Teresa of Avila received the inspiration for The Interior Castle one Sunday in 1577, and then wrote about the experience from the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity until the eve before the feast of St. Andrew.
I’m, literally, just like the parrots that are taught to speak; they know no more than what they hear or are shown, and they often repeat it. If the Lord wants me to say something new, His Majesty will provide.
The one who ordered me to write told me that the nuns in these monasteries of Our Lady of Mount Carmel need someone to answer their questions about prayer and that he thought they would better understand the language used between women; and because of the love they bore me, they would pay more attention to what I would tell them (Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1979, pp. 2-3).
When I first saw Teresa of Avila among the books for sale atop a table at the Old Dominion University book store more than three years ago, I was interested not only because our Why Catholic? friends— Sam and Ning, Gary and Junebug, and Neli-Beli— might want to read the book, but also because there happened to be three copies available. Exactly what I needed.
However, as I stated in a previous post, one of the books had a teeny tiny imperfection, a bit of lamination slightly torn on its back cover; so I chose to give away only the two good copies and kept the third, knowing that I’d most likely never read it.
Of course, God had his own personal agenda; so I laughingly submit that his wisdom and patience trumped my preconceived notions yet again.
Teresa of Avila is based on the saint’s original work, The Interior Castle, which describes the seven dwelling places of the soul.
The book is so thoroughly captivating that I rarely leave home without it. Can’t be without it. Don’t want to be far from it. Even if I’m reading other books, it’s always close by for me to leaf through here and there.
In fact, I’ve been ever so pleased with myself for enjoying its company that I typed all the scribbles I made in the margins and then some.
I want a simple set of notes to ponder.
The interior castle
The castle is a multifaceted diamond with dwelling places similar to heaven’s many rooms above, below, and to the sides. The heart of the castle is “where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place” (p. 7) after the soul learns to enter within itself.
The castle’s well guarded, and some souls in the courtyard are so other-focused that they have no idea what’s within. Nevertheless, some souls do manage to slow down enough to acknowledge their need to enter.
Although there’s no remedy for those who do lip service or don’t bother to pray, some souls do become aware that prayer and reflection are the key to the castle.
First dwelling places
Souls who enter the lower rooms are so deaf and dumb that they fail to notice the castle’s beauty because of the “worms and vile, venomous reptiles” that creep in as well (p. 11). These souls have good intentions, but they’re more concerned with business and worldly things. Occasionally, however, they entrust themselves to God, pray and reflect, realize they’re on the wrong path, and want to change their ways.
St. Teresa tells us that in these first dwelling places, God grants favors to whomever he chooses to reveal his glory and awaken the soul to a greater love (p. 9). Of course, there are many kinds of favors and many differences among them. Still, God’s so merciful and loving that he can do whatever he wants.
It will be a great consolation when the Lord grants them to you if you know that they are possible; and for anyone to whom he doesn’t, it will be a great consolation to praise his wonderful goodness (p. 8).
Second dwelling places
The souls who advance to the second level are barraged by constant reminders, “position in life, family, friends, health, and other obstacles,” that draw them back to the first rooms (p. 16). Faith helps them refocus, however, as they reason that God truly loves them (p. 17) and wants them near.
Here, souls know that God will provide as long as they don’t falter. They hear God’s voice calling not only through other people, homilies, and good books but also through “illnesses, trials, and the truths God teaches even during brief, lukewarm moments in prayer” (p. 15).
Souls in the second dwelling places can overcome trials and dangers through good companions and mentors. They can also choose to embrace the cross and seek to do God’s will (p. 18).
His Majesty knows best what is suitable for us. There’s no need advising him about what he should give us, for he can rightly tell us that we don’t know what we’re asking for (Mt. 20:22; p. 19).
St. Teresa advises against becoming discouraged. God allows the venomous creatures to bite, so the soul can learn to guard itself as it proves itself to God. “For even from this fall God will draw out good, as does the seller of an antidote who drinks some poison in order to test whether his antidote is effective” (p. 20).
The key, again, is prayer. When one stumbles, begin anew. Ask for understanding to avoid temptation, and don’t give up.
To enter the castle love God, have faith, and do good works. To receive God’s blessings consider how much is owed him, one’s smallness in comparison, and all that must be achieved to merit God’s goodness and mercy. To enter heaven know oneself, reflect on one’s sins, and acknowledge God’s favors with gratitude (p. 22).
Third dwelling places
Souls arrive at this level through perseverance and God’s mercy. They’ve remained on the right path but live on the edge, not knowing when or if the enemy will attack. They understand God’s will and are greatly blessed (p. 24), since they’ve been “favored greatly by God for being let in”
These souls are very much aware that life without God is death but that happiness stems from pleasing God.
Consider that this happiness was had— and in much greater degree— by some saints who fell into serious sins and that we are not sure that God will help us to get free from these sins and to do penance for them (p. 25).
Souls in the third dwelling places look to Our Lady for guidance, converse with God, practice prayer, and withdraw from the world and its evils (p. 26). Additionally, these souls are charitable, balanced in all aspects, and can enter the final dwelling places if they so choose (p. 27). Nevertheless, they must stay alert and do their best not to offend God.
St. Teresa writes that these souls endure unbearable trials, even when they’re not to blame (p. 28). Yet, God rewards those who prove their love in thought, word, and deed.
To stay on course, one must walk the talk, detach from worldly things, consider oneself a servant of God, and not make demands on God (p. 29).
He did nothing else but serve us all the time he lived in this world. And yet we ask him again and again for favors and gifts (p. 30).
Instead, one should reflect on one’s trials to gain understanding which leads to humility, peace, conformity, and greater contentment even though human nature tends to prefer a more convenient, less painful route.
We are fonder of consolations than we are of the cross. Test us, O Lord— for you know the truth— so that we may know ourselves (p. 30).
Fourth dwelling places
In this the most populated of the seven dwelling places, souls are so transformed by God’s love that they willingly serve him. With every consolation received, these souls long to please God more and more and enjoy his company (p. 32).
St. Teresa describes the effects of spiritual delights and prayer in this part of her book. She also reveals how to gain favor with God.
“Two fountains, two troughs”
The soul is either an external, noisy aqueduct that fills inwardly or an internal, quiet spring that flows outwardly (p. 33).
Of the two, the natural source is one of God’s favors— a spiritual delight “fashioned from the purest gold of the divine wisdom” (p. 33)— “given only to whom God wills to give it and often when the soul is least thinking about it” (p. 36). This special water fills everything and affects one’s entire being (p. 34).
To gain favor, however, one must be centered on God, amenable to his will, contrite, and humble. Since God’s not obligated to do anything for anyone, one must “be willing to labor in vain” to “win his listening ear” (p. 36).
When God grants the favor it is a great help to seek him within, where he is found more easily and in a way more beneficial to us than when sought in creatures, as St. Augustine says after having looked for him in many places (p. 39).
Finding one’s way back to God through prayer brings about changes: losing interest in worldly matters, wanting solitude, reflecting on what was lost, and rebuilding one’s castle “without contrivance” (p. 38).
Listening attentively in silence, begging for God’s mercy, and waiting with humility are what Peter of Alcántara refers to as love awakened (p. 41). Other practices include penance, good deeds, resignation to God’s will, and thinking of oneself last (p. 42).
Once the great King, who is in the center dwelling place of this castle, sees their good will, he desires in his wonderful mercy to bring them back to him. Like a good shepherd, with a whistle so gentle that even they themselves almost fail to hear it, he makes them recognize his voice and stops them from going so far astray and brings them back to their dwelling place. And this shepherd’s whistle has such power that they abandon the exterior things in which they were estranged from him and enter the castle (p. 39).
Yet, some souls draw inwardly all on their own. The more room they make for God, the more favors they receive. God calls them to advance; and they, in turn, give thanks and praise for his countless blessings (p. 40).
When one surrenders to love through the prayer of quiet recollection, the soul’s capacity grows and service to God becomes liberating. The soul’s no longer preoccupied with hell, penance, and health (p. 44). Instead, one does more for God, bears crosses with patience, and casts aside worldly delights (p. 45).
Fifth dwelling places
Souls in the fifth dwelling places seek only to please God.
Here, tiny lizards may “poke their slender heads in as thoughts from one’s imagination that can be ignored as nuisances;” but they can’t enter (p. 53). In this secret place, God works his wonders undisturbed.
God so places himself in the interior of that soul that, when it returns to itself, it can in no way doubt that it was in God and God was in it. This truth remains with it so firmly that, even though years go by without God’s granting that favor again, the soul can neither forget nor doubt… (pp. 55-56).
Thus enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the soul prepares for its journey and “starts to live… through the general help given to us all by God… by going to confession, reading good books, and hearing sermons” (p. 59).
“The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies; and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon” (p. 59). Similarly, the soul makes God its dwelling place and dies to self-love, self-will, and earthly attachments (p. 60).
The soul feels so unworthy of this blessing that it longs to praise God.
It would want to dissolve and die a thousand deaths for him. It soon begins to experience a desire to suffer great trials without its being able to do otherwise. There are the strongest desires for penance, for solitude, and that all might know God; and great pain comes to it when it sees that he is offended (p. 61).
Transformed, the soul feels out of place in the world; but the decision to advance isn’t God’s to make. The soul alone must choose its path.
Life’s subsequent crosses will be heavier than before; the pain, excruciating. Yet, the soul’s weaknesses will become strengths; and acceptance will yield “deep peace and happiness” (p. 63).
“Oh great delight, to suffer in doing the will of God!” (p. 66).
Sixth dwelling places
“O God help me, what interior and exterior trials the soul suffers before entering the seventh dwelling place!” (p. 68).
Here, trivial afflictions— gossip, nonacceptance, and personal attacks— are so severe and long in duration that all seems lost (p. 69). Even personal praise wreaks havoc in one’s life (p. 70). Additionally, souls in the sixth dwelling places undergo serious illnesses, acute pain, and doubting confessors (p. 72) along with dry spells that are “torments between times of favors” (p. 73).
Bearing one’s crosses
Nevertheless, God allows one to be tested (p. 74) to the degree that he chooses
(p. 77). He “wants us to know our own misery and that he is King; and this is very important for what lies ahead” (p. 76).
Since there’s no escaping these trying times— no place to go, no one to talk to, no consolation, and neither solitude nor prayer helps— the best remedy is to do good works and hope for God’s mercy (p. 75).
Yet, in the midst of all the suffering, the soul is soundlessly awakened “as with a thunderclap” (p. 78). God’s “action of love is so powerful that the soul dissolves with desire, and yet it doesn’t know what to ask for, since clearly it thinks that God is with it” (p. 80).
In turn, God’s favor, “felt as clearly as a loud voice,” must be received with gratitude
To be continued…
Sweet Jesus, I desire neither life nor death but your most holy will. You are the one, O Lord, that I long for. If it be your holy will to have me die, receive my soul and grant that, in you and with you, I may receive everlasting rest. If it be your holy will to have me live longer upon this earth, give me the grace to amend the rest of my life and, with good works, to glorify your holy name. Amen.
July 5, 2011
Lord, test me and search me. I want to hold onto your blessings no matter what (the Word among us, July/August 2011, p. 26).
July 13, 2011
Lord, I will go wherever you lead— so long as you are with me. Open my heart to sense your calling and presence today (the Word among us, July/August 2011, p. 34).
July 18, 2011
Lord, your cross [is all] I need— all the compassion, all the healing, and all the joy. With my eyes fixed on you, I can handle every situation! (the Word among us, July/August 2011, p. 39).
November 12, 2011
“Let us bear our cross and leave it to God to determine the length and the weight”
(St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, 1759-1852).
March 1, 2012
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours”
(St. Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582).
Lord, today I surrender everything to you. I want to do nothing without you. May all that I do for others be done for love of you— and in the power of your Spirit (the Word among us, Lent 2012, p. 36).
November 5, 2012
Father, I am content to sit silently with you. Just to be with you, to enjoy your presence, is enough. In you I have found my peace! (the Word among us, November 2012, p. 24).
February 8, 2013
God wishes to test you like gold in the furnace. The dross is consumed by the fire, but the pure gold remains and its value increases (St. Jerome Emiliani).
October 15, 2013
“When once I had seen the great beauty of the Lord, I saw no one by comparison on whom my thoughts wished to dwell” ( St. Teresa of Jesus).
November 13, 2013
Know that gratitude for God’s benefits is one of the riches of the soul and that ingratitude dries up the fountain of divine graces. Give your tribute of gratitude often to the most loving Jesus (St. Frances Xavier Cabrini).
November 18, 2013
We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self…. The truest crosses are those we do not choose ourselves…. He who has Jesus has everything (St. Rose Philippine Duchesne).
January 4, 2014
“The union of my soul with God is my wealth in poverty and [my] joy in deepest afflictions” (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton).
March 22, 2014
Let us take refuge like deer beside the fountain of waters. Let our soul thirst, as David thirsted, for the fountain. What is that fountain? Listen to David: With you is the fountain of life. Let my soul say to this fountain: When shall I come and see you face to face? For the fountain is God himself
(St. Ambrose in “Flight from the World”).
March 24, 2014
Know, O beautiful soul, that you are the image of God. Know that you are the glory of God. Know then, O man, your greatness, and be vigilant
April 4, 2014
All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned
(St. Isidore of Seville).
April 24, 2014
“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials” (St. Teresa of Avila).
June 25, 2014
“Our Lord loves you and loves you tenderly; and, if he does not let you feel the sweetness of his love, it is to make you more humble and abject in your own eyes”
(St. Pio of Pietrelcina).
August 18, 2014
Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul (St. Augustine).
November 15, 2014
“He who enters into the secret place of his own soul passes beyond himself and does in very truth ascend to God” (St. Albert the Great).
February 4, 2015
“Acquire interior peace and a multitude will find its salvation through you”
August 1, 2015
“A soul that loves God is loved by him, and God himself comes to dwell in her”
(St. Alphonsus Liguori).
Links of interest… Carmelites: Ask a Carmelite Sister / September martyrs… Christian prayer… Consolation & desolation… Convento de Santa Teresa (Avila, Spain)… Cultivating true contrition… Do not be afraid of silence… Here I am, Lord: one / two / three (YouTube)… Interior castle: ebook / meditations (book review) / take & read / video… Lord, when you came: composer (Cesário Gabaráin, 1979) / lyrics / pescador de hombres (YouTube) / seashore song & lyrics (Assumption College chapel choir)… Most Holy Trinity… On hearing God speak… Our Lady of Mount Carmel: about / brown scapular / feast / history / novena / order / poetry & prayer / prayer request… St. Andrew: day / feast… St. Teresa of Avila: about (more) / biography (more) / book (more) / chaplet / doctor (more – first woman) / feast day / foundress / frases / friendship with Jesus / headaches / history / holiness & works / interior castle (more – video) / litany / memorial / mystic / novena / poems / prayers / quotes (more – more) / saint (more) / tribute (movie) / videos… What stage is your faith… the Word among us…
WP posts… Gift of love… Gifts… Growing pains… In good time… Making meaning
… Prayerful ways… Soulful… Sweet Jesus… Teresa of Avila… Two letters… Two prompt replies
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