Today is the 500th birthday of Saint Teresa of Avila, one of the greatest mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. When I think about it, St. Teresa was my first teacher about growth in the spiritual life. It seems strange; we know that we grow physically and intellectually, but we don’t realize that can also grow spiritually.
It makes perfect sense! Aren’t we both body and soul? Yes, we can grow in the spiritual life. But unlike our bodies which grow unconsciously or our intellect which pass academic standards, growth in the spiritual life is not so clear cut.
Fortunately, St Teresa of Avila’s “Interior Castle” gives us an idea of what spiritual growth is supposed to look like. She describes the soul as an interior castle with seven dwelling places.
You could say that the Interior Castle resembles the ancient temple in Jerusalem. When the temple was rebuilt, there were several courtyards. The outermost room was for the Gentiles. The inner room was for Jewish women. The next room was for Jewish men. The innermost room was for the Ark of the Covenant. Only the priests were allowed in this Holy of Holies. Likewise, God dwells in the innermost room of our being.
The closer we get to the seventh dwelling place, the more we grow in holiness and union with God. As our Creator, God is our formal cause. As our Beloved, God is our final cause. Our ultimate destiny is this intimate, loving union with God!
This spiritual progress is characterized by growth in virtue and changes in our prayer life. When we begin to grow in the spiritual life, we have to make the conscious effort to start praying. We need to set time aside, even just a few minutes a day, to be alone with God, to develop a relationship with Him.
The closer we get to God, the more receptive we become to His love in prayer. The more we receive His love, the more we must share His love; through acts of virtue, selflessness and humility.
As we mature, God speaks to us. He speaks through Bible verses, music, family, friends, and the daily events of our lives. We slowly recognize God’s voice amidst the din of our day.
But be warned! In the outer courtyards of the castle, there are nasty reptiles tempting and badgering us to forsake this difficult journey. Be not afraid! We must persevere for “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) As St Teresa of Avila taught, “Nada te turbe nada te espante; quien a Dio tiene nada le falta. Sólo Dios basta.”
Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.