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The Purgative Way

The Purgative Way


I've written a section on "Purification" and its Importance for the Contemplative. Now I'd like to review and reinforce this information with additional resources:  St. Cyril, Origen, Fr. Sigman, and Scripture-especially Titus 2:11–12. The result is more optimistic and achievable.


Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Origen both wrote about "The Transfiguration." They compared the story of the Transfiguration with the contemplative life. The apostle's ascent prepares them for the manifestation of God's glory. Ultimately, the apostles were given a vision of God - Jesus suffused with divine light and the glory of God. In many ways, our spiritual lives are an attempt to ascend a mountain, and like the apostles, if we climb the mountain with contemplative prayer and virtue, we may see God. 


Saint Cyril wrote in his commentary of Luke that "He went up the mountain … to show that an earthbound mind would never be suitable for contemplation, only a mind which has spurned earthly things and gone beyond all bodily matters to stand alone in the stillness beyond all the cares of this life."


Fr. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.  wrote an article in the Rosary Confraternity bulletin, "Light & Life," about "Purgative Way" and suggested that the spiritual journey starts with the Purgative Way, then proceeds to the Illuminative Way and finally to the Unitive Way. He writes that Christian spirituality has as its goal the perfection of the faithful in Christ. The perfection of the believer is through union with Christ, which is the goal of Contemplation. However, the road to perfection begins with the process of purging sin and vice together with the cultivation of virtues. 

The Passions

The vision of God cannot be reached without God's Grace given to the believer. I understand that The Catholic Church teaches that moral perfection of human nature is necessary for a true vision of God. That might be true, but what about feeling God's Presence – I firmly believe the criteria are less strict, but it nevertheless requires God's Grace and moral development. I've felt His presence, and I am far from the goal of perfection, and I'll never obtain it as a human. How can we feel the Presence of God?


Let's first discuss the passions. The passions can overcome the will, and some people are ruled or enslaved by them. I'm referring to traditional vices summed up by the Seven Deadly Sins – gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia (laziness), vainglory, and pride. All the passions are rooted in self-love. This is egotistic love of self and possibly even estrangement from God. Some have said that the cause of the passions is forgetting God.


Socrates, an Athenian moral philosopher, cautioned, "Man know thyself." Have you examined your passions? Wherever one is with spiritual development, I believe one should start with healthy introspection around self-love, self-centeredness, and pridefulness. If you have any issues with Self-love and Pride, a logical place to start is an ardent attempt to be genuinely humble and have a strong relationship with Jesus. 

  • Humility off-sets Self-love and mitigates pride

  • A focus on God mitigates self-centeredness

  • Love of God mitigates self-love


I tend to be somewhat selfish, prideful, and occasionally angry. However, I do love God with all my heart. So, should I turn back from my ascent up the mountain? By no means will I ever turn back, but I need to improve, I need to try harder, and I need the help of God! So how do I help myself and find God's help to confront my passions? The following are suggestions:


In that the passions reflect a forgetfulness of God, to counter forgetfulness, remember God in all things - this is Faith, and this Faith is Faith through Grace. Fr. Ambrose Sigman says, "The "efficiency" of our Faith depends upon our cooperation so that we can advance on the way of perfection." I'd suggest that all believers memorize the following verses:


  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • Philippians 4:6-7 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

These verses emphasize remembering God through prayer and thanksgiving and putting our Hope and Trust in God. He gives us strength to overcome The Passions and specifically self-love and pride. This is how we cooperate with God and nurture our Faith.

Fear of God

There is fear of God and the opposite, fear of the world. The fear of the world is a fear of pain, hardships, and loss. We chase after pleasures and attachments that make us more secure. We chase after self-love. The only way to mitigate the fear of the world is by the fear of God. Most spiritual writers list two kinds of fear of God. One is the fear or dread of punishments, and the other is devotional piety—the fear of being deprived of God's blessings. 


Sometimes it's hard to understand, but Fear of God greatly benefits the believer. A new believer fears sin because of the thought of eternal damnation. The fear of God's punishment pulls us away from the pleasures of the world because one quickly understands the tremendous cost of choosing The World over God and His eternal blessings. The fear of punishment is meant to be temporary, and with spiritual growth, there is a fear of being deprived of a relationship with Jesus and God's many blessings. Fr. Ambrose Sigman, O.P. writes, "If faith first gives us evidence of the presence of God, fear causes the revelation of this evidence to grow, and we feel this growth as a force powerful enough to weaken and break the ties which chain us to the world."


The development of Faith and Fear leads to repentance. Repentance is the acknowledgment of wrongdoing, expressing regret, and committing to proper behavior and obedience to God. Repentance is not a critical judgment of ourselves but rather a belief that we can do better. Being repentant must be ongoing, and we must pray often and ask for God's help to overcome our sins. But repentance is a transformative process that turns us back to God.


After accepting the gift of Faith, learning to fear God, and becoming repentant, we learn to control our desires and sever our attachments to the world. But the most crucial element to control is our thoughts. All the great spiritual writers, including Jesus, make this point. We might begin by using our skill of Mindfulness to pay attention to ourselves and specifically to our thoughts. 


Developing self-control is an individualized skill; everyone must learn techniques that work for them. I use prayer, affirmations, self-hypnosis, exercise, good nutrition, and meditation. I also use "The Sedona Method," which helps me release unwanted thoughts. You might be surprised by my long list of resources, but regardless of your techniques or methods, the best way to self-control is with the help of God. Prayer and Bible Study should be first on your list. 


  • Titus 2:11–12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly…

  • Proverbs 29:11 and Proverbs 1:1-5 Self-control is the mark of a wise person.

  • Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2 Peter 1:5-9  Self-control is an aspect of Christian character.

Thomas Merton's Life and Practices

Thomas Keating on Contemplation

The Contemplative Process

Christian Contemplation Introduction

The Practice of Christian Contemplation

Ongoing Steps to Learning Contemplation

Discernment for Contemplation

Purification for the Contemplative

Saint John Paul II on The Rosary

Differences between Meditation and Contemplation

Christian Contemplation Resources

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