Monday, April 21, 2008

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.

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