My most recent post at SpiritualDirection.com 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.