By Sean Mulcare
Like a mustard seed, the faith in the soul that was once almost imperceptible grows and grows. The little seed is now becoming a mature tree. The soul in the 5th and 6th stages of the spiritual life has grown a tremendous amount. By the grace of God, it has learned what it must do to grow and has responded wholeheartedly. During the 5th and 6th stages, the soul reaches a very high degree of holiness, and God gives it great graces, but he requests everything from the soul. Because the soul has fallen so in love with God, it is absolutely willing to give everything since it knows — by giving all of itself that God — that he is able not just to touch the soul but to transform it. We will briefly look at each of these stages in this post, but there is so much more that could be said. Because very few people ever reach this point in the spiritual life, and because it is difficult to understand and to describe, I will not go into great detail but will instead provide a general idea. If someone is interested, they can search for more information or read books such as Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila or Fire Within by Thomas Dubay.
During the 5th stage, the soul becomes totally indifferent to the things of the world and clings even more strongly to God. St. Teresa of Avila compares this stage to a silkworm that enters a cocoon. In the same way, the soul enters the cocoon of prayer and penance. At this stage, the soul prays the “Prayer of Union.” This prayer can be long or short, and when it is over, the soul has no possible doubt that their spirit was spiritually united with God. This is an event that the individual treasures and although it may not experience this gift again for years, it continues to treasure it. Because of this “Prayer of Union”, the soul now has a greater desire for prayer, solitude, penance, and for all to know the goodness of God. It responds to this desire by giving more of itself.
In the 6th stage, the soul is very deeply in love with God, but there are numerous trials that await it before it reaches the final stage. It enters the “Night of the Spirit.” Just like the night is darkest before the dawn, the soul struggles the most before it reaches its destination. God is transforming the soul although the soul does not understand what it is going through. It is during this stage that many miraculous occurrences happen to and through this person. The individual may experience genuine visions, the stigmata (physical wounds of Christ), raptures, and many other possible miraculous things. Many of the stories of the miracles of the saints happen during this or the next stage. A lot of these miraculous occurrences in prayer and the “Night of the Spirit” are like growing pains and will subside as the soul becomes more accustomed to them and will give way to the peace and tranquility of the 7th stage.
Throughout this spiritual journey, the “self” becomes less and less, and God becomes more and more within the soul. God transforms the soul into a wondrous creation like a silkworm comes out of its cocoon as a butterfly. The soul is learning to imitate Jesus more accurately. When we say, “Be like Jesus,” souls at this point understand what that really means. The goal is to grow so that the soul interacts with the world and with God the Father the way that Jesus would. This is what the saints have achieved. A person named Francis no longer responds or thinks like Francis would but the way that Jesus would. Because of this, he becomes St. Francis of Assisi. This idea of “being like Jesus” is different from “What would Jesus do?” It is a total transformation of the self into someone so docile to God and his Holy Spirit that they respond the way that Jesus would. They become truly like Jesus. The next stage (7th) is the highest one can reach and is the closest one can get to heaven on earth. We will talk about that next time.