The Third Stage in the Transformation

FATHER EDWARD LEEN, C.S.SP.

The soul has become much more childlike in its attitude towards the Lord, in its attitude of complete dependence on Him and perfect confidence in Him.

"It is said — thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." St. Luke iv. 12.

When the soul has conquered its sensuality, when moreover it has succeeded in maintaining the heart free for God, when it has kept itself faithful to its resolve to find God at all costs, and has arrived at the renouncement of all affections that are not in God and for God — and thus has attained the detachment towards which the Lord has been directing it — it reaches the third stage in the interior life, a stage that has characteristics which distinguish it sharply from the other two.

The soul has learned by experience, that all its efforts after the acquisition of the virtues have had very little success; time and time again, when the occasions offered themselves of practicing those virtues which at moments it thought it had acquired, it failed abjectly; it failed in patience, submission, humility, simplicity and charity.  The conviction has at last been forced upon it — a conviction which the Lord has been all the time trying to bring home to it — that it is, of itself, by its own efforts, incapable of any good at all, much less of acquiring virtue.

The discovery has not, however, the effect of causing it any discouragement or irritation-both signs of pride.  For its detachment has earned for it the great grace of a perfect confidence, that if it submits itself absolutely to His action the Lord can accomplish in it these things to which it aspires, that He can effect in it the virtues it has been struggling to acquire.

At last the truth has dawned on it that perfection is not its own work, or to be acquired by its own efforts, but is purely the work of Our Divine Lord Whom St. Teresa loves to compare to a gardener working in the soul.  The moment that the soul realizes that it is absolutely incapable of attaining to goodness, is precisely the moment of salvation for it, if this complete distrust in itself is accompanied by an unbounded trust in the Lord's power to effect sanctification in the creatures He has redeemed by His blood.[1]

The soul sees that its own cooperation in the work consists solely in divesting itself of self by the practice of self-abnegation, and by forgoing whatever would attach it or enslave it to any creature.  It understands that its role in the work of sanctification consists in holding itself free from all ties in order that the Lord may operate freely in it.  It sees that what is required of it is to combat all inordinate affections and to attach itself exclusively to God.  It still falls into frequent faults, because it is still very imperfect, but these passing failures neither astonish nor wound, nor irritate nor cause disappointment.  They are clearly seen to rise from those depths of the soul as yet unsubmitted to God.  The soul realizes keenly that this fundamental weakness will show itself as soon as it releases its hold on the hand of Jesus.  But these lapses do not cause despair of ultimate success; the soul seizes each lapse as an occasion for plunging itself deeper and deeper into humility, and of clinging with more and more tenacity to the help and companionship of Jesus.  It asks pardon, resolves to be with Him more frequently, to keep closer to Him and begin again with unabated courage and perfect peace.  If the soul does any good it assigns it readily to the Lord, for it has been clearly shown that it is He alone that operates any good; if it does wrong, commits faults, it recognizes that nothing else is to be expected from unregenerate human nature.  The soul is illuminated to its depths by the truth contained in the Lord's words — "I am the vine; you the branches; he that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing."[2]  It has become very patient with itself, and fully expects that the Lord will in the end replace its own vileness with His goodness.  The process may take years but it is confident that that end will come, if in the meantime detachment and docility of life are practiced.[3]

At this stage prayer has come to be of extreme simplicity; a mere glance at the subject of meditation suffices to put the intelligence in possession of the points, and of their bearing on the particular state in which the soul happens to find itself.  Considerations are no longer necessary; convictions have been formed, and the soul is desirous of nothing except of pleasing God and of advancing in friendship with Him, pursuing virtue merely as a means to this.  The whole exercise tends to develop into a simple, familiar and intimate conversation with Jesus.  The soul has now taken its own worthlessness for granted, and is no longer so much enamoured with the idea or prospect of its own excellence.  Its objective is entirely changed; it aims no longer at its own perfection as an end but at the love and service of God.  It asks for perfection, but its request is purely disinterested; it is asked for simply because the soul sees in it an indispensable means towards serving God properly.  The soul has at last ceased to be self- centered in its pursuit of perfection, and has become God-centered.  It surrenders itself entirely to the action of the Lord, begging Him to transform it to His own likeness and to impress His own virtues upon it.  Sufferings are no longer merely patiently borne — they commence to be valued; they are recognized to be most efficacious instruments in the working out of perfect detachment from creatures, and in purifying the soul from all attachment to self.  The action or direction of the Lord now becomes very pronounced, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost exercise increased activity.

The soul has become very mobile to the action of the Holy Spirit.  The self- analysis characteristic of the former states disappears.  Only one ambition now stirs the soul, namely that of lending itself as an instrument, to be used by the Lord to effect His purposes.  It bewails its imperfections for the reason that they destroy or mar its perfection as an instrument, making it less serviceable.  It, therefore, presents itself readily to the purifying action of the Divine Will which tempers and perfects it in the fire of trial and suffering.  The Lord becomes the chief worker; and the action of the soul consists in the loving desire to serve God at all costs, and a docile surrender to Him to equip it for that service.  The soul has become much more childlike in its attitude towards the Lord, in its attitude of complete dependence on Him and perfect confidence in Him.[4]

Its objective has undergone a complete change unconsciously.  Zeal for the glory of God and the accomplishment of His will, in itself, in others and over the whole earth, has replaced its passionate ardor for its own good and its own perfection.  The action of the theological virtue of charity dominates that of the virtue of hope.  It has become to a great extent oblivious of self and its own concerns, and begins to be more occupied with the interests of God Whom it loves.  It is not that it is obliged to make efforts to leave self out of count or to forget self; but preoccupied as it is, about God, it ceases without observing it, to think about self at all.  The absence of self-consciousness, the characteristic of that child-like simplicity that Our Lord demands as a condition of entrance into intimacy with Him, develops with the growth of charity; this want of self-consciousness precludes to a great extent the necessity of that active and positive repression of self which constituted the chief work of the soul in the two previous stages.  The acquisition of simplicity does away with the necessity of self-repression — for self is no longer assertive.

According as this self-consciousness disappears there is developed a consciousness of another kind — namely, a growing realization of the great truth that one is not a mere isolated individual, but forms part of a great mystical organism in the life of which the individual shares.  The Catholic sense is gradually replacing the individual sense.  The soul now aims at conforming its thoughts and its feelings with those of that Mystical Body with whom it feels itself identified in the community of a common life.  Its previous experience and study has revealed to it fully the inner dispositions, aspirations and devotion of the Head of that Body, of that Head which imparts to the Body all the vitality it has in the supernatural order.[5]  The soul passionately desires that its life should be in perfect harmony with that life of which Christ, its Head, has the plenitude.  It is perfectly aware that it cannot receive the inflow of that life to the fullest of its own capacity, unless there disappears from it all pulsations of the life of self which in its tendencies is opposed to the spirit of the life of Christ. Its object now is to check all unsupernatural movements in itself, in order that its whole life may be supernaturalised and that thus it may be brought into perfect union with Jesus Christ Himself.

All manifestations of the inordinate life of self become abhorrent to it for the sole reason that they prevent the perfection of that union and harmony between itself, as member, and the Head of that Mystical Body.  In other words, the soul wishes to become a healthy cell in the Mystical Body of Christ, a cell fully vivified by the life that animates that Body; it shrinks from the condition of being a languishing one, possessing only a tainted or incomplete life.  Venial sins weaken the vital energy of the Body; they diminish the fervor of charity and impoverish grace which is as it were, the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ.[6]  The conscience, therefore, becomes very delicate and shrinks from everything that falls short of a complete conformity to the will of God.  Deviation from that will, even when far short of opposition to it, appears in its real horror.  It has to do extreme violence to all its newborn instincts to commit a single deliberate fault; and if it falls into such, it is seized with a lively and keen remorse.  Its infidelities become rarer, at least deliberate infidelities — though the soul is still weak and can fail frequently through frailty.  But it cannot for a moment leave go of God to attach itself to something else — even though that attachment may not be positively displeasing to God — without instantly hearing His reproach in the depths of its interior.  The Lord's voice makes itself heard reproachfully at every infidelity.[7]  The soul grows rapidly in purity of conscience, and its confessions become very sincere; its faults are traced back with perfect surety of discernment to their true source, which is always a want of correspondence in some direction or other to God's designs of love.  It has a growing discernment of the action of God on it, and understands to a large extent how it can in its own activities cooperate with or impede that action.  It now perceives how its every act has an effect on its own state, and makes or mars its growth in supernatural life.

Its contrition is deeper and more perfect, though all traces of irritation and bitterness against self have disappeared from its sorrow for sin.  It abhors its faults now not as being a humiliating reminder of its native weakness and imperfection, nor yet because of the loss and harm of which they are the cause, but simply because they render it less apt to serve God's purposes.  Its sorrow is all for God and not for self; it views these faults in His light not in its own, and therefore sees them justly and truly; it sees them not only in themselves, but in their sources.  The purpose of amendment is directed to more than the elimination of the actual sins; it aims at the mortifying of the principle from which they spring.  The examination of conscience is no longer a mere inquiry into the nature and number of its faults; it is no longer a mere review of the "facts" of its spiritual existence; it has become a study of the relations, in which the soul stands to Almighty God, of the measure of its want of correspondence to His grace, and finally of the obstacles it opposes by its imperfections to the accomplishment of the Divine will in its regard.

Zeal for the
glory of God and the accomplishment of His will, in itself, in others and
over the whole earth, has replaced its passionate ardor for its own good
and its own perfection.

The particular kind of life the soul is leading, will naturally determine the direction which its positive activity towards spiritual progress will take.  Having only one purpose in view and that the promotion of God's glory, it will have only one object to tend towards and that is to extirpate in itself all that prevents God's glory being realized through its instrumentality.  If the soul has adopted the contemplative life as its vocation, it will aim at consoling the Lord by its fidelity, by its delicate attentions to Him and by the warmth of its affection, for the abandonment He suffers from others.  The soul desires that it should be a Holy place where the Lord may come to take His rest, and where He may find nothing but profound adoration, deep sympathy and warm affection.  It aims at excluding everything from its way of acting that could displease the Lord or render His presence less intimate.  Dissipation, purely natural activity, or want of fervor are the kind of faults that frustrate the realization of the glory God is to gain through that soul, and the soul reproaches itself with deep sorrow if it has been betrayed by its frailty into any faults.  Inevitably in its conversations with God it will gravitate towards this ruling thought — now become the Christian motive of its life — that of lending itself to be a perfect and willing instrument in the hands of God, for the fulfillment of His designs.  The petition of its prayer will be for fervor, recollection and interior peace, as being the means which will render it pliable under the action of the Holy Ghost.

If devoted to the active or apostolic life, its energy will be directed to the correction of those faults and defects of temperament or character which might hamper its action on souls and check the flow of the Divine influence which Jesus wills to transmit through it to others.  Therefore in order to have more power to attract souls, it will with an eagerness inspired by love, work hard to bring under control al! movements of impatience, rigidity and uncharitableness.  On account of its high ideals — which it believes only too low — it will at first tend to be hard and exacting with weak and cowardly souls that choose to move in a lower plane than itself.  But the Lord Who does not "break the bruised reed and extinguish the smoking flax," reveals to it that such a hard and exacting spirit is not His.  It sees in this illumination that it must cultivate a Divine tolerance of weakness in others, and cultivate in itself a peace so solidly established that it cannot be disturbed by the ceaseless difficulties that God's work encounters in this world.  This tolerance of weakness in others combined with an intolerance of what is in any way wrong, and this peace of soul which should remain unshaken by any manifestation of wickedness, are necessary, it realizes, for the full exercise on the souls of others of the supernatural vigor which the soul itself possesses.  It will naturally make all its conversations with Jesus converge on the acquisition of the qualities which were so perfectly exemplified in Our Blessed Savior's apostolic dealings with men, namely, gentleness to sinners, intolerance of sin and calm of soul.  These apostolic motives will furnish the theme of all its petitions.

In this connection it is not out of place to deal with the Particular Examen, an exercise which presents a considerable amount of difficulty to the best intentioned soul; but one which can become, instead of a distasteful duty a most consoling and fruitful spiritual occupation.  There should be no rigid line of demarcation between the Meditation and the Particular Examen.  The latter should be the taking up or the resumption, under a particular aspect, of the former.  The stage of prayer should always determine the subject of the Examination; in the first stage it will be some glaring defect, the cause of frequent falls — for instance, lukewarmness, sloth, sensuality, carelessness of rule, a habit of criticism or the like; in the second stage, the reproaches of the conscience will turn on self-seeking in one or other of its various forms, inordinate affections, want of kindness to others, eagerness for our own perfection and the like; in the third stage the examination will turn on that particular thing in us which we find to be a hindrance to the free intercourse of the Lord with our souls.  Instances of those obstacles have already been cited; they are want of sincerity, or of simplicity, a tendency to irritation against wrong doing, a habit of exaggeration, hastiness in speech and in action, a yielding to weakness in handling the affairs of the Lord, failure in meekness or patience, and other faults of this kind.  The soul casts a rapid glance over the twenty-four hours to see if it has fallen and how many times into the particular fault to which it is prone; it reviews the occasions in which these faults have occurred, with a view to taking precautions in similar circumstances the next time, and it strives to trace the different faults it discovers back to some single fundamental defect in itself.  This review should be rapid and never exceed a few minutes.  The soul then excites itself to a sincere regret for what it has done, and this it will do without difficulty because it sees in all its faults an impediment to its own movement under the high motive by which its life is directed.  When after the expression of its sorrow it has made a humble petition for help in its future trials it will tranquilly resume the spiritual position it occupied with the Lord at the termination of the morning's mental prayer.[8]

As the soul subjects itself more and more to the Divine Master's influences and enters ever further into His views, its devotions undergo an important change; they become less and less the expression of a human spirit and more and more the expression of a divine:  "Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity.  For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings."[9]  The liturgical prayers commence to exercise a powerful attraction over it; they begin to lay bare to its vision their beauty, and to its understanding their hidden depths of meaning.  It enters more fully and completely into the life of the Church, and begins to think and feel with the Spouse of Christ. The movements of grace forthwith in the soul correspond with the movement of the liturgical life.  It is given to the soul to enter into, and to participate in, the different mysteries of the Savior's life, as if it were itself a personal actor in those events; and it derives from these mysteries, as unfolded and developed in the Liturgical Cycle, the particular graces of sanctification which they are ordained to impart.  The feasts of the Church become for it spiritual feasts which fill it with grace and joy, making its prayer merge naturally into the sentiments which animate the Church on these occasions, and to which utterance is given in the Office and in the Mass.  The soul begins to respond to every movement which vibrates in the Church.  Its life becomes mystic in increasing measure, for its whole natural existence — namely the daily round of human duties — tends to be lifted into a supernatural plane by the close union with Christ's life on earth that has been developed.  Things which before cost bitter struggles now become easy to it.  Asceticism no longer costs an effort.  It is no longer a rude self-discipline to bring the soul into subjection to Christ. This subjection now follows as a natural consequence from the merging of the soul's life in that of Christ and from the soul's ardent desire to live in constant fidelity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  The soul now attains to God's viewpoint with regard to life's events; it sees them as He sees them, and in the perspective in which He views them.  The absolute futility of the things of earth is revealed in a strong and vivid light, and in a vigorous contrast with the reality that is God, and with all that pertains to Him and His service.  Through the activity of the gift of Wisdom, creatures arc seen in the light of their First Cause and thus seen in their emptiness and vanity they cease to exercise any attraction over the soul.  They no longer hold it, but i; holds them, for it has risen above and established itself in the source of all created things.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,"[10]  its perfect detachment has won for it the reward promised in this beatitude.  Having renounced earth, it has found God and in Him it has recovered creatures once again.  They become of interest to it, but to the extent only in which it sees God in them.  Creatures have not only lost the power to attract; they have lost also the faculty to wound.  Things that hurt before, can still strike but they cannot move, for the soul remains unaffected by anything that touches itself personally.[11]  Having merged its individuality in that of the Church, it can be wounded only through the latter.  Its interests and ambitions being bound up with hers, its only pursuit being the extension and the building of the body of Christ, it is only the malice or the wickedness that opposes an obstacle to this end, that can cause it pain.  It is only what hurts ;he Church can hurt it.  Hence it feels a passionate hatred of error, of false teaching, of false principles, of worldly maxims, and of every invention of Satan by which souls are corrupted and destroyed.  It can enter into wrath about these things, for it is yet imperfect and has not attained to that higher calm, where it enters into the unruffled tranquillity of God.  This calm it can enjoy only in the realm of Passive Prayer.

The soul holding itself detached from creatures, can easily supernaturalise its work, for it has become habitual to regard everything it has to do as being appointed to it by God Himself.  The commonest things thus become of value, and cease at the same time to have any value in its eyes — a strange paradox, one of the many with which the whole Christian life is interwoven, all being based upon the fundamental one of life through death and death in life.  Things are of value because they are God's appointment; they cease to have value because they are regarded as being nothing in themselves, and as having only the worth that that appointment of God gives them.  Hence the soul relinquishes its tasks easily as soon as obedience calls it to some other charge.  No longer seeking itself, but God in those things, it leaves off as soon as God can no longer be found in them and it knows well that God can be found in occupations only as long as duty or authority binds it to them.  In a word, the soul lives and moves and breathes in a completely supernatural atmosphere; out of it, it feels restless, unhappy and ill at ease; it views itself and all things else from the vantage ground of heaven; the supernatural has become for it quasi-natural.  Its prayer, without deliberate intention, tends to simplify itself more and more.  Having learned by experience the poverty of the results that attend on its own eager activities, and on the other hand the strengthening and transforming effect of the least action of God, it contents itself with putting itself in the Divine Presence and willing to submit itself to the Divine influence.  It knows full well that its best activity is to hold itself in that attitude which disposes it to receive from the hand of God the gifts of God.  The soul is well advised in giving itself to this form of prayer when grace draws it to this manner of treating with God.  " For the soul is, in the last resort, but a mere capacity.  It has nothing from itself and in itself.  It is on God it must draw to fill up the void, and this it does by the union with Him developed in prayer.  It ought, therefore, rather receive than take.  Consequently the perfect state of prayer consists in this, that the faculties of the soul are united in a contemplation marked by silence, calm and expectancy.  This being so, the soul's cooperation (in the work of sanctification) consists in consenting to the gifts of God and in receiving them. . . This silence and this expectancy of the soul before God must constitute a state of dependence on the Author of all gifts, of annihilation before Him and of adoration of His greatness.''[12]

This state of the soul, excellent as it is, is not without its own dangers.  The process of purification is not yet complete and that being so, there remains the possibility of lapses into serious and even grave faults.  This danger diminishes considerably — only in rare cases does it altogether disappear — when passive prayer begins.  In the most perfect form of the prayer of simplicity, such as has been described, the soul is still only at the threshold of that life of comparative security; to cross that threshold it must practice the utmost fidelity in the details of life.  It is only this constant and sustained and minute fidelity to the touches of grace that will make it pass into the stages of passive prayer.  Its prayer at the point at which it has arrived is in its highest expression the prayer of simplicity.  This is still active prayer, though the activity is largely of the will; the operations of the intelligence are few and simple; they no longer involve reasoning and discourse; they consist mainly in a peaceful regard, which embraces in a single intuition all the aspects of the subject meditated on and its consequences.  Very frequently at this point of spiritual progress the soul undergoes an experience which causes it, if uninstructed, a great deal of anxiety and misgiving.  Prayer has become easy.  Entering into contact with God presents little difficulty.  The mind readily turns to Divine things and the will is easily stirred up to affection for them.  Everything seems to point to a rapid and indefinite progress in the practice of prayer, when suddenly or slowly the soul finds all its hopes, to all appearances, shattered.  When it places itself before God for its daily exercise of mental prayer it finds itself, as it appears to it, utterly unable to pray.  The understanding is apparently sluggish and inert.  There seems to be no vital reaction on the part of the intelligence to the 'points' that the devout soul prepares for its meditation.  Consideration after consideration is suggested and they rest on the surface of the mind lifeless, like stones on the surface of a frozen lake.  They seem not to penetrate the mind, to become part of it and to issue in further reflections or in affections of the will.  There is as little response from the mind as there would be on the part of an inanimate body to a stimulus applied to it.  The soul feels, as it were, paralyzed.

The time of prayer, owing to the apparent inability of the understanding to work, is filled with distractions.  The soul is tempted to believe that it is a waste of precious moments, has no useful effect and only excites the displeasure of God.  It is tempted to renounce the formal exercise of mental prayer as useless and unprofitable.  The temptation is all the stronger because it finds that outside the time of formal prayer, during the occupations of the day, in difficulties, in labors, in joyous incidents, it finds a comparative ease in raising itself to God in aspirations and affections.

Another troubling phenomenon accompanying this species of seeming paralysis in prayer is the loss of taste for spiritual reading.  Up to this juncture the soul found keen delight in perusing the works of ascetical and spiritual writers.  Their thoughts nourished it, illuminated the understanding, stirred up the desire for Divine things and ministered ample matter for the exercise of the mind during the times of prayer.  Now it reads and gets nothing from the reading.  Whole paragraphs are gone through and no savor is found in them.  The books have become to the understanding as food that has lost its savor and all its nutritious properties.  If the soul holds on to its spiritual reading (as of course, it should) it does so in a sense of duty and it acquits itself of it as of a task — a task that seems to have little practical value or significance.

The soul sees in all this, clear signs of its having gone backwards and is naturally troubled thereat.  But it can console itself, for all these symptoms are not signs of retrogression if deliberate faults have been avoided and if the practices of the spiritual life have been clung to.[13]  The explanation of this peculiar and fearful state of soul is found in the very progress that the soul has made.  Up to this point there has been a gradual forming of convictions with regard to the principles of perfection and a steady approach on the part of the will to that point at which its affections are definitely weaned from all that is not God or does not lead to Him.  The result is that all efforts at thinking itself into this condition — which is the normal purpose of meditation — are wasted efforts and issue in a sense of futility.  It is a veritable "carrying of coals to Newcastle" in the realm of spiritual things.

This explains the irritation of the soul when it strives to carry on its exercise as usual.  If it were enlightened enough at the moment it would understand that the impatience at the usual procedure of turning over points of considerations, is due to an inner consciousness that this process has become a veritable distraction turning it aside from something more profitable.  The soul has no longer need to form convictions.  It is penetrated through and through with the sense of the desirability of God.  This anxiety to grow closer to God, to know Him more and to love Him more meets with very little resistance now; it meets with more when the soul finds itself in the presence of God for prayer.  The instinct of the soul at this point, if the instinct is not thwarted through a wrong understanding of things, is to content itself with dwelling quietly in spirit before God, with a single expectant look towards Him and without any multiplicity of acts either of will or intellect.  It has reached a stage w hen it has, so to speak, developed a decided taste for God and can relish little else.  It has no need to persuade itself to this taste any longer.  Hence considerations weary it and prove distasteful.

Of course, owing to the fewness and simplicity of the acts of the intelligence, the imagination is apt to run riot.  Distractions are numerous and even disquieting.  But the soul need not be disturbed, for underneath the rippling of these distractions over the surface of the soul, the soul, in its depths, is adhering to God in a sustained act of loving regard.  In spite of the wanderings of the imagination the will is adhering to God and the understanding is dwelling on Him.

The difficulty presented by spiritual reading is simply another aspect of the difficulty in considerations.  The soul has learned all about the principles and practice of the interior life.  It has nothing more to get from books.  These fail to present it with any further stimulus to a cult of spirituality.  The period of forming convictions and acquiring ideas is over and past. The time has not yet come when the soul is so advanced that a paragraph or even a sentence from the most commonplace spiritual book can illuminate the understanding in a fresh and vivid way and stir up the affections to warmth.  A most ordinary word about God suffices to set perfect souls aflame.  But that stage is not yet reached.  The soul must therefore expectantly keep itself in peace, and in the meantime choose for its spiritual reading those books which have a peculiar unction; the Holy Scriptures, the "Imitation of Christ", the works of the great Saints and Doctors of the Church.

Trials such as these should remind the soul that the virtues are still in their tenderest growth, and constant watchfulness is necessary to prevent this growth from being checked or destroyed.  But the great danger of the soul comes from the temptation which is peculiar to the state in which it finds itself.  It has surmounted sensuality; it has emancipated itself from the love of creatures; but it still can be ensnared by the innate, instinctive and humanly speaking, ineradicable "appetite"[14]  to be something.  This tendency can be described better in negative than in positive terms.  There is in every person a shrinking from what may be described as 'moral eclipse.' It is a shuddering fear of annihilation in a moral not physical sense.  It is a shrinking from obscurity and oblivion.  It is a dread of being counted by men as being nothing and as not to be taken account of at all.  To be despised, and w hat is worse, to be unknown, to be forgotten, to be buried in obscurity as far as regards one's fellow creatures, that is extremely hard for human nature to bear, and human nature, even much chastened, shrinks back from it.  Even one who is exercised in virtue will still retain this "appetite" to be something.  This appetite can be free from the taint of ambition, vanity and selfishness.  It may be free from all self-seeking in the vulgar sense.  It springs not from the instinct of self-seeking, but from what may be called the instinct of self-preservation, understanding this term in its most transcendental sense in the moral order.  One swayed by this "appetite" may desire "to be something" in view of the interests of God.  Such a one, ardently desirous of doing something for God, of spending Himself in His service and of winning souls to Him, may judge that in order to succeed in this it would be necessary for it to be well thought of and to be held in a certain amount of esteem.  Without exactly seeking to acquire a reputation for the possession of excellent qualities, a virtuous soul may not be unwilling that it should appear to others to be in possession of these qualities in order that they, submitting to its ascendency, may be in this way led to God.

This corresponds to the third temptation.  The devil suggested to Our Lord that He should do some striking thing in the eyes of men, insinuating that they would thereby be more ready to be swayed by His words and to be persuaded to follow His teaching; "And he brought Him to Jerusalem, and he set Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and he said to Him; if thou be the Son of God, cast thyself from hence.  For it is written, that He hath given His angels charge over thee, that they keep thee.  And that in their hands they shall bear thee up lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone."[16]  The reasoning implicit in this suggestion is very specious.  "You are unknown and obscure; as such you will get no hearing with the people and your enterprise will meet with no success.  Do something striking, show yourself to be somebody and the people will acknowledge you as the Messias." The reply of Jesus was simple:  "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." That is to say, "I leave the manifestation of what I am to God to be made according to His good pleasure and at the time and in the circumstances He determines." Christ refuses to anticipate the time and the action of God by putting himself forward of His own accord.  So too, must we be disposed to remain hidden, obscure and unknown to men, if God so wills it.  If He chooses to manifest His power through us, He must be left His own time to do so.  God fulfills Himself in many ways, and we can never know whether He shall realize His purpose in us through keeping us hidden or bringing us into the light.  The soul that seeks to be perfect must consent to be nothing, that is, to be held as nobody.  It is wrong to seek to do remarkable things in God's service for the sake of attracting others to that service.  Self would be sure to recover itself in that.[16] 

This temptation can be extraordinarily subtle, and it must be the sharpest one in the devil's armory for it is the only one of the three that he renews with Our Lord.  "And his brethren said to Him; Pass from hence and go into Judea; that thy disciples also may see thy works which thou dost. For there is no man that doth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly.  If thou do these things manifest thyself to the world."[17]  This is the same temptation in another form; Jesus is told by His brethren that He can conquer hearts and wills, by an exhibition of the power of which He is possessed — "show yourself to be somebody and a career awaits you." The Evangelist adds with a certain sadness and pathos, "For neither did his brethren believe in Him."[18]  They could not see with His eyes; they saw only through the eyes of the world — the world which judges self- advertisement to be a necessary means to success.  With a strange persistency the devil returned once more with the same suggestion during Our Lord's last moments; this time it came through the scribes and ancients of the people — "Mocking, they said, if he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross and we will believe him."[19]  By an appeal to the Divine Power that was His in virtue of the Hypostatic Union, Jesus could detach Himself from the cross; if He made such an appeal and did come down, perhaps the incredulity of His enemies would be overcome?  Such was the temptation.  Jesus paid no heed to the tempter.  He consented to appear there before the whole world completely helpless wholly powerless and an abject failure.  He consented to appear there on the cross as the "most abject of men,"[20]  as a very nothing from the points of human dignity and worth.  His attitude was the complete negation of that tendency in man "to be something":  — "There is no beauty in him whereupon we esteemed him not,"[21]  He is "a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people."[22]  And yet it was this utter annihilation in all human estimation that wrought the redemption of mankind.  There was no failure like Christ's, and yet it was the word's salvation; so too from the bruised and crushed human soul God can draw an immense flood of spiritual energy for the regeneration of mankind, provided that the soul does not allow itself to break and lose heart and courage under its cruel suffering.  When the soul, in its earnest pursuit of God has allowed this last citadel in it to yield to grace, the citadel of that pride by which a man obstinately resists being nothing in the eyes of men — when it has attained this degree of humility, then it is perfectly prepared for that direct divine action on it, which prepares the way for close, intimate and habitual union with God.

Union with God is effected by the action of the three faculties of understanding, memory, and will, operating through the divine infused virtues of faith, hope and charity.  It is the activity of those virtues that attaches the soul to its Creator, as its final end.  In the degree in which this activity is intense and unintermittent, the union is intimate and unbroken.  The obstacle to the free action of the infused virtues of faith, hope and charity in the soul is the activity of the three concupiscences, the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life — the sad heritage of original sin.  By these concupiscences man is attached to himself, to his bodily pleasures, to what gratifies his imagination, and to what flatters his intellect and will.  Attached to himself by the activities of the concupiscences, he is necessarily detached from God.  In the preceding chapters has been sketched the series of efforts the soul has to make to vanquish its sensuality, its affections and its pride, and by these victories to paralyze the activities of the concupiscences.  When these enemies are overcome, the soul finds itself unhampered and unimpeded in the exercise of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.  This free and unfettered action of the infused virtues is called the perfect spiritual life.  "It is called spiritual," writes Ven.  Libermann "because in it the soul detached itself and withdraws from every material object to apply itself to God alone and to spiritual things; it makes of this its whole life.  It no longer allows itself to be dominated or impressed by sensible objects, but by God alone with whom it is in intimate relation.  It no longer lives save to serve God in spirit and truth.  Its life is a life of religion."[23]

Endnotes:

  1. Compare the following passage from Newman.  "Those whom Christ saves are they who at once attempt to save themselves, yet despair of saving themselves; who aim to do all and confess that they do naught; who are all love and all fear; who are the most holy, yet confess themselves the most sinful; who ever seek to please Him, yet feel they never can; who are full of good works, yet works of penance.  All this seems a contradiction to the natural man, but is not so to those whom Christ enlightens.  They understand, in proportion to their illumination, that it is possible to work out their salvation vet to have it wrought out for them, to fear and tremble at the thought of judgment, yet to rejoice always in the hour and hope and pray for His coming." Newman "P.S." vii, 12.
  2. St. John xv. 5.
  3. By docility of life is meant an uncomplaining submission to all the dispensations of Divine Providence, accepting everything that comes to one as coming from God's Hand and as being meant to work towards one's sanctification. 
  4. The dispositions that characterize the soul at this stage are well set forth in the following passage, translated from La Vie Spirituelle — Jan.  1923.  "It will not be Out Of place to review the qualities of this spiritual childhood either in what it excludes or in what it presupposes.  It excludes in fact the dominating idea of self the presumption that we attain by human means to a supernatural end, the deceptive fancy of self- sufficiency at the time Of peril and temptation.  On the other hand it presupposes a lively faith in the existence of God a practical adoration of His power and mercy, a confident recourse to the Providence of Him who grants us the grace to avoid evil and do good.  Thus the qualities of this spiritual childhood are excellent whether regarded from the negative or positive point of view, and hence one understands how our Lord has marked it out as a necessary condition to obtain eternal life."
  5. An intelligent grasp and appreciation of the principles which motived the life of Christ, an earnest application of these principles in the living of our human lives, results (with God's grace) in that ideal conformity to which we are bound to aspire.  But of these even who study the life of our Lord — and study it prayerfully — comparatively few approach it to find a unified grasp of the principles according to which Jesus lived His human life.  This is a pity; and though the consideration of the life of our Lord is never without benefit, the lack of some definite method of approach may explain much "flabby" spirituality among holy persons, and some absence of progress in the spiritual life.
    As a matter of fact, the human life of our Lord is dominated by one fundamental principle, namely, the complete and entire subjection of His human will to the Divine Will of His heavenly Father.  He came not to do His own will but the will of Him that sent Him.  (cf.  St. John vi. 38.) His prayer in the garden was one of complete submission to His Father, "Not my will but thine be done" (St. Luke xxii. 42), and His whole life has been told by St. Paul in one short phrase, "He was made obedient even unto death." (Phil.  ii. 8.) If His life was marked by the virile acceptance of suffering obscurity and poverty it is because He would teach us that by the willing acceptance of these things from the hand of God we too can most easily overcome the attractions which earth holds out to self-love, in order to base our lives on the fundamental principle of His life — that of loving subjection to God — and so by impregnating our lives with the spirit of His become in very truth "other Christs" (cf. Marmion:  "Christ the Life of the Soul," chap. ii, especially the concluding paragraphs).
  6. cf. Van Noort.  "De Ecclesia Christi # 74, "Sanctifying grace is rightly called the soul Or the Church."
  7. The relations between Christ and the soul at this stage are aptly expressed by "The Imitation, Book III, xxxii, in the colloquy:  —
    Christ — Take this short and perfect word:  Forsake all, and thou shalt find all, leave thy desires and thou shalt find rest.
    Disciple — Lord this is not the work of one day, nor children's sport.
    Christ — When thou art come so far that thou art no longer a lover of thyself, but dost stand wholly at my beck . . . then wouldst thou exceedingly please me and all thy life would pass in joy and peace."
  8. But the Particular Examen is not always necessarily directed towards the correction of faults and in the later stages is particularly effective in producing a positive result.  It may be used with great efficacy to form, e.g., a habit of prayer, of self-abandonment, of supernatural living (i.e., of accepting events in the spirit of faith), or of conscious advertence to the presence of God in the soul — all of which habits are direct and ideal preparations for union.
  9. Rom.  viii. 26.
  10. St. Matt.  v. 3. The present tense is significant.
  11. This does not mean that the sensitive nature is atrophied or deadened.  It is so controlled and influenced by the will divinely illumined that it ceases to clamor for recognition or alleviation.  As a matter of fact extreme sensitiveness to pain inflicted by creatures frequently seems to co-exist with and be a very accompaniment of an intense love of God.  Love for God does not encase the human heart with a crust as it were, making it invulnerable to hurt inflicted by creatures but it so mingles its divine balm with poor human sensitiveness and so enlightens, sustains and directs the will, that the soul is not disturbed, and finds even a deeper peace.  (Sensitiveness to pain is a powerful help for developing growth in union with God.)
  12. Ven.  Libermann:  "Ecrits Spirituels" p. 117. 
  13. The aridity in prayer which is treated of here is not the same as that mentioned in Ch.  vi, though analogous to it.  The trial spoken of in the present chapter always presupposes a period of marked spiritual advancement.  On the other hand, the trial described in Ch.  vi. is essentially that which besets a beginner when God deprives the soul of sensible delights in prayer either to lead it in the obscurity of faith to solid virtue or to warn it of some negligence in His service.
  14. The scholastic word 'appetite' derived from 'ad,' to, and 'petere' to seek — is chosen deliberately as the only term suited to convey the idea that is meant to be expressed.  Anxiety, desire, wish, ambition — these words are too strong, as they imply something that is too positive and deliberate.  What is designated by the word 'appetite' is more like an instinct — the instinct proper to and springing from personality.
  15. St. Luke iv. 9-11.
  16. It is noteworthy that as the soul progresses in prayer and in the interior life, temptations become more subtle and insidious and in a sense more terrifying in their nature.  The soul is not any longer set in opposition to God by the attraction of creatures — it feels itself set in opposition to God because of Himself.  It begins to experience a species of resentment against God Himself which appalls it because of the fearful wickedness of the temptation.  It feels in itself a dislike of the Divinity itself and a distaste for God and a tendency to blasphemy and hatted.  The reason lies in this.  The soul has, in its progress, penetrated very far into its own interior and is now having a practical experimentation of the fundamental opposition between self and God.  Self is driven to its last stronghold and resents God with all its spiritual energy.  The soul must not be terrified at this experience.  It is a Sign of the nearness, not the remoteness of God.  It must be quietly and wisely alert to these snares of self-love and of the wicked one.  It must trust in God to enlighten it and to direct the work of uprooting the clinging "self" which would impede the perfect union with Him.
  17. St. John vii. 3-4.
  18. St. John vii. 5.
  19. St. Matt.  xxvii. 42.
  20. Isaias liii. 3.
  21. Isaias liii. 2, 3.
  22. Ps. xxi. 7.
  23. Ven.  Libermann:  "Ecrits Spirituels," p. 9.

 

Progress Through Mental Prayer
by Edward Leen, C.S.Sp.

Part I
The Nature of Prayer

                  Introduction
Chapter 1 - The Aim of Mental Prayer
Chapter 2 - Perseverance in Prayer
Chapter 3 - Vocal Prayer
Chapter 4 - The Ordinary Process of Mental Prayer
Chapter 5 - The Transforming Effect of Mental Prayer
Chapter 6 - The First Stage in the Transformation
Chapter 7 - The Second Stage in the Transformation
Chapter 8 - The Third Stage in the Transformation
Chapter 9 - Mount Thabor

Part II
Method in Mental Prayer Considered
in its Fundamental Principles

Chapter 10 - The Vision of Faith Purified by Mental Prayer
Chapter 11 - The Preliminary Acts in Mental Prayer
Chapter 12 - The Body of Mental Prayer
Chapter 13 - Progress in Mental Prayer: Its Effect on Method

Part III
Elements that make for
Progress in Mental Prayer

Chapter 14 - Dispositions Requisite for Mental Prayer
Chapter 15 - Spiritual Reading
Chapter 16 - Mortification: A Condition of Life
Chapter 17 - Silence: A Means to Recollection


 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. "The Third Stage in the Transformation." chapter 8 from Progress Through Mental Prayer (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) 93-120.

Progress Through Mental Prayer is in the public domain.

 

THE AUTHOR

Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. was born in Ireland in 1885 and entered the Holy Ghost Fathers being ordained in 1914. He was president of Blackrock College in Ireland from 1925 to 1931 and then became professor of philosophy at Kimmage Manor, Dublin. During this time he gave many retreats and conferences, especially to religious communities and he became widely known as a master of spiritual matters. His conference and lecture notes became the basis for his many books on prayer and the spiritual life. He visited the United States once in 1939. He died in 1944 in Dublin. He is the author of Progress Through Mental Prayer, The Holy Spirit, Why the Cross?, In the Likeness of Christ, The Voice of a Priest, and In the Likeness of Christ.

Copyright © Public Domain




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