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The spiritual life for the Christian is not a mere horizontal path, but rather vertical and likened to a ladder— consisting of different levels of progression. Thus, the spiritual journey for the Catholic-Christian is composed of three steps being the interior, religious, and spiritual. In this post, I will focus on individuals from St. Luke’s Gospel who exhibit each stage.
Stage 1— The Interior Life
First, the “interior life” refers to the initial level of the spiritual path for Christians. At this stage, a person demonstrates the ability to be self-aware (self-autonomous) and shows the capacity to utilize their imagination. This stage is necessary for a Christian to increase and deepen their spirituality. However, it is possible to have a profound interior life without being spiritual. A pragmatic instance of this is a secular artist painting a picture. They exercise their imagination without contemplating the mysteries of God. Nevertheless, normally the more powerful the imagination is, the greater potential a person has to power their “spiritual engine”—the mind.
Example of the Rich Young Man
Two instances of the “interior life” within the Gospel of Luke include the Rich Young Man 18:18-30 and the centurion at the Crucifixion 23:44-49. Regarding the former, the Revised Standard Edition refers to the Rich Young Man as a ruler who initiates contact with Jesus by posing a query: “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(v. 18). An analysis of this statement shows the ruler demonstrating the “interior life” on a twofold manner: he knew Jesus was a good, informative teacher (he probably heard about the previous work and preaching of Jesus from others) and the question asked was of metaphysical nature, which thus required imagination and intellect to ponder.
Jesus responds by telling the man to adhere to the Decalogue. The man then tells Christ that he diligently follows the commandments. But Jesus required more, he wanted the Rich Ruler to give away his material goods to the poor. But the man was unable to do so. While he exhibited an “interior life” by asking the right question, the Rich Young Man was not spiritual due to failure to move past material wealth (v.23). Augmenting this point the narrator tells the reader that the man was sad to give up his possessions and thus shows why he cannot move past the interior level.
Example of the Roman Centurion
A second case of someone having the interior life in Luke comes at the close of the gospel. After hanging upon the cross for several hours, darkness came over the land and the veil of the temple split in two and Jesus uttered his final breath. During this a centurion proclaimed “Certainly this man was innocent!” (v.47). The centurion saw the curtain torn and perhaps remembered Jesus’ premonition that the Temple would be destroyed. Such recall shows intellect and imagination. In fact he had such a powerful imagination, that the centurion “praised God” in v.47. Because of this, he had a profound “interior life”.
Stage 2—The Religious Life
Defined as the level where one is focused on concepts of rituals and/or sacraments, the “religious life” is the next stage in Christian spirituality. To put it another way, this phase denotes an experience of contact with the Transcendent deity via religion.
Two prime examples of this are the Pharisees in Luke 6:1-5 and Peter in 9:28-36. With the former, the Pharisees badgered Jesus and his disciples for gathering grain on the Sabbath. Their query in v. 2 shows that they are primarily concerned with Jewish ritual practices, which exhibits a sign of being in the “religious life” phase. The narrator gives a further clue that this is a case of the “religious life” because Jesus corrected them by showing that David set a precedent in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. The Pharisees were thus being nit-picky about the Sabbath law.
Example of the Transfiguration
The second incident of a person existing in the “religious life” level of spirituality occurs a few chapters later at the Transfiguration. Upon witnessing Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, Peter utters a seemingly perplexing statement, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths…” (9:33). Knowledge of the main Jewish celebrations is needed to ascertain Cephas’ point. Peter is referring to the Feast of Booths which recalls Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their wandering in the desert for 40 years. Although Peter is being an astute Jew by wanting to follow that ritual custom of erecting a tent, his missed the true purpose of the Transfiguration and hence he is at the “religious” level of the spiritual life and not yet at the final stage.
Stage 3—The Spiritual Life
The final phase of the spiritual journey is at the level of the “spiritual life”. The phrase “the spiritual life” is delineated as the level where mankind’s spirit and the Holy Spirit connect— it also presupposes and fulfills the latter two stages in the spiritual excursion.
Example of Mary
At the outset of Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s fiat in 1:26-38 is the most perfect expression of obedience to God and a person having the fullness of the “spiritual life”. First of all, when the angel Gabriel came to her, Mary although initially concerned did not flee. Rather she listened to the message. After hearing the news of her future pregnancy, Mary asked “How can this be since I have no husband?” (She pledged her life to remain a virgin). Gabriel responded by telling her that Jesus will be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s reply in v. 38 displays her complete surrender to God’s will and shows why she exhibits the “spiritual life”.
Example of the Repentant Sinful Woman
The next case of the “spiritual life” in Luke also is of a woman. In 7:36-50 a sinful woman wept at Jesus’ feet, because of her sins, and cleansed them with her tears and expensive ointment. Luke juxtaposes this woman with Simon, Jesus’ Pharisaic host. He scorned the woman due to her sin. Jesus quips back by saying that the woman washed his feet without him asking. Simon failed to welcome Jesus with the same hospitality (v.45-47). Verse 48 shows the climax of this passage, “Your sins are forgiven”. She desired forgiveness and Christ is pleased to forgive. For this reason, she is an example of having the “spiritual life”.
St. Francis de Sales declared, “All of us can attain to Christian virtue and holiness, no matter in what condition of life we live and no matter what our life work may be.” Our reflection on St. Luke’s Gospel proves that God meets individuals at various places and times. Whether you are at the beginning or more advanced path to holiness, the key to “climbing” the spiritual ladder is to let Christ carry you— cooperate with Divine Providence this week! I challenge you to plunge yourself into the Scriptures this week and mediate on how you can better encounter Jesus.
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A Prayer Before the Cross
Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today. In keeping with the words of the great Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Sienna, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.
While my sins wound me and damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity, I petition for intercession from the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze from the gutters of the troubles of my life to gaze upward to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.
Mary Intercede for Us
I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.
Despite the failings, trials, and doubts that surround us, be assured that peace and joy can be found in uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times
Did God Actually Abandon Jesus?
For several years of my life, the final words of Jesus before his death on the Cross puzzled me. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). The word forsaken has many synonyms.The two that stand out to me are quit and desert. Let’s insert these words into the previous quote and read it again. On the Cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my God why have you quit on me and deserted me?” I think that everyone relate to Christ’s words. Within my own life I feel God has quit on me too many times to count and I believe I may be experiencing a period of abandonment and loneliness currently.
Why am I telling you this? Is my accusation of God’s commitment to me a grave danger to my Catholic faith? Is my feeling of abandonment caused by outside factors such as my work, stress, the winter weather? Perhaps. However, I felt compelled to journal about my inner struggles as a Catholic man as a type of prayer to God Himself.
A few years ago, I took graduate theology courses. There was a particular class where I was required to read St. John of the Cross’s A Dark Night of the Soul– a spiritual grace that flowed from his period of spiritual loneliness. During this time of my life, I starting reading the Diary of St. Maria Faustina and she expressed similar sentiment. The Polish saint writes, “O Jesus, today my soul is as though darkened by suffering. Not a single ray of light” (Diary 195), Her words express my exact thoughts today.
When I read Faustina’s words, I felt provoked to learn more about the words of the dying Christ: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It turns out that the Gospels writers were making an allusion to Psalm 22- a prayer the psalmist wrote as a lament to God. I believe that the Holy Spirit was teaching me by fusing my theological background of the Scriptures with my current life experience.
Maybe God is allowing me to suffer loneliness because He knows that this will direct me on the path of prayer again. See I have not been the best Catholic. I have been impatient at work and home. I allow doubt to creep into my life. Perhaps this spiritual abandonment is the greatest gift God can grant to me now. Perhaps God is doing the same thing in your life now. Let’s embrace this loneliness together and continue to hope in God’s Providence. Amen.