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3 Ways: Longing for Face of God: Navigating the Interior Life (4/4)

for post on the three waysThe Three Ways: Longing for the Face of God ~ Navigating the Interior Life (Part IV of IV)


In our first post of this series, we covered an introduction to the concept of the three ways of the interior life. In part II and part III we covered the first and second of the three ways. In this post we will finalize our exploration of the ways. Before we jump into this final post and close out this series, I want to provide one last opportunity for you to join an online interactive webinar on this topic that I will provide on the evening of November 1st, 2013. To learn more and to REGISTER, click HERE.

Unitive Way (Spiritual Adulthood):

The principle characteristic of this phase is a simple and constant awareness of God’s presence, a near constant state of communion with Him, and obvious and habitual conformity to His will.

Here we find deep and abiding joy, a unassailable love for God and others, profound humility, freedom from the fear of suffering often accompanied by a strong desire to suffer for God and his people, and apostolic fruitfulness.

Suffering in this phase is more closely related to an active embrace and deliberate joining of our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ for the purposes of his redeeming grace (rather than suffering for one’s own sins). All of the virtuous developments previously acquired in the soul are assumed present here, thus the distinctions are very simple.

As Fr. Andrew Apostoli once remarked to me, “This is canonizable territory.” His point was that the unitive way is the portion of the narrow path occupied by the saints in this life. It is important to note that the only kind of Catholics in heaven are saints. We get to that state either through purification in this life, or in the next through purgatory (assuming we come to our final judgment while on the narrow path of course).

The good news is that we can all experience this level of sanctity in this life because it is the will of God (not because any one of us is capable by our own power). Yes, we must cooperate with His grace and give all that we are able; however, God must and will provide the infused grace and virtue necessary for this noble and exhilarating path of ascent if we will simply yield to his transforming love. Here’s the very simple reality of the characteristics of complete sanctity in the unitive way.

Complete Sanctity:

Imperfections: Hardly apparent and rare.

Prayer: Frequently experience the heights of transforming union and the spiritual marriage. Purifications by love. Ardent thirst for sufferings and humiliations for the sake of others.

Concluding Thoughts about Spiritual Progress in the Three Ways

In a 1996 interview Peter Sewald asked Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “How many ways are there to God?” He answered, “As many as there are people.” In this answer he revealed one side of a profound paradox of the spiritual life, namely, that our paths to God are as unique as each soul is unique. The other side of the paradox is that there is only one narrow path and one Way, and all faithful Catholics share the common characteristics of the Way and ways as they mature in Christ.

Though the specific way each of us travels this path is unique, the path itself, by the Grace of God, can be made clear, and even in the unique route of each person we can find patterns and rely on Spirit-revealed signposts that can be a powerful aid to us in our quest for union with God.

However challenging the map of the three ways is to understand and apply, I have found few perspectives in Catholic spiritual tradition that have been more helpful to my own journey of faith. I pray that this summary of this insightful tool has been helpful to you. If it has been helpful to you either here or through my book, Navigating the Interior Life, I would be grateful for you to give me insights into what you found useful either here in the combox below or in a private email.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

To learn more, the best modern and reasonably in-depth treatment dedicated to this topic is entitled, Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin. For a personally applicable summary, see my recent book, Navigating the Interior Life, Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. As well, for those hungering for more on this topic, I will provide a two hour interactive webinar on on the evening of Friday November 1st, 2013. Seats are limited so click here to register now.


Art for “The Three Ways” post: Door with the image of St. Theresa of Avila, Door that stopped Krakow's 1850 fire. Monastery of Bernardine Sisters, unknown artist, photographed by Janusz Tadeusz Nowak, Witold Turdza (2000), Skarby krakowskich klasztorów (Treasures of the Cracow Monasteries), Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa, PD-US copyright expired, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Jeanette

    I see above that sometimes spiritual marriage occurs in this stage. In the unitive stage, how many Saints experienced Jesus remaining with them in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity from one Communion to another? I know from my readings of St. Faustina’s Diary that this happened to her and I believe to the Mother of Jesus as well. Do we know of any others that received this beautiful favour?

    • Gabrielle Renoir

      I think you expressed something extremely important, Jeanette. Unity with God is a favor, a blessing, a grace freely given to us by God. By ourselves, on our own, I don’t believe we can achieve it. Without the grace of God, we are helpless. I also believe that unity with God might have more to do with what God wants of us in this earthly pilgrimage than our own spiritual progression. Some of the greatest saints who were very progressed in their spiritual life, e.g., Mother Teresa felt God was very far away, yet she – and others who felt the same – persevered. In my experience, and I do not judge how progressed I am or am not, the character of our love for God changes as we move closer to him. We no longer seek to love him so he can console us, we seek to love him and do his will in order to console his own heart, wounded by so much sin and rejection. His wounds begin to wound us very acutely and very deeply. We long to take on those wounds as our own.

      • Jeanette

        Thank you Gabrielle for your comment. To love and console the heart of Jesus and to do His Will is my life. If anyone is interested, please read a wonderful book by Fr. Michael Gaitley called, “Consoling the Heart of Jesus.” It is simply written but profound. While reading this book, I was given so many graces that resulted in a deep, wonderful encounter with Jesus that changed my life in that I have a deeper union with Him. Of course, Jesus will use any means to bring us closer to Him if our hearts are open. And that is the goal, isn’t it?… to have a deeper union with our God?

        • Gabrielle Renoir

          I have been trying to find the time to read that book, Jeanette. I have another by Fr. Gaitley called “The One Thing is Three” which is very interesting. The writing style in that one is simple as well but the message profound. Some, I know, struggle with the Holy Trinity, and I don’t believe anyone will truly understand it until God chooses to reveal it all to us.

          I agree with you completely. To have a deeper union with God and to grow in our personal relationship with him is the goal of life.

          • Jeanette

            I have read “The One Thing is Three” also. In fact, I just lent it to a Sister of Life in Toronto who is preparing a talk on the Trinity…I told her it is simple but also profound, like you have said. Maybe this book and Consoling the Heart of Jesus may find its way into our RC Spiritual Direction Book Club one day! God bless you!

          • Gabrielle Renoir

            Thank you, Jeanette, and God bless you, too! I think both books would make for very fruitful and fulfilling discussion.

  • Gabrielle Renoir

    I feel a union with God on an almost constant basis now, however that unity was a long time coming, and I was skeptical of it at first. The evil one can make us feel we have achieved that which we desire in order to gain our attention and trust. I think one must look at the fruits of his or her feelings of union. If one feels arrogant or above others, then the union is false or at least not perfected. The closer one draws to God and union with God, the more he or she will realize his or her own inadequacies and utter dependence on God every moment. He or she will know that by himself, he is nothing. All good is for the glory of God, never for the self. If one feels only impulses of love, the feelings of unity are more likely to be genuine. That, at least, has been my experience.

    • Jeanette

      I agree, the closer you are in union with God, the more you realize that you are nothing and that it is all a gift of God’s grace. God is so Good!

  • Monika Zarah Yen

    Thank you for the writing. I think God has use it to encourage me. God bless and guide you always

  • Christine

    I think alot of Catholics forget that their spiritual life has to grow in addition to their exterior life. I just finished reading Emily Stimpson’s book, “These Beautiful Bones,” which deals with the everyday Catholic way of life. In it she states that, “while the resurrection of the body is the work of a moment, the redemption of the body is the work of a lifetime.” Either way, it is important to keep climbing towards the ultimate union with God.

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