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."