Should we care about stages of the spiritual life?

I would like to begin studying, meditating on, and sharing with you Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. But even before beginning a question arises: Why should we bother about stages of the spiritual life?

Fr. Thomas Dubay answers this objection:

One of the most common mistakes made by some spiritual directors is to dismiss as irrelevant the question of where a directee is in prayer development.” (Fire Within, 73)

He proposes these reasons, taken from Teresa’s writings for knowing stages and where we fit into them:

  • People who are on a journey must know their destination or they will not reach it.
  • Knowing the difficulties and trials of each stage saves us from anxiety when we encounter them.
  • If we don’t recognize the gift of contemplation for what it is, we might act in a way that prevents us from receiving it.
  • Each stage has its own appropriate practice of prayer and virtue.
  • Seeing that we have made some progress encourages us to keep moving forward.
  • We need to be able to distinguish between true prayer development and self-deception or deception by the Devil.

Given all this, I’d like to begin discussing the different stages of prayer and how we should act at each stage. We will look not only at the beginnings of the spiritual life, but at the middle and advanced stages as well. I hope we will all recognize ourselves in one (or more) of Teresa’s mansions, and be inspired to keep striving towards the next stage. Let us keep each other in prayer as we study and discern.

Speaking of prayer, I will be giving a talk on Learning to Trust God at a parish in the Twin Cities tomorrow morning. Please pray for me and my listeners. God reward you!

Connie Rossini

Note: You can purchase Interior Castle on Amazon and I will earn a small commission through the affiliate program. I recommend the translation by Kieran Kavanaugh, either the Study Edition or Volume 2 of The Collected Works of Teresa of Avila. I will be using this second edition and referring to its page numbers. If finances are tight, the older translation by E. Allison Peers is free online. I will be reading Peers’ commentary and may at times remark on the differences in the two translations. If you don’t read along, I hope to discuss the book in enough detail here that you can still benefit.

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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19 Responses

  1. Theresa

    Connie…this is going to be goooood! Thank you for your great posts. I always wavered and thought that I shouldn’t be concerned as long as I am moving forward. But I have learned recently the importance of good direction and knowing, as a general guideline, how we should be praying at each stage…learning what God is asking each of us.

    Have a most blessed weekend.

  2. Alyosha

    I’m looking forward to learning about the approach to spiritual progress in the Catholic tradition and hearing St. Teresa’s wisdom.

    Since all spirituality is about opening and becoming less self absorbed, the concept of progress creates an interesting tension. Our egos attach and take pride in whatever we put energy into. But there is “progress” nonetheless — more gentleness, humor, intelligent concern for others. Isn’t it a good thing that our pride attaches to our spiritual path? It is like using an axe to carve an axe handle — the guide for how to correct pride is always near at hand!

    • Connie Rossini

      You’re comments are always interesting, Alyosha. There is indeed a tension between recognizing that you have grown and realizing that you still have a long way to go! We’ll probably cover this in detail at some point, since Teresa does speak about it (but I’m not sure if it’s in this particular book).

      • marilynrodrigues

        Oooh, I’m also looking forward to hearing more from Alyosha! This is precisely the problem I come up against when I read the different mansions and try to see where I ‘fit’. It’s such a pride-full exercise. But you’ve put a great spin on it – I don’t feel so bad now. This is going to be great Connie!

        • Connie Rossini

          Great to have you along, Marilyn. I’m not going to post any schedule or ask you to read a chapter by a certain date. I’m just going to read it slowly, study it, meditate on it, and share what I think is important from those activities. So don’t worry at all if you can’t read the book right now. You can always read and comment on the posts, then go back and read them again next time you pick up Interior Castle.

        • Connie Rossini

          One more thing: if reading about the stages of the interior life makes you proud, it probably means that you’re not as far along as you think you are. Because if you were really in, say, fifth mansions, you’d have a habit of humility. 🙂

  3. Patricia

    Connie, I’m really looking forward to your posts on The Interior Castle. I know you will have some great insights, and you are a “born” teacher 🙂 May God bless and enlighten you! xo

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks–especially for the prayers and blessing. I’ll do the best I can. Be sure and chime in when you have something to ask, add, or clarify.

  4. Amy

    I’m so glad to hear that you’re going to share your insights on this book. I had just ordered it from Amazon and read a little bit of it yesterday, not even realizing you were going to be doing this book.

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