In college, I comes within the framework of a squad of students that projected the re-dedication of our dormitory chapel to a saint that would be a good are suitable for a dormitory filled with undergraduate daughters. I was springing for St. Therese of Lisieux and was initially saddened when St. Teresa of Avila was chosen. But, in the process of planning for the rededication Mass( and coming roped in to cover up like St. Teresa of Avila and presenting a appearance on our new patron to the dorm, because that is the sort of thing that undergraduate girlfriends do) I fell in love with St. Teresa of Avila. I discovered a saint who was funny, and who impeded her sense of humor even amid suffering. Facing some mental health issues challenges as an undergraduate, her hope amid digest gave me hope, too.
Although I knew about her anecdotally, “its not” until last year that I finally are caught up her writings. What I encountered there dazzled me and blew me apart. When I began predicting The Interior Castle, what I expected was a dull tome outline the steps of the spiritual life. Instead, what I encountered was a love story.
Big Tess, the Reluctant Mystic
Unlike St. Therese, St. Teresa( affectionately referred to as “Big Tess”) came to holiness later in life. Yes, she did have some supernatural suffers as small children, but in her writings, she makes it clear that she also was a bit of a rascal and rebel. Yet, that same spiritedness that she introduce into ordinary life was converted when she was called by Christ to the spiritual life.
I recently listened to a talk in which the speaker was trying to outline many itineraries of the spiritual life, and I was confused by his assessment of the “Mystical Way.” If Big Tess has schooled me anything, she has learnt me that the supernatural life can be summarized in a simple phrase- it is a love story.
In addition to her improvement of the Carmelites, Teresa likewise was a mystic. There are different kinds of mystics and different versions of mysticism( something which Teresa illustrates more eloquently than I can) but Teresa’s fit into two categories. Firstly, she did experience what we would consider classic mysterious know-hows- dreams, raptures, etc. She was rather perplexed by the inconvenience of them, in accordance with the arrangements a less demonstrative girl might blush at the overt inclination of her young spouse. Yet, she been agreed upon because she agreed with the One who she was encountering in these experiences.
The second list of mysterious know( which constitutes one that, as Teresa explains, is common to all mystics) is that of an incredible longing for God. Teresa of Avila was a practical, down to earth woman. But she also had the very heart of a Beloved, longing for the Lover of her person. She describes it as being “wounded with love for the Spouse.” Those who are married, and parents( especially babies) are more likely experienced something similar- a passion for your spouse or child that is so great that it is almost painful. Yet, there is a sweetness in that kind of human love and longing, and St. Teresa clearly asserts that the same is true of the desire of Christ. She describes her longing for God as painfully sweet, a longing that is unpleasant because it cannot be fulfilled in this life…and hitherto, it is sweet, because its pain is a greater joy than any earthly joy.
Mysticism for the Ordinary Catholic?
In Interior Castle, St. Teresa outlines seven “mansions” of the being, through which one may pass through in the spiritual life. She makes it clear that not all will advance through all seven in this life- in fact, she thinks that if you make it to the fourth mansion, that is a grace to be wallowed in. Yet, some may be called and drawn to even the higher levels of the spiritual life this feature of paradise- even regular Catholics, lives here in 2020.
What can we do to get there? Is there a road map?
The early mansions that Teresa describes involve great efforts( as cooperation with grace ), but they are steps that can dispose us to whatever spiritual endowments God may want to give us in this life. What is important to keep in mind is that the mansions are not “levels” like in a video game. You do not advance to the next one time because you have accumulated a certain number of holiness targets. That is not the pitch of her analogy.
Rather, her descriptions of the various stages of the spiritual life are to help us to recognize and name with gratitude the talents and blessings that God has given us. Whether those forgiveness and endows fall in the third mansion or the seventh- they are a part of the love story. And, unlike video games, every saint will one day contact the final level- that of perfect union with Christ and the whole Trinity.
The mystic path, as Teresa of Avila pictures it, consists of a series of encounters of kindnes- much as the back and forth between the Lover and his Beloved in the Song of Songs. Spiritual mercies are not tokens of success- they are knacks of love, freely given by the Lover of all our spirits. And, like any good spouse, Christ knows what gifts are most fitting for his beloved ones.
Yet, even if most of us will never reach the upper mansions of the Interior Castle in this life, Teresa’s writings remains relevant for us all. We are created for union with God. If God deems it fitting for us to experience a flavor of that in this life, it is a gift. But even if he does not, saints like Teresa can give us a peek at a reality that will, hopefully, all be ours one day in heaven.
The regular, down-to-earth nature of St. Teresa of Avila should return us hope, more. Already in this life, regardless of our commonwealth in life, God is extorting us in love to him. And, as he divulges to Teresa, he is immensely, irresistibly, lovable. And he is waiting for us, every moment, of every day, softly and patiently, in the tabernacle. And oh…how he longs for us. Like Teresa of Avila, let us run to him.
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