Thursday, October 30, 2014

St. Teresa of Avila and Fr. Dubay on the First Mansions


[81] [...] St. Teresa's starting point is the absolutely basic condition for a serious prayer life: an earnest, continuing effort to rid oneself of sins, imperfections and attachments. [...] Christic communion cannot be produced by techniques, because it is above all a love matter before it is anything else—and precisely because interpersonal intimacy is its heart, it is suffocated, even killed, by selfishness in any form. Hence, in writing of the first three mansions, the saint wisely spends much time explaining how the beginner, even though in the state of grace, can and must emerge from a whole web of more or less petty faults. [...]

[The saint] is speaking of men and women who want to avoid offending God and who "may perform good works". Yet they are, at this early stage, still absorbed in worldly matters and pleasures, and they are "puffed up with worldly honours [sic] and ambitions". Because they are free from serious sin, the King does dwell in their castle, but they have only a tenuous relationship with Him, and they scarcely see His light, so submerged are they in things of the world. [...] Neither Jesus nor Teresa explains spiritual retardation as resulting from a lack of techniques or methods. In almost identical terms they lay the blame on the free-will choice of worldliness in its sundry forms.

What, then, is a beginner to do? Most people cannot leave the world in a bodily sense, but every follower of Christ who is serious about genuine growth must leave the spirit of the world. Everyone, says Teresa, who wishes to go on to the second mansions [82]
will be well advised, as far as his state of life permits, to try to put aside all unnecessary affairs and business. For those who hope to reach the principal Mansion, this is so important that unless they begin in this way I do not believe they will ever be able to get there. (Interior Castle, mans. 5, ch. 2)
The New Testament has already admonished us that we must not love the passing world or anything that is in it, for the love of the Father cannot exist in the person who loves the world, the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions (1 Jn. 2:15–17). God's grace has taught us "that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions" (Titus 2:12). The main business of the beginner, therefore, is to make a determined turnabout from preoccupation with this worldly life to a life centered in the Trinity. The struggle will be long and at times arduous, but there is no other way to accomplish the ascent of the mountain and reach the rewarding outcome that awaits one at the submit.

We direct our attention now to some of what St. Teresa says about the methods of discursive meditation. While, in her mind, procedures in prayer are clearly secondary, they do have their proper place for beginners. She valued thoughtful reflection, and she herself had a keen sense of the marvels of nature. [...] [The saint] found in a worm or a bee matter for meditating "upon the wonders and the wisdom of our God. [...] It will be a great help to us if we occupy ourselves in thinking of these wonderful things and rejoice in being the brides of so wise and powerful a King" (IC, mans. 5, ch. 1).

Yet splendid as nature is, it is not sufficient. The mysteries of the supernatural order are still more fruitful sources of meditative prayer, and in the presentation of these mysteries nothing can surpass the Gospels. "I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels," she notes, "and have found more recollection in them than in the most carefully planned books—especially books of which the authors were not fully approved, and which I never wanted to read" (Way of Perfection, ch. 21). [...]

There are no complicated steps and substeps. [...] She offers the same advice to a layman [83] to whom she writes: "You must not tire yourself by trying to think a great deal, nor worry about meditation... keep occupying yourself all the time with the praise of the Lord" (Letter 57 to Don Antonio).


[...] What are these people like who have made some progress but are as yet still far from their destination? They are still engaged in worldly pastimes, half giving them up and half clinging to them. They see imperfectly, and they act imperfectly, but nonetheless some growth has occurred. God is calling them ceaselessly, and they are able to hear Him now. In the first mansions they were both deaf and dumb, notes Teresa, but now the message is beginning to get through. Yet these people are not able to do the divine bidding immediately, for they are weak and irresolute. God's appeals to them come in several ways: conversations with good people ... sermons and homilies ... good reading ... sickness and other trials ... divine light during prayer itself.

The man or woman in the second mansions is a battleground where the conflict between the world and the divine call is being waged. There is a tug-of-war going on, and the individual experiences the two opposing pulls. The world's tug is experienced in several ways: earthly pleasures remain attractive, and they appear as though almost eternal. The soul finds it hard to give up esteem in the world and a selfish clinging to family and friends. It unreasonably fears doing penances to which it now feels called, and it vacillates, says Teresa, as to whether to return to the first mansions or to strive bravely on. In the opposite direction God's tug is likewise felt in diverse manners: reason itself shows the person how mistaken the world's message is and why it is mistaken. Significant growth has now taken place and has instilled a conviction that only in God is one's surety. Thus the will is inclined to love Him and to press on to leave worldliness with all of its falsehoods.

Given this conflict between the human and the divine, it is not surprising that the person in the second mansions is still a child in the practice of humility, obedience, love and patience. In her charming manner the saint observes that the virtues are "young", that they "have not yet learned to walk—in fact, they have only just been born". Hence, if prayer is to grow in depth, Gospel living must be perfected—the first cannot happen without the second.

What, then, is the program for those in the second mansions? St. [84] Teresa's first bit of advice concerns companionship: the soul should avoid a close association with "evil" and mediocre people and make it a point to mix with the good, that is, not only with those in the early mansions but also with those who have advanced into the mansions "nearer the center", where the King is. To be in close touch with these latter is a great help, for they tend to bring others to higher things along with themselves. Second, there is need to "embrace the Cross" along with the suffering Lord. Resignation is not enough; there must be a generous, willed welcome to hardships and dryness in prayer. Third, there is the typical teresian insistence on daily fidelity to the divine will: "All that the beginner in prayer has to do ... is to labour [sic] and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God." The more one does this, the more "he will receive of the Lord". In the divine will "our entire welfare is to be found". In saying this the saint is, of course, reflecting the teaching of Jesus Himself: it is not those who merely proclaim "Lord, Lord" who enter the kingdom but those who do the Father's will (Mt 7:21). Fourth, when one falls, there is no reason to lose heart but rather to continue making serious efforts toward progressing. People in the second mansions surely do fall, and if they repent and persevere in their efforts, God will bring good even out of the failures. St. Paul himself, noting that he was not yet perfect, forgot what was behind and pressed on; indeed, he raced toward the finish (Phil. 3:12–14). Finally, adds Teresa, people in the second mansions need to exercise fidelity to prayer. We cannot enter heaven without first entering our own souls, getting to know ourselves better, reflecting on the divine goodness and our need for mercy: "The door by which we can enter this castle is prayer." There is no other, for Jesus is Himself the door (Jn. 10:7).


Source: Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1989), 81–84.

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