The Priesthood and Perfection by Garrigou-Lagrange - Chapter 3

Evidences of a Supernatural Spirit

Evidences of a Supernatural Spirit1

The pearl of great price

This supernatural spirit is a way of thinking, judging, loving, wishing, acting. It appears on every page of the Gospel. St. Matthew, for example, tells us about the businessman who was looking for good pearls: When he had found one pearl of great price, he went his way and sold all that he had, and bought it (Matt. 13:46). This precious pearl is a symbol of the supernatural spirit. In the same chapter of St. Matthew we read: The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field, which a man having found, hid it and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field (Matt. 13:44). Similarly, St. Paul says (Col. 3:2): "mind the things which are above, not the things that are on earth." This supernatural spirit, in other words, is a spirit of faith, confidence in God, and love of God and one's neighbor. The signs of this faith are the effects which it produces "by the fruit the tree is known" (Matt. 12:33) humility, mortification, piety, and the three theological virtues.2 A supernatural man is described by St. Paul as "a new man" (Eph. 4:23-24): "And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth."

The principal signs of a supernatural spirit of faith are:

A joy in reading Sacred Scripture, the Word of God. These writings contain a very beautiful variety, from the simple narratives in the book of Job to the sublime thought of the fourth Gospel and the Epistles of St. Paul. The language of Sacred Scripture, because it is the Word of God, our adopted Father, is like the mother tongue of Christians. If the Christian becomes familiar with the words of Sacred Scripture, human eloquence, even the greatest, will become less and less attractive because it does not contain the words of eternal life, the words of salvation. One single sentence from Sacred Scripture can nourish the soul, illuminate it, strengthen it in adversity. Sacred Scripture is something far superior to a simple exposition of dogma, subdivided into special tracts: it is an ocean of revealed truth in which we can taste in advance the joys of eternal life.

Respect for religious authority. Often the purely "natural" man will see in the authority of a superior only a restriction rendered necessary by the demands of public order. The "natural" man will not realize that his dependence on a superior will contribute toward his eternal salvation. For that reason, he will limit this authority as much as possible and he will act as the State does toward ecclesiastical authority, as if the authority of the Church were demanded only by the needs of public order, and not something excellent in itself even for our present life.

But the Christian who has a truly supernatural spirit will take a higher view of things. He will realize that the authority of his superior participates in the authority of God Himself, and obedience will be something profitable and enhancing. He will obey not merely the formal commands of his superiors but even their desires and counsels: his dependence on them will be a joy. In this way he will be, as it were, raised above himself, realizing that to serve God is to reign. That is why St. Paul says: "Now, therefore, you are no more strangers and foreigners: but you are fellow citizens with the saints and the domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone" (Eph. 2:19-20). It is a magnificent obedience which brings with it great security.

A desire for the sacraments, like the desire of the stag which pants after the fountains of water. The "supernatural" man will see in the sacraments not merely a religious ceremonial but real sources of grace, through which the infinite merits of Christ are applied to our soul. His is not merely a belief in their efficacy; he has experienced it directly. Promptly and with avidity he uses those sacred sources of grace, so that his weekly confession and Holy Communion produce each time a greater and greater fruit. He realizes that each Communion should be substantially more fervent and fruitful than the preceding one, because each new Communion not merely preserves what charity he has, but increases it. Consequently he disposes himself for a more fruitful reception on the following day, notwithstanding whatever decrease there may be in his "sensible devotion," something purely accidental.

The love of the "supernatural" man for our divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is not a cold "intellectual" love, like that complacency which often follows on one's thought of a thing, or on an ideal which the mind has formed. But from the real presence of our divine Lord a real "fellowship" will be formed: a union firm and intimate, with Jesus Christ. Every action of the day will then be affected by this life-giving presence. It is a life with God, the very life of God and our divine Lord pulsating within us.

This supernatural spirit makes one particularly sensitive to the value of holy water and other sacramentals. Indulgences will be valued as precious gifts from heaven, the reason being that this supernatural life makes one realize the gravity of sin, the demands of divine justice, the infinite value of the merits of Christ, and the value of the merits of our Lady and the saints. In this way, we are built up spiritually from day to day.

An appreciation of liturgical prayer, in that we more and more realize that it is the great prayer of the Church, the song of Christ's Spouse accompanying the unbloody continuation of Christ's sacrifice and prayer. Liturgical prayer has a special value in obtaining those efficacious graces we need. Indeed, the sharing in liturgical prayer is itself a grace; it is like a light which penetrates, for an hour, our mind. To say the Divine Office chorally in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is much better than saying it privately outside choir. One better appreciates the variety which the Divine Office provides, its wonderful simplicity which, when viewed against the background of fleeting time, forms, as it were, the prelude to eternity. The Office said in this way will feed our own private prayer, a prayer which in itself is another indication of the supernatural spirit. It is interesting to remember that religious orders in the 13th century had no special time allotted for mental prayer, but after Matins and Lauds the religious would freely spend some time in that mental prayer for which liturgical prayer, said in a spirit of faith, had disposed him. It was only when the religious no longer spontaneously devoted himself to mental prayer that it was found necessary to set aside a special hour for it each day. As a result, it was often less intimate, less on fire, more mechanical, and it was reduced to a discursive meditation from a book, performed at the beginning of each day. Gradually for "mental prayer" the word "meditation" was substituted, though the term "mental prayer" is still popular in the contemplative orders.

A desire for mortification. The fifth indication of a spirit of faith is a desire for mortification. Our human nature is, of course, God's handiwork and it has very precious qualities of intellect and will. But our human nature is a fallen one. We have to battle against the "concupiscence of the flesh, of the eyes, and the pride of life," the sources of the seven capital sins, and through them the source of all sin. Our judgments, therefore, are colored by inclinations which need correcting. Such correction is wrought by grace precisely as it is the grace of Christ, making us resemble Christ who sorrowed for our sins. This grace also draws one to mortify oneself. The "supernatural" man always remembers, as St. Paul says, that "the flesh pulls against the spirit," and his supernatural life develops in him a hatred of everything that is unordered, undisciplined. His supernatural life shows itself in a spirit of sacrifice and, destroying whatever is unruly, brings peace, "the tranquillity of order." Nothing is more conducive to peace than a spirit of sacrifice.

Forgetfulness of oneself. Many saints who achieved great things during their lifetime used with confidence those powers which God had given them. Innumerable names could be mentioned: St. Paul, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Dominic, St. Thomas, St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier. Yet when we read their lives, we find that they distrusted themselves, that they constantly attacked in themselves any love of self and, a very subtle enemy, pride. In humility as in other virtues, they greatly surpass us. By their life of self-denial they understood in a very practical way that full development of personality is achieved only when one can say: "I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me." They lost, as it were, their own personality only to substitute that of Christ, achieving what one might call a superior "impersonality," with a will and an intellect higher than their own, so that they judged of things with the mind of God and loved with His will somewhat as in Christ, although the comparison is deficient, there was no human personality, but only the personality of the Divine Word. What is on the ontological level in Christ is veri-

fied on a "moral" level in the saints. They live, not in themselves, but in God; not for themselves, but entirely forgetful of self, for God and for souls. That is the real test of charity and of the supernatural spirit in a man: they "put off the old man who is corrupted according to the desire of error" (Eph. 4:22). In the saint are verified the words of St Paul: "our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed to the end that we may serve sin no longer" (Rom. 6:6).

2. Practical conclusions

In conclusion, we shall say a word about how we should in practice live in this supernatural spirit, not only in ordinary, foreseen circumstances, but in unexpected situations also, and in those matters which have not been determined, but are left to our choice. There is no doubt, of course, that actions which are sacred the celebration of, or assisting at, Mass, for example should be performed in a supernatural way. Nor is there any doubt that temptations which clearly lead to sin should be resisted.

But between these two extremes, between the performance of sacred things in a sacred way and the avoidance of evil, there is a whole range of actions which are left to our own personal choice. It is these things which separate men one from the other, because each person's choice will be determined by each person's own heart. The Venerable Fr. Cormier, for example, points out that for some people worldliness becomes "propriety," weakness becomes "moderation," pride becomes "honor," and they describe as "prudent" what is really self-centered opportunism or utilitarianism. Occasionally, they even call "conscience" something actually opposed to Christian conscience. When asked for something that is really very good, they answer: "In conscience I cannot do it"; and so they regard as "conscience" a pattern of life which they have selected because it is convenient or because it avoids what is disagreeable. Fr. Cormier gives this example: "If a person who is normally moved by a spirit of piety, humility, and mortification, does something which in reality is, or appears to be, somewhat extreme, there is an uproar against him as if it were an abuse that cannot be tolerated, something unbearably out of order, provocative, injurious."

On the other hand, many people when faced with those things which are left to their choice remember the words of St. Paul: "look to the things which are above, not those which are below." The saints have spoken in this way. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, without which they did nothing of importance, they have often acted in a manner surpassing ordinary prudence. Our divine Lord, particularly, acted far beyond ordinary prudence; and when He first foretold His passion, Peter said to Him: "Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee." And Jesus replied: "Thou art a scandal unto me, because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men" (Matt. 16:22, 23).

When we are caught unawares, when there is no time to reflect and choose the proper way of acting, nature reveals itself with all its selfishness. But on these occasions a supernatural spirit can also show itself. In a sudden danger, for example, the generous man will often rush to help those who are in need. Even if they have come from distant parts and do not speak the same language, the friends of God will always recognize each other.

In practice, therefore, what conclusions should we draw for the priest particularly about the supernatural spirit?

We should work with great energy to have this spirit. We should consider, therefore, not the small good which has already been achieved, but all that still remains to be accomplished. St. Paul says: "forgetting the things that are behind and stretching forth myself to those that are before" (Phil. 3:13). We should not congratulate ourselves too much on the progress which we have already made, but we should consider rather what yet remains to be accomplished.

We should say to ourselves: For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). St. Thomas pointed out that some people live for hunting, some for soldiering, others for intellectual study but the Christian lives for Christ, because Christ is the object of his faith, his thoughts, his desires, his affective and effective love. His conversation is with Christ. We should say: "Imprint, O Lord, in my heart a living love for You."

Happy is the man whose supernatural life has been renewed, "who is rooted and founded in charity." He has renounced himself and created things and depends only on God. He finds his happiness, therefore, in divine things only. God can reign without any obstacle in his heart, and gradually he becomes assimilated to Christ. His ministry, therefore, will be fruitful in spite of whatever difficulties come his way. When he has worked, studied, written, preached, the Holy Spirit will make his ministry fruitful.

If his faith is great he will succeed, even though he is a priest of only mediocre ability.

What a great joy it is to the priest who has reached this stage at the end of his life. It is not impossible, because "God does not order us to do impossible things; when He orders us to do anything, He wants us to do what we can and to ask His help for whatever is beyond our power." It is certain that God has called us to sanctity, because He has called us to heaven where there are only saints. That is true of all Christians: a fortiori it is true of priests who share in the priesthood of Christ.


1. A large portion of this section is taken from the "Spiritual Exercises" of H. M. Cormier, O.P.

2. See Pius XI, Encyclical of December 20, 1935: Ad Catholici Sacerdotii.