Teresa of Avila, Worth Revisiting

Worth Revisiting:Praying with Teresa of Avila Part IV

What is it to experience a mystical union with God and is this only reserved for a select few?

No, as Teresa would be the first to point out, this unity and grace is available to each of us as fruits of our baptism. Yet, do we have the temperament and conditioning to sit and be still with God? Are there also external expressions to our spiritual union with God’s love to meet the challenges we see in the world today?

Led onward to the centermost dwelling place of the soul, Teresa describes a space filled with a “cloud of majestic splendor” and a beholding vision of the Trinity.[1] No longer are our senses suspended, and we come to understand “a most profound truth…that what we hold by faith, it understands, we can say, through sight”.[2] It is a perception of the presence of God always wedded within our soul, and a passion to serve our spouse faithfully.[3] Likewise, the little butterfly of our soul no longer is separate and restless, but has found its eternal rest in Christ.[4] There is awareness that whatever we do, even in daily routine, that a part of our soul, like Mary, remains at Christ’s feet. [5] Yet, there is also great humility in recognizing, the magnitude of the call to service and how minute our efforts seem to be. We come to understand, however, that in drawing our strength and joy from Christ all “fruits” of our labors are ‘pleasing and loved’ by God. [6] In this final dwelling place is where we finally discover Teresa, who began The Interior Castle at age 62, and had experienced for five years such a blessed spiritual union with Christ.[7]

While the intended audience for this text was the Carmelite sisterhood, I wonder if she ever conceived how well her experiences would later be received by those outside the walls of the convent…

That is not to say, that everyone will describe or understand this journey in quite the same way.  For, The Interior Castle is Teresa’s own “lived experience of faith” [8], a journey towards the mystery of the Trinity, revealed in Jesus and communicated within her very soul.[9] Yet, there is promise that through prayer and openness to God within that one can be transformed in Christ and that union is possible for those that are attentive to hearing God’s call. Teresa entreats us not to stand outside ourselves, but to be open and seek God deep within our “spiritual core”[10] Further, we are summoned to be attentive to the path of prayer and humility that leads to that “ultimate reality” of spiritual union with our Triune God.[11] For, it is through our trials that we are humbled, come to understand the suffering of Christ, and in times of dryness to desire to be near God all the more.

There is much consolation here in knowing that while Jesus suffered so greatly, that our own need for healing, and reconciliation is completely understood.

One of my most profound experiences of this came through the witness of our youth and their encounter with the Blessed Sacrament at conference one summer. As the Blessed Sacrament processed slowly, up and down the walkways of the convocation center, thousands of hands reached towards Him, as tears of contrition and joy flowed. Afterwards, our own group of girls resolutely committed themselves to reconciliation, despite the long lines, and the certainty of missing dinner. So, we sat in quiet fellowship together, thoroughly enjoying our bagged dinners, and preparing for that closeness with Christ again.  Likewise, it is in these moments of intimacy, peace, and joy that we also come to understand the desire to greatly live lives of service, “cry out and spread the news abroad about who this great God of hosts is”. [12]

Thus, Teresa’s journey reemphasizes that while there is an essential inner component to spiritual development that we cannot dwell only in the mystical. For, our lives were intended to give honor and praise to God by “striving to be the least and the slaves of all, looking at how and where you can please and serve” others.[13] This highlights Teresa’s dynamic discourse on humility and passion in understanding ourselves in ministry and in the midst of everyday realities. God’s magnificence and love shown through our suffering Lord leads us to humility, not just contrition, but in serving with passion the “great God who created our soul in His own image and likeness”.[14] So often I feel that spiritually we find difficulty reconciling humility and passion in our own lives, yet that is exactly what we witness in the life, ministry and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, we have come to know God, and of the great desire He has to draw all souls near to Him. Therefore, as Teresa beseeches let “this fire of love in you enkindle their souls, and with every other virtue you will be always awakening them”.[15]

Praise be to God, Amen.



[1] Avila, Teresa. The Interior Castle. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Introduction by Kieran Kavanaugh. Preface by Raimundo Panikkar. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979. p.175.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 179.
[5] Ibid., p. 176.
[6] Ibid., pp. 181,195.
[7] Kavanaugh, p. 16.
[8] Principe, Walter H., “Spirituality, Christian”. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Edited by Michael Downey. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993, p.932.
[9] Schneiders, Sandra M. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Edited by Michael Downey. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993, p.395.
[10] Cousins, Ewart. “Preface to the Series”, in Christian Spirituality I: Origins to the Twelfth Century. Edited by Bernard McGinn and John Meyendorf. New York: Crossroad, 1985. p. xiii).
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid., p.139.
[13] Avila, p.191.
[14] Ibid., p. 196.
[15]Ibid., p. 193.

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