Monday, August 10, 2009

The Fourth Degree of Prayer

In all the ways to water the garden, or ways of prayer, discussed so far, the gardener does some work. In this fourth degree of prayer "the soul isn't in possession of its senses, but it rejoices without understanding what it is rejoicing in. It understands that is is enjoying a good in which are gathered together all goods, but this good is incomprehensible". This prayer is called union. What union means is that "two separate things become one."

St. Teresa attempts to explain what this union is and what it is the soul feels in this divine union, but has trouble explaining something so ineffable. There are many graces and effects left in the soul that has reached so great a state.

This heavenly water, when it comes, comes in abundance and soaks and saturates the entire garden. "This water from heaven often comes when the gardener is least expecting it." St. Teresa also points out that this prayer almost always occurs only after a long periods of mental prayer. At the beginning this prayer is brief and passes quickly and may be imperceptible at first. The faculties are suspended but only for a very short time. The intellect, memory and will are united and are all tasting the "divine wine and are inebriated by it".

While this prayer remains an obscure experience to the soul the soul has a certitude about being joined to God and cannot help but believe in the truth of it.

Many fruits are left in the soul that has received this great favor from the Lord. Particularly, the virtue of humility. "The soul sees clearly that it is most unworthy; it sees its misery." The soul realizes that it did not receive this on its own; it is truly pure gift.

Progress in virtue remains for a long time and the soul begins to be of benefit to others without knowing it or doing anything that is of itself. "The soul understands that it has virtue, and its neighbors see the desirable fruit."
"If the soil is well cultivated by trials, persecutions, criticism, and illnesses - for few there must be who reach this stage without them- and if it is softened by living in great detachment from self-interest, the water soaks it to the extent that it is almost never dry."

"But if the soil is still hardened in the earth and has a lots of briers,...and is still not so removed from occasions and if it doesn't have the gratitude a favor as great as this deserves, the ground will dry up again. And if the gardener becomes careless and the Lord soley out of His goodness does not desire to let the rains come again, the garden can be considered as lost."

And it is for this reason that St. Teresa often exhorts in her writings that one should ....

Never give up or abandon prayer or the practice of virtue!

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