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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Spiritual Castle and Monsters that Threaten it

In times of crisis and confusion, if we do not wish to be swept away, we must return to "ourselves" and remember who we are. This is what St. Teresa of Avila's Spiritual Castle introduces in the life of prayer. To help us understand this movement of interior recollection and contemplative prayer, she shows us a crystal radiant with light whose brightness increases the closer we draw to its center. God's own light shines forth from such a soul as a beacon in this dark world. But to become such a beacon for others, St. Teresa explains that we must deal with monsters who threaten us not only on the outside of the Castle, be even on the inside. She speaks of lizards, toads and snakes—and she has in mind demonic and worldly influences on our emotions and thinking. Making what is merely peripheral the priority of our heart leaves us vulnerable, and mindlessly going with the emotion of the moment can leave us poisoned in the cold darkness of this world. St. Paul similarly warns us against conforming our minds to this age and living with our minds darkened. St. Teresa wants us to raise our minds to the light of truth in prayer. The closer we draw to the light that is Christ, the more we overcome the threats that these monsters represent. This is a call to great vigilance especially in stormy times. Emotions stirred up by the news cycle, or gossip or even our own rash judgments about the world can often betray where we would otherwise desire to stand in life. We forget to be true to ourselves when we are caught up in the bellicose or vindictive movements of the moment. We become weighed down in a spiral of self-torment when we are not wise about our own impulses against what is true and good. We take nihilistic plunges—blowing up trust, relationships and opportunities, because without self-knowledge, we forget the task of who we are and the divine gift that our neighbor is. Long before we can ever effectively deal with difficult circumstances that beset us from without, we must be masters of the challenges that we confront from within. Father James V. Schall reminds us of this point through his reflections on Samuel Johnson's Idler: things we would rather remain hidden from ourselves, it is best to pull out and deal with. Is it not true that often we allow ourselves to be driven by the emotion of the moment so that we are distracted from this painful truth? Yet, those who find this truth—who have the courage to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are—they are the one's who discern best how to respond to the value at stake. They become beacons for those who have lost their way.

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