A Journey Through the Spiritual Life (#7)
You then are the Body of Christ
You may have been persevering in the dark night for many years. You have faced trials and dryness in prayer. You have laid down your life for Christ and live for Him. Every day you rise and turn to God in prayer. You know the Lord has been with you, but you know there is more. When will the Lord fill me with His presence? You love the Lord, but still yearn for the living water He promised. Your heart cries out to God—Lord, make my joy complete! Then you hear Jesus speak to your heart:
“Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”1
Perhaps you doubt—Lord, I have been doing this for so long and have not caught anything. Do not be afraid! Respond fully to the call of Jesus as St. Peter did: “We have laboured all the night, and have taken nothing: but at thy word I will let down the net.”2 Launch out into the deep waters of prayer and allow Him to fill your spirit with His love. The Lord who calls you will Himself miraculously fill your net—He will pour living water into your heart! May it come to pass in your life in the Name of Jesus! May the holy fire of God touch you today!
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”3
“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”4 “This ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual.”5 “All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”6 Based on this calling, “it would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life.”7
“The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West . . . shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch, resting filially within the Father's heart. This is the lived experience of Christ's promise: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ (John 14:21) It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the "dark night"). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as ‘nuptial union.’”8
As we go through the passive purification of the senses and the spirit, our daily practice of Christian meditation gives way to recollection and contemplative prayer. There are five levels of contemplative prayer: recollection; quiet; union; espousal; spiritual marriage. The prayer of quiet is a mystical supernatural state “and however hard we try, we cannot reach it for ourselves.”9 It is true nevertheless that “contemplation is always granted to those who worthily seek for it and who persevere in asking for it through prayer.”10 “All interior souls may legitimately desire infused contemplation, on condition that they remain humble and leave to the good pleasure of God the time when this grace shall be granted to them.”11
True contemplative prayer is a gift from God. This prayer has been described as “God praying in us.” “God nourishes and fortifies the soul by infused contemplation.”12 By comparison, “Meditation is a studious activity of the mind under the control of reason which investigates the meaning of a hidden truth. Contemplation is the elevation of the mind whereby it is suspended in God and tastes the joys of eternal sweetness.”13
Christian “contemplation is nothing less than a deep love communion with the triune God. . . . It is a wordless awareness and love that we of ourselves cannot initiate or prolong. The beginnings of this contemplation are brief and frequently interrupted by distractions. . . . Initial infused prayer is so ordinary and unspectacular in the early stages that many fail to recognize it for what it is. Yet with generous people, that is, with those who try to live the whole Gospel wholeheartedly and who engage in an earnest prayer life, it is common.”14 Nevertheless, “some souls, though they live a life of mortification, are as yet filled with self-love and worldly affections. Whenever they experience the slightest interior delight or consolation in prayer, they immediately think they have been raised to the prayer of quiet.”15 St. Teresa says that although there are comparatively many who arrive at the prayer of quiet, there are few who pass beyond it—true contemplatives are very rare.16 “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
One twentieth-century theologian remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or . . . will not exist at all.” “Mystical knowledge [is] the loving experience of God felt in the depths of the soul, which is reserved to the friends of God.”17 “The full perfection of Christian life belongs normally to the mystical order.”18
No two mystics proceed in exactly the same way or in the same order.19 “Not all mystics pass through the same trials or suffer their trials with equal rigor or in the same order. These vary with the state and destiny of each soul: what must be purified in them and the degree of sanctity which they are to attain.”20 “It is not possible . . . for the soul to arrive at mystical union if it has not first become totally pure and simple.”21
“The mystical life is characterized by the predominance of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.”22 These gifts are not something extraordinary, like a miracle, “but something eminent and ordinary in the perfect.”23 “Mystical theology and prayer are nothing other than a conversation in which the soul is lovingly communicating with God, speaking to His lovable goodness in order to be united and joined to Him.”24
“To be docile to the Holy Ghost, we must first hear His voice. To do so, recollection, detachment from the world and from self are necessary, as are the custody of the heart, the mortification of self-will, and personal judgment. If silence does not reign in our soul, if the voice of excessively human affections troubles it, we cannot of a certainty hear the inspirations of the interior Master.”25 “We dispose ourself to docility to the Holy Ghost by . . . obeying faithfully the will of God . . . by frequently renewing our resolution to follow the will of God in everything,” and for asking for the help of the Holy Spirit.26 “It is only when the Holy Spirit has sufficiently purified us that the real and total union with Christ that we have always desired can take place.”27
Power Tools for Prayer, Chapter 11 (Thanksgiving).
The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life (frequently cited in footnotes), Vol. 2, Docility to the Holy Ghost, at pp. 223-240, Contemplative Prayer, at pp. 279-288, The Degrees of Contemplative Prayer in Proficients, at pp.299-306.
1 Cor. 12:13-27; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:23-35; 1 Cor. 10:12-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Matthew 18:19-22; Romans 12:1-21; Ephesians 4:1-16.
Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry.
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Matthew 5:48. Biblical quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, unless otherwise indicated.
Id. (citing Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 40).
Id., section 34.
Id., section 33.
Id. at 128 n.1.
Garrigou-Lagrange, Vol. 2, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life, at 323.
Mystical Evolution, at 128 n.1.
Mystical Evolution, at 140.
Id. at 258.
Three Ages, at 362.
Id. at 360.
Mystical Evolution, at 252-53.
Id. at 252.
Id. at 150 n.56.
Christian Perfection, at 32.
Id. at 33-34.
Mystical Evolution, at 119 (citing St. Francis de Sales)).
Three Ages, at 233 (compare John 3:8).
Id. at 234.