In college, I comes within the framework of a unit of students that scheduled the re-dedication of our dorm chapel to a saint that would be a good fit for a dormitory filled with undergraduate girls. I was rooting for St. Therese of Lisieux and was initially disheartened when St. Teresa of Avila was chosen. But, in the process of planning for the rededication Mass( and going roped in to clothe up like St. Teresa of Avila and committing a presentation 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 detected a saint who was funny, and who continued her sense of humor even amid suffering. Facing some mental health issues challenges as an undergraduate, her hope amid endure gave me hope, too.
Although I are well aware of her anecdotally, “its not” until last year that I lastly are caught up her writings. What I detected there seduced me and blew me apart. When I began predicting The Interior Castle, what I expected was a dull tome outline the phases of the spiritual life. Instead, what I learnt was a love story.
Big Tess, the Reluctant Mystic
Unlike St. Therese, St. Teresa( affectionately referred to as “Big Tess”) came back holiness later in life. Yes, she did have some spiritual ordeals as a child, 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 changed when she was called by Christ to the mystic life.
I recently listened to a talk in which the speaker was trying to outline many routes of the spiritual life, and I was confused by his assessment of the “Mystical Way.” If Big Tess has learnt me anything, she has taught me that the mystic life can be summarized in a simple phrase- it is a love story.
In addition to her amelioration of the Carmelites, Teresa also was a mystic. There are different kinds of mystics and different versions of mysticism( something which Teresa asks more eloquently than I can) but Teresa’s fit into two categories. Firstly, she did experience what we would consider classic supernatural events- images, euphoriums, etc. She was rather flustered by the inconvenience of them, in the way a less demonstrative daughter might blush at the overt desire of her young partner. Yet, she been agreed upon because she accepted the One who she was encountering in these experiences.
The second list of mysterious ordeal( which is one that, as Teresa illustrates, 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 heart of a Beloved, longing for the Lover of her feeling. She describes it as being “wounded with love for the Spouse.” Those who are married, and mothers( extremely moms) are more likely suffered something equivalent- a love for your marriage or child that is so great that it is almost agonizing. 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 cherish of Christ. She describes her longing for God as painfully sweet, a longing that is pain because it cannot be fulfilled in this life…and more, it is sweet, because its pain is a greater joy than any earthly joy.
Mysticism for the Ordinary Catholic?
In Interior Castle, St. Teresa summaries seven “mansions” of the someone, 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 dwelling, 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 place of paradise- even everyday Catholics, living 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 endows 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 merely because you have accumulated a certain number of holiness tops. That is not the station 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 charms that God has given us. Whether those blessings and endowments 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 excellent consolidation with Christ and the whole Trinity.
The metaphysical lane, as Teresa of Avila learns it, consists of a series of encounters of adoration- much as the backward and forward between the Lover and his Beloved in the Song of Songs. Spiritual blessings are not tokens of success- the issue is gifts of ardour, freely given by the Lover of all our beings. And, like any good spouse, Christ knows what offerings are most fitting for his beloved ones.
Yet, even if most of us will never contact the upper dwellings of the Interior Castle in this life, Teresa’s writings are still relevant for us all. We are created for union with God. If God deems it fitting for us to experience a perceive of that in this life, it is a gift. But even if he does not, saints like Teresa can give us a view 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 pay us hope, too. Already in this life, irrespective of our country in life, God is gleaning us in love to him. And, as he discloses to Teresa, he is immensely, overwhelmingly, love. And he is waiting for us, every moment, of every day, quietly 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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