+JMJ+ Welcome to part 1 of our sixth Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre. You can get a hardcover copy or a Kindle ebook copy using the links at the end of this post, and view other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page.
I can’t help but think that it’s significant that we are beginning our new Quest on the day the Church used to celebrate as the Feast of the Epiphany, which is a day and a season. (For more about that, see my last post with notes and links.) Our Quest is to learn how to live as Catholics, how to grow in the spiritual life, how to let the Lord and His Church show us the Way.
How does that relate to the Epiphany? Well, the Lord revealed Himself to the Magi, Gentiles who had traveled a long way to find Him, at risk and cost to themselves. And having found Him, they worshiped Him and gave Him their gifts. Now if you think about it, all we have comes from Him, so to offer what we have to Him is to offer Him what He has already. But we offer it with love, perhaps imperfect love at first, but over time that love can become more and more perfect. That becoming more and more perfect is exactly what concerns us in our Quest.
Now I don’t mean perfect the way the world means perfect. You’ll hear people say that seeking perfection is unrealistic or snooty or a recipe for frustration and disappointment, because no one is perfect and no one can be perfect. They’re right about that last part. Not one of us is perfect and we never will be. On our own, that is. But where we differ from those who are not just in but of the world is this: we know we cannot be perfect on our own, but we also know that He has commanded us to be perfect, and what He has commanded us to do, He provides the means for us to do. That is what we are about in this series and in our spiritual lives: listening to the Lord and allowing Him to work in us, pouring His grace into us through prayer and the sacraments, and doing our part to cooperate with Him to transform us into what He has wanted for us all along, what He created us to be, that we may be SAINTS. Now that’s a Quest.
It’s time for us to begin to take steps to mature in our faith, time to become who the Lord intended us to be from the beginning: SAINTS.
I can’t tell you how many books and articles I’ve read about the spiritual life and how to do it. Yes, do it. The spiritual life is not something to think about and talk about all day but is something you do. There is a tmie and a place for receptive listening, and a time and a place for doing, even if some of that doing is interior and won’t be seen by anyone else. You may be sitting alone (and somebody reading this may wish she ever could sit alone!) and doing lectio divina and no one would ever know. You could be listening to someone berate you for something you didn’t do and practicing the virtue of patience and no one would ever know.
This quest is a matter of life and death, eternal life or eternal death, but no one but you and your Lord may ever know you did it, on this side of Heaven, anyway. But sooner or later we have to realize that what Jesus said in the Gospel is true: wide is the way that leads to Gehenna and the fires there burn without end, and narrow is the gate that leads to the Way that leads to eternal life and few there are who find it (I’m paraphrasing here). Our quest is not an optional one, not for someone who is serious about following the Lord, about picking up his cross and following in the Lord’s footsteps, and growing as a disciple, maturing:
Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ…Ephesians 4:13, Douay-Rheims Bible (hereafter, DRB), public domain.
There are those, particularly among our Protestant brethren, who will tell us that there is nothing we must do. Jesus Himself gives the lie to that. He says that if we love Him, then we are to obey Him. We are to obey His commands, doing what He tells us to do, then He must have told us to do something. And as we read in the Biblical account, He did tell us to do something and what that something is. Look at what He told the Rich Young Ruler:
And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? Who said to him: Why asketh thou me concerning good? One is good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.Matthew 16-19, DRB.
Jesus is telling the man to obey the Commandments. He doesn’t tell Him to assent to some propisitions with his intellect and then all will be well. He tells him to DO something and what to do, and that is, to follow and obey the Commandments. They are command-ments, after all. I’ve had people tell me that we don’t have to follow the Commandments now because we don’t have to follow the Law. We don’t have to follow the ritual Law of the Old Covenant but we do have to follow the Commandments. Look around and see what happens when we don’t! What a mess we make of our lives and the world!
Now I’ll bet someone has asked himself by this point, when is she going to talk about the book of the month? I am talking about it. Think of this as our introduction to the Introduction to the Spiritual Life. Our book by Dr. Brant Pitre is going to help us on our quest by showing us how to do what Jesus told us to do. And now I shall open up the book. One of the things I particularly like about this one is that Dr. Pitre “chose to focus on the scriptural roots of Christian spirituality” and that’s one reason I chose it to guide us on our quest. The other is that his writing is so clear and understandable, and the way he lays things out is easy to follow. It’s like an updated Introduction to the Devout Life without being so modern that it loses sight of its goal. Dr. Pitre doesn’t explain things away, I mean, things like the supernatural. It’s not that kind of modern and updated. Those books are out there by other authors but I’m not interested in them and they’re not suited to our purpose.
One of the first things we have to understand is that prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life. There is no way around it. There is no alternative, no substitute, nothing else you can do that will get you out of having to sit down and PRAY. (Yes, you can walk and pray the Rosary, but one of the worst things you can do is to tie your spiritual practice to some other activity, because when you do that and one day you can no longer do that activity, then you may be left floundering, and that may be enough to break your rhythm of prayer, maybe even your entire habit of prayer. I know this from my own experience, a hard lesson learned the hard way.)
Dr. Pitre tells us, as does the catechism and many works on the spiritual life, that there are three major forms of prayer: vocal, meditation, and contemplation. Now these words are used in different ways by different traditions and religions, and sometimes they mean very different things to different people. We are using them in the Catholic Christian tradition that is two thousand years old and has roots that go back even further. These are deeply biblical prayer forms, as Dr. Pitre says.
“According to the spiritual classics, the life of every disciple of Jesus should involve all three kinds of prayer.”Introduction to the Spiritual Life, 23.
There are three main stages as one grows and matures in the spiritual life: purgative, illuminative, and unitive. Most of us are not even really in the purgative way because most of us have barely begun to take our spiritual life I hand and do the hard wok required of us. It’s easier to listen to those masters of the interior life who surround us who tell us there is nothing to be done–yeah, those masters, the ones who don’t even think there is a spiritual ilfe, the ones who think they are very spiritual but not at all religious. Good grief.
Here are the three stages as listed in the Introduction:
- “The Purgative Way: the path of spiritual childhood, focused on keeping the commandments, rooting out the capital sins (hence ‘purgative’), and learning to pray to the Father and practice meditation.”
- “The Illuminative Way: the path of spiritual adolescence, focused on a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the life of Christ (hence ‘illuminative’), growing in virtues, and contemplation.”
- “The Unitive Way: the path of spiritual adulthood, focused on union with God (hence “unitive”) through the power of the Holy Spirit and the perfection of faith, hope, and love.”
That first stage is where we work at rooting out the capital sins or practicing meditation. That’s why I say most of us are probably not in it yet. Oh, we’ve learned some vocal prayers, but most of the time we focus on the vocal and less on the prayer. I am most definitely including myself in this group of lookers-on at the first stage, not quite in it yet. Hence, what I’m doing now. I want to get my feet firmly planted on the path. I want to walk this Way. (That was bad. Sorry, not sorry.) I want to be a saint and I’m not getting any younger. It’s time. To begin. And having begun and failed countless times before, it’s time to pick myself up and begin again. If it’s happened to you, too, please come along and join me on this Quest to truly become a disciple of Christ, a follower of the Way, and, ultimately, a SAINT.
I highly recommend that you get a copy of Dr. Pitre’s book, Introduction to the Spiritual Life. You can use my affiliate links below (every little bit helps me keep this project going) or get a copy wherever you like. There are other books and talks that will help, too. I listed a bunch in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. A lot of those are available in free PDF format.
Thank you for reading. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Catholic Book of the Month TOC, Annotated
All Series TOC, Annotated
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Notes and Links
- Rich Young Ruler: I’ve been exploring the Rich Youg Man or Ruler in a work of fiction based on what we know of him from the Bible. Working on a second version now. Hoping to continue his story, more on that later.
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s course on Spiritual Theology
- The Catholic Book of the Month for January 2022 is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
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Image in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Adoration of the Magi, by Abraham Bloemaert, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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