Since we know the path by which we must please God, which is that of the commandments and counsels, we should follow it very diligently, and think of His life and death and of the many things we owe Him; let the rest come when the Lord desires.
At this point, someone may respond that he cannot dwell on these things, and, because of what was said, perhaps he will in a certain way be right. You already know that discursive thinking with the intellect is one thing and representing truths to the intellect by means of the memory is another. You may say, perhaps, that you do not understand me, and indeed it could be that I don’t know how to explain the matter; but I shall do the best I can.
By meditation I mean much discursive reflection with the intellect in the following way: we begin to think about the favor God granted us in giving us His only Son, and we do not stop there, but go on to the mysteries of His whole glorious life; or, we begin to think about the prayer in the garden, but the intellect doesn’t stop until He is on the cross; or, we take a phase of the Passion like, let us say, the arrest, and we proceed with this mystery considering in detail the things there are to think of and feel about the betrayal of Judas, the flight of the apostles, and all the rest; this kind of reflection is an admirable and very meritorious prayer.
This prayer is the kind that those whom God has brought to supernatural things and to perfect contemplation are right in saying they cannot practice. As I have said, I don’t know the reason, but usually, they cannot practice discursive reflection. But I say that a person will not be right if he says he does not dwell on these mysteries or often have them in mind, especially when the Catholic Church celebrates them.
Nor is it possible for the soul to forget that it has received so much from God, so many precious signs of love, for these are living sparks that will enkindle it more in its love for our Lord. But I say this person doesn’t understand himself because the soul understands these mysteries in a more perfect manner.
The intellect represents them in such a way, and they are so stamped on the memory, that the mere sight of the Lord fallen to the ground in the garden with that frightful sweat is enough to last the intellect not only an hour but many days, while it looks with a simple gaze at who He is and how ungrateful we have been for so much suffering.
Soon the will responds even though it may not do so with tender feelings, with the desire to serve somehow for such a great favor and to suffer something for One who suffered so much, and with other similar desires relating to what the memory and intellect are dwelling upon. I believe that for this reason, a person cannot go on to further discursive reflection on the Passion, and this inability makes him think that he cannot think about it.
If he doesn’t dwell on these mysteries in the way that was mentioned, it is good that he strive to do so, for I know that doing so will not impede the most sublime prayer. I don’t think it’s good to fail to dwell often on these mysteries.
If as a result, the Lord suspends the intellect, well and good; for even though the soul may not so desire He will make it abandon what it was dwelling on. And I am very certain that this procedure is not a hindrance but a very great help toward every good; the hindrance would come from a great deal of work with the discursive reflection I mentioned in the beginning. I hold that one who has advanced further along cannot practice this discursive reflection. It could be that one can, for God leads souls by many paths.
“Life is long, and there are in it many trials, and we need to look at Christ our model, how He suffered them” #StTeresaofAvila #HolyWeek #EasterTweet
But let not those who can travel by the road of discursive thought condemn those who cannot, or judge them incapable of enjoying the sublime blessings that lie enclosed in the mysteries of our good, Jesus Christ. Nor will anyone make me think, however spiritual he may be, that he will advance by trying to turn away from these mysteries.
There are some principles and even means that certain souls use, by which it is thought that when a person begins to experience the prayer of quiet and to relish the enjoyment and spiritual delights given by the Lord, the important thing is to remain always in that state of delight. Well, now, let them believe me and not be so absorbed, as I have said elsewhere.
Life is long, and there are in it many trials, and we need to look at Christ our model, how He suffered them, and also at His apostles and saints, so as to bear these trials with perfection. Jesus is too good a companion for us to turn away from Him and His most Blessed Mother…
Saint Teresa of Avila
The Interior Castle, VI, chap. 7, nos. 9–13
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: The Museo Nazionale di San Marco in Florence, Italy, which is the art museum located in the historic Dominican friary of San Marco in Florence, is home to many works of religious art by Fra Angelico, but there are other Italian Renaissance artists whose frescos are found on the friary walls. This stunning representation of the Last Supper by Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio is found in the small, old refectory of the Dominican friary. Photo credit: jean louis mazieres / Flickr (Some rights reserved)