The Seventh Dwelling Place
Lesson Sixty-Nine: A Second Heaven
What will Heaven be like? Many presume that this is a question that can only be answered when, by God’s mercy, we enter the Beatific Vision after death and Purgatory. But is it possible to know what Heaven is like while we remain on earth? According to Saint Teresa, when a soul enters the seventh dwelling place, it enters into “a second Heaven.”
When our Lord is pleased to take pity on the sufferings, both past and present, endured through her longing for Him by this soul which He has spiritually taken for His bride, He, before consummating the celestial marriage, brings her into this His mansion or presence chamber. This is the seventh Mansion [Dwelling Place], for as He has a dwelling-place in heaven, so has He in the soul, where none but He may abide and which may be termed a second heaven (VII.I #3).
Heaven is God’s dwelling place. It is where the fullness of His divinity is contained and fully purified souls behold the Beatific Vision. However, the seventh dwelling place is but a single chamber in which God dwells in His fullness, deep within each soul. As the soul enters there, it enters a second Heaven because the fullness of God dwells there. Though it is not the same as the Beatific Vision one will enjoy for eternity after death, it is a second Heaven in the sense that the soul is as fully united to God as is possible while here on earth.
Reflection: Do you ever wish you could visit Heaven and discover what it will be like? The truth is that you can in a certain way. By entering into the seventh dwelling place, you enter the fullness of the presence of God as He dwells within you.
Most likely you have not yet entered this second Heaven within your soul. Most likely, you are still on the journey. But knowing that such a place exists in this world should fill us not only with hope but also with confidence that attainment of this union with God is doable. God wills that everyone enter this dwelling place during this lifetime. He desires that we all enter there, live there, and remain there until we are taken by Him to the “first” Heaven of the Beatific Vision.
How certain are you about your ability to enter this Heaven within you? Do you doubt your ability to do this? Does it seem unattainable? If these are your thoughts, dismiss them with much vigor. Though we cannot enter by our own effort, God wants us there, and He will welcome us when we fully respond to His invitation, after our souls are fully purified. Much prayer, continual acts of penance, works of charity, and growth in virtue will lead us to the door. When at the door, we can be certain that our Lord will open it and welcome us in.
Lord of Heaven and Earth, You dwell in Your fullness in the eternal realms of Heaven. You also dwell, in Your fullness, deep within my own soul. Please draw me deeper into this central dwelling place of my soul, and open the door to me so that I can enter this second Heaven within and dwell there until the day I die.
Lesson Seventy: The Presence Chamber
In the previous dwelling places, the soul experienced the prayer of union and ecstasy. During those moments of union, the intellect and imagination were blinded. Only the spirit entered into union with God. But in this dwelling place, the soul is brought into the “Presence Chamber” and the beauty of God is revealed to the soul that retains full use of its faculties. The spirit sees, through an intellectual vision, the Triune God in all His glory and essence.
By some mysterious manifestation of the truth, the three Persons of the most Blessed Trinity reveal themselves, preceded by an illumination which shines on the spirit like a most dazzling cloud of light. The three Persons are distinct from one another; a sublime knowledge is infused into the soul, imbuing it with a certainty of the truth that the Three are of one substance, power, and knowledge and are one God. Thus that which we hold as a doctrine of faith, the soul now, so to speak, understands by sight, though it beholds the Blessed Trinity neither by the eyes of the body nor of the soul, this being no imaginary vision. All the Three Persons here communicate Themselves to the soul, speak to it and make it understand the words of our Lord in the Gospel that He and the Father and the Holy Ghost will come and make their abode with the soul which loves Him and keeps His commandments (VII.I #9).
What a sublime gift! Throughout our lives we pray the Creed, profess our faith in the Triune God, and believe in God through many gifts of grace given to us in prayer. But up until this moment of Spiritual Marriage, we only profess our faith in a God we have not seen. But then, after God reveals His Triune Presence directly to the essence of the spirit, it sees God as He is. Though the full Beatific Vision will only be seen after death, this vision is a real vision of God as He is. This communication, given directly to the spirit and overflowing into every faculty of the body and soul, is so powerful that it is doubtful that this person will ever turn away from God again.
In this state of Spiritual Marriage, a soul may continue to suffer greatly in the body or even in the faculties of the soul, but it will have no concern about any of this suffering. It will desire every suffering and mortification possible because of its love of God and its desire to conform itself to the humanity of Christ.
In this dwelling place, the Lord’s High Priestly Prayer—that every soul would be united to the Holy Trinity—is fulfilled. “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21–22).
Reflection: Do you believe in the Most Holy Trinity? Most certainly you do. But the faith you profess is a faith that has been communicated to you in a hidden and obscure way. You know God is real, but you do not fully know Him or understand Him.
In the gift of Spiritual Marriage, your knowledge of the Most Holy Trinity changes. You now profess a faith in a God Whom you have seen and encountered within the very depths of your own soul. Do you desire this gift?
The gift of Spiritual Marriage is fully attainable in this life. Pray for that gift. Ponder it. Hope for it. Work diligently in every way that you can to prepare yourself to be ready to receive it when God chooses to grant it.
You are called to become one with God, to be united with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Spend time reflecting upon this unity to which you are called. Search your soul and discover the desire you have within you for this union. Rouse up that desire. Allow God to increase that desire, and be ready and willing to assent to whatever is required of you to attain it.
My Triune God, I desire to see You, know You, and love You with all my mind, heart, soul, strength, and being. I desire to become one with You and to enter into the central dwelling place of my soul where You reside. Please draw me into Your divine presence. Reveal Yourself to me, and transform me so that I can be one with You.
Lesson Seventy-One: God’s Presence Remains
After the first encounter with the Blessed Trinity in this dwelling place, the soul remains forever aware of God’s presence within. However, at times His presence is more manifest than at other times.
This presence is not always so entirely realized, that is, so distinctly manifest, as at first, or as it is at times when God renews this favour, otherwise the recipient could not possibly attend to anything else nor live in society. Although not always seen by so clear a light, yet whenever she reflects on it she feels the companionship of the Blessed Trinity (VII.I #12).
Since we live within the world and must live the lives of both Martha and Mary, God permits the soul to be attentive to His divine presence at times in a less manifest way so that it can go about its duties in life. If the full manifestation of the Blessed Trinity were continuous, the soul could do nothing but contemplate the divine presence. However, the more frequently that God manifests Himself to the soul in this central chamber, the more accustomed the soul becomes to God and the more this manifestation becomes ongoing.
Saint Teresa likens the soul’s awareness of the presence of God to a person who is in a room with other people. If the lights in that room were to immediately go out, the person would still be aware of the others who were there. The loss of vision would not make the soul think the others disappeared. Likewise, when the Trinity is not fully manifest to the soul by means of this intellectual vision, the soul still knows that God is there, with it in whatever it does.
Reflection: Do you know that God is always with you? Do you know He is with you even when you do not sense His presence, or are less aware of His presence? God is present to us in essence always. If He were not, we would cease to exist. As long as we remain free from mortal sin, God is also present to us by His saving grace. This grace enables us to attain Heaven, grow in virtue, and live the life of Christ. God also manifests Himself to us, at times, through prayer. This is the contemplative life to which we are called. How often do you sense God’s manifest presence in this third way?
Recall the various teachings given thus far on how God slowly manifests Himself more fully to us in this third way. He comes through the prayer of passive recollection, the prayer of union, the prayer of ecstasy, and finally through the prayer of Spiritual Marriage. Think back over your life, and consider times when you sensed God manifesting Himself to you in these various ways.
Though every experience of prayer will be different and unique, spend time being grateful for the moments of clear consolation when you knew God was with you. Ponder, also, those moments when God seemed to be absent. Those are also graced moments that help you grow in humility, trust, and fortitude. Persevere in virtue, especially in those moments when God seems absent, and you will find that an abundance of good fruit is borne in your life.
My hidden Lord, I believe You are always with me and will never leave me. I thank You for those times when You seem absent and when I do not sense Your manifest presence in my life. During those moments, give me courage and hope. May those moments produce greater humility in my life as I realize how dependent I am upon You in all things.
Lesson Seventy-Two: Like Rain Falling Into a Stream
In the previous dwelling places, the soul experienced divine union. But the union in those dwelling places was not permanent. It would be like two candles that are placed together and the flame burned as one. Though there was a union of the flames, the candles could easily be taken apart to burn separately. Not so with Spiritual Marriage. The union that is forged cannot be separated.
But spiritual marriage is like rain falling from heaven into a river or stream, becoming one and the same liquid, so that the river and rain water cannot be divided; or it resembles a streamlet flowing into the ocean, which cannot afterwards be disunited from it (VII.II #5).
Saint John of the Cross believed that once a person enters this depth of prayer that Saint Teresa describes in the seventh dwelling place, the person could never return to mortal sin. Saint Teresa seems to agree but cautions the soul to remain ever on guard. Nonetheless, this Spiritual Marriage has such a profound effect upon the soul that it is likely impossible that it will ever fully turn from God and back to mortal sin.
Reflection: Do you long for stability in your life? If so, there is nothing more stable than entering into Spiritual Marriage. In this state of prayer, the soul is so united with God that it will never leave Him. What a gift! Pray for that gift.
Many people struggle with serious sin throughout their lives. This struggle causes excruciating pain as they experience the loss of sanctifying grace in their life. God never wants to leave you in this way and will only leave when mortal sin pushes Him out.
Pray for the gift of Spiritual Marriage so that this loss of God is never realized in you. Though He might appear absent at times for your own good, He will never leave you after uniting Himself with you in Spiritual Marriage. This is a permanent state—unbreakable and unending. Ponder the comfort and joy you would have at receiving this sacred gift. Long for it, hope for it, and seek it with all the powers of your soul.
Lord of true oneness, I long to be so fully united with You that we will never be divided. I pray for the gift of Spiritual Marriage so that You and I will become one here on earth and forever in Heaven. I give myself to You, my God and Spouse, and pray that You take me into Your inner chamber of love and union.
Lesson Seventy-Three: Self-Forgetfulness
Recall that in the earlier mansions, the soul sought to overcome all self-concern, even to the smallest degree. In this central dwelling place, self-concern is fully eliminated.
Thus she recks nothing [worries about nothing], whatever happens, but lives in such strange oblivion that, as I stated, she seems no longer to exist, nor does she wish to be of any account in anything—anything! unless she sees that she can advance, however little, the honour and glory of God, for which she would most willingly die (VII.III #2).
This first effect of Spiritual Marriage is that there is a “self-forgetfulness so complete that she really appears not to exist.” The soul no longer recognizes itself because the transformation is so profound. In the earlier mansions, the person was still quite self-concerned. It dwelt upon itself, still worried, and still had anxieties. In Spiritual Marriage, the person looks only at God and desires only to give Him as much glory as possible. There is no hesitancy in doing all it needs to do to advance God’s glory even a little further. There is no fear of death, suffering, hard work—nothing. The soul is so otherly focused that it’s almost as if it doesn’t even exist.
Because the soul is so otherly focused, that is, completely focused upon God and giving Him glory, the only interior suffering it endures is on account of knowing it could never do enough to serve its Lord. It is too weak to give God the full glory He deserves.
The soul also has no self-concern because it knows, without any doubt, that the God Whom it loves and serves will take care of it far better than if it were self-concerned. There is an immense trust in the loving attentiveness and providence of God. The reward of that trust and self-forgetfulness is that God takes care of the soul, lavishing upon it a superabundance of grace.
Reflection: Do you wish you could be free of all self-concern, worries, and anxieties in life? For many people, these are heavy burdens. The only way to this freedom is Spiritual Marriage.
Ponder what it would be like to experience such freedom. Imagine how different and even strange, in a good way, it might feel to be so free. God desires to bestow this freedom on you. He does not want you to carry the burden of always thinking about yourself. He wants your eyes so firmly fixed on Him that you care nothing about yourself, abandoning those cares completely to God.
Reflect, also, upon the fact that God will take care of you far better than you can take care of yourself. Leave the “worrying” to God. Abandon yourself to His providence. Trust Him completely and enjoy the newness that this level of surrender brings.
My most concerned Lord, You care about every aspect of my life. You know me perfectly and have promised me You will take care of all things. Please give me the grace I need to surrender to You so fully that every care and concern I have is turned over to You. May I forget myself completely and turn my attention only to You in total trust and abandonment, knowing that You will care for my soul far better than I ever could on my own.
Lesson Seventy-Four: Strong Desire for Suffering
In addition to self-forgetfulness, the soul also grows in a deep desire to suffer for God’s glory but only desires this suffering if it is God’s will and gives Him greater glory.
The second fruit is a strong desire for suffering, though it does not disturb her peace as before because the fervent wish of such souls for the fulfilment of God’s will in them makes them acquiesce in all He does. If He would have her suffer, she is content; if not, she does not torment herself to death about it as she used to do. (VII.III #4).
Recall that suffering is a central experience on the journey to Heaven because the Son of God entered this world of sin, embraced the consequences of sin which are suffering and death, transformed suffering and death, and made them the means of eternal life. Therefore, suffering and death are now imbued with the greatest spiritual power. When suffering and death are freely embraced and offered to God as a sacrifice, that act unites a soul to Christ Himself. This sacrificial suffering transforms the soul as it receives the grace to live the human life of the suffering Christ.
This free embrace of suffering was necessary in the former dwelling places as the soul progressed on the journey. In the central dwelling place, once Spiritual Marriage takes place, the soul continues to desire to share in the sufferings of Christ, but it is also quite detached from sufferings. If it suffers, that is fine. If it doesn’t, that is fine. There is no preference and little thought is given to the suffering or lack thereof. The only desire is the glory of God in all things.
Reflection: Does human suffering confuse you? For many, it is one of the greatest mysteries in life. Why does a good God allow suffering? Why not simply eliminate all suffering? Though many have pondered these questions from an intellectual and philosophical perspective, the only real answer comes in the seventh dwelling place.
If you still struggle with the concept of suffering and its free embrace, pray for the grace of Spiritual Marriage. Know that in this dwelling place, suffering will not only be fully understood, but it will also have no ill effect upon you. If you do suffer in some way, it will not bother you in the least. Instead, it will only fill you with a desire to unite those sufferings to Christ’s for His glory.
Ponder the mystery of suffering. Ponder the fact that God’s answer to human suffering was to enter into it, transform it, and endow it with a sacred power. Only an Omnipotent God could use the worst to bring forth the best. Only our loving God could use suffering to bring about holiness and the fullness of peace and joy. Ponder this mystery and if it does not make full sense, profess your faith in this mystery, nonetheless, anticipating the day when it will all make perfect sense as you enter into Spiritual Marriage.
My suffering Lord, as You looked upon fallen humanity and saw the suffering we endured on account of our free choice to turn from You, You did not turn away. Instead, you chose to enter our world, take on human nature, experience the suffering caused by sin, redeem that suffering, and elevate it to the level of Your saving grace. Please grant me the grace of entering into Your most holy Passion and death so that I might be transformed and share fully in Your Resurrection.
Lesson Seventy-Five: Love of Enemies
Because the transformation into Christ is as complete as it can be in this world through the gift of Spiritual Marriage, the soul takes on the Heart of Christ in all things, including an all-consuming love of one’s enemies.
She feels a great interior joy when persecuted, and is far more peaceful than in the former state under such circumstances: she bears no grudge against her enemies, nor wishes them any ill. Indeed she has a special love for them, is deeply grieved at seeing them in trouble, and does all she can to relieve them, earnestly interceding with God on their behalf. She would be glad to forfeit the favours His Majesty shows her, if they might be given to her enemies instead, to prevent their offending our Lord (VII.III #4).
This is truly an amazing grace. Previously, when the person was persecuted in some way or sinned against, there was a strong temptation toward anger and sometimes even a desire for revenge, especially when the persecution was severe. Love of those who inflicted some harm upon the soul was difficult. In the previous dwelling places, love in the face of persecution was more of a conscious decision that one had to struggle with, forcing itself to do what was right, to choose to forgive, and to pray that ill feelings would dissipate.
Now that the soul is so fully transformed in Christ, the moment it experiences some form of persecution, its peace is never lost. Instead, every part of the soul is consumed with love for that person. The mind, will, imagination, and even the passions and feelings are all consumed with love, and the only concern is for the one inflicting the suffering. The soul pays no attention to itself, has no concern about any humiliation or suffering it receives, and is wholly focused upon the other, ready and willing to do anything necessary to forgive, and is even willing to go so far as to forfeit its own life for the one sinning against it.
The best illustration of such a love is when our Lord hung upon the Cross, crying out to the Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” A side effect of such love is that the person is truly freed by love. They are freed from anger and hate. They are not wounded by anything others do to them. They are at peace and filled only with the mercy of God.
Reflection: Do you struggle with anger? Does that anger live within you, occupying your imagination, affecting your peace, and stirring your passions? If so, God wants you free. But this freedom is a gift. You cannot claim it for yourself nor can you self-will it. It comes only in this, the seventh dwelling place, where freedom is found.
Ponder any hurt, resentment, or anger with which you struggle. Think about how burdensome these experiences are and how nice it would be to be completely free from them. Sometimes we fail to enter into the seventh dwelling place because we are unwilling to let go of this hurt. It must be purged. It must be eliminated and destroyed within us. Only God can do this if we let Him.
Call to mind those who have hurt you, and make conscious acts of love toward them. Choose to forgive. Pray the words of Jesus on the Cross as He hung there in such agony. Doing so will help prepare your heart more fully for this gift of Spiritual Marriage.
Most merciful Lord, on the Cross, after being so cruelly treated, Your heart was moved with such mercy and compassion for Your persecutors that You cried out from the very depths of Your being: “Father, forgive them, for they know no what they do.” Please fill my heart with this same depth of mercy and compassion. Unite my heart with Yours so that You will speak those words in me and through me always. I love and forgive everyone who has sinned against me, dear Lord. Help me to love them with all my heart.
Lesson Seventy-Six: Desire to Serve God
Recall that in the sixth dwelling places, after receiving the prayer of ecstasy, the soul was so deeply touched by God that all it wanted was to die and remain with God forever in Heaven. This longing caused a peaceful and joyful interior suffering because the soul knew it could not remain fully in God’s presence yet. In this, the seventh dwelling place, things change.
The most surprising thing to me is that the sorrow and distress which such souls felt because they could not die and enjoy our Lord’s presence are now exchanged for as fervent a desire of serving Him, of causing Him to be praised, and of helping others to the utmost of their power. Not only have they ceased to long for death, but they wish for a long life and most heavy crosses, if such would bring ever so little honour to our Lord (VII.III #5).
To a certain extent, the interior suffering felt in the sixth dwelling places was caused by self-interest that could not be fulfilled. Now, self-interest is transformed into nothing but love. For that reason, the soul completely forgets itself and is consumed only with the love of God. If God wills that the soul remains on earth for a thousand lifetimes, it willingly accepts. If God were to be more greatly glorified by the soul’s earthly death, then it chooses that. All the soul wants to do is to serve the will of God without any thought of itself. God and His holy will become the soul’s only concern and joy. Quite often, the soul is deeply drawn to very heavy crosses because it sees those crosses as the greatest opportunities to give greater glory to God.
Reflection: What is the purpose of your life? What is your greatest desire? What are your goals and ambitions? Too often we seek earthly goals that can never fully satisfy us. In Spiritual Marriage, everything changes. We now have one primary goal. We desire, with an all-consuming desire, to do all we can to serve God and to give Him perfect glory.
As you think about your priorities in life, is the glory of God and the fulfillment of His will your one and only goal? It must be. Nothing else matters in life. Nothing. God’s plan for your life is far above anything you could dream up for yourself. His ways are infinitely above your ways. His will is the only thing worth working toward in life.
Ponder, today, your own goals. Pray that your love of God will become so intense that His will consumes all of your desires and ambitions in life. Do you trust God? Do you trust Him enough to choose His will as your exclusive mission? Pray for the gift of Spiritual Marriage so that all will make sense and you will understand the futility of working for any other purpose other than the glory of God and the fulfillment of His perfect will.
God of infinite greatness, Your will is infinitely greater than anything I could ever imagine. You and You alone are worthy of all my praise and glory. Giving You glory is why I was made and must become the sole purpose of my life, for You are all-in-all and in You is contained the fullness of life. Please draw me closer to You, and open the door to the inner chamber of my soul so that I will become transformed by You and live forever for Your eternal glory.
Lesson Seventy-Seven: Interior Impulse
In the previous dwelling places, as the soul encountered the prayer of union and ecstasy, it often had powerful and transforming consolations that set it on fire for love of God. But in this final state of Spiritual Marriage, the soul has now become accustomed to this complete spiritual union. As a result, the union it enjoys does not bring with it powerful spiritual consolations. Instead, it experiences many subtle and sustaining “impulses” from God. There is no aridity in prayer nor troubles. There are only continuous and sweet desires that burn within. These impulses flow from the center of the soul and rise up within it like a blazing fire burning upward from the center of the soul in a steady, consuming, and continuous way.
When these impulses are given you, remember that they come from the innermost mansion, where God dwells in our souls. Praise Him fervently, for it is He Who sends you this message, or love letter, so tenderly written, and in a cipher that only you can understand and know what He asks. By no means neglect to answer His Majesty, even though you may be occupied exteriorly and engaged in conversation. Our Lord may often be pleased to show you this secret favour in public; but it is very easy, as the reply should be entirely interior, to respond by an act of love or to ask with Saint Paul: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Jesus will show you in many ways how to please Him. It is a propitious moment, for He seems to be listening to us and the soul is nearly always disposed by this delicate touch to respond with a generous determination (VII.III #8).
These gentle, sweet, consuming, and continuous impulses of God’s love fill the soul with a steady and very “generous determination” to serve the will of God always and without any hesitancy whatsoever. This grace is so evidently from God that the soul knows the devil could never produce it. The soul is so dilated with the love of God that complete possession by God becomes normal to it. It rarely experiences profound ecstasies or flights of the spirit any longer since they are no longer needed. Since God is in complete possession of the soul, the soul walks steadily, peacefully, and silently recollected as it serves the will of God, sometimes in a very active way, at other times in solitude and rest.
Reflection: Do you notice the change that this prayer brings? Earlier, as the soul was still progressing and being transformed, God acted in ways that appear to be more radical. There were trances, flights of the spirit, interior sufferings, and even experiences of apparent bodily death as the spirit was caught up in God. But now that God fully possesses the soul, profound tranquility and perfect virtue ensue.
Though you might not yet enjoy this depth of Spiritual Marriage, try to understand it as an outsider looking in. It is a blessed state. Ponder how wonderful it would be to receive these constant impulses of love, flowing up from the center of your soul and consuming every part of your being.
If this description seems otherworldly, know that it is. But God wants to make it part of your life here and now while you remain in this world. He wants to provide your soul with this ongoing and steady gift of His manifest love. He wants you to continually soak in Him and live by His divine grace.
Most gentle and tender Lord, I am so unworthy of Your perfect love, but You desire so deeply to lavish me with it anyway. Please help me to know how I can better serve You in this life, and free me from all that keeps me from You. I open my soul as fully as I can to Your tender impulses of love, Your sweet love letters, and Your communications that gently flow from within.
Lesson Seventy-Eight: Fortitude by God’s “Departure”
As long as we remain in this world, we must always remember that we are but one step away from mortal sin. Therefore, when a soul resides in the seventh dwelling place—the Presence Chamber with its Lord—He will, on rare occasions, depart from the soul in this form of prayer and permit the many venomous creatures to attack. But this is done for the good of the soul, to help it grow in fortitude, to remain in humility, and to never forget its complete dependence upon God.
You must not suppose, sisters, that the effects I mentioned always exist in the same degree in these souls, for as far as I remember, I told you that in most cases our Lord occasionally leaves such persons to the weakness of their nature. The venomous creatures from the moat round the castle and the other mansions at once unite to revenge themselves for the time when they were deprived of their power. (VII.IV #1).
Saint Teresa believed that those in the seventh dwelling place would never commit a mortal sin, nor even a venial sin willfully. But they will recall, from time to time, their past sins and will also experience a profound awareness of their potential sin. Even Jesus experienced this on the Cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
These souls see their need for God, and this will continue to cause a holy and interior torment. They might even find they are uncertain if they are in a state of sin. But this confusion does not lead to despair, it leads to an increase of the gift of the Fear of the Lord. Though God might permit the venomous creatures to attack it at times, even after entering the seventh dwelling place, the soul will not give in to these creatures and will not turn from God. These attacks will only strengthen the soul and deepen its resolve to remain in Christ.
Reflection: Think of a time in life when you were very close to God for a long time, but then suddenly you experienced a powerful attack from the evil one. What effect did this have on you? For those in the seventh dwelling place, such an attack will only serve to strengthen them in fortitude and love of God. It will also humble them, once again, helping them to never forget how dependent they are on God.
Do you understand how dependent you are on God for all things? If God were to forget you for a moment, you would cease to exist. More than that, you are incapable of anything good unless it is God Who works within you. Never forget this humble truth.
Has there been a time when you felt as though God was absent from you? If so, this is either the result of your sin or the result of a special favor from God. If sin is the cause, repent. But if it is a favor from God, do not worry. Make an act of faith in God. Thank Him for feeling the same absence that He felt, and renew your commitment to the service of His holy will. Know that this perceived departure of our Lord is especially an opportunity for an increase in the gift of fortitude.
Lord of perfect strength, You know all things. You know what I need when I need it. During those moments when You seem distant from me, please increase my faith in You. May I always know You are near and never turn from You. Please increase every virtue within me, especially the fortitude I need to persevere to the end when I am invited to be with You forever.
Lesson Seventy-Nine: The Heaviest Crosses
Since our Lord suffered greatly in human form, we should expect nothing less. Those in the seventh dwelling place are often given the heaviest crosses. But these crosses never lead to despair. They lead only to God’s glory. In fact, the heavier the cross these holy souls carry for God, the greater God is glorified through them and the more they are filled with peace and joy.
We always find that those nearest to Christ our Lord bear the heaviest cross: think of what His glorious Mother and the Apostles bore. How do you think St. Paul went through such immense labours? We learn from his conduct the fruits of genuine visions and contemplation which come from our Lord and not from our own imagination, or the devil’s fraud. Do you suppose that St. Paul hid himself to enjoy these spiritual consolations at leisure and did nothing else? You know that he never took a day’s rest so far as we can learn, nor could he have slept much since he worked all night to get his living (VII.IV #7).
When a soul enters into Spiritual Marriage, it becomes even more like Christ. As Saint Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). For that reason, the sufferings that Christ endured in this world will be imitated by the soul in the seventh dwelling place to a profound degree. These crosses are not shunned or run from, they are fully embraced with joy, just as Jesus embraced His Cross with every fiber of His being. They become sacrifices of love, and the power of suffering redeemed is made manifest in their lives.
Sometimes the trials will be external, inflicted upon them from without, such as severe illness. At other times, the sufferings will be internal, known only to the soul and God. This interior and hidden suffering especially marked the life of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Outwardly, those saints were loved and admired by many during their lifetime. But inwardly, they carried a very heavy cross with the utmost resolve and love, imitating the sufferings of their Lord within.
Reflection: Are you willing to embrace the heaviest of crosses for our Lord in imitation of Him? If not, then know that the desire for such crosses awaits.
When a soul enters Spiritual Marriage, any cross they are given is not too heavy, for it is Christ Who carries the cross in them. Ponder how you look at the crosses in your life. If you run from them, seeking ways to eliminate them, then know that God has much more He wants to do in you. He wants to transform you so deeply that every cross becomes sweet.
Think about the crosses you have turned away from, complained about, and even despaired over in the past. Express sorrow for such a reaction, and pray for the gift to be able to run to those crosses in the future with a heart full of love.
My sacrificial Lord, You were resolutely determined to embrace every suffering You endured out of perfect love. Your Cross became Your throne of grace and glory, and You embraced it with all the powers in Your Sacred Soul. Please give me this unimaginable grace to endure every cross like You. Free me from every fear of suffering, and give me Your eyes to see my crosses as opportunities of abundant grace. Give me Your courage to embrace those crosses with overwhelming love and peace.
Lesson Eighty: The Culmination of Good Works
Lest her sisters think that this interior journey toward Spiritual Marriage was self-serving, in the sense that it was all about one’s interior union with God, Saint Teresa concludes her masterpiece by clearly explaining that the ultimate purpose of this journey to God is to bear fruit for the Kingdom through works that give God glory and save souls. Though this takes place first by the transformation of one’s soul, that transformation must overflow into works of love.
This is the end and aim of prayer, my daughters; this is the reason of the spiritual marriage whose children are always good works. Works are the unmistakable sign which shows these favours come from God, as I told you (VII.IV #10).
Some people, after receiving such favors from God, are afraid to then go forth and share what they have received with others through lives of selfless service. The goal of this spiritual journey is not only the good of the soul. It’s the good of the Church as a whole. Jesus’ mission was one in which He sought to give glory to His Father by saving souls. This must be our mission also. Yes, we pray to get holy and to become one with God. But unless that unity produces the virtues that we need to go forth in service of others, then it is not a real union with God.
Even in a cloistered convent, charity was a central fruit of this prayer. The sisters were called to the charitable act of praying for the world, but they were also called to love the sisters they encountered every day. When that charity increased and when their sisters were blessed by each other, then this was the clearest sign that the transforming Spiritual Marriage took place.
Charity begins at home. First and foremost, God wants to touch your family and close friends through you. You might not be called to be a great missionary or public evangelist, but you will certainly be called to lavish the love of God, in the most unselfish way, upon those you encounter throughout your day.
In this dwelling place, the entire person is caught up in God. The spirit, soul, intellect, will, passions, emotions, senses, body, and every other part of the person is united to God. Therefore, the soul loves not only with a spiritual love, but with a divinized human love, expressed bodily, passionately, spiritually, intellectually, and with all the power of its will. When this person sees others living sinful lives, they have deep empathy for them and grieve with a holy sorrow. When they see someone confused or despairing, they allow themselves to become compelled to reach out. When they see those closest to them grow in virtue themselves, they work to support this growth and give praise to God. Simply put, when one enters into Spiritual Marriage, they will lay their life down for others, living sacrificially for them, acting as a holy slave of all.
Reflection: How passionately do you love those around you? Do you love them not only by the choices you make but also by every part of who you are? Is your mind consumed with love for others? Do you feel that love? Do your passions drive that love? Do you look for opportunities to sacrificially lay your life down for others? If so, this is a sign that God is transforming you through Spiritual Marriage.
The journey to the perfection of Spiritual Marriage might seem long and arduous, even seem impossible at times. But it is not. It is exceptionally possible to attain, and God wills it in all of our lives. The only thing holding us back is ourselves.
As we conclude these reflections upon this spiritual masterpiece of Saint Teresa of Ávila, deepen your resolve to progress on the journey. Return to the various dwelling places and experiences of prayer taught by Teresa. Use the lessons, reflections, and prayers as a foundation for your growth in holiness. God wants you to become a saint. Become one. Do not hesitate to fully devote yourself to the holy will of God for your life.
Lord of perfect charity, Your life bore good fruit to an infinite degree. Perfect charity continuously flowed from Your most Sacred Heart. That love was made manifest in every word You spoke, every action of Your life, and every thought You had. Please consume me so fully that every fiber of my being is caught up in Your perfect love. Use me in every way You choose so that I will become a more perfect instrument of the love within Your Heart.
Saint Teresa concludes her book Interior Castle with the following note to her sisters, which is included below in its entirety:
ALTHOUGH, as I told you, I felt reluctant to begin this work, yet now it is finished I am very glad to have written it, and I think my trouble has been well spent, though I confess it has cost me but little. Considering your strict enclosure, the little recreation you have, my sisters, and how many conveniences are wanting in some of your convents, I think it may console you to enjoy yourselves in this interior castle which you can enter, and walk about at will, at any hour you please, without asking leave of your superiors. It is true you cannot enter all the mansions by your own power, however great it may appear to you, unless the Lord of the castle Himself admits you. Therefore I advise you to use no violence if you meet with any obstacle, for that would displease Him so much that He would never give you admission to them. He dearly loves humility: if you think yourselves unworthy to enter the third mansion, He will grant you all the sooner the favour of entering the fifth. Then, if you serve Him well there and often repair to it, He will draw you into the mansion where He dwells Himself, whence you need never depart unless called away by the Prioress, whose commands this sovereign Master wishes you to obey as if they were His own. If by her orders, you are often absent from His presence chamber, whenever you return He will hold the door open for you. When once you have learnt how to enjoy this castle, you will always find rest, however painful your trials may be, in the hope of returning to your Lord, which no one can prevent. Although I have only mentioned seven mansions, yet each one contains many more rooms, above, below, and around it, with fair gardens, fountains, and labyrinths, besides other things so delightful that you will wish to consume yourself in praising in return the great God Who has created the soul to His own image and likeness. If you find anything in the plan of this treatise which helps you to know Him better, be certain that it is sent by His Majesty to encourage you, and that whatever you find amiss in it is my own. In return for my strong desire to aid you in serving Him, my God and my Lord, I implore you, whenever you read this, to praise His Majesty fervently in my name and to beg Him to prosper His Church, to give light to the Lutherans, to pardon my sins and to free me from purgatory, where perhaps I shall be, by the mercy of God, when you see this book (if it is given to you after having been examined by theologians). If these writings contain any error, it is through my ignorance; I submit in all things to the teachings of the holy Catholic Roman Church, of which I am now a member, as I protest and promise I will be both in life and death. May our Lord God be for ever praised and blessed! Amen, Amen.
I finished writing this book in the convent of St. Joseph of Ávila, 1577, on the Vigil of St. Andrew, for the glory of God, Who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever! Amen.