Real Life Connection to St. Catherine: Stages of the Spiritual Life

Catherine of Siena described Christ as a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth.

The bridge had three stairways, that represent the three stages of getting closer to God: detachment from sin (purgative), practice of the virtues (illuminative), and loving union with God (unitive).

In a world where we are constantly pursuing “perfection” and idolizing the perfect job, clothes, relationships, body, food, vacation, etc. etc., it can be a challenge to remember what true perfection means, and who the model of true perfection is. Jesus tells us in the Scripture, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Spiritual perfection sometimes seems so out of reach, that it’s preferable to distract ourselves with anything but the spiritual life.

St. Catherine cleverly “saintsplains" the stages of spiritual progress through using the analogy of stairways, implying that it’s a step-by-step process.

Think of going up a steep staircase. Most stairs have to be taken one at a time, and so too in the spiritual life. Ultimately spiritual progress is what we’re going fornot perfection per se. We will never be perfect because we are in a fallen world, but we can be redeemed, and strengthen our spiritual muscles more with every step we climb. Christ is the bridge to happiness in reaching not only our spiritual goals, but our personal goals.

Sometimes a personal relationship with Jesus seems exclusively for Sundays or when we need something special, but he is the solution to everything. Jesus Christ has given us the formula to solve every earthly problem through Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Talk about something to celebrate!

My husband and I saw the movie “Arrival” a while back, and (spoiler alert!) the gist of the movie was that aliens came to earth and transmitted a language to humans that would save them 3,000 years later. We were talking afterwards about how it would be interesting to see if more people would entertain the idea of aliens coming to solve our problems vs God already having given us the formula. Hopefully more people would choose God?

Jesus Christ came to bridge the gap between God the Father and fallen humanity. He has given us a universal language (through the Catholic Church, as catholic means universal) that we express through living the Commandments, Beatitudes, and precepts of the Church. Catherine of Siena had a deeply personal relationship with Jesus. All she accomplished was by God’s grace, and she did it by reaching out to Jesus daily. A theme throughout Scripture among those healed and helped by Christ, is that they reached out to him, literally or figuratively: the man with the withered hand, the woman with the hemorrhage, the blind man on the road, the Roman centurion, Jairus on behalf of his daughter ....they all had to make an effort to connect with Jesus.

When we connect with Jesus, it allows us to be who we were meant to be. This allows us to live up to St. Catherine’s famous quote: "Be who you were made to be and you will set the world on fire."


This week, let us all try to focus on the three stages of the spiritual life:

Purgative: What sin do I need detachment from? What is the first step I need to take to begin detachment?

Illuminative: What virtue do I need to focus on? How specifically will I focus on it?

Unitive: How can I cultivate a more loving union with God? What specific steps can I take this week to grow closer to him and show him my love?

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