Lent with St Edith Stein Day 30: Three Kinds of Divine Union

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 30: Three Kinds of Divine Union

“By means of the first, God dwells substantially in all created things and sustains their existence. By the second, we are to understand the indwelling of God in the soul through grace; by the third, the transforming union through perfect love that divinizes the soul.”

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross

               The goal of our meditations, prayers, and spiritual lives is union with God. But what does it mean to achieve union with God? St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila agreed upon three different types of union, which St Edith discusses in detail.

               The first type of union with God is His presence in all created things, whereby he sustains their existence. God knows each and every thing He has created and has since the beginning of time. He may leave us to our own devices to do as we please for ourselves, revealing Himself through the natural rhythm of our life experiences, and presenting the opportunity for us to come to Him through Christ. God may also choose to intervene in our destiny and take hold of us more proactively. Even if we are in absolute sin and cannot discern or refuse to acknowledge His presence, He is there with us.

               The second type of union with God is indwelling through grace. This requires consent and free acceptance of God through sanctifying grace. We must accept Him and turn away from sin. This indwelling cannot take place in a sinful soul, we must have sanctifying grace to wipe out our sins. This is done via baptism and parents provide consent as proxy in the case of children, who later confirm their acceptance through the sacraments later on.

               Indwelling through grace brings us to the Divine Life. The Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts and we live a tri-personal life. St Edith describes this as, “The soul lives her life of grace through this Holy Spirit. In Him she loves the Father with the love of the son and the Son with the love of the Father.” Not everyone who lives in Divine Union will consciously perceive this triune indwelling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but still maintain union through faith, hope, and love. This living faith is the beginning of eternal life for us, which, when nurtured, will bear great fruit.

               The third level of divine union is The Union of Love. This begins with the Union of Prayer. In the Union of Prayer, the soul will begin to experience brief sessions of prayer (lasting around 30 minutes or less) in which the soul becomes so captivated in prayer that the rest of the world means nothing. The soul is filled with God’s love and love of God and He works in the soul without our interference. Afterward, they cannot deny that God was in them and they in God. There is a certainty that only God can give that is present.

In the second level of divine union, The Indwelling by Grace, God’s spirit penetrates the soul, but it is not complete penetration. Once the soul is detached from every other being, the soul can be fully penetrated and the Union of Love can be achieved. St Edith writes that “The creature’s aspiring, yearning love…that strives to ascend and God’s merciful, condescending love for His creatures…aim for this fulfillment. Where these two meet, the union can progressively happen: at the expense of whatever still stands in its way, and in the measure in which this obstacle is destroyed.”

The difference between the Indwelling by Grace and the Union of Love is a matter of degrees. As the soul seeks to purify itself and experiences the consuming fire of divine love, it draws nearer to the Union of Love. The soul accepts the Divine Will as blind faith in the Indwelling by Grace but it is a present reality in the Union of Love. The Union of Love is a mystical marriage and as St Edith writes, “When God gives Himself to [the soul] in mystical marriage she learns to know God in a manner in which she had not known Him earlier, and in which she cannot know Him by any other means. Nor had she come to know, before this, her own inmost depths. So, until now, she had not at all really know, as she does now, to whom she surrenders her will, what it is she surrenders, or what this surrender to the divine will can demand from her.”

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