The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints by Ralph Martin

(Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2005), 473

Five things to keep in mind (remember "1NOWA"):

  1. First fruits: Give God our first fruits, especially the first fruits of our time
  2. Neighbors: We are sanctified especially through our neighbors (and family)
  3. Offend: Resolve to never offend God
  4. Will: Focus on God's will: fiat voluntas tua
  5. Ask: The primacy of Grace, and we must only ask

I read this over the second half of 2022 and it has helped and coincided with a turn toward a deeper spiritual life. Fr. Mike Schmitz said that he has listened to it six or seven times, because it reminds him of the point of everything and how the spiritual life is a lifelong journey.6

"The fulfillment of all desire" is union with God himself (xvii), and Martin synthesizes ten years7 of study to weave together the teaching of the mystical doctors of the Church: Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, and Thérèse of Lisieux. In the introduction he tells of how he struggled many times to read John of the Cross, but then he read The Spiritual Canticle in the airport and it was "the right book at the right time" after previously struggling with John: "a certain amount of life experience was necessary before I could understand the truth and relevance of these works" (xv). I have struggled with Catherine, John, and Teresa, but this book made their teaching come alive and showed the beautiful consistency between the saints themselves along with Scripture and Tradition.

I am taking a few practical takeaways from my first reading of this book.

First is the importance of giving God our first fruits, especially of our time in prayer.

Perform these exercises confidently, as I have marked them out for you, and God will give you sufficient leisure and strength to perform all your other duties.1

Second is how our neighbors (i.e. family) are often the means of our sanctification.

Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth, just as the evil give birth to all their vices through their neighbors.2

Third is the importance of the resolution to never offend God as a turning point on the spiritual journey.

Are you firmly resolved never to commit [mortal sin] for any reason whatsoever?...In this resolution consists the foundation of the spiritual life.3

Fourth is the importance of focusing on God's will. I had not memorized the Pater Noster yet when reading this, but fiat voluntas tua has become a favorite phrase and prayer:

I give you one counsel; that you don't think that through your own strength or efforts you can arrive, for reaching this stage is beyond our power; if you try to reach it, the devotion you have will grow cold. But with simplicity and humility, which will achieve everything, say: fiat voluntas tua (your will be done).4

Finally, I have been easily discouraged when reading about the spiritual life (for instance in ~The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross by John of the Cross) to realize how little I have traveled and how far I have yet to go. Yet the saints (and this book) are encouraging. They remind us that while our effort is important, we are dependent primarily upon the free gift of God's grace, for which we have only to ask (197):

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Mt-07 (RSVCE)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.
Jas-01 (RSVCE)

This is particularly relevant to a discussion of the spiritual life, for the fulfillment of all desire is union with God and Christ says these words right before telling us about the narrow gate:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Mt-07 (RSVCE)

Bernard says it well:

Whatever is lacking in my own resources I appropriate for myself from the heart of the Lord, which overflows with mercy.5




Introduction Link (Catholic Education Resource Center)

  • He read The Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross in the airport and it was "the right book at the right time" after previously struggling with John: "a certain amount of life experience was necessary before I could understand the truth and relevance of these works" (xv)
  • Novo Millennio Ineunte called for the whole church to reconnect with the mystical tradition
  • The fulfillment of all desire is union with God (xvii)

Chapter 1: Called to Holiness

Summary: We are all called to holiness, and we need to choose now!

  • Jesus summed up his teaching as: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt-05)
  • John Paul II's four principles of the mystical tradition (Novo Millennio Ineunte)
    1. We are totally dependent on God's grace, but with him all things are possible
    2. Our effort is indispensable to dispose us to receive God's grace
    3. Much has to change to make us capable of deep union with God (dark nights, tribulations)
    4. All the effort and pain is infinitely worth it!
  • "What really holds us back from a wholehearted response to the call of Jesus is the interior sluggishness of our hearts. We need to be clear that there will never be a better time or a better set of circumstances than now to respond wholeheartedly to the call to holiness." (7)
  • A flavor of Pascal's wager: "If we aim for purgatory and miss, there really isn't a good backup available." (7)

Chapter 2: An Overview of the Journey

Summary: The Purgative stage includes the initial phases of the spiritual life; the Illuminative stage is one of continuing growth; the Unitive stage is one of deep, habitual union with God. All three can be present in the same person.

An Overview of the Journey (13)

Doctor Purgative Way Illuminative Way Unitive way
Teresa of Avila Mansions one to three; turning away from sin; praying; growing in stable, well ordered, Catholic life. Mansions four to six; recollection; prayer of quiet, prayer of union; union of wills preparation for union by gifs and graces, interior and exterior trials. Mansion seven, "spiritual marriage;" "perfect" but still faults and inadvertent venial sins are possible; great fruitfulness in prayer and action.
John of the Cross "Beginners"; meditation; "active night of the senses" (Ascent I); "passive night of the senses" (Dark Night I). "Proficients"; contemplation; "active night of the spirit" (Ascent II, III) (Spiritual Canticle 1-21); "passive night of the spirit"; "spiritual betrothal" (Dark Night II). "Perfect," habitual, contemplative union; "spiritual marriage" "transforming union" (Living Flame; Spiritual Canticle 22-40)
Catherine of Siena "Slavish fear" (fear based turning to God); embrace of the feet of Christ (conversion) "Mercenary love" (service of God motivated by reward); growing in prayer, virtue, stability (patience, obedience, humility); contemplating the wounded side of Christ. "Filial love"; "love as a very dear friend" (love for the sake of the other); kiss of the mouth of Christ; union of contemplation and action.
Bernard of Clairvaux "Natural affection" (loving those who love us); prostrate at the feet of Christ (repentance from sins, conversion). "Liberty of spirit" (loving others as one loves oneself, hoping for gain); kissing the hands of Christ, (virtue, prayer, the fruits of repentance). "Spousal love"; "friends of the Bridegroom" (universal love, even of enemies).
Francis de Sales Turning away from mortal sin, venial sin, and the affection for sin; establishing ordered pattern of prayer; servile fear of hell. Growing in virtue: humility, obedience, patience, poverty of spirit, detachment, stability of prayer, and love of neighbor; mercenary love, a servant looking for payment. Ruled by love; spousal love; perfect union of wills, in the following of the commandments, counsels, and inspirations of the Holy Spirit; Jesus living in and through us; perfect love casts out fear but servile and mercenary motives sill help in time of temptation.

all of these culminate in the Beatific Vision: knowing and loving and we are known and loved.

Part I: Transformation Begins (The Purgative Way)

Chapter 3: Awakening and Conversion

Summary: We are introduced to the spiritual life, especially the need for conversion and trust in God's grace.

  • Lukewarmness is not pleasing to the Lord (cf. Rv-03)
  • Blockers to Teresa's progress:
    • Carelessness about Sin
      • Avoid Confirmation Bias (cf. 2 Tm-04)
      • "Making a decision never to freely choose to commit even a small sin is an important turning point in the spiritual journey." (22)
    • Not Avoiding the Near Occasions of Sin
      • "We need to ask God for the wisdom to identify those situations that weaken our resolve to resist sins and avoid them as much as possible." (23)
    • Self-Reliance
    • Not Valuing the Graces of God
      • Francis de Sales: the devout life is characterize by a frequent, careful, and prompt response to the will of God and to His inspirations (25)
  • Bernard: we have nothing to fear in turning to the Lord: "He is aware of our weakness...What els is there to hold you back from the way of salvation?" (On the Song of Songs)
  • Augustine: reading Athanasius' Life of Anthony: "If I wish to become God's friend, in an instant I may become that now." (Confessions)
  • Don't fall into the trap of loving the search for truth more than the finding (cf. Confessions: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.")
  • The Primacy of Grace:
    • Only God's grace puts us in the good position we presently occupy; Thérèse: "there but for the grace of God go I." (41)
    • "To neglect the very foundation, the primacy of grace, is to build a shaky structure that won't stand." (43)
    • "For by grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph-02)
    • "Salvation, in its first moments, is purely a gift of God, which can only be received with gratitude and faith." (43)
    • "Human pride and self-reliance must be broken for salvation to break in." (44)

Chapter 4: The Biblical Worldview of the Saints

Summary: We need to be rooted in Scripture and keep the big picture of our salvation always in mind.

  • Catherine of Siena lived a life of solitude and prayer for 3 years, only leaving her bedroom for mass (!!, 48)
  • God uses the image of Jesus as the bridge between heaven and earth in The Dialogue
  • The four torments of hell: deprived of seeing God, ceaseless regret and agonizing about what has been lost, seeing the devil as he really is, and ceaseless burning of an immaterial fire (52)
  • "The Father tells Catherine that the particular relationships we had on earth, insofar as they were in the Lord, will actually increase in depth of intimacy and love in heaven." (57)
    • Question: What becomes of the relationship between a saint in heaven and a family member they love in Hell? Is not the deprivation of that relationship in some way an eternal punishment of the saint for the actions of the damned?
  • Catherine: as each person dies he or she actually rushes to where they want to be (59)
  • John of the Cross on divine providence: "Men do not do these things, but God, who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our own good. Think nothing else but that God ordains all." (63, cf. The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross—Introduction)
  • John doesn't spent a lot of time on the basics of the spiritual life (he is writing for those in a Carmelite monastery)
  • "Genuine fear of the Lord, and the repentant and careful life that it produces, leads to a growing confidence in God's love. Fear of the Lord and love of the Lord are not enemies, but friends. The gift of fear of the Lord prepares the way for the gift of love." (67)
  • John quotes this most often: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (68, cf. Mt-07-14)
  • John and the other saints remind us to keep the big picture in mind: "the reality of the devil, the horror of sin, the price paid for our salvation, the shortness of life, the consequences of our choices, and the reality of judgment, heaven or hell." (69)
  • Teresa: "There is no reason to give importance to anything that will come to an end." (70, cf. ~The Collected Works of St Teresa of Avila (Volume 2))

Chapter 5: The Transformation of Thought, Desire, and Action

Summary: As we take on the 'mind of Christ' we also take on His desires and participate in the dynamics of His active love.

  • Thérèse: If heaven exists, all of life on earth must be evaluated in its light (73)
  • Parenting: "Thérèse remarked that while the sermon at Mass was very good the sermon of watching her father pray was better." (78)
  • "The purpose of each one of our lives is to reach the state of glory, to be saints. Either we become saints and reach heaven, or become conformed to the image of the demons, in hell." (81)
    • "The purpose of our life is the glory of heaven, and the only way to reach the goal is by absolute confidence in God." (82)
  • Thérèse: "Joy isn't found in the material objects surrounding us but in the inner recesses of the soul." (83, cf. Story of a Soul)
  • John: "Nothing but what belongs to the service of God should be the object of our joy." (95, cf. ~The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross)
  • John: We withdraw ourselves from God to the extent we take an inordinate joy in things that are less than God. Four degrees of harm: backsliding, lenient attitude (lukewarmness), complete abandoning of God, forgetting of God (96)
    • Don't let your small attachments become great!

Chapter 6: The Struggle against Sin

Summary: We must resolve to never willingly offend God, and also be patient with ourselves and trust in His abundant mercy.

  • Spirituality for Lay People: The "Devout Life"
    • Introduction to the Devout Life: a "devout" life is ordered towards holiness, which consists in a heart transformed in love and justice
    • True devotion must touch every area of our life, and is characterized by both love of God and love of neighbor
  • The First Purgation: Mortal Sin
    • Francis: "Are you firmly resolved never to commit [mortal sin] for any reason whatsoever?...In this resolution consists the foundation of the spiritual life." (108, cf. Introduction)
    • Make a general confession if returning, then weekly confession, and be as specific as possible: "It is an abuse to confess any kind of sin, whether mortal or venial, without a will to be rid of it since confession was instituted for no other purpose." (109-109, cf. Introduction)
  • The Second Purgation: The Affection for Sin
    • Nurturing affection for sin, abstaining regretfully from sin, speaking with petulance: these slow us down in the spiritual life and dispose us to future falls; this creates a divided heart and makes the spiritual life wearisome
    • "The saints have a wonderful way of bringing the insight of Scripture into contact with the circumstances of our lives." (111)
    • "We need to determine, with the help of God's grace, never to freely choose to offend him." (112)
  • Venial Sin
    • Bernard on Parenting: "Nor, under the guise of administering correction, should you dare to pierce with sharp and searing words one for whom Christ was pleased to be crucified." (114)
    • Inadvertent venial sin and fault is not a big deal, as long as we immediately reject them and refuse to entertain affection for them
    • "Hatred for sin is important. Confidence in the mercy of God is even more important." (114)
    • Thérèse: "The more one advances, the more one sees the goal is still far off" (115)

Chapter 7: The Importance of Prayer

Summary: Remember that the goal of our strivings is nothing else but relationship with God, and we must give him the firstfruits of our time in prayer.

  • John: our sensual attractions are so strong that a greater love has to inflame us to let go of lesser, disordered loves (119)
  • The spiritual life is primarily a relationship, which requires time, attention, and care: Prayer is simply paying attention to God (121)
  • Francis: "Since prayer places our intellect in the brilliance of God's light and exposes our will to the warmth of his heavenly love, nothing else so effectively purifies our intellect of ignorance and our will of depraved affections...I especially counsel you to practice Mental Prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of our Lord." (121)
  • Bernard: Pronounce "the words of the Holy Spirit with becoming manliness and resonance and affection; and correctly, what while you chant you ponder on nothing but what you chant." (123)
  • Methods of Prayer (Francis suggests six steps for Mental Prayer):
    1. Place yourself in the presence of God
    2. Ask the Lord to help you
    3. Pick a passage from Scripture or spiritual reading
    4. Think about what you've chosen to meditate on
    5. Yield to good affections
    6. Come to practical resolutions: "virtues meditated on but not practiced sometimes inflate our minds and courage"
    • Give priority to Mental Prayer: "Don't be concerned at not finishing the vocal prayers you intended to say. The mental prayer you substitute for them is more pleasing to God and more profitable for your soul." (125)
  • The Simplicity of Prayer
    • Speak memorized prayers slowly and from the heart
    • Teresa reminds us that it is about the relationship: "Mental Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us." (127)
    • John Paul II: "All harm comes to us from not keeping our eyes fixed on You." (129)
  • Time and Place
    • "We cannot pray 'at all times' if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it." (131, cf. CCC 2697)
    • Francis: "Set aside an hour every day before the mid-day meal, if possible early in the morning when your mind is less distracted and fresher after the night's rest." (132)
  • Prayerfulness throughout the Day
    • Francis' advises Spiritual Disciplines (134):
      • Turn to the Lord as soon as you wake
      • Spent substantial time in personal prayer early in the morning if possible
      • Attend daily Mass as often as possible
      • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours
      • Withdraw into the cell of our souls periodically throughout the day
      • Perform an examination of conscience before the evening meal
    • Give God the firstfruits of our time: "Perform these exercises confidently, as I have marked them out for you, and God will give you sufficient leisure and strength to perform all your other duties." (135)
    • Say short prayers throughout the day; Bernard recommends the name of Jesus: "Write what you will, I shall not relish it unless it tells of Jesus...Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart." (136)

Chapter 8: Temptations and Trials

Summary: Encountering temptations and trials is a necessary condition for making progress.

  • Common Temptations in the Early Stages of the Journey
    • Immature Zeal
      • Bernard: the devil takes advantage of the pride and vanity that coexists with genuine fervor to tempt to imprudence or excess
      • Points to the importance of seeking out wise and balance spiritual counsel
    • Misplaced Priorities
      • Teresa: a certain reordering of our priorities is necessary fi we are to make progress: we should eliminate the nonessentials and make room for ordering our life to God
    • Is God Fair?
      • Instead of comparing ourselves to others (ahead or behind us spiritually), we need to look at all of reality in the light of eternity (142)
      • Francis: "You have bid a great, general farewell to the world's follies and vanities and this may bring on a feeling of sadness and discouragement." (144)
      • "John speaks so often of persevering in the darkness of faith as the most valuable and proximate means of union with God." (144)
      • Teresa: "Don't seek feelings of consolations in prayer. Seek the Lord, seek to conform your will to His!" (145)
  • Thérèse's Little Way: Daily Self-Denial in the Service of Love
    • Waiting Purifies: God frequently made Thérèse wait as a means to help overcome her self-will (146)
    • Daily Self-Denial: pray to Thérèse for patience and humility in family life
    • Don't Waste Any Opportunity: "strew flowers" for the Lord
    • Loving with His Love: "Charity consists in bearing with the faults of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, in being edified by the smallest acts of virtue we see them practice...It is no longer a question of loving one's neighbor as oneself but of loving him as He, Jesus, has loved him" (151, on Parenting)
  • Dealing with Temptation
    • We need to reject temptation and the desire to sin immediately (155)
    • God is delighted when we resist temptations
  • Resisting Temptations: A Means to Growth
    • "Resisting temptations and enduring trials is one of the primary means of spiritual growth...The very attacks intended to defeat us in fact become the means to victory if we apply the wisdom of the saints in dealing with them." (159)
  • How Long Will the Purification Last?
  • Overcoming Temptation: More Helpful Advice
    • Resist the small temptations as well as the big ones
    • Perform some contrary act of virtue
    • Bring temptation to a spiritual director
    • Just say no!
    • Run to the cross of Christ and ask for help
  • The Positive Power of Trials: Dryness of Prayer
  • What's the Cause of the Dryness We Experience?
    • Lukewarmness and Infidelity, Francis: "You have glutted yourself with worldly pleasures and it is no wonder that spiritual delights disgust you" → repentance is the only solution (165)
    • Fatigue and Illness: "you can never suffer for his sake anything equal to what he has suffered for you." (170)
    • Dark Night: God is purposely removing the experience of His presence so as to give us an opportunity to mature in faith, hop, and love (170)
  • Advice for Discerning the Cause of the Dryness
    • In a dark night permitted by God, we are not able to find consolation in things less than God...if the concern to serve and please God persists in the midst of the difficulty it is a sign of God's purifying work (172-173)
  • The Dark Night as an Important Means of Growth
    • Times of dryness are very important times of growth: don't give up, but remain faithful (174)

Part II: Reaching Stability but Moving On (The Illuminative Way)

Chapter 9: A Certain Stability

Summary: A lack of knowledge and a lack of desire are the two main obstacles preventing our progress—but ask for them and we shall receive.

  • Lack of Knowledge
    • Self-knowledge and knowledge of God are both essential for making progress
    • "Self-knowledge involves both knowledge of the great dignity and beauty of the human soul in its exalted destiny as well as a profound understanding of the wounds and darkness that sin inflicts on it." (184)
    • Teresa: "While we are on this earth nothing is more important to us than humility...In my opinion we shall never completely know ourselves if we don't strive to know God. By gazing at His grandeur, we get in touch with our own lowliness; by looking at His purity, we shall see our own filth; by pondering His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble." (187, cf. The Interior Castle)
    • Bernard: "If you lack self-knowledge you will possess neither the fear of God nor humility." (188)
  • Progress Is Both Possible and Necessary
    • A lack of knowledge concerning how much progress is possible and how necessary it is holds many people back from the spiritual journey (190)
    • Holiness begins in the fear of the Lord and ends in a love without fear (190)
  • Lack of Desire
    • "When we lack something essential for the spiritual journey then we are to ask for it, and it will be given." (197)
  • God Will Draw Us: The Work of the Holy Spirit on the Spiritual Journey
    • "In order to make room for more of God in our life, we need to let go of things that are currently filling our heart and reorder the things that are not ordered properly in Him." (203)

Chapter 10: Growing in Freedom

Summary: We need to let go—grow in detachment—in order to love more.

  • Money and Possessions
    • "It is neither the presence nor the absence of things that indicate true detachment, but rather, the interior freedom of heart that puts its trust not in things but rather in the Father's care." (209)
      • Bernard: "To the man of faith the whole world is a treasure-house of riches: the whole world, because all things, whether adverse or favorable, are of service to him; they all contribute to his good."
    • Pascal's wager is effectively: "believe in God because there are asymmetrical consequences of being wrong."
      • A variation of this: "believe in God because whether he exists or not it makes you joyful through the suffering."
  • Practical Advice on Detachment
    • Francis: "If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much."
    • Therefore, if you have losses, this is the time to practice poverty and submit to them
  • Sensual Pleasure
    • Don't allow disordered pursuit of sensual pleasure be and obstacle to the greatest pleasure: union with God
  • Sexual Pleasure
  • Practical Advice on Chastity
    • Advice of the saints: (1) be clear about the truth; (2) ask God's help to live in accordance with it; (3) exercise practical wisdom in dealing with sexual temptation (217)
    • Francis: "Be very quick to turn away from whatever leads or alludes to lewd conduct...Such things are always easier to avoid than to cure." (217)
    • The devil magnifies the delight and pleasure of imagined sex to tempt us with curiosity, which is the first step toward pride
    • "Francis acknowledges that this is challenging and that complete abstinence may in fact be easier to accomplish than an appropriate exercise of sexuality within marriage." (220)
  • Pride
    • Bernard: "Pride is the beginning of all sin" (221, cf. Sir-10); salvation cannot happen without pride being broken
    • Bernard reminds us that even are merits are a result of grace: "whatever you impute to merit you steal from grace" (226)
  • Faith and Works
    • "The test of the genuineness of our faith is how we live our lives." (227)
    • Augustine: "Law was given so that we might seek grace and grace was given so that we might observe the law." (228)
    • Bernard: "The Lawgiver was not unaware that the burden of the law exceeded the powers of men, but he judged it useful for this reason to advise men of their own insufficiency, that they might know the proper end toward which they ought to strive according to their powers. Therefore in commanding impossible things he made men humble, not prevaricators, so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world be made subject to God, because nobody will be justified in his sight by the works of the law (Rom-03-20). Accepting that command then, and conscious of our deficiency, we shall cry to heaven and God will have mercy on us (1 Mc-04). And on that day we shall know that God has saved us, not by the righteous works that we ourselves have done, but according to his mercy (Ti-03)."
  • Growing in Virtue
    • Detachment is not an end in itself but prepares us for something greater
  • Humility
    • Love our weaknesses and accept the necessity of humiliations as a means to growing in humility
  • Our Reputation
    • It is far better to ignore injuries or calumnies than to respond
  • Our Health
    • Teresa: the more we pamper and comfort our bodies the more pampering and comfort we will think we need
    • Teresa: "learn how to suffer a little for the love of God without having everyone know about it!" (239, cf. ~The Collected Works of St Teresa of Avila (Volume 2))
    • Being overly concerned for our comfort and health is a serious obstacle to making progress in the spiritual life (241)
  • Patience
    • "Pride and lack of detachment can often manifest itself in impatience." (242)
    • Catherine: "Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth, just as the evil give birth to all their vices through their neighbors." (244)
  • Obedience

Chapter 11: Growing in Love

Summary: The spiritual journey is all about growing in love.

  • The Three Stages of Growing in Love
    1. Embrace the Lord's feet as we turn away from sin
    2. The wounded side of Christ, where we grasp more but are still mercenary in our love
    3. The mouth of Christ, where are we united with Christ in the "kiss of the mouth": our love has no self-interest
  • Love of Neighbor
    • "He who does not love remains in death." (1 Jn-03)
    • Catherine's ways of loving our neighbor: intercessory prayer, good example, counsel, advice, and spiritual and material help (260)
    • God to Catherine: "I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister." (260)
  • Gratuitous Love
    • Virtue is intrinsically bound up with our relationships with our neighbors (261)
  • How to Tell If Our Love Is Selfish
    • ...when we are distressed if they don't love us in return, or as much
    • Bernard on can women and men be "just friends"?: "To be always in a woman's company without having carnal knowledge of her—is this not a greater miracle than raising the dead?" (265)
  • The Value of Godly Friendships
    • Francis on Spiritual Direction: "Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? If so, look for a good man to guide and lead you. This is the most important of all words of advice." (265)
    • Friendship "should be formed only with those who can share love for Christ and the life of virtue" (266)
    • "Love, in Christ, can truly be eternal" (270)
  • Married Love
    • Bernard: "Take from the Church the honorable estate of marriage and the purity of the marriage bed, and you will surely fill it with concubinage, incest, masturbation, effeminacy, homosexuality—in short, with every kind of filthiness." (274)
    • Francis: what an honor it is for God to allow us to participate in bringing forth new life with eternal destinies (276)

Chapter 12: Growing in Prayer

Summary: Growing in prayer in another aspect of growing in love. It is our direct, focused time communing with God.

  • The Challenge of Meditation and Prayer
    • Meditation: reflecting on the scriptures or spiritual reading; thinking about God
    • Teresa: even imperfect prayer changes us, we just need to consistently show up
  • Recollection
    • Recollection: the calming of our soul when we can just be in the presence of the Lord
  • Infused Prayer (Contemplation)
    • "Contemplative prayer is a communication with God that isn't simply our own mental or affective effort, but has at least some dimension of 'givenness' by God." (289-290)
  • The Prayer of Quiet
    • Teresa received understanding of Latin: "And in fact, it has happened to me that while in this quietude, and understanding hardly anything of the Latin prayers, especially of the psalter, I have not only understood how to render the Latin verse in the vernacular but have gone beyond to rejoicing in the meaning of the verse." (291)
  • Consolations in Prayer: Invitations to Go Deeper
    • Contemplative prayer is a call from the Lord, not a stopping point
  • The Lord's Visits
    • Thérèse: great understanding comes primarily not through study but through poverty of spirit; "Jesus has no need of books or teachers to instruct souls." (295)
  • The Prayer of Union
    • Teresa: In union, "the will loves more than it understands" (297)
    • Prayer is not primarily about technique, but about growing in relationship
  • The Union of Wills
    • "Although we can't always be sure if we're loving God more perfectly we can be sure whether we're loving our neighbor. And the surest way to love our neighbor, Teresa advises, take advantage of the little, everyday opportunities that present themselves" (300-301)
    • Teresa: "If we fail in love of neighbor we are lost" (302)
    • Bernard: "Whatever is lacking in my own resources I appropriate for myself from the heart of the Lord, which overflows with mercy." (304)

Chapter 13: Help from Heaven

Summary: We need to do our part, but God surely sends us tender "divine touches" of his love.

  • Solitude
    • Greater solitude can consist of eliminating nonessentials and focusing on increased prayer and spiritual reading
    • Bernard: "You must withdraw yourself mentally rather than physically...You enjoy this solitude if you refuse to share in the common gossip, if you shun involvement in the problems of the hour and set no store by the fancies that attract the masses; if you reject what everybody covets, avoid disputes, make light of losses, and pay no heed to injuries" (307)
  • Wounds of Love
    • Francis: we will know the value of our prayer by its fruit; do they make us more humble and patient? If so then they come from God (310)
  • Works from God
    • Exterior works
    • Successive locutions
    • Formal locutions
    • Substantial locutions
  • Visions
    • Corporeal visions: focus on the giver rather than the gift
    • Imaginative visions
  • Exceptions to the General Rule
    • Intellectual visions: "divine touches"
  • The Prophetic Dimension of God's Communications
    • John: God desires to communicate to us through the gift of reason he has given, as well as revelation in the gospel
  • Don't Despise the Natural
    • Don't become overly spiritual and forget the ordinary ways God communicates with us: "How important that we are open to humbly listening to those with whom we interact, who may see things about us that we are blind to!" (332, cf Teresa: "We do not know ourselves as well as others who observe us if they do so with love and concern for our progress")
  • The Active Night of the Spirit: Our Faith Response
    • We need to play our role in moving into deeper union with God

Chapter 14: A Deeper Purification

Summary: John reminds us that the desires of our fallen nature are so strong that a stronger love is needed to overcome them.

  • Pride
    • Even our desire for perfection can clock a deep pride
    • Bernard: "Self-will is a great evil and through it your good deeds become not good for you." (339)
  • Spiritual Avarice (Greed, Covetousness)
    • Bernard: "Possessiveness of heart is contrary to poverty of spirit" (340)
  • Anger
    • John: rather than resolving to "become saints in a day", we need to be patient for God to give us what we need (343)
  • Spiritual Gluttony
    • "Spiritual gluttony can express itself by desiring to do the pious practices that we prefer rather than what is most helpful" (344)
    • God may withdraw initial warm feelings to allow us to grow in more mature faith for his sake rather than our own gratification (345)
  • Spiritual Envy
  • Spiritual Sloth
    • John says don't be soft: "Like those who are reared in luxury, they run sadly from everything rough, and they are scandalized by the cross, in which spiritual delights are found." (347)
  • The Dark Night of the Spirit: God's Action
    • Purification isn't optional: "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts-14)
  • Purifying Sufferings
  • Exterior Trials
  • Interior Trials
    • "Everything unclean must go...Every attachment that is not to the Lord and in the Lord must be broken." (363)
    • The more we are purified, the happier we will be
  • Emptied in Order to Be Filled
    • "Every aspect of the purification is an expression of the great mercy of God. Every painful aspect of the Transformation is rooted in the immense desire God has to make us capable of sharing in the fullness of His joy."

Part III: Transforming Union (The Unitive Way)

Chapter 15: Deep Union

Summary: We strive for deep union with God in "spiritual marriage."

  • The Betrothal: Peace, Promise, and Imperfections
    • "Betrothal" is alike a "spiritual engagement" with reasonable assurance that spiritual marriage will come to pass. We are not free from attachments until the spiritual marriage.
  • The Spiritual Marriage: Deep Union of Personal Love
    • Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est: Mary's Magnificat is a portrait of her spiritual marriage, where she speaks and thinks with the Word of God and her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God (379)

Chapter 16: The Fruits of Union

Summary: In the spiritual marriage, fruits that have been growing all along blossom and stabilize in a new way.

  • Fruitfulness in Work
    • There is a new purity and power in the work we undertake
  • An Immense Fortitude
  • Continual Prayer
  • Sensitivity to Others
  • Contemplation and Action
    • Bernard: "When at prayer I accuse myself of indifference at work; when at work of upsetting my prayer...The only remedy, the last resort, is prayer and frequent appeals to God that He would deign to show us unceasingly what he wishes us to do, at what time, and in what measure." (389)
  • A Stable Instinct for Good
  • Apostolic Fruitfulness
    • John: "Were they to spend at least half of this time with God in prayer...they would then certainly accomplish more, and with less labor, by one work than they otherwise would by a thousand" (391)
  • A Purified, Joy-filled Love
  • From within the Father's Heart: Rediscovering Creation
  • A Habitual Embrace
    • Catherine: "They consider themselves deserving of sufferings and outrages from the world...they also count themselves unworthy of any fruit that may come to them from their suffering" (399-400)
    • Teresa: "They find my will in everything and they think of nothing but conforming themselves to that will wherever they find it...Nothin is done apart from me except sin...Therefore they hate sin and hold all else in reverence." (401)
    • John: "The devil has an extraordinary fear of the perfect soul." (401)
  • Continual Presence
    • Catherine: "Every time and place is for them a time and place of prayer" (404)
  • Inebriation in the Holy Spirit
  • The Enhancement of Natural Knowledge

Chapter 17: There's Always More

Summary: Even spiritual marriage continues to be a place of growth in greater conformity to Christ and participation in his redemptive love for man.
- Catherine: "There is no one in this life, no matter how perfect, who cannot grow to greater perfection...Trial is a sign that shows whether the soul's charity is perfect or imperfect." (416)
- Catherine: "To give them opportunity for merit, to keep them in the self-knowledge whence they draw true humility, to make them compassionate instead of cruel toward their neighbors so that they will sympathize with them in their labors. For those who suffer themselves are far more compassionate to the suffering than those who have not suffered." (417)
- Personal Calls: The Story of Thérèse's Soul
- Thérèse experienced great suffering at the end of her life, but countered temptations by making acts of the opposite virtue (421)
- In the last months of her life her reading consisted of the Bible and John of the Cross
- Personal Calls: Mother Theresa of Calcutta
- Journey's End: The Fulfillment of All Desire
- The sacraments and faith will pass away, they are only means for the journey (435)
- One of John's traveling companions tells that he would recite Jn-17 with great devotion as they traveled (438, memorize)

Topic: Spiritual Classics, Spiritual Direction, Prayer




New Words

  • plaudit: enthusiastic expression of praise or approval (346)

Created: 2022-07-12-Tue
Updated: 2023-02-08-Wed

  1. (135, cf. Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales; cf. also Ex-34, Lv-27, etc.) 

  2. (244, cf. Dialogues by Catherine of Siena

  3. (108, cf. Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales

  4. (23, cf. ~The Collected Works of St Teresa of Avila (Volume 2)

  5. (304, cf. On the Song of Songs, vol III by Bernard of Clairvaux

  6. In an interview with Bishop Barron: link 

  7. "I spent ten years synthesizing the wisdom of the main doctors of the Church that focus on the spiritual journey in order to make this wisdom available to the average Catholic in clear, understandable, and readable form." (A Church in Crisis 509)