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The Fulfillment of All Desire

  • RALPH MARTIN

The whole purpose of our creation, the whole purpose of our redemption is so that we may be fully united with God in every aspect of our being.

Introduction

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A few months before graduating from the University of Notre Dame, I experienced a significant reawakening of my childhood faith that set me on a path I've been on now for more than forty years.  After graduating from Notre Dame, I enrolled, as planned, in the graduate philosophy department at Princeton University, beginning studies towards a doctorate in philosophy.  After my first year of graduate studies a friend and I spent a summer at a monastery seeking direction for our lives.  We felt that the Lord was leading us to leave graduate school and become more directly involved in the work of evangelization.  A short while later we were asked to take up research and training positions at the national office of the Cursillo Movement, positions we held for five years.  At the same time we were engaged in campus ministry at the Catholic student parish at Michigan State University, and later at the student parish at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I have mainly lived since then.

As the charismatic renewal unfolded in the Catholic Church in the late 1960's, we found ourselves in a leadership position and became very involved in writing and speaking as well as in directly evangelistic and pastoral work in this country and overseas.  This included a fouryear period during which my wife, my family, and I lived in Brussels, Belgium, working closely with Cardinal Suenens, who at that time was the primate of the Catholic Church in Belgium and had served as one of the four moderators of the Second Vatican Council.

It would truly take an entire book to recount the experiences of those years of life and service, but in the late 1980's and early 1990's there was a shift in our work of the sort that gave me the opportunity to take up graduate level theological studies, part-time, at the Sacred Heart School of Theology, the major seminary in Detroit.  I eventually ended up getting an MA in theology in 1996.

In the spring of 1993 I was in an airport in Zurich, Switzerland, waiting for a plane back to the United States.  I was using the layover as a chance to catch up with my reading for a History of Spirituality course I was taking at the time.  The assignment was to read The Spiritual Canticle by Saint John of the Cross.

I had first tried to read Saint John of the Cross's The Ascent of Mount Carmel shortly after the spiritual awakening I had experienced at Notre Dame.  After reading maybe less than a hundred pages or so, I remember putting it down because it seemed hard to understand and rather negative in its approach.  It wasn't something I could relate to at the time.

Now, however, in an airport in Zurich in 1993, as I read The Spiritual Canticle, it was as if I was blinded by an excess of light and insight.  As I read I felt that everything I had ever experienced, felt, desired, longed for, and strove to understand was being revealed to me in a depth of understanding and measure of beauty and meaning that literally took my breath away.  It was the right book at the right time.

I had never flagged in my desire to follow the Lord or to grow in holiness through all these years but reading John reopened for me some of the absolute depths that I encountered in God during that awakening so many years ago, and gave me the hope that all I had hoped for then, in relationship to Him, was indeed possible.  I was being called again to "launch out into the deep."

I found myself working through John's other writings, including The Ascent of Mount Carmel that I had found so unattractive and difficult years ago, and finding in them immense insight and great help in continuing the spiritual journey.  Maybe a certain amount of life experience, at least in my case, was necessary before I could understand the truth and relevance of these works.

Even though I only had to read portions of these works in my theology class I found myself wanting to read the whole of these works and more besides.  I worked through the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and found in them immense depths of insight, encouragement, and practical wisdom.  And then I studied Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Augustine's Confessions, the works of Saint Francis De Sales, and more.  I couldn't get enough of these great Doctors of the Church and their teachings on the spiritual life.

Then, in 1997, Father Michael Scanlan, at that time president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, called me and asked if I would be interested in teaching a graduate level theology class on the "new evangelization."  I told him I could do that if he wanted, but I'd rather teach a course on Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross.  He knows me well and was a bit surprised at my request.  He knew I was studying these Doctors but asked me: "Do you feel ready to teach them?" I did feel ready and answered yes.  The student evaluations were very positive, and every summer since then I've been asked to teach in the graduate theology program at Franciscan University and have taught over a number of summers all seven of the Doctors of the Church that we are using as guides in this book.

Then I was asked to teach the Catholic Spirituality course at the relatively new Catholic college in my own area, Ave Maria, which I did for several years before it moved to Florida.

And then I was asked to teach the Introduction to Catholic Spirituality course and a graduate level course on Evangelization and Spirituality at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and School of Theology, in the Archdiocese of Detroit, which I've been doing the last several years as well.  I am now a regular part of the faculty and Director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at the seminary.

When, on January 6, 2001, at the end of the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II published Novo Millennio Ineunte, his vision of dynamic Catholic life for the new millennium, I was amazed to see him call for the whole Church to reconnect with the mystical tradition, mentioning specifically Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Thérèse of Lisieux, four of the saints I had been teaching for several years at various institutions.  I felt a deep confirmation that I was on the right track in following the Spirit's lead.


I believe that the Lord has given me a deep desire to understand the writings of these great Doctors of the Church not just for myself but so I can share them with others.  I know, from my own experience, that many people have tried to read these saints and Doctors and have found them difficult and stopped.  There are many reasons why this is so.  Some of the writings are poorly translated into English that is now somewhat archaic.  Some "ramble," making it difficult at first to see the structure and clarity of their thought.  Some of the writings are just plain difficult.  For whatever reason, at this stage of my life and service, the Lord has given me a measure of understanding of these Doctors, and a desire and ability to communicate their teachings to others.

So far I have done this by direct teaching in many different settings, and by making audio albums available on each of these Doctors which attempt to communicate the integrity of their teachings in an understandable way. [1] As I have done this I have been very struck by the fundamental agreement of these Doctors in what they teach about the spiritual journey: they really are giving us a "road-map" of the journey to God.  Across so many centuries, languages, cultures, and different types of personalities, the Lord has infused a wisdom about the spiritual journey that is immensely inspiring and helpful, and remarkably harmonious.

I feel ready now, and led by the Lord as well, to attempt to put together in one book, a picture and explanation of this spiritual roadmap as it is found in the writings and lives of these Doctors of the Church.

I feel ready now, and led by the Lord as well, to attempt to put together in one book, a picture and explanation of this spiritual roadmap as it is found in the writings and lives of these Doctors of the Church.  I have tried as much as possible to let these saints speak for themselves by a generous use of their own words, keeping my commentary to a minimum so as not to impede the flow of the "roadmap."  I am very grateful to the copyright holders of the translations I have used for giving me permission to use the saints' words as much as I have.  I hope you will find, as I have, that their words are irreplaceable — oftentimes for their literary brilliance, and always for their depth of insight and their practical relevance.  I have also wanted to use their own words as much as possible so the remarkable harmony of their teachings with one another may stand out clearly.  The reliability of the roadmap I am tracing is increased manyfold not just because of the eminence of a particular Doctor's teaching but also because of their remarkable harmony with one another on the essentials of the spiritual journey.  I hope you will see that there is a multitude of highly authoritative, holy, and insightful witnesses pointing clearly to the road we must take to reach our goal of union with God, where we will find the fulfillment of all desire.  I hope also that you will find the book useful as a "guidebook" or "map" that can be referred to repeatedly over the years when wisdom is needed about a particular aspect of the journey.  The wisdom of these saints is that reliable and that useful!

I have restricted myself in this book just to those saints of the Western Church who have been recognized as Doctors by the Church and make a major contribution to our understanding of the spiritual journey.  There are thirty-three Doctors of the Church in total.  Some are recognized for their contribution to scriptural commentary; some for moral theology; some for defending against heresy; some for systematic theology; some for "spiritual theology" or wisdom about the way to union with God.  Doctors of the Church have the highest level of authority and their teachings are recognized as being of universal value.  There are of course Doctors of the Church from the East that have made important contributions in the area of spirituality, and many other saints and writers of the West as well, but in this book we will focus on only seven of these Doctors, all of whom made a major contribution to the understanding of the spiritual journey.

Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth-century Cistercian abbot whom we will learn more about later, asks where the teachers are who will help us make this awesome journey, and then answers:

God will provide for this.  Look, they are here already, they who are to instruct the new bride in the thing she needs to know, and prepare her for her marriage to the heavenly Bridegroom, and to teach her the faith and counsel her in the way of holiness. [2]

These seven Doctors of the Church whom we will be looking to for wisdom to guide us on this journey, including Bernard himself, are preeminent among those "instructors" Bernard promised the Lord would provide.

I have sought the Lord's help and the help of our friends and teachers, the Doctors and saints who form the substance of this book, so that this book will be useful in helping others to begin or continue or complete the journey to God, at the end of which we find the fulfillment of all desire.  May we find in the voices of these saints, in the pages of this book, the voice of the Teacher Himself, guiding us on our journey to God.  "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left" (Is. 30:2021).

A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk."  (Is. 35:89, NAB)


Notes:

  1. Individual audio albums devoted to the teachings of each of these saints are available both in cassette and CD versions through Renewal Ministries.  Visit www.renewalministries.net or call (734) 662-1730 ext. 27.
  2. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, in four volumes, trans.  Kilian Walsh, Irene Edmonds, (Kalamazoo, MI: ICS Publications, 19711980), vol. IV sermon 76, no. 7, p. 115.
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Acknowledgement

Ralph Martin, S.T.D. "Introduction" The Fulfillment of All Desire (Steubenville, OH, Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006) xiii - x.

Reprinted with permission of Ralph Martin and Emmaus Road Publishing.

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The Author

Ralph Martin, S.T.D., is director of graduate theology programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit.  He is also the president of Renewal Ministries.  His most recent books are:  The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints, and Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization.

Copyright © 2006 Ralph Martin
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