Hopefully, you were able to find some opportunities to practice more meaningful verbal and meditative prayer in the last week. Continue to keep coming back to those simpler forms throughout your prayer life. This week, we will explore the 3rd and 4th grades of prayer.
3rd Grade of Prayer – Affective Prayer
The majority of the development of this grade of prayer comes to us from St. Francis de Sales. If you are interested, his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, is an excellent resource written specifically to help lay people seek out holiness in their everyday lives.
Remember in the 2nd grade of prayer—meditation – we activate our intellects and imaginations to try to more deeply penetrate the meaning of a supernatural truth. Now, in the 3rd grade, we move out of our heads and more into our hearts. Affective prayer is reflecting and meditating on what God’s love means to you as an individual. You still need to engage your mind a little bit to do this, but there will be much less thought overall. In this grade, you are not asking for anything or trying to figure out anything. Your mind is not busy trying to tell God everything you need to tell him. There should be no journaling here. There is a certain peace to this form of prayer because there isn’t anything for you to do except to just simply sit and bask in the love God has for you.
This grade of prayer is known very much for bringing about spiritual consolation. Consolation in prayer is when we feel God’s close presence to us and can feel His response to our gift of love for Him. Receiving consolation in prayer can be soothing, comforting, and peaceful. We rest in the fact that all is well because of God’s love and close presence to our soul. Spiritual consolation helps with affective prayer as we feel God dwelling in our hearts.
We do need to be careful about becoming too attached to consolation in our prayer life. It is not always guaranteed. Relying on consolation in prayer also endangers our disposition to only go to God to make us feel good, when in fact, we should be going to God in prayer out of love for Him. Love is doing something for the good of the other, not because of what it can do for you. I will talk about this more at length in the next article, but you will have to go through a dark period of no consolation to achieve the 5th grade of prayer. So, appreciate and enjoy any consolation you receive in prayer, but do not expect it as if you are owed it.
While this grade of prayer often (not always) brings about consolation, what if it doesn’t? We must look at the other fruits of our prayer life to discern how our union with God is growing through our prayer efforts. Do we experience an increase in our practice of virtue? Do you have an increase for love of God and love of neighbor? Do you handle suffering better? If you join your cross to Jesus’ and carry it better as a result, your prayer life is growing. Even if God does not offer you consolation for any period of time, be thankful to Him for it. Know that He is there. Rest in the fact that He loves you. And know that He is using that time to bring about something good in you and your relationship with Him.
4th Grade of Prayer – Acquired Recollection
Acquired recollection is the highest grade of prayer we can achieve by our own work and practice. After this one, God alone, can move us through the final grades, if He so wills. To get to and through this 4th grade takes a lot of self-discipline on our part and we should work on it as much as possible.
Acquired recollection is also known as the prayer of simplicity or the prayer of simple vision. It is where we apply our simple loving gaze on a divine or supernatural truth. Similar to the earlier grade of meditation, we choose any truth, mystery, or other divine attribute to focus our attention. However in this stage, we remove all imagination and emotion. We just gaze lovingly on whatever object we have chosen through the eyes of our heart. Controlling your imagination and emotion takes quite a bit of self-mastery and this is not something that can be achieved easily or without perseverance.
Arguably the best place to practice this grade of prayer is in the Adoration Chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. Can you quiet your mind and all that is inside of you and just gaze lovingly at Him? This is no easy feat for some people, myself included. Paragraph #2715 in the Catechism shares a story told to us by St. John Vianney. St. John came upon a peasant who was in the church sitting before the tabernacle. When St. John asked the peasant what he was doing his reply was, “Nothing. I look at Him and He looks at me.” This is exactly what acquired recollection, or the prayer of simplicity looks like.
So, using some of our previous examples of objects of our meditative prayer, we can see how they would look in this grade. The first mystery of the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary is the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb. Can we simply gaze lovingly at God made flesh as a tiny baby? Can we simply gaze lovingly on the woman He chose as His living tabernacle for nine months? Can we gaze lovingly at the pain he endured for us in bearing the crown of thorns on His head? Can we each gaze in simple love at a crucifix because He suffered for love of each of us? We talked about using paragraphs from the Catechism as objects of meditation as they contain divine truths. Can we gaze on those statements of truth with love, simply because they come directly from God in love?
Both of the grades of prayer we’ve discussed here require us to get out of the busyness of the world and out of our own, often tumultuous, heads and emotions to meet Jesus in our hearts more intimately. This week, can you seek out opportunities – even a few minutes – to practice turning everything off in order to be at peace in the love of God, no matter what else is happening in your life? Practice this as frequently as you can, and it will grow and bring about great fruit in your life.
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