On the role of affection in the life of prayer

Including emotions in prayer with God

Prayer is an activity that involves all the faculties of the person.These faculties are: intelligence, will, imagination, feelings? 

The emotions also play an important role in the life of prayer, but how can we integrate them harmoniously in our dialogue with the Lord, in order to address Him with all our powers?

We offer an article with some useful reflections for preparing classes and talks on Christian life on this topic.

On the role of affection in the life of prayer


1. Prayer involves the whole person

2. Concentric circles of the human psyche

3. Affections in the Prayer Tradition of the Church

4. The essential personalization

5. The Encounter with Jesus of Nazareth

    a) Gaze

    b) Face

    c) Heart

6. Interior Recollection

1. Prayer involves the whole person

Prayer involves the whole person, without ignoring or diminishing any of his faculties or powers: "He who prays is the whole man" (CCC, 2562). In this guide we will consider some ideas about prayer by highlighting one of those "natural components of the human psyche" (Ib): the passions, or emotions, feelings, affections[1]. We intend to offer some useful ideas both for personal reflection and for the formation that is given to people who already have some interest in the life of prayer. We refer to the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and various saints and doctors of the Church, although we do not intend to make a systematic presentation or a theological study.

Passions are numerous, but "the most fundamental is the love that the attraction of good awakens" (CCC, 1765). Of course, love is not only a passion, but also an act, or rather a relationship: a relationship that reaches the gift of self. In any case, to speak of affections, feelings, passions or emotions in prayer will fundamentally talk of love. To do away with affections would prevent the totality of the person from being the one who prays, since our being -both corporeal and spiritual- is assured in them the bridge that unites both orders: "the passions... form the passageway and ensure the connection between the life of the senses and the life of the spirit" (CCC, 1764).

Moreover, if one were to dispense with affections in prayer, one could run the risk of bearing the relationship with God in a disincarnate way or of limiting it to the mere fulfillment of certain duties. The passion of love, which gives prayer its charm, joy and rapture, would be missing. The spiritual life would then appear as a burdened surrender. 

A merely rational love i.e. pure will, does not seek God with affective love, which includes illusion, joy, peace, contentment. Usually, prayer should not be something onerous or overwhelming, but a pleasant, encouraging and desired task. This does not mean that one should confuse the value of prayer with the feelings experienced: in the life of prayer there are also moments when affections seem to be lacking, and great masters of spirituality have spoken of passive purgations permitted by the Lord in the lives of saints. However, what we want to emphasize is that if prayer belongs to the whole person, then in it the affections are integrated with the intelligence and the will.

Throughout the Sacred Scripture, one can discover how prayer involves the affective dimension of the one who addresses the Lord. By way of example, one can point out how Moses' prayer is presented as a personal encounter, between two friends: "The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend" (Ex 33:11); the joy of King David as he prayed as he led the Ark to Jerusalem (cf. 2 S 6,14-23); in a special way, the prayer of the Psalms: "Rest in God alone, my soul, for he is my hope (...) His people, trust in him, pour out your hearts to him: God is our refuge" (Ps 62,6. 9), "my soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you, like a parched and weary land without water" (Ps. 63:2), "my soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I go in to see the face of God? (Ps 42:3), etc.; the fullness of Christ's prayer, which is filled with joy before a prayer of thanksgiving: "he was filled with joy in the Holy Spirit and said: I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth (Lk 10:21), he does not hide his sorrow when addressing the Father before the Passion: "In the midst of his distress, he prayed more earnestly" (Lk 22:44), etc.

Furthermore it can be supported in the following texts:

"The principle of love is twofold, for one can love as much by feelings as by the dictates of reason. By feeling, when man does not know how to live without what he loves. By the dictate of reason, when he loves what the understanding tells him And we must love God in both ways, also sentimentally”[2].

“In reality, eros and agape-ascending love and descending love- can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized(..). He [God] loves, and this love of his can certainly be described as eros which, however, is also wholly agape[3].

“...this is what our times of mental prayer must be translated into. A conversation of lovers, in which there can be no room for laziness or distractions. A colloquy that is impatiently awaited... that is developed with the delicacy of a soul in love”[4].

Before going any further, let us try to visualize the place that affections occupy in the structure of the human psyche.

2. Concentric circles of the human psyche

If we were to draw the structure of the human psyche - a task that is impossible, since the spiritual is unrepresentable - we would draw concentric circles. In the most external one, the five senses would appear -sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste-, with which one can and must pray. Praying with the senses could give rise to a wider development: it is what happens for instance with the use of incense in a liturgical ceremony, the symphony of colors in the stained-glass window of a cathedral, listening to holy music, kissing a crucifix, etc., but we shall not be detained here for now.

In the next concentric circle we would find the sensitive appetites or emotions, whose use in prayer will be part of the subject matter of this guide. Then, the internal senses would appear, fundamentally memory and imagination, with a very rich range of associated feelings. They are great allies for the life of prayer, as will be alluded to in these pages. Then, the purely spiritual faculties: the intelligence, which allows us to reflect on the divine and the human, and the will that, driven by grace, will lead us to the fulfillment of God's will: the decisions and the resolutions. Also the spiritual of the person is expressed in a kind of affections, deeper and more radical, which take up the previous ones.

But the map of our psyche does not end there. The innermost circle is a mystery, the mystery of the person, what he really is and what in the Bible he is called to be, more than a thousand times, heart.[5] In fact, every prayer, from the simplest to the most sublime, must come from there, from that deep center, because God is there: "It is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain" (CCC, 2562).

Affections allow us access to the heart because, as we said, they are the bridge between the sensitive life and the life of the spirit. As they are situated "between two worlds", the material and the spiritual, the starting point will necessarily be the first, since God leads man to the way of man and knowledge begins with senses. For an affective prayer it will be necessary, then, to start from sensitive realities. What is this main sensitive reality that allows us to enter into the life of the spirit?

The answer is immediate: Jesus of Nazareth: "In order to draw close to God we must take the right road, which is the Sacred Humanity of Christ"[6]. St. Thomas Aquinas explains it by saying that "because of the weakness of the human mind, and just as it needs to be led to the knowledge of divine things, so it needs to be led to love, as by the hand, by means of some sensible things that are easily known to us, and among them the main one is the Humanity of Christ, according to what is said in the Preface of Christmas: 'So that knowing God visibly we may be caught up by Him into the love of the invisible things'".[7].

As from the hand we are led from the human love to the divine one, simply because the Lord has given us the wonderful instrument of his Humanity and to us, who are human, the access will be easy, from there, to the divine: "it is a great thing that while we live and are human, to bring him human", exclaims Saint Teresa,[8] and she confides to us her own experience: "I began to love and trust this Lord much more when I saw Him... I saw that, although He was God, He was man... and so, in everything we can treat and talk to You as we would like"[9].

Christ's Sacred Humanity is the access road to affective prayer because in Him, true God and true man, we have been given to reach the union of divine intimacy starting from something as familiar as any of those whom we love: Jesus is one of us. Hence, among the many reasons for thanking the Lord for having taken our flesh, we should not forget this one: by becoming man he has notably simplified our reference to the divine.

3. Affections in the Prayer Tradition of the Church

The teachers of spirituality have always taught the inseparability of prayer and affections. An enlightening phrase of Saint John Paul II sums up what all masters of prayer have said. He defines prayer as "a true and proper dialogue of love"[10]. A brief review of history confirms this:

"Prayer depends on love" (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, Homiliae 40, 1).

"Prayer, whether we know it or not, is the encounter of the thirst of God and the thirst of man. God thirsts for man to thirst for Him.” (ST. AUGUSTIN, quaest. 64, 4).

"By prayer I understand, not the one that is only with the mouth, but the one that comes from the depth of the heart (...). That is why the psalmist says: From the depths I cry out to you, O Lord (Psalm 129:1)" (ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM s. IV, Homily On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, 5.)

“...mental prayer is not another thing, in my opinion, rather it is trying to be friends, being many times alone with those who we know love us". (ST. TERESA OF ÁVILA, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, 8, 2).

“...is not to think much, but to love much... not all people are able to think, but all are able to love" (ST. TERESA OF ÁVILA, The Life of St. Therese of Jesus, 5, 2).

"Prayer is to raise the soul over himself and over all that has been created, and to unite himself to God and to be engulfed in that pellet of infinite softness and love". (FRAY LUIS DE GRANADA, The Book of Prayer and Meditation).

"The devil fears that a certain degree of love for God may be reached through prayer, because he knows that when the soul reaches this degree, it cannot belong to him any more, or that if he has the misfortune to turn away from God, the memory of the happiness he has tasted in this love will easily return him to his duty". (ST. JOHN VIANNEY, Proceso del Ordinario, 415)

"For me, prayer is an impulse of the heart, a simple glance thrown towards heaven, a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy". (ST. THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS, Story of a Soul C 25ro).

"God approaches the soul in a particular way, known only to God and the soul. Nobody realizes this mysterious union; it is love that presides over this union and only love realizes everything. Jesus gives Himself to the soul in a soft and sweet way, and in His depths there is peace". (ST. FAUSTINA KOWALSKA, Diary, n. 622)

"Your mind is sluggish: you try to collect your thoughts in God’s presence, but it’s useless: there’s a complete blank. Don’t try to force yourself, and don’t worry. Look: such moments are for your heart." (ST. JOSEMARÍA, The Way, 102).

“My God, teach me how to love! - My God, teach me how to pray!” (ST. JOSEMARÍA, The Forge, 66).

“I have always understood Christian prayer as being a loving conversation with Jesus, which shouldn’t be interrupted even in the moments we are physically far from the Tabernacle, because our whole life is made up of verses of human love in a divine way… and we can always love” (ST. JOSEMARÍA, The Forge, 435).

“Prayer is not a question of what you say or feel, but of love” (ST. JOSEMARÍA, Furrow, 464).

4. The essential personalization

Love cannot be given except between real persons. It is not possible to be in love with a code or an abstraction. That is why prayer, including its affective dimension, rests on faith in a God who is a Person: "Christian prayer is always determined by the structure of Christian faith, in which the very truth of God and of the creature shines forth. For this reason it is defined, properly speaking, as a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God... a flight from “self” to the “You” of God. Thus, Christian prayer is always authentically personal and communitarian".[11]

As it is a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God, a flight from the "self" to the "You" of God, prayer is therefore profoundly personalistic - it is a meeting of people who exist, who live, who are true to themselves, who look at each other, who speak to each other, who listen to each other - and it always involves an ecstasy, a coming out of oneself without which love does not develop. Here the prayer of many Christians who have lost contact with the Person of Christ can and does fail. Perhaps they imagine when they pray, perhaps they reason about aspects of the ascetic struggle or keep monologues that clarify ideas; perhaps their times of prayer serve them to organize the day or to make resolutions... but, personal encounter?

Affections in prayer should be expressed between specific people, not around projects or achievements. It is about achieving the confidence and security of a loving Presence[12]. This reality still remains, as we say, hidden to many. But even if sometimes we succeed, there will always be something left to discover, at least in all its experience. We may not know Jesus as we know our intimate friends. We may know the Person of Jesus, even if it sounds paradoxical, impersonally.

Each person is a unique reality. And it is, most of all, Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike any other reality, the person - divine, angelic, or human - can only be known in person, that is, by establishing a direct relationship with him, so that this person - in this case, the Person of Jesus - is no longer a generic anonymous but a specific You.

It would be an illusion to assume that this guide offers the key for the reader to achieve this. The experience that Paul described in the letter to the Philippians[13] - or any other spiritual man or woman throughout history - is a very special grace. For the grace of personal, unbroken, transforming contact with God made man is a unique gift of the Holy Spirit. The experience of the Apostle - and anyone who has tasted such personal knowledge - is a great gift from Heaven. But it will not be granted to us if we do not seriously try.

5. The Encounter with Jesus of Nazareth

The privileged way of affective prayer is the loving relationship with Jesus, the Son of God made man. To achieve this, try to bring him with faith and love to the historical past (a man who lived in Palestine at a remote date), to find him alive and active in our present moment. Or else, bring him down from heaven where he is at the right hand of the Father, at this moment of ours which is his, hearing his breath and the palpitation of his breast.

Jesus the Nazarene, the son of Joseph, the Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph Those who saw him noticed that his eyes were of a very precise color, and that his voice possessed a very personal timbre. His contemporaries - especially those who were open to his message and to his Person - knew very well the expressions his face acquired when faced with certain situations, and those who loved him even more, like his Mother, were perfectly in tune with the contents of his heart.

Affections, as we said, connect the sensitive world with the spiritual world. Hence we cannot dispense with the material in affective prayer. We must achieve, using all our other faculties, the realization of the Face of Christ, as well as perceive the deep meaning of his gaze when he looks at us - he looks at me -, discovering also the feeling of his heart when we see him hidden in the Tabernacle or we accompany him, praying, in any of the moments of his life..., or we bring him, praying, to share our present situation[14].

a) Gaze

Capturing the gaze that Jesus directs to the one who prays is a great help for affective prayer: "Prayer, which is often expressed in a gaze: looking at him and feeling gazed at"[15]. We do not know anyone if we systematically avoid their gaze. And the other way around: if we cross our gaze with that of Jesus we will discover a Love always waiting: "If you look at him, it will be enough to contemplate how he loves you…”[16]. "We acquire the style of contemplative souls, in the midst of daily work! Because we become certain that He is watching us..."…”[17]. “The Master passes by very close to us, again and again. He looks at us...[18] St. John Paul II told the young people: "I want you to experience the truth that Christ looks at you with love! I wish each and every one of you to discover this gaze of Christ and to experience it to the full ..."[19].

At this point, we could think that all we do in this way of praying are nothing but imaginative exercises. And it would be true: that is what they are. But before we also said that "it is the whole man who prays" (CCC, 2562). God counts on our faculties and powers to communicate with us. In this case, we try to look at Jesus and let Him look at us, helping us in our imagination, informed by the infused virtues and gifts. Our whole mind, therefore, including our imagination, memory, and other faculties, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. To use our imagination in prayer, therefore, is a means to reach union with the Lord, to unite ourselves to his will. It is not a matter of making complicated imaginative elaborations or having a strong emotional charge - sometimes, those who are beginning the life of prayer could fall into this mistake - but simply try to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth as the Gospel proposes to us.

Jesus' gaze is a subtle one, which is perceived only in the chiaroscuro of faith and is achieved in recollection and silent stillness. Thus, that gaze will tell us more than a thousand words. For the great spiritual writers it becomes so clear that, as St. Teresa says, they discover the divine will with the single glance: "As here if two people love each other very much and have good understanding, even without signs it seems that they understand just by looking at each other; this must be that, without seeing us, as from milestone to milestone these two lovers look at each other".[20]. Perfect communication is proper to love, and love makes knowledge so immediate that even verbal expression is not necessary[21]. So in affective prayer, often the question will not be necessary: what theme do I bring to my prayer? In fact, we will fundamentally be with Him, because that is what is important, and if something comes out of it, we welcome it. The theme of our prayer will usually be Him: if there are others, they could be those who will lead us more to His love.

b) Face

He who makes affective prayer passes almost insensibly from the look to the face. It is like making the picture complete, because the face says more than the look: it integrates it. The wise men explain that God did not want to leave in the Gospel any information about the physiognomy of our Redeemer so that He could be realized in the personal formulation of every heart that would look for Him[22]. Hence, this work is more difficult than capturing the gaze, because the face completes the personification of Jesus according to our likeness to Him, according to our response, to the docility we present to the Spirit-Molder. “If you want to be saved,” teaches St. Thomas, "look at the face of your Christ.”[23].

The divine physiognomy of Jesus, that intimate physiognomy that the angels longed to contemplate, that no one understands and whose features can be guessed through his human Face when he appeared on earth, is the same physiognomy of the Father, just as his Heart of flesh lets the unfathomable divine Love shine through for us. In the end, all our eternity will consist only of the intuitive and unmediated vision of God face to face; and that face of the Father, we have realized now and for all eternity in the Face of Jesus: "The light of the face of God shines in all its beauty on the face of Jesus Christ”[24].

Every man and woman wears his or her own face. The trace of individuals on their faces facilitates knowledge: the face is the mirror of the soul. We know something about others when we access their bodily expressions (looks, gestures, smiles, crying...), but much more when we are able to identify the interiority and the face in the uniqueness of their existence as subjects. The face facilitates the mutual knowledge, the personal relationship, the mutual involvement, the respectful dialogue; in short, the discovery of what the others really are. The face becomes something like the key to access the heart. This is why God wanted to have a face, a human face. Jesus is the face of the Father: "God made his light shine in our hearts so that the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ might shine forth”.[25]

We can sometimes be far from the truth in prayer, for instead of turning to God we turn to something we imagine to be God. We must strive to seek the true Face of Jesus, so that our relationship with Him is made true: otherwise we will wait in vain for the sweet and gentle surprise of his encounter[26]. Very often, our perception of Jesus is limited to a stereotype, or even several stereotypes, that we have elaborated with our day-to-day encounters, in our readings, and even in our personal experiences. It is not that they are negligible, because those molds refer to dogmatic truths, to scenes of his life or to artistic representations of painting, sculpture or cinematography. They are not inadequate but they are incomplete: the Word of God incarnate is not locked into fixed formulas or static representations. He is unique for each one, and is unique and unrepeatable in every prayer and in every circumstance of our existence. Personal prayer overcomes clichés and discovers the infinite richness of the Other who makes himself present to us with the variability of an ever new Love. If we want to meet Jesus as He is, we must go with our weapons down, in an attitude of living faith, with peace and freedom of heart, ready for a meeting of two people who must truly be themselves. "That Christ you see is not Jesus. It is only the pitiful image that your blurred eyes are able to form… -Purify yourself. Clarify your sight with humility and penance. Then... the pure light of Love will not be denied you. And you will have perfect vision. Your image will truly be his: his!"[27].

c) Heart

In affective prayer - which is concentrated love - there are no presences that make communication difficult, nor mediations that cut off communication: the flow is purely personal. The Risen Lord is there, he works in the depths of the heart, and he is communicating, through ways foreseen only by Him. He expects from us what we can give Him: the opening of our heart that makes it possible for Him to unite it to His.

Affective prayer is not mere sentiment, although it can and must include it. It is good to strike a few sensitive fibers when we pray, so that the spark between the sensitive and the supra-sensitive world is ignited. We can, for example, help ourselves with clean songs of human love, or even of liturgical songs that can help us, as well as with sacred images, especially those of the crucified Christ or the Blessed Virgin. Or with the words of Jesus in the Holy Gospel, heard not in general, but personalised: from Him to me, from me to Him; or with the lights that we find at other times in our personal notes.

Since the role of affections in prayer is so fundamental, we will say, however, that the "true and proper dialogue of love" does not remain in the sphere of sensitive appetites, but reaches the heart (according to the way of understanding heart noted above). The characteristic of true love is the unio affectus, as St. Thomas explains: love "brings about the affective union of the lover and the beloved, so that the lover judges the beloved as being united to him or as belonging to him, so that he moves towards him"[28]. It is distinguished from mere benevolence, by which we can do good to another (to want the good for him), but that does not simply mean that we love him with affective union. "Benevolence is a simple act of the will by which we desire the good for another, without presupposing the aforementioned affective union (unione affectus) with him. Therefore love, an act of charity, contains benevolence but adds, as love, affective union (amor addit unionem affectus)"[29].

Thus, affective prayer is not necessarily limited to the encounter with the glance, the face, the wounds, the words of the Lord, but it seeks his most intimate ‘I’, because we want to be united to Him there, to have his same feeling there; to achieve, in the words of the Catechism, "an inner knowledge of the Lord so as to love and follow him more" (CCC, 2715). What we are looking for is con-cordion, union of hearts, unio affectus.

We seek, then, that the Heart of Jesus and ours beat with the same feeling, so that a unifying process can take place, "because the one who loves no longer possesses his heart, for he has given it to the Beloved[30]. In the end, love is nothing more than having in one's own heart everything and only what the heart of the Other has: love is unio affectus: "Love is indeed a unifying force; and peace is the union of hearts and wills".[31].

In the encounters- and looking for unio affectus, the union of hearts - let us consider that there are ways and means of being there. One can be physically close to someone without connecting with that person, for example, when nothing links us to the stranger travelling next to us on the bus. We can even live with another person for a long time, and even permanently, but that other person is indifferent to us. Such people lack what is really important to be really close: the unio affectus, the inner union, the identity of feelings and thoughts, in a word, the oneness of worlds: "And it is worthwhile to love the Lord. You will have experienced, as I have, that the person in love gives himself up securely, with a wonderful harmony, in which hearts beat in the same desire"[32].

The best example of this loving union is found in the Virgin Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross; the heart of her Son and her own heart, beat in the same desire. If we stop to contemplate what was going on between her heart and her Son's heart, if we grasp the intense flow of silent love, of union of affection, in the intertwining of those gazes, we will understand a little better what it really means to be there, what can be a very intense prayer without audible words[33].

It is clear that we do not learn the union of hearts between Mary and Jesus only at the height of the Passion, since it was always given and continues to be given now. How would she feel - let us say - when she held the Child in her arms, melting her intimate affection with His affection. She would then guess, moment by moment, the reason and intensity of her actions, her pupils dilated by faith and love. Moments of prayer that, with our action and interior dispositions, we too will be able to experience: "What would Jesus' joyful gaze be like: the same gaze that would shine in his Mother's eyes…”[34]

In the contemplation of Christ's humanity and in the union with his heart, it is not strange that the Lord also associates us with the mystery of his passion, and that this union with his cross is manifested - as in his Humanity - also affectively. These are the periods, as St. Josemaría taught us, that appear in life, and which are often described with expressions such as aridity, dryness, and inner darkness. Or as temptations in the intimacy of the person. They appear in the lives of the saints and spiritual theology designates them with hard but eloquent terms, such as "night". It is the moment to unite oneself to the heart of Christ in Gethsemane, on the cross, and to discover there, with the light of faith, a particularly intense degree of union with God. "We imagine that the Lord, moreover, does not listen to us, that we walk around deceived, that only the monologue of our voice is heard. As if without support on earth and abandoned by heaven, we find ourselves. However, our horror of sin is true and practical, even if it is venial. With the stubbornness of the Canaanite woman, we prostrate ourselves surrendering like her, who adored him, imploring: Lord, help me (Mt 25:25). The darkness will disappear, overcome by the light of Love. (...) With God's clarity of understanding, which seems inactive, it is clear to us that if the Creator cares for everyone - even his enemies, how much more will he care for his friends! We are convinced that there is no evil, no contradiction, that they do not come for the good: thus, joy and peace are more firmly established in our spirit, that no human reason can take away from us, because these visits always leave us something of his, something divine. We will praise the Lord our God, who has done wonderful works in us (cf. Job 5:9), and we will understand that we have been created with the capacity to possess an infinite treasure (cf. Wisdom 7:14)"[35].

6. Interior Recollection

"(God) is essentially and presently hidden in the intimate being of your soul (...) By remaining hidden with Him you will feel as if you were hidden (...) and you will love Him and enjoy Him in hiding and delight in Him in hiding" (ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, Spiritual Canticle, B, 1, 6).

Affective prayer requires areas of recollection and interior silence: "We must know how to be in silence, create spaces of solitude or, better yet, of a meeting reserved for an intimacy with the Lord"[36]. "Recollection is the secret of the life of prayer... The difficulty of prayer lies in knowing how to recollect oneself. Once this has been achieved, everything has been accomplished”[37] "Everything depends on recollection. No effort employed in this task is useless. And even if all the time devoted to prayer were to be spent seeking it out, it would be well spent, because in substance, recollection is already prayer. Moreover, on days of restlessness, illness or great weariness, it may be good to be content with that prayer of recollection at times"[38].

The importance of interior recollection for intimate communication with God will become clear to us if we understand this fundamental truth: God is not so much outside as He is inside each one of us, and it is there, inside our ego, that we must achieve the identity of desires, the unio affectus. If we don't achieve these encounters and these unions in our inner environment, we will never achieve them in the environment around us. This was the experience of St. Augustine: "Late have I loved you, O beauty so old and so new, late have I loved you! I looked for You outside and You were inside me. And I was outside, and so outside I looked for You; and, deformed as I was, I threw myself on those beautiful things You created. You were with me, but I was not with you..."[39]

The soul recollects himself when, gathering all his powers, he enters into himself to find the Lord there. We must watch with zealous care that we never voluntarily abandon the control of our inner faculties, for in that case we would lose the connection of our heart with the divine. When, for example, we allow our imagination to wander aimlessly (or with a course that harms us), there is a dispersal of forces in our soul that make it unable to give himself, as it should, to the mere exercise of love. This is the purpose of recollection: to unify the scattered and lost forces in a vain waste... to reconcentrate them on Jesus, the Divine Guest who dwells within our souls[40].

It is clear that in the whole itinerary of life of prayer, the great protagonist is the Holy Spirit. It is He who unites us to Christ. It is He who introduces us into the intimacy of God's love and makes us discover and live, in a mysterious and ineffable way, the reality of His infinite love and of our divine filiation. For this reason, the Christian soul will always turn to the Holy Spirit to move our hearts, as the Church asks Him in the precious Sequence of the Pentecost Mass.

Re-established in self-possession and unity, our soul can then converse lovingly with its Guest, who never ceases to invite us into secret communications. But these will only be possible in tranquillity, in exclusive attention, in interior recollection: "true prayer," teaches St. Josemaría, "which absorbs the whole individual benefits not so much from the the solitude of the desert as from interior recollection[41].

Whoever prays like this discovers that divine Love is disposed towards him and, feeling loved, he loves. He loves more intensely the more he knows he is loved, and then, he gives to the Lord what he is and what he can. The Lord responds with greater gifts, and everything turns out to be a lively tournament of love. We said that in him there is no need for speeches, sometimes not even words. The inadequacy of language is corollary to the nature of the mystery of God, of man's inability to understand it and of human language to express it. This is why spiritual writers need symbols and comparison. They borrow the expressions which will make it easier to understand. St. Josemaría spoke of "being drunk", "crazy with love", "kissing the wounds", "hearing the beating of his heart", "embracing", "hunger to see Jesus", "getting into the wound in his side", "rapturous love", "making a comedy before God", "crazy desire", "thirsting for God", "looking for his tears, his smile, his face"...

When the Holy Spirit acts intensely with his gifts - and finds our determined collaboration - the elements of our psyche are integrated into the depths of our interiority, where God dwells. A sacred living space is thus created from which happiness springs, a prelude to eternal contemplation. The person gives himself to God in a unified way, including those elements that often seem to lose their orbit: the passions. Such unification would be like a remote echo of the whole nature we once had, lost as a result of original sin. The orientation of all strata of our psyche toward God - always under the sovereignly free action of the sanctifying Spirit - provides that integrating principle that brings deep peace. And vice versa: "Wherever the gaze on God is not conclusive, everything else loses its orientation.[42]

Ricardo Sada

[1] It is possible to differentiate between emotions, feelings and passions, but given the multitude of common aspects between them, we will not distinguish them here.

[2] ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, Super Ev. S. Matth., lect. 22, 4.

[3] BENEDICT XVI, Enc. Deus est caritas, n. 7.

[4] BLESSED ÁLVARO DEL PORTILLO, Pastoral Letter, 1-XI-1987 in Family Letters, I, 331 (AGP, biblioteca).

[5] “The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.” (CCC, 2563).

[6] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Friends of God, 299.

[7] Suma teológica, II-II, q.82, a.3, ad 2.

[8] The Life of St. Therese of Jesus 22, 9.

[9] Id, 37, 6

[10] Apostolic Letter Novo millenio ineunte, n. 33. The context is more eloquent: “But we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead. The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard. It shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch, resting filially within the Father's heart. This is the lived experience of Christ's promise: "He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (Jn 14:21)


[11] Letter On some aspects of Christian Meditation, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 15-X-1989. Also, would be valid to speak prayer in the opposite sense: You of God towards the self  of man.

[12] It is striking that the Catechism teaches that it is not only the human part of Jesus that desires us, but that this desire comes from the depths of God: "Jesus thirsts, his asking arises from the depths of God’s desires for us” (CCC, 2560).

[13] “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3: 8).

[14] What we say here about the Person of Jesus is perfectly applicable, mutatis mutandis, to Mary Most Holy.

[15] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Letter, 29-IX-1957.

[16] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Forge, 875.

[17] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Friends of God, 67.

[18] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Way of the Cross, 8th Station, n. 4.

[19] ST. JOHN PAUL II, Apsotolic Letter Dilecti Amici: To the Youth of the World on the Occasion of International Youth Year , n. 7.

[20] ST. TERESA OF JESÚS, The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila 27, 10. Other similar texts of the saint: "I do not ask you now to think of Him, nor to draw out many concepts, nor to make great and delicate considerations with your understanding; I ask you only to look at Him. "He is looking at me. Those who pray are seeing Him looking at them. The Saint unites in a single sentence the attitude of God and man: "Look, He is looking at you".

[21] “Such attentiveness of the heart, whose decisions are made according to God's will, is essential to prayer, while the words used count only in relation to it” (CCC, 2570).

[22]…vultum tuum, Domine, requiram! Many times, when I pray alone, I do it loudly, even if it is mental prayer. I am hungry to know the face of Jesus Christ!” (ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, in Crónica 1975, p. 764 (AGP, biblioteca)).

[23] Commentary on the Ep. of the Hebrews 12, 2.

[24] ST. JOHN PAUL II, Enc. Veritatis splendor, n. 2.

[25] 2 Corintios 4, 6.

[26] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Friends of God, n. 296.

[27] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIÁ, The Way, 212.

[28] ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, Suma Teológica, II-II, 27, 2.

[29] Ib.

[30] ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, The Spiritual Canticle B, 9, 2.

[31] ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, Suma Teológica II-II, q. 29, a. 3 ad 3.

[32] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Friends of God, 220.

[33] Affective prayer finds an inexhaustible source in the Passion of Christ (ST. JOSEMARÍA, Way of the Cross, Prologue). It would be enough to think, for example, of the shock we can feel when we contemplate the Wounds of Christ, which St. Josemaría lived with such intensity, as recounted by PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ, Camino, edición crítico-histórica, p. 459.

[34] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Furrow, n. 95. St. John Paul II invites us to achieve in the Rosary union with Jesus through the heart of Mary: "By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed". (Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 12).

[35] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Friends of God, 304-305.

[36] ST. JOHN PAUL II, Homily, 20-VIII-1980.

[37] JUAN BAUTISTA TORELLÓ, in the Prologue of La vida en Dios, by a Carthusian, Rialp, Madrid 1956.

[38] ROMANO GUARDINI, Introduzione alla preghiera, Brescia 1948, p. 23.

[39] ST. AUGUSTINE, Confessions, 10.

[40] Inseparable from the solitude of recollection is the solitude of bondage i.e. the freedom of the heart: "The wisdom that leads to knowledge, and therefore to the love of God, flourishes in a clean heart (ST. JOHN PAUL II, Homily, 14-II-1980).

[41] ST. JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ, Furrow,  460.

[42] BENEDICTO XVI, Audiencia general, 26 de septiembre de 2012.