The Interior Castle: Saint Teresa’s Diamond

St. Teresa's Interior Castle

St. Teresa’s Interior Castle

The De Beers Jewelry marketing slogan of “Diamonds are Forever” might have been a perfect catchphrase for Saint Teresa’s “Diamond”, better known to us as the Interior Castle. However, this company was not yet around in 1577 when she was ordered to write another book.

“Forever” was a well-chosen word because of the properties and symbolism inherent in the diamond. In the story of her Life (Chapter XL, Par. 14) Teresa had likened God to a diamond.

“Let us suppose the Godhead to be a most brilliant
diamond, much larger than the whole world,
or a mirror like that to which I compared the soul
in a former vision, only in a way so high that I
cannot possibly describe it;
and that all our actions are seen in that diamond,
which is of such dimensions as to include everything,
because nothing can be beyond it.
It was a fearful thing for me to see, in so short a time,
so many things together in that brilliant diamond,
and a most piteous thing too, whenever I think of it,
to see such foul things as my sins
present in the pure brilliancy of that light.”

Since we are made in the image and likeness of God she revisits this comparison again in Chapter One of the First Mansions of the Interior Castle, commenting on the dignity and beauty of the soul…

“…we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul,
or who dwells within it, or its high value.
Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty.
All our attention is taken up with the plainness of the diamond’s setting
or the outer wall of the castle, that is, with these bodies of ours.”

Teresa was not a young person when asked to carry out this obedience. Already in her sixties, she stated that she did not even know how to begin this task nor were any thoughts coming to her mind. It was in ardent prayer that the basis for the writing was received. Thus she considered the soul…

“to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal,
in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling
places.” (Interior Castle Chapter 1, Par. 2)

In trying to explain the interior structure of the castle Teresa does not tell us exactly how many rooms she had in mind. Each mansion seems to consist of an endless or forever possibility since each soul is so unique and the spaciousness of its journey so vast. There is no logical placement of the rooms which leaves it wide open for Teresa’s spontaneity.

The word forever comes to the fore again in the quality of the diamond’s hardness, durability and endurance and holds a special place and fascination for us, who are creatures who had a beginning but are destined to live forever. As we journey inward through the rooms of the diamond castle we will need the diamond’s endurance to persevere until we reach the center chamber where His Majesty dwells and find that rest of which St. Augustine speaks in his Confessions: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

Let us look at the three main stages in the production of a diamond gem and compare them to the grouping of the main rooms in the seven mansions…

Extraction from the mine: Recognizing and removing of the raw diamond…

Mines are places of darkness and messiness and a skilled miner must have a trained eye to recognize the mineral he is seeking. It is hard work and if it is to be successful the miner must be disciplined and persevering.

Mansions 1-3:

There is a treasure that lies within buried in the darkness and often messiness of the soul. To discover it one must be willing to enter the door of the castle through prayer and descend into the deeper regions. As we proceed further, fears, doubts and discouragements can tempt us to turn back. This is the asceticism of discipline, applied to the diamond in the rough, where we either grow in faith and continue to move forward or return to our former reliance on our own reasoning. If we do not persevere the treasure will continue to lie buried and undiscovered.

Cutting of the diamond:

The artisan must determine the perfect proportions of a diamond before cutting in order to allow it to give off more sparkle. This is a delicate procedure that requires optimal skills as well as scientific knowledge and experience in order to produce a jewel of visually engaging beauty. Diamonds are highly valued and treasured in all cultures and countries. Of all the gems available, the diamond is still one of the most desired and cherished and the diamond engagement ring is the accepted standard to symbolize love and commitment.

Mansions 4 and 5:

This part of our journey takes us into the mystical realm where the cutting tool becomes grace in which the role of the Holy Spirit is more prominent than is our own striving. Human efforts alone cannot bring this about. In any cutting process something is lost in order to enhance what remains. The inability to pray as one did formerly is now replaced by an infused understanding of God which has deepened our capacity to love Him.

Just as the diamond has special optical properties which reflect the brilliance of the light optimized by the cutting, so also in the fifth mansion the memory and the imagination are completely illuminated by the divine light.

Polishing of the diamond:

The term polish refers to the removal of any blemishes on the surface of the diamond, which might become scratched or nicked in the cutting process. Polishing improves the quality of the diamond giving it the luster that has made it so prized among gems.

Mansions 6 and 7:

Just as the diamond received its final touches, so the soul also in these last two mansions, where the Holy Spirit penetrates more deeply, allows self-knowledge to become fully manifested. Self-knowledge brings with it humility which eventually allows the soul to be open enough to permit God full reign. The spiritual betrothal, which takes place in mansion six, engenders in the soul a greater confidence.

As the diamond reflects eternal love, so His Majesty residing in the inner chamber of the seventh mansion is the Eternal Love drawing the soul into this inner sanctum of His abiding presence where it is transfigured and rests in God through the spiritual marriage. In this community of divine love is expressed also one’s love of neighbor.

Just as a diamond gives great delight to the one who receives it, Teresa, at the end of her work on the Mansions, speaks of the great delight that one has who has explored the inside of the diamond of the Interior Castle.

What is an earthly diamond compared to the Diamond of the Interior Life?

By Sister Mary Colombiere, O.C.D.

To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, read their biography below and visit their website.

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Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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