I hope you are ready to begin studying St. Teresa of Avila’s second mansions. I’m excited about this. My guess, based on experience, is that most of my readers are in this stage or the next. Some of you might be in first mansions, perhaps crossing at times into the second.
Now you may think you are way beyond the second mansions, because you have been following God for a long time. You might have read Interior Castle before and thought you found yourself in a much more advanced place. The first time I read the book, I thought I might be in fifth mansions. I only wish! I was firmly in the Purgative Way. My mistake was due to:
- Not understanding what Teresa was talking about.
- Not understanding myself.
- Not understanding the heights God calls us to.
Growth in Christ takes both knowledge and will. One of my favorite Old Testament verses is Hosea 4:6, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” We know so much about technology, the natural world, and the lives of celebrities, and so little about ourselves and our purpose in life! We have already talked about the need for self-knowledge, which Teresa emphasizes in first mansions, chapter 2. But we’ll look at that a little deeper here.
Our lack of understanding is not entirely our fault. When was the last time you heard a sermon or homily about Teresa’s mansions? When was the last time your parish held a retreat on becoming saints? When was the last time you heard a speaker about humility?
Since we are living in a thoroughly secular world, we can think we are saints when we just try to follow the ten commandments. But being a “basically good” person is not the same as holiness.
More and more I am coming to see how the first three mansions are only the beginning of the spiritual life. They are necessary steps. They generally take a long time for people to get through. Yet this period of the Christian life, called the Purgative Way, is only a preparation for a closer union with God. The battle against sin is only the first part of the journey. It’s spiritual childhood–and not in the sense that St. Therese speaks of.
Now, that’s not to disparage the second mansions or to discourage you! If you are in the second mansions, you have made real progress. Your spiritual life has changed greatly. You have had a conversion. Here are some characteristics of souls in second mansions.
The second mansions are a battlefield
The first mansions, as you recall, are filled with reptiles. In the second mansions, we have another analogy: the battlefield. Souls in the second mansions have one foot in God’s kingdom–but the other still in the world. The spirit battles against the flesh. St. Paul speaks of the person in second mansions in this way:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:15-25)
Many times I have heard people quote this passage to say, “See, even St. Paul still did what he did not want to do!” Don’t for a minute believe that he is describing the state of his own soul at the time he wrote his letter! He is speaking about the state of a soul under the rule of the law, and this is very similar to the state of a soul in the second mansions. Second mansions are very much about practicing good works, learning how to be good. But there is so much more to the Christian life!
The good news, as Paul indicates, is that this state of affairs doesn’t have to last. God can rescue us from it, and He will if we persevere.
Less danger, more effort
St. Teresa writes that souls in the second mansions encounter less danger than those in the first, but require more effort to stay where they are and to progress farther. They do not as easily fall prey to mortal sin and have begun to work on conquering venial sin. Yet they don’t routinely avoid the near occasion of sin. They still commit premeditated, deliberate venial sin.
For example, they may have learned to avoid pornography, but they still use vulgar language without thinking twice about it. Or they try not to hate their neighbors, but have no qualms about gossiping. They would try to avoid committing perjury, but they don’t mind lying now and then and might even say their lies were “necessary.”
More is required of the soul. He must become firmer in his resolutions. He must be determined never to go back to where he was before. Sometimes these souls are too laid back and fall back into mortal sin or give up prayer.
These souls hear God’s call
Unlike those in the first mansions, who rarely thought about or addressed God, souls in the second mansions hear God’s voice all around them. That doesn’t mean they see visions or have locutions. St. Teresa writes:
His appeals come through the conversations of good people, or from sermons, or through the reading of good books; and there are many other ways, of which you have heard, in which God calls us. Or they come through sicknesses and trials, or by means of truths which God teaches us at times when we are engaged in prayer.”
These souls begin to know what God requires of them. They know He is calling them on to deeper union. But they also hear the call of the world and of the Devil, tempting them to turn back. They are caught between the eternal joys of the soul and the temporal pleasures of the body.
Desire for consolations
Souls in the second mansions are suffering, because they know they should be living totally for God and they are not. Sin brings real sorrow–if not right away, then after some reflection. They hate the struggle they have to endure.
They may have experienced a euphoria when they gave their lives to Christ more fully. But soon that euphoria is gone. They can’t understand why. They think that more consolations would help them to advance more quickly. Teresa cautions them to let God be God and decided for Himself when to give consolations. The Lord wants them to learn perseverance in virtue.
Souls in second mansion have begun to practice prayer more regularly. We’ll save the discussion of prayer for next time.