Garrigou-Lagrange, Robert Hugh Benson, and many others insist that friendship with and in Christ is not only possible for the lay person, but God's Will for each person, whether lay or religious. The difference is that the religious commits herself and himself to this life of perfection directly, making vows which lead, as I have mentioned, to a short-cut version of a longer process of purification. It is the duty, then, of the religious, to become holy, to become perfect.
Our duty is to pay attention to how God is working out our salvation and the stages of holiness while in the world. This is possible, as active orders have shown, such as the Jesuits, with such great saints through-out the ages trained in the spirituality of St. Ignatius. His rule is more applicable, obviously, to the lay life than the Benedictine rule, but all rules are possible for emulation in the world.
Choose one way and God will bless your efforts. He will also bless you freely, without your and my meagre efforts, because He is All-Loving, and like the father of the prodigal son, meets us more than half-way, waiting on the roof, looking for us to return to him.
Robert Hugh Benson writes of two type of contemplation, which is a helpful distinction for us lay people. Before I get into these descriptions, may I say that only love and suffering, suffering and love can lead us through these stages. If we are not in a loving relationship with God, either through a spouse or directly, our individualism will stand in the way of progress, and deceive us.
How does one know what is going on? Get a good spiritual director. Also, by the results in one's life-that is, is one peaceful and are the virtues manifested in one's life? Does one complain of suffering or accept it? Does suffering lead to peace and joy in Christ and union with Christ? Is one becoming or arrived at indifference; this is a good sign of the illuminative stage. Does one have to have one's favorite coffee, or a certain chair in the living room, or a living room? Can one tolerate any conditions of life God may send? St. Paul knew this.
I know both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound: (everywhere, and in all things I am instructed) both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound, and to suffer need. Philippians 4:12
The two types of contemplation are ordinary and extraordinary contemplation. Ordinary contemplation is here described by Benson.
... Ordinary Contemplation is not only a state to be prayed for, but a state to which every sincere and devout Christian is bound to aspire, since it is perfectly within his reach by the help of ordinary graces.
It consists in a consciousness of God so effective and so continuous that God is never wholly absent from the thoughts, at least subconsciously. It is a state which, as has been said, the soul, when first initiated into the Friendship of Christ, in the beginning enjoys with extreme though fitful intensity. Life is changed by it: all relations are altered by it; Christ begins to be indeed the Light that irradiates every object of the soul's attention: He becomes the background, or the medium, by whose help all things are seen. Ordinary Contemplation, then, is the fixing of this state by effort as well as by grace. Until the soul has been purged, and until, further, it has been illuminated as to both exterior and interior things, the consciousness of Christ's interior Presence cannot be a continuous state.
But when these processes have taken place, when Christ, that is, has trained His new friend in the duties and rewards of the Divine Companionship, Ordinary Contemplation is, if we may say so, the attention that He expects from her. Sin, of course, in this state, becomes subjectively, far more grave: "material" sins easily become "formal." But, on the other hand, virtue is far easier, since it is difficult for any soul to sin very outrageously so long as she feels the pressure of Christ's hand in hers.
At this stage, even small sin is revealed as horrible, which it is. The conscience becomes clearer and illumined by grace, so that patterns of sin can be broken and virtue installed as the habitual way of being.
At first, this Friendship may be an on and off experience, but at some time, it becomes constant. People get confused and assume that one in the Illuminative stage has reached some type of hyper-intelligence. Saints like Joseph Cupertino and Benedict Labre show us that this does not have to be the case. It is very possible that two laymen recently made blessed, Pier Giorgio Frassati and Karl, the last emperor of Austria, not only attained the illuminative stage, but the state of union with God, and both were young when they died. Both lived the beatitudes, which is a sign of this illuminative state. They would have experienced objective contemplation, that is, the continual awareness of Christ Within.