Lay people and the third mansions

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 14
Did Teresa of Avila write for lay people or just nuns? What does she say in the third mansions? (Photo by Ruben Ojeda of a statue by Gregorio Fernández, Wikimedia Commons)


My most recent post at was about the one path to holiness. everyone, I wrote, is called to deepen their relationship with God through prayer. Everyone becomes holy by prayer and virtue. As always when this subject comes up, some want to argue that Teresa of Avila’s teaching on the mansions was not meant for lay people.

Lay people are too busy to be expected to pray much, the argument goes. So they must be content with offering their day to God and the like.

Now, I have no problem with lay people offering their day to God, making their work a prayer, praying as they work, et cetera. Of course we should do that. But I do have a problem with the notion that only monks, nuns, and priests are called to contemplation, or that only they need to spend much time dedicated to mental prayer.

So I was happy to read the second chapter on the third mansions in Interior Castle. In this chapter, although Teresa is writing primarily for her cloistered nuns, she uses lay people in her examples.

Do not be disturbed

Teresa’s main point in this section is that those who have reached the third mansions should not be easily disturbed by their sufferings, their sins, or the evil and trouble they see in the world. (This is basically, by the way, the message of Trusting God with St. Therese). Then she gives these examples:

  • A rich, childless man loses some money, but not enough to make him go broke. He is disturbed, saying he would have liked to give the money to the poor. Teresa says he would have done better to accept the loss as part of God’s permissive will for him.
  • Another person has enough, but continually strives for more. “[H]e need have no fear of ascending to the dwelling places closet to the King.”
  • A public opportunity to be humbled presents itself, and the person is disturbed instead of grateful for a chance to grow in virtue.

“[T]hese things don’t take place here,” Teresa says to her sisters. Then why does she mention them? She believes her sisters can learn from them. Can we as lay people not also learn from the nuns and their struggles?

The way to holiness for a nun and a homeschool mom are not so different. One has fewer worries and distractions and more time for prayer, and we would hope a more peaceful, God-focused atmosphere. But both need self-mastery, prayer, and the sacraments. Teresa writes:

And believe me, the whole affair doesn’t lie in whether or not we wear the religious habit but in striving to practice the virtues, in surrendering our will to God in everything, in bringing our life into accordance with what His Majesty ordains for it, and in desiring that His will not ours be done.

So then, the basics are the same for us all!

Humility, humility, and humility!

Teresa goes on to say, if we want to move forward from the third mansions, we must practice humility constantly. And we must be willing to do some “unreasonable” things for God out of love. Being too measured means advancing too slowly.

With humility present, this stage is a most excellent one. If humility is lacking, we will remain here our whole life–and with a thousand afflictions and miseries.”

So if you have advanced a bit in your spiritual life and seem to be stuck in the third mansions, or if you are living a well-regulated life of prayer and virtue but feel afflicted and miserable, the cure is humility! Accept whatever God brings you, without complaining or being disturbed. Accept the slowness of your progress (but don’t make false humility an excuse). Accept your sins and shortcomings. Accept the fact that life is imperfect, that the world rejects God, and that most people will think you’ve gone crazy if you actually begin following God with all–rather than most–of your heart.

Let God be in control. Trust him with the big things. Trust him with the little things. Hold back nothing that he asks of you. Give him your all with joy. Maybe this is the one thing you are lacking.

Connie Rossini

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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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14 Responses

  1. Henry Bernadette

    Thank you Connie, a beautiful reflection on the need for humility in our lives and how to move forward spiritually. I always look for your email in my daily search for spiritual enlightenment.

  2. barbaraschoeneberger

    Considering there are so many lay saints who experienced contemplation I can’t see how anybody can argue that setting time aside for meditation that God could use to bring the soul to contemplation is not for lay people. I do think that we have to be careful not to make contemplation a goal but leave it up to God. We just have to show up in front of Him and spend time with Him. I do believe He gives us the grace to do this – the physical strength no matter how busy the day or complicated our lives may be.

    I sent your book to a prison inmate, a Lay Carmelite, who is a lifer at Lusk prison in Wyoming. Please pray for her. She is old, not in good health, and suffers the neglect all prisoners endure.

    • Connie Rossini

      Barb, I will certainly pray for the woman you mention. What a trial! This idea that lay people, especially moms with small children, shouldn’t worry if they can’t set time aside for prayer, is unfortunately widespread. I know it’s difficult. But it’s difficult for everybody. It’s a sacrifice. Love makes sacrifices with joy.

  3. Alyosha

    “Another person has enough, but continually strives for more. ‘[H]e need have no fear of ascending to the dwelling places closest to the King.'”

    i don’t understand this statemnet. i know that you were offering the three examples as instances where monastics could benefit from examples drawn from the experience of lay Christians. But what is the point of this example? That the person should strive for more than he or she needs? I don’t get it.

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks for asking for the clarification, as I am sure others didn’t get it either. It isn’t obvious out of context like this. What Teresa is referring to is a person (presumably living in the world) who has plenty of money to care for himself and his family, but he’s not satisfied. So he strives to get more, and then he is still not satisfied and keeps striving to get richer. What he really should be striving after so hard is not more money, but a closer relationship with God. Unless he makes striving for God his primary goal in life, he won’t reach the inner mansions where God dwells. So Teresa is being ironic here in saying, “He need have no fear…”

  4. Alyosha

    Thanks! Your explanation makes sense — similar to the “lilies of the field” analogy.

  5. Trish

    Honestly this email couldn’t have come at a better time! God bless you x

  6. Judy Velbeck

    This was helpful to me, and I’m so glad that you are trying to explain the different mansions and what they might entail for lay people. I’m 70 yrs. old, and still trying to learn. Thanks much!

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