A Loving Knowledge Above, Not Below, the Reason

le-cardinal-suisse-georges-cottier-au-vatican-le-20-juillet-2005_5574555The union of love [which is Christian mysticism], which attains the [divine] beloved as he is in himself, is the source of a connaturality, of an affinity, that makes the soul feel as if by instinct what belongs to the beloved. Thus the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in the soul start with the connaturality of love. As regards the object known, this knowledge is none other than knowledge from faith; what it introduces is a new mode of knowing, which goes beyond the ordinary, human mode. This knowledge is without concepts because it is supra-conceptual; that is why we designate it as a fulfilling silence, a blessed night.
Georges Cardinal Cottier (19222016)


According to the Intensity of Charity

Charles JournetAll the Gifts of the Holy Spirit come from the root that is love, from charity. According to the intensity of charity, so it will be for the intensity of the seven Gifts, because with charity it is God who comes into the soul. The Holy Spirit comes, and he sends forth his rays everywhere.
Charles Cardinal Journet (18911975)

Fruitful Wisdom, Radiating Peace

Reginald Garrigou-LagrangeThe contemplation of God ought to, even here on earth, be fruitful. It gives peace… The inspirations of the gift of wisdom give us a radiating peace, not only for ourselves but for our neighbour. They make us peacemakers; they help to calm troubled souls, to love our enemies, to find the words of reconciliation which put the end to strifes.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877–1964)

The Trinity with Brother Charles

As we journey deeper and deeper into God, we become more and more aware of his presence in everything that is good and in all the opportunities to turn evil things on their head, we become more and more aware of his presence in other people, and we grow in our lived experience of God as a Trinity of Persons.

That is the Christian mystery that is at the centre of all the other great Christian mysteries: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will come to learn this more and more and see that God is a communion, a unity, and Love.

Some Catholics tend to have devotion that focuses more on Jesus, more on the Father, or more on the work of the Holy Spirit. And that’s OK. But then again, many Catholics have a very Trinitarian spirituality. This is spirituality that appeals more to me, personally. When I think of spirituality focuses on the whole Trinity, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity comes to mind, of course (she is even quoted in the Catechism to this effect).

Another saint with Trinitarian spirituality is Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

Charles de FoucauldBrother Charles is perhaps best remembered for his Jesus-centred thinking: “I should carry on in myself the life of Jesus: think his thoughts, repeat his words, his actions. May it be he that lives in me.” It is a very real part of his way of living his faith. He meditates constantly on the Gospels. He loves to adore Jesus in the Eucharist. He must become as Jesus so that Jesus can be taken to those who need his divine care and love.

But the spirituality of Charles is not only Jesus-centred. He was also conscious of the presence of an all-powerful Father. In one of his meditations he wrote down these words:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

And nowadays, those who are inspired by Charles’ example perhaps know this passage of his writing best. It is writing about the Father who governs all by his providence and to whom we can run like a little child.

In addition, Brother Charles himself prayed the Veni Creator, a hymn to the Holy Spirit, daily. He implored the Creator Spirit to come, bestow his sevenfold Gift (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Piety, Counsel, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord) on us and guide us in ways beyond our conscious understanding and apprehension:

Come Holy Spirit, creator, come
from your bright heavenly throne,
come take possession of our souls
and make them all your own.

You who are called Paraclete
blest gift of God above,
the living spring, the living fire,
sweet unction and true love.

You who are sevenfold in your grace,
finger of God’s right hand;
his promise, teaching little ones
to speak and understand.

O guide our minds with your blest light,
with love our hearts inflame;
and with strength, which never decays,
confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our deadly foe;
true peace unto us bring;
and through all perils, lead us safe
beneath your sacred wing.

Through you may we the Father know;
through you the eternal Son,
and you the Spirit of them both,
thrice-blessed Three in One.

All glory to the Father be,
with his co-equal Son:
the same to You great Paraclete,
while endless ages run.

So here, with brother Charles, we have an example of Trinitarian spirituality, with no clear focus on any one Person of the most Holy Trinity. We can emulate this example, if we wish, by praying the Prayer of Abandonment and the Veni Creator, combined with a meditative reading of the Gospels or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. In such an approach we would invite communion with each of the Three Persons individually and together.

John of Ávila Teaches What to do about Meditation and Contemplation

In prayer, different things can happen. We might engage in petition, thanksgiving, worship, adoration, liturgy, ejaculatory prayers – or also mental prayer, meditation and contemplation.

There is this thing called meditation. We might form our own thoughts, starting from a consideration of the world and of nature, starting from reflecting on and absorbing a passage of Scripture, starting from the words of a saint or words from a spiritual book, starting from the mysteries of the Rosary, or starting from any experience that we have had or are having. These thoughts, if they take us to God and let us tease out the details of God’s being or God’s work in salvation history, are called meditation. We do mental work. In that, we pray.

On the other hand, sometimes it happens that we begin with meditative thoughts and prayers, and then, all of a sudden, this disappears. We lose control. We are left in a void as regards our own attempts and control, and another inspiration comes over us, leading us into light or darkness from on high. This is normally called contemplation, and the beginning experiences of it often feel dark, for we are losing control and God is giving us prayer. Instead of our working the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, God is guiding us by his sevenfold Gift of the Holy Spirit. We have to let go. God leads us into the dark. Then it gradually, maybe in days or weeks or years, becomes light.

It is common advice of the saints to let God do his work. If we cannot pray as we want to, but yet we can still pray, we should accept prayer on God’s terms. We should give up; we should give in. Such a response is beneficial for us (and, by extension, for our neighbours). In previous posts, I have detailed this advice in John of the Cross (more than once), Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, Francis de Sales, René Voillaume (more than once), Edith Stein (more than once), Marcel Văn, and others.

John of Ávila is of the same mind. In his Audi, filia (Listen, O Daughter), he describes the situation as follows:

[I]f you are thinking about one thing in prayer, and your souls feels that it is invited elsewhere and that another door of a good thought has been opened to you, you should then leave what you were thinking about and take up what is given to you…

[I]f you are reading or praying vocally, and the Lord visits you with some profound sentiment, you should stop what you were doing and enjoy the portion that the Lord is sending you. Once it is finished, you will be able to continue what you were doing before. Since exterior devotion serves to awaken the interior, the former must not be taken as a means to hinder the latter.

John also specifies why he thinks it is important for us to follow this counsel of his:

I would not speak in such detail if I had not seen people so attached to their own rules and the fulfillment of their own tasks, that, even if there are reasons to think that the Lord wants them interrupted, they do not wish to be.

In other words, it can be, secretly and stealthily, our pride at work when we deny God his ability to work freely in us. When we pray and God wishes to do most of the praying (contemplation), we ought rather to say yes. To turn down a gift in order to do things the way we prefer is, at best, bad manners. Bad manners might come from lack of understanding of God’s customs, or they might come from our desire to have things our way; in either case, we would do better to learn good manners and apply them. God pays well for our good manners, and he bestows wonderful gifts.

When, in meditating, the opportunity of contemplation comes, we ought to say, Yes; do speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

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Note that detailed signs of the onset of contemplation (that is, an initial transition from meditative prayer to contemplative prayer) are given by Saint John of the Cross and discussed here and here.