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