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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How do I discern matters that come with the gift of infused contemplation?

October 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Anonymous, Contemplation, Prayer

Dear Father Edward, when given the gift of infused contemplation, should there be any doubt that these are of God? My spiritual director has told me to listen and obey, write everything down, and if there are any doubts, to go back and read what the Lord has said and shown me. This has helped tremendously. I am a wretched sinful person, and fear that evil will invade or try to fool me in some way.

You are certainly right to call infused contemplation a gift. It is, at base, an experiential knowledge of God. It is made possible by the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Infused contemplation requires one to have sanctifying grace, that is, to be in a state of grace. This kind of prayer brings an experience of the presence of God and of a hard-to-describe sense of the supernatural. None of this is conjured up by the soul on its own; in fact, the soul is more passive than active when involved in this type of contemplation.

It is important to emphasize that infused contemplation gives the soul moral certitude that it is indeed in the state of grace. That is why your description of yourself as a “wretched sinful person” is intriguing. Certainly, we are all sinners, some more so than others. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8). As we progress in the spiritual life it is not uncommon that we understand the ugliness of sin even more than when we began an earnest quest for sanctity. It is like a soul standing before a mirror, looking at itself in dim light. We don’t see all the blemishes. But as the soul draws closer to the true light of Christ, it sees its blemishes ever more clearly. Hence the paradox: We can feel the weight of sin more acutely even as we grow in the life of grace.

That might explain your use of the label “wretched sinful person.” Without trying to define “wretched,” let’s just say that the fact that you are obedient and docile to a spiritual director, and that you are concerned enough about the spiritual life to be asking about infused contemplation, seems to indicate that you are headed in the right direction. A more telling sign would be your practice of charity. A high level of charity is one of the surest signs that you are experiencing true contemplation. That’s because real prayer has an impact on the way we deal with others; it moves us to try to imitate Christ more and more in daily life. All of this is a reminder that genuine inspirations of God always nudge us to do something good.

To stay on track, stick to the basics. Make frequent use of the sacrament of confession, and worthily receive the Eucharist as often as possible. Keep up your interior life. Foster a sense of recollection, of interior and exterior silence. Mortify the senses — no need to see and hear everything around you. Develop a healthy detachment from earthly things. Nourish a profound gratitude toward and love for Our Lord. Cultivate a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dedicate time to prayer; if you feel drawn into infused contemplation, be open to it. Stay close to your spiritual director; this helps to stave off the devil, who does his darnedest to isolate us and get us discouraged. Be confident of the Holy Spirit’s assistance.

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.

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  • TrueDevotion

    Great and insightful question, if only we could all be as insightful about our prayer lives! Pls pray that God sends out more Spiritual Directors…

  • Guest

    This is a truly blessed soul. Fr. Edward, could you kindly explain to us on this Website what actually is Infused Contemplation?

  • Susan Bailey

    Wow, this is amazing post. There is so much in here I’ll have to pick it apart line by line. And I too would like to know specifically what infused contemplation is.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Susan, Good question. I will get a post prepared about infused contemplation for you. It may take a while.

  • Becky Ward

    Great Post!! Praise God!!

    The book ‘Abandonment to Divine Providence’ comes to mind as I read of this souls concern about the devil. (I know other spiritual masters have said the same thing……) What they say is that the fact that a soul is concerned is a sign that it is not the devil! If it were the devil the soul would be full of pride and would NOT be worried about it.

    It sounds like this soul has a good spiritual director and what a good job Fr. Edward did in responding to the question. May the Lord be pleased to send us many more like him.

    I have learned a couple other helpful tools of discernment that I offer for any help they may provide.

    Rule #3 (I believe) of St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discerning the Spirits (Second Week) says: What is important to note is the tendency to let down our guard when God grants such consolations. It is not the consolation in itself that we question, but the time after such divine communications. It is hard to know when the self, the values of the world or the weeds that our enemy wishes to sow find their way to contaminate us.

    St John of the Cross: 1st Caution Against the Flesh: The first precaution is to understand that you have come to the monastery so that all may fashion you and try you. Paraphrased – All those who come into our lives are artisans. They are there to shape, fashion, form, and test us.

    I’m not sure of the original source of the following:
    The devil cannot plant an ‘original’ thought into our minds…………but between he our ‘self”, we can certainly be made to question and doubt them.

    Even if the evil one does manage to trick us into believing we have heard something from God……….if we take that directly to Jesus and give it to Him, He will confirm if He was the source of the message/direction, ignore it, or often, He will use this as a means of thwarting the devil………using the trick as a means to aid the soul.

    Loud, noisy, belittling, negative things are not of God!!

    Trust is imperative. God is like a loving parent with a child learning to walk. He is right there to keep us from falling down the stairs………but will let us fall on the carpet in the middle of the living room. We learn much from these little falls……….and when we are successful……….we run into the open arms of God who leans down to scoop us up in a big, warm, happy embrace!! (This one is mine! :) )

    May He be forever praised!!

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Becky – wow – excellent additions!

  • Karen Kamphaus

    Thank you for this information! Very helpful. When a soul experiences The Triune God in such a way, it is hard not to think of ones self as, unworthy and sinful. Even faults and imperfections seem as sins. One only wants to be pleasing to their beloved.
    The longing for God is so intense, A person wants only to do the will of God nothing else. Letting yourself go into the arms of God is such a beautiful way of expressing this union. It is truly Heaven on earth!
    If only each and everyone of us could experience God in this way? Is infused knowledge also part of infused contemplation, or is it different?

  • Guest

    Oh, thank you Becky. Your response and enlightening comments are superb. You are truly well-read about Spiritual matters. God bless you