Last week on the EWTN show “The Fulfillment of All Desire,” host Ralph Martin spoke about the Teresian Mansions. He talked about how some people say, “I’ve gotten far enough in my spiritual life, so I think I’ll stop here,” or “I’m doing better than I used to be,” or even, “I’m doing better than those people over there. ” Martin points out that “the Lord is not asking us to look back at where we used to be, and He’s certainly not asking us to look at how we’re doing in relationship to other people. He’s asking us to look to Him, and to perceive clearly that He wants the deepest possible union with us. He doesn’t want to leave any part of us transformed; He wants our happiness to be complete, and He wants to truly be the fulfillment of all our desires – to bring us the happiness, the peace, the freedom, the joy and the love He is longing to give us. ”
Martin goes on to explain that there are many stages of growth in the spiritual life, and briefly describes the Teresian Mansions:
First Mansion: Conversion
This stage involves turning away from sin, beginning to pray, and beginning to find out what it means to be a Christian.
Second Mansion: Temptations and trials that purify
In this stage a person may experience immature zeal, may seek consolations rather than a relationship with Jesus which involves taking up our cross daily, and initial dryness in prayer. We may be tempted to become discouraged and give up, but those who persevere during this trial will grow.
Third Mansion: Stability
In this stage, a person is living a mature, stable Catholic life. The person is keeping the laws of the Church, praying regularly, and participating in the sacraments regularly. The person is fulfilling the duties of his or her state in life; for example, those who have households are managing them well. The person is both eager and happy to be Catholic.
St. Teresa points out that people often stop at this stage. They think that they’ve arrived when things are basically in order in their lives. But St. Teresa says there is no reason why people who reach this mansion can’t go all the way to mansion seven.
Fourth Mansion: Deepening of prayer life
We begin to experience recollection, a quieting of the soul in which we have a sense of presence and communion with God. Prayer can deepen into the prayer of quiet, in which the will is absorbed in the Lord, but the imagination and memory may still wander in prayer.
Fifth Mansion: Prayer of Union
If we persevere in prayer in mansion four, our prayer may deepen into the prayer of union, in which the will, memory and imagination are absorbed in the Lord during prayer. There is less wandering and distraction, and an attentiveness to God in prayer. The Lord gives this prayer to help us give ourselves to Him more completely and to bring our will in union with His Will. This prayer doesn’t necesarrily last for lengthy periods of time; St. Teresa said when she first experienced it, it didn’t last more than the length of a Hail Mary. The longest she experienced this kind of deep absorption in the Lord was about half an hour. Martin points out that we can experience different levels of prayer within one prayer time; it is possible to leave a single prayer time having experienced recollection, the prayer of quiet, and the prayer of union .
St. Teresa also says that the Lord may bring people to a profound union of wills with Him without necessarily experiencing this kind of deep prayer. The Lord has other ways of bringing us to union, but normally it is through contemplation that He brings this about.
Sixth Mansion: Preparation for a deeper union with the Lord
During this mansion there is an acceleration in preparation for deeper union with God, and this comes about in two ways. One is through gifts, blessings and consolations, and we begin to experience life from the perspective of the Lord. The other way God prepares us for union is through affliction, suffering and trials. Martin reminds us that we are going to have affliction and trials in life anyway, so let’s use them to grow spiritually. During this mansion we may experience the dark night that St. John of the Cross speaks of. The Lord uses this trial as a time of pruning and purification to expand our souls, so to speak, so that we are more capable of receiving Him and receiving His love.
Seventh Mansion: Nuptial or Transforming Union
This is a very deep and abiding communion with the Lord, in which we are continually aware of the Lord’s presence. Prayer is very continual, and we have tremendous fruitfulness in carrying out God’s will.
Obstacles to Progress
If there is no reason that everyone who reaches mansion three cannot reach mansion seven, why is it that so few do? What are some things that hold us back, and what can we do about them?
One obstacle is a lack of knowledge of self and of God. Sometimes we forget our littleness, and it is hard to be full of Christ when we our full of ourselves. On the other hand, we may become discouraged by our self-knowledge and have a lack of trust that God can and will bring us to perfection.
Another obstacle is lack of desire for perfection. After all if you don’t desire God, you can’t expect to have Him! But if we find that we don’t have this desire for perfection, then we need to pray for it. This desire can only come from God, and He will give us this desire if we ask. For those who do have this desire, it is good to pray that the desire will grow. Believe that God wants you to be a saint, and desire to become one. Say it out loud: “I want to be a saint.”
St. Therese of Lisiuex had the desire to be a saint, but felt she didn’t have what it takes to be a great saints, who are spectacular flowers in the garden of God, the roses and the lillies. Therese felt she was a tiny flower that no one would notice, and she wondered if someone who is not a spectacular flower could be a saint. The Lord’s answer to her was what it means to be a saint is to be perfectly who you were created to be, and to not resist God’s grace to transform us. We don’t have to be somebody else to be a saint, but we can be inspired by the saints to be the saint we are supposed to be.
Therese felt these steps in the spiritual journey were big for her, and wondered if there were a shortcut for little souls. She pondered a technological trend of her time – elevators in the homes of the wealthy – and wondered if there were such a thing as a spiritual elevator. In prayer she realized there is such a thing; the spiritual elevator is in the arms of Jesus. Therese wrote that once she took her place in the arms of Jesus, it was amazing what she was able to see. She no longer saw God from the perspective of the world, but instead saw the world from within the heart of God.
Pope John Paul II, in his letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte” tells us how the great mystical tradition of the Church teaches us that “prayer can progress, as a genuiune dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the Divine Beloved, vibrating at the touch of the Spirit, and resting fillialy within the heart of the father.”
Therese entered into this Trinitarian communion which brought her to holiness. We can do the same. Pope John Paul II continues in his letter: “This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21). It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”.