Sunday, April 27, 2008

Miriam and Isabella contemplate the meaning of life

Philosopher Baby

is here!

Isabella Clare will be burning the Philosopher Mom's brain cells for the next few weeks. She arrived April 23 at a whopping 9 lbs. 2 oz.

Thanks for all yours thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spiritual Marriage

We enter the very center of our souls at the invitation of God and find him resting there. God--in his human face, Jesus Christ--appears to the soul in an intellectual vision (that is, in her soul, though sometimes before her physical eyes as well) and tells her that she has received the grace of marriage to God. The Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--manifest themselves to her so that she is "certain" of this mystery as well.

For the rest of her life on earth, the soul moves in an experiential certainty of the mysteries of God and lives always in his presence. In all previous mansions, the soul would have a taste here and there of God's presence. Now, she lives in love and is always consumed by love. "... Spiritual marriage is like rain falling from heaven into a river or stream, becoming one and the same liquid, so that the river and rain water cannot be divided; or it resembles a stream flowing into the ocean, which cannot afterwards be disunited from it. This marriage may also be likened to a room into which a bright light enters through two windows--though divided when it enters, the light becomes one and the same."

The seventh and final mansion is truly our home. When Therese of Lisieux or Elizabeth of the Trinity insist that they live already in heaven, they speak of this interior union with God. Many of the pains of the sixth mansions are laid to rest since "the little butterfly has died with the greatest joy at having found rest at last, and now Christ lives in her." The suffering caused by any remainder of self in the soul ceases.

Teresa writes that, though the soul now belongs entirely to God, she does not abandon the world. On the contrary, her divine life allows her to do far more on earth than ever before. Her new suffering comes from not being able to do all she would wish to do for God: physical illness, her own weakness of mind, or persecution by others may prevent her from serving him in every way she imagines. But all suffering is welcomed now by the soul--everything that comes to her comes from her spouse, and she sees the world in a new way.

Calm and peace characterize the seventh mansion: the soul hardly ever experiences the flights of rapture, "slaying in the spirit," or ecstatic "darts of love." The soul instead lives in peace, utterly and solely fed by her Master. Teresa concludes, "I assure you, sisters, such souls have their cross to bear, yet it does not trouble them nor rob them of their peace, but is quickly gone like a wave or a storm which is followed by a calm, for God's presence within them soon makes them forget all else."

This is home at last--the final doorway to heaven. I think that in the seventh mansion I find all the answers to my qualms and puzzlements over the fifth and sixth mansions. If they were but necessary steps to this, then, let it be. May we all reach our home. Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Teresa hiatus!

This is from Benedict XVI's responses to questions posed by the Catholic bishops of America during his visit. Its prescience is astounding!

The bishops requested: The Holy Father is asked to give his assessment of the challenge of increasing secularism in public life and relativism in intellectual life, and his advice on how to confront these challenges pastorally and evangelize more effectively.

Response: "... Perhaps America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator. Faith becomes a passive acceptance that certain things “out there” are true, but without practical relevance for everyday life. The result is a growing separation of faith from life: living “as if God did not exist”. This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to “thinking with the Church”, each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ... "

May we abhor hypocrisy and compartments! The life of the mind, the life of the soul, and everyday life must be one or we ourselves will fall to pieces.

The Sixth Mansions

The Sixth Mansions

"The sight the soul has enjoyed of Him is so deeply imprinted on the spirit that its only desire is to behold Him again."

Now I'm in way over my head. But I believe Teresa's exhortation: Every human being is created by God for these deepest levels of intimacy with him. God alone truly suffices here.

The sixth mansions are simply a gateway for the seventh. They require, however, the greatest courage of all from the soul--here the tension between life on earth and the life to come in heaven is most keenly felt. The soul has felt the direct touch of its Creator and longs only for more. As far as its vocation allows it (notice, mothers!), it seeks solitude to wait for its beloved.

Teresa assures us that suffering revisits the soul more insistently in these mansions. First and foremost, the soul is acutely aware of its past sins and its present weakness. It sorrows for its sins and for the sins of the world.

Suffering also comes from without: those closest to it may mock the soul, asking why it must seek perfection. They will consider that soul "holier-than-thou," even though the soul itself is convinced of its own unworthiness. At the same time, praise from others is also painful. The soul knows that anything good comes from God alone--not from human effort. But to protest and offer glory to God instead is perceived as uncharitable or overly-pious.

Physical suffering is also a gift of the sixth mansion--illness or chronic pain are welcomed by the soul as it draws closer to the suffering Christ.

Pain also comes from its superiors--especially priests in Confession. The soul can hardly communicate what is happening to it and often agonizes over whether it is telling the truth about its favors and sufferings in prayer. Confessors almost indelibly misunderstand and warn the soul against "private feelings" or "fancy." The soul feels dry and alone. God alone can lead it to a confessor who sees its progress.

Even the joy of the sixth mansion contains a certain pain. Teresa calls this consolation "the wound of love." The soul--sometimes during prayer and sometimes in the middle of ordinary activity--is overcome by a fire or delightful pain. The pain, it seems, makes the pleasure even more keen; perhaps this is because the soul knows by the pain that it is passing to the most intimate encounter possible.

But just as the soul is about to be wholly consumed, the little fire leaves it. These are like the pangs before birth--they leave the soul longing for more in order to be born into eternal life. "This favor is more delightful than the pleasing absorption of the faculties in the prayer of quiet which is unaccompanied by suffering."

Other manifestations of God's love in these mansions include interior locutions, raptures, and flights of the spirit. These gifts, which are usually accompanied by thanksgiving and "delight," offer no suffering in themselves. They uphold the soul and, instead of making it soft, make it more determined to suffer for God and detach itself from things that are passing away. This is how a confessor can see these gifts are from God: by the fruit they bear in the soul's life.

Finally, Teresa speaks of the "dart of love," which seems to be one step beyond the "wound of love" as the soul approaches the seventh mansions. "While the soul is thus inflamed with love, i t often happens that, from a passing thought or spoken word of how death delays its coming, the heart receives, it knows not how or whence, a blow as from a fiery dart." Teresa insists that she is not exaggerating: the "dart," which is not a dart at all, leaves the entire person incapacitated. Limbs go limp, the mind shuts itself off, the imagination ceases to distract, the oice stops. It appears as if the person is dead, for either a moment or hours. "The mind feels far deeper contempt for the world than before, realizing that nothing earthly can comfort it in its torture; it is also much more detached from creatures, having learned that no one but its Creator can bring it consolation and strength."

All this "suffering talk" may make the final mansions seem quite distasteful if not downright repulsive. In order to even begin to grasp Teresa's message, however, a few things should be kept in mind.

First, the suffering comes from the distance we, in our fallen state, live from God and from previous rejections of his love. Suffering is not the point: the point is love of and longing for our Father. Suffering is the side-effect that becomes more and more prominent as our love grows.

Second, for those of us who have not reached these mansions, it helps to make analogies between our love of human beings and this love of God. Think of the deep love a mother has for her child--one of the side-effects of that love is suffering at separation or from anxiety for the child's soul. Or, even better, remember the love of a woman for her husband. Both physically and spiritually, this love involves pain. She would not reduce the pain, because it is a sign of the intensity of their love and "belonging" to each other.

Finally, suffering passes away. The love Teresa desires for each of us does not.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Fifth Mansions

Now we enter the realms of deep mystery--Teresa continually emphasizes both her certainty as to "what she has seen and heard" in these mansions and her inability to articulate it clearly.

She calls the fifth mansions the place of "the prayer of union." While in the fourth mansions, the "prayer of quiet" is felt like a "drowsiness" in the body and may leave the soul wondering what exactly just happened, those who have experienced the prayer of union (a) lose all contact with their bodies and even imaginations and (b) have no doubt that it was God dwelling in their souls. Indeed, certainty is the hallmark of these mansions:

"I maintain that a soul which does not feel this assurance has not been united to God entirely, but only by one of its powers, or has received one of the many other favors God is accustomed to bestow on men."

Peace that surpasses all worldly expectation remains--complete contentment that God has visited the soul and promised to dwell there.

Here, the soul is still removed from the very presence of God in its center--this is not the end of its journey to God. Teresa compares the prayer of union to the meeting of a man and woman before they are engaged. The bride (the soul) has desired to be one with the man (God); she indicates her longing to be wholly his forever by submitting to his desire to see her. He enters her home and they meet for a brief visit--perhaps one or two brief visits--which only increase her desire. It is a preparation for his proposal, when they will announce the coming marriage.

The first thing to note is that this visitation from God cannot be forced or "called down" by the soul. Teresa tells us to read the Song of Songs and notice how the bride-to-be wanders the streets looking for her beloved; only the beloved, however, can come and lead her into the wedding chamber.

That being said, she urges us to prepare our souls in every possible way to be ready--like the ten virgins--for the bridegroom's coming. He will come when he wills, and we can prepare only by dying to our own will: "With the help of divine grace true union can always be attained by forcing ourselves to renounce our own will and by following the will of God in all things."

Perfect conformity with God's will does not mean we will never feel sadness at the death or suffering of those around us--that would be at odds with the sorrow Christ feels at sin, suffering, and death. Rather, when we die to our own will, we become capable of perfect love of God and neighbor.

I love Teresa's almost impatient dismissal of judging our obedience based on our self-diagnosed love of God: We are always, she says, uncertain as to how much we love God. And it is never enough. Do not evaluate your holiness based on how much you believe you love God, because you have no idea!

The love of neighbor, however, is something we can see--and it is the only true indicator we have of our love for God--the source of our neighbor's existence. Love of neighbor is first of all seen in little things:

"If you see a sick sister whom you can relieve, never fear losing your devotion; console her; if she is in pain, feel for it as if it were your own and, when there is need, fast so that she may eat, not so much for her sake as because you know your Lord asks it of you. This is the true union of our will with the will of God. If some one else is well spoken of, be more pleased than if it were yourself; this is easy enough, for if you were really humble it would vex you to be praised. It is a great good to rejoice at your sister's virtues being known and to feel as sorry for the fault you see in her as if it were yours, hiding it from the sight of others."

These are truly difficult to do: hiding others faults as if they were your own, praising others as if they were ourselves. They are little deaths, and that is exactly how the soul comes to submit its will to God and prepare for divine union.

Once again, the tell-tale effects of the fifth mansion are peace and desire to receive more suffering in the imitation of Christ:

"No earthly events can trouble [the soul], unless it should see itself in danger of losing God or should witness any offense offered Him. Neither sickness, poverty, nor the loss of any one by death affect it, except that of persons useful to the Church of God, for the soul realizes thoroughly that God's disposal is wiser than its own desires."

The soul desires heaven to the point of being in almost constant pain: the thought of further separation from its coming spouse is sorrowful. But it will gladly remain on earth as long as God asks--suffering for the sake of Christ and the salvation of other souls it loves.

When the soul looks back on its previous life--in the first, second, and third mansions--it hardly recognizes itself. Then, Teresa says, it was like an ugly little brown worm (yuck); now it is like a white butterfly, flying here and there in search of its bridegroom.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Fourth Mansions

When the soul realizes that all its goodness is, in fact, not its own at all, it is ready to enter more profoundly into itself. As you leaves the third mansions for the fourth, you begin to realize a new horizon has been crossed. From here until complete union with God, the soul lives in the "spiritual mansions."

This does not mean that we withdraw completely into the "mind" or the "spirit," but rather that the soul has come to draw all its joy, peace, and strength from the Source itself. Teresa speaks of the first three mansions as states of great effort on the part of the soul--it gains equilibrium, peace, and enjoyment from its good works and prayers. This is true peace and joy; however, the consolations of the first stages of the spiritual life are dependent on many "secondary causes." The consolations of the fourth mansion emanate directly from God himself.

It is clear why humility is the only door into the interior mansions: We could never "attain" or "earn" the graces found here. God moves when and where he will.

But what is this humility Teresa urges us to cultivate? What is the key to the fourth mansion?

She writes:

"The first proof that you possess humility is that you neither think you now deserve these graces and consolations from God, nor that you ever will as long as you live."

This does not mean we give up on the efforts made in the beginning--regular prayers, service to the Church, fidelity to our vocation--but rather that we give up on our own pride of life. Instead of desiring the bliss of the spiritual mansions, we in fact would rather suffer for our sins. (This reminds me of St. Gianna Molla who, after the doctors thought she had slipped into her final coma, awoke to say she had been sent back to suffer for sins. Even after seeing the gates of heaven, she had desired to suffer more before being given eternal joy.)

Another sign of humility is the renunciation of the world. God sends his greatest graces to those in whom nothing blocks his action. If our souls obsess themselves with schedules, costs, shopping, grades, children's grades, etc... there is very little room for the Lord to speak. But if, after performing as best we can the work he demands of us, we leave the rest to his mercy, he can manifest that mercy more abundantly. This is renunciation of the world.

Finally, to reach these interior mansions, we have to lay our plans for reaching them at the feet of Christ. Love is the only way to intimacy with God:

"I only wish to warn you that to make rapid progress and to reach the mansions we wish to enter, it is not so essential to think much as to love much: therefore you must practice whatever most excites you to this. Perhaps we do not know what love is, nor does this greatly surprise me. Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honor of His Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church. These are the signs of love..."

Notice that love has more to do with submission to God's work on earth (fleeing sin, prayer for souls and the Church) than with our feelings about the matter. The soul that loves may from time to time feel delight in love--that is the gift of God and a foretaste of heaven--but it does not love in order to feel that delight.

The gift of the fourth mansions is the prayer of recollection. From its center, where God dwells, the soul hears directly "the voice of the Shepherd." Teresa compares that voice to the music of a flute or the voice of a loved one. The soul is overwhelmed with joy and may weep--as if it had just seen someone it had thought dead. It is a direct encounter with the living God.

"The after effects on the soul, and the subsequent behavior of the person, show whether this prayer was genuine or no: this is the best crucible by which to test it." The soul will grow in love--of the Father, Christ, the Church, and the world--and its actions will radiate a strength inexplicable by its natural powers or talents.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Third Mansions

I both fear and love these mansions. I fear them, because I think I spend most of my time in them. I love them, because--in her descriptions--Teresa impels us on to higher things. Most homilies or exhortations I hear tell me I'm a really great, heroic Catholic woman. Teresa, however, kicks me in the rear a little. Something I could always use.

Take a listen:

"God has shown these souls no small favor, but a very great one, in enabling them to pass through the first difficulties. Thanks to His mercy I believe there are many such people in the world: they are very desirous not to offend His Majesty even by venial sins, they love penance and spend hours in meditation, they employ their time well, exercise themselves in works of charity to their neighbors, are well-ordered in their conversation and dress, and those who own a household govern it well."

Well, I'll be! Doesn't that just sound like "good people"? How can we only be in the third mansions? Isn't this the pinnacle of Christian life? We don't want to sin, we do good things, order our lives well, and even ... love to do penance.

Teresa's point, however, is that these souls must not become complacent and content with this level of love. It is good, she says, and a great good. After realizing the weight of sin and ordering their exterior lives toward prayer and love, they have left the first and second mansions. But there is still danger of falling back--especially when these souls deceive themselves into thinking, "This is all, and I live the Good News." Teresa spends much of this chapter lamenting the years she herself spent in these mansions, without hope of a greater state of love.

She compares souls in the third mansions primarily to the young man in the Gospel who asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. Christ answers, "Obey the commandments." The young man, astonishingly, says he already does. Then, Jesus looks at him with love and says, "If you would be perfect, go, sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me." The young man goes away sad, for he has many things--not least of all his pride in his own "good works."

Our souls in the third mansions will only advance when we realize that, after all our well-ordered living, our prayers, our penances, we are "nothing but unprofitable servants." We have only done what Christians are minimally asked to do.

In absorbing and embracing this truth, we already advance to the fourth mansions--where humility alone brings us before God's throne, where "we do not consider that our Lord is bound to grant us any favours, but that, as we have received more from Him, we are the deeper in His debt."

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Second Mansion

"I want to see God!"

When we enter the second mansions, moving closer to the center of our souls, we have made the resolution to seek God. His voice is faint--often we hear him only through the words of a holy person, book, or we are driven to seek him because of some sufferings.

Teresa compares souls in the first mansions to those born deaf and mute--they hardly know what they are missing and so are often not sad. But those in the second mansions have glimpsed something of what they could be--they have seen God, veiled in shadows, and desire more. This desire is like suffering, but it is the suffering of a free man in chains.

The way in which souls in the second mansion will grow is in prayer. They may have experienced vocal prayer or liturgical prayer previously: They were "raised Catholic" or "Christian" or participated in group prayer at some point. Now it is vital that they learn interior prayer: meditation, recollection, and how to make exterior prayers interior as well. This will be their blood supply in the spiritual life and will give them strength.

They need that strength very much, because in these second mansions they are still vulnerable to their old habits of selfishness and sin. They still desire things and worry about matters not of God.

Teresa therefore stresses two themes for these souls: (1) discretion and (2) perseverance. This is no time for extreme acts of mortification. These souls need to be led according to their strength along the path of prayer: this requires some deliberate ordering of the exterior life. Set times of prayer, participation in the liturgy (Carmelite liturgy is markedly simple, bare, and focused on God rather than decorative arts), and a program of spiritual reading can all be gently implemented to bring the soul peace in its thirst for God and fear of sin.

Perseverance is key: Violent bursts of devotion followed by long stretches of tepidity can only dmage the soul and cause it to give up. A slow perseverance--a constant dependence on God's mercy and grace--is the only way for the soul to find its way deeper into its castle.

In spite of the seemingly endless nature of these mansions, Teresa urges her children to think mainly of that "glimpse" of total union with God that first impelled them out of the first mansions. Every soul should aspire to intimacy and the high adventure of sainthood--thinking nothing of what was left behind and pressing on to the highest heights of divine love. The emphasis should be on the total gift of self to God, mirroring God's own gift of self to us.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The First Mansion

I've been reading Fr. Marie-Eugene's volumes on Carmelite spirituality--I Want To See God and I Am a Daughter of the Church. Brilliant. They've been a good preparation for the coming weeks of childbirth, sleeplessness, and general inability to read anything more demanding than Curious George.

So, until the baby comes, I want to have a series of posts on Teresa of Avila's "mansions" of the soul. Her schema is a way of understanding spiritual growth--away from darkness and toward the light of Christ, away from self and toward intimacy with God. The main thing to keep in mind is that spiritual growth ultimately depends on the action of God. It is not a hard science. God can raise a soul rapidly from the lowest mansions to the heights of consummation with him; the same ascent in another soul may take years and years. God is all mercy and, therefore, for us, all mystery!

These posts are mainly a way for me to organize my thoughts and understand Teresa (and my own soul better). If you are a Carmelite (or a Carmelite-at-heart) and know how I could better express these states of the soul, please correct me.

Teresa's soul is a castle, in the center of which dwells God. The soul is, first and foremost, a "paradise in which the Master dwells and in which He delights." If we do not accept the beauty of the soul, we cannot know the creator who loves it.

The first mansions (or rooms) are vast, encircling the entire periphery of the castle. "There are many ways in which souls enter them." Most souls, she seems to say, live in these anterooms. They are in a state of grace--that is, they have not definitively severed themselves from God's mercy. They do not, however, pray regularly: Teresa says they may pray only once or twice a month. Because of this, they remain vulnerable to their own inclinations to reject God.

This, of course, leads Teresa to a long passage on the nature of sin-- what used to be commonly called "mortal sin" --and hell. Hell, she insists, is not something God does to us. We choose to exclude ourselves from Him--in her imagery, from the castle. It is willful self-exclusion from his love--usually in the form of an intentional, fully-aware disobedience to his law.

Souls in the first castle must not stay in these outer rooms. Teresa, like a good mother, both fears for them and longs for them to move more deeply into their Father's love. She notes that, because these souls are so attached to their sinful tendencies and behavior, fear of hell or suffering is often the motivation for their conversion. They see the evil consequences of a life of lukewarm and, sometimes, sinful action and resolve to "flee to God."

In making that resolution, they already find themselves in the second mansion.

Some thoughts on contemplating the first mansion:

It is so important for us to understand, even empathize with our fellow men who live in this state. Teresa herself was given experiences, both of hell and of the first mansions, and these increased her love of and zeal for souls. Refusing to think about hell or souls who live without pursuing God leads either to indifference ("Oh, they're all right. God will take care of them himself.") or to judgmentalism ("If you break this law, you're damned. Too bad for you. You should have checked into the second mansion."). Seeing someone who lives a distracted, mediocre, fearful life concerned with "making it" in the material world should instead inspire a desire to invite them (gently and in a way most attractive to that individual soul) to desire God first.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Christ Our Hope

Pope Benedict XVI is coming to the United States! Here are a few resources to help you commemorate this in a little way. Of course, if you happen to live in NYC or Washington, DC--you may get to see him yourself!

This is a YouTube video the pope made for us! In English and Spanish.

Here are some of Fr. Neuhaus's reflections and anticipations on the visit.

The Vatican site: As the visit progresses, you will be able to read the pope's addresses for yourself. Instead of listening to the CNN or NBC "versions."

Rather blah, but here is the basic "newsy" info on the trip from CNS.

Habemus papam!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hopes and Dreams...

... of a Catholic girl. This is a neat post by a young lady with visions of the future. It made me so grateful for my big, huge belly!

Monday, April 7, 2008


As you can see from the ticker below, the philosopher mom's latest project (a.k.a. Baby 2) is done cooking. Elated by her success but exhausted by endless rounds of "You're so big!," the philosopher mom has taken to her room to eat mint-chocolate cookies, strawberries, and lentils. A strange, but rewarding combination of the sweet, the fruity, and fibrous proteins. Not recommended unless you are 9 months pregnant.

p.s. Things not to say to a woman about to deliver: "Is it twins?" (This question sends her into paroxyms of anxiety over the grammatical implications of such speech.) "I didn't think I'd see you again this weekend." (Mother wonders if she should have stayed home from Mass, parties, dinners, and any other such gatherings.) "Wow! Your belly is hanging out of the bottom of your shirt!" (Ponders the practicality of purchasing a new set of shirts for the last 2 weeks of pregnancy.)

p.p.s. Things to say: "You're almost there!" "Could I bring you all dinner some night this week?" "I love cleaning bathrooms. May I come over and clean yours?"

Wednesday, April 2, 2008