The foundation of the spiritual life is the twofold knowledge: to know God and to know oneself in the light of God. This is what assures our true success in the progress of perfection. In the Interior Castle, St. Teresa says that the door of entry into the castle of our soul is prayer and meditation.
In solitary silence, we are called to habituate ourselves to live constantly in the company of the good Master who has called us.
St Teresa stresses that it is the mission of Carmelites to pray for the Church, to maintain within it a high level of prayer, and to teach other souls the ways of prayer. So for Carmelites, prayer is not only the means of perfection, an exercise of the spiritual life; it is the essential occupation that must fill the day. She advanced as long as she was faithful to prayer, and the periods of least fervor were marked by a relaxation in that exercise.
Since all Christians are called to this union with God in prayer, St. Teresa addresses all Christians when stating that mental prayer is as necessary as vocal prayer from which it cannot be separated. Mental prayer is identified with every vital movement of grace in our soul. This grace is filial and should always lead us to God.
She warns in her book, Interior Castle – Mansion 1, that souls can be 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. Therefore, it is necessary as laymen to set aside time for God – as a necessity like eating. Prayer fortifies convictions and sustains generous resolutions to work and to suffer for our salvation and others. Prayer transforms the soul into the very image of God. This way of prayer is not a way of perfection exclusively for Carmelites but for all souls seeking God in contemplative prayer.
Mental prayer is differentiated by the different modes of the divine action in each soul, in the variety of diversities of temperaments, the differences of age and development and in the actual dispositions of the souls who are praying.
Contact with God is established in the depths of the soul in those regions where God dwells and where supernatural love is poured out in us. In the measure that this love is strong and active, the friendly exchanged with Him will be frequent and intimate.
Mental prayer is also a personal prayer. Even in the form of public prayer, or when it is the prayer of a group in unison, it remains a solitary converse with God in each individual soul because of the soul’s intimate contact with Him.
Fr. Marie-Eugene stresses that the friendly union with God in prayer and the affectionate relations with a human friend are both inspired by love but the two loves are not in the same order. The first is supernatural and the second is natural. It is then thanks to the certitude of faith, yet through the obscurity that it leaves that we can have this friendship with God who, according to St. Teresa. “we know loves us.” That God loves us is certain; that we have contact with Him by faith is a certain truth; but supernatural penetration in God can be effected without leaving us any light, any feeling, any experience whatever of the riches that we have drawn from it. He uses the passage in the Bible about the woman who by faith reaches for the hem of the garment of Jesus knowing that she will be healed if she just touches Him. We too, with faith should be confident that when we reach out in prayer to God – He will give us His riches within our souls which we cannot see or touch. Every contact with God by faith is always efficacious!
He ends this section with a quote from St. Therese:
“With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart; a glance towards heaven; a cry of gratitude and love, uttered equally in sorrow and in joy. In a word, it is something noble, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites it to God. Sometimes when I am in such a state of spiritual dryness that not a single good thought occurs to me, I say very slowly the “Our Father” or the “Hail Mary”, and these prayers suffice to take me out of myself, and wonderfully refresh me.”
Mental prayer which, for Saint Teresa, is the essential exercise of the spiritual life, must normally develop with it until it reaches perfection. In the book of her Life she gave a well known classification of the degrees of prayer, illustrated by the gracious comparison of the four ways of watering a garden.
He states that the first three mansions in the Interior Castle cover information about the first degree. The second degree (Prayer of Quiet) and the third degree (sleep of the powers) are in the fourth mansion. The fourth degree are covered at great length in the fifth through seventh mansions.
Prayer grows in its perfection by its degree of love. Prayer then will be perfect when the soul is transformed in love and has all of its energies strong and supple, altogether attuned to the delicate touches of the Spirit of God.
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene