After a few weeks’ break, we return to the Interior Castle today to study what St. Teresa of Avila says about the prayer of infused recollection.
There are two types of infused (meaning God-given) contemplation souls experience in the fourth mansions. The first is what Teresa calls “supernatural recollection.” The second is the prayer of quiet. We’ll focus on recollection today and look at the prayer of quiet next time.
You’ll recall that in the third mansions, souls who have practiced mental prayer for a long time find their prayer simplifying to a quiet gaze upon God. We call this acquired recollection. Souls who practice it faithfully, while becoming ever more careful in doing God’s will out of love, prepare themselves for infused recollection.
Is it acquired or infused?
The beginnings of infused recollection are so subtle, that spiritual writers say souls often do not recognize it. It is very brief at the beginning and may intermingle with acquired recollection. When the contemplation becomes more obvious and lasting, it has become the prayer of quiet.
How is infused recollection different from acquired recollection?
The key difference is that in the third mansions, we recollect ourselves. Although our prayer is very simple, the recollection is produced as the result of a brief thought about God. This thought moves the heart, which then gazes silently for a time on God.
Acquired recollection can occur when a person sings a hymn at Mass, prays the Rosary, glimpses an icon, reads a passage of Scripture, or makes the Sign of the Cross. The mind turns to God, however briefly, and recollection results.
In the fourth mansions, a person may be doing the dishes, for example, and not thinking about God at all. Suddenly, without knowing how, he is recollected. He can’t make the recollection last by being silent, thinking about God, or making acts of love. The recollection comes and goes by God’s will alone. The soul cannot produce it. The soul cannot prolong it.
But otherwise, the experience of this recollection may be so similar to acquired recollection that the soul does not know it has just experienced something supernatural.
How can we tell the difference?
If it’s so subtle, how can we know if we are experiencing it?
First, if you have reached this stage without a spiritual director, do your best to find one. A knowledgeable and experienced director can help you discern whether your prayer is supernatural. But you can also tell true contemplation by its fruit.
Meditation and its more simplified forms, including acquired recollection, move the soul to love God. As the soul loves God more, she draws away from everything else in order to be with him. She is more careful than ever about sin and attachments. She begins making loving sacrifices. She longs for God.
Infused recollection produces similar results, but without the soul’s effort. She feels the call to prayer, virtue, and detachment even more strongly than before. She longs for more of God. Everything other than God begins to fade in importance. Suddenly, her priorities have changed. She sees the vanity of all things.
If the soul is experiencing this, she must yield to it. She must pray more, if she can, live more carefully, love more fervently, and try to recollect herself throughout the day. In fact, she must continue as she was doing in the third mansions, but with even more care. Being lax will prevent her from moving on to the prayer of quiet.
And, God willing, we will discuss that amazing prayer next time.