In our study of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, we have come to the end of the third mansions, the end of the Purgative Way. The fourth mansions begin the second stage of the spiritual life, the Illuminative Way. How are these stages different?
Souls in the Purgative way are beginners–yes, even those in the third mansions. They may be very zealous about following God, but they have not yet advanced very far. Thus far they have been combating sin and attachment with the ordinary grace God gives Christians. They have had to work hard. But eventually they come to a place where that is no longer enough. They have advanced as far as they can without greater help. Then God steps in and begins to cleanse them himself.
Turning from self to God
Pere Marie-Eugene writes:
“We come now to the souls that are in the first three Mansions, or in the first phase of the spiritual life. To say that there is in them a mystical life would be formally to contradict Saint Teresa who characterizes this phase by the predominance of the activity of the human faculties aided by the grace of God.” (I Want to See God, 484)
In contrast, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange writes of the next phase:
“Now God conquers our intellect; He enlightens it as He alone can; He renders this superior faculty increasingly docile to His inspirations that it may grasp divine truth. He subjects our intellect to Himself in this way while vivifying it. He gives it lights that are often scarcely perceived, but that make us understand ever better the spirit of the Gospel. He lifts us up above the excessive preoccupations and the complications of a learning that is too human.” (Three Ages of the Interior Life, Part 3, Ch. 6)
Souls in the Illuminative Way are proficients. They are contemplatives. They experience a supernatural prayer initiated by God himself.
How can we move from being beginners to proficients? Teresa and her interpreters tell us we primarily need:
- generosity towards God, even in the smallest matters
Advancing towards the fourth mansions
So, if you are striving to move beyond the third mansions, how should you behave?
Be faithful to daily mental prayer. Don’t cut it short except for good reasons. Instead, lengthen it or add a second prayer time if your duties permit it. Don’t become slothful in prayer, whether vocal or mental.
Throughout the day, think of Jesus and speak to him. If you have experienced acquired recollection in your mental prayer, practice it as much as you can throughout the day. Withdraw quietly into your heart for a few seconds, worshiping God in this new way.
If you can, find a good spiritual director. St. Teresa of Avila says it’s more important for your director to be learned than holy. Sometimes people who have a reputation for holiness do not know enough about spiritual growth to help others. They might lead you astray.
Meditate often on your weaknesses, but even more often on God’s greatness and mercy. Go to confession at least once a month. Examine your conscience daily. Practice remaining silent when others criticize you or disagree with you.
Live a well-regulated life. Fulfill the duties of your vocation with love. Learn to make sacrifices. Give up activities you enjoy so that you can serve God better. Avoid the near occasion of venial sin. Use your time well.
Keep working hard on love, detachment, and prayer. The Devil knows you are in a place that is dangerous to him and he will try to keep you from moving forward. Don’t give in.
Do all this peacefully, with patience and trust. God will not keep you waiting long.