People are typically afraid of things they do not fully comprehend. Growing up I remember watching the television show Unsolved Mysteries. The demeanor of the host, combined with the eeriness of the music and stories, make it an intriguing, yet creepy show.
In my college years and mid-twenties, I became obsessed with watching the X-Files. The incompleteness of the stories and the shadowy involvement of the government covering up the existence, or non-existence, of aliens captured my attention from episode to episode, season to season.
Mystery is Amazing and Frightening
Discussion of the mysteries of the world (and world to come) always provoke a sense of wonder, astonishment, amazement, and yes, in many cases, fear. Recently, I taught a lesson on the Holy Trinity for my 3rd and 4th grader religious education students. I asked them, “When I say the word mystery what do you think of?” Answers included: “something we cannot understand fully” and “relating to the mysteries of faith”. I had one student tell me that she thinks that “mysteries are creepy”. Her response took me off guard for a bit and it has stuck with me since.
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic saint and Doctor of the Church. Battling illnesses and loss of family a large portion of her life, Teresa’s sufferings formed the basis of her spirituality. Her most famous work Interior Castle speaks of how prayer is like entering a castle with many, many rooms. The closer the soul goes toward the center of the castle the closer it gets to be in union with God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes this great spirit in this way in his February 2nd, 2011 General Audience,
It is a reinterpretation of her own spiritual journey and, at the same time, a codification of the possible development of Christian life towards its fullness, holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit.
Teresa refers to the structure of a castle with seven rooms as an image of human interiority. She simultaneously introduces the symbol of the silk worm reborn as a butterfly, in order to express the passage from the natural to the supernatural.
Do you need a spiritual cleaning?
I first truly encountered the applicable reality of St. Teresa’s imagery of the spiritual life as entering a house (castle or mansion) a few years ago when I was doing some fall cleaning. A “neat freak” would not be the most accurate description of my desire to maintain order. Cleaning ninja would be a more apt to describe me. I am passionate about decluttering, sorting, and cleaning dusty crevices in my house. Yet, when it comes to the spiritual life, why do I occasionally lack the same fervor that I have cleaning my physical house?
The Catholic Church across the world needs a massive cleaning, reform, and return to mysticism. Vatican II’s reform opened the fortress Church to invite the world in. Unfortunately, I think that pendulum-swing toward being inviting to the world caused the Church to turn Her backs away from some of the mysterious elements of our faith. Don’t get me wrong, there were some much needed reforms, but the implementation and communication of the material in the conciliar documents could have been done in a more balanced approach.
Holiness begins at home. The family unit is the domestic church. Scandals rocked the Church over the course of the centuries, but the Holy Spirit has raised up reformers like St. Teresa to remind the Body of Christ to unite again with Christ the Head.
Does the current state of affairs in the Church seem hopeless? Is the faith life in your domestic in need of a much-needed cleaning? Do you need to turn away from the familiarity of the world or sin?
Patience in All Things
Reform takes time. Going through the recesses of your interior life to de-clutter the sinful habits you collected over the days, months, or years, will take time. The first step is to start. Ask the Holy Spirit for the gifts of patience and strength.
St. Teresa’s assertion that “patience obtains all things” prompts me to pause. Patience is a virtue that seems undervalued compared to courage, justice, and faith. However, all problems in my life could either resolve themselves or lessen greatly if exercised patience more. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 736, “By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear “the fruit of the Spirit:. . . love, joy, peace, patience, By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit.”
Make the Church mystical again. A great motto to say. It is ultimately fruitless unless we cooperate with God. Ponder the Mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation daily. Go to confession to confess your sins. Receive the Body and Blood of Christ to provide nourishment for your soul in this time of interior reform. Read the mystical works of St. Teresa of Avila to help draw you further into the communion with God.
Without a thorough examination of oneself and spiritual guidance we are not able to recognize the graces God grants us daily and gives ways for us to clear out the “dustiness” of our soul. Just like how my home needs frequent seasonal cleanings, the Church in Her wisdom has seasonal cleanings as well for us to grow in holiness.