The Interior Castle - The Third Dwelling Places
The Third Dwelling Place
Contains 2 chapters
Treats of what little security we can have while living in this exile, even though we may have reached a high state, and of how we should walk with fear. This chapter has some good points.
It is no small thing to have reached this stage of prayer. It says a lot for the soul that it has persevered and withstood the many traps of the devil. The soul who trusts in the Lord, who has a holy fear of the Lord is truly blessed because this soul has successfully cut out the distractions of the world and tuned into the Lord voice prompting it to good things. This soul is drawing on the well spring of life and is indeed to be call blessed. If he remains on this path the blessings will increase.
‘What shall we say to those who through perseverance and the mercy of God have won these battles and have entered the rooms of the third stage, if not: Blessed is the man who fears the Lord?...Certainly we are right in calling such a man blessed, since if he doesn’t turn back he is, from what we can understand, on the secure path to his salvation. Here you will see, Sisters, how important it was to win the previous battles. I am certain the Lord never fails to give a person like this security of conscience, which is no small blessing. I said “security” and I was wrong, for there is no security in this life; so always understand that I mean “if he doesn’t abandon the path he began on.”’
Of her past life of vanities
‘I too would want to have lived a very holy life, but what can I do if I have lost holiness through my own fault! I will not complain about God who gave me enough help to [be so].’
‘May it please the Lord that since it is being done for Him it may be of some benefit to you so that You may ask Him to pardon this miserable and bold creature. But His Majesty well knows that I can boast only of His mercy, and since I cannot cease being what I have been, I have no other remedy that to approach His mercy and to trust in the merits of His Son and of the Virgin, His Mother, whose habit I wear so unworthily.’
Of our Lady
‘Praise Him, my daughters, for you truly belong to our Lady. Thus you have no reason to be ashamed of my misery since you have such a good Mother. Imitate her and reflect that the grandeur of our Lady and the good of having her for your patroness must be indeed great since my sins and being what I am have not been enough to tarnish in any way this sacred order.’
She mentions the saints who although holy still fell into serious sin, King David for example, and his son, King Solomon. She doesn’t want the Sisters to rest on their laurels if they reach this dwelling place, or at any time. They must always retain this holy fear of the Lord, the fear of losing Him forever. It is a true gift of the Holy Spirit.
‘But one thing I advise you: not because you have such a Mother or Patroness should you feel secure, for David was very holy, and you already know who Solomon was. Don’t pay any attention to the enclosure and the penance in which you live or feel safe in the fact that you are always conversing with God and practicing such continual prayer and being so withdrawn from the world of things and in your opinion, holding them in abhorrence. These practices are all good, but not a sufficient reason, as I have said, for us to stop fearing. So, continue to say this verse and often bear it in mind: Blessed is the one who fears the Lord.’
St Teresa’s mind is always jumping ahead, and it is lovely to see her humour and humility come through in the text when she admits that she has been rambling away from the point.
‘I don’t remember what I was speaking about, for I have digressed a great deal and in thing of myself I feel helpless, as a bird with broken wings, when it comes to saying anything good.’
St Teresa describes this soul in the third dwelling place here. This soul could be any one of us, good souls who are fearing the Lord and trying to do his will in all things. But think that this is only the third dwelling place that she is referring to. What more can be discovered in the deeper recesses of the castle, let alone in the very centre dwelling where the Lord dwells?
‘Let me get back to what I began telling you concerning souls that have entered the third dwelling places, for the Lord has done them no small favour, but a very great one, in letting them get through the first difficulties. I believe that through the goodness of God there are many of these souls in the world. They long not to offend His Majesty, even guarding themselves against venial sins; they are fond of doing penance and setting aside periods for recollection; they spend their time well, practising works of charity toward their neighbours; and are very balanced in theiruse of speech and dress and in the governing of their households – those who have them. Certainly this is a state to be desired.’
‘O Jesus, and who will say that he doesn’t want a good [union with God in the final dwelling place] so wonderful, especially after having passed through the most difficult trial? No, nobody will. We all say that we want this good. But since there is need of still more in order that the soul possess the Lord completely, it is not enough to say we want it; just as this was not enough for the young man whom the Lord told what one must do in order to be perfect. From the time I began to speak of these dwelling places I have had this young man in mind. For we are literally like him; and ordinarily the great dryness in prayer comes from this, although it also has other causes.’
It is not enough to desire union with God, that is, entry into the last dwelling place, the chamber of the King. Lots of people desire it, but still never enter. We must never feel that we deserve such a great blessing, or that we have merited it. God is always the judge of our actions. It is He who decides our just deserves and like the dogs who eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table we must be happy with what He gives us. Because, we can never fully repay Him for all He has done for us, so we must continue along this path in this knowledge, holding onto the holy fear in great humility. We are just the servants.
‘Briefly, in all things we have to let God be the judge. What I’ve said, I believe is what usually happens; for since these souls realise that they wouldn’t commit a sin for anything – many wouldn’t even advertently commit a venial sin … they cannot accept patiently that the door of entry to the place where our King dwells be closed to them who consider themselves His servants. But even though a king here on earth has many servants, not all enter his chamber….. it is enough for you to be God’s servants; don’t let you desire be for so much that as a result you will be left with nothing. Behold the saints who enter this King’s chamber, and you will see the difference between them and us. Don’t ask for what you have not, deserved, nor should it enter our minds that we have merited this favour however much we may have served – we who have offended God.’
At this stage the soul is liable to become self-righteous and proud, growing impatient that it has not been given great consolations after all the work it has done. One must be very careful here.
‘Oh, humility, humility! I don’t know what kind of temptation I’m undergoing in this matter that I cannot help but think that anyone who makes such a issue of this dryness is a little lacking in humility.’
In all things, the Lord asks us for conformity to His will above all. Who are we to question the methods of the Most High as He brings us into conformity with His will. It is like telling the most learned person on a particular subject who has spent an eternity mastering his subject, that you, after having completed a weekend course in that subject, know better than he.
‘If, like the young man in the Gospel, we turn our backs and go away sad when the Lord tells us what we must do to be perfect, what do you want His Majesty to do? For He must give the reward in conformity with the love we have for Him. And this love, daughters, must not be fabricated in our imaginations but proved by deeds. And don’t think He needs our works; He needs the determination of our wills.’
St Teresa doesn’t advise her Sisters to think themselves saved just because they are in a cloister.
‘We seems to think that everything is done when we willingly take and wear the religious habit and abandon all worldly things and possessions for Him – even though these possessions may amount to no more than the nets St Peter possessed, for he who gives what he has thinks he gives enough. This renunciation is good enough preparation if one perseveres in it and doesn’t turn back and become involved with the vermin in the first rooms, even if it be only in desire.’
A soul who has persevered and reached this 3rd dwelling place should indeed consider themselves blessed, that the Lord in His mercy allowed the soul to advance this far at all. We should be so full of gratitude that we are on our knees humbly thanking Him for His many graces thus far. Sadly though, we often tend to say indignantly that we deserve it after all our hard work.
‘..this perseverance includes the condition … that you consider ourselves useless servants, as St Paul or Christ, says; and believe that you have not put our Lord under any obligation to grant you these kinds of favours. Rather, as one who has received more, you are more indebted. What can we do for a God so generous that He died for us, created us, and gives us being? Shouldn’t we consider ourselves lucky to be able to repay something of what we owe Him for His service towards us? I say these words “His service towards us” unwillingly; but the fact is that He did nothing else but seve us all the time He lived in this world. And yet we ask Him again for favours and gifts.’
‘The Lord will give you understanding of [these things] so that out of dryness you may draw humility – and not disquiet, which is what the devil aims after. Be convinced that where humility is truly present God will give a peace and conformity – even though He may never give consolations – by which one will walk with greater contentment than will others with their consolations. For often .... the divine Majesty gives these consolations to the weaker souls; although I think we would not exchange these consolations for the fortitude of those who walk in dryness.’
‘We are fonder of consolations than we are of the cross. Test us, Lord – for You know the truth – so that we may know ourselves.’
Continues on the same topic; deals with dryness in prayer; with what, in her opinion, might take place at this stage; how it is necessary to test ourselves; and with the fact that the Lord does try those who are in these dwelling places.
In the previous chapter St Teresa spoke of the Sisters holding onto a holy fear, and this is so necessary because even though the soul is on the way to union with God, it is still vulnerable. In this dwelling place, the vulnerability is pride, a feeling of superiority to others who as yet have not reached this stage. And then when the Lord gives them minor trials, instead of accepting them humbly, they try to gain consolations from them, thinking that their sufferings are for the conversion of the others who aren’t as virtuous as they are instead of recognising that they are the ones that need to change – the speck and the plank come to mind.
‘I have known some souls and even many – I believe I can say – who have reached this state and have lived many years in this upright and well-ordered way both in body and soul, insofar as can be known. After these years, when it seems they have become lords of the world (overcome the temptations of the world), at least clearly disillusioned in its regard, His Majesty will try them in some minor matters, and they will go about so disturbed and afflicted that it puzzles me and even makes me fearful. It’s useless to give them advice, for since they have engaged so long in the practice of virtue they think they can teach others and that they are more than justified in feeling disturbed.’
‘..everything in their minds leads them to think they are suffering these things for God, and so, they don’t come to realise that their disturbance is an imperfection. This is another mistake of persons so advanced.’
‘God often desires that His chosen ones feel their wretchedness, and He withdraws His favour a little. No more is necessary, for I would wager that we’d then soon get to know ourselves. The nature of this trial is immediately understood, for they recognise their fault very clearly. Sometimes, seeing their fault distresses them more than the thing that disturbs them, for unable to help themselves they are affected by earthly happenings even though these may not be very burdensome. This distress, I think, is a great mercy from God; and although it is a defect, it is very beneficial for humility.’
These trials are gifts from God to help us to know ourselves better. Just as a good confession is made when the penitent makes a good examination of conscience prior to the sacrament, the Lord wants us to know ourselves and to rid ourselves of our faults before we come into union with Him. His ways are not our ways, and if the trials He gives us seems harsh we should still not be discouraged. Again we must trust and conform to His will, not our own. He never gives us more than we can bear.
‘I want to mention some of these feelings so that we may understand and test ourselves before the Lord tests us. It is very important to be prepared and to have understood ourselves beforehand.’
‘…now they are left in such disquiet they cannot help themselves, nor can they quickly get rid of this disturbance. God help me! Aren’t these the ones who for a long while now have considered how the Lord suffered and how good suffering is, and who have desired it? They would like everyone to live a life as well ordered as they do; and please God they will not think their grief is for the faults of others and in their minds turn it into some meritorious.’
The important thing is ‘in striving to practise the virtues, in surrendering our will to God in everything, in bringing our life into accordance with what His majesty ordains for it, and in desiring that His will not ours be done… Humility is the ointment for our wounds because if we indeed have humility, even though there may be a time of delay, the surgeon, who is our Lord, will come to heal us.’
Fear of going further
‘…let us exert ourselves, my Sisters, for the love of the Lord; lets abandon our reason and our fears into His hands; let’s forget this natural weakness that can take up our attention so much. Let the prelates take care of our bodily needs; that’s their business. As for ourselves, we should care only about moving quickly so as to see this Lord.’
Humility is the stepping stone to the next dwelling places.
‘With humility present, this stage is a most excellent one. If humility is lacking, we will remain here our whole life – and with a thousand afflictions and miseries. For since we will not have abandoned ourselves, this state will be very laborious and burdensome.’
‘For perfection as well as its reward does not consist in spiritual delights but in greater love and in deeds done with greater justice and truth.’
His way, not ours
‘His majesty will give you through other paths what He keeps from you on this one because of what He knows, for His secrets are very hidden; at least what He does will without any doubt be what is most suitable for us.’
Having a spiritual director
‘What it seems to me would be highly beneficial for those who through the goodness of the Lord are in this state is that they study diligently how to be prompt in obedience. And even if they are not members of a religious order, it would be a great thing for them to have – as do many persons – someone whom they could consult so as not to do their own will in anything. Doing our own will is usually what harms us…[they must] seek out someone who is very free from illusion about the tings of the world.’
Having good example
‘ For in order to know ourselves, it helps a great deal to speak with someone who already knows the world for what it is. And it helps also because when we see some things done by others that seem so impossible for us and the ease with which they are done, we become very encourage. And it seems that through the flight of these others we also will make bold to fly, as do the bird’s fledglings when they are taught; for even though they do not begin to soar immediately, little by little they imitate the parent.’
Not judging others
‘Let us look at our own faults and leave aside those of others, for it is very characteristic of persons with such well-ordered lives to be shocked by everything. Perhaps we could truly learn from the one who shocks us what is most important even though we may surpass him in external composure and our way of dealing with others.’
Also, don’t be so zealous in correcting others or trying to bring them along the right path – at this stage at least – the Lord will keep them in hand.
‘There is no reason to desire that everyone follow at once our own path, or to set about teaching the way of the spirit to someone who perhaps doesn’t know what such a thing is. For with these desires that God gives us, Sisters, about the good of souls, we can make many mistakes. So it is better to carry out what our rule says, to strive to live always in silence and hope, for the Lord will take care of these souls.’