[C]oncerning souls that have entered the third Mansions . . . they are most desirous not to offend His Majesty; they avoid committing even venial sins; they love doing penance, they spend hours in recollection; they use their time well; they practice works of charity toward their neighbors; and they are very careful in their speech and dress and in the government of their household if they have one. (Teresa of Avila: Third Mansions: Chapter One)
Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack? Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19.16-22 NRSV)
Teresa sees those in the third Mansions very much like the rich young man in the gospel story. They avoid even small sins and make a great effort to live a holy life. The young man said he kept all the commandments — and probably did. But Teresa says, “[I]f the Lord is to take complete possession of the soul more than that is necessary”. We must leave all and follow Him.
Of course this doesn’t mean we give away all our possessions. We can give away everything and not surrender our lives to Jesus. When writing about the rich, young ruler Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Discipleship is the end, voluntary poverty the means.” For each of us “the means” to discipleship will be different (and sometimes seemingly trivial) but it always gets to the core issue of surrendering all and following Jesus.
While the commandments, spiritual disciplines, and ethics provide guidance for the spiritual life, they are not stand-alone activities. When we simply become a rule-follower we will someday face the harsh reality that the rules are inadequate and the formulas no longer work. Then what? The rule-bound life with its pre-packaged decision-making always collapses or becomes marginalized. This is true of the spiritual life and also true of family life and leadership. Instead of simply following the rules, we are to live the intuitive, Spirit-filled life of “follow Me” with the commandments applied in love.
For Rule-Bound Part II: Click Here
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