Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Part II.... File this under, "Why haven't I heard this before??"

Read Part I, here.

Well, I guess describing something as a "spiritual equivalent of a nuclear bomb" is setting the bar high! But I really do stand by that analogy. If you take what I am going to tell you and truly apply it, then a nuclear bomb will look like a water balloon in comparison. Because union with God is infinitely more powerful, exponentially more earth-shaking, than a nuclear bomb.

The book which changed my life is called The Ordinary Path to Holiness, by R. Thomas Richard. I have the original, regionally-published edition, which isn't professionally done and looks pretty cheesy. I used to wonder why something so amazing hadn't been published by a "real" publisher, and eventually it was! It now has a pretty cover and new typeset, and a foreword by Fr. Benedict Groeschel (who doesn't love him??!).

The "ordinary path to holiness" is just that. It's ordinary, meaning, it's the usual way that every soul must travel to get to God's Heart. Every one of us, no matter our vocation, is called to the highest form of prayer (infused contemplation/mysticism) and to spiritual marriage (consummation) with the Trinity. Please stop here and re-read that, slowly.

What this book did for me was to lay out a path that I could see, with a clear goal at the end and recognizable landmarks along the way. I am a linear, logical thinker, and I need things to be spelled out clearly. I had no idea that the spiritual life could be this way. I thought that while doctrine was concrete and linear, holiness was sort of nebulous and abstract, fluffy and wispy, like a cloud. I figured I would just pray throughout my life, read the Scriptures, be kind to others, and then holiness would just sort of "happen," in some sort of meandering, ill-defined way.

I was shocked and ecstatic to discover traditional Catholic spirituality. The author (a former Protestant pastor... ya gotta love those converts!!) synthesizes the works of several experts on the interior life and prayer (including saints who've walked the whole path!), and he makes it easy to understand the route our souls will take as we approach union with God.

A soul in mortal sin is not on the path. Once a soul gets on the path (i.e., is in a state of grace), he will travel through three stages of holiness: the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive. These stages are not static and perfectly separated, yet they are identifiable and trustworthy as our guide to the interior life. I briefly described these stages in my latest Doctrinal Quiz Show, so check that out for a little more info.

The Ordinary Path to Holiness presents the order of the path. Oh, how I love order! To discover order in the spiritual life -- be still my heart! It now makes perfect sense to me that just as the body goes through normal stages of growth (childhood, adolescence, adulthood) so, too, does the soul.

The book layout goes like this: The author first explains the three stages of holiness, which are unknown to most Catholics. (By the way, you will never hear the parable of the sower in the same way again!).

In the next section, he shows us how a soul in each stage reads and responds to Scripture. An advanced soul encounters the Bible in a completely different way than a beginner. I knew after reading that section that I was definitely a beginner, ha!

Next, the author illustrates how the experience of prayer changes for the soul as it progresses through each stage. Can I just say, WOW????!!! You will crave holiness when you read what the Lord has in store for those who perfectly align their hearts to His.

Another section walks us through St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, corresponding her seven mansions to the three stages of holiness. He also corresponds the sections of the Our Father with the three stages. Amazing stuff which just further illustrates the perfection of the Lord's Prayer.

Then, after a section on the sacraments, we are shown how the three stages of holiness are made manifest in the Holy Mass itself. All I could think of was how much I wanted to one day experience the Mass while in the unitive stage! Ahhhhh!!!

Finally, there is a section on holiness in suffering and dying. Again, wow....

When I finished the book, a whole new life opened up to me, and I couldn't wait to learn more, pray more, and love God more. A perfect follow-up book for me was Fire Within, by Fr. Thomas Dubay. While The Ordinary Path to Holiness changed my life, Fire Within just about set me over the edge. I couldn't believe the descriptions of the interior life of a soul that is in union with God. Talk about a romance!! Fr. Dubay focuses on works of the prayer masters, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. I think I walked around on a cloud for days after that one.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention Fr. Benedict Groeschel's Spiritual Passages (an old work of his... did you all know that he is a psychologist as well as a priest?) and Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life. Fr. Groeschel's work (subtitled "The Psychology of Spiritual Development") is a fascinating look into the psychology of the three stages, in simple terms that I could understand. No psycho-babble and lots of real life examples, too. As for Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, he is pretty much the acknowledged expert on the three stages, and some consider him the greatest theologian of the 20th century.

Okay, just writing about this stuff makes me want to recommit to my prayer life! If you really think about it, there is nothing -- truly nothing -- more important than the path one's soul will take to its eternal destiny. The fact that I can see it laid out before me in a simple but breathtaking road map form is the perfect way to draw me out of my head and into a full-on love affair with my Beloved, Who continues to wait while I dilly-dally in the first stage.... But more on that later.... Maybe I will make that Part III.

And since I guess this ended up as a Books in the Bubble, here it is:

*Update: Another book in this vein is Descending Fire: The Journal of a Soul Aflame, by Jean Petit. I can't leave that out, as it left me reeling, too, and exclaiming, "I want what that soul has!"


  1. I'm convinced! I just added both titles to my Amazon wishlist (birthday, anniversary and Christmas coming up soon!)

  2. Ken wont mind if I order this from Amazon since the rec came from The Bubble!

  3. Wow! Can I just say that the words "order" and "linear" made me giddy?! Tells you what kind of person dh and I are, huh?! Dh and I NEED this book-oh my goodness!

  4. Going to purchase from amazon as soon as I get home! Thank you so much for the recommendation, this sounds like an AWESOME book - well all of them do, but I am going to start with the 1st one right away. I LOVE order! Thanks for writing about this. Deo Gratias!

  5. I'm with WB- giddiness abounds! I guess I'm like Chris Matthews in ONE way- it sent a "thrill up my leg". :)

    So which book do you recommend the most? (BTW- your arrangement of the book covers looks so professional! I"m not sure how you did that!) I tried reading Interior Castle a few years ago- but had other stuff to read and then it was due back to the library...I felt like I got "points" just for checking it out. :) Are these BUY books or LIBRARY books? I I NEED a highlighter? Will I reference back? YOU know the difference...

    Great post and reflection. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  6. What a wonderful reflection! I suspect the Ordinary Path to Holiness may go into a second or third printing now that all the bloggers know about it :)

    But feel free to just send me your copy ;D

  7. Ah, so many kindred, linear-thinking, spirits! And Lauren, I love the Chris Matthews reference, ha! Yes...Obama may not do it for us, but a clear spiritual road map does!!

    I think Ordinary Path is a good starting point, but I also reference Fr. Groeschel's book and Fr. Dubay's book quite a bit. Fr. Groeschel just lays it all out so beautifully and practically, with real life examples that he has witnessed in people. And, Fr. Dubay... wow. He is a master spiritual director (he's on EWTN) and so he knows this stuff so well. I particularly love that he differentiates for the reader the difference between depression and "Dark Nights" (many confuse the two). He does that in chart fashion, yay!

    I actually have never read Interior Castles (or Way of Perfection), but I do have them on my shelf (points for me, too, Lauren?). Her works are easily obtained from a library, so you don't need to buy them. There is enough of her stuff in the first books I mentioned that you can highlight away on those and not buy IC at all (unless you want the points for having it on your shelf, ha!).

    Garigou-Lagrange's book I started, but didn't finish, because life got busy. I do own it, and it is short and meaty (he has a longer, 2-volume work on the stages, but people asked him to also provide a short version). The language is a bit more formal, as he lived in an earlier generation, but he is the one credited with really explaining this spiritual tradition to the world.

    My "must haves" for my shelf are the first three (OPTH, FW, and SP).

    As for my graphics, I wish I could take some creative credit, but that's just the way they came on the screen, and I don't know how to move the sequence of them (although I did make them go to the left, I think, and also I made them a little bigger sized.)

    Enjoy reading, guys, and I would LOVE your feedback!!

  8. I've got to order that book! :) I LOVED Spiritual Passages. I had to read it for a class at college. It is so interesting to combine the psychological and the spiritual! I've returned to it a number of times since it's so helpful in the work I do for the church, not to mention my own spiritual life!

  9. Awesome post!

    Ralph Martin has a book out about this topic, too. I've not gotten too far into it yet, but it seems quite good and also comes endorsed by Fr. Groeschel as a "book to keep at your place of prayers for years to come":

  10. Brit, ha, I would but I gave my second copy to someone and I don't remember who! I've got my original old, bright yellow copy... It's vintage!!

    CL, I hadn't heard of anyone who has ever heard of it, much less read it! I'm so thrilled to hear it!! What college did you go to?? Wow!

    Kristen, excellent book recommendation! I hadn't seen that, and I put it on my wish list!!

  11. Aw man! I am not linear thinking! I am all around and upside down thinking. Our marriage preparer joked that I enjoy JPII's "round and round" because I am half-Polish lol.

    Sigh. Well, in spite of all that, order and linear thinking is good for my 4-D craziness. I am definitely getting this book! And I bet FI will love it! He is all about the order and linear thinking!

  12. *are* good, not *is* good. I am such a bad typist these days.

  13. Btw Leila (b/c I haven't left enough comments yet apparently!) I wrote a paper on "Spiritual Passages" in college. I went to Virginia Tech but this was for a class at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth). It was a historical literature class (trying to remember the era?) and this book was on my Dad's shelf and helped make sense out of some of the religious writings for me.

  14. Sarah, you are so coherent and logical, I would have pegged you for a linear! And how cool that you know of that book!! Wow!

    Were you at VT when the shootings happened?

  15. Thanks, Leila! I think perhaps my thought process is logical just not very linear? Drives my "linear" Fiance crazy sometimes b/c he wonders how I got from A to B... but once I explain it he sees it lol. I think writing is also so helpful for organizing my thoughts too.

    I was at VT earlier - for 9/11. Sadly I really "felt" the shootings too (I think everyone did) - and Cho was a fellow English major and my favorite professors had him as a student.

  16. Would have emailed you, but didn't find a way:

    Given your fondness for Catholic Bubbles, this may suit you:

  17. What a great recommendation! I just ordered it. I know how books can change our lives....Father Dubay's 'Fire Within' did mine and made me hunger and thirst for deeper prayer. (...and I'm a linear-wannabe...)


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