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The Life of Grace, Eternal Life Begun

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange Photo:
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange Photo:
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange Photo:

Wanna have some fun? Let's dig into the interior life!

The first volume of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's book, "Three Ages of the Interior Life," (1) is divided into five parts:

  • Part 1-The Source of the Interior Life and Its End
  • Part 2-The Purification of the Soul in Beginners
  • Part 3-The Illuminative Way of Proficients
  • Part 4-Unitive Way of the Perfect
  • Part 5-Extraordinary Graces

Each part is divided into many chapters; Part 1 has 17 chapters.

With a little patience, taking it one step at a time, this book will open up a world for the reader that he or she never knew existed. And it will answer many questions.

So let's start with the first chapter of Part 1: "The Life of Grace, Eternal Life Begun."

In this chapter, Garrigou-Lagrange talks about grace. Interestingly, many people don't really understand how grace works. To put it as simply as possible, grace is like a spiritual vitamin. When we receive it, it fortifies us spiritually, much like the vitamins that fortify our body. If your body is lacking in vitamins, it will not perform well. Likewise, without grace, our spiritual life will virtually wither up and die.

There are two types of grace: sanctifying (the life of God in the soul) and actual (helps us perform good works, guides and inspires us).

Per the Baltimore Catechism (1941), sanctifying grace:

  • makes us holy and pleasing to God
  • makes us adopted children of God
  • makes us temples of the Holy Ghost
  • gives us the right to heaven

Sanctifying grace bestows on our souls the three theological virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. They are called "theological" because their proper object is God. These virtues are faith, hope, and charity.

The Baltimore Catechism describes actual grace as "a supernatural help of God which enlightens our mind and strengthens our will to do good and to avoid evil." The principal ways of obtaining actual grace are prayer and the sacraments—especially the Holy Eucharist.

Garrigou-Lagrange continues on to compare the "seed" of divine life to an acorn seed. The full potential of that seed is a mighty oak tree. In other words, it already has everything that it needs to grow into that tree.

Sanctifying grace, he adds, is that seed of divine life that is present at baptism. It too, has all that is needed for eternal life. "Fundamentally," Garrigou-Lagrange writes, "the same divine life exists as a germ or a seed in the Christian on earth as a fully-developed life in the saints in heaven. It is these who truly live eternal life."(2)

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say: Behold here or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you. It is hidden there like the mustard seed, like the leaven which causes the dough to rise, like the treasure buried in the field.

St. Thomas calls it "the beginning of glory in us." (4)

The slightest degree—or the seed of sanctifying grace contained in an infant at its baptism is more precious than all angelic natures together because it is the seed of the inner life of God. And it exists as much in that infant as it does in the saints in heaven.

Gifts such as prophecy or the stigmata are called gratis datae. These gifts are given to someone for the salvation of others. They do not unite that soul to God and are considered "extraordinary" graces. Extraordinary graces are those that are not in the normal way of sanctity. That is, they are graces that a soul does not normally receive on its path to salvation.

We can receive graces in two ways. Acquired graces are the graces earned from acts of charity, prayer, etc. We have control over the receipt of these graces, in a sense, because we determine when to pray and when to perform acts of charity.

Infused graces are given to us by God at his will. We have no control over when we receive them, nor are we aware that he has give, them to us.

John of the Cross describes the difference between these two modes of obtaining grace:

But it is not so, for there is a great difference between the fruition of God by grace only [acquired grace], and the fruition of Him in union [infused grace]; the former is one of mutual good will, the latter one of special communion. This difference resembles that which exists between betrothal and marriage.

The former implies only an agreement and consent, bridal presents, and ornaments graciously given by the bridegroom. But marriage involves also personal union and mutual self-surrender. Though, in the state of betrothal, the bridegroom is sometimes seen by the bride, and gives her presents; yet there is no personal union, which is the end of betrothal. (5)

The grace or gift of infused contemplation proceeds from sanctifying grace. It facilitates union with God and is considered to be in the normal way of sanctity. Not all graces in the normal way of sanctity are received, however. They may be received if the soul is open to them, but many choose otherwise, and so, are said to be rare.

In other words, all of us have the ability to be marathon runners, but few choose to be one.

We must likewise add that the ardent desire for the beatific vision is found according to its full perfection only in the transforming union, or the higher mystical union, which consequently does not seem to be outside the normal way of sanctity.

To grasp the meaning and import of this reason, we may remark that, if there is one good which the Christian ought to desire keenly, it is God, seen face to face and loved above all, without any further possibility of sin. Evidently, there should be proportion between the intensity of the desire and the value of the good desired; in this case, its value is infinite. (6)

In "The Living Flame of Love," as in his other books, John of the Cross differentiated between "beginners" and "proficients" with respect to meditation and contemplation. Beginners are like spiritual toddlers who are just learning to walk. They still need their hand held to steady them and guide them in the right direction.

Thus, a soul who is only beginning her spiritual walk should begin with meditation, using what Garrigou-Lagrange refers to as "matter." This includes the many meditative books, such as the Raccolta, (7) that serve to begin the uplifting of the soul and familiarize her with not yet experienced feelings of spiritual fervor. The soul's "spiritual legs" are strengthened in preparation for her long journey.

In order to have a better knowledge of the state of beginners, we must keep in mind that it is one of meditation and of acts of reflection. It is necessary to furnish the soul in this state with matter for meditation, that it may make reflections and interior acts, and avail itself of the sensible spiritual heat and fervor, for this is necessary in order to accustom the senses and desires to good things, that, being satisfied by the sweetness thereof, they may be detached from the world. (8)

Once the soul is steady on her feet, she no longer needs physical support and is ready for her first brand new pair of sneakers. She is ready to start running! Rather than using an active form of meditation, the soul becomes passive—listens instead of speaks.

When this is in some degree effected, God begins at once to introduce the soul into the state of contemplation, and that very quickly, especially religious, because these, having renounced the world, quickly fashion their senses and desires according to God; they have therefore to pass at once from meditation to contemplation. This passage, then, takes place when the discursive acts and meditation fail, when sensible sweetness and first fervours cease, when the soul cannot make reflections as before, nor find any sensible comfort, but is fallen into aridity, because the chief matter is changed into the spirit, and the spirit is not cognisable by sense.

As all the natural operations of the soul, which are within its control, depend on the senses only, it follows that God is now working in a special manner in this state, that it is He that infuses and teaches, that the soul is the recipient on which He bestows spiritual blessings by contemplation, the knowledge and the love of Himself, without many divers distinct or separated acts. But He produces them sometimes in the soul, and that for some space of time. The soul then must be lovingly intent upon God without distinctly eliciting other acts beyond these to which He inclines it; it must be as it were passive, making no efforts of its own, purely, simply, and lovingly intent upon God, as a man who opens his eyes with loving attention. (9)

Since sanctifying grace is destined for eternal life, it is also predisposed for us to receive the light of glory upon death, bypassing purgatory.

Purgatory is a punishment which presupposes a sin that could have been avoided, and an insufficient satisfaction that could have been completed if we had accepted with better dispositions the sufferings of the present life. It is certain, in fact, that no one will be detained in purgatory except for sins he could have avoided or for negligence in making reparation for them. Normally purgatory should be spent in this life while meriting, while growing in love, instead of after death without merit. (10)

The ability to bypass Purgatory requires that the soul be as purified as those souls about to leave Purgatory (that whole "pay me now or pay me later thing"). This condition can only be achieved in the union with God, the final stage of the purgation process. Very few souls meet these requirements upon death (so be sure and pack some SPF 70).

Next: The Interior Life and Intimate Conversation with God


(1) Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald, O.P., "The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume I," trans. Sister M. Timothea Doyle, O.P., Illinois: Tan Books, 1989
(2) Ibid., p35
(3) Luke 17:20f.
(4) IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 3 ad 2um; Ia IIae, q.69, a.2; De veritate, q. 14, a.2.
(5) John of the Cross, "The Works of St. John of the Cross," The Living Flame of Love, Comp., Trans, David Lewis, London: Thomas Baker, 1919, p72-3. Web.
(6) Garrigou-Lagrange, p38
(8) "Living Flame of Love," p78
(9) Ibid., p78
(10) Garrigou-Lagrange, p38