|In Santa Maria del Popolo The Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio|
In the perfection series, I placed a graph of Garrigou-Lagrange, on the steps of the spiritual life in a post towards the end of the series. As I repeated before, none of these steps can be skipped. But, the first stage merits revisiting.
This is the stage of the First Conversion. St. Thomas Aquinas describes this as an overwhelming moment of grace when one's life is changed. St. Paul is one of our greatest examples. He was murdering Catholics and then became one of the greatest of saints, an apostle to the Gentiles.
This First Conversion is pure gift from God. The CCC is clear on this grace of justification.
1989 The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."38 Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.39
1990 Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God's merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals.
1991 Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or "justice") here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.
1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:40
Grace heals us in ways which God chooses. We do not choose the way in which God desires to purify us. Most of the time, healing comes in and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Paul was a harsh and fanatic man before his conversion. But, after he was knocked from his horse, he humbly had to asked for healing from a stranger. After that, he writes that for some time, he went into the desert to pray and let God work in him. This would have been Paul's time of purification and entering into the Illuminative Stage, and then, the Unitive Stage, about which he also writes.
But, the First Conversion following the immediate gift of grace, involved a giving up, a denying of self, as Paul lost all his worldly status and standing with the Jewish Sanhedrin. He had to change and become a new person in Christ.
Without the First Conversion, there is no relationship with Christ in a personal way. For many, this happens in the home, even in the grace of Baptism as an infant. For some, this happens as an adult.
To be continued....