Saint Teresa of Ávila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus, was born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada on March 28, 1515, in Ávila, Spain, to very faithful Catholic parents. She was baptized on April 4, 1515, at the parish church of Saint John the Baptist. Her father, Sánchez de Cepeda, had been married previously. He and his first wife, Catalina del Peso y Henao, had three children together, one daughter and two sons. After Catalina died, Sánchez married Beatriz Davila y Ahumada with whom he had nine children, seven boys and two girls. Teresa was the third child of her father’s second marriage. Including her three siblings from her father’s first marriage, Teresa had eleven siblings in all. 

Teresa’s parents formed her and her siblings well in the faith, taught them about the lives of the saints, and fostered within them devotion to our Blessed Mother. As a result of this good and holy upbringing, by age six or seven Teresa began to think seriously about her life of faith, desiring to become a saint and even a martyr. She was especially close to her brother, Rodrigo, who was four years older than her and also quite pious. Together, they would often read the lives of the saints. In 1522, when Rodrigo was eleven and Teresa was seven, they both had a desire to die a martyr’s death. One day they decided to travel into Muslim territory to achieve that end. However, on their way out of the city, their uncle met them as they crossed the bridge outside of the city gate and returned them to their parents. Teresa and her brother, still desirous of sanctity, later decided they would live as hermits. They tried to build hermitages near their home by piling up stones for a dwelling. But since they did not use cement, the stone walls fell and their hermitages were unable to be completed.

In 1528, when Teresa was only twelve, her mother died, leaving her quite heartbroken. Her mother had had a great influence on Teresa, and Teresa loved her dearly. When her mother died, Teresa chose to deepen her devotion to her Blessed Mother in Heaven, since her earthly mother was now gone.

Teresa’s mother had loved books on chivalry, knighthood, clothing, and gardens. Teresa also became fond of reading them, especially after her mother died. Teresa believed that these books never affected her mother’s virtue, but Teresa, being young and at a formative age, lamented later how much they harmed her. Her father never wanted her to read such books, so she would often read in secret. Though she kept up her life of virtue and goodness, she became increasingly aware of the ill effect that her reading was having.

For the first three years after her mother died, Teresa’s older sister cared for her at home. During that time, in addition to Teresa’s growing interest in her reading, she became very close to one of her cousins. That particular cousin was very worldly and loved to tell stories that were far from virtuous. Her mother used to keep a close eye on her when Teresa’s cousin was around, but after her mother had passed, this cousin became more influential. At one point, over a period of a few months, Teresa and her cousin spent much time together, gossiping and speaking about many worldly matters. Though Teresa worked hard to keep her virtue strong, the influence of her cousin slowly did her much damage. In 1531 she revealed these struggles to her older brother and father, and they sent her to the nearby convent boarding school, Our Lady of Grace, where she could have the good influence of the nuns. At the same time, Teresa’s older sister, who took care of her, married and moved out of the family home.

Teresa moved into the boarding school when she was sixteen years old. The first eight days at the monastery were very difficult for her as she slowly turned her mind back to God and away from the worldly ideas of chivalry, romance and fancy clothing. She greatly feared that the sisters would discover how worldly she had become over the previous three years, which caused her much distress. But after the first eight days, she began to return to her pursuit of virtue, her peace of heart returned, and she once again began to desire to be a saint. The nuns were a great blessing to her, and she was most grateful for their holy influence. She especially became close to one nun with whom she would have long conversations about holy matters. This deepened Teresa’s desire for God, and a life of holiness to an even greater degree. She began to think about being a nun but fought that desire out of fear. She was conflicted. When she did consider the religious life, she decided that if it were to be her vocation, she would look into another convent that one of her close friends had joined.

In 1532, after remaining in the monastery for a year and a half, Teresa departed because of a serious illness. However, she was now more prepared to remain firmly grounded in her life of faith, understood how important good friendships were, and had discovered how dangerous worldly ones were. Upon leaving the convent, she went to her sister’s house to be cared for. She also spent time at her uncle’s home. Both Teresa’s sister and her uncle were great influences on her, and she continued to grow in virtue and in a desire to embrace the will of God.

After returning home, Teresa spent about three months struggling with the idea of becoming a nun. She knew it was the safest road for her to travel but was fearful of the decision, and the devil did all he could to convince her she could never be a good nun. This interior battle she endured ended with her firm resolve to become a nun. However, when she told her father about this desire, he strongly opposed it. He was not going to allow his most beloved daughter to depart from him. 

At the age of twenty, despite opposition from her father, Teresa and her brother Rodrigo decided to enter religious life. They left in the early morning without anyone else knowing. Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Ávila on November 2, 1535. She recalls that the decision was quite painful for her. She had to fight her feelings about leaving her father and family behind, but she knew that it was what God wanted. Once she entered the convent, she realized that persevering through that painful decision was exactly what God wanted, and her resolve brought peace to her heart.

After making her first profession of vows a year later, Sister Teresa became quite ill and remained ill for a few years. She eventually contracted a muscle disorder that caused her partial paralysis and excruciating pain. At one point, she lay in a coma for four days and was thought to be dead. During her illness, she spent time recovering at her sister’s home, stopping also at her uncle’s. Her uncle gave her a book on a particular method of prayer called “the prayer of recollection,” and this book became one of her greatest treasures. After returning to the Convent of the Incarnation, she consumed that book and began practicing the prayer of recollection, which was a method of seeking the presence of God within her own soul. Sister Teresa grew deep in prayer, experiencing what mystics have called “the prayer of quiet” and even “the prayer of union” at times. Her continuous physical pain became a foundation for her prayer, and during those many months of solitude and suffering, her daily practice of prayer brought forth great fruit. In 1542, she miraculously recovered from her paralysis and attributed her recovery to the intercession of Saint Joseph. After Sister Teresa recovered, her father became ill. She took care of him until he died, and she then returned to the monastery in 1543, then in her late twenties.

For the next ten years of her religious life, Sister Teresa lived a very ordinary life, not advancing much in prayer. She confesses that she spent more time conversing with the villagers about worldly matters than she did in prayer. However, in her late thirties, Sister Teresa experienced what might be called her “second conversion.” In 1554, she was passing by a statue of Christ crucified and suddenly was overwhelmed by this image. She was so moved by grace that she encountered the gift of tears. Soon afterward, she read a copy of The Confessions of Saint Augustine. This book had a profound impact on her, for she realized that this great saint was also a sinner. She became convinced that holiness was attainable since she, too, was a sinner. She was especially touched by the following lines, which became a foundation for much of her teaching:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace (Confessions: Book 10: 27).

Augustine helped her to understand that God was within her and that she was avoiding the mystical journey to Him within. Over the next few years, Sister Teresa’s life began to change dramatically. Her prayer deepened, and she experienced many ecstasies and visions.

Sister Teresa’s depth of prayer also became publicly known. At times, the sisters would see her caught up in ecstasy for lengthy periods of time. They would even see instances when she elevated off the ground in the chapel. Some sisters thought her ecstasies, visions, and other mystical experiences were the work of the devil. When the townspeople also learned of these many mystical experiences, Teresa became increasingly a topic of gossip and ridicule. In addition to the sisters and others in the town doubting her, Sister Teresa doubted herself. She was worried that the devil was behind these mystical experiences, so she sought out several well-known priests to be her spiritual directors. After a thorough examination of her soul by some of the most respected spiritual directors of the time, it was determined that Sister Teresa’s experiences were all from God. This gave her much peace and eventually convinced many of the other sisters that they were living with a saint.


Sister Teresa of Jesus the Reformer

As Sister Teresa of Jesus began to enter more deeply into her second conversion, she became increasingly aware of the lukewarmness of her own convent, as well as the many other Carmelite convents throughout Spain. Instead of being places of deep prayer, mortification, and recollection, she saw worldliness, comforts, and a lack of prayer. Because the convent was an important part of the town, many of the locals would frequent the convent, and many of the sisters would spend excessive time socializing in town. She knew that the prevailing disciplines of her monastery would never enable the sisters to enter deeply into the life of divine union to which they were called. As a result, God began to direct her to engage in a reform of the Carmelite Order.

In 1562, Sister Teresa founded the convent of Saint Joseph in Ávila. After gaining episcopal approval and then papal approval, she moved into her new convent in 1563, taking on the role of mother superior and the title of Mother Teresa. For the next five years, she spent most of her time in prayer and writing. She wrote not only new constitutions that governed the reformed Carmelite convent, but she also wrote her book The Way of Perfection, in which she offered clear lessons to her sisters about the journey to holiness they were to embark on.  In her constitutions, she returned the order to practices such as severe penances, prayer, solitude, strict poverty, and separation from the world. Among their penances was the practice of going without shoes, which is why they are called the “Discalced” Carmelites, meaning “without shoes.”

In 1567, Mother Teresa received permission from the Carmelite general, Rubeo de Ravenna, to begin founding more convents according to the rule she and her sisters had adopted at Saint Joseph. Thus, over the next several years, she founded convents throughout Spain, in Medina del Campo, Malagón, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes. This required much travel. From 1571–1575, she would also found convents in Segovia, Beas de Segura, Seville, and Caravaca de la Cruz. In all, she founded seventeen convents.

Mother Teresa also received permission to found two monasteries for men. With the help of her new spiritual director, Saint John of the Cross, they started a new monastery of Discalced Carmelite brothers in 1568 at Duruelo and one in Pastrana in 1569.

Mother Teresa’s work was not, however, well received by everyone. In 1576, members of the unreformed Carmelites had a general chapter meeting and voted that Mother Teresa should stop all reforms and retreat into “retirement.” She returned to her convent in Toledo and remained there until King Phillip II of Spain directly intervened.

Tensions remained high among the Carmelites, despite the many permissions Teresa received. The unreformed Carmelites continued to oppose Teresa’s reforms until 1578, when the pope decreed the two to be separate provinces, eliminating the power struggles between them. In 1594, twelve years after Teresa’s death, the two provinces were declared separate orders, ending the tensions for good.

On September 19, 1582, Mother Teresa of Jesus took one final trip to the Convent of the Annunciation in Alba de Tormes, Spain, which she had founded in 1571. Shortly after her arrival, she became seriously ill. She died fifteen days after her arrival on October 4, 1582, and it is there where she was buried.

Nine months after her death, Mother Teresa’s body was exhumed and was found to be incorrupt. Her body was exhumed once again in 1585 and was once again found to be incorrupt. Her body was then transferred to Ávila for burial where it remained for less than a year when Pope Sixtus V, at the request of the Duke of Alba de Tormes, ordered her body be returned to her place of death. Saint Teresa remains buried in that convent today.

After Mother Teresa’s death, her newly founded convents continued to thrive, and her writings became widely known. On April 24, 1614, Pope Paul V declared Teresa to be “Blessed.” In 1617 she was named the Patroness of Spain by the Spanish parliament. Pope Gregory XV canonized her as a saint in 1622, and she was proclaimed the first female Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.


Her Writings

Sister Teresa was not only a prolific reader, but she was also a prolific writer. She authored four major books, several minor works, at least thirty-one poems, and at least 458 letters that still exist. Her writings are summarized as follows:

Her Major Works:

The Book of Her Life—An autobiography of Saint Teresa of Jesus. Completed in 1565.

The Way of Perfection—Written for her sisters after the reform began, to teach them about prayer and contemplation. Completed in 1566.

The Book of Her Foundations—A detailed account of her work of founding new convents and her reform of the Carmelite Order. Began writing in 1573 and completed it in 1582.

Interior Castle—A book written toward the end of her life to depict the entire journey from mortal sin to the “Second Heaven” of Spiritual Marriage. Written in 1577, revised in 1580.

Her Minor Works:

Spiritual Testimonies—A compilation of minor writings from 1565 until her death.

Meditations on the Song of Songs—c.1566

The Constitutions—Approved in 1567. These were the rules for daily living in her reformed convents.

Soliloquies—Written in 1569.

Response to a Spiritual Challenge—Written in 1572.

On Making the Visitation—Written in 1576.

A Satirical Critique—Written in 1576.

Poetry—Written at various times throughout her life. Thirty-one poems have survived, and she likely wrote many more.

Letters—Written between 1546 to 1577. At least 468 letters survived. It is believed that many thousands of her letters did not.


The Prayer of “The Interior Castle”

This book, The Interior Journey Toward God: Reflections from Saint Teresa of Ávila, attempts to take what many believe is Saint Teresa’s greatest work, The Interior Castle, and break it down into successive lessons, reflections, and prayers. Each lesson is drawn from St. Teresa’s writings and seeks not only to explain each particular teaching concisely but also to help you, the reader, to apply the content to your own life.

As a way of better preparing yourself to begin the lessons in The Interior Castle, it will be helpful, in summary form, to first understand the various stages and types of prayer that have been taught not only by Saint Teresa but also in the wider tradition of our Church.

The teachings of Saint Teresa and other saints on the practice of prayer can be simplified into two general categories, with various subcategories within each of the broader categories. For the sake of clarity, the two broader categories we will use are the following: 1) active prayer; 2) passive prayer.

Active Prayer: Active prayer is generally defined as any prayer that begins with our effort and ends in God. During active prayer, you, the primary actor, choose to use your human effort to love God in prayer. This is done by engaging your intellect, will, passions, emotions, and even your body in the worship of God. Though this is the prayer for all beginners in prayer, this form of prayer must forever be part of a person’s daily worship of God, to one extent or another. The more you grow in your life of prayer, however, and the deeper you enter into the Interior Castle of your soul, the less central active prayer will become as it gives way to passive prayer. 

Though there are many methods of active prayer taught by the saints and found in the tradition of the Church, for the sake of simplicity and clarity, we will touch on the following forms of active prayer in more detail: vocal prayer, mental prayer, and active recollection.

Vocal Prayer: According to Saint Teresa, vocal prayer is not actually prayer unless it is accompanied by meditation. What she means is that saying prayers aloud is not prayer unless one truly understands, means, and engages the prayer being spoken with all the powers of your soul. That is, the vocal prayer being spoken must be comprehended with the mind, chosen with the will, and expressed with the passions and emotions. In vocal prayer, the body is also used by speaking the prayer aloud.

One form of vocal prayer is found in sacred music. By placing sacred words to music, the soul is more easily able to comprehend those words, express them with passion, and choose them with the will. Many of the great songs of praise within the Catholic tradition lend themselves to this form of prayer. For example, consider the Gloria that is used at Mass. This beautiful prayer, when accompanied by music, helps one to intentionally and willfully glorify God with the angels and saints, using all the powers of the soul. Of course, it is possible to sing that prayer at Mass without engaging it and in a distracted way. When that happens, it is not true prayer. But when you pray or sing that prayer and truly engage it with all the power of your soul, then you are engaging in vocal prayer as it is intended. Though the Liturgy is also an action of Christ in which we participate, it includes vocal prayer. As a side note, the Liturgy also has the potential to be prayed in a very passive and contemplative way when God draws you into the Liturgy that way.

Today, many new forms of contemporary Christian music are focused on the worship of God. Many of these songs have the potential of helping you with vocal prayer. With the presence of modern electronics, you can listen to these songs as you drive, sit at home or at church or in some other place, such as a prayer meeting with others. 

Vocal prayer is meant to engage not only the mind, will, emotions and passions, it is also meant to engage the body by speaking the prayer aloud. Perhaps you will stand for that prayer, be it a song or some other recited prayer, or perhaps you will kneel. You might recite the rosary with others, participate in the Mass, join in the Liturgy of the Hours, or simply stand and sing or speak to God on your own, in the solitude of your home or another private place.

Vocal prayer is always a good way to start your time of prayer with God. It might be helpful to recite some hymn or perhaps use the song of the angels in Heaven as recorded in the Book of Revelation when you begin to pray, speaking aloud: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come…Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created” (Revelation 4:8–11).

The bottom line is that vocal prayer is essential to every Christian’s life of prayer. It is a way of intentionally engaging not only your mind and will in prayer, but also your body through your posture and the use of your voice.

Mental Prayer: Mental prayer is the practice of actively engaging your mind with the mysteries of faith for a prolonged period. Though Saint Teresa says that vocal prayer must also be accompanied by meditation, we distinguish mental prayer from vocal prayer because mental prayer will not usually be spoken aloud.

Mental prayer is often referred to as meditation. However, the term “mental prayer” is more broadly used to encompass various forms of active interior engagement with the mysteries of our faith.

One of the most common forms of mental prayer takes place when you try to meditate upon some passage of Scripture, a well-written prayer, or some doctrine of our faith. For example, you might choose the passage of the birth of Christ and read it slowly, pondering every word, trying to penetrate the scene with your imagination. In this case, you might try to look at the scene as an observer, noticing all that took place in that scene. From there, your meditation might turn to more of a simple gaze of love on that scene. Instead of trying to comprehend the mystery of the birth of Christ, you might simply imagine the scene and, with your will, gaze with loving adoration. Other methods of Scriptural meditation include trying to hear the sounds, smell the animals, experience the emotions of Joseph and Mary, and enter the scene as if you were there at that moment.

Mental prayer may also be done by choosing to engage some beautifully written prayer and making it your own. For example, Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote a beautiful prayer that goes to the heart of surrender. That prayer is as follows:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I have and possess.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is Yours;
do with it what You will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace.
That’s enough for me.

Mental prayer is accomplished by praying this or similar prayers slowly and intentionally, considering each word in detail, trying to intend and will the meaning of this prayer, and doing so with great zeal. You might start with only the first two words and say them over and over in your mind: “Take, Lord…Take, Lord…Take, Lord…”

Mental prayer may also use various images for meditation. For example, you might choose to close your eyes and imagine Christ on His throne in Heaven, or ponder the Lord saying to you, “Be not afraid.” You might also gaze with love at the crucifix or at the Holy Eucharist, pondering the hidden presence of Christ, or reflect upon the grace of forgiveness you received in a recent confession.

Though there are many ways to engage in mental prayer, the key is that you engage in the various mysteries of our faith using your reasoning abilities, imagination, and even your will. You seek to comprehend, ponder, gaze with love, surrender, and worship God through intentional and interior acts.

One last thing to mention about meditation is that, even though it is primarily an “active” form of prayer that we engage in by our own choice, it is also a prayer that must be inspired by God. This means that as you become active in the daily practice of mental prayer, you might sense God pointing you to certain meditations, prayers, or Scripture passages. Thus, it must be understood that this active form of meditation must also be inspired and directed by God. Following these promptings of the Holy Spirit will help to deepen this form of prayer.

Active Recollection: The Prayer of Active Recollection is taught by Saint Teresa in the second dwelling places and also in her book The Way of Perfection. This form of prayer can also be considered a form of mental prayer since it is a new way of meditating. But it is mentioned specifically here because this method of meditation was very important to Saint Teresa.

Saint Teresa began to excel in this form of prayer when her uncle gave her a book called The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Fray Francisco de Osuna. Active recollection is especially useful as you learn the lessons taught in The Interior Castle, because the central premise of Teresa’s teaching is that God dwells within the soul, and the way to enter into union with God is by entering into our own souls, journeying through various dwelling places to arrive at the central chamber where the King resides.

Active recollection is begun by closing your eyes and looking within. You attempt to ignore the outside world, intentionally ignoring your senses. As you do, you look for the King as He resides within the castle of your soul. You look for Him, call to Him, converse with Him, pour out your troubles to Him, love Him, and gaze at Him. Saint Teresa says that as you do this, it can be useful to speak the words of the “Our Father” to Him very slowly and with love, being attentive to every word of that prayer. Since it is He Who dwells within you, speaking that prayer to Him is an act of loving adoration and trust.

Active recollection might also include seeing your sins as you journey within yourself. As you do, you feel sorrow for those sins and personally express that sorrow with a firm purpose of amendment. The key to this prayer is to journey to God Who lives within the center of your soul. As you do, you will grow in self-knowledge as you come face to face with your weaknesses and sins. You will grow in an awareness of the beauty and dignity of your soul since you are more aware of the fact that God dwells within you. You will grow in a desire to love God and never offend Him. All of these realizations will help you enter deeper and deeper where Your loving God dwells.

The prayer of active recollection is also something that must become such a habit that you practice it throughout the day. Thus, by intensely and intentionally entering into yourself to be with God through moments of solitude and prayer, you will more easily be able to continue that recollected state as you go about the duties of your day.

Summary of “Active” Prayer: Active prayer begins with us, with our free choice and intention, and then focuses on God and has its end in God. Though this form of prayer does require the inspiration of God, at the heart of this prayer is the intentional choice to engage the mysteries of God. God is always speaking. He is always calling to us and drawing us to Himself. When He does speak, those who engage in active prayer respond by choosing to use all the powers of their souls to engage the presence of God. This is done by vocal prayer, meditations, ponderings, and by intentionally recollecting ourselves so as to lovingly begin the journey toward Him Who dwells within.

Passive Prayer:  Passive prayer is different from active prayer in that this form of prayer begins with God and ends in us. It is not primarily something we choose to do. Passive prayer, by its very nature, is not something we can choose to do on our own. It requires more than a simple inspiration from God. It requires God to be the primary actor in our souls. For our part, we simply act as passive recipients of this prayer, submitting to the action God chooses to do within us.

Passive prayer is most commonly referred to as “infused contemplation.” Like active prayer, there are various ways that infused contemplation is experienced within the soul, since there are various ways that God actively directs you in this state of prayer. Note that in this prayer it is now God Who “actively” directs you. It is not you who “actively” directs your prayer.

Passive prayer, or the prayer of infused contemplation, is experienced in countless ways. God will act upon each of us in the way that He chooses and in the way that is best for each one of us. In speaking about the various ways that God does this, Saint Teresa shares the following forms of contemplative prayer, which appear to be primarily from her own experience: passive recollection, the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, betrothal, and Spiritual Marriage. Again, it must be understood that these descriptions, though common to many, are primarily descriptions of how Saint Teresa experienced these passive forms of prayer as she grew closer and closer to the central Dwelling Place of her soul and entered into Spiritual Marriage. Though everyone’s experience of these forms of prayer will differ, they do act as a very useful guide for all.

Passive Recollection: The prayer of passive recollection is similar to active recollection. The difference is that in passive recollection, God directly acts upon the soul and draws it into itself in silent recollection. The intellect and imagination are not fully at rest during this infused prayer, but the will begins to be captivated by God, and the exterior world around it begins to easily be ignored. In this prayer, we gaze more easily at God Who calls to us from within, filling the will with deep love and attentiveness. When God infuses this prayer into your soul, you involuntarily close your eyes and enter an inner solitude with God. The mind might notice what is happening, but permits this gentle retreat within.

The Prayer of Quiet: This prayer is also called the prayer of spiritual consolations. This prayer, when it is infused by God, primarily affects the will. During this prayer, the intellect is also at rest, though it can think and ponder on what is happening. A great love of God is produced within the will and great spiritual delights are encountered there because the will experiences, for the first time, a real possession of God. This prayer can go on for long periods, even as you go about your daily duties. However, during this prayer, you are drawn to silence and solitude since you enjoy the possession of your will so immensely. Some of the fruits received from this prayer are great liberty of spirit, holy fear of God and great care not to offend him, profound confidence in God, love of mortification and suffering for God, deep humility by growth in self-knowledge, disdain for worldly pleasures, and growth in all the virtues.

The Prayer of Union: This mystical state of prayer usually lasts for no longer than a half-hour. During this prayer, all the faculties of the soul are asleep, meaning the intellect, memory, imagination, and will are all so completely caught up in God that you seem to have died to this world and everything in it. You do not think, cannot recall images, but can only remain there absorbed in God. This is a sort of “delicious death” you temporarily experience. When the soul awakes from this sleep of the faculties, you are left in amazement about what just took place. The soul is in awe of God and remains forever grateful for this divine encounter.

Betrothal: Sometimes also called “conforming union,” betrothal is the final stage of infused passive prayer experienced before Spiritual Marriage. Betrothal is not a permanent state of union with God but is analogous to one who is engaged to their future spouse and spends much time with that person preparing for marriage. Since the Betrothed is God Himself, the “engagement” becomes an incredibly intense time of final preparation. Though Teresa clearly states that mystical experience is not necessary to walk through this level of union with God, she shares at length some of the many experiences one might have during this state of prayer. Among the various experiences, one might experience the following: ecstasies (also called raptures and trances), flight of the spirit, spiritual impulses, spiritual woundings, excessive tears, a profound awareness of sin, levitations, locutions, and visions. During these experiences, not only are all the internal faculties of the soul caught up in God, but even the external bodily faculties are suspended. You are unaware of what is happening outside of you since you are completely immersed in the very soul of God. The only thing left is for this encounter to become a permanent state that will take place in Spiritual Marriage.

Spiritual Marriage: Sometimes also called Transforming Union, Spiritual Marriage is when the soul enters the bridal chamber with the Beloved and remains with Him forever. Saint John of the Cross believed this to be a permanent state, just as earthly marriage is indissoluble. Saint Teresa appears to agree but cautions the soul in this state to always be on guard. In this state of prayer, since the Beloved is now fully possessed, there is no longer any need for ecstasy or other mystical experiences. All the faculties of the body and soul are centered in God, and you walk always in union with God. You have a new zeal for the will of God, to suffer for Him, to save souls, and to forgive and love others with supernatural strength. You completely forget about yourself and concern yourself only with God. This state of prayer is like entering a “second Heaven” that will only be surpassed by the Beatific Vision Itself.

Summary of “Passive” Prayer: Passive prayer originates in God and ends in us. It is God’s action on the soul; we are only willing participants. This form of infused contemplation cannot be forced. If it is, you will only end up in self-deception with a false experience of self-generated nothingness. All forms of passive-infused prayer take place within us purely at the command of God. This infused prayer begins slowly, continues to transform the soul by silencing every faculty of the body and soul, then allows the soul to emerge transformed in body and spirit, fully united to the Beloved in a permanent state of Spiritual Marriage. This union is what we are all called to in this life, and it is something we must all anticipate and surrender to if God so chooses to bestow it as we dispose ourselves to receive it.


Final Introductory Thoughts

Those reading this book are most likely very interested in growing in the spiritual life. Of course, that is a good desire. The best thing to remember as you read through these pages and learn the lessons taught by Saint Teresa is that the sole purpose of this spiritual journey is to become completely conformed to the Person of Christ. As you read the many mystical experiences described by Saint Teresa, you might experience temptations to desire these mystical experiences for yourself. You might even falsely presume you have experienced or are experiencing them. This could be a great mistake. Over and over again, Teresa warns her sisters not to seek out mystical experiences at all. Instead, they are to seek out God and God alone. Holiness does not consist of mystical experiences; it consists of conformity to the will of God. Those who are overly attracted to the mystical experiences that some people have as their prayer deepens often are prone to false and self-generated experiences that come from their own imagination or even from the evil one. Therefore, heed Teresa’s advice throughout when she warns of the desire for mystical experiences.

A second important foundational premise to remember as you read through her teachings is that arrival at the Seventh Dwelling Place is a very long process. Teresa herself did not experience this final gift of Spiritual Marriage until very late in her life, after decades of fervent prayer. Therefore, most people reading this book will benefit most from the first three chapters. If you are using this book for spiritual growth, then don’t be afraid to continue reading the lessons of those first three chapters for as long as is necessary. If you do, however, begin to experience what appears to be the passive prayer of infused contemplation, then use the lessons of the fourth and succeeding chapters for guidance. Also remember that a good, holy, and smart spiritual director is exceptionally helpful in those latter dwelling places. For most people, reading and reflecting upon the lessons of the fourth dwelling places and beyond will primarily serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement, and hope that those graces will one day be yours.

Saint Teresa of Jesus, you were a daughter of the Church, a humble servant of God, a reformer, a mystic, and a great beacon of light for all. Please pray for me as I prayerfully reflect upon the lessons you have taught. Through your intercession, may I discover the presence of God Who dwells within me, journeying ever deeper to the center of my soul where the Great King resides. Saint Teresa of Jesus, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.

Table of Contents

Share this Page: