Navigating the Interior Life

The need for spiritual guidance on the “Path of the Desert” has long been recognized by the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, no less than by those who followed or follow them. An excellent introduction to spiritual guidance (or, as it is more commonly but less attractively called, spiritual direction) in the Roman Catholic tradition is: Dan Burke “Navigating the Interior Life. A Guide to Spiritual Direction and Growth in the Interior Life” [Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012]
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“Just as serious athletes would be foolish for not seeking coaches and trainers to help them learn from the experience of others how best to develop their natural skills, so for the Christian pursuing holiness it is foolhardy not to seek the counsel and direction of wise mentors in the spiritual life. Dan Burke’s “A Guide to Spiritual Direction and Growth in the Interior Life” is an immensely practical book to help a serious Catholic take advantage of the wealth of experience and knowledge of those who have trod the path to sanctity for the past 2,000 years.
run with faith
Just as well-intentioned athletes can waste time, injure themselves, and hurt their team by embarking on an ill-conceived training program, so Christian history is strewn with examples of well-meaning individuals who went astray harming themselves and others by following a misguided, imbalanced and imprudent spiritual path.
Unfortunately, complicating the matter even more not everyone, who claims the mantle of a spiritual director, is actually competent to lead others to holiness. Dan Burke gives very practical advice not only on how to find a good spiritual director, but also how best to access the wealth of resources in our Catholic tradition that can assist in developing our friendship with Jesus and growing in virtue.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas

“Navigating the Interior Life” is a comprehensive guide to spiritual direction, which answers all the questions one might have on the topic in a concise manner. In a clear, candid, comprehensible style, using the teachings of the Catholic Church, the Scriptures, and the wisdom of the saints, Burke leads us on the path to holiness by explaining exactly what spiritual direction is, how to find a spiritual director, and how to get the most out of spiritual direction. Sharing from his own experiences, as well as the teachings of the spiritual masters, Father Garrigou-Lagrange and St. Louis de Montfort, Burke emphasizes the necessity of Marian devotion and consecration in developing sanctity. Through self-evaluation charts, he helps us identify our predominant faults and root sins. Sharing the teachings of some of the Doctors of the Church, including St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Catherine of Siena, and others, he defines and demonstrates the three ways of the spiritual life: the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way. He also enables us to determine where we are in our spiritual journey and then makes practical suggestions on how to progress from one level to the next. He even helps us develop a rule of life – a daily spiritual schedule – to keep us on the path to sanctity.
“Doctors of the soul have long understood that authentic spiritual progress can be predictable even though each person follows his own unique ascent up Mount Carmel into the heart of God. From St Catherine of Siena to St John of the Cross, every spiritual doctor of the Church has identified some continuum of growth that illustrates the progress of the soul toward union with God. Whether they be the degrees of love revealed so eloquently by St Bernard of Clairvaux, or the mansions of “The Interior Castle” of St Teresa of Avila, each has discovered that the same essential path of salvation (or the “narrow way” as Jesus called it) is trod by all who heed to call of Christ. Historically, the most widely used description of that path is known as the Three Ways.
Interior Castle
The three ways represent three distinct phases of spiritual development. While several terms are used for the ways, the most common designations for them are: purgative, illuminative and unitive (Sts John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas and others used the terms beginner, proficient and perfect respectively). The easiest way to understand the three ways is to compare them with our common experience regarding the normative path of human development.
The parallels illustrated by this comparison can be insightful, revealing that — as with psychological and physical development — there is predictability in the phases of spiritual progress, as well. For instance, in normal human development, it is reasonable to expect that a toddler will fill their diaper. It certainly is not normal for a teen to wear a diaper, or to fill it…
The understanding of this development helps parents to know if their children are making reasonable progress or if they need special assistance. The same is true with our spiritual maturation.
The parallels are simple and obvious but the depth of understanding gained can enable very sophisticated insights into the progress of the soul. On the simplest level we can see that, birth in the physical sense parallels our baptism in the spiritual life. In the purgative way as with childhood, we are simply learning to cope with who we are on a fundamental level. We are learning the basics of what it means to be human and the basics of walking with God.
Even so, a few dissimilarities are also notable and helpful to point out. In the physical realm, there comes a time of natural decline in health eventually leading to death. In the spiritual life, growth is always possible. The two lifecycles are also dissimilar when we consider the fact that in the spiritual life, physical age can have little bearing on spiritual growth. For example, it is possible for someone who is very young — like St Therese of Lisieux — to be very mature spiritually. In contrast, someone who is physically old can be very immature spiritually.
In spite of these shortcomings, the power of this approach is that we can come to understand the “You Are Here” of our own spiritual progress. Knowing where we are, it is then easier to understand, explore, and map out the next steps in our growth to deeper union with the Lord.
The central challenge in digging deeper into the wisdom of the three ways is that the most popular texts are significant in size and complexity. This complexity, of course, reflects the challenging nature of describing how the soul progresses deeper into the interior castle.”
An extract from Dan Burke “Longing for the Face of God – Navigating the Interior Life”, “National Catholic Register”, August 10, 2014 at
Dan Burke is an award winning author, speaker, regular voice on Register Radio, the Executive Director of the “National Catholic Register” and founder of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation.


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