind/brain, of thoughts, feelings, memories, imaginations and temptations.

II- Causes of distraction

1- Human weakness
2- Memories (unwilled activity of the brain), body tiredness
3- Temptations coming from outside of us
4- Outside input coming through our senses (noise, …)
5- Sins: since they make us slaves to bad habits, leading us astray from God

III- Remedies for distractions

1- Accept our weakness.

2- To know (and reinforce this knowledge) that:

- prayer happens in our heart and not in our brain/mind
- distractions can be passive or active
- we will always have passive distractions
- “passive distractions” are not real acts, they are not sins
- the direct contact with God in prayer happens in our heart and not in our mind
- “passive distractions” can’t stop the direct contact with God in our heart

3- Discern what depends on us and what doesn’t depend on us. To reach a detached attitude, ignoring the presence of the distractions. (a barking wolf attached to a chain doesn’t harm)  

4- During prayer, if we suddenly realise that we went to “active distraction” and left our heart and went back to our mind, we don’t have be upset with ourselves, we need to remain peaceful (accepting our weakness). A Peaceful reaction brings Peace (the Action of God). Then we repeat, peacefully, the act of offering of ourselves in order to be reintroduced in God again.

5- We take our Rosary in our hands, and repeat with each bead a short prayer that has the Names of Jesus and/or the name of Mary (it can be as well the “Hail Mary”), with the normal rhythm of our breathing. This repetition:

- has a routine form (we are not invited to think about what we say or meditate a mystery, we are in front of THE mystery: God in us, immersing us in Him)
- gives some “food” for our mind to make it gently busy while the heart is with God. It fools the mind.
- expresses and increases our desire to be “in God”. It is a real act to say: “pray for us sinners”.
- makes us last longer even if God doesn’t look at the length of the time spent in Him but at the quality of our trust when we resume the offering of ourselves to him.
- puts us willingly like a little child in the Hands of Mary, i.e. under the Full, Pure and Perfection Action of the Holy Spirit. In her the Holy Spirit forms us, Body of Jesus. Mary’s womb is a much protected place.
- calms and regulates our breathing, transforming it, slowly, into a act of Divine Love: spiration of the Holy Spirit.
If, as an adult, we chose "to be like a child", it protects us from distractions.
6- Learn how to recollect our thoughts and senses to lessen their power over us:


- leading a healthy life (food, sleeping time, relaxing time, …).
- leading a holy live.
- learn the virtues of silence, order, discipline and ascesis.
- a very good practice of the Lectio Divina. Disciplines our thoughts, purify them, put order to them, lessen the influence of distractions over the heart….


- dimming the light to lower the visual input and increase the attention to the inner world.
- the body wisely relaxed: not in pain, but not in an excessively relaxed mode (horizontal position). Taking deep breaths.
- being like a child (surrendering our burdens to Him frees our heart to move toward him).


- knowing that God is in the Center of our being, learning how to find Him in our heart (not having to “shout” loudly to Him to make ourselves heard).
- to acquire the daily habit of turning our eyes to the Lord who is at our side, seeing how much He loves us. He never takes His eyes of us and adapts to us (sad or happy, Passion or Resurrection).
- in order to do so we Icons to collect our mind and put ourselves in His Presence, using this grace.
- using some reading that help us collect our mind and put us in front of Jesus: a passage from the Gospel.

(You may have a look at St. Theresa of Avila, "Way of Perfection", chapter 26, 28 and 29)

Monday, 15 October 2012

Research and Science 1 : What is a PhD?

I was reading the following article and I was wondering how it's contents would apply to Research in Spiritual Theology. The article is not mine but I do fervently agree with the author. We are in need of real research and we can't lower the standards. (the "bold" underlining and change of colour are mine)

What is a PhD?

by Frank Gannon

This might seem like an unusual topic, as most scientists seem to know exactly what a PhD is and for what it stands. But on closer inspection, a PhD has as many meanings as there are educational systems. It is not - and has never been - a single, well-defined qualification. As research practices and funding change, the situation becomes even more confused, with consequences for the quality of both scientific training and research.

I received my PhD from a British university. After three years of research, I submitted a three-centimetre-thick thesis that addressed a specific problem. Being awarded my doctorate meant that I knew my topic, I understood enzymology, I could work with proteins and I was able to navigate the complexities of enzyme kinetics. I was not qualified for the title until I was able to demonstrate all these things. In essence, my PhD showed that I developed from a dependent student into an independent scientist.

Since then, PhDs in the UK seem to have changed. More often than not, a PhD is now awarded after the completion of a fixed term of research. Of course, there is an overall topic, but if the student does not reach a hypothesis-based conclusion within a timeframe of about three years, this is no longer a hindrance to earning the degree. Increasingly, the thesis has become a report with an emphasis on training rather than the detailed description of a scientific project.

Other countries have different systems. In the USA, the PhD phase is a genuine period of postgraduate training that includes both theory and research, with a greater emphasis on course work and the possibility of rotating through different laboratories. In Nordic countries, the situation is more complex: some universities adopt the US model, whereas some focus on publication output, and others are variations of these. In Germany, it is necessary to spend up to two years on a diploma degree before moving on to a PhD. Many other countries require their PhD students to teach undergraduates. In some systems, the final examination is a mere formality with an inevitably positive outcome; in others, it is a rigorous cross-examination by jury.

Against this background of different systems, new aspects have arisen that are moulding the PhD into a different entity to what it was. For example, the concept that a student must carry out an individual piece of research seems outdated.
Most publications list many authors, each of whom contributed to the overall content of the paper. In fact, scientific research increasingly demands teamwork, and the PhD system must adapt accordingly; indeed, an important lesson for a young scientist is to learn how to work in a team. But if the thesis is a cooperative effort, then it becomes even more difficult to judge the input of each individual - yet a PhD is awarded to an individual.

Finances are another matter. In some countries, there is only a limited amount of money available to support a PhD student. Once that is spent, the student must survive by the most precarious means: relying on parents or partners to cover the gap, finding a grant to stay afloat, or taking a part-time job, even if this eats into the precious time and energy needed to complete the thesis. If we accept these realities, it makes sense that a PhD is awarded on the basis of time and effort spent, rather than on scientific work alone. But in that case, a PhD is merely an apprenticeship and no longer represents a stamp of achievement.

Is this really a cause for concern? Even if all PhD programmes followed the same rules and regulations, there would still be many theses chronicling failure rather than achievement. But if we collectively become unconcerned about what a PhD is, then we have little basis for expecting the pre-doc students in our laboratories to go through the diligent work that ultimately enables experiments to work and provides robust results. The ‘three years and out’ mentality concentrates on time and investment rather than quality, and runs the risk of producing substandard scientists.

Thus, there might be real consequences for research if we lower the standards for earning a PhD. Perhaps one of the reasons behind the success of the US research system is the quality and structure of their PhD training. Maybe one reason why European countries produce such a high number of papers of more moderate quality is the frequent requirement for a defined number of first-author publications to complete a PhD. Perhaps the concept of writing a thesis on the basis of a well-defined body of work is so foreign to today's students that they prefer the easier route of collating a few papers on which they contributed.

If we change the standards and requirements for obtaining a PhD, this will inevitably shape the next generation of scientists. Thus, we should know more and ask more about what a PhD really means. Instead of treating the degree as an ‘access card’ to the laboratory, we should ask for more information:
how the candidate was examined, who sat on the jury, and what comprises training in the applicant's country or university.

Most importantly, we should insist that a PhD is not merely a vague title but actually means what it implies: it is an award to an expert who has proven their scientific worth and not to someone who stayed in a tolerant group for long enough.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

49: Setting up the foundations of Spiritual Life

Should we start the formation in Spiritual Life with the "First Level Course", or by an Introductory Course, laying the foundations of Spiritual Life?

I would like to point out to the fact that not all christians are "ready" for the "First level Course" teaching (please click here to see the Syllabus of the first level course: Initiation into Spiritual Life)). Normally people should go first through a previous teaching: The Foundations of Spiritual Life. Exactly like saint Teresa of Avila went through them, in the three first Mansions of the Interior Castle (In fact the teaching of the First Level Course starts at the Fourth Mansions).

What fosters this thought is what the Lord himself did with the Rich Young man:  when he asked for "Eternal life", Jesus didn't immediately direct him toward "perfection", i.e. toward "following Him" (He didn't call him). Strangely (but wisely) He first checked up if the "foundations" are ready, strong and sound: "did you practice the Commandments?" He said to the young man. I still do believe that we can and have to check if the "foundational structure" of the persons who want to follow the First Level Course is "completed". Because if before the right time one starts to give the "Pearls" of the Fourth Mansions, one can just later throw them and go ("Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." (Mt 7:6)) .
In order to ensure that the "foundations" are sound, we may have to work a little bit with the First and the Third parts of the Catechism, or just take the Three first Mansions of Teresa of Avila's book: The Interior Castle.

Question: Reading what you have just said again and again I have just been thinking if it would not be better to focus completely on the Catechism for a semester and work on giving the “Pearls” the following semester? I know you prefer not to change anything for now but surely there can be no harm in strengthening the foundations first so that people can be more receptive to the more “advanced” material.

Answer: Setting up the foundations for Spiritual Life doesn't mean that God the Father and Jesus are not present and active right from the Beginning of the Journey. We won't ask people to become "Jewish" first, then, when they fulfil the Commandments, we turn them toward Jesus.

We only have to accept that in Christian Life we have like two phases: 1- Before the "Second conversion" and 2- After the "Second conversion".

Note: The "Second conversion" is to receive Jesus' call to follow Him from Closer. It means that as an adult, I do discover the "personal relationship" with Jesus, feel His Call, and decide, by His Grace to follow Him... (The "first conversion" is to become Christian.)

* Theresa of Avila in the Journey she offers us toward Perfection (Union with Jesus), sets 7 steps. The first one is to enter in the Castle (to enter in ourselves, in our interior. Jesus lives in our centre and often we are outside of ourselves)). The Fourth step, is to enter in the "Personal Relationship with Jesus"; she calls it "the supernatural", and she means by that that the way the Holy Spirit is communicating Himself to us is new, more powerful, direct and personal. But you need to notice that all the book is written to her nuns. Technically, any nun should be placed after the Fourth Step. Strangely, when she writes to them, she does go through the 3 first steps: 1- people who are out of the Castle, 2- people who enter in the first mansions (that are still quite dirty) in the Castle and 3- People who put some order in their christian life.

* Saint John the Evangelist does the same. Before receiving Jesus' Body (John 6) and embarking with Him (passing the sea, John 6), there are 3 fundamental Signs:
1- Cana of Galilee, 2- Healing the son of the officer (and the officer) 3- Healing the paralysed man (38 years of paralysis). So, from the beginning, Jesus and Mary are present.. From the beginning (even if nobody knows yet who is Jesus) Jesus performs miracles, heals, prepares the human being to follow Him (there are levels of depths in "following Jesus").

Laying down the foundations of Spiritual Life, we have to understand that we can't just drop Jesus and Mary. Of course, technically, the modality in which the Holy Spirit acts is "softer", we call it the "general help of the grace of God". It is a preparative grace, to THE grace, which is "receiving the Holy Spirit Himself", THE grace of entering in a direct and personal relationship with Jesus.

* And if you go to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (chapters 5 through 7), you have the whole Trinity present: the Son (chapter 5), the Father (chapter 6) and the Holy Spirit (chapter 7). Of course the action of the Trinity will develop and mature later, with the Parables, and then with the Passion of Jesus, but still, the Trinity is right from the beginning, and the Grace of Jesus is mentioned right from the beginning. We can't set two types of Baptisms (even if the people who lived in Jesus time had John the Baptist who opened the way, and then Jesus), one would be the "first conversion", more like a Jewish Christian life, and the "second conversion": meeting Jesus.

Instinctively, I would respect the fact that saint Matthew, saint John and saint Teresa of Avila chose to put everything right from the beginning.

In one word, this means: I wouldn't drop the teaching of the First level Course for the sake of laying down the foundations for Spiritual Life. I would do both, together, in parallel (combined), in order not to deprive anybody from the Grace of Jesus and the precious knowledge that there is plenty to come... "grace upon grace".

I hope this helps