The Betrothal Verses Mystical Marriage

Over a year ago I wrote a post called “Ignatian Meditation Is Not Mental Prayer”; I was eager to write on the subject, because while they are indeed “exercises”, the traditional definition of mental prayer is “setting aside the use of the imagination”. And as Our Holy Father John of the Cross teaches in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, in order to reach “transforming union” or “mystical marriage” on earth, one MUST leave behind the imagination. Every time someone says, “I just finished journaling” or using the exercises, I always tend to roll my eyes, not in a condescending way, but as Father Gallagher mentioned in his forward, in the book Discernment of the Spirits, how modernism has distorted much of Saint Ignatius’ ACTUAL teachings.

The use of my imagination almost destroyed me spiritually, I also found it too complicated in an un-redemptive kind of way, and journaling is just not something religious do in general. This is not my mere opinion or simple preference, but something that is not embraced as a monastic custom in traditional religious orders. The key word is traditional. That is because journaling is also not the definition of mental prayer. Approaching Our Lord should be simple, right? By complete, and Divine, providence I was struck with something else Father Gallagher said in his forward: Saint Ignatius is the equivalent to what John of the Cross is with perfect contemplation, but with discerning what is from God and what is not. He then proceeded to say that the main thing that stands in the way of this “perfect contemplation”, taught by John, is not being able to properly discern what is from God and what is from the Devil. The result of not being able to discern, which voice is which, is a loss of hope and fear for the future. Both are not from Our Lady nor the Blessed Trinity. Our Lord does not will spiritual desolation, but he permits the enemy to tempt us; big contrast.

In short, I have a totally different perspective of Saint Ignatius now. I am not speaking of his exercises, because Carmelites stick to Our Holy Father John’s method of prayer. A priest once told me that Our Holy Mother Teresa used the exercises with her daughters each day; this is a total fallacy. And if she did, it never lasted because in her book of mansions, part of reaching the seventh is setting aside the imagination in order to proceed onward to the last and final stage of prayer, which is union. Many priests make the mistake of assuming Carmelite Spirituality rather than knowing what it actually is. But in a very radical way, Our Lady showed me that one cannot reach perfection without Saint Ignatius’ discernment of the spirits. I was led to this understanding, when a holy priest said something to me privately, that did not sit well with me; in fact, it unsettled me.

“But this person is holy… celebrates The Latin Mass…. is a priest…. shouldn’t his words be from God?” No, not necessarily. In fact, when this happened I officially picked up Father Gallagher’s Discernment of the Spirits with his commentary on Saint Ignatius, and I discovered that when a soul is living in the state of grace, the devil will use HOLY PEOPLE to derail one on their path to God. I knew this deep down; I have seen it dozens of times, but how do we combat it, right? That is where proper discernment comes in, and not modern discernment where you “feel peace”; feelings are not a bad thing, but if we let our emotions dictate our will, our lives would be shear chaos. Ignatius’ four simple steps are brilliant and practical:

1.) Be aware (what a person says or does)

2.) Reflect (how did this affect you? Did it leave you in interior turmoil or greater love of God?)

3.) Reject (From the enemy? move on!)

4.) Accept (From God? embrace)

Lastly, the hardest battle seems to be two things: mistaking the evil voice, through a holy person, as coming from God and not KNOWING HOW to move forward with trust in the Lord. Which leads to the second: tepidity, sadness and discouragement. This is the “fruit” of believing words that are from the enemy, because we fail to properly discern what is from God and what is not. Doesn’t that sound so simple? On paper it does, but when we are hit with temptations, it is actually seen as that “great war with powers and principalities”. Below are the teachings, by Our Holy Parents John and Teresa, differentiating between the stages of betrothal and mystical marriage. I found myself in awe when realizing the one distinct difference.

Betrothal: The Lord makes loving visits to the soul, giving them a foretaste of mystical marriage.

Mystical Marriage: The Lord no longer visits the soul, He NEVER LEAVES her; they are one.

After reading the below, I think like myself, you will come to find that the one thing that stands in the way of mystical marriage, and as John of the Cross says: the reason why so few souls reach it in this life, is they do not recognize or know the voice of God because they did not learn to properly discern. Sure you may be praying, but do you know how to traditionally discern? Even when the soul reaches perfect union on earth, this does not mean they will not suffer, on the contrary, the soul will most likely suffer all the more because her Bridegroom is the Crucified. But if she knows how to see God’s loving hand and recognize her Beloved in all situations (thanks to Saint Ignatius), she will be able to stay united to Him in the middle of a storm! THIS IS UNION. To reach mystical marriage on earth, we must join hands with Saint John of the Cross AND Saint Ignatius of Loyola:

“Betrothal is that final state just prior to the permanent union of God with the soul. It is the final part of the passive purgation of the spirit, a transitional stage from the Illuminative Way to the Unitive Way. In this state, the flesh, the world and the devil may still attack the soul and attempt to distract it and draw it out of the union it enjoys. Though the soul begins to enjoy the blessings of this union, it needs strength, courage and countless virtues to infuse it so that it can enter into the permanence of divine marriage. Once divine marriage is achieved, neither the devil, the flesh nor the world have any power over it whatsoever. It is perfectly at rest with the Beloved.

Saint John’s close companion, Saint Teresa of Ávila, explains the difference between these two states by saying that betrothal is like two candles that are lit and touched together at the wick.  Suddenly, the flame burns as one. The two are perfectly united. However, she also explains that this is not a permanent state in that it is possible for the candles to be separated again. Thus, betrothal brings union with God but not in the permanent way that marriage does.  The soul is united to God, but the temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil still attack and seek to separate them from each other.

Spiritual marriage is like rain falling into a river.  Once the drops enter the river, it is not possible to remove them.  They are so mingled that, even though they remain distinct, they are forever united.  The drops of rain become part of the mighty river.

In the The Spiritual Canticle, Saint John of the Cross explains the state of betrothal in Stanzas 14-21.  This is a state wherein the soul moves from the painful purgations of its last imperfections to that of pure union.  The union of betrothal is a spiritual union. However, the bodily senses are not yet fully united to God. Saint John explains it this way:

But before I proceed to explain the stanzas which follow, I must observe that, in the state of betrothal, wherein the soul enjoys this tranquillity, and wherein it receives all that it can receive in this life, we are not to suppose its tranquillity to be perfect, but that the higher part of it is tranquil; for the sensual part, except in the state of spiritual marriage, never loses all its imperfect habits, and its powers are never wholly subdued, as I shall show hereafter.  What the soul receives now is all that it can receive in the state of betrothal, for in that of the marriage the blessings are greater. Though the bride-soul has great joy in these visits of the Beloved in the state of betrothal, still it has to suffer from His absence, to endure trouble and afflictions in the lower part, and at the hands of the devil. But all this ceases in the state of spiritual marriage. (TheSpiritual Canticle 15.10)

In this state of betrothal, the soul is united to God in the spirit.  Though the lower part of the soul remains imperfect and the devil continues to try to inflict harm upon the soul, the spirit remains vigilant and at peace.  This temporary state of betrothal, however, eventually gives way to the permanent state of marriage.

In marriage, every part of the soul, spiritual and sensual, is transformed by God and shines brightly with the light of the Holy Spirit.  By analogy, it’s like the stars in the sky on a sunny day. The stars are still there, shining brightly, but they are invisible because the brightness of the Sun overwhelms them.  So it is with every faculty, desire and passion of the soul. The entire soul, spirit and senses, takes on the brightness of the Holy Spirit and radiates as if the soul were God and God were the soul.  The two are united without either losing their identity. The union transforms; it does not destroy. All the lower loves of the soul, every other attachment it formerly had, and all former concepts and experiences are annihilated so that God and God alone takes possession of and lives in and through the soul.  It is this last, unquenchable enkindling with an impassioned love of God that enables the soul to cling to and become one with its Beloved.

When the soul has lived for some time as the bride of the Son, in perfect and sweet love, God calls it and leads it into His flourishing garden for the celebration of the spiritual marriage.  Then the two natures are so united, what is divine is so communicated to what is human, that, without undergoing any essential change, each seems to be God—yet not perfectly so in this life, though still in a manner which can neither be described nor conceived. (The Spiritual Canticle 22.5b)

In this state of divine union, the soul realizes that every purgation it has endured was worth it. There will be no regrets, only gratitude beyond imagination that the soul persevered through the long journey to union. Saint John identifies two final blessings for the soul who has entered through the purgation of the senses and the purgation of the spirit. First, in this life the soul enjoys habitual union with God, as briefly described in the quote above. This is the life of earthly perfection. However, Saint John also points out that even more awaits the soul: the Beatific Vision. While on Earth, the soul will live in perfect union with God and experience the fullness of the life of God. But that fullness of life in God is elevated once the soul dies and enters into the glory of Heaven, beholding the face of God in the Beatific Vision.”

Post in honor of Mary’s glorious assumption!