“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When we begin the journey of purification, we realize that it is a cooperation of our will with God’s, but it is all in God’s power and love. Our cooperation with God does not mean it is by our efforts that our sanctification is attained. It is by the “gift of God, not by works” that we are sanctified. “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
It takes humility to grow in virtue. Humility tells us that we are not (yet) what we are meant to be. A proud person can hardly grow, for (in his own mind and heart) he has already arrived at perfection. The humble see that they are not ultimate. Only with this humble disposition can their eyes be opened to what is in fact superior to themselves. In honoring this greater good, they will seek to conform themselves to it.
But when he saw what wings they were, he cried “Down on your knees! It is God’s angel comes! Fold your hands! From now on you shall see many such ministers in the high kingdoms.”
Virgil, human reason, can indeed take us a great distance along this journey, and we are never asked to “check our minds at the door” of our faith. But when our eyes are opened by grace to the supernatural reality of the only true path to holiness, our first reaction is one of awe. In fact, we will forever be in awe of the Holy One:
‘The throng he left seemed not to understand what place it was, but stood and stared about like men who see the first of a new land.’
In the Gospels, Jesus tells the parable of the sower of the seed. ““Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Similarly, the souls standing around admiring the music in purgatory are told to let that seed take root and perfect them: “Negligence! Loitering! O laggard crew, run to the mountain and strip off the scurf that lets not God be manifest in you.” This is the entire journey of purification, or sanctification, and of salvation. God created us, and saw that His creation “was very good.” Stained with sin as we are, we must rise up, cooperate with God’s grace, and be on our way.