The ordinary paths are, first, the commandments of God and His church : If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, says our Lord. Secondly, the graces, proportioned to the age, constitution and state of each, and to the period in which he lives. Every age has its peculiarity; what is good for the young, who have lively passions, and a high degree of concupiscence, would not be suitable for the more mature and moderate; and what is proper for middle life would be unfit for the old man,who is sometimes weak and imbecile. A beginner in the spiritual life requires certain things for his advancement, and a proficient requires other things. As dispositions are varied, the bilious, the sanguine, the melancholy, the phlegmatic, all must be variously treated; and what would be suitable for one would be injurious for another. Married persons have their peculiar obligations, priests and religious have theirs. The times, too, have their diversities. What is practised with advantage in one age must be omitted in another. The spirit most approved in this age is to avoid extraordinary things, to practise solid virtue, to accomplish the Gospel law, that we may be fortified against Antichrist, whose days are always approaching, and who, by his illusions and false miracles, will seduce men from virtue, and lure them to his side. It is to receive often the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, according to the judgment of the Church of today, which is as wise as the ancient Church, being invariably governed by the same Spirit. These and similar things constitute the ordinary ways of God, because they are His inspirations, and the movements by which He inclines men to live well, and gives them grace to do so, according to character, constitution, state of life, and the times in which they live.
Coming to extraordinary routes, I say that there are exceptional cases, by which God occasionally leads souls to perfection in an extraordinary manner. Among these are, first, heroic actions in the military warfare of the spiritual life, more worthy of admiration than imitation: as, for example, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac ; when St. Bennet cast himself nude among thorns; when St. Francis Xavier applied his mouth to an ulcer, to suck out the corruption; when St. Simon Stylites chose to live on a pillar. Secondly, visions, revelations, extraordinary suspensions of the spirit, ecstacies, interior words, miracles and like things, to which God does not call all, but only a few, as He judges fit. The angel who announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds, the miraculous star which guided the Magi to Bethlehem to adore Him, belong to this class, of which I shall speak at greater length; because it is one of the most important points in the discernment of spirits, and the elucidation of it is of great consequence. Previous to giving the marks and signs which distinguish true revelations from such as are false, it is necessary to make two important remarks on this subject.
- These extraordinary gifts are conferred not only on those whose virtues seem in some manner to merit them, but also on persons whose vices and imperfections render them unworthy of such favors ; not only on the predestined, but also on the reprobate. The gift of prophecy, the power of healing the sick, of working miracles, of speaking divers languages, of explaining the Scriptures, were, in the time of the apostles, commonly granted to Christians who were not yet perfect in virtue. And we know that Judas, the most wicked of men, was gifted with the prerogatives of the predestinate, in his quality of apostle. Richard of St. Victor says on this subject : “The impious, over whose heads hangs the curse of eternal damnation, are sometimes, in this world, endowed with particular gifts, and fed with delicious food.” Of such persons, David says “The enemies of the Lord have lied to him;” yet, by special bounty, “He fed them with the fat of wheat, and filled them with honey from the rock.” And, on this point, it is necessary to bear in mind an important truth which theology teaches, namely: that all the gratuitous favors and prerogatives of which we have spoken, and even all the graces which sanctify the soul, as habitual grace, acts of contrition, and, according to some, the grace of the pure love of God, and the graces which dispose to it, as actual graces, good works and virtuous actions, are, absolutely speaking, compatible with reprobation; that is, we may receive them, and yet not persevere to the end.
There is only one grace which unfailingly opens the gate of heaven, the grace of graces, the benefit of benefits, namely, the grace to die well. All other favors, however numerous and excellent, may exist in the reprobate, to whom God often gives more succor than to the predestinate, as appears evidently in children who die after baptism; and in many men who, after receiving numberless graces during their long lives, come at length to die in mortal sin. It appears, also, in Judas and the good thief; in Lucifer and the angels of the last and lowest choir, who remained faithful.
- Many go astray in these extraordinary paths, and are in danger of falling over precipices. Seeing themselves raised so high, they grow dizzy, their heads are turned, they cannot walk steadily, they fall into vanity and secret pride, become self-opinionated, refuse to listen to those who would undeceive them, and, finally, lose their souls.
St. Chrysostom observes that gifts of this nature were injurious to the Corinthians, and became an occasion of pride, divisions and breaches of charity - those who had more, contemning those who had less, and the latter envying the former; and he notices that the Christians at Rome were slightly affected in a similar manner. Hence the apostle, after making some efforts to undeceive the Corinthians, says: “But be ye zealous for the better gifts, and I show you a more excellent way to glorify God, and promote the salvation of your neighbor, which is charity.” Verily, the high-roads are not always
the most secure, though they may sometimes be the shortest. In spirituality, the common ways are by far the best and safest, while the high paths are always perilous, because –
Divine Providence has designated the ordinary paths as the paths by which all men are to arrive at salvation, and, consequently, they must be the most secure, because we ought to think that the infinite wisdom of God has established the best paths for all in general, since He wills the salvation of all; the path in which all can walk securely is better than that to which only few are called. In nature, we see that the best things are the common things: the sun, the stars, the elements; and in grace, what is equal in utility and goodness to the incarnation, the life, the passion of our Lord, and the sacraments, which belong equally to all? Moses, when leading the Israelites to the promised land, sent to the king of Edom for permission to pass through his territory, making his request in these words: “We beseech thee that we may have leave to pass through thy country. We will not go through the fields, nor through the vineyards, but we will go by the common highway, neither turning to the right nor the left.” And to the king of the Amorrhites he sent a like message. It is in this manner that we ought to travel to our true promised land, the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which we journey.
The enemy does not dislike these rare things; on the contrary, they please him, because they give him occasion to tempt the recipients to vanity, and persuade them to prefer themselves to others, and turn aside from the solid virtues. If permitted, he will often produce false raptures and revelations himself, to deceive souls, and inspire sentiments of pride and vanity in his deluded victims.
Nature loves these favors. She desires prerogatives. She covets something that will draw her out of the common, and raise her above others, that she may be able to say, with the proud Pharisee: My God, I am not like the rest of men.
Extraordinary ways, being unusual, are not so well known as ordinary ways, and, by consequence, are more dangerous and more subject to illusion. Hence, the great roads of faith and the commandments are always better than any other. “Oh!” exclaimed St. Lawrence Justinian, “how much do we daily read and hear of men who became remiss, and even fell away from virtue, because they were not satisfied with the beaten path, but would rush into this ambush of the devil.” The erudite and pious Gerson, Chancellor of Paris, wrote the following remarkable words “It is impossible to say how immensely curiosity to have revelations, to predict the future, to see or work miracles, has deceived people, and even caused them to renounce the faith.” Hence proceed many of the abuses and superstitions which sully Christianity. Foolish people desire, like the Jews, to see signs and wonders that make a noise, and they canonize men whom the Church has not declared holy, and pay more attention to the reveries of diseased minds than to the authenticated revelations of the saints, or even the Gospel itself. In this advanced age, this last hour before Antichrist, the world, like a poor old man in his dotage, allows itself to run after fancies and imaginations, and regards as realities the most grotesque dreams. Truly, many shall say, Lo, I am the Christ; and some, forsaking the truth, will embrace fables and seduce multitudes. If Gerson, who departed this life some centuries ago, had reason to speak in this manner, much more reason have we, since the world is now older, perhaps more foolish, and certainly very little wiser than in his day.
People are sometimes disposed to think too much of these extraordinary favors, to make a sort of traffic of them. The prophet Jeremias says: “The prophets have prophesied falsehood, and the priests clapped their hands, and my people have loved such things; what, then, shall be done in the end thereof?” Subtle imaginations and caprices, false lights chimerical devotion, drive souls from God, instead of attracting them to Him. Of this there are but too many examples, a few of which we shall here set down.
The Spiritual Man; or The Spiritual Life Reduced to its First Principles by Jean Baptiste Saint Jure pages 88-93