Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 20, 2006
Walk the narrow, holy path to Jesus
It is a basic Christian teaching that life is a spiritual battle. Our lives as Christians should always be lived in the face of such basic realities as the shortness of life, the horror of sin, the love Christ revealed by giving his life on the cross, the reality of the devil and the ultimate eternal realities of heaven and hell.
Too often, we skirt around these issues. Some, amazingly, deny their importance. And often, Christians, while being aware of their importance, simply do not know how to live holy lives.
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II characterized the new millennium as a time when Christians must strive ever more earnestly to be holy. "Our Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer," he wrote. "It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life" (In the New Millennium, n. 33).
Ralph Martin, a long-time leader in the charismatic renewal and now a professor at the Detroit archdiocesan seminary, has produced an extensive guidebook to the spiritual life. The publication of his Fulfillment of All Desire (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006) should not pass without notice.
Martin leans heavily on the acknowledged masters of Catholic spirituality - St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales and St. Th‚rŠse of Lisieux - in order to provide a template and numerous practical suggestions for how to move towards holiness.
Indeed, the writings of these spiritual masters are a treasure trove of insight in how to leave sin behind and draw closer to God. Yet few Catholics are familiar with what they have to say. This ignorance is one of the great failings of our passing on the faith in the post-Vatican II era.
While the writings of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Th‚rŠse of Lisieux can be purchased fairly readily, tracking down good English translations of the other masters is not always easy.
Martin highlights the traditional description of the stages of spiritual development into the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways.
The purgative way is the turning away from sin; the illuminative is that of growth in prayer, virtue and contemplation of Christ; and the unitive is when one's life becomes ruled by love and one's will is one with that of Christ.
Martin quotes one passage from the Sermon on the Mount that was quoted frequently by the spiritual masters. In it, Jesus says, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).
In today's world, Martin says, many view reality in a way almost directly opposite to the way Jesus described it.
He summarizes the common view as: "Broad and wide is the way that leads to heaven and many are travelling that road. Narrow is the path that leads to hell and hardly anyone is travelling that path."
It is no exaggeration to say that our world would be in better shape if there were a lot more people trying to walk the narrow way. We are distracted by a million things, too often make comfort a higher value than love and turn to Jesus only in times of trouble.
We find it too easy to love things and use God, rather than the reverse.
There is a better way. The way of holiness is accessible to all who pursue it. God wants us to be united with him. If we expend the effort to move in his direction, he will provide the grace to speed our steps.
Sometimes, all people lack is the proper guidance. In his 443-page Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin provides enough guidance to last a lifetime.
- Glen Argan
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