I am always astonished when I come across something beautiful or exciting in Catholicism, not because I’m surprised to find something more than a list of rules, but rather how is this not more widely known? Why are these beautiful teachings and beliefs kept hidden? The more I learn, the more I realize that we have a treasure trove of everything that the human heart could ask for, and yet, many Catholics are unaware this treasure even exists, let alone where to find it. I remember when I was reading all these relationship books and then came across Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Suddenly, I was blown away and could not even finish my latest book that someone had suggested because it just fell so short of what Catholicism offered on the topic.
Now, another discovery was recommended by a blogger – Little Catholic Bubble – that I have been following for several years. The Ordinary Path to Holiness by R. Thomas Richard. Here I was made aware of my many misunderstandings of sainthood and ways to Heaven. For instance, I grew up reading about the saints and learning to draw inspiration from them, but felt like that was an ideal I was never going to achieve, and that it was reserved for a select few special souls. Going to Church, taking part in the sacraments and praying somewhat regularly was good enough. This was especially true when I knew most of my classmates weren’t even bothering with the basics, but still fully expected to get to Heaven because they were good people. This book, however, opened my eyes to realize that I wasn’t doing enough and that the path to holiness is expected of all of us and not just a select few.
One of the things that amazed me the most was how many saints talk about the stages of holiness. The book mentions many of their writings on the topic of spiritual development, including the stages of progression: The Beginner, The Illuminative and the Proficient. Each stage is a different level of spiritual maturity, much like how we grow from infancy, to adolescents, to adulthood. It is also interesting to note that both St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila asserted that most people never progress out of the beginning stage, but remaining there their entire lives and having purgatory finish what was left unfinished here on earth.
A good example of the stages in action and how merciful God is to us along the way is when we look to the Apostles. In the first stage –the Beginner– the Apostles believe in Jesus and follow him, but when things get tough they denied Him, Peter even denying Christ three times. Later, the Apostles see the risen Christ and believe, but are still afraid to proclaim him openly and they hide away privately believing in Him with other believers–The Illuminative stage– . Lastly, we see the last stage in spiritual development at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and they are no longer afraid to go out and and preach publicly the word of God. In the last stage we see the Apostles have grown out of their fear of the world, they long for Heaven and are not afraid to even die for their faith.
While not a perfect analogy of the three stages, nor enough detail on each one, it is nevertheless an eye opening revelation. We know that many of the Apostles were insignificant people by societies standards with few talents, but the New Testament shows how one can do great things for God if we have the courage to pursue holiness. And while it is not easy we can see, through the Apostles example, that God does not expect us to be perfect right at the moment of our conversion, rather he allows us to mature and progress towards that goal of sainthood. As long as we cooperate with that Grace and always seek to progress in the spiritual life we can achieve sainthood here on earth as well.