Note: Another name for this age is the purgative way or age.
In our early spiritual development, we tend to experience our spiritual lives as a cycle of extremes. We can experience incredible growth and insight, and yet we can be plagued by the effects of mortal sin in our lives. Perhaps we still struggle to overcome specific mortal sins that seem to haunt us. This is not uncommon. The first age of our spiritual life is one of struggle and discipline. What is needed is the courage to be able to make significant changes and to persevere in the trials that await us.
One danger that beginners face is that they may lose the hope that their lives will change. Lingering attachments seem strong and difficult to master. In addition, the beginner still must face the fact that they still have a sweet tooth for mortal sin. This element of being seduced by sin seems to fly in the face of the portraits that we can paint of the saints and the joy of the Gospel. To a beginner, such ideas of tranquility and inner harmony seem like an illusion or at worse a lie.
In addition, there are powerful forces that can reinforce such views. The media is filled with imagery and clever advertisements that entice unsuspecting victims and keep believers hungering for sense pleasure. The smiles of celebrities and other public figures who seem to have it all seem to say that Christianity’s promises are an illusion. Sometimes, media even goes out of its way to paint Christians as joyless naysayers who suck everything good out of life.
The example of holy people can help counteract these negative influences. Believers who are more advanced in their spiritual life can prove a powerful antidote to such images because they point to a reality that often goes unrepresented in the public media. One or two saintly people within a community can have a transforming effect, especially when such people also possess skills of leadership or are clergy. In such cases, the beginners receive the inspiration they need to submit to the disciplines that accompany Christian faith.
The laws and disciplines of the Church will seem at first to be an imposition. This is necessary in the beginning. Soon the believer will discover their transformative potential. If they submit their intellect and will to the demands of Christian discipleship, they will also begin to taste the fruits of spiritual communion. The beginner may even experience a brief glimpse into mystical experiences, though such moments will be fleeting and short lived. Such encounters with our Lord will help them to have courage that they can in fact overcome sin. They also help to show that there is a happiness that goes beyond the sensual and the immediate.
Beginners must remain committed to regular confession, regular reception of communion, and a steady practice of prayer and study. Such disciplines need not be dramatic for them to take hold. Rather, the beginner must exercise their will and actively pursue such a routine, especially when doing so proves difficult and trying. In time, such practices will move from being a burden to an incredible place of refuge and healing.