I wrote a book a few years past – The Ordinary Path to Holiness – devoted to presenting and explaining the traditional journey to holiness as lived and experienced by so many of the saints in Catholic salvation history. The journey is found to be in stages of relationship with God in Christ, or one might say ages of growth and maturity in Christ. We are to grow in Him, in love-communion with Him, and that process of that supernatural growth is as clearly in stages as is the process of growth in our natural life through stages of childhood, adolescence and finally adulthood.
The process of living, and growing, is given to us one precious day at a time – whether we are talking about the natural human life or the supernatural life as a Christian. One precious day at a time we can advance toward “spiritual adulthood,” toward maturity in Christ, or we can stagnate – or possibly even regress. We can see examples in the natural life, troubling to see, of biological adults who still cling to adolescence or even childhood! Peter-Pan-like, they insist with their attitudes and choices that they just don’t want to grow up! They want pleasures without consequences, possessions bought on credit, joys with no sufferings, satisfaction and success free of the patient laboring necessary for a fruitful life. A life of authentic fruitfulness is gained by the investment of righteousness in many days, one moment at a time.
So also the spiritual life. Growing in blessed communion with God in Christ is an invitation given moment by moment, one moment at a time. We have a promise, in the spiritual life, that can assure that every moment’s invitation can be received as a saint would receive it: with the fiat of Mary, with the “yes” – “be it done to me” – of the fullness of personal communion with Him. What gives us such an assurance that allows our ever-ready “yes”? The promise is given us through St. Paul:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28)
“Everything” is an all-inclusive word! Every moment of every day, every event of every kind: moments of joy, moments of suffering, moments of gain, moments of loss, moments of our desire, moments of our fear, moments longed-for and moments dreaded – God works for good in everything. The future lies in darkness and obscurity for us, but God sees plainly the good He is ever working toward! Every moment offers a “sacrament” of communion with His holy will – He who has allowed whatever He has allowed, in this moment, for good. There is great peace in this simple realization!
The classic work of spirituality by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J., Abandonment to Divine Providence, expresses this better than I ever could. Life is a very long train of moments, each a precious encounter with what God has allowed to pass through His hands to our lives: the sacrament of the present moment, offering us again and again a chance to say “yes” to what He has willed for our good in that moment. How often we live in past moments, or in planning or preparing for future moments, impatiently neglecting the sacrament of this precious present moment! How long will it take us to learn to trust Him in what He has provided now? How long, before we can say “yes” as Mary did, not knowing how this would or could work to good, but trusting and holding in our hearts His promise of goodness? How long before our frequent recitation, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” be prayed in all earnest sincerity and trust? How long to really believe Him – to really rest in faith in His works now and His will this moment?
I quote below a portion of de Caussade’s work on Divine Providence:
SECTION IV.—In what Perfection Consists. 6
Perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs. The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret.
The science of theology is full of theories and explanations of the wonders of this state in each soul according to its capacity. One may be conversant with all these speculations, speak and write about them admirably, instruct others and guide souls; yet, if these theories are only in the mind, one is, compared with those who, without any knowledge of these theories, receive the meaning of the designs of God and do His holy will, like a sick physician compared to simple people in perfect health.
The designs of God and his divine will accepted by a faithful soul with simplicity produces this divine state in it without its knowledge, just as a medicine taken obediently will produce health, although the sick person neither knows nor wishes to know anything about medicine. As fire gives out heat, and not philosophical discussions about it, nor knowledge of its effects, so the designs of God and His holy will work in the soul for its sanctification, and not speculations of curiosity as to this principle and this state. When one is thirsty one quenches one’s thirst by drinking, not by reading books which treat of this condition. The desire to know does but increase this thirst. Therefore when one thirsts after sanctity, the desire to know about it only drives it further away.
Speculation must be laid aside, and everything arranged by God as regards actions and sufferings must be accepted with simplicity, for those things that happen at each moment by the divine command or permission are always the most holy, the best and the most divine for us.
The unfolding stages of holiness that mark the ordinary path to holiness are filled with moments which, when seen in the divine grace of the moment, present us with concrete examples of God’s providential care, His unwavering love, the holy will that we pray “be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The unfolding stages of holiness are comprised of increasing union with His will, increasing realization of His love, increasing communion in His mind and heart. Increasingly, the soul, by the fruits of discipline which commend him, approaches and enters and rests in the blessed peace of the Master – one finally with Him in the will of God.