Nine Levels of Christian Prayer

How does one advance in prayer?

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The Illuminative Way

With the fifth level of prayer, we have moved through the Dark Night of Senses and into the illuminative way of prayer. We have moved from prayer that is initiated by man to prayer initiated by God. We have moved from meditation to contemplation.

Level 5: Infused Contemplation
One of the most important things to note about this level of prayer is this: every Christian is called to infused contemplation. It is a common belief that only contemplative nuns or monks are called to infused contemplation, but one of the corollaries of Vatican II's emphasis on the universal call to holiness is the recognition that all followers of Christ can - and should - eventually be at this level of prayer.

What is infused contemplation? It is the experiential knowledge of God that is infused into the soul by God. In other words, it is the invasion of the soul by the supernatural. In this stage, the soul is permeated and penetrated by Someone else. Note that to reach this level, the soul must be in the state of sanctifying grace; someone in mortal sin is not a receptive vessel for the Holy Spirit. Also, the soul who reaches this level of prayer does not discontinue the practice of virtue or charity; in fact, it usually will intensify.

There are a number of characteristics of this level of prayer, including:

(a) The impossibility of producing this mystical experience by one's own efforts. One cannot "turn on" infused contemplation or turn it off, for that matter.

(b) The soul is more passive than active. In the previous forms of prayer, the soul was actively reaching for God; in this stage, the soul reclines and waits to receive God.

(c) The knowledge gained through infused contemplation is indescribable. When reading the writings of a St. Theresa or St. John of the Cross, one often notes how these saints struggle to actually describe their mystical experiences. They use metaphors, but even these must fall far short of the mark.

(d) A dramatic new living of Christian virtue. At this stage, one can truly do what St. Paul so often writes about: live "in Christ." It is truly "no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

Level 6: Prayer of Quiet
At this stage, one is still involved in infused contemplation, but it includes a special captivating of the will. It is "infused contemplation plus," so to speak. This level of prayer brings great spiritual delight, as the soul is absorbed in contemplating the presence of God. Whereas level 5 has a special emphasis on the intellect (knowledge of divine things), this stage has a special emphasis on the will (love of divine things). There is an analogy between levels 5/6 and levels 2/3: levels 2 & 5 primarily work in the arena of the intellect, whereas levels 3 & 6 are involved in the arena of the will.

One of the great benefits of this level of prayer is that often it can be experienced while the intellect is otherwise occupied. For example, the farmer tending his garden can experience the prayer of quiet during his gardening. St. Theresa said that at this level, the person experiences such an interior peace and quiet that even speaking wearies it.

Next we will explore the bridge between the illuminative and unitive ways: the Dark Night of the Soul.
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The Nine Levels of Prayer