As the beginning of a short 4-part series on spiritual change, I would like to show how, as time goes on and the soul grows closer to God, the way we interact with God changes in the areas of 1. Virtue 2. Prayer 3. Purification and 4. Spiritual Accompaniment.
To begin with, we have spoken about virtues already (link) and about how to grow. To repeat it here quickly: A virtue is a habit which is formed over a period of time by the repetition of a good action until it becomes, as it were, second nature, or easy to perform.
Our image was the piano player. His acquired habit is the ability to play well without making a great effort. His past hours of practice have brought him to the point of being able to play well those pieces he has practiced, thus making music beautiful to the ear.
Now applying this to the spiritual life, we can think of the example of an older brother, who, despite his dislike for playing “house,” has come to the point of finding it at least easy to join his little sister for 30 minutes every evening cooking breakfast and washing dishes in her toy kitchenette, because it pleases her and because he loves her dearly.
However, this is only the first part of the journey.
We draw closer to God in stages. As far as the formation of virtues is concerned, the early stages require a lot of effort on our part. Free good actions (this means Thoughts, Words and Deeds that we choose) repeated mechanically form within us positive habits which make it continually easier to act.
These habits can also be perfected over time; for example we can often find many new ways to serve others; and the more we do it, the better we get at it. Like when the older brother each evening learns a little more about what his sister likes, his ability to please her grows.
Later on, based on the many virtues that we have formed and perfected, God begins to act within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. These are what we call the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
At this later stage, our efforts should focus more on “letting God act through us” than on struggling to carry out specific actions. The Holy Spirit shows us what to do, and we respond generously to his guidance.
A “virtuous” piano player is not the one who has to struggle to play well, but who does so with ease after much practice. The best pianist, however, is the one who no longer even needs to practice, that is, he can pull out a sheet of music he has never seen before, and guided along by the notes he can reproduce beautiful music with ease because he is perfectly able to read and repeat with his fingers what is written.
This is the image of the soul in union with the Holy Spirit.
The beginner struggles to repeat actions, the advanced soul perfects his habits, and the more perfect soul lets God act in him.
Fr. Nathan is editor of www.formationtoolbox.com
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