Chapter Two

The Second Dwelling Places

Gentle Perseverance in Prayer

Lesson Fourteen: Entering the Second Dwelling Places

In this chapter, Saint Teresa encourages her sisters who are at the beginning of their life of prayer and conversion to persevere on the journey. She does this by encouraging the practice of mental prayer and by the growth in virtue.

This chapter has to do with those who have already begun to practise prayer and who realize the importance of not remaining in the first Mansions [Dwelling Places], but who often are not yet resolute enough to leave those Mansions [Dwelling Places], and will not avoid occasions of sin, which is a very perilous condition (II.I #2).

Two of the greatest obstacles that those in the second dwelling places experience are turning away from prayer and falling back into sin. The remedies are to strengthen one’s virtue through the practice of mental prayer.

Mental prayer refers to engaging God with your mind, not just your lips. One can say prayers with their lips while their minds are elsewhere. For Saint Teresa, this is not prayer. One form of mental prayer is when a person prays a traditional prayer and is attentive to everything that is spoken. For many people, this is more difficult than it may appear. For example, when we pray the “Our Father,” we often only say the words without much depth of intention or realization of what we are saying. One remedy for this is to pray the prayer slowly, meditating upon each word as it is prayed.

Another form of mental prayer is meditation. Meditation is the practice of pondering some truth of our faith such as a Scripture passage or some doctrinal truth about God. When one meditates, they intentionally put this truth into their minds and consider it over and over, from various angles and in various ways. Sometimes the imagination is more engaged in this meditation, at other times human reason is primarily used. See the Introduction of this book for a fuller explanation of the various methods of prayer.[1] 

When one begins to practice mental prayer, the will is strengthened, and the person begins to grow in a desire for virtue. They begin to see the foolishness of their past sins and begin to overcome them. But this is a battle and much of this chapter will focus on that battle, encouraging the soul to persevere and not retreat to the former way of life.

Reflection: If you were to describe your prayer life, what would you say about it? How do you pray every day and every week? Begin by pondering how often you pray. Do you dedicate time every day for nothing other than prayer? If not, then this is a necessary step for you to begin to enter this second level of holiness.

If you do spend time praying every day, how deep is that prayer? The vocal recitation of prayers is not enough for one to be praying in the true sense. When you do say prayers, do you carefully consider all that you speak? Do you also spend time meditating upon those prayers, upon Scripture passages, or the doctrines of our faith?

Resolve to pray every day, and resolve to make that prayer true prayer. Don’t be discouraged if your life of prayer has been limited in the past. Instead, be grateful for this realization, and use it to firmly resolve to establish a practice of true prayer every day.

My loving Lord, You have called me to a life of true prayer. I have failed to be faithful to the practice of prayer in the ways that You desire. Please help me to strengthen my resolve to dedicate time every day to this most fundamental part of my life. Teach me to pray, dear Lord, so that I will come to know and love You with all my heart.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Fifteen: Hearing the Lord Speak

One of the greatest consolations that a person in the second dwelling places experiences is the ability to hear God speak through their prayer. However, their inability to fully respond to God’s gentle voice causes them great distress.

This Lord of ours is so anxious that we should desire Him and strive after His companionship that He calls us ceaselessly, time after time, to approach Him; and this voice of His is so sweet that the poor soul is consumed with grief at being unable to do His bidding immediately, and thus, as I say, it suffers more than if it could not hear Him (II.I #4).

A person in these dwelling places will continually fall into sin and then rise out of that sin again through prayer. It is a painful struggle that causes even more spiritual suffering than before. The suffering is because they have started to see how far they have yet to journey and get discouraged by their weakness and sin. In some ways, it was easier in the first dwelling places because the person was more ignorant of their many sins. But the suffering experienced in the second dwelling places is good because it becomes a motivation to press on and change. A paradox that this person begins to understand is that the more their heart becomes inflamed with the love of God, the more they are capable of interior spiritual suffering. Again, this is good because when a soul becomes capable of deep love, it also opens itself up to greater suffering when they fail in that love.

All of this is made possible at this stage because, for the first time, the person begins to hear God speak to them. By meditating upon the Scriptures, the person begins to understand the will of God. By reflecting upon the life of Jesus, the person is motivated to imitate Him. By prayerfully speaking various traditional prayers, the person begins to internalize what they say. Through spiritual reading, attentiveness to sermons, and other spiritual practices, God’s voice becomes clearer and clearer. In these ways, God is speaking, and the person is hearing.

Reflection: As you engage in the practice of prayerful meditation, what is God speaking to you? What do you “hear?” God speaks in various ways, and we need to learn to perceive His voice.

Over the past week, as you prayed a certain prayer, and meditated upon its meaning, did you feel drawn to one aspect of that prayer? If so, this might be God speaking to you. Does your mind continue to return to some image from your prayer as you go about your day? If so, this might be God’s voice, revealing His will to you. Has a sermon, a spiritual book, or some other devotion caught your attention? If so, then keep engaging in those holy practices.

When you prayerfully meditate, spend time afterward thinking about what struck you the most in your prayer. Then, return to that meditation later. Savor it as one would savor a nice meal or vacation.

Also, consider your sin. As you pray, if a particular sin comes to mind and you feel shame for that sin, know that this might be exactly what God wants you to focus on right now in your life. Do not obsess over it, just be aware of it, pray for the grace to overcome it, firmly resolve to cooperate with that grace, and move ahead. If you fall back into that sin, don’t give up and don’t become discouraged. Keep praying and keep listening to God’s voice. Trust that He can and will help you overcome every sin in your life if you do your part and never give up.

Most patient Jesus, You speak to me day and night, yet so often I fail to listen. Please open my ears of faith so that I may become familiar with Your gentle and clear voice. Help me to listen to You and respond with a joyful and firm resolve to do whatever You say.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Sixteen: Perseverance

As we begin to hear and understand the voice of God as He speaks to us in various ways, through prayer, sermons, spiritual reading, or by other means, there will be an interior battle that needs to be waged. At times, we will question our ability to move forward and consider returning to our previous spiritual state where it was easier. God will be patient with us, if we persevere and do not extinguish the desire to grow in holiness.

…for His Majesty is quite prepared to wait for many days, and even years, especially when He sees we are persevering and have good desires. This is the most necessary thing here; if we have this we cannot fail to gain greatly (II.I #6).

Perseverance at this stage of spiritual development is key. We will have a thousand temptations thrown at us. The devils will viciously attack with thoughts of abandoning our journey. We will remember our former sins and consider returning to them. As we grow in our desire to love God, there will be a new form of interior suffering we experience as we discover our need to change and how far we still must go on the journey. When this happens, we will be tempted to return to a time when we loved less, since in some ways that way of life was easier. At this stage, if we do not persevere, all will be lost.

The best way to persevere at this point is to use the faculties of your soul in accord with God’s will. Specifically, you must use your human reason, memory, will, and understanding to fight the battle. With your reason, you must recognize the foolishness of turning away from the path to which you have been called. Faith must inform your reason, and you must use what you have learned through faith to make good decisions and think clearly. Your memory will help you to recall the ill effects of sin, and those bad memories must motivate you to turn from them in the future. With your will, you must allow yourself to be drawn to the divine Lover and choose Him above all. As you do this, your understanding will enable you to perceive the wisdom of choosing God, His holy will for your life, and the many good things to come as you follow the right path.

Reflection: Do you get discouraged at times on your spiritual journey? If so, where does your mind return? To your former bad habits of sin? To an unhealthy relationship? To a time when it was easier to love God less? To fleeting pleasures and indulgences? Dismiss these as foolish, unhealthy pursuits. These are temptations from the many demons who seek to stop you from the discovery of the glorious life that awaits you.

Think about the things that God has spoken to you lately. Think of the inspiring moments when you felt consoled, encouraged, joyful and hopeful. Put these ideas back into your mind. Allow your will and desires to become fixed upon them. Analyze the foolishness of turning away from God and the wisdom of following the hard and narrow way toward Him. Do not fear the suffering that comes from love. This suffering is sacrificial love and always results in a much deeper satisfaction in life. Use every tool God has given you. Persevere, persevere, persevere. Don’t give up, don’t lose hope, for a world of fulfillment awaits.

My wise Lord, You know what is best for me, and You know the perfect path toward my fulfillment. Please help me to see Your wisdom and to experience Your great love. As I do, please give me clarity of mind to choose You above all, no matter how difficult this first appears to be. Help me to persevere on my journey toward You Who dwell deep within my soul. I choose You, dear Lord, and I leave the world, its seductions, and its lies behind.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Seventeen: Combating All the Powers of Hell

One of the best ways to overcome discouragement is to arm yourself with the truth. One truth to be aware of is that when the demons see you growing in holiness, they will attack with all they have.

The soul will certainly suffer great trials at this time, especially if the devil sees that its character and habits are such that it is ready to make further progress: all the powers of hell will combine to drive it back again (II.I #11).

This can be a frightening thought, but it doesn’t have to be. The fallen demons in our world retain their natural powers of influence and suggestion. Since they have fallen from Heaven, they now use those natural powers to dissuade you from God and convince you to join them in their misery.

To combat these temptations from the evil one and his legions, it is important to learn their voices. We do not learn their voices to listen to them but to dismiss them the moment they speak.

Saint Teresa is very clear, repeatedly, that in this stage of spiritual growth, “all the powers of hell will combine” to drive you back to your former state and to keep you from progressing on your spiritual journey. They will suggest to you that you are not good enough, not holy enough, that you will have to give up so much you used to enjoy, and they will tell a thousand other lies to deter you. This part of the spiritual journey can be quite painful as you encounter these legions of lies, pressing upon you from the desperation of these demons. The goal is to discern simply, rationally, gently, and peacefully these lies and dismiss them. Period.

Reflection: As you progress in your relationship with our Lord, do you sometimes find yourself obsessively thinking about your past, your sin, your struggles, or other discouraging thoughts? If so, these are most likely temptations coming from the desperation of these fallen angels who are jealous of you. But fear not, God has given you the power to overcome them. It is helpful, however, to be aware of their attempts to deter you.

Think about any strong temptations you struggle with. As you call them to mind, identify them as lies being spoken to you by the evil one. Do not fear them, for even Jesus allowed Himself to be tempted. He did this so that He could overcome all temptation and enable us to follow His path.

If the temptations you experience inflict suffering upon you interiorly, know that this is good. It is a sign that the devil sees the good you are doing and the progress you are making. Thwart his efforts by resolving to move closer to God by rejecting sin, praying more, and growing in virtue.

Lord of all strength, You endured many temptations in Your human life to conquer temptation itself and to enable me to share in Your divine strength. As I resolve to follow You more devoutly, I pray for the grace I need to overcome every obstacle and temptation. As the powers of hell attack me in various ways, may I turn to You in peace and trust so that You will win the battle for me.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Eighteen: Spiritual Companions

Amid her exhortations, Saint Teresa pauses to give one bit of practical advice:

It is a very great thing for a person to associate with others who are walking in the right way: to mix, not only with those whom he sees in the rooms where he himself is, but with those whom he knows to have entered the rooms nearer the centre, for they will be of great help to him and he can get into such close touch with them that they will take him with them (II.I #12).

At the core of who we are is found a longing for spiritual friendship. Spouses are to be the most intimate of friends, helping each other on their journey to Heaven. Other family members must also become spiritual supports on our journey.

Of course, sometimes family members are more of a hindrance on our journey than a help. In those cases, charity and mercy must be our central focus toward them. But with that said, we still need spiritual companions on our journey. If family members do not fulfill this role in our lives, we must seek out others to support and encourage us on our way.

A spiritual friend is different from an ordinary friend. An ordinary friend might be someone with whom we share a common interest and enjoy engaging in that interest together. But a spiritual friend shares our faith and our desire to grow closer to God. Saint Teresa identifies two such categories of persons like this. First, some appear to be in the same interior dwelling place in which we are currently living. These are those whose faith journey is like our own. Second, some appear to be advanced in their spiritual life. We must seek out these companions and spend time with them so that they can help us on our journey.

Reflection: Who is it that inspires you? Is there someone you know who openly lives their faith and acts as a source of encouragement to you? Ideally, there are one or more family members who fill this role. Perhaps there is someone at church with whom you can spend more time. Perhaps there is a prayer group where several people are present who will help you grow in holiness. Perhaps there is a podcast, blogger, or social media user who shares their faith openly and from whom you can take inspiration.

Spiritual companionship makes our spiritual journey more doable. If you struggle with finding such a person in your life, make this one of your prayers. Know that if God sees this as a need in your life, He will answer your prayer if you ask Him for this gift. Be open to God’s guidance. A healthy spiritual friendship will not become a source of confusion or temptation for you. There will not be an unhealthy possessiveness. Instead, such a person will gently encourage you, and God will use them to teach you how to progress further on your interior journey toward God.

Most holy Lord, when You walked this earth, You had many companions and friends. You were especially close to Your own dear mother and received much love and consolation through her. Please give me true friends who are seeking to walk the same road to Heaven with me. Support me through them, guide me, and help me to be such a companion to those in need.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Nineteen: Resolute Determination

Though Saint Teresa has already given us this advice that follows, whenever a person says, “and you must not forget this, for it is very important,” we should pay close attention.

All that the beginner in prayer has to do—and you must not forget this, for it is very important—is to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God (II.I #15).

Labor, be resolute, and bring your will into conformity with the will of God. This is advice that Saint Teresa deeply desires we understand.

How do we conform our will with the will of God? This is best accomplished when we prepare ourselves with all possible diligence. Diligence will require that we labor much and firmly resolve to become holy.

Conforming our will to the will of God does not require extraordinary mystical experiences. We do not need visions, locutions, or private revelations. We do not need to be noticed by others for our holiness. All we need to do is to discern what God is asking of us every day and then do it with firm resolve.

Sometimes when we pray, we try to conform God to our will. We tell Him what we think is best and then pray that He does what we ask. But this is not the path we must take. Conforming our will to the will of God means we diligently work to eliminate our will, our preferences, our goals, and our desires. It requires a true death to ourselves. We must let go of that which we prefer and prepare ourselves only to prefer the will of God. This form of interior detachment from our own will is the best preparation we can make to conform to the will of God through prayer. When God sees we are open, ready, and willing, He will begin to reveal His perfect plan for our lives. This will take much effort at first, much sacrifice, surrender, openness, and determination. But the more you become free from self-will, the more prepared you become for God’s will.

Reflection: How easy is it for you to let go of your own will, your preferences, and your ideas? Are you able to die to yourself so that God can take control? Conformity of our whole being to the will of God can seem like a daunting task at first. But if you can take it one step at a time, it will be doable.

When you pray, do you tell God what you want Him to do? Do you try to control God as a spoiled child tries to get his way? If so, admit to that sin of selfishness, and confess its foolishness. Though it might be hard at first, know that you can do it. Begin in small ways. Pray the prayer of our Blessed Mother who said, “Let it be done unto me according to Your will.” And pray the prayer of Jesus in the Garden when He said, “Not my will but Yours be done.” Say those prayers every day. Meditate upon them, ponder them, and let them sink in deeply so that you can mean what you pray more every day.

As you slowly perfect these prayers, know that God will begin to reveal to you the smaller things that you still hold onto. Everything must ultimately be conformed to the will of God in our lives. Firmly resolve to do so, and begin the process. By God’s grace, if you persevere, the will of God will become your will and not vice versa.

My selfless Lord, in the Garden of Gethsemane and throughout Your sacred life, You always conformed Your human will to that of the Father. Your Blessed Mother also echoed this perfect surrender at the Annunciation and continued this prayer until her Assumption. Please help me to unite my prayer and surrender with Yours and that of Your Blessed Mother. Allow me to join with You both as You continue to make this offering to the Father in Heaven. Father, may Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Let it be done to me according to Your will.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Twenty: Good Out of Sin

Sin is not from God. It’s a rejection of God. But in His infinite power, God is even able to bring good out of our sin.

If, then, you sometimes fail, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good… (II.I #16).

What good can come out of our sin? God can bring us back to Himself when we sin and experience the ill effects of sin. This will come in the form of an interior awareness of the absence of God and a renewed desire to seek Him out within the castle of your soul.

First, once you have begun the journey of faith through interior prayer, you will, at times, experience various temptations. God sometimes permits these temptations for your good. If, for example, you dwell on some thought obsessively, such as anger at a person, greed for possessions, desires of the flesh, or any other obsessive thought, God might allow you to experience the weariness of that thought to teach you that it is not from Him. Or if you try to persevere in prayer and find it dry and uninspiring, God might be permitting this aridity as a way of strengthening your resolve to pray.

If, by chance, the temptation turns into sin, including serious sin, then know that God is ready and willing to do two things for you. First, He is willing to forgive you if you repent. Second, He wants you to remember the effects of that sin. Not to leave you in shame or guilt but to be a constant reminder of the foolishness of such choices. Your temptations and sin then become transformed into a grace by which God strengthens you and keeps you from falling again so that you can move forward on your spiritual journey.

Reflection: Do you have any obsessive and oppressive thoughts right now? Is there anything that you dwell on, over and over, that leads to discouragement and interior desolation? If so, quickly identify these thoughts as temptations that God is currently permitting so that you will come to realize that they need to be eliminated. Reject those thoughts, and pray that you receive understanding from God so that peace can be restored to your soul.

Additionally, are there any sins that you have fallen into repeatedly? If so, what was your interior experience of that sin? If you are seeing it clearly, you will notice that the experience was a heavy burden and resulted in the loss of your interior awareness of God. Use that experience as a weapon to fight against that and every other sin you are tempted with in the future.

Are you able to persevere in prayer? Or do you find your prayer right now to be dry, arid, and uninspired? If prayer is difficult, resolve to stay faithful to it. Just do it! Your aridity is either because you are willingly giving yourself over to distractions in prayer, or because God is permitting this so that you strengthen your resolve and devotion to Him. Either way, use any aridity you experience as a springboard to become more diligent and committed to prayer than ever before.

My forgiving and patient Lord, You invite me to love You with all my heart. At times I fail in this love and return to the easy way of sin. Please forgive me for my sin, and help me to learn from my mistakes so that my past sins, my temptations, and even my dryness in prayer become motivations to return to You with fervor and resolve.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

Lesson Twenty-One: Prayer of Recollection

Within the second dwelling places, Saint Teresa explains that, in addition to vocal prayer and meditation, you must practice what she calls “The Prayer of Recollection.”

Recollection cannot be begun by making strenuous efforts, but must come gently, after which you will be able to practise it for longer periods at a time (II.I #18).

It is absurd to think that we can enter Heaven without first entering our own souls—without getting to know ourselves, and reflecting upon the wretchedness of our nature and what we owe to God, and continually imploring His mercy (II.I #19).

Meditation is a form of prayer by which you take external truths, such as doctrines of our faith, stories from the Gospels, or beautiful prayers, and internalize them by pondering them over and over with your mind. Through meditation, God teaches us many things and reveals His love to us through images and ideas.

The next method of prayer is called “recollection.” Like meditation, this is also what we refer to as “mental prayer,” meaning, we can choose to engage in this form of prayer by our own effort. The prayer of recollection is taught in detail in her book The Way of Perfection, Chapters 28 and 29. Since God dwells within us and prayer is a process journeying deeper toward the central and secret chamber of your soul, where your prayer will become perfected and where the fullness of God dwells, the prayer of recollection is a method by which you begin to intentionally enter into yourself to be alone with God.

Practically speaking, this form of prayer is best accomplished, at first, by closing your eyes, ignoring all external senses, and searching for the King within. For example, you might try to imagine your soul as a beautiful castle, filled with jewels and gold. You might imagine the throne upon which God sits as your heart. You might then consider the decorations within this castle as your virtues. Through this interior recollection, you begin to not only encounter God, but you also begin to grow more fully in the knowledge of yourself as you ponder your sins and your virtues in the light of the great King.

As you gaze within, you might also want to take The Lord’s Prayer and say it to God very slowly, personally, intentionally, and with love. Or you might want to express your deepest struggles, fears, worries, and sin. You might then offer Him a litany of praise and thanksgiving. At first, you speak and listen. Then, when you are interiorly recollected, you simply sit there with the King and gaze at Him in love, not speaking, just loving Him with your will, passions, and whole soul. After many months of practice, this prayer will become a habit, and you will more easily walk through your day in an interiorly recollected state of mind.

Reflection: Are you able to speak to God in the depths of your soul? Are you attentive to His divine presence within you? Can you also see the many weaknesses you have—your sins, your temptations, your wounds, and your confusion? The interior of your soul is a glorious place to live, yet so many people never enter there. So many remain fully engaged with the world all around them and never take the time or make the effort to discover the world within. Are you one of those people?

The prayer of recollection must be learned, and it will only be learned by practicing it. Commit yourself to this journey. Find time every day to sit quietly in a prayerful place, close your eyes, and begin speaking to God. If it seems difficult to do, do it anyway. Continue to pray this way over and over. Look forward to that time of prayer every day. Build a habit of prayer in this way, and try to carry that habit into your daily life. Doing so is a necessary step to discovering the world within you that far surpasses anything this world has to offer.

My Lord and King, You live within me, dwelling in Your fullness in the most secret chamber of my soul. Please help me to turn my eyes toward You, intentionally, to speak to You, to hear Your voice, and to simply be with You. As I do, please help me to discover who I am and how I need to change. Help me to persevere in this form of prayer so that my entire day is recollected and centered on You.

Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.

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