November 2008 Archives

Postlude: The Purgative Way

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29650D.jpg     Robert Benson in The Friendship of Christ has a lovely description of the beginning of the Purgative Way.

 

The initial stage of the Friendship formed with Jesus Christ is usually one of extraordinary happiness. For the soul has found for the first time a companion whose sympathy is perfect and whose Presence is continuous. It is not, necessarily, that the soul consciously attends every instant to this new intimate, so much as that she is never wholly unconscious of him. As she goes about her ordinary business, paying to each detail of it as much attention as ever, the fact that He is present within her is never entirely forgotten: He is there as is the sunlight or the air, illuminating, freshening and inspiring all that she experiences. From time to time she turns to Him with a word or two; at times He speaks gently to her. She views all that she sees from His standpoint, or rather from her standpoint in Him; lovely things are more lovely because of His loveliness; painful things are less distressing because of His consolation. Nothing is indifferent, because He is present. Even when she sleeps, her heart wakes to him. (Bension, 1912, __ )

 

Benson describes well the experience of the one first captured by the love of Christ; everything is changed: "...lovely things are more lovely because of His loveliness; painful things are less distressing because of His consolation. Nothing is indifferent, because He is present." This awareness of Jesus even is operative in sleep: "Even when she sleeps, her heart wakes to him." Benson continues to describe the various stages one must go through; each of these may be summarized as a stripping, a kind of dying to which results in one having great knowledge of Him who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty. The dynamics of the Purgative Way embrace the first two beatitudes.

 

These first two beatitudes, the first two steps on the journey, may be compared to the Purgative Way as Thomas D. McGonigle, O.P. discusses in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (1993):

 

The task of the purgative way is to come to the accurate knowledge of one's self and to a true understanding of God's call to ever new life in Christ so that one can leave behind whatever attachments keep the individual from a deeper commitment to the Christian life. Meditation, in which one tries to reflect on Scripture and to allow the word of God to be the horizon with which attitudes and patterns of behavior are reformed in accord with the gospel, is understood to be the principal means to this end.  ...The attempt to put on the mind of Christ towards one's life and one's world involves the constant struggle to overcome the attitudes and patterns of behavior that tend to draw the individual away from a life of holiness  and service. (McGonigle, 1993, p. 801)

  

In the above statement McGonigle succinctly summarizes the goal of the first two beatitudes. The first two beatitudes work in tandem, the first beatitude prepares us to practice the second beatitude. Knowing our need of God prepares us to "leave behind whatever attachments keep the individual from a deeper commitment to the Christian life." How do we do that? "... one tries to reflect on Scripture and ... allow the word of God to be the horizon with which attitudes and patterns of behavior are reformed in accord with the gospel..." God is drawing us closer to himself; He is calling us to a life "of holiness and service." God is purifying us through our living of the first two beatitudes.

 

 

Benson illustrates how this purification takes place.

 

There follows, however, a third stage before the Way of Purgation is wholly passed. The soul has learned that external things are not Christ; that internal things are not Christ. She has become "disillusioned," first with the frame of the picture, and next with the picture itself, before she has reached the original. She now has to learn the last lesson of all, and become disillusioned with herself.

 

Up to now she has always retained a belief, however faint and humble, that there was something in herself, and of herself, that attracted Christ towards her. She has been at least tempted to think that Christ had failed her; now she has to learn that it is she who, all along, in spite of her childlike love, has been failing Christ; and this is at once the real essence and object of Purgation. She has been stripped of all her coverings, of her ornaments and her clothes; now she has to be stripped of herself, that she may be the kind of disciple that He wishes.

 

 

This is the rudest of awakening! To know that God does not love us because of who we are or what we do or what we have is a shock. To know in the depths of one's heart that there is no good within us that comes from us is, also, to discover that any good we have is a gift of Him who loves us. Benson describes the stance of one who has passed though the Way of Purgation: "She sees for the first time that there is no good in herself apart from Christ; that He must be all, and she nothing." Until we discover our very real need of God; until we discover and name our secret, hidden sins; until we mourn what we are leaving behind, we cannot enter the School of Love.