We continue this week with a short selection from the book of Fr Robert Hughes Benson, "The Friendship of Christ":
THE initial stage of the Friendship formed with Jesus Christ is usually one of extraordinary happiness. For the soul has found for the first time a companion whose sympathy is perfect and whose Presence is continuous. It is not, necessarily, that the soul consciously attends every instant to this new intimate, so much as that she is never wholly unconscious of him. As she goes about her ordinary business, paying to each detail of it as much attention as ever, the fact that He is present within her is never entirely forgotten: He is there as is the sunlight or the air, illuminating, freshening and inspiring all that she experiences. From time to time she turns to Him with a word or two; at times He speaks gently to her. She views all that she sees from His standpoint, or rather from her standpoint in Him; lovely things are more lovely because of His loveliness; painful things are less distressing because of His consolation. Nothing is indifferent, because He is present. Even when she sleeps, her heart wakes to him.
Yet this is only the initial stage of the process; and it is sweet largely because it is new. There outstretches before her a road that ends only in the Beatific Vision; but there are countless stages to be passed before that end is attained.
For the Friendship, as so formed, is not an end in itself. Christ's desire is indeed to consummate it as soon as may be; yet it cannot be consummated by His mere desire. The soul herself must be educated, must be purified and cleansed so perfectly as to be united with Him by nothing except His grace. She must be first purged and then illuminated, first stripped of herself and then adorned with His favours, before she is fit for her final union. These two stages are named by spiritual writers, the Way of Purgation and the Way of Illumination, respectively: and our subject now is the Way of Purgation.
At first, as has been said, the soul takes extraordinary pleasure in all those external things which, it appears to her, are sanctified by Christ's Presence, and more especially by those which are most directly connected with His grace. For example, a soul that has just formed this Friendship -- that has, perhaps, either just entered the Catholic Church by conversion, or has, for the first time, consciously and deliberately awakened to the glories of Catholicism, or even to some imperfect form of Christianity, as that system through which Christ has approached her -- finds an overwhelming joy in even the most exterior details of that system. The human organization of the Church, her methods, her forms of worship, her music and her art -- all these things seem to the soul as wholly heavenly and divine.
And, extremely often, the first sign that the Way of purgation has been really entered, lies in a consciousness that there is beginning for her an experience which the world calls Disillusionment.