Encountering the spiritual world

By Father William M. Watson

In last month’s column we examined how our spirit, body and God’s grace compose a holy trinity at work in us. All three parts working cooperatively are necessary for holiness and human growth.

Sacred Story

In the paradise depicted in Genesis, the perfect cooperation of this trinity of human nature rendered us immortal. By turning from the fullness of God’s grace, we shattered the perfect balance of the divinely crafted trinity and our immortality was lost.

Now we turn our attention to Christ’s incarnation and death, which reopened the way to immortality.

The Genesis account of our first parents is an allegory, a symbolic description of a real event that Catholic Church tradition calls the original sin. We will never know the exact context for the original sin or how the enemy of human nature tempted Adam and Eve to reject God and to make themselves “masters of their own universe.”

Yet the Genesis account provides valuable clues for our reflection about temptation and the fall from grace that has evolved over time. It describes how God has been displaced from the center of human hearts and history.

By dissecting the story, we begin to understand how the spiritual world works. We discern the difference between the voice of God and the voice of the enemy of human nature. Learning to distinguish the difference between these two voices takes practice and, most importantly, it requires listening, time, trial and error, prayer, patience and God’s grace.

The encounter with the spiritual world is an encounter with forces that support our growth and forces that want to disrupt our growth. Both forces have always been present in our life story, and our goal in last month’s column, and the columns to follow over the next year, is to become conscious of these two plot lines: one that leads to blessing and life, and one that leads to curse and death.

Scripture and tradition teach us that God created our human nature as a unity of physical body and rational soul so God could be intimate with us. Complete intimacy with God is our destiny, our glory and the purpose of our creation.

Our first parents’ human nature as physical bodies and spiritual souls was in complete harmony with God. We call this period of history “paradise” or original justice. Original justice afforded our first parents complete self-mastery. They were at one in themselves, at one with each other and creation, and at one with God.

The perfect harmony of paradise is shattered when obedience, chastity and poverty are violated. Obedience is violated when we, like our first parents in the story of creation, make ourselves the final arbiters of truth and, turning from God, follow our self-centered desires. This is the first stage of the original sin.

The second stage of the original sin commences when, cut off from God, we open ourselves to illegitimate desires deemed “objectively wrong” by the Commandments, the Gospel and tradition. In this, we violate chastity. “We decide” what we will and will not do.

Finally, we are moved to take what we do not need. In this third stage of the original sin, we experiment to find out who is telling the truth, God or Lucifer.

In this experimenting, we violate poverty when we take what does not rightfully belong to us because now “it’s our life” and we make our decisions autonomous from God.

Through his life, ministry, death and resurrection, Jesus reopens the way to immortality and complete harmony with God. When Jesus begins his public ministry, he confronts the triple sin of our first parents.

Lucifer tempts him to turn stones into bread, and Jesus confronts the violation of poverty by refusing to take what is not offered him by the Father. (Matthew 4:4) Next he deals with the violation of chastity and illegitimate desires by refusing to gain attention by plunging from the temple parapet. (Matthew 4:7) Finally, he confronts the violation of obedience by refusing to serve Lucifer and rule on this earth. (Matthew 4:10)

Sacred Story prayer journey challenges us to awaken to the voice of God in our own unique history, calling us to the poverty, chastity and obedience that can bring peace and repair sin’s damage. To do this effectively, we will explore in future columns discernment guidelines modeled on St. Ignatius’ classic rules for spiritual discernment.

By understanding the Ignatian discernment guidelines, we can awaken more easily to our authentic human nature and identify and resist the illegitimate desire that autonomy from God inspires. To prepare ourselves, we will learn a new language of discernment and discover how to distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the enemy of human nature in our thoughts, words and deeds.


Can you identify how temptations against poverty, chastity and obedience play out in your story? Identify your main temptation in each vow and ask Christ for enlightenment, healing and forgiveness. Be specific and ask for help!

Prayer exercises
The school of discernment requires spiritual exercise. Most importantly, it requires listening, time, trial and error, prayer, patience and God’s grace. Commit yourself to praying daily over the next four weeks for 15 minutes — no more, no less.
Ponder how the reflections in this column link to your own life story. You also may pray the Sacred Story Examen prayer.

Podcast of Forty Weeks - Entering the school of discernment
Podcast of Sacred Story Prayer - a 15-minute guided meditation

Further Reading
Forty Weeks: An Ignatian Path to Christ with Sacred Story Prayer by William M. Watson, SJ
Sacred Story: An Ignatian Examen for the Third Millennium by William M. Watson, SJ

Ignatian Resources - from Sacred Story Institute


Jesuit Father William M. Watson is the founder of the 
Sacred Story Institute, www.sacredstory.net.

September 20, 2013