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Exploring the Interior Castle

In her great book of spirituality, the “Interior Castle,” St. Teresa of Jesus starts by urging us to learn to appreciate the beauty of the human soul.

St. Teresa spares no words to try to bring us to glimpse the wonder of our soul, comparing it to a castle made of a single diamond or of a very clear crystal.  It is not a small castle but one in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. The soul of a righteous person is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. The beauty of this castle cannot be exaggerated,  for God  says that it is made in His image. The grandeur of this castle is so great, that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.

We are not used to thinking of ourselves in this way, as something beautiful and precious. Indeed, Teresa says that it is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. She laments that we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. We are very concerned about our bodies, which are the rough setting of the diamond, and…the outer wall of the castle. We give hardly a thought to our soul, which animates our bodies and makes us a living person. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are – those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty.

She urge us to imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the center and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul. In considering the castle of one’s soul, You must not imagine these mansions as arranged in a row, one behind another, but fix your attention on the centre, the room or palace occupied by the King.…Just so around this central room are many more, as there also are above it. In speaking of the soul we must always think of it as spacious, ample and lofty; and this can be done without the least exaggeration, for the soul’s capacity is much greater than we can realize, and this Sun, Which is in the palace, reaches every part of it. It is very important that no soul which practices prayer, whether little or much, should be subjected to undue constraint or limitation. Since God has given it such dignity, it must be allowed to roam through these mansions — through those above, those below and those on either side.

How can one roam through one’s own soul? There is a long history of spirituality which can guide us in this exploration, and which we will consider in our next articles.
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