A strong spiritual life involves prayer, detachment from the world and union with God. The world attempts to block this union through illusions and distractions. Grace from the Holy Spirit helps produce virtue within our lives that lead towards better habits in developing union with God.
Virtue is a good quality, or internal disposition towards good. It is habitual in nature and becomes part of one’s character. It guides one’s actions and leads one to a closer spiritual life with God. Virtue rejects the vices of the world and focuses on the good. In many cases, virtue are supernatural in nature or moral. Some virtues deal with one’s relationship with God while others direct one in proper relationship with others. (1)
The three theological virtues are faith, hope and love and direct one to God. The four moral virtues are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. While virtue can exist naturally in humanity, grace alone infuses them at a supernaturally level and allows one to utilize virtue towards the action of good. Without grace, one cannot earn virtuous merit. So while, one may cultivate virtue in one’s daily lives, it is only through co-operation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, that such endeavors can ever produce the fruit of a healthy spiritual life. (2)
Hence, it is critical to in spiritual life to cultivate virtue. Virtue and its natural disposition and habitual nature, allows the person to maintain a constant relationship with God and a healthy relationship with one’s neighbor. Grace is essential in feeding virtue. In this, one must cooperate with grace and indulge in spiritual practices that allow virtue to grow. One’s spiritual garden can become neglected without the Word of God, the sacramental life, and daily prayer.
The devil and the world have a way of eroding one’s spiritual garden with a variety of weeds and drought when one does not cooperate with grace and feed the soul the many graces the Holy Spirit affords the soul. Too many times, individuals become distracted from what matters most and the temporal illusions of this world and their false promises of happiness, lead good Christians away from God.
St Teresa of Avila refers to this in and out of one’s spiritual life as the first mansion with God. In this mansion, the individual discovers God and realizes there is more to this world than temporal things. While this is only an invitation to spiritual life, it is an essential mindset. In this mindset, the individual begins to seek out God. So many individuals walk and in and out of this mansion, regaining fervor only to lose it months later. Many spiritually are in this mud of the temporal world, escaping, only again to fall. (3)
This constant tug of the war of the soul between the world and God is a natural state of humanity’s broken nature. The scars of Original Sin, lead one to one’s lower flesh. The will identifies lesser goods as superior and in some cases, bad consciences identify evil ends as good. Without prayer, virtue and grace, the soul sputters into bad habits, or vices. The soul falls to the seven capital sins, of pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, and sloth. (4)
In some cases, the spiritual war that leaves individuals in between the first and second mansions of spiritual union is a back and forth conflict, until one master emerges victorious over dominion of the soul. In this struggle, the soul eventually chooses a life of virtue or vice, God or the world, good or evil.
While Christ the Good Shepherd, will always run after the stray lamb, the lamb still must wish to be found. In this, Christian Counselors, pastors, spiritual advisers and confessors find the most common soul. This type of soul is neither truly saintly or evil, but is inherently good, but lost. These souls wish entrance into the first mansion of spiritual life, but falter. Virtue is far from a habit, prayer life is inconsistent, and the love of the world is still too high of a priority. Yet, the desire to be saved remains.
It is important in developing spiritual development in one’s spiritual children to help direct these souls to sources of grace and better habits. A confessor or spiritual mentor must be patient with the conflict. Habits, especially bad habits are difficult to break and one must gradually move from them and seek God. More frequent prayer, scripture and for Catholics, sacramental participation are essential to opening oneself to the graces needed to convert to a more spiritual orientated life.
As a spiritual mentor, one does not merely direct the soul to better choices and habits, but also teaches the soul how to better discern. Forming a good conscience that is based on the absolute moral law of God. One’s conscience must reflect the Ten Commandments and mirror virtue. It cannot be subjective, or worldly, but must be aligned firmly with God’s law. Only through this can a conscience be of any service to a soul and help it find a more healthy and balanced spiritual life.
What spiritual directors, mentors and pastors must also present is the image of God as a loving father. In this, God’s love is so intense, so passionate, that he seeks out the soul. Even beyond this analogy, God’s love is so strong, it even bypasses any of our most intense relationships. God is so passionate, He awaits our call, our time. It pleases Him so greatly to receive even the smallest token of our love or even our smallest effort to do good. As Christ taught, the Father rewards ten fold for even the soul’s smallest endeavors.
However, there is a very thin line a spiritual director must walk with a troubled soul when preaching God’s mercy and love. While it is infinite, one cannot over emphasize it at the expense of God’s justice. God demands change from the soul. Christ Himself forgave the sinners but also instructed them to sin no more. While the soul may falter, it still must look towards perfection. It must try despite the struggle and understand that change is necessary for union and salvation. Only a spiritual director who knows the soul in question can truly discern if mercy or justice needs to be emphasized at a given time.
In conclusion, spiritual life and union with God is a conscious decision. It is habitual and its ultimate end is God for the sake of loving Him. Grace fuels the soul’s broken ability to enter into this union. Prayer is the language and virtue is the map. The soul is fed through the Word of God and the sacraments in maintaining a healthy relationship. Through these tools given to the soul by God and the direction of a spiritual adviser, a soul is able to enter beyond the initial mansions and begin to enter into true union with God in the later stages of spiritual life.
If you would like to learn more about AIHCP’s Christian Counseling Certification or would like to become a certified Christian Counselor, then please review the program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals. For other spiritual traditions, please also review our Spiritual Counseling Certification