The Need to Know the Three Stages of Spiritual Development
Spiritual life follows a path of development. Most church leaders and theologians do not give emphasis to this truth. While they may know this from their study of spiritual theology or spirituality, they do not make use of this knowledge in their pastoral care. Thus they simply classify Christians as church goers or non-church goers, as practical Catholics or nominal, as genuine Christians or mere cultural Christians, as laymen and laywomen, religious or priests.
They do not seem to realize that these Christians have a spiritual life and it would be most helpful for these Christians to be led safely and fruitfully along the path or stages of the spiritual life. There are of course some Christians who have a spiritual director to guide them, but both they and their directors do not seem to appreciate the usefulness of knowing in what stage of the spiritual life they are. If they did, they would assiduously teach these stages or path to other Christians, since this would immensely benefit the life of these Christians.
All things that are alive develop. And there are stages in the development of life. We know the stages of the development of a human person: birth, adolescence, adulthood, maturity, old age. And we have developed sciences to take care of each of these stages. We even know the stages of the development of a one-celled bacteria. But we do not know the stages of the development of the spirit in us which is the most important element in our life.
What is most surprising is that more than 70 years ago a Dominican theologian by the name of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., wrote a book THE THREE AGES OF THE INTERIOR LIFE
Prelude of Eternal Life. This by agreement of writers is his best-known book, a two-volume study of the mystical life, the life that all Christians are supposed to live. It is considered to be a summa in this field of study. It is also mentioned that many people, whether laymen, religious or priests, have found this book very valuable.
The question that we ask is, Why is the teaching of this book by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrance not spread by our church leaders if this is very valuable for the Christian life? A cynic would answer, Perhaps it is because these church leaders themselves do not live a spiritual life and so they do not know these stages and how knowing these stages would help the Christians entrusted to their care.
If what Karl Rahner said is true that the devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced ‘something,’ or he will cease to be anything at all (“Christian Living Formerly and Today,” in Theological Investigations VII, trans. David Bourke (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971), then we need to know the stages in the mystical or spiritual life. This would help the Christian mystic safely reach his or her full development. Otherwise his or her growth would be stunted or he or she would be led astray.