Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spiritual journey: the stages of spiritual growth

"...[T]he purgative stage or way includes the initial phases of the spiritual life, including coming to conversion, turning away from sin, bringing one's life into conformity with the moral law, initiating the habit of prayer and the practices of piety, and maintaining a relatively stable life in the Church. (The first three mansions of Teresa [of Avila] deal with issues connected with the purgative stage.)

The illuminative stage is one of continuing growth. It is characterized by deeper prayer, growth in the virtues, deepening love of neighbor, greater moral stability, more complete surrender to the lordship of Christ, greater detachment from all that is not God, and increasing desire for full union. It is accompanied by various kinds of trials and purifications and sometimes be great consolations and blessings, including what are commonly referred to as 'mystical phenomena.' (Teresa's fourth, fifth, and sixth mansions deal with issues connected with this stage.)

The unitive stage is one of deep, habitual union with God, characterized by deep joy, profound humility, freedom from fears of suffering or trials, great desire to serve God, and apostolic fruitfulness. The experience of the presence of God is almost continual; great insight into the things of God is experienced; and while not without suffering, suffering now becomes primarily the grace of sharing in the redeeming suffering of Christ rather than the suffering of purification. This deep, habitual union is variously described as a 'spiritual marriage' or 'transforming union.' (Teresa describes the unitive stage in the seventh mansion.)

This three-stage division is a useful way of broadly characterizing the different aspects of the spiritual journey...

...[I]t's important to bear in mind that in practice no one's life perfectly matches any of the stages described... [D]ifferent aspects of these stages can be present in one's life simultaneously, although the direction of our lives, if we are making progress, should increasingly mirror the characteristics the saints point out as indicators of spiritual progress. As Catherine [of Siena] puts it, 'These are three stages for which many have the capacity, and all three can be present in one and the same person.'"

-- The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin

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