By Sean Mulcare
When we are the slightest bit open to God through prayer, that is when he is able to start working in our souls, to reveal our purpose, and to bring about our conversion. God wants to transform our hearts of selfishness into hearts that give, no matter the cost. That’s what real love is.
When the soul is open to God, he will begin to work in the soul, and it will experience a “conversion.” When God is invited in, everything begins to change. For some people, the first contact with God is strong and dramatic. For others, it’s slow and steady. Just like the seed that hits the ground, some are thrown from way up high, while others are placed gently on the ground. The important thing isn’t the impact the seed makes, it is that the seed goes to the ground at all. In the same way, if someone hasn’t had a powerful first experience with God, that’s fine — what matters is that we begin to build a relationship with him at all; and that happens through consistent prayer.
In the first stage of the spiritual life, God begins to touch the soul. He begins to work, but he is only able to do so a little bit since the soul “prefers the darkness to light.” The soul loves the pleasures of the world more than God. The saints have been through this stage, and it is the beginning of the path that leads the soul to great holiness. This is where the majority of people are, but it is up to us whether or not we will progress. The person in the first stage begins to develop a relationship with God but is still very much influenced by the things of the world and is immersed in sin. We must remember that great holiness is ultimately great love between the soul and God; and where there is selfishness, love suffers. Sin is ultimately a consequence of our own selfishness in our relationship with God, so our relationship with him can’t flourish nearly as much as it would without that sin in our lives.
St. Teresa of Avila says the way to grow to the next stage of the spiritual life is not so much methods in prayer but is more so a “letting go” of our attachments to sin. We can’t conjure up God’s presence in our lives by a certain way of praying. We have to invite him in, and through his grace, he will enter and begin to lead us. We can invite him in by praying and by trying to let go of sins that have a hold on our lives. Letting go of our attachment to things that do not lead to God is how we will progress quickly. It is a long and difficult struggle, but it is one that can be won and is the only way up the mountain. This struggle to let go of sin’s grasp on our lives is a struggle that will last from stages 1-3. If we reach the fourth stage, major sin will not have a presence in our lives.
As we said last time, the person in the first stage is attached to the world and not all that interested in the things of God. They lack humility, self-knowledge, and the ambition to grow. Through openness to God in prayer and conversion of heart (quickly or slowly), God will begin to inspire the soul to desire him and to do the necessary things to follow him. As this change happens, the slow and gradual transformation to the second stage will occur — the stage where the seed gets covered with dirt and is protected from many hazards.