Teresa of Avila
Interior Castle: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Eleven
We can be afflicted with suffering from a number of sources.
- Suffering can come through ordinary life. Being alive involves risk. Being fully alive requires even more risk. The outcome of calculated risk is blessing and/or suffering. The greater the risk, the greater the potential blessings and/or suffering we experience. Self-protection and risk avoidance lead to short-term security — but we cease to thrive.
- Suffering can come from spiritual warfare: Demons design attacks to destroy the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities.
- Suffering comes because of the natural consequences of sin and addiction. These include:
- My sins and addictions that diminish life for others and myself.
- My lack of action that diminishes life for others and myself.
- The sins of others that cause collateral damage.
- The lack of action by others that leads to negative consequences.
- Suffering comes from God to mature us and purify our souls.
In this post we’re talking about the suffering that comes from God. Teresa says, “Oh, God help me! Lord, how you afflict your lovers!” She notes this suffering has value. “Everything is small in comparison with what you give them afterward. It’s natural that what is worth much costs much.” We see the principle of suffering for future gain in the economy of everyday life. Our “suffering” and discipline in eating right and exercising produces a healthier body. Our “suffering” and discipline in studying and working hard rewards us with a sharp mind and a good job. Our “suffering” and discipline in saving instead of spending brings financial stability.
Teresa suggests spiritual advancement requires suffering. In this particular context “the suffering is to purify this soul so that it might enter the seventh dwelling place”. Our capacity to suffer is immense. Our ability to measure the outcomes of suffering is small. Teresa says our present suffering “is as small as a drop of water in the sea.”
Spiritual suffering can be the most difficult to endure, but can also be the most rewarding. We intuitively see the value of spiritual suffering and know whether it’s coming from God or from another source. “In spite of all this torment and affliction, which cannot be surpassed, I believe, by any earthly afflictions . . . the soul feels that the pain is precious; so precious – it understands very well – that one could not deserve it.”
While we see the value of suffering, we should not trivialize the pain. Teresa says, “However, this awareness is not of a kind that alleviates the suffering in any way. But with this knowledge the soul suffers the pain very willingly and would suffer it all its life, if God were to be thereby served; although the soul would not then die once but be always dying, for truly the suffering is no less than death.”
Spiritual agony pain can exceed physical or emotional pain. Teresa says, “In no way can the soul resist. It can no more do so than it can, if thrown into a fire, stop the flames from having heat and burning it. This feeling is not one that can be concealed from others, but those who are present are aware of the great danger in which the person lies, although they cannot be witnesses to what is taking place interiorly. True, they provide some company, as though they were shadows; and so, like shadows, do all earthly things appear to that person.”
While suffering is painful, God will renew our souls. Teresa says, “Nor can a remedy be found to remove this pain until the Lord himself takes it away, usually by means of a great rapture, or with some vision, where the true Comforter consoles and strengthens the soul that it might desire to live as long as God wills.”
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.