The Sixth Dwelling Places
Lesson Fifty-Nine: The “Bad” News First
It is easy to presume that the higher a soul ascends to God, entering deeper and deeper toward the central chamber within where God dwells, the sufferings that person experiences lessen. Surprisingly, the opposite is true.
O My God, how many troubles both interior and exterior must one suffer before entering the seventh mansions! Sometimes, while pondering over this I fear that, were they known beforehand, human infirmity could scarcely bear the thought nor resolve to encounter them, however great might appear the gain (VI.I #3).
Why would God continue to permit severe trials and sufferings in a soul so close to Him? These sufferings are not the direct result of one’s sins. In the earlier dwelling places, the soul did suffer greatly as it worked to overcome its mortal and venial sins. In the sixth dwelling places, the ongoing purification of every spiritual imperfection continues to take place, which inflicts suffering. But here, most suffering is of a different kind and for a different purpose.
God is so powerful that He has taken suffering and death and transformed them into a means of holiness. Suffering is now endowed with great spiritual power. The experience of suffering, now transformed by grace, can give a soul many virtues, such as courage, humility, and trust. Total death to oneself is now the means to new life in Christ.
The sufferings of these dwelling places are both exterior and interior. Exterior suffering includes illnesses, public humiliations, ridicule by others, loss of temporal goods, and many other trials that are common in life. At this point on the spiritual journey, God often permits these trials because He sees that the soul will greatly benefit from them in the end once endured.
Interior trials include the interior pain caused by any exterior trial, dryness in prayer, an inability to focus, and even severe interior spiritual pain that cannot be explained and appears to have no source. Throughout, the soul is keenly aware of its sin and complete reliance upon God in all things. Therefore, when others praise it for its virtue, it suffers much because it knows God alone is the source of all that may be good within, not itself. Praise hurts the soul even more than hate because the soul knows all is from God.
The only remedy is to wait on God to dispel all these difficulties. When that happens, the mind clears, and all is restored. The soul knows it was God Who won this victory. This humbles the soul even more as it sees its weakness and God’s strength.
The best thing a soul can do during these painful encounters is to trust in God; allow the sufferings it endures to form strength, humility, and courage; remind itself of the truths of God; and do external works of charity.
Reflection: Are you willing to enter more deeply into the Passion of our Lord? Jesus was perfect in every way, yet His suffering, both externally and internally, was great. He allowed this to take place within His soul as a way of transforming our human suffering into a means of holiness. Are you willing to embrace this means toward perfection? Are you willing to enter into this divine mystery?
At first, when we face some form of trial, our fallen human nature looks for a way out. We seek a remedy. But in these dwelling places the “remedy” is not to eliminate the suffering, it’s to embrace it. We embrace it more fully in order to unite our lives to Christ, Who embraced and transformed all suffering. We are not above the Lord. We must live the very life He lived if we are to share in His glory. Do you understand this, and are you willing to accept this gift from God?
Ponder the suffering you struggle with right now. Instead of looking for a way out of it, see that suffering as a means to the greatest end possible. See it as a means to the end of holiness. Gaze upon the Cross of Jesus. Ponder every external and internal suffering He endured. Try to look into His soul, and ask Him to reveal to you all that He went through. Embrace His suffering as a sacrifice. Seek to enter into the innermost chamber of your soul where the Lord resides, and make a sacrifice of your suffering to Him there, deep within. He will accept this offering and pour forth upon you the fullness of the grace He won through His Cross.
My suffering Lord, You faced all suffering head-on. You never wavered in Your goal of embracing all suffering and transforming it into the new and glorious means of the fullness of grace. Please help me to embrace every suffering I endure, both externally and internally, so that I may more fully imitate You and so that the free embrace of my suffering, offered as a sacrifice to You in the depths of my soul, will become the means of much grace for me and the world.
Lesson Sixty: Delicate Piercings From the Inmost Depths
God purifies and strengthens each soul in a way that is unique to that soul. Therefore, Saint Teresa continues to describe other ways in which the soul mysteriously suffers interiorly while it remains at peace.
He increases her longing for Him by devices so delicate that the soul itself cannot discern them; nor do I think I could explain them except to people who have personally experienced them. These desires are delicate and subtle impulses springing from the inmost depths of the soul; I know of nothing to which they can be compared (VI.II #2).
She goes on to say that “this suffering seems to pierce the very heart, and when He Who wounded it draws out the dart He seems to draw the heart out too, so deep is the love it feels.” This delicate, deep, and piercing pain that the person experiences in the inmost depth of the soul is a most delightful and peaceful pain. As soon as the soul begins to rest in it “the little spark suddenly dies out, leaving the heart longing to suffer anew its loving pangs.”
This piercing of the center of the soul does not involve one’s memory, imagination, or reason. These faculties are aware of this experience and wonder what is happening, but do not interfere. This experience may come and go, increase in intensity and decrease. Throughout it all, God is doing a wonderful work far deeper than the soul can comprehend.
The soul is also quite aware that the devil cannot be causing this. First, this is a delicious, joyful, and peaceful pain. Only God can unite pain with such delight. When the devil causes pain within, there is no peace, only anxiety, despair, and confusion. Second, this pain comes from the inmost depths over which the devil has no control. Third, the good fruit born in the soul is a clear sign it is from God. The soul becomes resolutely determined to suffer for God with joy and to abandon all earthly pleasures as futile and worthless.
The soul knows this strange, piercing, and delightful gift is from God and will never doubt it. Instead, it receives it in joyful anticipation of all that God is doing within it in such a mysterious and hidden way. The soul longs for God all the more now, and that longing for what it does not yet fully possess inflicts this sweet pain all the more.
Lastly, sometimes these same graces are given to a soul without any pain at all being caused. Instead, there is delightful fervor given to the soul that drives it to long for God, offering Him heroic acts of love, praise, and adoration.
Reflection: God’s ways of perfecting our souls are mysterious and beyond what we can ever comprehend. Has God ever done a work within you that you did not understand? Have you ever experienced an interior piercing that you knew was from God, bore an abundance of good fruit, and left you peaceful and joyful at the same time?
If you have never experienced something like this, try to at least make an act of faith in this description Saint Teresa gives to this deep and mysterious act of purification given by God. Tell God you are willing to endure anything for Him to be fully transformed by Him. Do not fear any interior piercing that God wants to inflict upon you. Anticipate it with hope and joy, and embrace it the moment God gives you this holy gift.
Most holy God, Your ways are truly mysterious and even confounding at times. Please come to me and pierce the center of my soul with Your dart of love. Cleanse me from all self-will. Fill me with holy virtue. Set me on fire with the pure sacrificial love of Your Heart. May I never shy away from all that You wish to do in me but, instead, run to it with all the power of my soul.
Lesson Sixty-One: Imaginary Locution
As a soul advances, it becomes increasingly aware of the many ways that God speaks to it. Three common ways are through imaginary locutions, imaginary visions, and intellectual visions. Of communications, Saint Teresa says:
He does this by means of words addressed to the soul in many different ways; sometimes they appear to come from without; at other times from the inner depths of the soul; or again, from its superior part; while other speeches are so exterior as to be heard by the ears like a real voice.
An imaginary locution is when the soul senses God speaking to it in the imagination clearly and directly. Though God uses this method of communication with the soul, these imaginary locutions are not always very reliable because false locutions can arise either from the devil or from one’s imagination. Those who have very active imaginations are often susceptible to these false “words” from God. They may believe that God spoke to them, but the weakness of their imagination or a deception of the devil was the real source. To discern whether or not a word spoken to the imagination by God is real, Saint Teresa gives us three signs by which we can test their origin.
First, if the word is from God, then that word will bring about what is spoken. For example, say a person has been struggling with much fear and anxiety, and suddenly God speaks to the person and says, “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” If that word is from God, then the person will immediately experience the power of God dispelling their fear.
Second, an authentic locution will always be accompanied by deep peace and recollection in God, such that the soul will be driven to praise God from its heart.
Third, when the word that is spoken is from God, the mind will remember it for a very long time. If it is from the imagination or is a deception from the devil, it will fade more quickly, and the imagination will soon be off to other ideas.
The key is to know that God does speak to us in varied ways. In this way, He speaks to our imagination a word consistent with Scripture or brings forth an image from our memory. That communication is then presented to our human reason where it is understood and then consoles the will, enabling it to respond joyfully to the word that was spoken. These graces should not surprise us; they are an ordinary way in which God communicates to a soul in these dwelling places.
Reflection: Have you ever had a sudden sense that God communicated to you some idea that you knew was from Him? We ought not to seek these out or be overly impressed by them. When they are from God, they will humble us and leave us with deep peace and conviction. Try to call to mind any time this might have happened to you.
Is your imagination overly active at times? If so, then be aware that it is also easy to dream up some communication from God or allow yourself to pay attention to some subtle word spoken by the evil one to mislead you. Have you ever sensed that God spoke to you, but later found that this apparent communication bore no good fruit or even left you confused and disconsolate? If so, learn the lesson that we are often prone to these false forms of communication. Reject them.
As you think about this unique way that God sometimes communicates to the imagination, think, also, about the danger of pursuing these words. If you believe the communication is from God, test it. Use the signs of discernment outlined above to test everything. In the end, if the words are from God and you try to resist them, God will get through, and the fruit He wanted to be borne will be borne.
My ever-speaking Lord, You communicate to me day and night in ways known fully only to You. I pray that I will always know Your sweet voice and respond to You when You speak. May I never be misled, allowing my imagination to create its own ideas. I pray, also, that You always protect me from the evil one and the subtle lies he continuously speaks.
Lesson Sixty-Two: Imaginary Visions
Later in the seventh dwelling place, Saint Teresa speaks of another way that God speaks to the soul using the imagination. Instead of hearing an inaudible voice, speaking certain words, the soul discovers within the imagination an image that it knows is from God. Often, this image is related to our Lord’s Sacred Humanity or is an image from Scripture that is thrust upon the imagination, drawing deep love and devotion from the soul. For example, a person might suddenly, without any initiative by itself, become acutely aware of our Lord crowned with thorns, being mocked and ridiculed. Or it might see, with its imagination, the glory of our Lord on His throne in Heaven.
The image is seen by the interior sight alone…The splendour of Him Who is revealed in the vision resembles an infused light like that of the sun covered with a veil as transparent as a diamond, if such a texture could be woven, while His raiment looks like fine linen. The soul to whom God grants this vision almost always falls into an ecstasy, nature being too weak to bear so dread a sight.
The effect upon the soul will be similar to that of a locution. After describing these effects and the deep love and spiritual certitude that comes with them, Saint Teresa explains that a soul should never seek out such visions. Her reasons are very similar to the reasons that one should never seek out or desire a locution either.
These imaginary visions are like a precious stone inside a locket. Our Lord holds the key to the locket; we do not. Only He can open it from time to time to imprint upon the memory a clear vision of Himself. If the soul tries to open this locket by itself, then the “vision” the soul experiences will not be from God but will be either from its imagination or from the devil.
The reasons we should never seek out such visions are as follows: First, we do not deserve such graces, so it is a lack of humility to think we do deserve them. Second, by desiring them we are almost certain to be deceived by a false vision from the devil. Third, when we strongly desire such a vision, the imagination is stirred and may produce a false vision. Fourth, our Lord alone knows what we need, so it would be very presumptuous to think we know that we need such a vision. Fifth, often these visions reveal the suffering Christ and draw the soul into suffering itself. But unless our Lord is the one drawing us into this deep realization, we will not be able to bear it. Sixth, the soul must trust God enough to wait on Him and only receive such an interior vision if He wishes to bestow it. Otherwise, we may do our souls more harm than good.
Reflection: Has our Lord ever revealed to you a powerful image of His holiness? Have you ever been suddenly struck by His Passion and death? Or have you suddenly been overwhelmed by an image of His glory? Do not seek out such favors, but if they are ever granted, know that this is our Lord revealing Himself to you in a special way.
Ponder the life of Christ. Ponder His birth, His ministry, His suffering, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension into Heaven. As you ponder these earthly moments of Christ’s life, know that you could never understand Him and His sacred soul unless our Lord reveals Himself to you in a way that only He can do. But given that fact, never tire of meditating upon the sacred humanity of our Lord.
Ponder, also, any moment when our Lord did reveal some aspect of His life to you. Savor that memory. Allow it to continue to bear fruit in your life. Rejoice in it, and never forget it. If our Lord has never revealed Himself to you in these ways, rejoice in that also, for only our Lord knows what we need when we need it.
Most sacred humanity of Christ, I love You and adore You. I worship You and give my life to You. Thank You for becoming man, for Your life, death, resurrection, and glorification. Please continue to reveal Yourself to me in accord with Your most perfect will. May I always be open to You revealing Yourself to me in the way and at the time of Your choosing.
Lesson Sixty-Three: Intellectual Visions
In two different chapters of her description of the seventh dwelling place, Saint Teresa speaks of “intellectual visions,” differentiating them from locutions and imaginary visions. The first time she speaks of them, she emphasizes that these communications imprint some message directly on the intellect, without the use of the imagination or memory.
God speaks to the soul in another way by a certain intellectual vision which I think undoubtedly proceeds from Him; it will be described later on. It takes place far within the innermost depths of the soul which appears to hear distinctly in a most mysterious manner, with its spiritual hearing, the words spoken to it by our Lord Himself (VI.III #19).
When God speaks directly to the intellect, every syllable is perfectly perceived and understood. The content of the communication is usually something that the soul was not even thinking of or aware of or even ever heard before. It’s entirely new. The words are heard and understood but the imagination does not work with them. Even one word spoken communicates a great depth of knowledge and understanding. The understanding also goes beyond the words, even though the soul cannot explain it.
Later on, when Saint Teresa returns to these intellectual visions, she says that sometimes the communication is not primarily words, spoken directly to the intellect, but rather, the soul is “conscious that Jesus Christ stands by her side although she sees Him neither with the eyes of the body nor of the soul” (VI.VIII #2). This vision of our Lord and the awareness of Him being intimately present to the soul might last for a week or even for an entire year. Throughout, the soul is consoled and strengthened as it grows accustomed to this close presence and grows in a most sublime knowledge of God due to this intimacy. Though certain words might be spoken, the mere knowledge of God’s close and intimate presence is a priceless gift.
Because this vision takes place directly within the intellect (the human reason), it does not rely upon nor use the memory or imagination at all. Therefore, unlike imaginary visions and locutions, these intellectual visions cannot deceive the soul, since the devil cannot create them nor can the imagination affect them or self-generate them. The certitude, peace, growth in virtue, and spiritual consolation the soul receives is great.
God will also make His presence known in this manner by His departure. Not that He will leave the soul, but the intellectual vision will cease. God’s departure is very noticeable, which tempts the soul to desire Him to return. God comes and goes, and this coming and going only deepens the awareness within the soul of this vision. Courage, humility, vulnerability, and total dependence upon God are fostered within the soul through this gift.
Reflection: How aware are you of God’s constant presence in your life? Do you know He is always with you? Does He reveal His hidden presence to you in a way that is beyond your ability to explain? If so, adore His sacred presence. Acknowledge Him as He is with you. Rejoice in how close He is.
Do you also notice, at times, that God seems distant? If so, rejoice in this gift. He never leaves you but will, at times, hide His sacred presence as a way of helping you more clearly sense Him when He does reveal Himself to you. His manifestation of Himself will come and go, and you must become aware of this coming and going of our Lord.
If you do not regularly sense the clear and certain presence of our Lord, seek Him out in meditation. Rely upon that form of prayer, and anticipate this deeper form of prayer that can come only by the initiative of God. When He does grant you this new form of prayer of an intellectual vision, give Him your full attention and love.
Ever-present Lord, You are always with me, living deep within me, keeping me in existence and pouring forth the gift of eternal life upon my soul. I thank You for always being near. I pray that I may also see Your divine presence in accord with Your holy will. Please manifest Yourself to me and draw me into the central dwelling place of my soul where You reside.
Lesson Sixty-Four: Trances, Ecstasies or Raptures
A trance, ecstasy, and rapture are different words for the same spiritual experience. This is when the exterior senses are suspended and God communicates some truth to the soul in its deepest center. The truth communicated is beyond the soul’s ability to comprehend but does it much good.
While the soul is in ecstasy, our Lord does not appear to wish it to apprehend these mysteries and its inebriation of joy in Him suffices it. But sometimes He is pleased to withdraw it from this rapture when it at once perceives what the mansion contains. On returning to itself, the mind can recall what has been seen but is unable to describe it, nor can it, by its natural abilities, attain to see more of the supernatural than God has chosen to show it (VI.IV #10).
Saint Teresa describes two types of ecstasies. In the first type, the soul is specially made aware of its sin and God’s forgiveness. The communication, though, is more than just a spoken word. It is a spiritual knowledge that also accomplishes what is communicated. The soul knows it is forgiven, and indeed, it is. The memory, intellect, and will are suspended, or absorbed, by this encounter with God in the spirit. Later on, the memory will recall this experience, but it will never be able to explain it or understand it fully, for the spirit encounters the Spirit of God in a way that is totally beyond its natural abilities to understand or explain. Sometimes intellectual visions are also received, but the ecstasy is not the vision itself. It is something deeper and beyond the powers of the intellect.
Another form of ecstasy is called a “flight of the spirit.” In this ecstasy, it appears as though the body and spirit separate, and the spirit alone is caught up to God in the flash of an instant. When the spirit “returns” to the body, it is so overwhelmed and so in awe of God that it is changed forever.
The soul really appears to have quitted the body, which however is not lifeless, and though, on the other hand, the person is certainly not dead, yet she herself cannot, for a few seconds, tell whether her spirit remains within her body or not. She feels that she has been wholly transported into another and a very different region from that in which we live, where a light so unearthly is shown that, if during her whole lifetime she had been trying to picture it and the wonders seen, she could not possibly have succeeded. In an instant her mind learns so many things at once that if the imagination and intellect spent years in striving to enumerate them, it could not recall a thousandth part of them. (VI.V #8)
Though no words are pronounced during this flight of the spirit, the imagination receives many truths that greatly benefit it. The soul is left with a clear perception of the greatness of God. As God’s greatness is perceived, the soul is also seen in its baseness, and humility is deepened by the contrast. The soul then chooses God over itself and the world and experiences a supreme contempt for all earthly things. This experience is so powerful that it will never be forgotten, though it can never be explained.
Reflection: Perhaps such an experience is more than you can comprehend, for indeed it is. Even if you were blessed to experience such a gift in prayer, you would not be able to explain it. Ponder this incomprehensible and unexplainable gift from our Lord.
Why would God communicate with a soul in such a mysterious way? It is because God Himself is completely beyond us. His greatness and glory are infinite, and our finite minds cannot fully grasp Him. Knowing this should humble us, leave us in awe, and fill us with a deep sense of wonder.
If you have had such an experience, remain humble and be grateful. If you are unsure if such a gift has ever been granted to you, do not think about it any further. Just make yourself aware of the potential of this gift, and be open to it if God ever grants it. Since this gift is unexplainable, do not try to explain it. Keep your eyes upon the sacred humanity of our Lord, pray to Him, strive to grow in virtue, and allow Him to lead you when He chooses to take over the reins.
My infinite God, You are glorious beyond all comprehension. You are far above me in every way. I submit myself to the mystery of Your very being and adore You in the mystery that You are. I love You and pray that You will continue to draw me into Your sacred presence, revealing Yourself to me as You will.
Lesson Sixty-Five: Excessive Tears
The raptures explained in the previous lesson affect the soul so deeply that it is now changed, desires only to be with God, cannot bear to be away from Him, longs for death, and is granted new moments of rapture over and over again.
THESE sublime favours leave the soul so desirous of fully enjoying Him Who has bestowed them that life becomes a painful though delicious torture, and death is ardently longed for. Such a one often implores God with tears to take her from this exile where everything she sees wearies her. Solitude alone brings great alleviation for a time, but soon her grief returns and yet she cannot bear to be without it. In short, this poor little butterfly can find no lasting rest. So tender is her love that at the slightest provocation it flames forth and the soul takes flight. Thus in this mansion raptures occur very frequently, nor can they be resisted even in public (VI.VI #1).
Because of these frequent raptures and because they are beyond the control of the soul experiencing them, this person often desires to remain in solitude with God awaiting the joy of death. At the same time, the soul desires to go forth into the world with the hope that God may use it to save even one other soul. This is done despite the fact that the frequent raptures, some of which are experienced in public, lead others to question the soul.
As the soul goes about its daily work, it is sometimes moved to tears, and others see those tears which cannot be held back. At other times, the soul is so filled with joy that all it can do is continually speak praises of God and desire to lead others into this same praise. It might not even know what it praises God for, other than knowing God is worthy of all praise.
When there are tears, the tears are not from depression or despair. They are tears mixed with love of God, deep peace, and joy. If persecuted by others, the soul is not negatively affected but only praises God all the more. It begins to experience more and more freedom to live only according to the Spirit of God and His promptings of grace. The desire to be with God fully in Heaven is so strong that others can easily perceive the otherworldly focus of this holy soul.
Reflection: Have you ever received the gift of holy tears? Have you ever been so moved by God and by His infinite goodness that you were reduced to tears of joy and love? If so, savor the love that was placed in your heart so deeply that you could not contain the experience.
If you have never been so moved, admire the experience that others have had from a distance and allow yourself to be amazed at such an experience. Pray that God will grant you the gift of Himself more fully, and run to Him when He begins to reveal Himself.
Holy tears are a gift that motivates us to desire God all the more. When God grants you this gift, all you can do is receive it. Before that, work to stir up a more fervent desire for God by your meditation, your virtuous living, and your wholehearted devotion to our Lord and His holy will.
Most glorious God, please stir up in me a deep longing for You. Fill me with a clear vision of Your presence, and reveal to me Your love. May my heart become so inflamed with love for You that I am drawn to You above all else, seeking only You and Your will for my life. May I shed tears of love for You, be filled with a holy sorrow for my sins, and work with all the powers of my soul to attain Heaven where I will dwell with You forever.
Lesson Sixty-Six: Do Not Abandon the Sacred Humanity
Once God has drawn a soul into the life of contemplation and the soul has begun to receive this infused knowledge and love of God directly and spiritually, there will be a temptation to want to remain in such a state, never returning to the reality of its sin or the sufferings of our Lord as revealed in the Scriptures.
Some people…after our Lord has once raised them to perfect contemplation, wish to enjoy it continually. This is impossible; still, the grace of this state remains in their souls in such a way that they cannot reason as before on the mysteries of the Passion and the Life of Christ (VI.VII #9).
For those souls who have begun to receive the graces of these dwelling places, there are two important lessons that Saint Teresa wants them to never forget. First, this soul must continually recall its former sin and experience a “great martyrdom” through this remembrance. Though it no longer suffers from the guilt of those sins, it must never forget them and must grow in a holy sorrow that is mixed with gratitude in remembering the mercy of God by which those sins were forgiven.
In addition to the ongoing fostering of this holy sorrow, Saint Teresa firmly recommends that we continually return to the Sacred Humanity of Christ. Though meditation on our Lord’s life and sufferings will now be different than they were in the first dwelling places, we must never abandon His earthly life but must continually seek to keep His human life within our minds. After receiving the grace of contemplation, returning to meditation on our Lord’s passion will still engage all of the faculties of the soul.
The soul looks with a simple gaze upon Who He is and how ungratefully we treat Him in return for such terrible sufferings. Then the will, although perhaps without sensible tenderness, desires to render Him some service for such sublime mercies and longs to suffer something for Him Who bore so much for us, employing itself in similar considerations in which the memory and understanding also take their part (VI.VII #14).
This teaching is very important to remember after experiencing the contemplative graces of these dwelling places. Continually returning to meditation on the humanity of Christ will especially help a soul to avoid the trap of trying to self-create false contemplative experiences. As long as we live in this life, we must immerse ourselves in the human life of Christ, meditating upon Him and seeking to imitate Him in our own lives. The only difference between this meditative return to the Sacred Humanity of Christ and that of the meditation in the first three dwelling places is that the intellect, memory, and will appear to be engaging the mystery of Christ in a more recollected and contemplative manner, striving to engage God interiorly rather than exteriorly.
Reflection: Are you committed to contemplating and meditating upon the Sacred Humanity of Christ? Are you desirous of Him, seeking to live with Him, in Him and through Him? If so, then never tire of returning to the earthly life of Christ. Ponder His Incarnation and birth, His preaching and miracles, and especially His suffering, death, and resurrection.
How often do you meditate upon the humanity of Christ? How often do you try to enter into the mystery of His suffering? Spend some time, this day, meditating upon some aspect of Christ’s life. Saint Teresa especially loved meditating upon Jesus’ agony in the garden. Turn to that meditation. Try to penetrate its meaning. Seek to understand Jesus’ sufferings that night. Look at His very soul, His thoughts, His longing, His desires.
If you have been graced with the gift of contemplative prayer to one extent or another, do not allow that gift to lead to pride. Do not think that you are ever beyond meditating upon our Lord’s life. Meditate, ponder, reflect, and discover Who He is. Do it over and over again. If God wants to draw you into a deeper state of prayer, allow Him. But never presume He will. Even the greatest of saints were called to return to the simplest forms of prayer every day. So are you.
Sacred Humanity of Christ, may I always adore You, love You, and return to You every day. May I never tire of meditating upon You. I pray I will be able to always keep You in my mind, gaze upon You with love, and follow in Your footsteps. Sacred Humanity of Christ, I love You. Help me to love You more every day.
Lesson Sixty-Seven: A Profound Awareness of Sin
In these dwelling places, the soul receives many favors. The highest of the graces given come through a more direct encounter with the essence of God, without the use of human reason or the imagination. The best way to understand these many different forms of graces is to be attentive to the effects they produce.
I only wish to teach you (as far as I am acquainted with them myself) what are the different favours God shows a soul in this state so that you may understand their characteristics and the effects they produce (VI.X #1).
One grace given here is a profound understanding of sin. When a person first repents of their sin in the earlier dwelling places, they only receive a small glimpse of their sin, and this small glimpse is enough to help them seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, which they do. However, in the earlier dwelling places, the soul is not strong enough to see their sin as God sees it. Therefore, in these sixth dwelling places, God imparts to the soul a vision of His very essence, not by images but directly in a mysterious way. This powerful communication, which comes in the form of a very high intellectual vision, reveals the very essence of God, His very being, and completely confounds the person, enabling them to see their soul and their sins as God sees them.
This high intellectual vision of the truth of God’s total love and goodness, coupled with the truth of the souls’ wretchedness, teaches the soul that “all men are liars.” All people are trapped in lies. What we call truth is just a fantasy. Only by this new vision of the essence of God does the soul begin to understand that its past sorrow for sin was completely insufficient.
The gifts of wisdom and understanding that are given to the soul are so deep that the soul receives a new level of humility through this new self-knowledge and knowledge of God. As a result of being humbled to the very core of its being, the soul is set free to love on an entirely new level. It begins to love with the love in the very depths of the Heart of God. Just as God has shown pure mercy to us, so the soul begins to show God’s pure mercy to others. It is this profound depth of mercy within one’s soul that becomes the immediate preparation for the gift of Spiritual Marriage found in the seventh dwelling place.
Reflection: Imagine understanding your soul with the mind of God. What does God see when He looks at you? First of all, He gazes at you with perfect mercy. His love could never be fully comprehended. But as He looks at You with perfect mercy, He also sees every sin within you; He sees the disorder your sin and your fallen human nature have caused; He sees you with a perfect perception of your soul and loves you despite what He sees.
Are you aware of the fact that you will never know yourself and will never understand your sin until you take on the mind of God? Pray for this gift. Pray for the spiritual gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Pray that God’s mind consumes your mind and that His thoughts transform your thoughts. Such a gift cannot be taken, it can only be received, and it will only be given when God chooses to give it. Keep opening yourself to God so that you will be disposed more and more to receive what He so deeply desires to bestow upon you.
God of perfect Wisdom, You know all things and see all things. You know me through and through. You know me infinitely better than I know myself. Please open my mind to You more fully so that I will be able to know my soul as You know it. Help me to see my sin more clearly and to see the mercy that washes it away. As I do, I pray for the deepening gift of humility so that I will be ever more grateful to You in all things.
Lesson Sixty-Eight: The Dart of Love
Saint Teresa concludes the sixth dwelling places by describing one last powerful experience the soul receives when God manifests His very essence at the deepest core of its being.
While the soul is thus inflamed with love, it often happens that, from a passing thought or spoken word of how death delays its coming, the heart receives, it knows not how or whence, a blow as from a fiery dart…in the very depths and centre of the soul, where this, thunderbolt, in its rapid course, reduces all the earthly part of our nature to powder. At the time we cannot even remember our own existence, for in an instant, the faculties of the soul are so fettered as to be incapable of any action except the power they retain of increasing our torture. Do not think I am exaggerating; indeed I fall short of explaining what happens which cannot be described (VI.XI #2).
This spiritual communication from God lasts no more than a few hours. Sometimes it only lasts fifteen minutes since the soul could not endure it any longer. But the experience is so profound that it affects every part of the body for days to come. The body is completely dislocated in all the joints, yet the pain is not felt in the body; it is felt in the spirit alone which is capable of far greater suffering. The torment is beyond description, but the spiritual benefits gained by this fiery dart are far greater than any pain experienced. It is like an ocean compared to a single drop of water.
Among the spiritual torments is a loneliness caused by being completely detached from everything in this world, yet being unable to fully enter the next. It’s as if the soul were suspended between these two worlds, not belonging fully to either but in a state of limbo, desiring to die completely and enter fully into God Himself. The torments, though intense, serve the glorious purpose of preparing the soul to enter into the seventh dwelling place, where it will enter into divine marriage and consummate its union with God.
Upon receiving this intellectual vision and the accompanying spiritual torments of the soul, at the proper time, God bestows another grace. It is a consolation so powerful that it mixes with the torments and enables the soul to endure them for the rest of their life. With that consolation, the soul would gladly suffer for a thousand lifetimes or more if it were to be the will of God. It is these final graces that have now prepared the soul for its final dwelling place.
Reflection: If you have ever experienced this “fiery dart” from God, then you will probably agree with Saint Teresa that its experience could never be explained. Though few may ever experience this, know that it is possible. This gift of final preparation for the Spiritual Marriage of the seventh dwelling place is not beyond your reach. True, it can only come as a gift from God, but know that God deeply desires to bestow it.
Ponder the truth that God wants you holy. He wants to make you a saint. Ponder, also, the fact that this depth of sanctity is possible. It is possible to allow God to completely possess your soul, transform you, and make you one with Him. Do you believe this?
Oftentimes we go through life thinking that perfection is unattainable. For us alone, it is certainly unattainable. But for God, all things are possible. Believe that. Reflect upon that truth. Accept it and commit yourself to the journey. Pray for the gift of this fiery dart within the center of your soul, and never cease pursuing God until you are fully prepared to receive this gift and, thus, enter into the Spiritual Marriage of the seventh dwelling place.
Lord of all holiness, You are Perfection. You are Holiness. You are the infinite God of all. Please draw me fully into Your divine presence. Free me from every sin. Heal me of every fault. Consume me with Your love. I pray that I will never tire of the journey to You, so that I will reside with You in the innermost dwelling place of my soul.
Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.