The First Dwelling Places
Lesson One: An Image of the Soul
Saint Teresa begins her book Interior Castle with the following description of the soul:
I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions [dwelling places] (I.I #2).
She presents this image of a castle as something she received from our Lord earlier that morning while praying for insight on how she should write, under obedience, of her understanding of the interior life of prayer and union with God. The castle is the person’s soul. In that castle, there are many dwelling places. All of these dwelling places are interconnected and lead to the central dwelling place where God Himself lives.
In the pages that follow, Saint Teresa takes her readers on an inward journey to the center of this “castle made of a single diamond.” This castle is not something we are to look at from the outside; rather, it must be our central mission to enter and dwell in the center of that beautiful castle made of a single diamond. This journey takes us through countless other inner dwelling places until we reach the center. There in the center, the soul encounters the great King, God Himself, in a manifest and transformative way.
Reflection: Ponder your own soul today. How do you see yourself? Many times, we are afraid to prayerfully look within. If you were to do so, what would you discover? Very often, when we look into our souls, we see the sin and filth of what we have done, and we see the weaknesses with which we daily struggle. But is that who you are? Are you only the sum of all your faults and weaknesses? Are you only the accumulation of all your sins?
Saint Teresa will, indeed, soon speak of the horror of sin, especially mortal sin, and she will reflect upon how much sin dirties the soul. But she begins with this image of an interior castle where God dwells, because this is first and foremost who we are. Our souls are like this priceless diamond castle, not because of what we have done, but because of Whose image in which we were created. We were made in the likeness and image of God, and that can never be taken away.
Most glorious King, You made me in Your divine image and desire that my soul shine brightly like a diamond, gleaming in the bright Sun which radiates from within. Grant me the grace to look inwardly and to see You dwelling within. Help me, as I begin this journey, to look beyond my sin so that I may see myself as You created me. As I do, help me to also see the sin that darkens the brightness of this castle of my soul.
Lesson Two: The Beauty and Capacity of the Soul
As Saint Teresa continues to ponder the image of the soul, she explains that nothing can properly depict the great beauty of the soul nor its capacity.
Now if we think carefully over this, sisters, the soul of the righteous man is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good? I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity (I.I #2).
For Saint Teresa, the soul is incomprehensibly beautiful, since it is made in the image and likeness of God, and has great capacity since God dwells deep within it. If the God of infinite beauty dwells within each soul, then this mere fact elevates the soul to a level that is beyond description. The soul itself is called to share in the infinite life of God—not by its own merits, but by God’s design. This is a starting point that must never be forgotten.
Reflection: Ponder these infinite realities. First, ponder the beauty of your own soul. Your soul is beautiful, to an incomprehensible degree, because it is made in the likeness and image of God. Though sin indeed clouds that beauty, there is nothing that can ever change the essence of your soul. From the moment of your creation on through eternity, your soul will forever be beautiful. Understanding this fact requires the honesty of humility. Humility is a gift that allows you to see yourself as God sees you. The humility of truth will allow you to more clearly understand this reality of who you are in God’s eyes.
Second, ponder the great capacity of your soul. Since God dwells within you, then the Infinite lives within you. As a result, your soul can only contain Him Who is Infinite if it can contain the Infinite God. This is of no merit of your own; rather, it is who you are in your very being. God made your soul in such a way that you are invited to spend this life and on into eternity, entering deeper and deeper into the innermost dwelling place of your soul where you encounter the life of God Who lives within you. Allowing yourself to understand this truth will bring humility to your mind and heart and will give you great passion for the discovery of the infinite God within.
Most beautiful and infinite God, help me to discover You within the very depths of my being. Help me to see You, to know You and to love You Who are there within the deepest inner dwelling of my soul. Clear the mud from my eyes and the dirt from my ears that I may come to know You, love You, and become one with You Who created me in Your most holy image.
Lesson Three: The Innermost Dwelling Place
The soul, seen as an image of a castle made of a single diamond of great beauty and capacity, is also a castle of unending discovery. Every dwelling place within this castle of your soul is meant to be discovered on the journey toward the center.
Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions [dwelling places], some above, others below, others at each side; and in the centre and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion [dwelling place] where the most secret things pass between God and the soul (I.I #4).
The goal of each person is to arrive at the “chiefest dwelling place” where it will rest in the divine presence Who fully manifests Himself there. But each soul journeys, by God’s grace, toward the innermost dwelling in different ways. Though the paths we take are similar, each is unique to each one of us.
One of the primary goals of the spiritual life is to explore the many dwelling places within your own soul as one who is on a journey of discovery. We ought not stay in one dwelling place for a long time. Instead, we must be free to discover room after room, always moving closer and closer to the central room. The journey must never stop until we arrive at the central chamber and rest completely in God.
Reflection: Ponder the beautiful truth that God is calling you deeper. Too often in life, we become complacent and “stuck” on our inner journey toward God. Too often we remain, year after year, in the outer courtyard of the castle of our soul, or in one room within, becoming consumed with the many exterior noises and voices vying for our attention.
Are you willing to begin this journey to the center of your soul? Are you willing to start to explore the interior dwelling places that take you closer and closer to the God of infinite beauty and love? Are You desirous of this exploration and discovery?
Heaven is that end, but Heaven can be sought here and now. Why wait? Why live in the many outer dwelling places where God’s presence is clouded and obscured? Why not begin the journey and seek Him with all your heart? It’s a safe journey. It’s a journey to the center of your very own soul. It’s a journey in which you are invited to meet your God who dwells within.
My hidden and glorious God, help me to begin my journey. So often I am distracted by the countless obstacles and sins I face every day. Help me to begin to turn my eyes to You who are waiting for me in the depths of my very being. Help me to trust You and to embark on this glorious journey within.
Lesson Four: “Malodorous Worms”
What is a “malodorous worm?” It’s a worm that has a foul smell, is very unpleasant, and is very poignant. In addition to speaking of our souls as a beautiful diamond or infinite capacity, Saint Teresa also refers to each of us as one of these worms.
…it will do us no harm to find that it is possible in this our exile for so great a God to commune with such malodorous worms, and to love Him for His great goodness and boundless mercy (I.I #4).
Is this not a contradiction? How can we be both a beautiful diamond castle and a foul-smelling worm? The context is essential to understand here. Saint Teresa speaks of our souls in this way to emphasize the fact of God’s mercy. She explains that we should ponder the countless ways that God bestows His graces upon us and upon others. She explains that it takes great humility to see God bestowing His countless graces. And if we understand that we are completely unworthy by any merit on our own, deserving nothing other than the fate of a malodorous worm, then we will be in a good position to become eternally grateful and will be left in awe of the fact that God is so merciful, bestowing so much on us in this our “exile” from Heaven.
Reflection: Do you see the grace and mercy of God at work in your life? Can you see this? Are you tuned in to the reality of mercy?
Very often we fail to see the mercy of God at work, even though it is all around us. Instead, we become fixated on sin, hurt, division, scandal, and many other sensational aspects of life. Our constant goal must be to adjust the vision of our hearts so that we can focus on the mercy of God alive in our world and our souls.
One way to see the mercy of God more clearly is to see it in contrast to the wretchedness of our souls. If pride leads you to self-righteousness or a judgmental heart, you will become blind to the abundant presence of the mercy of God. If, however, you can see the pitiable weakness of our fallen world, as well as the humble condition of your own soul, you will then be able to see God enter more easily into this weakness and misery with His love and grace.
You are a malodorous worm, but you are loved by God in that state to an infinite degree. Understanding that God loves you, no matter who you are or what you have done, is the first step to a deeper understanding of who God is. He is Mercy Itself.
My abundantly merciful God, I thank You for Your love, I thank You for Your infinite mercy. Open my eyes to see more clearly who I am and to see how deep Your love is for me. I am unworthy of Your love for me, but You bestow it nonetheless in superabundance. Also, give me the eyes to see You at work in the lives of those all around me. Help me to rejoice continually in Your Mercy toward them and to share in the bestowal of that mercy.
Lesson Five: “Being” in the Castle
Since the Most Holy Trinity dwells in the innermost dwelling place of the soul, it is your mission to enter there. But lest you become confused about the concept of entering your own soul, Saint Teresa offers the following explanation:
I seem rather to be talking nonsense, for, if this castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it. For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of “being” in a place (I.I #7).
“There are many ways of ‘being’ in a place.” This is the key. Imagine you owned a large and beautiful castle, but you never enjoyed all the rooms. Instead, you only spent time on the porch or in the first room inside. Imagine if, after owning that castle for many years, someone asked you what was in the rest of the castle and you had to reply, “I don’t know; I’ve never been there!”
Though this is hard to conceive of, this is exactly what most people do with their souls. They never enter in, exploring the inner depths and beauty to discover the hidden treasure of God alive within them. Instead of just “being” in the outer courtyard or the first room, you are being drawn to the bridal chamber to commune with the Blessed Trinity.
Reflection: Ponder, today, how much you know about your soul. Do you act more like a visitor or the primary resident? Do you simply stay occupied with the exterior, or do you know the intimate details of your castle?
The first step to entering deeper into this castle of your soul is to acknowledge that there is much you have never explored. Humbly admitting that you lack self-knowledge in this way will help to motivate you to enter deeper.
The second step is to make a concrete choice to continue the journey inward. Prayerfully choose to move to the next “room” and spend time there, seeking to comprehend the Divine Presence and beauty you have thus far missed out on. From there, commit to an ongoing exploration of the rooms within you to move closer and closer to that central inner room. They are all interconnected. Thus, the only way to the center is to move from one room to another.
My most hidden God, draw me closer to You so that I may continually enter more deeply into the abundantly glorious light of Your Divine Presence. I choose, this day, to begin my journey anew. Fill me with joy and peace as I discover You Who are waiting for me in the innermost depths of my soul.
Lesson Six: The Gate of True Prayer
Saint Teresa explains that “souls without prayer are like people whose bodies or limbs are paralyzed.” They continuously busy themselves “with outside affairs.” This is a sad but exceptionally common experience. Almost everything we spend time with each day is meant to “busy” ourselves and occupy our limited attention span. We become preoccupied with constant noise from the outside world and, as a result, fail to enjoy the peaceful repose awaiting us if we only enter deeper into our souls to encounter the presence of God. What is the remedy? It is prayer:
As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation (I.I #9).
The prayer of which Saint Teresa speaks is not simply “saying” prayers. Too often people go to church, recite prayers before meals or at night, but completely fail to pray. For prayer to be prayer, Saint Teresa says “it must be accompanied by meditation.” In other words, the meaning and mystery of what is spoken or pondered must be actively engaged interiorly. Meditation is the “gate” to the beginning of prayer and, therefore, the gate to the castle of our souls.
True prayer is communication with God. But it must also be holy communication. At times, we can speak to God more like He is our slave rather than God. We come to God with demands, telling Him what we want Him to do for us. If He does not grant what we demand, we get angry. This is not true prayer.
True prayer takes place when we know Who it is we are communicating with and who we are in relation to Him. He is God, the Almighty, pure Mercy Itself. We are sinners—weak, confused, and in need of God for everything. Our purpose in life is to know God, love Him, and glorify Him by responding to Him as the King of our souls. Only when we have this correct attitude toward God will we be able to begin to pray.
Reflection: Do you pray? More specifically, do you meditate? In other words, have you ever even entered the castle of your soul? Can you point to a time when you did so through a period of true prayer?
Though this is a book about the spiritual life and prayer, reading about the spiritual life will never suffice for the actual practice of prayer. Through study, we can learn about God, but it is in prayer that we meet God and encounter His living and true presence within.
Think about some time in your past when you engaged in prayer. Perhaps it was on a retreat or a time at your church during Eucharistic adoration. Perhaps you previously had a daily practice of prayer at home, in the silence of your room.
If you can call to mind sometime when you truly prayed, going beyond just a recitation of certain prayers, then commit yourself to return to this practice every day. If you do spend time praying every day, then consider how you can go deeper. Try to practice meditation in your prayer every day. Take a particular prayer or a passage from the Gospels. Ponder it, try to enter the scene, allow it to draw you in, seek God’s presence, and don’t be afraid to sit in silence as you experience God’s loving presence.
Most glorious God, I desire to pray every day. When I am distracted or preoccupied in life, help me to settle my mind and engage You by prayer and meditation. May I learn how to meditate. May I discover this practice of prayer so that I encounter You not only in my thoughts or speak to You with my lips but also surrender to You my will. May I do so with all the passion of my soul so that I can learn to love You in prayer.
Lesson Seven: Entering the Door
The depth of prayer never ends. We are called to enter deeper and deeper, communing with our Triune God on an ever-deepening level. But to enter deeply, we need to begin. Saint Teresa here speaks of the person who begins to pray:
Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also (I.I #10).
She goes on to point out that “from time to time” this person does enter the castle through prayer. And even though they barely enter in, and even though “a thousand reptiles” enter alongside, this person “has done a good deal by entering at all.” In other words, as we begin to engage in authentic prayer and meditation, we will most likely not find ourselves completely transformed and praying as the saints. But nonetheless, even if we pray and meditate just a little, even if it is only a few times a month, this is good and must be understood as a first and essential step.
Reflection: One of the most important parts of prayer is simply to do it. Do you pray at least a few times each month? If so, that is good. But this level of commitment to prayer will never draw you very deep. Prayer must become a firm habit that you are fully committed to. When you pray, do you encounter distractions and preoccupations? What is it that distracts you? What is it that keeps you so preoccupied that you find it hard to focus? Dismiss those distractions, eliminate excuses, and become resolved to a life of prayer.
Reflect upon your commitment to praying every day. Try to make a prayer schedule. Ideally, set aside the same amount of time every day for prayer. Find a quiet place where you can do this. Start with at least ten minutes, but more time is preferable. Don’t skimp on God. Come up with a plan for that time of prayer and stick to it. If it seems unfruitful, stay committed anyway. Become determined to learn to pray and pray every day. You will discover that this commitment and your fidelity have enabled you to enter the door of the castle of your soul. Once you enter, you will be amazed at how much there is to explore on your journey to the center where God dwells.
My patient Lord, I have chosen many preoccupations in life over You. I have failed to be faithful to prayer every day. I resolve, today, to change. I resolve to learn to meditate upon You. I promise to dismiss distractions every time they come. I promise to overcome my weak will so that I never fail to love and to adore You in prayer every day.
Lesson Eight: The Effect of Mortal Sin
As Saint Teresa continues to ponder the soul who lives within the first dwelling places, she pauses to consider the frightening reality of mortal sin.
No thicker darkness exists, and there is nothing dark and black which is not much less so than this. You need know only one thing about it—that, although the Sun Himself, Who has given it all its splendour and beauty, is still there in the centre of the soul, it is as if He were not there for any participation which the soul has in Him, though it is as capable of enjoying Him as is the crystal of reflecting the sun (I.II #1).
It’s important to understand that mortal sin is always a real possibility for us. Therefore, understanding how “dark” and “black” the soul becomes because of mortal sin is an essential help to overcoming temptations that lead to serious sin. It’s not that God no longer dwells within; rather, it’s that the center chamber of the soul, where the Most Holy Trinity dwells, is completely covered so that one cannot encounter Him Who dwells within. Grace disappears with mortal sin, but God remains present within us by essence, keeping us in existence. However, communion with our loving God is cut off, and the soul is left in darkness.
Two pieces of advice Saint Teresa gives are as follows: First, if you can come to clearly understand the effects of mortal sin, then you will begin to be filled with a holy fear of offending God. You must never fear God Himself, even when you gravely sin. But you must fear the state of mortal sin. Complete darkness, separation from God, an inability to do anything meritorious, loss of direction, confusion, etc., are to be greatly feared and avoided with every power of your soul. Second, by understanding the effect of mortal sin, namely, that the soul in that state is incapable of doing anything pleasing to God and beneficial to the soul, then humility begins to be born. Specifically, the soul can realize that every good action within comes only from God. God is the spring of living water, and without that water only death is possible. But when one turns to the water of grace, new life begins to spring forth from within.
Reflection: Try to understand the gravity and horror of mortal sin. If you have never committed a mortal sin, don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is not possible for you. Try to foster within yourself a holy fear of not only mortal sin but of all sin. We must hate sin, be repulsed by it, despise it, and be firmly resolved never to commit it. The problem is that sin is seductive and deceptive. No one sins because they want to be miserable. They sin because they believe the lie that this or that action will satisfy them. Though sin will always produce some form of superficial and fleeting satisfaction, it always ends in interior desolation and destruction. If you can discover the truth of the horror of sin, especially mortal sin, then always be ready to recall this horror every time you are tempted so that you can reject that temptation with great strength.
Reflect, also, upon the fact that if you remain firmly rooted in the grace and mercy of God, then all the good that you do has its source in that grace and mercy. This humble realization will help to free you from pride. Use the image that Saint Teresa uses of a tree that is planted by a spring of pure water and is bathed in the rays of the sun. Without the water and the sun, the tree cannot grow and cannot produce any good fruit. So, also, with us, without God, we are incapable of anything good. Hold on to that humble truth, and allow it to produce much gratitude within your heart as you point to the source of all the good you do.
My forgiving Lord, when I sin, I cover the beauty of my soul with filth. When this happens, You are not able to shine through, and I am not able to shine brightly with Your light. Please give me a holy hatred for all sin so that I am continually repulsed by it. Help me to also acknowledge You humbly as the source of all good in my life so that I can offer You my deepest gratitude and glory.
Lesson Nine: Self-Knowledge Acquired by Humility
As soon as Saint Teresa concludes her short teaching on mortal sin, she turns her attention to what she describes as the most important virtue one can have: humility.
…self-knowledge is so important that, even if you were raised right up to the heavens, I should like you never to relax your cultivation of it; so long as we are on this earth, nothing matters more to us than humility. And so I repeat that it is a very good thing—excellent, indeed—to begin by entering the room where humility is acquired, rather than by flying off to the other rooms. For that is the way to make progress, and, if we have a safe, level road to walk along, why should we desire wings to fly? (I.II #10)
Saint Teresa uses “humility” and “self-knowledge” interchangeably. For her, they were one and the same. Humility flows from self-knowledge. In this, the first dwelling place, humility begins to grow by intentionally seeking to discover the truth of our own soul in the light of the greatness of God. Seeing the effects of sin (especially mortal sin) should humble us as we see that we can do nothing without God’s grace and mercy. Furthermore, it is of great importance that we turn our eyes to God and seek the infinite beauty of God Who is within. The more clearly we see God through prayer and meditation, the more clearly we will understand our own sinfulness and need for God. This is the beginning of humility.
By analogy, something that is black appears all the blacker when it is placed in front of something white. So it is with our soul and self-knowledge. The more clearly we see ourselves in the light of the beauty and greatness of God, the more clearly we will understand who we are. Therefore, the best way to discover who you are, to see your sins and your intrinsic beauty, is to turn your eyes to God and gaze upon Him. Though your journey toward the center of the castle must be continuous, Saint Teresa suggests that these dwelling places, the ones of self-knowledge, are ones where you should spend extra time before moving on. The lessons learned in these rooms will greatly help you on your journey.
Reflection: How well do you know yourself? Are you aware of your sins? If so, can you humbly confess those sins to God and take responsibility for them? Sometimes we justify our sins with the excuse that this is just who I am. We identify with our weaknesses and sins. But this is not who we are. We are sons and daughters of the great King, and we must work to see ourselves that way. Do you do this?
Ponder, also, the fact that true self-knowledge, and therefore true humility, often takes much time to acquire. Don’t be in a rush to discover this knowledge. Take your time, and acknowledge the fact that you have much to discover about yourself. Commit to the slow, gentle, and honest road to discovery so that you are properly prepared to continue the journey.
My glorious King, help me to see myself as You see me, to know myself as You know me. I pray that I always have Your eyes to perceive the essence of my own soul. As I come to discover who I am, dear Lord, please help me to not only see my sin, but also the dignity I have as Your child.
Lesson Ten: False Humility From False Self-Knowledge
Seeking the beautiful virtue of humility can also have its pitfalls. There is a form of false humility that we must avoid.
Oh, God help my daughters, how many souls the devil must have ruined in this way! They think that all these misgivings, and many more that I could describe, arise from humility, whereas they really come from our lack of self-knowledge. We get a distorted idea of our own nature, and, if we never stop thinking about ourselves, I am not surprised if we experience these fears and others which are still worse. It is for this reason, daughters, that I say we must set our eyes upon Christ our Good, from Whom we shall learn true humility, and also upon His saints (I.II #12).
Saint Teresa continues to emphasize the importance of looking at our misery only in the light of the glory and beauty of God. She explains that if we only see our misery and sin, we run the risk of entering into despair and confusion. The truth is that it does us no good to see our sin unless we also see the mercy of God. Otherwise, we will only be looking at ourselves and our misery.
The lesson we learn from this section is that some people spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about themselves all day long. Sometimes they think about how they have been hurt, brood over anger and resentment, think about their problems, and worry excessively. These are heavy burdens caused by sin. Others, when they are seeking greater perfection, will embrace a certain type of false humility. This comes in the form of looking down on themselves, obsessively gazing at their weaknesses and sins with despair, fearing failure in prayer, doubting their ability to become a saint, worrying about what others think of them, etc. These “humbling” thoughts are not true humility because they fail to take God into account. True humility only comes when we look at God first and see ourselves in the light of Who He is.
Reflection: Do you spend more time thinking about yourself or God? If you wish to know yourself, you must stop looking at yourself. You must, instead, look at God. Seeing the beauty, strength, courage, goodness, mercy, patience, and every other virtue of God will teach you more about yourself than staring at your sin and misery. How well do you do this? Ponder ways that you can turn your attention to God in the Person of our Lord, Jesus.
As you turn your attention to God, what image do you have of Him? Are you able to understand Who God is? Say a prayer that God will open your eyes so that you can see Him as He is. Reading the Gospels and meditating upon the words and actions of Jesus will help. Get to know Him so that your knowledge of Him will help you discover who you are. This self-knowledge produces true humility within you. Pray for that gift of humility, and then work toward obtaining it.
Turn also to the lives of the saints. The saints give you a clear vision of who you must work to become. When you read about a saint who inspires you in some way, don’t turn away from that inspiration too quickly. Ponder it over and over, and allow yourself to discover who you are through the witness of these holy men and women.
My humble Lord, in You every virtue is present in perfection. Your humanity was perfectly united with Your divinity, and You radiated perfect beauty for all to see. However, many people failed to see You as You are. Please open my eyes of faith so that I will begin to comprehend You more clearly. May I see Your virtues, Your Heart of mercy, Your strength, and Your pure goodness. As I see You, help me to also discover who I am and the many ways that I need to change to become transformed into the person You intend me to be.
Lesson Eleven: Navigating the First Dwelling Places
Saint Teresa explains that in this first stage of the spiritual journey, there are a great number of dwelling places one can enter through. There are “millions” of them. In other words, there are many ways that a person can begin the journey of faith. Everyone’s journey will be different, and each will begin to live a life of faith in their unique way.
With regard to these first Mansions [Dwelling Places] I can give some very useful information out of my own experience. I must tell you, for example, to think of them as comprising not just a few rooms, but a very large number. There are many ways in which souls enter them, always with good intentions; but as the devil’s intentions are always very bad, he has many legions of evil spirits in each room to prevent souls from passing from one to another, and as we, poor souls, fail to realize this, we are tricked by all kinds of deceptions (I.II #13).
People come to faith in different ways. Some are raised in the faith that takes root within their hearts, and they stay faithful throughout their lives. Others spend their early years searching for happiness and then receive the Word of God through holy preaching and begin to respond. Others may come to faith because of some tragedy in life that leads them to turn to God. Still others discover the life of faith in countless other ways. Each of our paths is unique, and God will lead us in ways that are particular to each one of us. You must be open to the unique path God has given to you and never hesitate to begin the journey.
Reflection: How has the seed of the Gospel entered your heart? What initially led you to turn more fully to God? This is an important question to ponder. It might reveal to you the unique way in which God will continue to lead you. If you were first touched by God through a certain prayer, keep praying that prayer. If it was through the preaching of a particular person, keep letting God speak to you through that person. Ponder the ways that God has touched your own heart, and know that this is a dwelling place He desires you to enter that is uniquely your path.
As you continue your journey, be open to new ways that God will lead you. Try new things. Pray in different ways. Listen to different sermons. Explore new saints. Read more of the Scripture. When something new has an impact upon you, rest with that for a while, allow it to bear good fruit, and when the time is right, move on to the next way in which God will lead you closer to Him.
Lord of true wisdom, You have called me to follow You and have touched my soul in a way that is personal, unique, and effective in my life. I thank You for Your divine touch of my heart. Please help me to always turn to You in the ways that You lead me, and speak to me so that I will know the path that leads to the fullness of grace and mercy that awaits.
Lesson Twelve: Blinded by the World
In these first dwelling places, this first stage of spiritual growth, many demons are seeking to stop your progression to the King.
It is as if one were to enter a place flooded by sunlight with his eyes so full of dust that he could hardly open them. The room itself is light enough, but he cannot enjoy the light because he is prevented from doing so by these wild beasts and animals, which force him to close his eyes to everything but themselves (I.II #15).
It is important to understand how easy it is to begin the journey toward God and then turn away and lose the little faith you have received. In part, this is because many demons attempt to deceive you at the beginning of your faith journey. These demons are vicious, and their tactics are often effective.
Saint Teresa explains that when you begin a journey of faith, you are often still absorbed in worldly affairs, pleasures of the flesh, and worldly honors and ambitions. Your fleshly appetites, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and will are weak, confused, and susceptible to deception. Saint Teresa says that the solution is to first work to repair your relationship with God, especially by working on humility and admitting your sin. Then, you must also beseech the Blessed Mother and all the saints to pray for you.
Reflection: As you continue to enter the first dwelling places, what is it that tries to keep you from staying and even entering further? What doubts, confusions or temptations come your way? Remind yourself that the devil and his legion of demons hate you and will fight ferociously for your soul during your initial conversion. Do not give in. Work to renew your mind with the truth of the Gospels. Allow God to bring healing to old wounds, disordered emotions, angry feelings, and bad habits. Ask our Blessed Mother to pray for you. Consider praying the rosary and other traditional devotions. Trust that the saints and angels can do battle for you in these first dwelling places, and allow them to help carry you through.
My dearest Mother Mary, I humbly come to you and ask you to pray for me. I am weak and constantly tempted to turn back to my old life of sin. I hold on to resentments and hurts, lack clarity of God’s ways in my mind, and am haunted by memories of old sins. Please pray for me. I entrust myself to your motherly intercession and the intercession of all the angels and saints in Heaven. Through their prayers, dear Lord, keep me safe as I journey closer to You.
Lesson Thirteen: A Noiseless File
One final lesson Saint Teresa teaches about the first dwelling places is that there is another even more subtle way in which the devil tempts those who have begun their journey of faith.
As I told you before, he works like a noiseless file, and we must be on the look-out for him from the beginning. In order to explain this better I want to give you several illustrations… (I.II #15).
What is a “noiseless file?” A regular file is a steel tool used to rub or cut away at a hard surface. A spiritual file, then, works silently, undetected, wearing away at your soul. Saint Teresa explains that when a person goes through an authentic conversion, they often acquire a new spiritual zeal. The problem is that this new zeal can often become misguided. When this happens, the person does not realize that they are being misled by the evil one. The demons tempt the soul as “angels of light,” deceiving with false reasoning and leading it into believing that an evil act is a good one.
The first illustration Saint Teresa gives is that of a nun who wants to do severe penance for the sake of holiness but is forbidden to do so by the superior. In her misguided zeal, she does it anyway, secretly thinking that this will help her grow in holiness. But her disobedience thwarts all grace that she hopes for because the devil tricked her, leading her to think that her disobedience was an act of virtue.
A second illustration is another sister who deeply desires perfection. As a result of this desire, she becomes obsessed with the slightest faults of her sisters, paying more attention to those than to her lack of charity. Likewise, she is deceived into thinking that her attempts to identify the sins of her sisters are an act of charity and her duty.
These subtle temptations result in a cooling of charity toward others. We must seek to love God with all our hearts, but we must also love our neighbor as ourselves. If the devil sees we are dedicated to loving God, he will try to trick us into a lack of charity toward others—all under the guise of religious self-righteousness.
Reflection: Are you zealous for God? Do you feel passionate about growing in the faith and evangelizing others? If so, be aware of the possibility that your zeal can become misguided. What do you think about others? Do you excessively focus on their sins? Are you critical and judgmental?
Furthermore, are you humble and submissive in your dealings with others? Though you might not have taken a vow of obedience to a superior, you owe it to others, especially those in the family, to practice a certain level of submissiveness toward them. This does not mean you submit to temptations. But you must avoid being argumentative and even look for opportunities to give up your own will to choose theirs, at times, out of love.
If you desire to love God with all your heart, remind yourself that you must also humbly and sincerely love others. Consider the people in your life, and realize that your love of God is only as strong as your love for everyone else. Where you see a lack of love, judgment, stubbornness, or any form of harshness, work to resolve those things so that they don’t become an obstacle to your journey toward holiness.
My zealous Lord, You desire that my soul become purified of all pride, selfishness, judgment, obstinacy, and hostility toward all. Help me to see which relationships need Your grace and mercy and to be open to the truths I need to hear. May I love all Your children with Your Heart so that charity grows in abundance, leading me closer to You.
Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.
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