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Journey to the Heart

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The spiritual life is often described as a journey. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” are masterly examples of this image. The seeker starts from where he is and sets out to go to a place that he longs for in his deepest desires. In his search, he meets various people and situations which challenge him and cause him to question himself. These adventures force him to purify his thoughts and actions and even his desires.

St. Teresa’s “Interior Castle” also describes a journey, but a journey in a different direction. It is a journey where the seeker starts outside himself and journeys into his deepest center, there to be united with God. This was not a new idea. Since the dawn of time, human beings have sought to make this inner pilgrimage. We find it illustrated in the many labyrinths built throughout Europe and the Middle East. One of the best known of these is found in the Cathedral of Chartres.

1120-1170, Chartres, France — France, Eure et Loir, Chartres, Notre Dame de Chartres Cathedral listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, Labyrinth of the Cathedral — Image by © Sylvain Sonnet/Corbis

Teresa’s journey is more intimate than any of these. I am called to enter within myself in a very direct way. There is no sense of outward traveling. All is interior. Though she speaks at times of the Castle, there are few passages to remind me of an exterior edifice. This labyrinth is within me. The poet Francis Thompson speaks of the labyrinthine ways of my own mind. This is a labyrinth far more confusing than the one in Chartres. How can I find my way to the heart of it?

Teresa rarely speaks of the “heart” in a spiritual or metaphorical way. For her, the “heart” usually refers to that physical organ in her chest which caused her so much trouble and suffering. However, when she describes the center of the Castle, where she perceives the Trinity in the spiritual marriage, she writes: These Three Persons are in the interior of her heart — in the most interior place of all and in its greatest depths.

This is where we want to go. How do we find our way to this heart of our own interior labyrinth? Jesus says, Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If I want to find my heart, I must seek out what I treasure. How do I do this? How do I find out what my treasure is?

St. Peter of Alcantara, who helped Teresa in her own spiritual struggles, writes What the heart is full of is always the first to suggest itself to the mind. What is closest to my heart will be the first to suggest itself to my mind. I will need to study my mind and to learn how to follow my thoughts in order to come to the treasure of my heart. This is the work of discernment.

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