…has been given to you (Mk. 4, 11)
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Each of us possess a soul, but we do not realize its value having been made in the image of God, therefore we fail to understand the important secrets it contains..
This is what Saint Teresa of Avila writes in her book “The Interior Castle” (Toledo 1577) wherein she describes the successive stages the soul passes through until she gets united with God.
Her aim was to strengthen and enlighten the spiritual life of her sisters, the nuns of her order for whom she was responsible.
Soon, however, her work was recognized and became widely known throughout the Catholic world and beyond.
She belonged to the order of the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites which she herself had reformed with the help of Saint John of the Cross.
She ardently desired that all the faithful who take seriously their spiritual life and seek God be made aware of the soul’s secrets she discovered through God ’s grace.
Her very careful and very prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures, the frequent Confession and spiritual guidance resulted in her great inner progress.
Christ wants to share with us the secrets of His kingdom. What are these secrets?
Schematically we can mention the following:
—We are immersed in God’s mercy. God is present at the very centre of our soul.
—The soul in the state of grace is beautiful. Sin is ugly. Sin makes the soul loose its beauty.
—The enemy is constantly lurking, trying to tempt and pull us away from God. Prayer, repentance and the Sacraments restore and strengthen us.
—Cleansing of the soul involves necessary suffering.
—God awaits us, helps us, never lets us down.
—He made us for eternal happiness in union with Him.
The author’s intentions
May His Majesty be pleased to guide my pen and to teach me to say somewhat of the much there is to tell of His revelations to the souls He leads into this mansion.
I have begged Him earnestly to help me, since He sees that my object is to reveal His mercies for the praise and glory of His name.
I hope He will grant this favour, if not for my own sake, at least for yours, sisters—so that you may discover how vital it is for you to put no obstacle in the way of the
Spiritual Marriage of the Bridegroom with your soul which brings, as you will learn, such signal blessings with it.
Saint Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, ch. 7, § 1
Elements of the 16th century
The precious unity of the Christian world that characterized the Medieval times, already since the 15th century, is getting attacked on many fronts.
At the beginning of the 16th c. Lutheranism and Protestantism affect the Church’s unity.
In 1537 the king of England Henry VIII proclaims himself head of the Church of England, thus, severing it from the vital sap of the Apostolic Succession and Tradition.
The Ottoman Turks directly threaten Europe and many battles are fought in her defense.
The Portuguese and Spanish navigators have already discovered the New World and the Philippines and are successful in circumnavigating Africa.
Great wealth flows into Spain and the trade rivalries intensify with new players on the scene, namely the Dutch and later the British.
The 19th Ecumenical Council of Trent which lasted nearly twenty years, (1537-1556), is indicative of the difficulties of that period.
The Council reaffirmed Catholic dogma and gave substantial and definitive answers to the positions of the Protestant Reformation.
The mystical current which appeared in the 13th and 14th centuries especially in the Low Lands and Germany became in Spain more extrovert.
The Interior Castle
Teresa of Avila was canonized in 1622, only forty years after her death. Her feast dsay is on October 15th.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI named her Doctor of the Church.
There is no more official way for the Church to show that she recognizes the correctness of her thoughts as are written down in her books as well as the benefits that other faithful may derive from them!
Teresa wrote three books, her autobiography entitled “The Life of Teresa of Jesus”, (Teresa of Jesus was her religious name), “The Interior Castle” and “The Road to Perfection”.
In all of them she discusses the inner life and the manner by which the soul progresses toward her perfection.
Already from this world, the faithful is able to taste God’s goodness and to “see” the splendour of His holiness.
Her chief work is considered to be “The Interior Castle” which is widely recognized as an outstanding description of mystical experience and is ranked among the classics of Christian Mysticism.
In that book the soul is likened to a castle which is made of a single diamond or a perfectly limpid crystal, with many chambers.
The soul of the just man is like a paradise where God is pleased to be. (Proverbs, 8, 31). The itinerary, however, to its centre, where the soul gets united with God as perfectly as it is possible in this world, is arduous and painful at times.
Assisted by prayer and the Sacraments of the Church the soul is purified ; once purified she can progress to the understanding of the tenets of faith and , lastly, to union with the Holy Trinity as her recompense. At that stage the soul rejoices in the happiness, peace and glory of God’s presence.
Did you know…
Coffee from Arabia, potatoes and tobacco from the Americas are for the first time imported in Europe in the 16th century.
Chartography (map-making) is developed due to the enhanced knowledge of the world through the explorations.
In 1537 the first Atlas of the world is published containing maps of thirty-seven countries.
Astronomy progresses by leaps and bounds and many new inventions change little-by-little the everyday life of the average person.
The pencil is invented in the form we know it nowadays (graphite in wood), the microscope, the pocket watch, the thermometer.
Effervescence and creativity characterize the 16th century in the fields of the Fine Arts as well.
We mention in passing only some of the best known artists: El Greco, Michelangelo, da Vinci (painting, sculpture) and Palestrina in music.
The Reason to Exist
The Church, in the midst of humanity, is first of all the community that lives by the mercy of Christ: she senses his gaze and feels he has chosen her with his merciful love.
It is through this love that the Church discovers its mandate, lives it and makes it known to all peoples through a respectful dialogue with every culture and religious belief.
This is what the Holy Father says in his message on the occasion of the World Mission Day.
We have, perhaps, been accustomed to thinking of the Church’s missions in inaccessible jungles and mountains and in little explored territories.
However, the modern landscape is different: there are the sprawling and high-rising cities, the workers quarters, the refugees, the unemployed and many more of our fellow men and women who wage a lonely battle for meaning in their existence.
Mercy finds its most noble and complete expression in the Incarnate Word (Pope Francis).
The Church is Christ’s presence and light.; she has no other reason for her existence than to transmit the Gospel here and now!
Wherever we find ourselves, as baptized, we are under obligation to reflect this light and to be Christ’s presence to those around us.
For apostles of the Church’s sacred mission are not only the priests and the religious, but every single faithful in his own environment and not only…
With us, with Him
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”
From a contemplative’ s reflections
It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago.
People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars.
On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free will of men, the human race still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who overcome evil with good, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us?
Can there be any doubt where wars come from and where peace comes from, when the children of this world, excluding God from their peace conferences, only manage to bring about greater and greater wars the more they talk about peace?
Thomas Merton, from “The Seven Storey Mountain”, written in 1948, Part 1, ch. 3
click here to read this in Greek