Book Review by Cameron Daly of St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle”

(Originally published on the class blog for Prof. Heather Voccola’s Church History course, at https://voccola.blogspot.com/2017/.)

St. Teresa of Avila Stained Glass Image

Photo credit: User:Donisecz of Wikimedia Commons

One important thing to know about St. Teresa of Avila is that she was (and, being a saint, still is) even more awesome than this beautiful stained-glass image of her. She was a fourteenth-century Carmelite nun of strong faith who “made significant contributions during the Catholic Reformation”[1] (a revitalization that resounded throughout the Catholic Church as, at least in part, a reaction to the Protestant Reformation[2]). “In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church for her writing and teaching on prayer.”[3] What an honor it is, then, to be reviewing her book The Interior Castle, which has prayer as one of its primary foci[4] and is probably one of the works that led to her receiving such a title.

Yet, Teresa herself never would have predicted that. Quite the contrary, she made it clear that she thought her book would be of use to no one beyond the bounds of her convent, her fellow nuns being those for whom the book was originally intended[5] (something I did not know before I began The Interior Castle, but which did not keep me from learning from it). As she put it, “the idea that any one else could benefit by what I say would be absurd.”[6]

This is just one example of her incredible humility as it’s manifested in The Interior Castle. I mean, it’s not often that you see an author tell her audience such things as how “stupid” or “very ignorant” she thinks she is[7]; but at the same time, it’s probably not often that you read an author as humble as Teresa of Avila.

The main premise of the book is to outline the steps of the spiritual journey of the soul by analogizing each of these steps with sets of mansions that the soul progressively lives in. These range from the first mansions, which contain people “still absorbed in the world, immersed in its pleasures, and eager for its honours and distinctions,” and who “possess little strength for self-defence,”[8] to the seventh mansions, which contain those who experience—to some degree—“divine and spiritual nuptials.”[9]

Teresa also recounted the effects of being in these mansions, the various trials, favors, attitudes, and forms of mystical prayer that will come upon a person as she (remember, this was written for her fellow nuns) progresses through them. Some of these can seem rather unsettling, especially when it comes to “dryness,”[10] having one’s friends turn on one,[11] and spiritual pain.[12] Yet, these things should not deter a person from pursuing progression through the mansions. Teresa reports that, in the seventh mansion, God will at times allow people to feel what it’s like to be back in prior mansions—that is, to feel the difference between the past and the present—and to realize how much worse off they were back in those stages. “[T]hese persons learn what benefits they derive from the holy Company they are in.”[13] No matter what trials it might entail, it is unquestionably better to have developed the closeness to God and the aversion to sin found in the later mansions than to have stayed put in the earlier ones.[14]

Of course, there is one potential issue I would like to point out in the theory of step-by-step spiritual progression. While it might make sense to apply it very generally to any number of people, it’s also important to keep in mind that 1) all people are different, and 2) God has the exact same plan for no two people. My point is, one cannot expect these steps to produce exactly the same effects in any two people. Sometimes, Teresa might edge towards applying such effects too specifically to too many individuals; for instance, when she says of those in the seventh mansions:

If [God] would have [a person in the seventh mansions] suffer, she is content; if not, she does not torment herself to death about it as she used to do. She feels a great interior joy when persecuted, and is far more peaceful than in the former state under such circumstances: she bears no grudge against her enemies, nor wishes them any ill. Indeed she has a special love for them, is deeply grieved at seeing them in trouble, and does all she can to relieve them, earnestly interceding with God on their behalf. She would be glad to forfeit the favours His Majesty shows her, if they might be given to her enemies instead, to prevent their offending our Lord.[15]

Could not these things also be the case for some of those in earlier mansions? Perhaps they’re more likely in the seventh mansions, but aren’t they possible in earlier ones? Obviously, all are called to love their enemies, regardless of their varying levels of spirituality—and I would think that some in lower levels would be truly capable of this. However, it’s important to note that Teresa does take differences between particular people into account, such as in her discussion of the sixth mansions, where she states that certain “particular graces are not granted to everybody, [so] any one who receives them should esteem them highly and strive to serve God more zealously.”[16]

Something that really struck me in The Interior Castle was the notion of, as I mentioned above, spiritual agony. This is also covered in the section on the sixth mansions. Here’s an excerpt from Teresa’s description of it:

This is a trance of the senses and faculties except as regards what helps to make the agony more intense. The understanding realizes acutely what cause there is for grief in separation from God and His Majesty now augments this sorrow by a vivid manifestation of Himself. This increases the anguish to such a degree that the sufferer gives vent to loud cries which she cannot stifle, however patient and accustomed to pain she may be, because this torture is not corporal but attacks the innermost recesses of the soul. The person I speak of learnt from this how much more acutely the spirit is capable of suffering than the body; she understood that this resembled the pains of purgatory, where the absence of the flesh does not prevent the torture’s being far worse than any we can feel in this world.[17]

This is a very powerful reminder of what those in Purgatory and, worse still, those in hell experience (hell being even worse torture than Purgatory[18]). For practical purposes, it shows why one will want to spend as little time as possible in Purgatory and avoid hell at all costs.

One way to work towards this end is to pray; for as Teresa points out, “prayer is a necessity to prevent us from constantly falling into temptation.”[19] But a person can’t pray mindlessly. Another very important point she brings up is that “if it is prayer at all, the mind must take part in it. If a person neither considers to Whom he is addressing himself, what he asks, nor what he is who ventures to speak to God, although his lips may utter many words, I do not call it prayer.”[20]

Though at times it may go off-topic or become a bit confusing (as Teresa herself points out[21]),The Interior Castle overall isn’t too difficult to follow. While strict adherence to the entire proposed method of spiritual progression may not be practical for all people (for instance, though everyone should obviously all strive to grow as much as they can spiritually, days of being wiped out from spiritual trials[22] may not work well for those trying to raise small children; such people have another duty), it could certainly be useful for those who have been called to religious life and can educate most anyone about the Catholic spiritual life.

There are various ways to read or listen to this book. Following are three links to it: the first to a PDF copy provided by Documenta Catholica Omnia, which I’ve chosen to reference here; the second to the chapter-by-chapter copy at Christian Classics Ethereal Library; and the third to the first part of a YouTube playlist of audio-recorded parts of The Interior Castle amounting to the entirety of it (which is what I myself used to listen to the book).

http://documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1515-1582,_Teresa_d%27Avila,_The_Interior_Castle_Of_The_Mansions,_EN.pdf

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2.toc.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-ZqQD4F-4s

 

 

[1] John Vidmar, OP, The Catholic Church through the Ages: A History, Kindle edition.

[2] see Alan Schreck. Ph.D., The Compact History of the Catholic Church, revised ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2009), 78-79.

[3] “St. Teresa of Avila,” at Catholic Online (25 April 2017), at http://www.catholic.org.

[4] see St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, ed. Benedict Zimmerman and transcribed by John Bruno Hare (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 15, at Documenta Catholica Omnia (29 April 2017), at documentacatholicaomnia.eu.

[5] see Teresa, Interior Castle, 15-16.

[6] Teresa, Interior Castle, 16.

[7] Teresa, Interior Castle, 40, 44.

[8] Teresa, Interior Castle, 23.

[9] Teresa, Interior Castle, 120.

[10] Teresa, Interior Castle, 71.

[11] see Teresa, Interior Castle, 69.

[12] see Teresa, Interior Castle, 112.

[13] Teresa, Interior Castle, 128.

[14] cf. Teresa, Interior Castle, 29-30.

[15] Teresa, Interior Castle, 124.

[16] Teresa, Interior Castle, 102.

[17] Teresa, Interior Castle, 112.

[18] see Teresa, Interior Castle, 113.

[19] Teresa, Interior Castle, 30. cf. “Origen on Prayer: Chapter XIX: And Bring Us Not Into Temptation but Deliver Us From Evil,” at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (29 April 2017), at www.ccel.org.

[20] Teresa, Interior Castle, ref. Way of Perf. ch. xxi. 6; xxix. 4.

[21] see Teresa, Interior Castle, 43, 34.

[22] see Teresa, Interior Castle, 112.

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Can You Afford to Miss Mass?—by Cameron Daly

Sadly, there are a number of Catholics who don’t want to go to Mass. Even more sadly, there are also a number of Catholics who don’t go to Mass. Other than those who can’t go due to legitimate obligations or problems, most of these Catholics probably either a) don’t understand what really goes on at Mass, or b) don’t appreciate what goes on at Mass. At the very least, I hope to help you to understand the central part of the Mass, and why it’s so important to be present for it; from there, you might come to appreciate it … but that part rests more on your contemplation of God’s love.

Okay, so the first thing to understand is that the Catholic Church teaches that a Catholic who misses Sunday Mass without a legitimate reason has done something that is grave matter (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2181). This means that, if the Catholic does this freely and with knowledge of its being grave matter, that Catholic commits a mortal sin (see CCC, 1856-1857), which “turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude” (CCC, 1855)–and thus turns him away from his own salvation.

image

Stuff’s getting serious here.

But why? Why is it such a big deal to not go to church for an hour on Sunday? Isn’t that a little much, to be severed from salvation for something seemingly so small? (And isn’t that alliteration really lame?)

Quite the contrary! It may seem surprising, but this is actually a very realistic consequence; for it really is exactly what people who miss Sunday Mass are choosing for themselves….

In order to make sense of this, I must finally come to my point. Now consider this: when the Eucharist is offered at the altar, Christ’s sacrifice occurs right there before the congregation. Now please don’t misunderstand that: it doesn’t mean that Jesus is re-sacrificed. What it means is that His one, eternal sacrifice for each of us is re-presented at Mass. The same eternal sacrifice occurs right then at the altar just as it occurred all those years ago on Calvary. (See CCC, 1366-1367).

St. Joseph's Altar (Watermarked)

This is a downright amazing thing. But why is it so important to be there for it?

Think of it this way: if a Catholic refuses to go to Mass, he refuses to go to Christ’s sacrifice, which is one of the very most central parts of his faith, the offering that frees him from the powers of death and sin. Refusing to go to something is the same as staying away from something; thus, the Catholic who stays away from Mass stays away from Christ’s sacrifice. Staying away from Christ’s sacrifice means staying away from that which makes it possible for one to be granted salvation. What more direct way could there be to cut oneself off from salvation? A guy can try to do all the good works he wants; but if he stays away from Christ’s sacrifice, he willingly chooses to stay away from the very source of his hope of salvation.

Of course, since the Catholic Church offers Mass every day except for Good Friday, one might ask why it’s only required to attend Mass on Sunday instead of every day.

There’s no question that weekday Masses re-present the same sacrifice as Sunday Masses; but Sunday itself is different. Not only does it deal with another of the greatest aspects of the Catholic faith–Christ’s Resurrection–but it also represents the hope of a new creation; that is, the eighth day of creation, following God’s rest on the seventh day, the eighth day being when He makes all things anew and glorifies them, when He truly will make man God (see CCC, 2174, 460). This is His plan for all those who are saved; thus, this too is something we cannot afford to turn our backs on.

Perhaps you could think of all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, then, as pertaining to events we can’t afford to miss out on. That isn’t to say that all of the events these days celebrate are re-presented in the way Christ’s sacrifice is through the Eucharist, but rather that the events behind them—like Christ’s sacrifice, and along with it in God’s plan—all pertain in a special way to our salvation. These events, then, are not optional for those Catholics want to be spared the eternal torment of hell; hence why it’s mandatory for Catholics to participate in their celebrations on the Holy Days signifying them.

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“Mary, O Mary,” by Grace Marie

R-20100928-0010.jpg

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Mary, O Mary

 

“Mary, O Mary,

Why are you weeping?

What cause, O Magdalene,

These tears?

Do you forget

The signs and wonders

He did for you

Throughout the years?

 

“See, O See:

The red dawn rises;

The sign of triumph-

Of victory won.

Do not let

The ache of yesterday

Shut out this,

The rising sun.

 

“Mary, O dear one,

Turn from this place.

Why confront the tomb

This way?

He is not there,

Nor can you take Him.

Empty, seeker,

The place where He lay.”

 

“Mary, O daughter

Why hesitate still?

Why?

Do you not yet believe?

I wish to share

With you my kingdom,

Will you accept

What mind cannot conceive?”

 

“Rabboni, my Teacher,

How can you ask!?

You who know

My everything!

Yet, there is no place

In heaven’s halls

For the pain and shame

I would bring.”

 

“Mary, O Mary,”

The Gardener calls,

“Lift up your face;

Gaze on me.

Do you not know?

I am not of this world,

But long to hold you –

Heart in heart- eternally.”

 

-Grace Marie

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Short Reflection for the 2017 Easter Vigil Mass Readings, by Cameron Daly

This reflection is inspired by the 2017 Easter Vigil Mass readings;

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041517.cfm

HAPPY EASTER!

Last night, I enjoyed about half of a fun pickleball social at Lyme Shores Tennis and attended the awesome (as always!) Easter Vigil Mass at St. Joseph’s. There’s a common theme to be picked up on throughout that Mass: God’s eternally enduring love for each one of us. It may have been Scott Hahn who referred to salvation history as a love story between God and His people. Remember that it was out of pure love that He created, died for, and rose for YOU. How often we fail to appreciate that.

Praise the one true God, Who has risen and has defeated death! ALLELUIA!

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The Unchangeable God and His Changeable Creation, by Cameron Daly

One point of St. Augustine’s I’d like to highlight is the changeability of all creatures—that is, of all things created by God—spiritual and corporeal alike. 1 It’s interesting and relevant for me in particular as it ties in with something I was discussing with my mom recently: the seeming eternal unchangeability of heaven and of people after they’ve died.

First of all, heaven was created by God; 2 therefore, in Augustine’s view, heaven should technically be changeable. Now one of my mom’s questions was how a person could not be in heaven, and then be in heaven, if heaven were eternal; but remember that heaven was created—so while it may be “eternal” in that it has no end, 3 it is obviously changeable because God has changed it to something from nothing. Therefore, it is changeable at least in regards to who resides in it at a given point—meaning that, yes, St. Augustine for instance could be in heaven while I’m still on Earth, and be aware of the change when I (hopefully) end up there in heaven; that is, it wouldn’t be a situation where I always was in heaven anyway. For even though in heaven we have “eternal life,” 4 we have to keep in mind that heaven itself is created—and thus is, if we go by Augustine’s reasoning, changeable (even if it would never be changed fundamentally, considering that it’s “God’s own ‘place’” 5 ). The same goes for our eventually being reunited with our bodies in heaven; for our souls, too, are still created things—and thus could be changed as in being reunited with our bodies.

Yet did not “the Son of God [become] man so that man might become God”? 6 Surely, then, as “God” ourselves, shouldn’t we be unchangeable? But as the Church teaches, “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul”; 7 and it is upon “the Lord’s return” that “he will come ‘to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed.’” 8 Thus, my theory is that we will not be glorified—that is, deified—until the second coming, until which point we are not made God and are still limited enough to undergo some measure of change. 9

And of course, to remain orthodox to Catholic teaching, I should add the reminder that heaven “is beyond all understanding and description”; 10 so even if my theory does make sense, it’s important to keep in mind that heaven is ultimately beyond our limited comprehension.

1 Augustine, One the Nature of Good, 1, at New Advent, www.newadvent.org.
2 see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2 nd ed., at St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church (2 February 2017), at www.scborromeo.org, 325-326.
3 see CCC, 1023, 1709.
4 CCC, 1709.
5 CCC, 326, possibly qtg. Ps 115:16.
6 CCC, 460, qtg. St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
7 CCC, 1042.
8 CCC, 1041, qtg. 2 Thess 1:10.
9 see Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Illustrated), Kindle edition, 36.
10 CCC, 1027.

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Welcoming a New Contributor–by Cameron Daly

I would like to welcome Grace Marie, a classmate of mine at Holy Apostles College & Seminary, as a new contributor to Roman Catholic Reflections! I will be very happy to have her help, as I’ve been thinking of doing more with this blog to further its evangelization outreach for a while now. She’s a hardcore, Catholic philosophy major at HACS and seems quite eager to help–so she should do well here. She too will be blogging, along with helping manage the blog and other forms of social media to be incorporated into it. Enjoy her forthcoming work! More info about her (and updated info about me) will soon be posted under a new “Contributor Bios” page.

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My Blog Posts on Prof. Heather Voccola’s “Historical Happenings: A Compilation of Coursework”–by Cameron Daly

I was recently able to contribute two posts to Prof. Heather Voccola’s blog Historical Happenings: A Compilation of Coursework for my Church History midterm! In one, I gave a review of Origen’s On Prayer, and in the other, I gave an overview of the philosophical views of some of the Church Fathers. (I can’t figure out how to reblog directly from Blogger to WordPress; if anyone has any tips on that, please feel free to let me know.) Take a look, and enjoy! (And take a look at some of my classmates’ work while you’re there!)

https://voccola.blogspot.com/2017/03/review-of-origens-on-prayer.html

https://voccola.blogspot.com/2017/03/old-school-philosophy-patristic-style.html

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