Strive for a More Intense Interior Life

There is nothing so important in the supernatural order as to have a deep, intense interior life. This is so, because at times we run into the error of subordinating the interior life to the practice of the virtues, as if our contact with God were only a means to perfect ourselves.

The case is not thus. There is no doubt that prayer and all the other acts of the interior life have an efficacious in­fluence on the acquisition of the virtues. From our rela­tion with God, we draw the strength wherewith to repel temptations, self-knowledge whereby to be humble, sweet­ess of temper wherewith to treat with our neighbors, and the light and the strength with which to practice all the other virtues. Even more can be said, for one may be sure that the virtues which do not have their roots in the inte­rior life are neither solid nor deep.

But this does not mean to say that we approach God solely to acquire virtues. On the contrary, the active life and all the virtues we must practice with respect to our neighbor and to ourselves, more than being the reward of our efforts, are the means whereby to achieve the contemplative life, the perfect interior life. In other words, the contemplative life is not a means or a ladder whereby to arrive at the active life. On the contrary, we work, we struggle, we sacrifice ourselves in order to love God, in or­der to have intimate and loving relations with Him. The true spiritual life consists in our relations with God. Rela­tions with our neighbor and even with ourselves are some­thing secondary; either they are ordinated to achieve the interior life, or they overflow from it.

But the central point of the spiritual life is the contem­plative life. Why? Because it is for this that God made us. He made us for Himself, that we might know Him, love Him, and serve Him. Hence, if we sacrifice ourselves to achieve a betterment of our life and conduct, it is solely that we may render ourselves worthy to have communion with God. Thus, our interior life is the summit, the ideal, the goal toward which all our efforts ought to converge.

Contemplation is a foretaste of Heaven

From Archbishop Martinez’s WORSHIPPING A HIDDEN GOD, click to order.

The contemplative life is the life of Heaven. There, all the works of the active life will disappear. In Heaven, there will be no passions to contend with, or neighbors to help, or miseries to bear. The life of the blessed is an eternal contemplation: they see God, love Him, and are united to Him in an indissoluble embrace. This is the true life.

And God in His goodness has desired that even in this life, we should exercise ourselves in that which will con­stitute our eternal life. Already here below we can contemplate Him, although in the mists of faith. Already here below we can love Him, and with the same love of Heaven, although it does not produce in us the same ef­fects as in the blessed. This is the true life; all else is fad­ing and transitory. For this reason, our Lord told Martha that she was concerned about many things when only one thing was necessary and, on the other hand, that Mary had chosen the better part, and that it would never be taken from her. In this way, our Lord Himself teaches us that the contemplative life is better than the active, and that it will never be taken from the soul who has chosen it.

It is the better part because it is the most exalted. To live with God, to know Him, and to love Him is the highest activity that a creature can exercise; not even the seraphim can aspire to anything more exalted. It is the better part because it is the most excellent. What is more excellent than to have communion with God and to be friends and intimates with the Supreme Being? And no one can take it away from us. The active life is solely of time; the contemplative life is eternal. The life of mortification of the great penitents, the apostolic life of the great apostles, the priestly ministry, no matter how holy and fruitful it may be, end with death. Only one thing does not cease: the contemplative life. It continues on in Heaven; it is eternal.

The life of an artist, for example, consists in contemplating and reproducing beauty according to his proper art. He can do other things, as when he takes a vacation. But this is only a passing diversion. For when the journey has ended and the unwonted circumstances have changed, he will return to his art, which for him is his chief concern. All else is secondary and of passing moment.

Thus it is with us. We have been elevated to the supernatural order to contemplate God and to love Him. God created us for Heaven. To be sure, while we travel on the earth, we have to do many other things: combat our passions, help our neighbor, and so on. But these are not the proper activity of our life; they are secondary things that pass away. Our Lord wishes that our chief occupation on earth should be to exercise ourselves in what is to be our everlasting occupation in Heaven: to contemplate Him and love Him. We shall not be able to do this with the fullness and perfection with which the blessed do it, but at the least, in the midst of the preoccupations of this life, we ought to give the better part to the interior life. This, then, is the only true life. Hence, whatever else we do avails only to the extent that it is penetrated with the in­terior life, with the savor of contemplation.

We who have an exterior ministry, such as priests and members of Catholic apostolates, cannot do good for souls if we do not possess an intense interior life, as Dom Chautard has amply demonstrated in his work The Soul of the Apostolate. “We are the good odor of Christ,” says St. Paul, and for its diffusion in all directions, it is indispensable that we be deeply penetrated with Him and united to Him — that is, that we have an intense interior life. Souls who cannot exercise any activity directly upon their neighbors ought, from the recesses of their retirement, to diffuse the graces of God upon others. But they will be able to do this only to the extent that they possess an intense interior life.

The true efficacy of our works depends upon our interior life, and the true worth of a soul is the worth of its interior life; for a soul’s worth is in direct proportion to the intimacy and intensity of its relations with God. The interior life is the chief, the most important, and the most efficacious element of the spiritual life. It is the one thing necessary.

Your interior life can never be deep enough

Hence, this is the great problem for every soul who aspires after perfection: “What shall I do that my interior life may be deeper and more intense?” It is very likely that each of my readers possesses the interior life in his soul. But no one can be satisfied with the spiritual life that he has; in our present state, we always have need for more, and we can never say, “Now I have enough.”

What I say of the spiritual order applies to all orders; it is a very human trait never to be satiated with that which we love. When is the artist ever satiated with beauty? When does the savant feel satiated with truth? This is true because in our heart we have something that is infinite: our desires. Material things weary us. The glutton can eat a great deal, but the moment arrives when it becomes repugnant to him to continue eating: he becomes full; he can eat no more. With spiritual things, it is not thus even in the natural order. On earth, he who loves, desires to love more. The learned man does not tire of investigating truth, nor does the artist in contemplating and reproduc­ing it. Every noble and exalted human life is above satiation. With greater reason is this true of the spiritual life. Consequently, no matter how intense the interior life of a soul may be, it needs more and aspires to more.

And since the interior life is nothing else but our relations with God, our intimate and loving communion with Him, the problem becomes this: “What shall we do that our communion with Him may become more intimate and our relations with Him more intense?” It is our purpose now to solve this problem, to investigate with the light of the Holy Spirit what is necessary for our interior life to be more intense and more profound.

Editor’s note: This article is a chapter from Archbishop Martinez’s Worshipping A Hidden Godwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

Luis M. Martinez

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Luis M. Martinez (1881-1956) was Archbishop of Mexico City and a philosopher, a theologian, a poet, and a director of souls. He is author of True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, When Jesus Sleeps, and other works.

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  • It is good to hear emphasized, the necessity of the interior life! The Martha and Mary example in Scripture, and this article in general, rightly stress the primacy of the life of prayer, and personal communion with and in God. Far too many of us are so preoccupied with external occupations, that the essential of the interior life is missed completely.

    That said, however, I think the good Archbishop went too far to make his point, when he wrote this:

    ++++++++++++++[block quote begins]
    “The contemplative life is the life of Heaven. There, all the works of the active life will disappear. In Heaven, there will be no passions to contend with, or neighbors to help, or miseries to bear. The life of the blessed is an eternal contemplation: they see God, love Him, and are united to Him in an indissoluble embrace. This is the true life.”
    ++++++++++++++[block quote ends]

    However, it must be said, in heaven at this moment there are neighbors – brothers and sisters on earth – in need of help, and the saints in heaven are at work helping them. The Catechism teaches:

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    CCC 956 The intercession of the saints. “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”[LG 49; cf. 1 Tim 2:5]
    “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.” [St. Dominic, dying, to his brothers]
    “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.” [St. Therese of Lisieux, The Final Conversations, tr. John Clarke (Washington: ICS, 1977), 102]
    ++++++++++++++[block quote ends]

    After the Resurrection of the dead, after this world is destroyed, after the Final Judgment, in the “new heavens and the new earth,” Question: Will there be “neighbors to help” – or will there be only individual persons in immediate communion with God, in the heights of contemplation, an eternal one-to-One (the One being of course the Three in One) embrace in the beatific vision? The answer that I hear from Archbhp Martinez is the latter, but I think there will be more activity then in the new heavens and the new earth, as there surely is more activity than that now, in heaven. (CCC 956)

    My speculation and sense of lives of active contemplation in the New Creation, of lives of interpersonal charity in Christ continuing into eternity, are based on the reality of the living Body of Christ, comprised of members having differing gifts for the good of the Body. (i.e. 1 Cor 12, Rom 12:4-8, etc.) Is the good of sharing the life of Christ with one another, merely a transient good? Is the holy one-another love that Christ commanded for us in His “New Commandment,” merely for this passing life? Or is this life of divine charity with one another meant to endure as long as charity itself will endure, which is for eternity?

    I see a blessed communion of human persons continuing into eternity, in God the Holy Trinity. I see holy sharing of the life of God with one another, as He has gifted us differently for the good and the edification of one another, for ever. The Source of His Truth will never be depleted – why should the sharing of it and the growth in it ever be depleted? Jesus promised a “hierarchy” in heaven, based on our faithfulness to His gifts while on earth, in for example the Parable of the Gold Coins:

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    Lk 19:16 “The first came forward and said, ‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
    Lk 19:17 He replied, ‘Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.’”
    ++++++++++++++[block quote ends]

    What is happening in these “cities”, placed under the charge of one faithful servant? I suppose a crucial occupation in these cities is growing in wisdom and love for God and for one another in God, “under” the ministry of more gifted brothers and sisters, entrusted with God’s gifts and having proven fidelity with them. I see love and wisdom in the Body only growing – and there is no limit to such growth, as there is no limit to God’s love and wisdom.

    Thus I see there and then, as here and now, LIFE as love and service, in holy communion – contemplative and active – in God the Holy Trinity, and among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, into eternity.

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