After reading The Way of Prayer, I transitioned into another of Teresa of Avila's works with a commentary, Interior Castle: The Classic Text with a Spiritual Commentary by Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R. When my priest recommended I might like her work, he was specifically referring to this one in order to understand different levels of prayer and the spiritual life.
While reading, I noticed a shift with the extent to how much I could connect to and grasp as I progressed through the book as could be expected since it moves from more common to less common. In the initial castles more aspects resonated with my experiences and I felt a higher level of certainty that I had experienced those castles. Then it shifted to sections in the middle where I thought maybe in some sections and definitely not in others. Finally, for the last sections of the book I felt a high level of certainty that I had not experienced what she was describing. Though from time to time for a brief moment I could connect to some small aspect, overall I knew that I could not grasp what it would feel like other than a sense of awe and knowing that it would be beautiful.
Nonetheless, my biggest take away from the book is to focus on growing in the virtues, to be humble and to trust in God, rather than to beg for these experiences. St. Teresa emphasized again and again that it is more about love of God and love of neighbor, rather than having these mystical experiences and consolations. She also talked about how consolations are not "so frequent" (p. 223) and are often quick, which helped to put into perspective that we should be grateful for what does occur but also be able to persevere through challenges when they are absent. Based on reading her ideas, a main take away is to be cautious against an overemphasis on wanting to be at a specific place in my spiritual life, and instead to remind myself frequently to wholeheartedly say, "Thy will be done."
In general, I loved the book because it was emphasizing different layers that I have been learning especially during the last couple of years. In a sense it was pulling different concepts together and showing me how they all complement each other for a strong foundation in seeking to grow closer to God and to align my will to His. Despite the comprehension gaps in the later castles based on lack of personal experience, I could tell multiple areas where my comprehension was deeper based on already having others (my priest, books, and videos) push my thinking related to ideas she brings up and emphasizes in her book.
Examples of sections that spoke to me as different pieces were coming together towards the end of the book were:
- "Since we know the way we have to take to please God--namely, that of keeping His commandments and counsels--let us be very diligent in doing this, and in meditating upon His life and death, and upon all hat we owe Him; and let the rest come when the Lord wills" (p. 221).
- "For life is long and there are many trials in it and we need to look at Christ our Pattern, and also at His Apostles and Saints, and to reflect how they bore these trials, so that we, too, may bear them perfectly" (p. 223).
- From the commentary: "Teresa reaffirms that the most important thing in the spiritual life is to will only what God wills. God loves each person and knows what is best for him or her. She reminds her readers, moreover, that these favors do not last forever and have very little to do with holiness. Rather than focusing on such favors, it would be much better for the soul to dedicate itself to growing in the virtues" (p. 236).
- "For it is quite certain that, when we empty ourselves of all that is creature and rid ourselves of it for love of God, that same Lord will fill our souls with Himself" (p. 274)
- "We always find that those who walked closest to Christ Our Lord were those who had to bear the greatest trials" (p. 290).
- "Oh, my sisters, how little one should think about resting, and how little one should care about honors, and how far one ought to be from wishing to be esteemed in the very least if the Lord makes His special abode in the soul" (p. 291).
- "Anyone who cannot achieve everything at once must progress little by little" (p. 291).
- "Fix your eye on the Crucified and nothing else will be of much importance to you. If His Majesty revealed His love to us by doing and suffering such amazing things, how can you expect to please him by words alone? Do you know when people really become spiritual? It is when they become slaves of God and are branded with His sign, which is the sign of the Cross, in token that they have given Him their freedom. Then He can sell them as slaves to the whole world, as He Himself was sold, and if He does this He will be doing them no wrong but showing them no slight favor. Unless they resolve to do this, they need not expect to make great progress" (pp. 291-292).