Teresa, The Interior Castle & Our Contemplative Prayer (Part 2) / John of the Cross, The Interior Mountain & Our Contemplative Prayer (Part 1)

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Part of "St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross and Our Vocation to Contemplative Prayer"

3. Teresa, The Interior Castle & Our Contemplative Prayer (Part 2) / John of the Cross, The Interior Mountain & Our Contemplative Prayer (Part 1)

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Teresa this afternoon, God willing,
and with this marvelous model of the inner castle of gold,
another place, as she says, of luminous crystal,
and we move in, we move to deeper intimacy
with God in Christ, and at every phase,
our life of prayer becomes more profound.
Well, and we've seen with the fourth mansion,
that's the key moment of transition
when God starts really moving in,
but in a very subtle, almost imperceptive way,
and so part of her message,
and certainly part of that of John of the Cross
is be attentive and respect
that mysterious, silent, loving peace.
John, as we'll see, talks of a general love
that's mysterious.
It's not focused on one clear object,
but it's simply there in a mysterious, extended way.
Don't disdain that.
It seems like we're not doing anything.
In fact, we shouldn't do anything,
but to give over to that, and in the fifth mansions,
this presence becomes quite more emphatic,
and we get to such a level that she says,
you can't really describe it in words,
so we're in the famous apophatic very much now,
that is beyond images, beyond phrases,
beyond descriptions that work.
She says at the very beginning of the fifth dwelling places,
oh, sisters, how can I explain the riches
and treasures and delights
found in the fifth dwelling places?
I believe it would be better not to say anything at all
about these remaining rooms,
for there is no way of learning how to speak of them.
Neither is the intellect capable of understanding them,
nor can comparisons help in explaining them.
Earthly things are too coarse for such a purpose.
So this is the great apophatic tradition.
There's just nothing to say,
and having said that, then she goes on,
but she goes on to pray.
She goes on to say, Holy Spirit, you help me here.
So she says, send light from heaven, my Lord,
that I might be able to enlighten these your servants,
for you have been pleased that some of them
ordinarily enjoy these delights,
so that they may not be deceived,
for all their desires are directed towards pleasing you.
So she goes into prayer,
and then she continues with this model,
and again, at the beginning,
she suggests that the model as such
was inspired from on high.
And she makes an amazing, I think,
optimistic kind of analysis,
a kind of, she does a survey of her own sisters
who are contemplatives.
Again, they're just at the beginning of their foundation
and of their gathering, et cetera.
But she says, most of her sisters do, in fact,
get into at least the fifth mansions.
And although I have said some,
there are indeed only a few who fail
to enter this dwelling place of which I shall now speak.
There are various degrees, and for that reason,
I say that most enter these places.
And so this is a difficulty.
In some passages, she describes the fifth mansions
in some terms quite more modest.
In other passages, more emphatic.
So it's not that easy organizing her
down to the nth degree.
But basically, she seems consistent.
And what differentiates the fifth mansions from the fourth,
again, is not a difference of quality,
but a difference of degree.
And also at this point, she says the main thing
is that the soul is just certain that God is here.
In the fourth, it's still puzzled and pondering,
and what is this mysterious quiet?
In the fifth, there's no way that the soul can deny
that this is God's work.
This is the main way she characterizes the transition
from the fourth to the fifth mansions.
God so places himself in the interior of that soul
that when it returns to itself after the prayer,
it can in no way doubt that it was in God,
and God was in it.
This truth remains with it so firmly
that even though years go by
without God granting that favor again,
the soul can neither forget nor doubt
that it was in God, and God was in it.
So after the fifth mansions,
the soul might just go back
and go to kind of an ordinary,
but there's that remembrance,
and it's just not possible to doubt that.
But we might nuance this in our age,
given that we're so overwhelmed by psychological.
There might be with scrupulous souls
a certain, what's this self-suggestion, what's this?
But when the soul is most tranquil
and just at peace with the soul, to use her language,
when the person is most just lucid
and the person simply has to say, no, that was God.
The other distinction that, again, she nuances,
but it's now that normally,
or the kind of the main line experience
of this prayer of union, as she calls it,
is that all the interior faculties
are now caught up in a kind of a hush
of the will, but also the intellect and the memory.
There's just this kind of deep quiet,
and this also characterizes this level.
He does not want our will to have any part to play,
for it has been entirely surrendered to him.
Neither does he want the door of the faculties
nor the senses to be opened, for they are all asleep.
It's kind of repose in this mysterious,
ineffable presence of God.
And she uses a lovely image here.
It's not then that the faculties,
as in the earlier prayers previous to the fourth mansions,
there also Christ is present,
but it's the Christ that I imagine and pray to
and put there through my intellect, et cetera.
Here it's Christ from within appears,
as Christ just moved through all the closed doors
of the risen Christ to encounter the apostles.
But he wants to enter the center of the soul
without going through any door,
as he entered the place where his disciples were
when he said, peace be with you.
So it's a lovely Paschal reading of this experience.
There's various ways there can be this prayer of union.
In some passages, it's a very incomplete form,
and then we can still gently work with our lower faculties.
In others, there's this just total absorption.
So she's not, again, always unanimous in describing it,
but she is in saying there's this certitude
and generally this mysterious, ineffable presence
that's holding us is expanding down through the faculties.
She says often it's very brief, but it's there.
At this point, she gets into this interesting discussion.
What about the sisters that have no such experience?
Are they failures or can they not attain to sanctity?
She says, no, they can attain to sanctity
by the other way of just commitment of the will
to doing God's will and a kind of an active ministry
of fruitfulness to the Lord.
It will be good to avoid giving the impression
that those to whom the Lord doesn't give these things
that are so supernatural are left without hope.
True union can very well be reached with God's help
if we make the effort to obtain it
by keeping our wills fixed only to what God wills.
So this is where the Jesuits come aboard and say,
see, even with them, there's not just the way,
the contemplative way.
And so there's all this debate going on,
extremely interesting debate if you want to.
But I think the main thing for those, in fact,
who have an impression to be on the contemplative way
is to go with it, to be extremely attentive
and reverential to this mysterious presence
and to try to move with it.
The main thing is that it's just this prayer,
to speak of it, it's just deep communion with God
fills one with a commitment and a zeal and a joy
and a love for doing good things.
This is the basic sign she gives of the authenticity.
And of course, it's just the basic sign
that our Lord gives, by a fruit you shall know the tree.
And even if the person backslides
and she had this experience,
still somehow she's been changed, he's been changed,
and there will be benefit for the whole church.
If a person doesn't herself benefit,
the favor will benefit others,
for since the soul is left with these desires
and virtues that were mentioned,
it always brings profits to other souls
during the time that it continues to live virtuously,
and they catch fire from its fire,
even if there's not this ongoing contemplative experience.
So, kind of interesting.
She has, we've been talking about going
from a very formal relationship of another person
to really spontaneous intimacy with that person.
That's the prayer of quiet.
When we start listening also to the other person very deeply
and the other person, being God,
speaks to us in his, her language,
which is just totally other,
then she shifts now into the model of falling in love.
So, with the prayer of quiet,
we're dating God, so to speak.
We're going steady.
There's this courtship now on the part of God.
Now, we move into the prayer of union,
and that's really going steady.
And then,
then, betrothal is the sixth manship,
and full marriage is the seventh.
So, the betrothal, what's happening?
Here we get into what we would call
today the extraordinary stuff,
the visions, the locutions, also the raptures.
I don't know if you know that Bernini statue
where she's just, this is on the cover.
You see her face swept off her feet
in this ecstatic love, and in the Bernini version,
here's this Cupid who's casting a dart right into her heart.
And so, she had many of these experiences
where she just swoons away.
That is to say, this presence of God goes in
and takes not only all the inner faculties,
but also the body, so she can't move or anything.
And this is a dangerous level.
You can kind of go a little crazy in this.
And she says this isn't the highest level.
If you're just knocked over by God's love,
that's not it.
The final level is when you get back on your feet
and you go about also your normal life,
but with this strange lucidity now
up where you see everything from a new light.
She says in one passage, it's as if seeing God
and indeed the Holy Trinity in a cloud.
She uses this wonderful language of cloud,
which John of the Cross will use,
and which, of course, is the classic image
of the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.
And it's a very biblical image.
Remember that Mount Sinai, when Moses ascends,
he must ascend into this cloud.
It's in the cloud that one encounters.
But at this point, there's a spiritual marriage.
Something definitive happens.
There's no, then, backsliding.
And there's just this definitive union of theologians.
Mystical theologians get into fancy debates here.
Can a soul in that state even commit venial sins
and that kind of thing?
It's a kind of language that we don't use
that much after Vatican II, unfortunately.
Interesting issues.
But again, that's her model.
And it's basically the model of a couple
who just get to know each other.
And then that deepens, deepens, deepens,
even to the point of full marriage.
So it's a beautiful human model.
And it's the model that Scripture itself uses
in the sublime passages of the prophets,
of Hosea, of Isaiah,
and certainly the Canticle of Canticles,
and then regularly in the New Testament,
Jesus is referred to as the spouse,
or he refers to himself as the spouse.
So that's the model.
Again, it's a model of spousal mysticism.
And so you move to the center of the castle
to get into the bridal chamber with the spouse.
What's this all for?
And you just stay there with the spouse ecstatically.
No, with this then, you're on fire with love
to do good works.
Remember, we're in the period of the debate
with the Lutherans, and is it simply faith,
and sin boldly in faith, or what about good works?
And I think at this point of the ecumenical dialogue
in 1997, we've come to a wonderful mutual understanding
that it's not either or, it's both and.
And Luther was right, and Trent was right.
Luther was right that we are saved by faith, not by works.
But Trent was right that this faith calls us then
to good works.
The tree must bear fruit.
And so that's what all this mystical stuff it's all about.
It's not just that I stay there
in a kind of a narcissistic pleasure,
but that I bear much fruit in my community,
in my family, in the world.
For if it is with him very much it being to give the soul,
it should think little about itself.
All its concern is taken up now with how to please him more,
and where it will show him the love it bears him.
This is the reason for prayers, my daughters,
the purpose of this spiritual marriage,
the birth always of good works, good works.
So she's thoroughly Catholic in that point.
And let's go out now and serve the sisters and the brothers
and it should bear fruit in all of this.
So this very briefly is Teresa,
just a wonderful mystic
with all these different levels of virtues and importance.
First of all, as founders of this major contemplative order,
then herself, not just doing it from a distance,
but as towering mystic, as Panikkar says,
perhaps no one has been more profoundly
united with God than she.
So she's just to be read for that.
But then she's so eloquent and so articulate,
so inspired, I think we could say,
to describe this journey also for us
and to welcome us to journey forward.
So let's now pass on to her wonderful friend,
companion, spiritual father, spiritual son,
John of the Cross.
Some ways very different from her,
some ways very, very similar indeed.
Here again, absolutely a giant,
and again, Doctor of the Universal Church.
I'm not quite sure what our Father Joseph was getting at,
but I looked it up and both of them are
Doctors of the Universal Church,
certainly specifically for their mystical doctrine.
Jacques Maritain, I hope you all remember him,
a very important spokesperson for the Neotomist renewal,
and he wanted Christian philosophy and theology
to culminate in Christian mysticism.
He was certainly a contemplative and mystic,
as was his wonderful wife.
Well, John of the Cross was his maiden guide.
He says, the doctrine of St. John of the Cross
is the pure Catholic doctrine of the mystical life.
So if you want a solid teacher,
that won't get you in trouble.
E. Allison Peirce, who was one of the early scholars
of this century who got all his writings together
in a wonderful, elegant translation,
and just dedicated his whole life to John of the Cross.
He said, as English scholar, he said he knew
so many conferors who had dedicated their scholarly life
to this person or that person.
Certain point kind of burned out, you know,
you can only get so much from the wisdom
that this person or that person offers.
But Peirce said, with John of the Cross,
you never get to the bottom of the well.
You never get tired of all that he has to offer.
So he says, with a certain enthusiasm,
to the whole of Christendom, he is and always will be
the mystic's mystic.
No contemplative, however advanced,
will fail to have recourse to him
and to find in his enlightenment and inspiration.
He is beneath the level of none,
and yet possesses the great gift
of being intelligible to all.
Well, I think there's some hyperbole there, as we'll see.
There's plenty of mystics who, in fact,
don't find him as their cup of tea,
and the whole Eastern Church, certainly today,
is able to take little snips at John of the Cross, et cetera.
But, all things being equal,
I don't know for how many Baptists
he's the mystic's mystic and all that.
But certainly for Catholics, he's very important.
The early Merton, one of his first books
is The Ascent of Mount Carmel,
and it is basically the Carmelite theology,
and especially John of the Cross.
He writes, the clarity and logic
of this Spanish Carmelite,
added to his unsurpassed experiential knowledge
of the things of God, make him by far the greatest,
as well as the surest, of all mystical theologians.
So wonderful rave notices,
if you wanted to do a poster of John of the Cross.
He remains quite important today.
A certain Carol Oitiwa, if that name rings a bell.
Of course, he did his doctoral thesis on John of the Cross,
on faith in John of the Cross.
And faith is just absolutely foundational.
It's not some marginal thing for John of the Cross.
Faith is everything.
So, and then, yeah, before Vatican II,
Paul VI invited this Oitiwa, this cardinal off in Poland,
to come and give the retreat for the Pope and the Vatican.
And so he came and basically preached John of the Cross.
And that's when he really caught the attention
of the Western Church.
And so some will say that John of the Cross
got him right into the Vatican.
So, if you want to really have a career,
outlaw John of the Cross would be appalled.
His thing is avoid all careers,
avoid anything that might get you a little more glory.
Try to hide, try to be nothing in this world.
And certainly the Pope wasn't after advancing his career.
Eastern theologians are critical.
They say, if you look at the New Testament,
it's basically good news.
It's basically Paschal light.
Our main feast isn't Good Friday, it's Easter.
If you look at the mainline Eastern mystical tradition,
it's luminosity, it's light of Gregory of Nyssa, et cetera.
Now this can be very much contested
because Gregory of Nyssa also talks about darkness
in the cloud, et cetera.
But there is a lot of light in the Eastern Church.
Benedictines sometimes feel a little uncomfortable.
There's not a lot, again, about matricial spirituality.
So Abbott Cuthbert Budberg,
one of the great authorities on Western mysticism,
he argues that John of the Cross is not representative
even of Western mysticism,
let alone of Eastern Western mysticism.
Gregory the Great, the great Pope
who founds Western mysticism in a certain sense,
he talks about this uncircumscribed light.
That is the experience of contemplative prayer.
Now you can find a lot about light in Teresa,
but in John it'll be darkness, darkness, darkness.
So that gets some disturbed.
Abbott Marmion, a great teacher
of the Benedictine tradition,
whose cause is up for beatification.
He said John of the Cross is like a sponge.
Certainly the sponge is filled with Christian water,
but you can just squeeze the sponge,
squeeze all that water out,
and you've still got the sponge,
which is a kind of a generic mystical doctrine.
And you could as well fill it with Buddhist water or Hindu,
or some argue for a certain influence of Muslim mysticism.
The Muslim presence in Spain was very important
until the Catholics really took over.
And so some just raise the question,
how Christian is John of the Cross, frankly?
Others are appalled even by this question
and say, no, you can't get more Christian than he.
So it's an interesting debate.
But just so you know that it's not all
kind of unanimous plot shit.
And I think certainly he's part Christian,
there's no doubt about that.
But for what he does,
individual mystical experience in the night of faith,
I think for me, he's absolutely unsurpassed.
A few things about his life.
Born in 1542.
So he is very much Teresa's junior.
He could be kind of her son.
And there is this, again,
this complicated dialectic in their relationship.
He was born in a town just 30 miles from Avila,
interestingly enough.
His father belonged to a very established,
reputable family, wealthy.
But he, in his love,
chose to marry a poor weaver of no distinction.
And the family, the wealthy family, just disowned him.
And so he died and she was left a widow
and the rich family of the husband
would have nothing to do with her.
So John of the Cross grows up in this traumatic situation
and deeply impressed by poverty, suffering, humiliations.
The way of love is the way of suffering,
the way of the cross.
This is his early on experience.
He was put, actually,
he had to be put in a orphanage, a catechetical school.
And then he moved on to the College of the Jesuits.
He found a patron who recognized
not only his piety, but extreme intelligence.
If he wanted to,
he could have been just a speculative theologian.
He did very well in theology.
So he goes for a three-year course
in Salamanca University for theology.
Now, Salamanca was right up there
with Paris, Bologna, and Oxford.
So he got a very quality theological education.
Teresa didn't have that.
So we're here in a kind of a different ballpark
in this sense.
He can articulate his vision with a structure
and a theological sureness and clarity
that no one could touch him.
He was made early on prefect of his class,
which is the kind of shining student,
the kind of evident number one of the class,
the summa cum laude.
So he was ordained to the priesthood at the age of only 25,
and he was just focused on becoming Carthusian.
Right from the beginning,
he wanted to just go right into pure contemplative life.
At that point, he met Teresa,
and she says, hey, forget the Carthusians.
Join the Carmelite Reform.
It'll be much better for you.
He says again, okay, I'll do it,
but it's gotta go quickly.
I don't wanna waste any time,
and this is very characteristic of his spirituality.
So he is co-founder of the whole
discalced Carmelite family.
There's the calced,
which means literally those with socks
and those without the Carmelites.
There's two main branches of the Carmelites,
but the main thing is the discalced
are focused very much more on the contemplative,
and they claim Teresa and John of the Cross.
So she's moving into her reform,
and Father Provincial accepts their renunciation
of the mitigated rule
and the profession of a primitive rule now,
and it's predominantly contemplative.
Now they have the divine office getting up at midnight,
and they have a mass and the liturgy together,
but the main thing is two hours a day of silent prayer.
This is the thing they're gonna focus on,
sitting in silence,
and this is the whole thing, the whole focus.
So then they found their own house of studies,
and he's immediately named rector in 1570.
So he's only 28 years old,
and he's the rector of their house of studies.
The king of Spain has said fine to the reform.
The apostolic visitor of Spain has said fine,
some more problems, but in fact, there's huge problems.
There's kind of a, what would you say,
when you've got two lines of obedience,
and they're not in dialogue among themselves,
and this can sometimes happen.
Well, the calced chapter,
they're saying no.
Way back in Italy, they don't know what the Spanish king
and what the apostolic visitor in Spain is saying.
They're saying, hey, these people are in right disobedience
to the rule.
We have not given permission to this reform.
So they are appalled.
So at their chapter in Pienza in Italy,
Piacenza, I'm sorry,
they declare Teresa and John the Cross
in full disobedience,
and they vote to suppress all these houses of the reform,
and they act with a certain vigor.
So in December of 77,
a group of these monks with men at arms,
with soldiers, sees John of the Cross,
and pop him in their monastery prison in Toledo.
In those days, a good, reputable monastery
had its own prison, and you put the naughty monks there.
Our great ancient monastery in Fontevillana,
you can still see the prison cell there.
This was when monks were early monks.
So he's put in this little dank cell,
six feet by 10 feet,
and he's in absolute solitary confinement,
except three evenings a week,
he's dragged out to take his meal,
kneeling in the refectory with all the other,
his brothers in Christ,
seated around him, eating away.
He's there kneeling to eat it.
And then his top part of his shirt is stripped down,
and as they exit,
each one of them quips his shoulders with a whip.