The Priest in Union with Christ by Garrigou-Lagrange - Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 5

The Direction of Perfect Souls

Chapter Five


We must first discuss the passage of the soul from the illuminative to the unitive way, and secondly, the direction of the soul during that period.1

The soul's third conversion

The soul passes from the illuminative to the unitive way through the dark night of the spirit, which marks the soul's third conversion and is a new spiritual crisis. At this moment the soul is enabled by the gift of understanding to recognize the grandeur of God and its own wretchedness, as when God said to St. Catherine: "I am he who is and you are that which is not." This new spiritual light reveals the splendour of God's holiness and at the same time all the hidden defects of the soul— even the most insignificant. The soul thus suffers extreme torment, since this spiritual light from the gift of understanding is overpowering and more like darkness, just as the brilliant light of the sun is blinding to the night-owl.

During this period the soul suffers violent temptations against faith, hope, and charity, since the devil is anxious to make use of this spiritual darkness to bring the soul to despair. The soul is then in the happy position of having to make intense and extremely meritorious acts of the three theological virtues.

The signs of this passive purification are the following. The first is that the soul is unable to accuse itself of committing fresh faults and yet it does not know whether it deserves God's love or his hatred. It is grievously afflicted by the fact that it no longer experiences the divine help.

The second sign of this spiritual crisis is that the soul continues for longer periods without committing even the smallest fully deliberate venial sin and has lost all desire for created things, thus revealing its extraordinary habitual love of God.

And the third sign of this purification is that the soul now enjoys continuous contemplation and the highest love of God in spite of its spiritual aridity. This brings to light its immense actual love of God. And in this way the soul is prepared for a most intimate union with God.

Spiritual direction during this spiritual purification2

Souls who have reached this stage in the spiritual life have their will perfectly conformed to the divine will. They must now pray to God in all humility and confidence for the grace to persevere in this spiritual night of sorrow. For this purpose they should also invoke the aid of the saints, especially of St. Thomas as the Doctor of truth, asking him to bring them light in this darkness. He is known to have listened frequently to similar prayers.

They should not attack their temptations directly but, so to speak, ride over them, turning to God for the actual grace to overcome them. They must regard it a privilege to wage such a glorious struggle in the divine cause and one which is so highly profitable to the soul.

Their love of God must be a pure love of friendship, showing themselves ready to accept his good pleasure in all respects, following the example of Job: "through the hours of darkness, I await the dawn" (Job xvii, 12). In this way the soul attains to a courageous love of God even when deprived of all spiritual consolations. They become sharers in the sorrowing life of Christ.

How are souls to be helped after this period of purification, especially if God calls them to a life of reparation for sinners? Certainly he will then ask them again to endure great suffering. Although St. Paul of the Cross had reached the transforming union when he was about thirty-one years of age, he had to continue his life on earth until he was eighty-one and found the Order of the Passionists, who devoted themselves to the vocation of reparation. So for forty-five years their saintly founder underwent unheard of sufferings not for his own purification but in order that he might become a model for the life of reparation. The citizens of Rome used to say: "from the way of Paul deliver us, Lord." But throughout his afflictions he kept his gentleness and loving kindness for everyone.

These reparative souls must be guided to a perfect conformity with Christ the victim.3 They should often return to the contemplation of Christ's Passion, considering at the same time the heinous sins which tear individual souls and entire nations away from God and drag them down into paganism. In order to make reparation they should often unite the personal offering of all their daily crosses to the offering of Christ, which continues as the living centre of the sacrifice of the Mass. In this way they acquire an ever deepening and loftier conception of the sacrifice of the Mass. They must also have frequent recourse to Our Blessed Lady, our co-redemptrix, whose secret influence leads souls to an intimate union with Christ.

Generally speaking, reparative souls enjoy infused contemplation which proceeds from their living faith enlightened by the gifts; otherwise they would not persevere in a way of life which is so difficult and full of sorrow. But there are many occasions when these souls find it difficult to realize that they have this spiritual contemplation owing to long periods of both sensible and spiritual aridity. Eventually they bear a perfect resemblance to Christ crucified and are the means of saving many souls. It is this apostolate of suffering and prayer which is the hidden source of the fruitfulness of the apostolate of preaching and instructing—a fact well known to God and the angels.

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The way to perfection

St. Alphonsus gives the following general advice to souls striving for perfection.4

They must place all their trust in God and not in themselves; that is to say, they must not depend on themselves and their good resolutions but with complete confidence in God ask his help to overcome self and then co-operate by doing all that is within their power.

They must try to avoid even the slightest deliberate fault, since, in the words of St. Teresa, "the devil makes use of deeds of small importance to provide an opening for greater faults." "A single thread is sufficient to hold the soul fast to earth."

These souls must not be unduly upset after committing some fault, but should humble themselves immediately and turn to God by making a short act of contrition and renewing their determination, and thus be at peace.

Close friendships with persons of either sex are to be avoided, no matter how holy those persons may be.

Let them destroy in themselves all tendency to self-esteem and rejoice in humiliations, taking a spiritual pleasure in being despised and ridiculed.

They should always show prompt and willing obedience towards their superiors.

They must constantly attend to the presence of God and resolve to please God and love him courageously even in the midst of trials and to do his will in all things. Without this determination the soul cannot progress along the way of perfection, neither will it receive from God his special graces. As St. Teresa says: "Progress does not consist in the soul obtaining for itself a greater enjoyment of God but in doing his will."

They must have a great love of prayer and an ardent desire for the kingdom of Heaven which Christ merited for us by shedding his blood.

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So far as extraordinary graces are concerned—such as visions and private revelations—one should follow the rule laid down by St. Alphonsus, Praxis confessarii, n. 144, where he refers to the teaching of St. Teresa: "As a normal rule it is safer for the director to show that he sets no great store by these extraordinary phenomena. For although some of them are genuine many are not. In fact, the majority of them are illusions. And the more eagerly they are sought after, the more a person departs from the way of trust and humility which is the surer way marked out by God Himself." The spiritual director should give his penitent this prudent advice: pray to God for the type of "ecstasy" which is free from all deceit— namely, the complete withdrawal of your sense faculties from all attachment to created things—and for the grace of self-denial, without which you will never become truly perfect.

He must not hesitate to humble those who are foolishly stubborn and proud and continually worrying other people to death. Such souls never receive special graces, whatever they may say to the contrary. They must simply be recalled to a salutary fear of God.

1Cf. St. John of the Cross, loc. cit.; St. Francis of Sales, Treatise on the Love of Cod, bk. IX, cc. 3-16; St. Alphonsus, Praxis confessarii, c. 9.

2Cf. St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, bk. II; Fr. Anthony of the Holy Spirit, O.D.C., Directorium, p. 53.

3An excellent book on this subject has been written by Fr. L. de Bretagne, La vie réparatrice, Paris, Libraire St. Paul, 3c ed., 1934.

4Praxis confessarii, n. 160, p. 275.