One of the most useful things that I enjoy finding in books on the interior life or the lives of saints are benchmarks that help to discern where in the spiritual life I am. They are so useful to us since they provide some sort of navigation through the interior life. Ideally, a very good spiritual director would be able to help with this but I am discovering that finding a spiritual director who is far advance in the interior life is becoming a rare sight. Please pray that more priests may grow to be great spiritual directors for the flock and that the Lord may personally grant us one! If you are blessed with a great spiritual director, make sure to thank God for that truly is a great gift on His part.
Without the aid of living men and women, we at times must turn to the champions of old. Those holy writers who, having gone far in the interior life, have left us very useful information in order that we may benefit from their gained wisdom and experience. This is one of the benefits of reading the books of the saints and why I often recommend you read through some that have written autobiographies as these holy people at times leave clues for us on how we too can make some further progress in the interior life.
The remainder of this post will be taken out from my current read, The Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptiste Chautard (The Soul of the Apostolate). He has essentially listed nine benchmarks that we can use to gauge where we are in the interior life. It is primarily based on the sins you are committing now and the state of your prayer life. These two go hand in hand. You should also try and keep the three stages of purgative, illumative and unitive in your forethought’s because all this ties together. I hope this list will serve you well as it truly is a nice gem! Is this a perfect list? Will you fall perfectly into one slot? Not 100% for rarely does a simple list fit all people perfectly but it nevertheless serves as a useful guide.
When going through the list please note the following. As one progresses further, items are revealed or purified. So for example, item one does not talk about venial sins or imperfections primarily because the soul is steeped in mortal sin so it does little to talk about that. As you move up the steps you see venial sins come up, mortal sin vanish, etc.
This compendium will not only facilitate the diagnosis and classification of souls but will also give precise information on the methods suggested to help souls in every state to launch out into the deep, and strive after serious progress.
Every soul is a world by itself. It has its own shades of difference. Still, as an ordinary rule, we may classify Christians in various groups. We have thought fit to attempt such a classification here below, testing souls on one hand by sin and imperfection, and on the other by their degree of prayer. Let us hope that this classification may lead some of our respected confreres to think over the necessity of studying these things, in order to learn the practical rules for directing each soul according to its state.
In the first two categories, the priest may not be able to work directly upon the souls in question but if he is a good director he will be able to give much more effective guidance to those relatives and friends who have set their hearts on winning back these dear ones, even though they may be hardened in sin, before they are entirely rejected by God.
1. Hardened in Sin
Mortal sin – Stubborn persistence in sin, either out of ignorance or because of a maliciously warped conscience.
Prayer – Deliberate refusal to have any recourse to God.
2. Surface Christianity
Mortal sin – Considered as a trifling evil, easily forgiven. The soul easily gives way and commits mortal sin at every possible occasion or temptation. Confession almost without contrition.
Prayer – Mechanical; either inattentive, or always dictated by temporal interest. Such souls enter into themselves very rarely and superficially.
3. Mediocre Piety
Mortal sin – Weak resistance. Hardly ever avoids occasions but seriously regrets having sinned, and makes good confessions.
Venial sin – Complete acceptance of this sin, which is considered as insignificant. Hence, tepidity of the will. Does nothing whatever to prevent venial sin, or to extirpate it, or to find it out when it is concealed.
Prayer – From time to time, prays well. Momentary fits of fervor.
4. Intermittent Piety
Mortal sin – Loyal resistance. Habitually avoids occasion. Deep regrets. Does penance to make reparation.
Venial sin – Sometimes deliberate. Puts up a weak fight. Sorrow only superficial. Makes a particular examination of conscience, but without any method or coherence.
Prayer – Not firmly resolved to remain faithful to meditation. Gives it up as soon as dryness is felt, or as soon as there is business to attend to.
5. Sustained Piety
Mortal sin – Never. At most very rare, when taken suddenly and violently by surprise. And then, often it is to be doubted if the sin is mortal. It is followed by ardent compunction and penance.
Venial sin – Vigilant in avoiding and fighting it. Rarely deliberate. Keen sorrow, but does little by way of reparation. Consistent particular examen, but aiming only at avoidance of venial sin.
Imperfections – The soul either avoids uncovering them, so as not to have to fight them, or else easily excuses them. Approves the thought of renouncing them, and would like to do so, but makes little effort in that direction.
Prayer – Always faithful to prayer, no matter what happens. Often affective. Alternating consolations and dryness, the latter endured with considerable hardship.
Venial sin – Never deliberate. By surprise, sometimes, or with imperfect advertence. Keenly regretted, and serious reparation made.
Imperfections – Wants nothing to do with them. Watches over them, fights them with courage, in order to be more pleasing to God. Sometimes accepted, however, but regretted at once. Frequent acts of renunciation. Particular examen aims at perfection in a given virtue.
Prayer – Mental prayer gladly prolonged. Prayer on the affective side, or even prayer of simplicity. Alternation between powerful consolations and fierce trials.
7. Relative Perfection
Imperfections – Guards against them energetically and with much love. They only happen with half advertence.
Prayer – Habitual life of prayer, even when occupied in external works. Thirst for self-renunciation, annihilation, detachment, and divine love. Hunger for the Eucharist and for Heaven. Graces of infused prayer, of different degree. Often passive purification.
8. Heroic Perfection
Imperfections – Nothing but the first impulse.
Prayer – Supernatural graces of contemplation, sometimes accompanied by extraordinary phenomena. Pronounced passive purifications. Contempt of self to the point of complete self-forgetfulness. Prefers suffering to joys.
9. Complete Sanctity
Imperfections – Hardly apparent.
Prayer – Usually, transforming union. Spiritual marriage. Purifications by love. Ardent thirst for sufferings and humiliations.
Few and far between are the souls that belong to the last two, even to the last three categories. (underline by me for emphasis)
All saints in heaven, pray for us!