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.
8 thoughts on “Infused recollection, the first stage of contemplation”
Connie, I began my journey with Jesus 6 yrs ago. I was in front of the Monstrance in my parish in prayer. I felt a calling deep in my soul. A love so beautiful and strong that I will never forget that day. He called me to carry His Cross. Jesus needs souls who are willing to do this. I answered yes, with no hesitation. I could not deny His Love. I then began to live only for Him, my desire was the cross and the Love he showered on us. I needed to make reparation for all the sins committed against Him. I was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer 2 months later. The Dr’s have only seen one other case of it and that was in a 80 yr old man. My prayer life intensified as the pain became unbearable. I longed for only one thing and that was Jesus. My desire to be a saint increases daily. My life is so united to His that I have a hard time talking with my friends, the world means nothing to me. He wakes me in the night so I can pray and talk to Him. I long for heaven. Is this normal? No one understands me. Only the Bishop and my Spiritual Advisor.
Tami, if your spiritual adviser and bishop understand, I wouldn’t be too worried about anyone else. Is it normal? Well, orthodox spiritual writers would say that the majority of people who are generous with Jesus will reach such a point in their lives. You were made for Jesus, not for any lesser purpose. If you are longing for him more and more daily, you are doing just what you should be doing. Even other Catholics will try to turn people aside from seeking union with God. It’s a sad thing. One day the world won’t be here. But you can be with God forever. Your story encourages and inspires me. Don’t give up for anything. I don’t know if you have a family or other responsibilities. If so, make sure your spiritual adviser is helping you to balance those responsibilities with your desire to be alone with God. God works through our vocations and states in life. I will pray for you, Tami, and ask you to please pray for me.
I have been wanting a spiritual director for so long now and living on base keeps me limited. Do you have any advice as to how I might find one? St Claire’s monastery is close by and I am always drawn to it. Would it be inappropriate to seek one from there?
I don’t think that would be inappropriate at all. Good spiritual directors are hard to find. Both Fr. Dubay and Dan Burke have written books about the necessity of spiritual directors and how to go about looking for one. I don’t have one myself right now. It’s really hard when my husband works for the diocese and knows all the priests on a business level. Plus we live in a small town and I can’t travel much with little kids. But I am hoping that as they get older, I am more mobile and have more options.
Hi Connie, firstly thank you for all your posts and i am delighted to be part of this group. On to my question : I have been practicing mental prayer for over 4 years now… However for the past year when i begin my meditation on a scriptural verse I automatically start saying the “Jesus prayer” and or small prayers like “jesus Love” or such small prayers repeatedly over and over again for lengthy period of time. I am unable to meditate on the scriptures for longer than 4 or 5 mins. While i am saying these small ejaculatory prayers (which is almost on autopilot) my mind is every where and not on God… this worries me … Could you please enlighten me as to what is happening.
Hi, Benny. This is a normal development of prayer. You have moved to a more simplified meditation. At some point, you will even move beyond the ejaculatory prayers (which in this context we would call affective prayer), to sitting in silent love of God for a brief time. This is known as the prayer of simple gaze or acquired recollection. However, it is important to try to keep the mind on God. When your mind begins to run all over the place, the best practice is to return to your Scripture passage and try to draw more from it, so that the mind is fixed on God. If you again feel drawn to affective prayer, follow that impulse, but beware of spending a lot of time during prayer when you are not focusing your mind on God. There will be times when you simply can’t focus, no matter what you do, but we should put forth a reasonable effort and returning to the Bible is what will help with this most at the level you are at. God bless!
Connie, This is the most descriptive and personally meaningful look at the subject of infused contemplation I have read. Thank you for your simple, beautiful commentary.
Oh, thank you for letting me know that it helps you. God bless!