Souls generally remain in the fourth mansions of the Interior Castle for years. But for those who are raised beyond them, even greater intimacy with God lies ahead. Today we begin exploring Teresa of Avila’s fifth mansions.
The prayer of union begins in the fifth mansions. How does it differ from the prayer of quiet? As I said last time, the prayer of quiet primarily involves the will. In the prayer of union, the intellect, the memory, and the imagination also share in contemplation.
The sign of true union
St. Teresa says true union always produces a sign of its authenticity. That sign is the soul’s certitude. She knows just as surely as if she had been speaking to Christ in the flesh that she has been in union with God. Even when spiritual directors or companions try to persuade her otherwise, she doesn’t believe them.
If you don’t have this certainty, Teresa says, you may have had some kind of authentic mystical experience, but it wasn’t union (Interior Castle V, 1:11).
Years later, the soul remembers the exact time and place of the union. Its impression never fades.
What is it like?
Teresa believes that most souls who are faithful in the fourth mansions will be brought at least to the threshold of the fifth. But there are many different types of union in the fifth mansions, and different souls will experience various types.
During this time of union, [the soul] neither sees, nor hears, nor understands, because the union is always short and seems to the soul even much shorter than it probably is.” (V, 1:9)
Later, in the seventh mansions, the soul will understand the union. Now it is struck deaf and dumb, not even thinking or imagining during the time of prayer, but just enjoying union with God.
Comparing the delights of union with mere earthly delights, she says, is like comparing something you feel in the marrow of your bones with material you feel with your skin.
Earlier, she says:
There is no need here to use any technique to suspend the mind since all the faculties are asleep in this state–and truly asleep–to the things of the world and to ourselves. As a matter of fact, during the time that the union lasts the soul is left as though without its senses, for it has no power to think even if it wants to. In loving, if it does love, it doesn’t understand how or what it is it loves or what it would want. In sum, it is like one who in every respect has died to the world so as to live more completely in God.” (V, 1:4)
The effects of union
She describes the soul as a silkworm. Before this union, the soul is like a fat, ugly worm. Afterwards, it is like a beautiful butterfly. It doesn’t even recognize itself. Its old self has died and it is completely made new.
This soul has a deep peace, deeper than any it has experienced before. At the same time, the soul suffers greatly at the sight of anyone offending God. This suffering does not affect its peace, yet it is deeper than any suffering it has experienced before, “for it seems that the pain breaks and grinds the soul into pieces” (V, 2:11).
“Almost each time [the soul experiences union] it gains new treasures” (V, 2:7). Detachment, desire to suffer for God and do penances, and contempt for the world all grow exponentially. Everything but God becomes a burden to it.
We’ll discuss some other aspects of the prayer of union next week.