My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,
On the cover of the October Magnificat, we find a classic portrait of St. Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582), the humble Carmelite nun who was canonized in 1622 and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Her landmark writings, The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have nourished thousands of seekers in pursuit of a deeper prayer life and a more intimate relationship with the Lord. The portrait’s painter, Bro. Juan de la Miseria, O.C.D., captures the gaze of love between Teresa and the Holy Spirit. That gaze of love echoes what Teresa herself said regarding the source of her divinely inspired writings: “Most of the things I write do not come from my own head, but from the Heavenly Master who inspires them within me.”
The Interior Castle lays the foundation for what Teresa felt should be the ideal journey of faith, comparing the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to seven mansions. As we draw closer and closer to the center of the castle, we in turn draw closer and closer to God. Further, the God who dwells at the center of the “interior castle” is much more than a celestial dispenser of favors; He is a lover, luring us to fall in love with Him in a way that changes our lives and gives us an entirely new perspective on the world around us. It is in this innermost chamber of the “interior castle” that we become contemplatives – men and women who gaze on God in love and draw their strength and their happiness from that loving gaze.
In many ways, St. Teresa’s Interior Castle reminds me of a key insight from our Founder, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade: “The essential is the interior.” I am reminded as well of a sentence I read recently in a recent book penned by one of my favorite contemporary spiritual authors, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I. In Prayer: Our Deepest Longing, Fr. Rolheiser writes, “In the end, no matter its particular form, and even when it is done publicly or in a large group, all private and devotional prayer can be defined in this way: it is prayer that tries, in myriad ways, to open us up in such a way that we can hear God say to us, ‘I love you!’ ”
Surely, when we hear God say “I love you,” and when we are confident in that love – and transformed by that love – we have indeed arrived at that innermost chamber of our “interior castle.”
Now, that all sounds wonderful, but it may be quite a far cry from the reality we live and feel most days of our lives. I can’t speak for others, but I know that my own spiritual house is often not in order. I see layers of dust accumulating from months of spiritual neglect. Creaking hinges remind me that some areas of life have been crying out for attention but have gone unattended. Cobwebs in the corners remind me of the stubborn selfishness and negative attitudes that still haunt me after all these years. Sometimes the lights in my spiritual house flicker and dim. The carpet could use a vacuuming, and unwashed dishes pile up in the sink. It seems as though I’m just too busy to ever get around to cleaning them. Interior Castle? Interior Castle???? I’m afraid that my spiritual life is more like a haunted house!
But even when we’ve not kept our spiritual house in order, God’s still at work, knocking – maybe even pounding – on the door to let Him in. And once we open the door, even if just a tiny crack, He makes it quite clear that He does not intend to be a temporary guest, but a permanent resident, indeed, the master of the house.
In Mere Christianity, the famed 20th century Christian apologist C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963) put it this way:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Isn’t it time we stop trying to put our own spiritual house in order, according to our own plans, our own blueprints? Isn’t it time we take up the offer of the Divine Architect and surrender ourselves to His plans? The result may just very well be an “interior castle” beyond compare.
But I gotta run. There’s this guy who just showed up at my door, and he’s knocking kind of insistently. Looks a little strange – long beard, swarthy complexion, gnarled hands. What’s more, he’s carrying a crowbar and a sledgehammer and a whole slew of other tools as well.
And outside, a flatbed truck laden with two-by-fours and sheetrock just pulled up in front of the house.
It just might be the Master Carpenter!
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,