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Stages on our spiritual journey

Grüne Bergspitze mit Weg nach oben unter blauem Himmel.

Q: Archbishop J, what can I do to ensure my Catholic DNA is active? Part II

Our Catholic DNA was given in baptism when we were grafted into the Body of Christ and became a member of that body. That first act of grace invited us into an adventure that is phenomenal, an adventure that we need to reflect upon.

How do we give ourselves fully to Christ? How do we allow Christ to transform our mind, understanding and heart? How do we grow in Christ?

I want you to imagine that life in Christ like our natural life. We are born babies and grow from stage to stage—infancy, adolescence, adulthood. In our natural life we have no choice: we grow.

In our life of grace, we have a choice. We could choose to grow or be stagnant, or wither and die. The responsibility to grow in Christ is primarily your responsibility. The Church, her members and ministries are here to help. Once you are an adult, the responsibility remains yours.


Stages of spiritual growth

The stages of spiritual growth may be conceived in various ways. I like to think of four stages or movements:

(1) The seeker: The individual is discerning God’s call (vocation) and strives to find the courage to live it.

(2) The disciple: He or she is striving to follow Christ and to become the best version of himself or herself (through the process of integral development), a saint.

(3) The missionary disciple: When, by living with integrity and generosity (stewardship and evangelisation), the disciple calls others to Christ.

(4) The mystic: The disciple has a deep interior life and is conscious of his or her union with Christ (mystical union).

These stages of development should be the goal and commitment of every Catholic from infancy to the moment of death.

To understand that God calls each of us to a specific purpose is the foundation.

Seeking that purpose and discerning God’s call is the first stage of discipleship. Here the disciple needs to listen, to be docile; to pray and allow God to lead.

To understand that faith and its response are incremental, and to live taking small steps every day to develop every dimension of the human person is the second step.

Here the disciple is beginning to understand the life of grace and explore its inner dynamic and meaning. Christianity is no longer an external life; it has serious implications for inner transformation, for the disciple to become the best version of himself or herself. This commitment to incremental, continuous growth unleashes a vital energy for further growth.

The movement to missionary discipleship is the third level of growth. Now, the disciple knows Christ and is seeking to live his or her vocation, as the disciple has discerned it. He or she is now growing continuously in faith and human qualities and wants to share what has been experienced. Missionary disciples use every occasion to witness to Christ. They want others to want what they have.

Ultimately, the journey leads to a desire for union with Christ: the disciple wants to make his or her home in Christ, as Christ makes His home in the disciple.

Here, participating in Christ becomes real as the person begins to understand that he or she is grafted onto Christ and is Christ’s presence in the world. This realisation is profound.

Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Where are you on this journey? A seeker, a disciple, a missionary disciple, or a mystic?


The responsibility to grow

In the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1–23) we get insight into this growth process. Those who grow in Christ produce a harvest now a hundredfold, now sixty now thirty. Those who don’t grow, produce no harvest. “Understanding” is critical to growth (Mt 13:19).

If we hear the Word and do not understand it, the evil one snatches the Word from us. Therefore, the first task of growing in Christ is coming to an understanding that is credible, age appropriate and true. To become a seeker, the person needs to desire Christ in mind, heart, will and understanding.

The second figure in the parable is the shallow rocky soil. The one with no root falls away quickly when troubles or persecution comes (Mt 13:21). This is why stage one of spiritual development is vital, to first desire Christ and make Him the focus of our lives; to put ourselves under His authority and become obedient to His call, as we seek to align our lives to Christ’s desire for us (stage one).

The seed choked by thorns is explained as the worries of this world and the difficulties of wealth that prevent the Word from bearing fruit in our lives (Mt 13:22).

This is what happens to the person who does not move to the second stage of spiritual development. We need to bring people to commit to the human work of authentic integral human development (stage two). Moving from stage to stage of the human and spiritual development journey stretches wide the capacity of our heart to receive Christ.

Without the interior work, done intentionally and through God’s grace, the seeker will simply become distracted by the pressing needs of the day and the desire for wealth, power, pleasure and fame.

Many a Christian has been set back in their spiritual journey at this stage. Becoming distracted, they did not go to the depth necessary for them to live the Good News of Jesus.

The one who bears a rich harvest is the one who both hears the Word and understands it (Mt 13:23). This disciple has digested the Word and it has become one with it.

This brings the disciple to stages three and four of the spiritual journey. The missionary disciple is fruitful in bringing others to Christ: the saints are bountiful in their fruitfulness.

Think of how many people have given their lives to Christ because of St Benedict, St Dominic, or Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey.


Key Message:

We have the responsibility to grow in Christ to full maturity.

Action Step:

Assess what stage of the journey you are at, pray asking God for the grace and guidance to see and take the next step of the journey.

Scripture Reading:

Matthew 13:1–23