Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Oct. 4 Conversion and Purification

Conversion, Purification and Growth

In recent lectures we have considered conversion, purgation, and the stages of growth. Below shows reading assignments and discussions leading up to the exam.

Date: Thursday, September 29 Stages of Growth
Learning Objective: Identify the major stages of spiritual growth and explain the defining characteristics of each stage.
Teaching Strategy: Lecture and Discussion
Evaluation Technique: Class participation, EBB, Blog and Mid-term
Assignment due Oct. 4: Spiritual Theology, chapter 9, Blog and EBB,

Date: Tuesday, October 4 Topic: Means of Growth
Learning Objective: Explain how the sacraments, good works, and prayer as means to spiritual maturity.
Teaching Strategy: Lecture and Discussion
Evaluation Technique: Class participation, EBB, Blog and Mid-term
Assignment due Oct. 6: Spiritual Theology, chapters 10 and 11.

Date: Thursday, October 6 Topic: Growth of the Gifts of the Spirit and the Virtues
Learning Objective: Describe the growth of the virtues and the gifts of the Spirit
Teaching Strategy: Lecture and Discussion
Evaluation Technique: Class participation, EBB, Blog, and Mid-term
Assignment due Oct. 25: Spiritual Theology, chapter 12, suggested reading for Midterm Roots of Christian Mysticism, 309-380

Date: October 11 Topic: Review

Regarding Conversion
Although we looked briefly at temperament and factors effecting character, the key is the struggle against sin. The distinction between mortal and venial sin is understood in terms of charity. Mortal sin acts directly against friendship love of God with full knowledge and freedom in a very grave matter so that divine love not longer lives in the soul. Only the (operative) grace of conversion can restore such a soul to love. With venial sin, love is there virtually but not actually. An act of love (cooperative or operative) is all it takes to actualize the power of divine love the soul possesses. With imperfections, there is still actual divine love in the soul but it is there at a lesser degree than it could be. These imperfections like venial sin are sometimes voluntary and other times not.

Conversion (whether in the face of mortal sin, venial sin or imperfections) presumes repentance; or rather repentance is the beginning of conversion. To repent is “to think again.” To convert means “to turn around.” What I propose is that one cannot turn one’s life around unless one acquires a “fresh, spiritual way of thinking”, “the renewed mind,” “the mind of Christ.” We sin and are imperfect because of ignorance, weakness, indifference and malice. These flaws live in us because of the power of sin and death. Fear of death causes these things. Precisely because we are afraid of losing ourselves, our egos, we cling to them. Only when we see ourselves and the world with the resurrected eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, do we see new possibilities that are the source of courage. Such a mind does not see death (or mortification in general – which means death to self, death to the big fat ego) as the end but rather as a pathway to a greater hope. Freed of fear we are free to offer ourselves in love, free to love with God’s love. Only as the mind is purified and transformed (rather than merely enlightened) do we really see with the eyes of the Risen one.

As we live converted lives, lives in which we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, we come to know the will of God, what is good, pleasing and perfect. This kind of knowledge helps us in our struggle against temptation. The world, the flesh and the devil tempt us. The sources for the theology of diabolical temptation are found in the temptation of Eve, the temptation of Cain and the temptation of Christ. By appealing to our gut, head and heart to abuse our relationship with nature, others and God, the Evil One attempts to impede obedience to God. Pride, envy, anger, lust and gluttony as well as the sloth and despair they cause are tendencies he plays upon. The diabolic logic of temptation involves first engaging the soul in a general way by questioning God’s will. Once this has been achieved, an enchanting possibility is offered. If this possibility is entertained, then some apparent goodness, pleasure or advantage can seduce a soul to act against God’s will. Vigilance and prayer beforehand, flight or fight during, and thanksgiving and repentance after temptation are the means by which we overcome the Evil One.

The world is a source of temptation not as created by God but rather insofar as it is taken up in structures of sin, under the influence of Satan and subject to futility. The spirit of the world (Zeitgeist?) is not the Spirit of God. Thus, the worldly spirit presents (1) maxims opposed to the Gospel of Christ (e.g. happiness is found in material possession and not in spiritual values), (2) ridicule and persecution of those who live honestly (e.g. the self-controlled and responsible members of society are mocked as “square”), (3) the exultation sexual pleasure and diversion through exciting lust and gluttony (e.g. well, examples from the entertainment industry are too numerous, can you identify a popular sitcom that doesn’t resort this?), (4) the scandalous example of others, especially Catholic leaders (e.g. pedophiles in the ministry). All these things flow from the spirit of the world, the worldly spirit, that we all live under. Knowing the truth about the world, God, and ourselves frees us from this spirit. That is why the contemplation of living faith (seeing with the eyes of the Risen One), thinking about how silly the world really is in the face of God (the vanity of the world), indifference to the mockery and scandal of the world (ignoring what the world thinks) – these are the means to overcome the spirit of the world.

Our flesh is the source of temptation because Adam and Eve were seduced through the envy of the devil to be disobedient to God. The consequence of this disobedience is the law of sin and death sewn into the fiber of our humanity. Humanity lives with a death wish and inclines itself to its own destruction. This is so in both experiences of pleasure and suffering. The law of grace takes up the strands of nature and sin and makes a new harmony. The weakness of sin become the occasion of grace, a grace that purifies and perfects our primordial goodness. Through grace we control our base desire for pleasure which if uncontrolled would destroy us. Through grace we patiently endure the sorrow of suffering which if uncontrolled would also destroy us. For this to be realized a soul must be aware if its dignity, the ugliness of sin and foster a preference for suffering over pleasure. Because flesh is driven by selfishness, the spiritual person must practice custody, self-denial and mortification to put the big fat ego to death (mors tuo grandi pingui egoismo). It must make sacrifices in terms of acceptance of duties and resignation to crosses. Since the flesh is weak in this regard it needs recourse to frequent reception of the Sacraments, devotion to Mary, prayer, and wholesome hobbies and undertakings. Most of all, all of these means of overcoming the flesh must lead to and draw from a living encounter and awareness of the Passion of Christ. Whether in suffering or in pleasure, the Passion of Christ heals our humanity and stirs us out of fallen nature’s death wish. The Cross of Christ evokes a response of love that is stronger than death. By keeping one’s eyes fixed on the love revealed there, the spiritual person finds the desire to return love for love, “I would not have it any other way because of what love crucified has done for me.” Such a person enters into the mystical reality of becoming a victim soul, a soul in whom the whole redemptive mystery of Christ is renewed.

Regarding Purification
In these lectures, we discussed the purification the external and internal senses, the passions, the intellect and the will. It is noteworthy that what can actively be accomplished is not substantially different no matter the faculty discussed. I suggested that for spiritual direction, to master one faculty around which to organize the counsels that apply to all efforts to purify oneself. One who is more intellectual should understand the counsels and organize them around the intellect, or if more passionate, the passions, or more imaginative, the imagination and memory. Finally, purification or purgation occurs not only actively in terms of what we choose but also and primarily in terms of what God does. Thus purgation is active and passive. John of the Cross identifies two principle kinds of purgations – one that is predominately active but has a passive phase and primarily involves the senses (he calls this the dark night of the senses), and the other that is predominately passive but not exclusively and primarily involves the intellect and the will (he calls this the dark night of the spirit – the memory is a spiritual faculty in his anthropology so he includes this here too). The night of the senses concerns the transition from being a beginner to becoming proficient and the night of the spirit concerns the movement to perfection in the Christian life.


Anonymous said...

In class, you spoke of the two dark nights and then another type of night called "participatory mediation" which is participating in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Were you speaking of the redemptive suffering that accompanies the whole of the Christian life, or a particular participation in the suffering of Christ after one is in the unitive way?

Anthony Lilles said...

While redemptive suffering accompanies the whole of Christian life, those who grow in spiritual maturity are capable of entering into it more deeply and extending it more profusely. The reason is that as a soul progresses and reaches the unitive way there is less and less that holds back their love from a generous participation in Christ's work of redemption- Indeed because the very effects of grace produce divine likeness in the soul, that is likeness to the Eternal Word and the Holy Spirit, those in the unitive way are completely docile to the Holy Spirit and habitually unimpeded by sin or imperfection in their obedience to the Father. Souls that grow into perfection are sometimes given a special invitation to become "victims" with Christ, to more fully share in his redemptive mission. The Church calls such souls 'victim souls.' They may say with St. Paul in a fuller manner than other members of the Church, "I make up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ." Martyrdom generally produces this effect instantaneously. Those suffering from chronic illness or acute suffering in terminal illness also experience this grace. The grace is manifest in an extra-ordinary manner in some souls who recieve the stigmata - although sometimes this extraordinary sign only appears after death (an invisible stigmata). It is a theory that the suffering need not be merely physical but that severe and chronic mental illness may be suffered by a soul in the unitive way as a participation in Christ's suffering. A victim soul is a great intercessor and the source of many extraordinary graces for the building up of the Church. The only caveat in this discussion is my practical experience of those who claim to be victim souls but are really filled with self-pity or discouragement. Part of their suffering may well be a share in Christ's victimhood - but it is imperfect because their love is not yet mature, they are too focused on self. It generally is not helpful for such people to speak of themselves or to be referred to as 'victim souls' because it only confirms their self-pity. While reference can be made to the redemptive meaning of their sufferings, it is more effective to encourage them to greater openess to God's love (its much more than they imagine) and generous readiness to take up even greater missions for Him.