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.

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