Marriage and Contemplative Prayer



Marriage tests us in ways we never thought possible. This vocation challenges us to die to ourselves and at the same time inspires and encourages us to rise to a new life united to another. This is a journey that finds its ultimate reality in God.

St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross provided ways to achieve a unique union with God in this life. Their methods, although geared towards those living a contemplative life, are equally important for those who are united in the holy bonds of matrimony. Their methods involve sacrifice, devotion, suffering, and ultimately, unity. These experiences force us to go deeper in our desire to know the other on a deeper level, and through this, know God in the same way. Knowing that God is always present throughout our lives (even in those moments when it seems as though He is absent) is essential to couples.

“Flame – Throwers” of God’s Love

I recall at our wedding, when the priest said that my wife and I were “flame-throwers” of love. I thought that was an unusual phrase and wondered if we even were worthy of it. But in reality, that is what all married couples are called to be. They are called to radiate love – God’s love – to anyone and everyone, both those inside and those outside of their families. Our society has down-played the significance of marriage to a mere “lifestyle choice.” In reality, however, marriage is a sacrament and a vocation. Marriage is a calling, and it calls for sincere contemplation.

Contemplative prayer, according to St. Teresa, provides insight by articulating the rudiments within, along with the fruits of effort. They illustrate for us that when we enter into any journey, we will experience a new life, perhaps even a mystical one.

The Mystical Life

Achieving this type of life within marriage transforms us from ordinary people into extraordinary ambassadors of God’s Kingdom. This entails a constant devotion, culminating in a new reality, uniting and leading to true peace and love. St. Teresa of Avila recognized nine stages as necessary for reaching intimacy and a spiritual union with God. They are as follows:

1.     Vocal Prayer: Pertains to communication between one and God.

2.     Discursive Meditation: The initiative among us in living in accordance with God.

3.     Affective Mental Prayer: Turning towards God with a more loving dialogue.

4.     Acquired Recollection: Encompasses a “loving awareness of God.”

5.     Infused Recollection: First degree of mystical contemplation.

6.     Prayer of Quiet: A total immersion of the will into “Divine love.”

7.     Prayer of Simple Union: Absorption of the intellect and the will into God.

8.     Prayer of Ecstatic Union: The “mystical espousal”or “conforming union.”

9.     Prayer of Transforming Union: Most intimate union of the soul and God that can occur in this life  (i.e. the “Mystical Marriage”).

Upon evaluating these steps, one can see how each flows from one into the next. Although this beautiful testimony of devotion can be hard to master, it can become an opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal. Furthermore, this can help married couples grow in their relationship through prayer, humility, service, and sacrifice – four essential qualities needed to strengthen marriage today.

Purifying the Will and Living For Another

St. John of the Cross was equally immersed in contemplative prayer and living in union with God. His view involved a process of purifications of the human faculties, as well as of the spirit and soul. The intellect is purified through practicing the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. This desire to unite one’s self to God corresponds to the level of intimacy one experiences in marriage.

The idea of unity in marriage goes hand-in-hand with the openness to new life. The sexual revolution did much to harm the dignity and sanctity of marriage (not to mention the dignity and sanctity of women). Today’s sinful indulgence of pornography has destroyed families – the domestic Church – and lowered societal standards when it comes to mutual respect among the genders. The acceptance of the mindset that couples can agree to separate intimacy from openness to life is a rationalization at its best.

Marriage is Not for the Faint of Heart

As one yearns to do what is best for their beloved, we should do likewise in our journey towards the Almighty, who is the Author of love and marriage. Although St. Teresa of Avila wrote for contemplative nuns, Jordan Aumann, in his book, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, demonstrates a view that can be embraced by all people, regardless of their vocation: “Sanctity does not consist in the extraordinary but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” This is about living according to God’s will and not our own. Society should not be discouraged, nor dissuade us in our mission for perfection, especially when it comes to marriage and the human family. Peace, love, and truth find their way through those who persevere in humble obedience.

For St. John of the Cross, God is always aware of our desires to find Him, and therefore, is always present to us. It is only through our own blindness that we fail to notice Him.  Nevertheless, we must never deviate from our search and never discourage others in theirs. Rather, we must unite and support each other. That is why it is essential that we suffer and persevere through the difficulties and challenges regarding marriage. This will bring glory to God.

St. Teresa and St. John saw that union with God grows as our desires become more deeply rooted in our souls, and we learn more about how to love and serve. Deuteronomy 6:4-5, reads, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (NAB). The Israelites were ordered to take these words to heart, to drill them into their children, to speak them at home, and to write them on their door posts. This was all so that they would never forget them. We, too, must live in the same way. This ensures we will always do the ordinary things extraordinarily well.

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2 thoughts on “Marriage and Contemplative Prayer”

  1. Since the fourth century, Christian marriage has been undermined by Manichaen heresies that have in their turn undermined the authentic theology of the body and is still awaiting the sort of rehabilitation to which you are so elequently contributing. Excellent post. May I quote you?

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