This may sound like an oxymoron of sorts (kind of like "Novus Ordo" and "Catholic"), but it's absolutely true. If you know nothing of the interior life, then you probably think that I've lost what's left of my mind.
If you are well read on the interior life, however, you will most likely just smile and nod your head.
"YOU LOVE HIM MORE THAN YOU LOVE ME!"
Actually, according to St. Louis de Montfort, God does play favorites, but far from the traditional way.
In his book "Friends of the Cross," de Montfort writes:
If God the Father does not send you worthwhile crosses from time to time, that is because He no longer cares for you and is angry at you. He considers you a stranger, an outsider undeserving of His hospitality, or an unlawful child who has no right to share in his father’s estate and no title to his father’s supervision and discipline. (1)
This is sure to give one pause, because it requires a total reevaluation of the spiritual life. We live in a world where accomplishments are rewarded with earthly treasures—those things that appeal to our senses and make our lives more comfortable.
Then along comes God, who says, "Oh, I see that you are in pain. Here, have some more!"
What we don't get is that his eyes are always focused on the Cross. He didn't redeem us by strolling through Jerusalem, scattering rose petals along the way. His path was a blood-soaked trail of agony.
So there's got to be something to this whole suffering thing.
I FEEL A METAPHOR COMING ON
Say you're a football coach.
Two guys come to try out for the team. The first guy gives it all he's got, but he just doesn't have the coordination and he's kind of slow.
The second guy, however, is a diamond in the rough. He needs some training, but with a little work, he has the potential for the pros.
You might bring them both on board, but you're not going to challenge them in the same way. Sure, you'll teach player number one everything he needs to know to play the game, but ultimately he will probably spend most of the season on the bench.
Player number two is going to get a workout that will push him to his limits. When he comes to you soaked with sweat and unable to breathe, you will send him back out on that field to push him even further.
At the end of the season, player number one will still be sitting on the bench, but player number two will have become that diamond that you knew he could be.
CATHERINE OF SIENA
God the Father explained the purpose of suffering to St. Catherine of Siena.
Do you know what course I follow, once my servants have completely given themselves to the teaching of the gentle loving Word? I prune them so that they will bear much fruit—cultivated fruit, not wild. Just as the gardener prunes the branch that is joined to the vine so that it will yield more and better wine, but cuts off and throws into the fire the branch that is barren, so do I the true gardener act. When my servants remain united to me I prune them with great suffering so that they will bear more and better fruit, and virtue will be proved in them. But those who bear no fruit are cut off and thrown into the fire. (2)
Wow! So what does that say about those who are carefree and strolling through life during these End Times? Who needs to be worried, here?
And does this new understanding of the relationship between suffering and God's love for us make the boo-boo all better?
PEE WEE HERMAN VERSUS ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
If the depth of our interior life were a muscle, at the moment of conception, it would be much like Pee Wee Herman, (3) weak and undisciplined. Our understanding of the world in which we live, the sum and total of the knowledge of our existence is interpreted through our senses—that which we see, hear, feel, and touch (i.e., what makes us happy and what makes us sad).
As we go through life, God begins to work that muscle through trials and tribulations. Those who strive to know him, turn to him in those times and he, in turn, supplies us with graces through the sacraments. Like a trainer at the gym, he helps us work that muscle so that it slowly grows in strength. It is up to us, however, to determine how far we wish to go.
Should we choose to go to the gym just to prance around in our new exercise outfit, he will pay little attention to us. But, if we are willing to sweat and struggle, to persevere, he will be by our side to lift those weights if they become too heavy—and to add a little more if it is to our benefit.
Thus, we have a choice: do we want to remain Pee Wee Herman, or do we want to evolve into an Arnold Schwarzenegger? (4)
The kicker to all of this is, if we don't do it now, we're gonna do it in Purgatory. (There are no Pee Wee Hermans in heaven.)
WHERE’S THAT EPIDURAL?
Moms everywhere will understand completely when the interior life is compared to having a baby. Think back to the moment when you discovered that you were pregnant for the first time. You were so excited! You couldn't stop smiling and your mind was filled with images of baby clothes, cribs, strollers and the like. You couldn't wait for your tummy to pop out!
Then you started throwing up. For the next two months, you walked around like a zombie; your face had no color and all you wanted to do was sleep.
But then you hit your second trimester and all of a sudden you're filled with energy! Your tummy is bulging just enough so that everyone thinks you look "so cute." You're buzzing around in preparation for the baby, wallpapering the nursery and waiting for that first ultrasound. Suddenly, memories of those first three months disappear. "This is a piece of cake," you think to yourself.
Then comes those last three months; there is absolutely nothing "cute" about you. You're fat, your back hurts, your belly starts to look like a road map from the stretch marks, and all you want to do is to get that "thing" out of you. Your dainty, feminine saunter has become a penguin-like waddle; you cannot tie your own shoes or shave your own legs (as if you care at that point).
But! You've still got everything under control; you're handling it. It's time for Lamaze (5) classes! In spite of your discomfort, you enjoy the camaraderie of the other expectant mothers. You listen intently to your instructor who talks of "painless childbirth" and make a pledge, along with the others, that you will NEVER take those drugs!
The day finally arrives and junior is on his way! Contractions begin. "This is a breeze," you think proudly. As contractions begin to come closer together, you pack your suitcase and practice your breathing. By now, contractions begin to interfere with your daily routine but you're handling it like a trooper.
When the doctor gives you the signal, reveille (6) sounds and you head for the hospital. Contractions are coming hard and fast. You struggle to remember anything that was said in Lamaze classes and you give your husband a look that could melt the flesh right off of his face. The pain is worse than anything you've ever experienced in your life and there are no "time outs."
WHERE'S THAT EPIDURAL!
The purgation process is very similar to childbirth. In fact, it is the creation of new life—your new life in Christ. And just like pregnancy and childbirth, there will be times when the pain is tolerable, there will be times when you think (or wish) that you were going to die, and there will be times when there is no pain at all.
But don't start wallpapering the nursery just yet.
Purgation is not just a week-long process; it can go on for years. Just when you think you've made it to the finish line, it rears its ugly head again.
THREE AGES OF THE INTERIOR LIFE
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (7) managed to sum up the interior life quite nicely in a mere 1200 pages. His two-volume set, "Three Ages of the Interior Life" (8) is a must read for those who truly wish to know God and better understand their relationship with him. It may very likely trigger an "Aaaah!" from those who recognize themselves and the on-again, off-again contractions of life. Garrigou-Lagrange's explanation of the two purgations: purgation of the senses and the purgation of the spirit, take spirituality to the next level.
During our catechesis as children and on into our adult life, we were taught "aesthetic theology":
"Who made us?"
"God made us."
"Why did God make us?"
"God made us to know, love, and serve him in this world."
We learned of the Ten Commandments, the Bible, the sacraments, etc. Sadly, many—if not most religious today are either ill-informed, disinterested, or just don't have the time to counsel on such a profound topic.
"Mystical" theology (and no, the term "mystical" bears no likeness to New Age heresy) is like digging down deeper into the earth to find that nugget of gold. We can get along without it, but if we are willing to get a little dirt underneath our fingernails, how much richer are our lives when we find it!
(1) St. Louis De Montfort, Friends of the Cross, (New York: Montfort Publications, 1992), 15.
(2) "Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue," trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P., New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1980, p. 62.