Over the last two weeks we have examined the first four of the nine grades of prayer. Remember, in those first four grades, we are in control of the activity in our prayer life and the progress we make, with the help of God’s grace, of course. The last five grades of prayer are completely out of our control and are a means by which God comes into certain souls of His choosing to bring about a closer union with them. Whether or not any of us are chosen for such intimacy with God while here on earth is not meant to be discouraging, but rather, to make us all aware of what is possible when we pour our entire beings into an intimate relationship with God.
Before one can be called into these last grades of prayer, a soul must go through what is called the Dark Night of Sense. The Dark Night of Sense is a passive process we go through so that the Holy Spirit can purge our soul of its need for worldly comforts in order to draw us closer to Him. It is a process of purification for us which leads to a greater holiness. More specifically, this Dark Night of Sense purges individuals of three specific sins: (1) Gluttony, which is the attachment to spiritual consolation and turning to God out of a desire for what He can do for us and not out of love for Him; (2) Sloth, which is laziness in our desire to be purified; and (3) Pride, which is thinking we can achieve greater union with God by our own efforts.
So, what does the Dark Night of Sense look like in practical terms? The soul will experience what is known as “spiritual aridity” and will not find any consolation in things of God or created things. The reason for this is to bring the soul to an understanding of the vanity and emptiness of things. Remember, we were not created for this world, but for Heaven, so we must therefore detach from everything of this world to prepare for Heaven. Another way to look at it, is to understand your attachment to sin which is wrapped up in this world through your senses and that the Holy Spirit is purging you from that attachment. Despite experiencing this spiritual aridity, the soul will still desire to serve God and to be faithful to Him. Your dependence on God will increase as your dependence on yourself decreases. During this period, the soul will likely find that living the Christian life is more difficult because it will lack consolations and the reassurances that it is used to having. The key is to persevere and to trust in God to get you through it. The soul may also find that earlier stages of prayer are more difficult. The reason for this is to prepare you to be more passive in prayer so that the Holy Spirit may enter you at will without your effort. You are being prepared to be a passive vessel for God. A very good practice here in the 4th grade of prayer is to simply fix a loving gaze on God regardless of the lack of consolation you receive from it. If you ever experience any of these characteristics of the Dark Night of Sense, it is very important that you seek out a good spiritual director to help you through it. We want to be properly prepared for our Lord to enter us and not rely on our own will. For more information on the dark night and how it leads a soul into precious intimacy with God, read: Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross.
5th Grade of Prayer – Infused Contemplation
Once the soul has been properly prepared to be a passive vessel for God, it is ready for the 5th grade of prayer which is called Infused Contemplation. This grade is the foundation for all other forms of what is called “mystical prayer.” Mystical prayer is when God is the initiator of the union and the individual cannot turn it off and on by their own will. These grades of prayer are often associated with canonized saints, but we must be careful to not assume that they aren’t available to anyone God chooses, and to always persevere in the hope that they can be made available to us.
The concise definition of Infused Contemplation is: “An experiential, loving knowledge of God, infused by the Holy Spirit with the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding.”
In order to better understand this definition, we will go over the 10 characteristics that indicate a soul has reached the 5th grade of prayer.
- The soul will experience the presence of God like never before. You will not just feel His presence around you, but deep within your soul in a very real sense.
- The activity will feel like an invasion into the soul because it is the Holy Spirit entering into it. The presence is internal.
- It is impossible for a person to enter into this state by his or her own effort and it only occurs through the will of God.
- The soul is in a passive state, rather than active.
- At this stage, the individual is not ready to receive God in His fullness. Because of this, the experiential knowledge of God is not clear and distinct, but rather it is obscured and confused. Clarity will come in later stages. God will remain a mystery for now.
- At the moment of being in the state of Infused Contemplation, there will be no doubt in the individual that he or she is under the action of God. There may be confusion and doubt afterward, but never in the moment.
- If a person is granted the privilege of entering into Infused Contemplation, we can be certain his or her soul is in a state of grace.
- Because God is in control, this mystical experience can vary in length. A soul may be in this state for a second, or for much longer if God wills it so.
- Very often, the state of Infused Contemplation will cause a reaction in the body because of the connection between the body and soul. The eyes may be in a trance like state, the body may be weak, the breath may deepen, the limbs may become partially paralyzed, etc. These are all signs of the passivity of the vessel as the Lord enters.
- If the soul is allowed to experience Infused Contemplation, there will be a great impulse to practice virtue. Once a person has experienced God at this level, there will be an intense desire to please Him which is a good indication the experience was authentic.
Typically at the end of a reflection, I like to explore things we can do to implement what we’ve covered on a more practical level. It’s already been stated that we cannot really do anything by our own efforts to enter into the 5th grade of prayer, so we have to go back to more fundamental work within ourselves. First, if you find yourself in a state of spiritual aridity, in which you do not feel the presence of God, be thankful to Him for purifying you. Recognize that He is preparing you for a more intimate union with Him. Cling to Him and trust the work He is doing within your soul. Otherwise, continue to practice the first 4 grades of prayer and ask your Father, if it be His holy will, to bring you further along. Now that you know what is possible, you can desire it for yourself and therefore ask for it.
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