Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Salvation Through The Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive Ways

The Purgative way encompasses an initial conversion to Christ -- a turn from serious sin, a profession of faith (see below), and devotion and obedience to Christ through baptism, prayer, Scripture reading, attending church, confession of sins, practicing forgiveness, volunteering to help others, etc --; this conversion is often accompanied by various emotions and delights called “consolations.” This first stage, the Purgative Way, is often what Evangelical Christians call a “personal relationship with Christ.” Yet, quite often a person will meet with what is called a “dark night” (of the senses or the soul) where the good feelings leave for a while, and God may feel distant. It is at this point the soul is being called to more, but, unfortunately, many churches lack a depth of spiritual teaching about the ongoing path to God. Consequently, many people may fail to advance, or relapse into pre-conversion habits. It is here the works and lives of the Saints, in light of the ancient understanding of the three-stage path to God, can serve to enliven our faith and expand our hope.

In the Illuminative and Unitive ways, through which the Saints have advanced, persons can experience “dark nights” heroically, remaining faithful. Persons can also experience imaginative and intellectual visions of Christ, illuminations of some mystery of God, experiences of rapture, flights of ecstasy, spiritual consolations, and other such phenomena -- but most important is the conformity of the persons will and character to the perfection of God’s will, and the steady contentment it brings. Some persons who’ve attained a high degree of union with God, as reported by those who knew them best, have, as a result, also experienced things like the stigmata, bi-location, and incorruptibility (meaning their body does not decay after death, at least, not at the normal rate). The mere fact of these remarkable experiences can certainly awe us, but they also can be profoundly edifying as we grow increasingly unsettled in a world that is not meant to satisfy where only God can.

Initiation In The Purgative Way

The Purgative way, of course, begins with an initial conversion. Scripture is clear that following Christ involves being united to him and other believers through baptism; a baptism which requires faith that, as the Son of God, Christ lived, died, and was restored to a new, immortal life; it is this new life he then offers us to take part in through baptismal waters, continued repentance, obedience, and devotion.

*The first step I’d therefore suggest to begin in the Purgative way is to make a profession of faith, which Christianity has best summed up in what she calls the Nicene Creed (I’ve replaced the “we” with “I”).

I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us (men) and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, And his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father (and the Son) With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, He has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*The next thing to do is to get into contact with a priest or pastor about being baptized, perhaps with the help of someone – a friend or family member -- who is familiar with the process. In Catholicism, if you’ve already been baptized then the next step is to be confirmed. If you’ve already been confirmed then the next step, if you’ve been away from practicing your faith for a while, is to go to confession so you can be, as they say, restored to full communion.

*Finally (this last step is actually involved in all the steps, and continues on until we reach the Beatific Vision) begin to develop a prayer life, grow in virtue and devotion – such things as adoration, reading Sacred Scripture, learning more about your faith, going to church regularly.

These steps, then, begin the Purgative stage, which involves, as the name implies, purging our selves from those things that are not of God. It entails a conversion of faith, what some people refer to as a born-again experience, which is often accompanied by emotions of gratitude, zeal, the feeling of newness, hope and the like. This experience flows over into the will, and naturally leads one to leave behind serious sin – what Catholics call mortal sin.

Psalm 103

15As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him…

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