Bread of Life

BREAD OF LIFE
 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.

THE REAL PRESENCE

Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

DID GOD GIVE AMERICA A GREAT REPRIEVE?

By John Horvat II

To those Americans concerned about the moral state of the nation, the immediate reaction to the November 8 elections was one of enormous relief.

It was as if a colossal amount of pressure was suddenly released. There was the thrill of something entirely unexpected. People were overjoyed beyond words.

Adding to the intense drama, there was the sensation that a great danger was taken from our path. We had averted a dead-end situation for which there were no human solutions. We were somehow saved from a terrible calamity that had seemed so imminent.

Two main elements contributed to this perception of inevitable disaster. The first was that so much was at stake—the Supreme Court, anti-abortion laws, socialist big government programs, massive regulations and even the specter of persecution for the Faith.

The candidate that represented all these things enjoyed all the prestige of the media and the favor of the pollsters. The foreboding of a sinister outcome could not have been greater.

The second element was the lack of a moral solution proportional to the level of the crisis. Moral conservatives were faced with a candidate that was universally acknowledged as flawed and many considered as merely the lesser of two evils.

This was an election of desperation not enthusiasm because the alternative was just too awful to fathom. Significant sectors of the electorate, however, did not feel they could unite around a candidate that did not share many of their values.

And then it happened. A startled electorate watched the results come in and saw the numbers slowly shift in their favor with a sweep of the White House, both houses of Congress, and a record number of state houses.

Analysts are still scrambling to explain the unexpected results of the elections. They point to abstract categories like the blue-collar vote, the white vote or the Catholic vote.

For them, all elections are number games and media shows. They believe the outcome depends on who plays the game best and spends the most.

There was, however, another factor outside the game that should not be underestimated. In the face of an impending disaster, many Americans did something that they do not often do in political situations like these. They prayed.

Prayer is not something that can be measured by polls or political observers. And since it cannot be quantified, those without faith treat them as something quaint and childish hardly worthy of consideration.

But in an election where all the rules of the game were broken, there is no reason to rule out the influence of prayer. The fact is many Americans did pray in the weeks and days leading up to that fateful November day when the course of the nation was decided.

Not only did they pray, but it appears they prayed hard. All across America, there were prayer vigils, rosaries, novenas and benediction services that were mentioned on social media or announced in church bulletins. Some fasted for the nation.

Thousands gathered and prayed in the public square. Others simply poured out their souls to God in almost biblical manner asking for His aid in their moments of affliction.

And as is common with such prayers, there was an implicit promise that if we were delivered from this trial, we would turn back to God.

Of course, to suggest that this prayer might have had something to do with the final results of an election is anathema. None dare whisper it for it is so politically incorrect.

But in this election that broke all the rules, why not break one more rule and shout it about? The fact is countless Americans who woke up on the morning of November 9 after the election sensed their prayers had been answered beyond all expectations.

They sensed un-explainable Christian joy and hope in seeing a calamity had been averted. They were convinced in the depths of their souls that God had heard their prayers. They were energized by the results, and are determined to turn back to God.

This is not to say that God endorsed the winning candidate (he lost the popular vote) only that He heard the cries of those who were afflicted and found a way to deliver them from a catastrophic future. The victory may have been due much more to those who called it forth with their prayers than the efforts of its flawed victor.

God also did not grant total victory. However, many feel He has given America a great reprieve, a second chance, to get it right with Him.

If we have been given this reprieve, then we should use it to turn back to God. We should keep our part of the bargain and turn back to Him and His law. There is no time to be complacent or delve into purely economic solutions that sidestep the moral crisis in America.

The fervent prayers must continue. Above all, we must also make sure our elected officials follow through on their promises of a platform that puts God first and thus will truly make America great.

Indeed, we have a little time, a short reprieve. We would do well to use this time wisely. This election has shown what can be done. If we uphold God’s law, we can count on Him to break all the rules.

Friday, November 25, 2016

CONFIDENCE IN THE CHURCH

Our position of strength

By Dr. Jeff Mirus

When I outlined the suffering we experience when confronted with any form of infidelity in a pope (or a bishop or a pastor), I concluded that we should not expect the life of a Catholic to be free of such hardships, any more than we should expect our best pastors to be free of suffering induced by our own failures in fidelity to Christ, the Gospel and the Church.

We have no warrant, I pointed out, for regarding our sufferings as intolerable or unfair, when in fact we are called to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church. I concluded by noting that Our Lord frequently answered the complaints and questions of his disciples by saying simply, “Follow me.” Such was the essential argument of Confidence in the Church: What do we do when we want to cry?. But I also promised a second installment devoted to “the more positive aspects of our situation”.

So let me begin at once with what must easily be the most overlooked benefit of the problem I have just described. I will start with a simple yet paradoxical affirmation: It is not good for us when everything in the Church invariably goes along in the way we think it should.

The benefit of self-doubt

As human persons we are remarkably adept at confusing God’s will with our own ideas, and confusing authentic Catholic renewal with whatever we think best. I do not intend for a moment to back away from my assertion that Pope Francis has, at a minimum, caused considerable uncertainty about major issues in the Church which lie at the heart of Catholic renewal.

But at the same time I believe we must all learn to take our own convictions about such matters with a grain of salt. In other words, when we find ourselves at variance with the Pope, we do well to examine the issues very carefully, striving to identify in ourselves areas of imperfect understanding, or areas in which more than one viewpoint is possible without any error in faith.

A great evil stalks those of us who tend to be reflexively certain that we are right. For example, after I wrote the first installment of this two-part series, I received an email from a reader who could not imagine how I could be oblivious to the wonderful renewal that Pope Francis is spearheading.

He even went so far as to suggest that if only I would ask Our Lord about my excessively negative perception of things, I would find that He is a God of joy Who could not possibly share my habitual gloom.

Maybe so, but anyone who says, “Just pray over it and you’ll see I’m right” is already guilty of an extraordinarily myopic and self-serving error: I mean the conviction that another’s disagreement proves the absence of a sound spiritual life! And I am willing to bet that each one of us has fallen into that trap on more than one occasion.

Still, even ill-phrased criticism is a reminder that it is just remotely possible, in the grand scheme of things, that any of us could, on some rare and obviously unimportant matter, be very slightly mistaken. This is why criticism should not be met with hurt feelings or anger, but with serious reflection before the Lord. One of our most urgent prayers should be taken from Psalm 19:

But who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. [Ps 19:12-14]
We should always examine ourselves and the issues we confront not only carefully but prayerfully. We must not fail to pursue what we believe to be the right course, but even our strongest convictions should be held with an awareness that we sometimes make mistakes. Even with our best efforts, we must always pray that we will not lead anyone astray.

There is very little on the face of the earth that should make us as wary of our own fallibility as differences with our pastors, our bishops, and particularly the pope. Nothing is so calculated, if we reflect and pray, to stimulate our own spiritual growth.

I am not being absurd when I affirm that I do not want everything in the Church to go my way until I enjoy the Church triumphant in Heaven. It is an odious self-centeredness that induces Catholics to break into sects and surround themselves only with the like-minded.

No, even as we act on our convictions and strive to serve Christ and the Church in the best possible way, we must remain aware that differences within the Church—taken in the right way—have enormous potential to both spiritually strengthen and humble us.

Such sufferings invariably invite us to give ourselves more and more to Our Lord and Savior. In God’s Providence, surely, we are permitted to become aware of a lack of perfection in the Church around us for two reasons. The first reason is easily seen in the opportunities we have to strengthen the Church. But the second reason may be harder to perceive: The dangers of our own complacency.

The irrelevance of popes, bishops and pastors

Now let me turn to a problem which I have headed with a very provocative subtitle. I do not really mean to say that popes, bishops and pastors are irrelevant to the fundamental constitution of the Church, or the Church’s health, or the good of souls.

Nothing could be less true than that. But a moment’s reflection will reveal that the quality of those in ecclesiastical authority only very rarely interferes with our own ability to give effective witness or to engage in the apostolate

Since I am a “talking head” (or more accurately, a set of ten talking fingers), I must frequently confront what appear to me to be the failings of Church leaders. But for most of us most of the time, whether Pope Francis is a good or a bad pope (to take but one example) makes very little difference to our ability to engage in those hallmarks of apostolic self-giving which we call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

A bad pope makes more problems for bishops than anyone else, just as a bad bishop makes more problems for priests than he does for lay persons. Trust me when I say that we laity are seldom aware of the scope of priestly suffering. I hope it does not sound callous to confess that I have come to depend on this suffering as a source of grace. Our priests are so easily caught between the episcopal devil and the deep blue sea of the laity!

After all, it is not as if the laity are on the payroll, and even in the more dangerous position of the priesthood, it is extraordinarily rare for a worthy priest to be barred from ministry altogether.

We may not always be able to perform a good work in the way we had envisioned it, but we nearly always have ample scope for doing what we believe God is calling us to do, especially among our family, neighbors, friends and co-workers, or even in broader independent apostolates.

What we must avoid is the grave danger of becoming preoccupied with the shortcomings of our ecclesiastical superiors, including the Pope himself. It is easy enough to allow our annoyance or disagreement to paralyze us, as if our sole role in life is to set others straight, and we have nothing more to offer.

Most of us are called to set others straight only in a relatively small circle. All of us have ample scope for helping others both spiritually and materially—far more scope, generally, than we are selfless enough to use. And yet we may suffer a kind of paralysis.

Bogged down in debating whether Pope Francis or Bishop X is right or wrong, we will most likely leave the lane to the basket open for Satan’s slam dunk.

For we are not called to paralysis. At some point, we must return our attention to whatever it is that we discern God calling us to in prayer. The chances are, if we set aside our preoccupation with reaching to the very top and rectifying the problems we see there, we will find that we have far more scope for serving Christ than we dared—in our habitual annoyance—to recognize.

Yes, it is possible to find ourselves in circumstances so dire that it is clear God has marked out for us an exclusive calling to suffering and prayer. But that is hardly a typical outcome of our disagreements with bishops and popes.

We must not allow discontents to give Satan a double victory—over the one we are complaining about, and over ourselves. We must keep our perspective so that we can focus on the good God has given us to do.

This is the perfect time to reread the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Or again, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” We are all members of the one body, and so we all have our own roles to play.

Spiritual warfare

There is ample scope in Christ for all of our labors, even when there are difficulties beyond our power to remedy. To cite St. Paul again, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

The most frustrated apostle I ever saw in the flesh was Pope Paul VI. He was engulfed by trends in the Church and the world which he simply could not control. I was present at a general audience on his ninth anniversary, when he confessed that all he had been able to do for the Church was suffer. This is no mean calling.

At that time I was still very young, newly married, about to embark on an academic career, and in possession of a dashing self-image that looked suspiciously like a knight in shining armor.

It took me some time to shed that conceit entirely, but hearing that statement from the Pope himself at least set me on the right path. When we are discontented with the way things are going in the Church, our first response must always be prayer. Prayer may be followed by discernment. As discernment develops, we may find we should do something about the problem.

Our position of strength

We may even find that we are called to do something directly ourselves, but I’d like to suggest at least that all of us are called to complain less about the direction of the Church and sacrifice more. I have little to boast of on this score, but the unpleasant subject of fasting has impressed itself upon me recently more often than I could wish.

Perhaps fasting should be a requirement for those who wish to shoot off their mouths (or fingers), and yet I am not fond of hunger pains. Still, perhaps I really should recommend that all of us who are concerned, particularly about Pope Francis, should find ways to offer up regular sacrifices.

The purpose would be to put teeth into our prayers, to show Our Lord that we really do want him to care assiduously for the Pope and to guide him, both in the paths he follows and in the words he says. This is worth serious thought. At a minimum, it puts things in perspective. If we find the shortcomings of our ecclesiastical father—the pope, our papa—great enough to complain about, or if we find his instances of imprudence significant enough to try to correct, then perhaps we ought to do more than simply blame him for making us suffer.

God knows that I am no advocate of a universal silence; I counsel only, for the good of souls, due reflection before we speak. But perhaps we can discipline our tongues in another way as well. We certainly ought to pray for right judgment in both the pope and ourselves.

That’s a fine lingual exercise, even when the prayer is mental. But perhaps we really can do something more. Perhaps we ought to try that other discipline of the tongue. Perhaps we ought to fast.

And if we find we complain frequently but are unwilling to fast, we should ask ourselves why. Prayer and fasting constitute, after all, the Christian’s greatest position of strength.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org.See full bio.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

HOW CATHOLICS CAN CONQUER DEPRESSION

‘Our understanding of depression can be more complete if we draw on insights from medicine and psychology, on the one hand, and our Catholic tradition on the other’

An American psychiatrist explains what inspired him to write a guide to the condition specifically for members of the Church

I was motivated to write the book A Catholic Guide to Depression because I believe that our Catholic tradition – including the writings of the Church Fathers and saints – has something important to say to those suffering from this terrible affliction.

Depression is often misunderstood; most people mistakenly believe it’s nothing more than intense or prolonged sadness, when in fact it’s a complex illness that can profoundly impair a person’s mental and physical functioning. Because of mistaken assumptions, those who are afflicted with clinical depression often suffer in silence, unrecognised by others.

I wrote the book first to speak to those who suffer from depression. I hope it will also be helpful for family, friends, clergy, and spiritual directors to gain a better understanding of depression, so that they can more effectively support their loved ones.

If someone is afflicted with cancer, this person is flooded with sympathy from family and friends, and support from the local parish, perhaps with special mention in the general intercessions at Mass, and so on.

If someone suffers from depression, this person probably receives, at best, a few well-meaning but ineffective attempts at sympathy from family or close friends, but often without true understanding. There is rarely public mention of the problem due to the stigma of mental illness.

I recall one patient, a married Catholic woman with several children and grandchildren, who had suffered from both life-threatening breast cancer and severe depression.

She once told me she would choose the cancer over the depression, as the latter caused far more intense suffering. She tragically committed suicide a few years after she stopped seeing me for treatment.

In a 2003 address on the theme of depression (included in an appendix of the book), Blessed John Paul II said that depression is always a spiritual trial: “This disease is often accompanied by an existential and spiritual crisis that leads to an inability to perceive the meaning of life.”

He went on to stress how non-professionals, motivated by Christian charity and compassion, can help those with depression: “The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live.

It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved.”

Depression is a complex condition that affects more than just a person’s emotions; it impairs one’s cognition, perceptions of the world, physical health and bodily functioning. The causes of depression are likewise complex. The medical model that characterises depression as simply a “chemical imbalance in the brain” is true but also incomplete.

Neurobiological and genetic factors do play a causative role; but so do psychological, interpersonal, behavioural, cultural, social, moral, and indeed, spiritual factors. Depression should be understood and treated from all of these complementary perspectives.

Medications and other biological treatments have an important therapeutic role in many cases, as does psychotherapy provided by competent, sensitive, and skilled professionals. These should be integrated with spiritual support and spiritual direction, a life of prayer and the sacraments.

All truth is symphonic: there is a harmony between faith and reason, theology and science, if only we discover it. Our understanding of depression can be more complete if we draw upon insights from medicine and psychology on the one hand, and from our Catholic tradition on the other.

There is a need for a constructive dialogue here, as John Paul II pointed out to a group of psychiatrists in 1993: “By its very nature your work often brings you to the threshold of human mystery. It involves sensitivity to the tangled workings of the human mind and heart, and openness to the ultimate concerns that give meaning to people’s lives.

These areas are of the utmost importance to the Church, and they call to mind the urgent need for a constructive dialogue between science and religion for the sake of shedding greater light on the mystery of man in his fullness.”

According to its original Greek root, the word “psychiatrist” literally means “doctor of the soul”. But in modern psychiatry, this original meaning has largely been abandoned: psychiatrists today tend to focus on the body, especially the brain, to the exclusion of the soul.

Other critics have leveled the opposite complaint against psychiatry and psychology, claiming that we overstep our limitations and often tread on territory that was once occupied by religion. For example, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wondered whether the psychoanalyst’s couch has replaced the priest’s confessional in the modern world.

Despite the legitimate concerns raised by these critics, John Paul II reaffirmed that a genuine dialogue presupposes that both parties involved have something worthwhile to say to the other.

The confessional was never meant to cure neurosis or other mental disturbances, and the couch was never meant to absolve sin. John Paul II continues in the same address:

“The confessional is not, and cannot be, an alternative to the psychoanalyst or psychotherapist’s office, nor can one expect the Sacrament of Penance to heal truly pathological conditions. The confessor is not a physician or a healer in the technical sense of the term; in fact, if the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals.”

While the sacraments alone were never meant to cure mental afflictions like depression, they can and do play a healing role in a plan of recovery. The principle of “sacramentality” in Catholic theology, based on the central Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, affirms that the material world can mediate spiritual realities.

As creatures of both body and soul, we relate to God through our senses. If I’m burdened by guilt or by sins of the past (often the case in depressed persons), when I go to Confession I’m able, in a very tangible way, to hear words of absolution from the priest who is acting in the name of Christ and the Church.

Many people who have gone to Confession describe this powerful experience of psychological healing. They are able to walk out knowing with total conviction that they have indeed been forgiven, that the burden they’ve been carrying has been lifted.

The Catholic sacramental system is indeed consistent with our psychological make-up: we need to hear these words of absolution in order to more tangibly experience God’s mercy. We also know that sin not only harms our relationship with God but with others as well.

In Confession there is the experience a sense of reintegration with a community: the priest represents the Church, the community of Christians, with whom the penitent is reconciled. All this is powerfully healing, and lifts a burden spiritually and psychologically.

Likewise, in participating at Mass, one’s own psychological suffering is united to the suffering of Christ – who suffered for me psychologically and physically. In Holy Communion, I receive his flesh offered for me and his blood poured out for my redemption and my healing.

While this does not magically cure all physical or mental afflictions, the grace of the sacrament does strengthen me to bear these burdens in union with Christ.

Our Lord says now to those who suffer what he said to his Apostles at the Last Supper: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20), and he assures us: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

Dr Aaron Kheriaty is the director of residency training and medical education in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. A Catholic Guide to Depression is published by Sophia Institute Press (Sophiainstitute.com)and available on Kindle from Amazon.co.uk

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Catholic Herald dated 3/5/13

Thursday, October 27, 2016

THE BATTLE AGAINST SATAN CONTINUES!

Dear Readers,

The battle against Satan continues!

This time, however, we are called against the devil's more subtle snare: Halloween.

Amazon and Wal-Mart are selling Halloween costume sets that are directly targeted to offend Christians and mock religion!

I am thoroughly appalled to have to relate this information. (READ WITH CAUTION: Horrible, immoral thing coming up.)

One of the costumes, offensively called “Keep up the Faith,” portrays a priest in a state of sexual excitement; the other, whose name is self explanatory, is called “Pregnant Nun.”

As disgusting as this is, the matter is made worse by the fact that these representations are sold where children can see them!

Sellers have removed items that offend Native Indians, Muslims and homosexuals! And yet, they seem absolutely unconcerned about deliberately mocking Christians!

We ! cannot let this be! We must speak out against this outrageous assault!

Please sign our petition, and consider giving Walmart and Amazon a call, letting them know that we will not stand for this egregious and immoral attack on our Catholic Faith.

  SIGN THE PETITION HERE

If we remain silent, these attacks will continue. We must prayerfully fight on...only then, by the grace of God, can we succeed.

Wishing you a very blessed week, I remain,

Sincerely,

John Horvat

Vice-President, Tradition, Family and Property (TFP)

www.ReturnToOrder.orgE

Monday, October 24, 2016

INTERIOR CASTLE

By St Teresa of Avila 
 

FIRST MANSIONS

In which there are Two Chapters.

CHAPTER I

Treats of the beauty and dignity of our souls; makes a comparison by the help of which this may be understood; describes the benefit which comes from understanding it and being aware of the favors which we receive from God; and shows how the door of this castle is prayer.
While I was beseeching Our Lord today that He would speak through me, since I could find nothing to say and had no idea how to begin to carry out the obligation laid upon me by obedience, a thought occurred to me which I will now set down, in order to have some foundation on which to build.

I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms,[17] just as in Heaven there are many mansions.[18] Now if we think carefully over this, sisters, the soul of the righteous man is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight.[19] For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?

I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity. In fact, however acute our intellects may be, they will no more be able to attain to a comprehension of this than to an understanding of God; for, as He Himself says, He created us in His image and likeness.[20]

Now if this is so -- and it is -- there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves by attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul's great dignity and beauty.[21]

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. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came?

Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if 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.

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. All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle -- that is to say, in these bodies of ours.

Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions,[22] 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.

You must think over this comparison very carefully; perhaps God will be pleased to use it to show you something of the favors which He is pleased to grant to souls, and of the differences between them, so far as I have understood this to be possible, for there are so many of them that nobody can possibly understand them all, much less anyone as stupid as I.

If the Lord grants you these favors, it will be a great consolation to you to know that such things are possible; and, if you never receive any, you can still praise His great goodness. For, as it does us no harm to think of the things laid up for us in Heaven, and of the joys of the blessed, but rather makes us rejoice and strive to attain those joys ourselves, just so it will do us no harm to find that it is possible in this our exile for so great a God to commune with such malodorous worms, and to love Him for His great goodness and boundless mercy.

I am sure that anyone who finds it harmful to realize that it is possible for God to grant such favors during this our exile must be greatly lacking in humility and in love of his neighbor; for otherwise how could we help rejoicing that God should grant these favors to one of our brethren when this in no way hinders Him from granting them to ourselves, and that His Majesty should bestow an understanding of His greatness upon anyone soever?

Sometimes He will do this only to manifest His power, as He said of the blind man to whom He gave his sight, when the Apostles asked Him if he were suffering for his own sins or for the sins of his parents.[23]

He grants these favors, then, not because those who receive them are holier than those who do not, but in order that His greatness may be made known, as we see in the case of Saint Paul and the Magdalen, and in order that we may praise Him in His creatures.

It may be said that these things seem impossible and that it is better not to scandalize the weak. But less harm is done by their disbelieving us than by our failing to edify those to whom God grants these favours, and who will rejoice and will awaken others to a fresh love of Him Who grants such mercies, according to the greatness of His power and majesty.

In any case I know that none to whom I am speaking will run into this danger, because they all know and believe that God grants still greater proofs of His love. I am sure that, if any one of you does not believe this, she will never learn it by experience. For God's will is that no bounds should be set to His works. Never do such a thing, then, sisters, if the Lord does not lead you by this road.

Now let us return to our beautiful and delightful castle and see how we can enter it. I seem rather to be talking nonsense, for, if this castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it.

For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of "being" in a place.

Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and have no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has.

You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.

A short time ago I was told by a very learned man that souls without prayer are like people whose bodies or limbs are paralysed: they possess feet and hands but they cannot control them. In the same way, there are souls so infirm and so accustomed to busying themselves with outside affairs that nothing can be done for them, and it seems as though they are incapable of entering within themselves at all.

So accustomed have they grown to living all the time with the reptiles and other creatures to be found in the outer court of the castle that they have almost become like them; and although by nature they are so richly endowed as to have the power of holding converse with none other than God Himself, there is nothing that can be done for them.

Unless they strive to realize their miserable condition and to remedy it, they will be turned into pillars of salt for not looking within themselves, just as Lot's wife was because she looked back.[24]

As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation.

If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips.

True, it is sometimes possible to pray without paying heed to these things, but that is only because they have been thought about previously; if a man is in the habit of speaking to God's Majesty as he would speak to his slave, and never wonders if he is expressing himself properly, but merely utters the words that come to his lips because he has learned them by heart through constant repetition, I do not call that prayer at all -- and God grant no Christian may ever speak to Him so!

At any rate, sisters, I hope in God that none of you will, for we are accustomed here to talk about interior matters, and that is a good way of keeping oneself from falling into such animal-like habits.[25]

Let us say no more, then, of these parralysed souls, who, unless the Lord Himself comes and commands them to rise, are like the man who had lain beside the pool for thirty years:[26] they are unfortunate creatures and live in great peril. Let us rather think of certain other souls, who do eventually enter the castle.

These are very much absorbed in worldly affairs; but their desires are good; sometimes, though infrequently, they commend themselves to Our Lord; and they think about the state of their souls, though not very carefully. Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also.[27]

From time to time, however, they shake their minds free of them and it is a great thing that they should know themselves well enough to realize that they are not going the right way to reach the castle door. Eventually they enter the first rooms on the lowest floor, but so many reptiles get in with them that they are unable to appreciate the beauty of the castle or to find any peace within it. Still, they have done a good deal by entering at all.

You will think this is beside the point, daughters, since by the goodness of the Lord you are not one of these. But you must be patient, for there is no other way in which I can explain to you some ideas I have had about certain interior matters concerning prayer.

May it please the Lord to enable me to say something about them; for to explain to you what I should like is very difficult unless you have had personal experience; and anyone with such experience, as you will see, cannot help touching upon subjects which, please God, shall, by His mercy, never concern us.

Contents

 17. [Aposentos -- a rather more pretentious word than the English "room": dwellingplace, abode, apartment.]

18. [Moradas: derived from morar, to dwell, and not, therefore, absolute identical in sense with "mansions". The reference, however, is to St. John xiv, 2.]

19. Proverbs viii, 31.

20. Genesis i, 26.

21. Here the Saint erased several words and inserted others, leaving the phrase as it is in the text.

22. [Moradas (see n. 18, above).]

23. St. John ix, 2.

24. Genesis xix, 26.

25. [Lit., "into such bestiality".] P. Graci�n deletes "bestiality" and substitutes "abomination." [I think the translation in the text, however, is a more successful way of expressing what was in St. Teresa's mind: cf. St. John of the Cross's observations on "animal penances" -- penitencias de bestias -- in his Dark Night, I, vi (Complete Works, I, 365-6.)]

26. P. Graci�n corrects this to "thirty-eight years." St. John v, 5.

27. St. Matthew vi, 21