General Help and Particular Help of the Grace of God in St. Teresa of Avila
If we read the Gospel of saint Matthew for instant, we’ll rapidly notice the abundant use he makes of the word “kingdom”. In fact, Jesus speaks a lot about “entering the kingdom” and in doing so, He puts conditions. Like for instance: if you are rich you can’t enter in the Kingdom, if you are not “like a child”, the same, you can’t enter. What is the “Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of heaven”? The Kingdom is the area of God, the “space” of His being, the “space” of His freedom, of His Life, the inner life of the Trinity.
In her writings, Saint Teresa of Avila mentions the “General help” and the “Particular help” of the Grace of God (see Life 14,6; 3 Mansions 1,2; 5 Mansions 2,3). We can understand the “Particular help of the Grace of God” as the fact of “entering in the Kingdom”. Or, if you prefer, the direct and personal Action of the Holy Spirit in you. The “Prayer of Recollection” uses the “general help” and the “Prayer of Quiet” uses the “particular help”. Saint Theresa of Avila calls the latter: “the supernatural” (see 4th Mansions chapter 1,1).
Between the “general help” and the “particular help” there is a red line, a “sacred threshold”. We are invited to cross that “Sacred Threshold” by using the “general help of the Grace of God”, offering ourselves to Him, asking for His Holy Spirit (His Love).
“For many purposes it is necessary to be learned; and it would be very useful to have some learning here, in order to explain what is meant by general or particular help (for there are many who do not know this) and how it is now the Lord’s will that the soul should see this particular help (as they say) with its own eyes; and learning would also serve to explain many other things about which mistakes may be made.” (Life 14,6)
She will then explain that in order to practice the “prayer of recollection” we need to use the “General help” of the Grace of God that is constantly given to us. We should use it, until the prayer of recollection becomes like a new acquired habit (see “Way of Perfection” chapters 28 and 29). To this act of “recollection” God replies with His Action (the Direct Action of the Holy Spirit). She calls this action: “Prayer of Quiet”. In the “Prayer of quiet”, we are receiving the “Particular help” of the Grace of God that is supernatural (4Mansions 1,1) and infused.
These notions belong to the Theology of Grace that we learn while doing the basic 4 years of Theology. For instance, saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa T., I-II Q.109 a. 6, addresses this issue (see here). He mentions two needs: one is the main need, which is to receive the Grace of God “and the second precedes it: to prepare ourselves to receive this first and main Grace”. We need the second grace in order to receive the first and main grace. Since the grace that prepares us leads us to the main Grace, “knowing the existence of this preparative grace, and learning how to use it” are decisive and vital for all our spiritual life, worship and Christian life.
This preparative grace is “the general help of the Grace of God” (that help us move in the water from the bottom of the sea to the surface), that we use in the Prayer of recollection, to get closer to God, offering ourselves to Him, putting ourselves in the Hands of God.
The Main grace is when He comes, takes us and put us in Him: this is the particular help of His grace, the main action of the Holy Spirit that put us in a direct and personal relationship with the Risen Lord.
When Jesus says: “ask and you shall receive” He is just explaining the relationship between the “general help” (ask) and the “particular help” (you will receive) and the sacred threshold between them, this “red line” that defines the meeting point of the two freedoms: God’s freedom (the kingdom) and our freedom (using the general help in order to show our choice, ask, beg, knock, …)
Let us cross that “sacred threshold”, this is our vocation, our call. We need first to learn about it, and second: put it into practice, in order to receive the Action of God in our heart (the Prayer of the Heart).