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October 4, 2016 WBAS Topics Saints

Teresa of Avila and the Interior Castle

It sounds like something out of a fairy tale – a crystal castle with a spiraling set of rooms leading to a center point of beauty and mystery. This is the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila. It is her masterwork, a book on contemplative prayer that she might never have written without the strong urging of the spiritual leaders of her Carmelite order. Likening the soul to a crystal castle, she describes the seven rooms, or “dwellings”, as a progressive path of prayer that leads towards union with God.

st-teresa-of-avila-interior-castles-629px-Avila_Convento_de_Sta_Theresa_Church_window01.jpgTeresa of Avila Interior Castle

One might think that such an interior journey is only possible for those ensconced in the quiet solitude of a cloister. What I love so much about Teresa is her pragmatism. She readily acknowledges the anxieties, distractions, fears, and resentments that accompany the first steps into the castle. Likening these to serpents and reptiles, she cautions against unconsciousness. Otherwise we carry a lot of baggage into our initial attempts at contemplation. These include the various labels we assign to different ways and kinds of prayer - the “shoulds and “oughts”, if you will. By remaining alert and aware we are able to let go of our own expectations and assumptions in order to step into each new dwelling.

Teresa doesn’t lay out a neat and tidy formula for reaching the seventh dwelling and the Prayer of Union that it uncovers, however. Instead she acknowledges the monkey mind that assails even the most ardent pray-er. The virtue of humility is a necessity for making our way through the castle. She describes feeling as helpless as a “bird with a broken wing.” Reaching the sweet union of this final dwelling doesn’t result in completely withdrawal from life. Quite the contrary. Teresa refers to the account of Mary and Martha in Luke’s Gospel and how it represents the merger of action and contemplation. The fire in the contemplative’s soul spreads outward, igniting sparks in others. This is a castle that far surpasses that of a fairy tale; it is an image of God’s household – the great vision Jesus shared and prayed for and encouraged us to seek, find, and explore.


Prayer for a Spirit of Holiness Download Now

Bright Ideas

  • For Catechetical Leaders: Learn more about the life and ministry of Teresa of Avila and use it to inspire catechists, parents, and others in your parish.

  • Download my Prayer for a Spirit of Holiness and use as an inspiration to enter more deeply into prayer.




Image: By Håkan Svensson (Xauxa) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons