Today we finish the discussion of the fifth mansions in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle.
The soul is passive in the prayer of union, but she must not be passive in her spiritual life if she would maintain her closeness to God. Teresa has been using the analogy of a silkworm to describe the soul at this stage of the spiritual life. She writes:
It must always be understood that one has to strive to go forward in the service of our Lord and in self-knowledge. For if a person does no more than receive this favor and if, as though already securely in possession of something, she grows careless in her life and turns aside from the heavenly path, which consists of keeping the commandments, that which happens to the silkworm will happen to her. For it gives forth the seed that produces other silkworms, and itself dies forever. (V.3.1)
Obedience to God, Teresa insists, is the way to stay close to Him. No prayer method can accomplish this, no holding one’s breath, or altered state of consciousness. The life of prayer is inextricably tied to the life of virtue.
She even says that anyone who wants to attain to the prayer of union should pursue perfect alignment of his will with God’s. Through this means, union is available to all (V.3.3). Moreover, such a soul disdains sickness, poverty, death, and every other form of suffering except two: separation from God or seeing him offended.
The best way of knowing how closely we have aligned our will with God’s is seeing how well we love our neighbor. God will repay this love with his own (V. 3.8).
Love proves itself in action
Here is a passage with advice for all of us, no matter where we are in the spiritual life:
Let’s try to understand ourselves even in little things, and pay no attention to any big plans that sometimes suddenly come to us during prayer in which it seems we will do wonders for our neighbor and even for just one soul so that it may be saved. If afterward our deeds are not in conformity with those plans, there will be no reason to believe that we will accomplish the plans. I say the same about humility and all the virtues. Great are the wiles of the devil: to make us think we have one virtue–when we don’t–he would circle hell a thousand times. (V.3.9)
Teresa’s spirituality is surprisingly practical. Serve a sister who is sick or in pain, she says, out of love for God. This is how we align our will with God’s. If we do not genuinely love our neighbor, our union is an illusion.
Teresa then urges her sisters to avoid near occasions of sin, for it is still very easy for the soul in the fifth mansions to fall. The soul is only at the courtship stage with God, not even yet betrothed to him.
We must continually beg God in prayer to preserve us from sin. We must also think often about our faults and weaknesses, so that the Devil cannot easily lead us towards self-love.
We must always strive to keep moving forward, to grow in our love.
Let’s close with these encouraging words:
How prepared this Lord is to grant us favors now just as He has granted them to others in the past. And in part He has even more need that we desire to receive them, for there are fewer now who care about His honor than there were then. (V.4.6)
May we all be among those few!