Brookline Carmel Bulletin
September 3, 1961
J M J T
How we breathe with relief, especially if we are in a hurry, when we turn off a narrow, heavily trafficked road onto a divided, four lane, limited-access highway. On this kind of highway we encounter no stoplights, no intersections; we have no trouble getting by the poky drivers. Behind us are the stores, restaurants and other places of business whose numerous patrons drove us to distraction turning in and out of the stream of traffic when we least expected it. How delightful, therefore, after having been caught up short by so many hindrances to easy, rapid progress, to see wide, unobstructed lanes open up invitingly ahead of us.
Something like this kind of relief will be ours when we finally come to the end of the Purgative Way. As the very name suggests, it is that stage of our journey toward holiness in which we are chiefly concerned with clearing the road of the many impediments that encumber it. While we are still on it, progress is slow and painful; at times it is irritating and nerve-wracking to the point of making us reckless. But once we have negotiated it, we can begin to move swiftly, surely, with relative sweetness toward union with God. Happy is the man who has successfully traversed the Purgative Way, for notable gains have been made. First of all, he has carried off the victory in his struggle against sin. Mortal sin is gone; and gone are all deliberate habits of venial sin. Once these two deadly enemies of spiritual perfection have been vanquished, the life of his soul is no longer in jeopardy. Obviously, such a man is not sinless, but we can truthfully say that he no longer commits sin. Rather, he falls into them. Because he is still a fledgling, it frequently happens that he finds himself surprised by formidable, unforeseen temptations that plunge him in over his depth, or else he is a victim of circumstances that place him, morally speaking, on exceedingly slippery grounds. His falls in these instances do not proceed from vice, but from weakness and ignorance; these venial sins do not cool the ardor of Charity. Neither do they wound the soul, i.e., leave behind an affection for the propensity to the same kind of sin. As a matter of fact these faults of frailty humble a man; they heap up evidence of his own weakness, inspire in him diffidence of self and confidence in the mercy and promises of God. It almost seems that God deliberately trips him up or at least permits him to fall because the acts of sorrow and love with which he seeks to make reparation for them please God far more than the faults offended Him in the first place. Besides, no matter how holy a man becomes, he is still liable to find himself in ethical situations, which require the assistance of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost if he is to emerge unscathed.
The end of the Purgative Way also brings the triumph of innate constructive tendencies over the decisive if not disintegrating influence of selfish love of pleasure. Penance and mortification have liberated the constructive tendencies, and diligent application to work have put them to good and fruitful use. It is this, which puts an end to failure in the fulfillment of daily obligations, an initial and necessary step toward moral perfection. We say initial because not all fidelity to duty implies sanctity, since it may not proceed from proper motives. One may speak of ‘formal’ as opposed to ‘material’ conformity to the Will of God. Mere material conformity is nothing else than external compliance to duty. Formal conformity means that we comply because God wills it. No sane man (unless he be a hardened sinner) will tolerate failure in the important obligations of his state in life; and healthy self-respect, with no thought of God, will also guarantee fidelity. Finally, even sinful pride will keep a man from appearing a failure in the eyes of his fellow men. So in order to be sanctifying, formal conformity is necessary. That means that the motive of love of God must predominate, i.e., it must outweigh all other motives put together.
One other outstanding achievement is characteristic of the man who has reached the end of the Purgative Way. He has now firmly established himself in good desires and is well oriented toward union with God. Through the instrumentality of mental prayer and related ascetical practices there is begotten in him a deep and abiding personal love of Jesus Christ. Sweetly, compellingly, it causes him to bring his entire psychological complex and subject it wholeheartedly to the Christian ideal. And by means of intelligent participation in the Liturgy, by the frequent reception of the sacraments, he places himself on the mainstream of divine grace springing up powerfully, perennially in the bosom of the Church.
Though out of the way of beginners, the weapons he will use in his new phase will remain the same: Examen of conscience, penance, mortification, all the various forms of prayer, spiritual reading, frequent attendance at Mass and reception of the sacraments, etc. But now the emphasis has shifted. Whereas before these exercises were used in order to ferret out and destroy the causes of sin and failure, now they are employed as a means of enlightenment. Now that the Purgative Way is ended, the principal effort will be to acquire and to adorn our souls with virtues resplendent in the soul of Jesus Christ.
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