Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel – On Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay

My notes from the book: Dubay, Thomas. Fire Within: St. Teresa of 
Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel—On Prayer. 
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989. Print.

Chapter 1: A Question of Relevance

I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I would that it were already blazing” (Luke 12:49).

This saying from Jesus perfectly captures the content of this book. Our communion with Him is to become a blazing fire, a perpetual ecstasy.

Reflecting like mirrors the very brilliance of the Lord, we are even in this life to be

“transformed from one glory to another into the very image that we reflect—this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross will serve as our reliable guides to this spiritual summit and how we can dispose ourselves to the fire within. Because men and women of heroic virtue are fully responsive to the Holy Spirit, they are the best exegetes of the divine word inspired by the same Spirit.

Dubay’s thesis in this book is that these two saints are “pure Gospel” (Pope Pius XI). They point to nothing but what the Gospel already promises.

This is a book on advanced prayer, perfect joy, and the heights of holiness to which the Gospel invites everyone.

Are you willing to pay the price of pursuing these claims?

A key theme throughout the book: Quality of prayer correlates with the quality of life. LiLifestylend prayer grow or diminish together.

Chapter 2: The Woman and the Man

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa was an extraordinarily gifted woman. Dubay gives a good warning never to think you have Teresa figured out on any topic after reading a chapter from one of her books because she was not methodical in her writing. So you need to read all of her works to really get a good picture of what she has to say on a topic.

From a natural standpoint, she had a rare personality in being able to combine seemingly contradictory qualities: well-rounded, attractive, funny, all-or-nothing disposition, imaginative (400+ images to explain things in writings), sharp and tough, shrewd.  Story – ran off as a little child to be martyred by the Moors because she heard martyrs went straight to heaven.

From a supernatural standpoint, Teresa exemplifies the strong correlation between suffering well and growth in prayer depth. The classic image of St. Teresa’s transfixion by an angel – the large golden dart that left her all on fire with great love for God. Teresa was so intent on utter conformity to the divine good pleasure that, not content with simply avoiding any sin, no matter how tiny (she said, rather “be cut in pieces” than commit a single venial sin), she also decided always to carry out what she perceived as the more perfect course of action.

St. John of the Cross

From a natural standpoint, St. John of the Cross loved nature, music, poetry (his greatest natural talent), serene, simple, fearless, intelligent, hard on himself but tender with others.

From a supernatural standpoint, he combined in himself the loftiest sublimity of love experiences with an extraordinary talent for describing them. Sheer sanctity was his paramount trait.

Chapter 3: The Experience of God

Experience is an awareness caused by contact with an objective other, and in this contact affectivity predominates.

The experience of God is a contact with the divine – delicate, wordless, imageless – not immediately perceptible to the senses. Spiritual order primary. Emotional order secondary. As one grows in prayer, these gentle beginnings slowly develop in both intensity and duration. Extraordinary experiences like visions or voices. Ordinary experiences like love and light.

“Everything I say is as far from the reality as is a painting from the living object represented” ~ St. John of the Cross

A mystical touch is a deep, intimate contact-union-experience of God in one of His attributes such as power, light, goodness, beauty, or joy.

A wound of love is like a fiery dark to one’s inner center that sparks a longing for the beatific vision itself.

“The wound effected by the cautery of love is incurable through medicine; for the very cautery that causes it, cures it, and by curing it, causes it. As often as the cautery of love touches the wound of love, it causes a deeper wound of love, and thus the more it wounds, the more it cures and heals. The more wounded the lover, the healthier he is.” ~ St. John of the Cross, F, st. 2, no. 7, p. 597

Chapter 4: Creation and Meditation

A serious prayer life normally begins humbly with small steps.

Meditation: John and Teresa consider meditative prayer upon God’s works of creation and redemption as the most important and indispensable way to begin preparing the soul for profound contemplative communion with the indwelling Trinity.For St. John of the Cross, because he was so purified of selfish clingings to the things of the world, creation brought him great delight as a sacramental sign of the hidden Beloved.

Going beyond meditation: We begin to pray in a human way and slowly are led by the Lord Himself into a divine way. When God begins to give this superior communion, leave behind all methods. The finite beauty of creation and even meditation itself is only a messenger and a means to a far greater end: intimacy with the Trinity.

Faith: faith is radically necessary to reach the inner life of the Trinity – to bridge the gap – because all means must be proportioned to their ends (finite realities cannot go to infinite ends).

“If the intellect, then, is to reach union with God in this life, insofar as is possible, it must take that means which bears a proximate resemblance to God and unites with Him.” (A, bk. 2, chap. 8, nos. 2–3, p. 126).

Faith in John’s Teaching: Faith can affect a basic “agreement” since it essentially “resembles” God. Faith is a quality in the soul – a dark, loving knowledge – that enables us to find God.


Insofar as he is capable, a person must void himself of all, so that, however many supernatural communications he receives, he will continually live as though denuded of them and in darkness. Like a blind man he must lean on dark faith, accept it for his guide and light, and rest on nothing of what he understands, tastes, feels or imagines.… For however impressive may be one’s knowledge or feeling of God, that knowledge or feeling will have no resemblance to God and amount to very little. ~ A,  nos. 2–3, pp. 112–13.

Chapter 5: What is Contemplation? 

Christic contemplation is nothing less than a deep love communion with the triune God. By depth here we mean a knowing-loving that we cannot produce but only receive. It is not merely a mentally expressed “I love You”. It is a wordless awareness and love that we of ourselves cannot initiate or prolong.

St. Teresa’s Concept of Contemplation is an experienced, mutual presence, “an intimate sharing between friends”, a being alone with the God Who loves us (Life, chap. 8, no. 5, p. 67). For Teresa this indwelling presence is the focal point of prayer: wherever God is, there is heaven, a fullness of glory. We are to find Him deep within ourselves, just as Augustine did. We are aware of the divine presence through the effects the Lord produces within us: faith, love, good resolutions, etc. A deep experience of God can overflow into our emotional life, but in its essence it is literally non-sensed. Teresa stresses that we can and must prepare ourselves for the divine gift of contemplation. God gives only to the extent that we efficaciously desire, that is, not merely wish something to happen but take concrete means to fit ourselves to receive it.

“In reality,” notes Teresa, “the soul in that state [of union] does no more than the wax when a seal is impressed upon it—that is, it is soft—and it does not even soften itself so as to be prepared; it merely remains quiet and consenting.”

Advancing communion with God does not happen in isolation from the rest of life… intrinsic connection between prayer depth and quality of life… in both exterior actions & interior inspirations.

St. John of the Cross’ concept of contemplation summary: When a generous individual can no longer meditate discursively, “he should learn to remain in God’s presence with a loving attention and a tranquil intellect”, even though this seems like idleness to him. Soon he will find little by little that a “divine calm and peace with a wondrous, sublime knowledge of God, enveloped in divine love, will be infused into his soul.” A dark and loving knowing. Contemplation given by the Holy Spirit burns faults away and produces virtues. “From their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:20).  The surest sign of genuine prayer is the steady deepening of faith, hope, love, humility, patience, purity and all the other virtues. Contemplation is a purifying fire, “a dark, loving spiritual fire”. Contemplation, therefore, is not divorced from the rest of life. We pray in solitude, yes, but we return to our brothers and sisters with something rich to share, a far deeper, more loving, more giving self. It is noncontemplative people who fall short of living a full human life.

 Biblical Formulation of Contemplation is an unworded prayer, an infused love, a deep delight and peace, meant for all people.

A contemporary formulation of Contemplation:  Infused contemplation is a divinely originated, dark (no images or concepts), loving awareness of God. At times this is a delightful, loving attention, at times a dry, purifying desire, at other times a strong thirsting for Him. Always it is transformative of the person. The intensity and duration increases over time (if Gospel living increases over time too). God gradually and slowly “captures” the inner faculties. He first occupies the will and then the imagination and the intellect. This is why in the beginnings of infused prayer distractions are common: only the will is taken over. Later on, during deep absorptions and ecstatic prayer, these distractions cease.

Chapter 6: The Teresian Mansions

St. Teresa’s Interior Castle is not only her most mature work; it is also the all-time classic on the question of the development of prayer from its incipient beginnings to its mature fullness in the transforming union.

St. Teresa insists that we should know where we are in prayer because

  1. We need support and encouragement along the way: when we understand how prayer grows and that it entails sacrifices and difficulties, we will not be surprised by them and not be downhearted in the weariness we are bound to meet. This also allows us to see that we are making progress.

  2. We should know how to operate at the different stages of growth, for one prays differently according to the stage one’s prayer has reached.

  3. To discern genuine gifts (and prepare for them) properly from self-deceptions or demonic intrusions.
  4. Glimpsing the splendor of contemplative fulfillment is a strong spur toward making all the sacrifices entailed in reaching it. If we are to carry our cross every day, if we are to enter through the narrow gate and walk the rough road, we will be encouraged by discovering something of what eye has not seen nor ear heard, of what does not even dawn on us, namely, what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Vocal Prayer

For Teresa, vocal prayer is verbalized mental prayer (this is poles apart from rote recitation). In this manner, vocal prayer is noble and should prepare the soul for contemplation.

“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.” (IC, mans. 4, chap. 1, p. 32; KR, no. 7, p. 286).

“It follows logically enough that one vocal prayer, even so little as one petition of the Our Father, if well said, is better than many recited thoughtlessly or hurriedly” ~ Way, chap. 31, p. 209

Teresa’s recommendations to improve vocal prayer:

  1. Active recollection – work hard & persevere to gather yourself together, to still wanderings of your mind and the restlessness of your heart. Begin with examen and sign of the cross. Then seek out a companion: “Imagine that this Lord Himself is at your side and see how lovingly and how humbly He is teaching you” (Way, chap. 26, p. 173). Just look at Him. Get an image of the Lord that you like and use it regularly whenever you talk to Him. We need concrete beginnings! Teresa realized how to apply to the question of prayer the profound theological principle of the Incarnation: No one goes to the Father except by me” (Jn 14:6).  
  2. Focus on the Trinitarian Indwelling Mystery – Learn to find the Lord in the deepest center of your being. “Focusing on the indwelling presence” says Teresa, is for wandering minds “one of the best ways of concentrating the mind” in prayer.
  3. Speak intimately and affectionately – “Speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord and a Spouse—and sometimes in one way and sometimes in another” (Way, chap. 28, p. 184).

“Those who are able to shut themselves up in this way within this little Heaven of the soul, wherein dwells the Maker of Heaven and earth, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and staying in no place which will distract these outward senses, may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road, and will come without fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for they will journey a long way in a short time” ~ Way, chap. 28, p. 185

St. Teresa’s Growth Images

Favourite images:

(1) Flowing water – The saint uses water to represent the giftness of advanced prayer together with its progressive ease of effort. The garden of the soul can be watered in 4 ways. This shows how prayer grows beyond the more laborious activities of discursive meditation to a less active effort and more simple communing, until finally reaching the effortless contemplation of the transforming union.

(2) Inner castle – Teresa, after receiving a vision from Christ, found herself thinking “of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions”.  In the center of the crystal castle, the soul, is the Sun. As we grow in prayer we draw closer to this divine Sun and are transformed into Him—nonpantheistically, of course. Living in the soul’s center, the Sun gives it all its splendor and beauty, and the human temple “is as capable of enjoying Him as is the crystal of reflecting the sun”. Reflects the image in the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation.

  • NB – The 7 mansions are NOT pigeonholes & our developments are NOT discrete jumps from 1 to the next. We grow gradually and imperceptibly at times. It is more of a continuity. Some mansions can blend into each other – “there is no closed door to separate the one from the one.” 1-3 Mansions = 30% of text. 4-7 Mansions = 70% of text –> almost entirely about prayer in its infused developments.

  • 1st Mansion:
    • St. Teresa’s starting point is the absolutely basic condition for a serious prayer life: an earnest, continuing effort to rid oneself of sins, imperfections and attachments. Teresa does not focus on methods or techniques. Christic communion is a love matter before it is anything else. These people want to avoid offending God and may perform good works. Yet they are, at this early stage, still absorbed in worldly matters and pleasures, and they are “puffed up with worldly honours and ambitions”. Because they are free from serious sin, the King does dwell in their castle, but they have only a tenuous relationship with Him, and they scarcely see His light, so submerged are they in things of the world.
    • What then is the beginner to do? Leave the spirit of the world. The main business of the beginner, therefore, is to make a determined turnabout from preoccupation with this worldly world to a life centered in the Trinity.

    • Discursive meditation – thoughtful reflection on nature, but even more importantly on the supernatural order, especially the words found in the Gospels. No complicated steps and substeps. Love, not reasoning, is primary. “If you would progress a long way on this road and ascend to the Mansions of your desire, the important thing is not to think much, but to love much.”  IC, mans. 4, chap. 1, p. 76

  • 2nd Mansion
    • People –  These people have experienced some growth from the 1st mansion. God is appealing to them in many ways and the message is slowly getting through, but they are still “children” in practicing the virtues and are weak & irresolute when it comes to giving up worldly pastimes.
    •  Advice:
      1. Companionship – the soul should avoid a close association with “evil” and mediocre people and make it a point to mix with the good, that is, not only with those in the early mansions but also with those who have advanced into the mansions “nearer the center”, where the King is. To be in close touch with these latter is a great help, for they tend to bring others to higher things along with themselves.
      2. “Embrace the Cross” along with the suffering Lord – a generous, willed welcome to hardships and dryness in prayer.
      3. Daily fidelity to the divine will – “All that the beginner in prayer has to do … is to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God”

      4. Persistence – People in the second mansions surely do fall, and if they repent and persevere in their efforts, God will bring good even out of the failures.

      5. Fidelity to prayer – We cannot enter heaven without first entering our own souls, getting to know ourselves better, reflecting on the divine goodness and our need for mercy: “The door by which we can enter this castle is prayer.” There is no other, for Jesus is Himself the door.


  • 3rd Mansions
    • People = many such souls (even in lay life). They are careful not to offend God: “They avoid committing even venial sins; they love doing penance; they spend hours in recollection; they use their time well; they practice works of charity toward their neighbours; and they are very careful in their speech and dress and in the government of their household if they have one” (IC, mans. 3, chap. 1, p. 59). Human nature is an oppressive burden on the spirit. Find few spiritual joys. Ordinary people remain for a long time in the first 3 mansions.
    • Prayermodo humano, still somewhat discursive… an active focusing on the indwelling presence is the best way to prepare for (notice that she does not say produce) the prayer of quiet.

  • Fourth Mansions (2nd water)
    • “The greatest number of souls” enter these beginnings of infused prayer.
    • At this stage of development, “the natural is united with the supernatural” and a great deal of harm can be done… mingling between the human and the divine modes of praying. 
    • Whereas discursive prayer (in first 3 mansions) is like a person’s filling a basin through human effort by drawing the water and transporting it through “numerous conduits” from a long distance, infused contemplation is like the basin receiving water because it rests in the very Source, that is, in God, the ever-flowing fountain… the rising of the water is quiet and peaceful; one does not know where it comes from or how it arises..
    • 2 kinds of infused prayer in the 4th mansion: (1) The initial “recollection” – so gentle and delicate.  (2) The prayer of quietSt. Teresa calls it “interior quiet and peace.” The beginnings of infused prayer occur in the 4th mansions before the prayer of the quiet… a state of prayer “which is a quiet, deep and peaceful happiness in the will”, and yet one does not understand what it is. Some distractions are entirely possible because the memory and the intellect are not completely absorbed in God. Very easy prayer. Because it is infused, this prayer can be neither originated nor prolonged by our efforts or desire. Faint and fragile infusions. Distractions occur.
    • Key to St. Teresa’s explanation of the fourth mansions is the occupation of the will with God. At the moment when this prayer is given, the soul is captive, she remarks, and is not free to love anything but God… little by little the will brings the intellect and the memory back to recollection.
    • St. Teresa never divorces prayer from life – Infused prayer brings about increasing fidelity to the demands of the Gospel & heroic virtue.
    • Tips:
      1. Do NOT try to stop & suspend thought. – Taking it upon oneself to stop and suspend thought is what I mean should not be done; nor should we cease to work with the intellect, because otherwise we would be left like cold simpletons and be doing neither one thing nor the other… Trying to keep the soul’s faculties busy and thinking you can make them be quiet is foolish (Life, chap. 12, no. 5, p. 87). Attempts to force the mind to be empty do more harm than good. We are NOT producing a neutral state of awareness; we are receiving light and love from God. We leave aside discursive reasoning when we notice the infused quiet.
      2. Do NOT have to abandon meditation completely –  Teresa notes that in this prayer of recollection it is not necessary to abandon meditation completely, for the infusion is not continual by any means. The saint advises the person here to be gentle and simple (utter a single word)… “The most we should do is occasionally, and quite simply, to utter a single word, like a person giving a little puff to a candle, when he sees it has almost gone out, so as to make it burn again; though, if it were fully alight, I suppose the only result of blowing it would be to put it out. I think the puff should be a gentle one because, if we begin to tax our brains by making up long speeches, the will may become active again” (Way, chap. 31, p. 204)
      3. Be receptive – We must learn receptivity. We can receive only what He chooses to give and when and how He chooses to give it. St Teresa says: “we can no more control this prayer than we can make the day break, or stop night from falling; it is supernatural (infused) and something we cannot acquire” (Way, chap. 31, p. 204). The effort to cling to this is self-defeating too.
      4. Avoid excessive multiplication of vocal prayersWhen the delicate beginnings of infused prayer begins, do not recite vocal prayers or mental words to take up space
    • 3 conditions for continued growth when one reaches the 4th mansion:
      1. NEVER give up the habitual practice of prayer.
      2. Further detachment from everyone. If there is no lessening or selfish clingings, there is no growth in prayer.
      3. Seeking of greater solitude – without, of course, neglecting work or community. Teresa sees solitude as giving the Lord the opportunity to do His work in us as well as our being readied for communion with Him.

  • 5th Mansions (3rd Water)
    • The 5th Mansion is called “union” or “spiritual union” and the person in this mansion is introduced into the “spiritual betrothal.”
    • The prayer of union is of a tender and marital type, though it far transcends that of earthly marriage… spiritual joys and consolations given by the Lord are a thousand leagues removed from those experienced in marriage.
    • The divine invasion occurring in the fourth mansions now grows to the point where all of one’s inner energies are in union with the Trinity’s indwelling: “The faculties are almost totally united with God but not so absorbed as not to function … [they] have only the ability to be occupied completely with God” (Life, chap. 16, no. 2–3, p. 109)
    • Distractions cease during the time of absorption, that is, for 5, 10, or 15 minutes –> the length of this absorption in God is comparatively brief, never as long as a half hour.
    • The will, imagination, memory and intellect are taken up in God.
    • Certain of the divine presence. The experience is indelible and cannot be forgotten.
    • Completely forgetful of self –> We find here further evidence of the reciprocal interinfluence of deepening prayer and detachment from self-centeredness.
    • One understands nothing of the favour being received. The person is made blind and numb.
    • Accompanying things: consuming desire to praise God and to die a thousand deaths for His sake, vehement yearnings for penance and solitude together with keen longings that everyone would come to know this God of unspeakable bounty, satisfied with nothing of the world, profound calm, aware he cannot serve God well enough.


  • Sixth Mansions (4th Water)
    • In these 6th mansions a number of different advanced experiences of God occur, all of them deepenings of the immersion we have been discussing.
    • Several phenomena occur in the 6th mansions: ecstasy/rapture (happens gradual), transport (comes swiftly), flight of the spirit, wounds of love (an arrow thrust into the heart that causes a wondrously delightful pain), spiritual betrothal, levitation (when God takes the body along as well).
    • Intellect and memory are NOT continuously absorbed, whereas the will may be absorbed for a considerable length of time
    • Head over heels in love. Still NOT yet in transforming union. Life on earth becomes a great burden. Consciousness and speech are completely centred on the Beloved. As the person continues to advance in prayer, raptures cease… you become more used to the great experiences God gives you.

  • Seventh Mansions
    • The 7th mansion is the culmination of contemplation on earth, the transforming union.
    • St. Teresa teaches that the person is brought into the seventh mansions by an intellectual vision of the Blessed Trinity.
    • We cannot know it too well, for the more fully we are exposed to its splendour, the more likely it is that we will not hesitate to pay the price indispensable for reaching this summit.
    • Utterly of the spirit. A “secret union” that takes place in one’s deepest soul center, and it begins with Jesus appearing through an intellectual vision in this center “just as He appeared to the Apostles” after the Resurrection through closed doors.
    • Inseperably united with God. In the transforming union the person perceives in his profound center a peaceful, gentle awareness that the Trinity is continually present. On a more surface level he experiences bursts of light and/or love, enkindlings and absorptions, but these are intermittent
    • Dual awareness and operation – A person is able to attend to the indwelling Trinity and yet carry on the ordinary business of daily life. The person can be both Martha and Mary… engaged in both active and contemplative life together.
    • Relative perfection of Christian life.
    • Sleep and eat are nothing to the person.

Pure Gospel

If this book has a main thesis, it is that the teachings of Ss. Teresa and John are nothing other than the Christic message proclaimed in the New Testament. Neither more nor less.

The Gospels and inspired letters, provided they are taken with neither exaggeration nor dilution, proclaim the very same transformation of prayer and person that we have just studied in St. Teresa. She insists far more often on the basic necessity of obedience, fraternal charity, humility and detachment as conditions for anyone who wishes to live a serious prayer life

Christianity is no oriental exercise in which “contemplation” is the result of techniques. It is a love communion with the supreme Beloved and not a mere impersonal, neutral awareness of reality and of oneself at the centre of it.

We begin by practicing the ordinary virtues with extraordinary fidelity and entirety. Negatively – get rid of everything that does not lead to God. Positively – do all for the glory of God.

Chapter 7: Conditions for Growth – St. Teresa

What we find in Ss. Teresa and John is not a single sentence that speaks of methodology as a means to deep communion with the God of revelation. Rather, contemplation cannot be had unless one is serious about living the Gospel generously.

Basic Teresian Principles for Growth

(1) Do God’s will 

Teresa emphatically insisted that the primary need for beginners is not to find the ideal method but to do God’s will from moment to moment throughout the day—which is probably the last thing the beginner thinks is primary.

(2) Growth in prayer does NOT depend on a person’s immediate situation.

We tend to suppose that if only we could find an ideal community, be it marital or religious or clerical, if only we could locate in another setting, if only we had a different superior or set of associates, if only we had more money (or less), we would skyrocket in prayer. Not so, says the foundress, for “the time is always propitious for God to grant His great favors to those who truly serve Him.”

(3) Complete, unstinting generosity – Generously go beyond what is strictly required.

 A man in love happily fulfills obligations, yes (and this, too, is an act of love), but he is eager to do much more: he gives the beloved everything and anything that will please her and that lies in his power to give

“Everything we gain comes from what we give” (Way, chap. 33, p. 218).

if you are to gain this, He would have you keep back nothing; whether it be little or much, He will have it all for Himself, and according to what you know yourself to have given, the favours He will grant you will be small or great”  (IC, mans. 5, chap. 1, p. 97)

“there is no better test than this of whether or no our prayer attains to union”  (IC, mans. 5, chap. 1, p. 97)

(4) Purification 

There is no prayer development unless it be accompanied by purification from faults. Given what a love communion with utter Purity demands, one could not conceive the matter to be otherwise: only the pure can commune deeply with the all-pure One.

It is a hard road and narrow gate that leads to life – let us make a real effort and stop going at a snail’s pace.

(5) God gives prayer growth precisely according to our degree of readiness for it.

A receptive readiness for infused prayer is far, far more important than any number of methods or techniques, occidental or oriental. The more readiness and generosity, the more the Lord gives to us.

(6) Retrogression in prayer is possible. 

Experience bears out Teresa’s view: advanced people can only too easily indulge their petty preferences, always, of course, under the appearance of good.

(7) There is a correlation between virtue and prayer. 

The earnest practice of virtue directly causes a deepening prayer. And at the same time, as prayer develops, so does one find it much easier to be virtuous.

(8) Determination

Weak wishes were foreign to her cast of mind, and to none of us in any field of endeavour does lack of determination bring excellence.

On the human level, it is due to dedication, to the hard and persevering decision to live like saints live, that is, with no corner cutting.

It is most important—all-important, indeed—that they should begin well by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt until they reach their goal, whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have to labour, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road or have no heart to confront the trials which they meet, whether the very world dissolves before them. (Way, chap. 21, p. 150)

The Specific Conditions St. Teresa especially insisted upon as absolutely requisite for a growing prayer life. 

We may speak of a teresian triad of indispensables:

  1. Love – Love for neighbor.
  2. Detachment – A detachment from all that is not God.
  3. Humility – Humility is “the principal virtue which must be practised by those who pray” (Way, chap. 17, p. 123)… this whole groundwork of prayer is based on humility and that the more a soul lowers itself in prayer the more God raises it up. I don’t recall His ever having granted me one of the very notable favors of which I shall speak later if not at a time when I was brought to nothing at the sight of my wretchedness” (Life, chap. 22, no. n, pp. 148–49). Humility must be real, an unadulterated truth. Our humility is real when we know that we are rich from God and yet poor in ourselves. We live out humility by being and acting as least of all to others. Obedience to superiors is huge.



Anyone in love seeks to be alone with the dear one at frequent and prolonged intervals, but people in love likewise take a wider interest in the rest of humanity. Solitude is not self-centered isolation but rather a healthy turning toward one’s beloved.

We must avoid mental meddling – “the safe path for the soul that practices prayer will be not to bother about anything or anyone and to pay attention to itself and to pleasing God” ~ St. Teresa of Avila, Life, chap. 13, no. 10, p. 92.

We must avoid idle talk – Waste of time and prayer depth are incompatible.

Suffering and Growth in Prayer

Our two Carmelites knew both from the inspired word and from personal experience that there is a close linkage between suffering with love and growing into the depths of the Trinity.

If the soil is well cultivated by trials, persecutions, criticisms, and illnesses—for few there must be who reach this state without them—and if it is softened by living in great detachment from self-interest, the water soaks it to the extent that it is almost never dry ~  Life, chap. 19, no. 3, p. 123.

“How” we suffer is key – suffering borne with much love and in union with Christ crucified purifies and renews. John remarks that we ought to see those with whom we live as so many chisels whom God uses to chip away our defects and make of us a beauteous creation. God gives help commensurate to the sufferings He sends or permits.

“Love is the measure of our ability to bear crosses” ~ Way, chap. 32, p. 213

Overall Condition: Love-Generosity

“Contemplation is no ivory-tower matter” (127). Generosity is the fundamental condition for a deep prayer life (128).


Chapter 8: The Freedom of Detachment

“Only the free can love, and only the completely free can love unreservedly” (131).


Attachment is not the experience of pleasure in things, nor in possessing or using things, nor is being attracted to a beautiful object or person. “An attachment is a willed seeking of something finite for its own sake. It is an unreal pursuit, an illusory desire. Nothing exists except for the sake of God who made all things for Himself. Any other use is a distortion” (135-6).

3 signs that a desire has become inordinate and therefore harmful:

  1. Diversion of purpose – Activity or thing is diverted from the purpose God intends for it.
  2. Excess in use – We cannot honestly direct to the glory of God what is in excess of what He wills.
  3. Making means into ends – Everything should be directed towards this – “We have one sole purpose in life: the ultimate, enthralling vision of the Trinity in glory, in our risen body” (135).

Harms of attachment:

  1. The dimming of vision – our supernatural vision is damaged by attachments. Only the pure of heart see God.
  2. Sinful ramifications – Sin begets a progeny of evils.
  3. Impediments to prayer and awareness of God
  4. An affront to God – preferring something finite to God is an insult to Him and sheer nonsense since God is endless Beauty and Joy and Love.
  5. Drying up joy – attachments are killjoys & Saints are experimental proofs that the world has things upside down (139). We are to rejoice in the Lord always.
  6. Diminishing the person – attachments diminish the person because love effects a likeness with the object loved. On the other hand, to cling to God elevates, ennobles and beautifies us.
  7. Blocking transformation – attachments prevent the final transformation into divine beauty. “Perfect transformation is impossible without perfect purity” ~ A, bk. 2, chap. 5, pp. 115–18.
  8. Desires beget desires“Unrest is the omnipresent accompaniment of earthly pursuits” (139). Since our spirit can be satisfied and rested only in the infinite, all else leaves it incomplete and desiring more (the peanut effect).
  9. Drain on psychic energy – self-centred desires sap the spiritual strength needed to persevere in the spiritual life.


The goal of detachment is that everything may be a pure mirror of the divine so that we find delight in everything but cling to nothing. If we want to love God totally, we must willingly entertain no self-centered pursuit of finite things sought for themselves. Since we are destined to become God by participation in the divine nature, we must be purified of anything and everything that is not God (136).

Benefits from Detachment

The more detached we are, the more freedom we find and the more God fills our emptiness.

Christ, Exemplar of Detachment

Jesus’ life of sacrifice and self-denial was both taught and lived perfectly. We must renounce everything and follow Him.

A Program for Action

Q. How are we to attain this perfect unity and inner freedom?

  1. Imitate Christ – behave in everything as He did.
  2. Set aside any satisfaction of the senses that is not purely for the honor and glory of Him who sought no other food or drink but the will of the Father. “Endeavor to be inclined always: not to the easiest, but to the most difficult; not to the most delightful, but to the harshest; not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant; not to the most, but to the least; not to the highest and most precious, but to the lowest and most despised … and desire to enter for Christ into complete nudity, emptiness, and poverty in everything in the world” ~ St. John of the Cross, bk. 1, chap. 13, no. 4, p. 102-3  +  “If”, notes John, “you sincerely put [these maxims] into practice with order and discretion, you will discover in them great delight and consolation” ~ bk. 1, chap. 13, nos. 6–7, pp. 102–3.

  3. Self-contempt – We are to have contempt for ourselves & to desire that others entertain the same view. We are to despise – literally, to look away from – all else, that is, seeking it for itself, and turn our seeking to the divine alone. “To reach satisfaction in all desire its possession in nothing. To come to possess all desire the possession of nothing. To arrive at being all desire to be nothing … For to go from all to the all you must deny yourself of all in all … In this nakedness the spirit finds its quietude and rest” ~ no. 11, pp. 103–4. This is utterly positive! The saint wants us to delight in everything, to possess everything, to be everything. No worldling dares to present to us this kind of promise. We are called to reach a point where we delight in working and resting, speaking and keeping silence, seeing and hearing, suffering and rejoicing, failing and succeeding, living and dying. One cannot be more thoroughly optimistic. But there is only one way to this utter fulfillment, the way that Jesus said is hard and narrow. It leads to life, however, and it is the only road that does. How? Purification of all desires — Our desires must be purified of all selfish seekings and clingings.

For John of the Cross, detachment is a positive love matter, a pursuance of the Beloved in everything: in eating, drinking, resting, working.

  1. Attachments are to be nipped in the bud while they are still incipient and weak.
  2. Factual frugality is an aid to inner freedom.
  3. Divest our memory of all superfluous.
  4. We should notice that our aberrations are mutually strengthened or weakened.

  5. Recall that we are actually gaining far more than we are giving up.
  6. We need to approach the work of surrendering our clingings with solid determination.

Norms for Sense Pleasures

Q. How can we know when our desires are really directed to the glory of God and when they are not?

“When the will, in becoming aware of the satisfaction afforded by the object of sight, hearing, or touch, does not stop with this joy but immediately elevates itself to God, rejoicing in Him who motivates and gives strength to its joy, it is doing something very good. The will, then, does not have to avoid such experiences when they produce this devotion and prayer, but it can profit by them, and even ought to for the sake of so holy an exercise. For there are souls who are greatly moved toward God by sensible objects” ~  A, bk. 3, chap. 24, no. 4, p. 255.

Sense delights are beneficial only when they immediately raise one to God. God created our senses so that He can be more known and loved through them. Our sense life is properly oriented when it sparks prayer. Until we reach this degree of purification, we have to wage unrelenting war on our wayward pursuits of creation-centeredness.

“Unlimited beauty calls for undivided love” ~ 147

Too little does any man love You who loves something together with You, loving it not because of You.” ~ St. Augustine

The positive beauty of detachment – The worldling does not understand detachment because of a failure to understand selfless love. Detachment, therefore, is simply a condition for the lofty gifts God wishes to grant anyone who is ready for them (148). In addition to a far more joyous life in this world, detached persons are destined to an immense weight of eternal glory.

Other Saints and the New Testament – John’s distinction lies not in the content of his doctrine but in the scope and clarity and mystical depth with which he expounds it.

Detachment and Prayer in St. Teresa

If one asks her, “What is detachment?” the simple, crystal-clear answer is “not paying attention to what doesn’t bring us closer to God.” Or we hear that it consists in “never indulging our own will and desire, even in small things”.

A sign of growth in inner freedom is the delight one begins to find in detachment ~ Way, chap. 13, p. 107; KR, no. 6, p. 87.

Progress in Detachment


  1. We keep our thoughts constantly on the vanity of all things and fix them on eternity. As soon as we notice a fondness for even the smallest of created things we are to turn our thoughts from them to their Creator.

  2. Growing prayer life. Mutual causality – detachment furthers prayer and prayer furthers detachment. Growth in prayer gives us a realism about what is and what is not really important in life.

If their recollection is genuine, the fact becomes very evident, for it produces certain effects which I do not know how to explain but which anyone will recognize who has experience of them. It is as if the soul were rising from play, for it sees that worldly things are nothing but toys; so in due course it rises above them, like a person entering a strong castle, in order that it may have nothing more to fear from its enemies. It withdraws the senses from all outward things and spurns them so completely that, without its understanding how, its eyes close and it cannot see them and the soul’s spiritual sight becomes clear ~  Way, chap. 28, p. 186; KR, no. 6, p. 142.

Summary of living detachment = “Whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God, and whomever we love, we love in and for the supreme Love” (153).

Pleasures and Pastimes

Contemplation and self-indulgence do not mix. The Cross and worldly pleasures do not mix. If the former is to be genuine, it requires the support of fasting, discipline and silence (154).

Poverty and Prayer

Poverty and prayer are twins. They live or die together. Poverty = not destitution but frugality, evangelical, sharing frugality.

Material goods are means only, not ends. This is why we give up all superfluities: coming into the world with nothing and leaving it with nothing, we are to be content with food and clothing. God’s grace has taught us “that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God”. This is a perfect, one-sentence summary of the whole of The Ascent of Mount Carmel (156). This is indeed a hard road and narrow gate, but it does lead to life!


Chapter 9: Fire in the Nights

The sanjuanist explanation of purification is twofold:

  1. The active night = what we can do to be rid of our imperfections (the subject of our previous chapter).
  2. The passive night = what God must do by infused prayer to complete the work (the subject of this chapter).

Passive = means received. It is a purification effected by God through His gift of infused contemplation.

The passive nights are two:

  1. Sense = the stripping of the 5 senses until they are emptied of all their disordered seekings.
  2. Spirit = purification of the intellect and the will.

Sanjuanist nights are contemplative experiences, not ordinary sufferings attendant on human life. Avoid diagnosing ordinary sufferings as “dark nights.”

Night = these experiences are called “nights” because we are “emptying” our senses and walking by faith to a God who is dark to our limited minds.

Why are these passive nights painful? Because we are curing an illness.

The “dark fire” is infused contemplation, the only means of burning away the deep roots of our woundedness, roots we cannot actively reach and eradicate.

NIGHT OF SENSE (1st purification)

We receive God’s light and love as darkness and pain due to our incapacity and opaqueness and unlikeness to the divine. Prayer seems to be getting worse & worry ensues. God begins to give this new, dry, nondiscursive type of prayer with the results we have described very soon after a person begins to take the Gospel seriously, to live it generously and to give adequate time to mental prayer. Though nothing seems to be happening, a great deal is going on, substantially more, actually, than was occurring in the bustle of discursive meditation. The Master is slowly taking over the person’s will. Yet few who reach the first night go beyond it due to neglect, selfishness and/or bad spiritual direction.

Signs that one is in the 1st night of sense:

  1. An absence of “satisfaction or consolation” in either the things of heaven (prayer) or of the earth (created realities).
  2. A habitual turning to God, even though there may be little pleasurable taste for Him. A desire to be quiet in the divine presence.
  3. An inability to meditate discursively or find any profit from it.

3 factors that determine how long the purification will last:

  1. the greater or lesser amount of imperfection to be burned away,
  2. the degree of love to which God wishes to raise the person and
  3. the generosity with which one responds to the divine operation.

Benefits from the Night of Sense: Although the growth in virtue is imperceptible from day to day, over a long stretch of time it is unmistakable. What is remarkable about this growth is not only that it occurs but also that these virtues were growing with comparatively little attention having been explicitly given to them. They have been produced by the divinely infused light and love.

The Course of ActionPeople often consider this stage of prayer development as though their inner world is caving in and get very discouraged. The principal reason for this mistake is unreal expectations of what purifying prayer ought to be.


  1. Be patient with the feeling of inner emptiness and refuse to be downcast about it.
  2. Pay no attention to discursive meditation. Rather, remain quiet with a simple attentiveness to God and with no desire to taste or to feel divine things.
  3. Put aside his concern that he is wasting time, that he could be doing something more profitable.

NIGHT OF SPIRIT (2nd purification)

The night of spirit – although affected by infused love – feels like a divine rejection, that God does not love them. Prayer seems impossible. The duration of the second night will depend on what is needed to render the soul delicate, simple, refined and pure enough that the final transformation can take place. And this will be according to the degree of holiness to which God wishes to raise each person and also according to the amount of purification needed.

St. Teresa’s Equivalents of the Dark Nights

Although St. Teresa gave considerably less attention to this problem, she still lived through the purifying of prayer and advises us to be fully acceptive to this arduous, arid, trying pursuit of God. It is the foundress’ opinion that while many begin to lead a serious prayer life, few reach the end of the road, mainly because they want no hardships at prayer.

Chapter 10: The Transforming Summit

The transforming union is communion come to maturity, a perfect likeness of love. This culmination happens when one is wholly in love with God.

There are 2 aspects to this perfect likeness:

  1. Knowing – Union – Since knowledge is the presence of the object known in the knower, as one perceives more deeply he is “oned” more deeply with what he knows. One is both enthralled by the divine attributes and ecstatic within them. Jesus said eternal life is knowing God (Jn 17:3).
  2. Loving – Union – In the transforming union the person is now “all love”, and all her actions are love. This person is quite literally fulfilling the greatest of all the commandments: she is loving God with her whole heart, soul, and mind.

Traits and Consequences of the Union:

  1. Remarkable delight – union with beauty brings thrilling elation, always new and exciting.
  2. Coaction with God – the union between the human and the divine is now so close, so intimate, that there are two principles of one action. Nothing is done without God’s innermost coaction. In memory, intellect, will, and desire there is no movement contrary to the divine will and goodness.
  3. Cessation of imperfections – We return to a state of original innocence in which all emotional disorders and intellectual wanderings are remedied.
  4. Heroic virtue – the living of Gospel virtues in a manner surpassing human strength – one habitually acts promptly, easily and joyously in difficult situations.
  5. Confirmation in grace
  6. The innocence of evil – A person enjoys a pristine goodness and innocence and is unable to pay attention to anything worldly nor recognize evil.
  7. Peace and refreshment – the biblical concept of peace is a flourishing animation, a calm but complete spiritual affluence.
  8. Cessations of inner sufferings – there is no longer anything to cause inner pain.
  9. Symphony of creation – We now know and appreciate creation solely through the Creator – a symphonic oneness seen as a result of the divine light.
  10. The fullness of joy – The matchless delight in God makes incidental joys seem to be nothings and yet these joys become fresh and new as well.
  11. Continuity – A continuous and pervading deep-down enjoyment and awareness of God’s indwelling presence that does not interfere with any other tasks during the day.
  12. Transfiguration, deification, marriage – this expresses the deepest essence of contemplative culmination, that is, transfigured and oned with Him in a union beyond human words – a spiritual marriage in which the soul is transformed into the Beloved. We do not change our being but appear to be God.

Overall = the transforming union is the purpose of all else in the Church. Even the Eucharist is aimed at producing eternal life here on earth.

“Thus all structures in the Church—institutions, priesthood, curias, chancery offices, books and candles and all else—are aimed at producing this abundance of life, this utter immersion in triune splendor, this transforming union” (197).

“O souls,” he proclaims, “created for these grandeurs and called to them! What are you doing? How are you spending your time?” ~ St. John of the Cross

Chapter 11: The Universal Call

The universal call to holiness is something we can all agree on today. But the questions remain:

  1. Is everyone called by God to infused contemplation and to the very fullness of it, the transforming union?
  2. Can a person attain to perfect holiness without this kind of prayer?
  3. Are there two ways to sanctity, an active, ascetic way and a passive, mystical way?
  4. Or is there only one way meant for all, active and ascetic in the beginning, but becoming passive and mystical in full development?

Once we understand the universal call we are more likely to be willing to pay the price to attain its object.

St. Teresa’s Teaching

The heights of prayer are for all. Therefore, we are right in seeking this from God. Also, God gives infused prayer as soon as we have done our part, as soon as we are ready to receive it. Failing to reach the heights of prayer is our fault, not God’s.

“I cannot help feeling the pity of it when I see how much we are losing, and all through our own fault. For, true though it is that these are things which the Lord gives to whom He will, He would give them to us all if we loved Him as He loves us.” ~ IC, mans. 6, chap. 4, p. 154; ; KR, no. 12, p. 383.

St. John of the Cross

The sanjuanist organic view of prayer development explains why God gives the beginnings of infused communion – so that we may reach perfect communion with God. Therefore, we should desire it as “the one thing necessary.”

“O souls, created for these grandeurs and called to them! What are you doing? How are you spending your time?” ~ SC, st. 39, no. 7, p. 559.

“Here it ought to be pointed out why there are so few who reach this high state of perfect union with God. It should be known that the reason is not because God wishes that there be only a few of these spirits so elevated; He would rather want all to be perfect, but He finds few vessels that will endure so lofty and sublime a work” ~ F, st. 2, no. 27, p. 604; emphasis added.

Chapter 12: Miscellaneous Matters

The humanity of Christ and advanced prayer – Since no one can go to the Father except through Christ, we must begin prayer with a simple recalling of Him. Then when the Father “suspends the faculties,” we let Him do so gladly. This reconciles 2 truths, that of authentic incarnational theology and that of the experience of advanced prayer. It is prideful to want imageless prayer before God gives it.

“Empty” Prayer – St. Teresa experienced dryness in prayer for about 20 years. The benefits of going through empty prayer: sharpens our yearnings, proves over time that we are truly seeking God, gives us a realistic humility,  deepens the theological virtues, burns away many imperfections.

Distractions – Distractions are not simply to be tolerated but are even expected: they are a necessary consequence of the woundedness of our human nature as we concretely experience it. Infused contemplation is especially subject to mental wanderings, even more than discursive meditation. Tips: Profit from distractions by not being worried or fretting about it. Be optimistic. Be gentle with yourself – laugh it off, treat it as silly, and remain quiet.

Tensions between Prayer and Work – Contemplation and action have a natural partnership. 1st basic principle: Fidelity to work does not hinder communion with God. Rather, the one furthers the other. Keep in mind though that this is not any of work but rather responses to charity and obedience.

“I believe that everything a superior does for the efficient discharge of the duties of his office is so pleasing to God that, when he has occupied himself in that way, He gives him in short time what He would normally give only over long periods of prayer”. ~ Letter 234 to P. Gonzalo Davila, S.J., p. 579.

And even when we do work for the right reason, we must still be in God’s presence.

“We must needs be careful in doing good works, even those of obedience and charity, not to fail to have frequent inward recourse to our God” ~ Foundations, chap. 5, p. 26; KR, no. 17, p. 123.

Since infused contemplation is a pure gift from God and not the automatic result of time or techniques, work done from charity and obedience furthers prayer because it also flows from a gift from God due to conformity to the divine will that is born in faith, hope and love.

Writing to a group of prayerful women who normally devoted 2 hours each day to contemplative communion with God, she says:

“Believe me, it is not length of time spent in prayer that brings a soul benefit: when we spend our time in good works, it is a great help to us and a better and quicker preparation for the enkindling of our love than many hours of meditation.” ~ Foundations, chap. 5, p. 26; KR, no. 17, p. 123.


Demonic Influences – The influence of lost angels is entirely possible but is no reason to fear those who love the Lord.

Aspiring to Advanced Contemplation – The path to God is a royal road in which the Lord makes everything easy for the person who really loves. God is magnanimous. Provided our love is genuine and our will resolute, minor slips are no reason for discouragement. But if we lack determination, we have ample cause to fear an eventual slide into lukewarmness.

The Possibility of Mediocrity and Regression – We must watch for occasions of sin and begin and end our periods of prayer with self-examination. Also, a gradual and abiding laxity can creep into our spiritual life. For Teresa, mediocrity is a deep illness.

“Oh, what a difficult thing I ask You, my true God: that You love someone who doesn’t love You, that You open to one who doesn’t knock, that You give health to one who likes to be sick and goes about looking for sickness. You say, My Lord, that You come to seek sinners; these, Lord, are real sinners.” ~ Soliloquy 8, no. 3, p. 380.

On Keeping a Prayer Journal – Teresa considers it a waste of time and an interference with the soul’s freedom of action.

Sexual Feelings at Prayer – Don’t worry about it. It’s a result of the soul’s joy overflowing into the body.

Delight in Prayer – Don’t be carried away by delight in prayer. Real progress consists in doing His will more completely and not in enjoying Him more.


Chapter 13: Discerning Growth

Gauging development in the spiritual life is hard. This is especially true with contemplative prayer. St. Teresa helps us out here.

A study realism – St. Teresa never assumed that good intentions and pious feelings was an automatic indicator that God had His finger on the enterprise.

The difficulties of discernment – Measure your progress in prayer by holiness in life and not by sentiments in the chapel. Also, we would do well to entertain a healthy doubt about our very progress in virtue.

Signs of Authentic Prayer – Concrete effects and actions point to deepening prayer far more accurately than exploring our subjective feelings. Complete generosity, total obedience, evangelical poverty, love of neighbour, love for suffering, openess to truth, hatred of sin, love for Church.

“It is by the effects of this prayer and the actions which follow it that the genuineness of the experience must be tested” ~ IC, mans. 4, chap. 2, p. 83; KR, no. 8, p. 325.

From their fruits you shall know them.” ~ Matthew 7:20

“If any one of you receives high favours, let her look within herself and see if they are producing these effects, and, if they are not let her be very fearful, and believe that these consolations are not of God, Who, as I have said, when He visits the soul, always enriches it” ~ Way, chap. 36, p. 244; KR, no. 13, p. 182.

Chapter 14: Locutions and Visions

Our two Carmelite saints show that God does indeed communicate with His chosen ones – but not always as we commonly suppose or expect. His ways are not our ways.

Overall Attitudes

  1. Divine interventions are normal gifts given whenever God sees fit to give them. They are not rare.

  2. Illusion and deception are not rare, either.
  3. The need for objective ecclesial discernment (indicators of sound doctrine, unpopularity with the world and acceptance of ecclesial leadership’s teaching).
  4. Private divine communications are relatively unimportant. The 2 most important commandments say not a word about private visions and revelations. A simple act of pure love is far more important. Visions are still to be greatly prized, even if they are not essential to the life of grace.

Locutions: St. Teresa

Locutions (from the Latin locutio, a speaking, an utterance) are messages of diverse types and are received in differing manners. St. Teresa’s division is simple:

  1. External – comes from outside the person & heard with one’s bodily ears.
  2. Imaginary – originates within the person – the imagination.
  3. Intellectual – occur in the deepest center of the person and with no sound, no voice. This intellectual enlightenment far surpasses anything of ordinary human study or experience. St. Teresa speaks of this the most. The words received are utterly clear from the all-powerful word of God that produces an indelible effect. Subsequent understanding is rapid and a pure gift.

Guidance on discerning where the locutions come from:

  1. Always healthy to entertain some doubt about what is going on at first. Set them aside if you’re inexperienced. Consult your confessor and follow his advice.
  2. Locution bears a sense of power and authority both in itself and in its effects.
  3. The message is in accord with Catholic Faith & morals & Scripture.
  4. Brings calm, peace, and humility.
  5. Gratitude & praise.
  6. Indelible in memory & clear & demands respect. A sense of the divine handwriting all over it.
  7. Unshakable certitude regarding future events.
  8. Word often comes unexpectedly & frequently contrary to what we know, desire or wish.

Overall, locutions do not render a person any the better for having received them. Profit depends, notes Teresa, on whether or not we use them well.

Sanjuanist Terminology: Supernatural Knowledge as a Whole

Supernatural knowledge, for St. John of the Cross, is those truths or insights whose attainment surpasses native human ability:

  1. Visions – because the Lord usually communicates to the spirit, as the saint puts it, the more exterior the experience, the less certain it is to be of divine origin.
  2. Revelations – we should follow these divine touches unless it contradicts what our spiritual director advises.
  3. Locutions – are words produced in the recipient by divine action. 3 classes: successive (assisting enlightenments – a lot of error and deception possible), formal (ideational enlightenments – don’t bother with these) and substantial (dynamic-effective speaking from God bringing about in the recipient the content of the message itself).
  4. Spiritual “feelings”

Human Reactions to Divine Communications

John recommends that we set aside and renounce all imaginative visions and other communications that may come through external senses. If it’s from God, He will produce what He wishes in the soul. Also, it gives us freedom from false ones and over-preoccupation with other ones. Submit to your spiritual director. Be humble.

Visions: St. Teresa

St. Teresa is the most reliable guide we have on visions. 3 types:

  1. Corporeal – seen with bodily eyes. Least perfect.
  2. Imaginative – seen with inner senses. The image is alive and awesome, it far exceeds what one could conjure up and almost always produces ecstasy.
  3. Intellectual – Most perfect. Seen by intellect alone. Often go together with imaginative visions.

True visions are beyond human control and have transformative results in the recipient. Of themselves, visions bring no merit to the recipients, but they who do receive these favors lie under a heavier obligation to serve. We should not desire visions.

“Like the Church in her canonization processes, we are to judge our advancement not by visions or other extraordinary phenomena but by the perfection with which we live the Gospel: humility, obedience, love, patience, chastity, honesty, kindliness and all else” (268).


Chapter 15: Friendship

St. Teresa’s Friendships – Friendship is envisioned here as being not merely casual acquaintances but also interpersonal relationships of considerable depth. Teresa could only be close to those she called “spiritual persons”.

Motivations – Teresa’s fondness and closeness to “spiritual person” was due to the divine in them. St. Teresa looked upon friendship as a source of mutual aid in our pilgrimage to the fatherland.

Divine Altruism – St. Teresa could suffer nothing willingly imperfect in her friendships. Visits ought not to interfere with one’s need for prayerful solitude. No idle words. No gossip. Consecrated celibates must love universally. Non-possessive. Non-exclusive.

Expressed Warmth – Feeling affection and showing it can be holy and proper. Teresa had great freedom in expressing her holy warmth to others & showed it.

Receptivity to Human Love – Divine love produces & intensifies human love. There is only one virtue of charity, and by it, we love God, ourselves and our neighbor.

Loyalty to Friends – Like genuine love, genuine friendship is eternal. Like anyone who loves deeply and authentically, St. Teresa was fiercely loyal to her friends.

Friendship Among Others – Teresa considered it “a great evil” to be friendless amidst the dangers this world poses for those seeking God earnestly. Spiritual friendships are important for souls to be fortified in virtue. But it is always subject to human abuse. She saw a spiritual friend as a way of having God and of possessing Him still more deeply.

Harmful Relationships – Egocentric relationships occupy the mind with almost anything but God. Idle chatter is a big problem.

Traits of Holy Friendship: (1) A genuine friend experiences an intense longing that the other party to be immersed in God. (2) True friends correct each other when such is necessary.

Those whom I love I rebuke and chastize” (Rev 3:19).

Discerning Genuine Friendship: (1) The attraction is not based primarily on bodily beauty or merely natural qualities, (2) The friends find that they cannot really be interested in anything unless it has to do with God, and therefore any affection that does not benefit their souls wearies them, (3) The closeness is selfless, (4) Admonishment is welcomed, (5) Permanent, (6) Can be known only by experience.

The Desire for Human Love – St. Teresa – in imitation of Jesus – accepted human love, appreciated it and even liked to hear that she was loved.

Marks of Affection – Christians are called to express their love visibly and tangibly.

As the New Testament puts it, a genuine love for others not only does not happen, it cannot happen, until we have accepted divine revelation (become “obedient to the truth”), been stripped of our selfishness (“purified your souls”) and been born anew “from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God” (1 Peter 1:22). (288).

Chapter 16: Spiritual Direction

St. John of the Cross

The sanjuanist concept of direction is thoroughly Christological and ecclesial.

(1) The instrumentality of the human director – The human spiritual director is an instrument for the chief guide and mover of souls – the Holy Spirit. The human spiritual director endeavors to adapt universal and unchanging truths to this particular person with these particular needs and this individual capacity. Is an instrument in 3 ways:

  1. Help to remove all obstacles – all selfish clingings.
  2. Authenticates the validity and quality of the person’s life and prayer.
  3. Explains the specifics of how one lives by faith.

(2) Spiritual direction is incarnational and ecclesial. The sanjuanist director is speaking in the name of God because he is functioning in the name of the Church sent by the incarnate Son. Therefore, a director should be learned, discreet and have experience.

“The director’s whole concern should not be to accommodate souls to his own method and condition, but he should observe the road along which God is leading them, and if he does not recognize it, he should leave them alone and not bother them.” ~  nos. 43, 46, pp. 626, 627.

Defects inept directors make:

  1. The first defect he points out is the failure to understand or recognize genuine growth in prayer, which in turn leads to blundering advice.

  2. The misinterpretation of ordinary human sufferings as cases of the dark nights.

  3. To cling to one’s directee and to hinder him or her from seeking another’s help when such is necessary.

  4. A lax guide advising laxity is “pestiferous.”

Action follows competent guidance. Time of talking is to be followed by a time of silence and action.

St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa focused on the practicalities.

  1. Necessity and advisability of spiritual direction.
  2. Peace that all is well follows the ability to share prayer experiences with a competent guide.
  3. Helps prevent flagrant errors.

Spiritual directors should have:

  1. Spiritual depth – spiritual men who practice advancing prayer.
  2. Intellectual soundness – the more learned the better.
  3. A balanced view of whether things are from God or not.
  4. Be not cast in the same mold as the directee.
  5. A sympathetic understanding.

Spiritual director duties:

  1. The director is to keep confidences even of things discussed outside of confession but within the counseling situation.

  2. He should limit his activity to what he understands and leave alone what he does not.

  3. He should not expect of beginners what only the advanced can do; that is, he should not push them beyond their present readiness and strength.

  4. What the director should do, above all, is to advise these people that the genuine service of God does not consist in extraordinary experiences and that they should pay no heed to them.

Directee duties:

  1. The directee needs to make a judgment of suitability regarding the person chosen as a guide to God.

  2. Obedience.


Chapter 17: Liberating Completion

Those introduced into ever increasing intimacy with the indwelling Trinity find a freeing communion.

“This tasting of the All is the biblical “one thing”, the better part that cannot be taken away, the fire within that cannot be extinguished, the dark immersion of time that dissolves in the emerging brightness of eternal day” (305).

Human completion can happen only through an encounter with Beauty and Love – to be permeated with the divine life in its limitless abundance.

“No matter how skilled one may be in business or medicine or science or law or athletics, if the mind does not thrill in truth, and if the heart is not intertwined in an eternal embrace, there can be no realistic fulfillment” (305).

The mystic sees that the finite realm is meant only as a stepping-stone and reminder of the infinite. More importantly, the mystic lives it.

Myopia – Whereas the nonmystic is imprisoned in the pettiness of the world, those plunged into the triune life seen the world as myopic and fast fading.

From Suffering Into Freedom – The mystic – so identified with the crucified risen One – embraces human suffering with love. He knows that the divine plan is always resurrection through crucifixion. From this purest suffering arises the purest joy via a purest knowledge.

“Suffering for God is better than working miracles.” ~ St. John of the Cross, no. 13, p. 682.

Apostolic Power – The saints are the greatest doers through the centuries. From the furnace of mystical communion they flame the fire that the Lord came to cast upon the earth. All apostolate in the Church originates from the inner Trinitarian processes. Both the external projects of the Church of Christ and the inner love dynamo that energizes them receive their origin from the Fire within.

Renewal of Theology – We must have an experience of the deep immersion in the indwelling Trinity to impart theological truths in their fullness.

A Living Word of God – While some saints write books of theology, all saints are books of theology: the living word enfleshed. Saints Teresa and John are Doctors of the Church because they lived and sang of the deepest immersions of the human spirit in the divine Fire. They are the Church’s mystics par excellence. They are unparalleled torchbearers of the Fire within.

The Wedding – Contemplative depth and existential boredom are incompatible. The divine plan is a love story. God created the world to be a splendid palace for the bride. The bride’s destiny is to burn with God’s love and to be transformed into the Beloved.


  1. Reblogged this on caroburt1.

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