The Way of Illumination Begins

Father Benson states: “It has been seen how in the Purgative Way, Jesus Christ, in His desire to unite the soul altogether to Himself, strips her gradually of all that would hinder the perfection of that union. . . . There must follow, if the soul is to make progress, a gradual reclothing of her with the graces in which Christ desires to see her. She has put off the ‘old man’; she must now put on ‘the new.’ To this stage spiritual writers give the name of Illumination.”

“The first stage of the Purgative Way, it has been seen, concerns things external to actual religion. . . . The soul learns that external things cannot, in themselves, bear her weight. . . . In the Illuminative Way she learns how to use them rightly—that they are worth a great deal.”

“For example: A soul often complains that she is hindered in her progress by some apparently unnecessary trouble—the constant companionship, let us say, of some person whose temperament jars continually and inevitably with her own. Or it is some untiring temptation. . . . Or it may be that, by some deprivation, by a bereavement which withdraws all human light and strength from her life, she feels herself maimed.”

“The most elementary stage in the Illuminative Way consists usually in light gained from our Lord whereby the soul sees the value of those external things. She sees, for instance, that she could never gain supernatural patience or sympathy or largeness of charity, unless there were present always with her some personality which demanded its exercise. Her natural irritation at this unavoidable companionship is a sign that she needs the exercise; and the demand of constant effort at self-control, and finally of actual sympathy, is precisely the means by which she gains the virtue. . . . In the case of temptation, there is, humanly, no other way by which certain graces can be assimilated than by their exercise. . . . By bereavements which seem to shatter the whole life, which leave the weaker character, that has clung to the stronger, helpless and sprawling and wounded—by this means and this means only is the soul taught to adhere utterly to God.”

“The first step of the Illuminative Way, then, consists, not merely in experiencing these things—for temptations and bereavements are common to souls in all stages of the spiritual life—but in perceiving their value.”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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