Unitive Stage of the Ascent

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The Peak of the Unitive (Mystical) Level: Holiness and Contemplative Union with God
“Tales and rumours arose along the shores of the sea concerning mariners and men forlorn upon the water who, by some fate or grace or favour of the Valar, had entered in upon the Straight Way and seen the face of the world sunk below them, and so had come to the lamplit quays of Avallónë, or, verily, to the last beaches on the margin of Aman, and there had looked upon the White Mountain, dreadful and beautiful, before they died.” (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion)

The soul is now stably focused on “the one thing necessary” -union with God – and can say with St.Paul: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20).

He has an ease in recalling the awareness of God’s Presence even in the midst of his work.  

He naturally detests sin, looks on Heaven as his Homeland and wants to love God in whatever way  God desires for his life on earth.  

Mental prayer is under the influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and is an intense awareness of God and the supernatural  realities.

Within this final stage there are two levels of prayer: acquired contemplation and infused contemplation.

The life of the soul in the unitive way is “olvido de lo creado, amor del Creador” [forgetfulness of all that is created, love for the Creator]. By this phrase St.John of the Cross meant that the Christian is so on fire with love for God that he loves everything as God loves it, in the way God loves it, because God loves it.  

Does this somehow destroy your personality? No! On the contrary it leads to a vibrant, dynamic, joyfully exuberant character, overflowing with life because the soul is so in union with God,  the source of all life:  “I came that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Nietzsche just didn’t understand.   

On the island of Capri there is a monument to a doctor who greatly helped the local people. On the inscription is written that the doctor was an example of “perfetta umanità”.  It is the saint who is the man  par excellence. In him we catch a glimpse of the perfection God intended for us had not the first man fallen.

 “Human nature appears very much like the state of original innocence that theologians speak about.

“This ought not to be surprising, for it is a radical healing, a transformation, a new creation…..the four “passions” (terminology of St.John of the Cross) , the emotions of joy, hope, fear and sorrow, are well under the guidance of reason and thus lose their excessive and disordered tendencies. In place of inner turbulence and overwrought feelings there ensues a calm and abiding serenity even in trying circumstances….”

“Together with this self-possession on the emotional level, the summit of prayer brings about a remedy to intellectual wanderings as well. Frequent distractions, daydreaming, idle thoughts, and useless cares tend to disappear for the good reason that the contemplative is living a vibrant life of love.

“People who are enthusiastic, eager, animated and spirited  are little subject to the aimless wanderings of the bored and jaded. For this same reason small attachments and selfish clingings are nonexistent: preferring this food or drink to that, seeking more gratification in this activity rather than that , desiring the best for oneself, clinging to one’s  own preferences. The person is consequently ‘freed from that protected against all temporal disturbances and changes’.

“We may make no mistake about the fact that we are dealing here with a lofty degree of perfection [in the unitive way], and yet, sublime though it be, it is nothing other than what we find in Scripture.

“The eye of our mind is to be always on the Lord ( Psalm 25:15) We are to be holy in all we do ( 1 Peter 15:16), to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect ( Mt.5:48) We are to give up everything that does not lead to God (Titus 2:12), or to put the same idea positively, we are to direct everything we do, eating, drinking and all else, to His glory ( 1 Cors 10:31).

“Our efforts at purity of conscience are to be patterned on the very purity of Christ (1 Jn 3:3). The saints find that what they come to experience in the transforming union is nothing other than what they have read and pondered in the divine word. God gives what He commands ‒ provided we allow Him to do it.” (Thomas Dubay, S.M., Fire Within. St.Teresa of Avila, St.John of the Cross, and the Gospel – on Prayer)

Elsewhere, Father Dubay stated with regard to the unitive stage:

“This term does not refer merely to the ordinary fidelity we command when we say that another is a good and sincere person.

“Rather, we envision a degree of loving uprightness and moral excellence that, left to our own native resources, we find humanly impossible.

“It is the living of a Gospel  virtue (faith, hope, charity, temperance, fortitude, patience, humility) in a manner surpassing human strength.

“We may indicate five traits  that signal when a virtue is practiced to a heroic degree.

“The first is that one does what is to be done even in difficult or excruciating circumstances. We love truth heroically not simply when we accept Jesus’ and the Church’s teachings in ordinarily difficult or unpopular circumstances but even if we must undergo persecution or martyrdom rather that deny it.

“St. Thomas More unwaveringly loved the papal office, and the sanctity of marriage taught by that office, despite the  consequence of literally losing his head in a gruesome death. St. Maria Goretti cherished chastity and gave her life rather than lose her virginity under attack.

“The next three traits can be groomed together: one acts promptly, easily and joyously.

“Each of these three qualities needs careful pondering lest we lose their pointedness.

“The saint does not delay or procrastinate in reacting in a humble manner or in loving an annoying neighbor. The correct response comes readily and easily, as if by second nature.

“Indeed, heroic virtue is like a second nature, for it is part of the new creation produced by the indwelling Trinity. What needs to be done is done joyously as well, and for the same reason: one is living a new life.

“To illustrate, one may compare the stoic way in which pagan heroes underwent torture and death and the gladness with which Christian martyrs face their persecutors and the excruciating agonies they suffer.

“Upon a moment’s personal reflection each of us knows that , left to himself, he is entirely incapable of this kind of fidelity.

“The fifth trait of heroic virtue is habitual constancy. The preceding characteristics (disregarding the degree of difficulty, promptness, ease, joy) are found not simply on an isolated occasion when one may conceivably act with an apparent ease and joy (prompted possibly by pride or a vain defiance) but are customarily observed in whatever situation calls for the virtue in question.

“This is the kind of sanctity the Church looks for and requires in her canonization processes. It is the result of reaching the summit of union.” (Thomas Dubay, S.M., Fire Within. St.Teresa of Avila, St.John of the Cross, and the Gospel – on Prayer)

Ignatians: with the strength of a “roped party”

Pope Benedict XVI stated on Palm Sunday, 2010:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ’s way leads beyond the summit of the Temple mount to the height of God himself. This is the great ascent to which he calls all of us. He always remains with us on earth and has always already arrived (in heaven) with God; he leads us on earth and beyond the earth.

“Thus in the breadth of Jesus’ ascent the dimensions of our following of him become visible ‒ the goal to which he wants to lead us: to the heights of God, to communion with God, to being-with-God.

“This is the true goal, and communion with him is the way. Communion with Christ is being on a journey, a permanent ascent to the true height of our calling.

“Journeying together with Jesus is always at the same time a traveling together in the ‘we’ of those who want to follow him. It brings us into this community.

“Because this journey to true life, to being men conformed to the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ is beyond our powers, this journeying is also always a state of being carried.

“We find ourselves, so to speak, in a ‘roped party’ with Jesus Christ ‒ together with him in the ascent to the heights of God. He pulls us and supports us. Letting oneself be part of a roped party is part of following Christ; we accept that we cannot do it on our own. The humble act of entering into the ‘we’of the Church is part of it ‒holding on to the roped party, the responsibility of communion, not letting go of the rope because of our bullheadedness and conceit.

“Humbly believing with the Church, like being bound together in a roped party ascending to God, is an essential condition for following Christ. Not acting as the owners of the Word of God, not chasing after a mistaken idea of emancipation ‒ this is also part of being together in the roped party.

“The humility of ‘being-with’ is essential to the ascent. Letting the Lord take us by the hand through the sacraments is another part of it. We let ourselves be purified and strengthened by him, we let ourselves accept the discipline of the ascent, even if we are tired.

“Finally, we must again say that the cross is part of the ascent toward the height of Jesus Christ, the ascent to the height of God. Just as in the affairs of this world great things cannot be done without renunciation and hard work (joy in great discoveries and joy in a true capacity for activity are linked to discipline, indeed, to the effort of learning) so also the way to life itself, to the realization of one’s own humanity is linked to him who climbed to the height of God through the cross.

“In the final analysis, the cross is the expression of that which is meant by love: only he who loses himself will find himself.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Palm Sunday, 2010)

Through the Sacred Liturgy

In the Mass the Christian relives at the deepest level, in plenitude, his initiation into mystical union with the Godhead through, with, and in Christ’s redemptive act, by the power of the Holy Spirit, passing through through the three stages of the purgative, illuminative, unitive ritually and symbolically and sacramentally – at the deepest level of reality.