The well-ordered Christian life
Teresa acknowledges that those who travel to the Third Mansion of the interior castle of their soul have reason to be blessed. They’ve followed the Lord’s call in the Second Mansion and turned away from the deceit of money, power, and recognition. They’ve won battles and persevered to a “secure conscious”.
As we progress through the seven mansions described in Teresa of Ávila’s beloved spiritual guide, The Interior Castle, we learn we can become very comfortable in the Third Mansion. Many Christians never choose to leave. However, for all that’s been accomplished, Teresa tells us it’s risky to remain.
Third Mansion living
Christians in the Third Mansion rarely sin intentionally. A Third Mansion Christian reads the Bible, attends church regularly, and is counted among the “respectable.” They perform many acts of service and devotion, yet they often select ways to serve that fit their “well-ordered” schedules and pose little personal risk. Still, God rewards them with “spiritual consolations” - comforts we receive from our own efforts to draw closer to God with practices like prayer or meditation.
Third Mansion Christians can lack humility and judge Christians with messier lives. If a trial comes into their well-ordered life, they can feel betrayed by God. They may not see what God is trying to teach them because part of them believes they have nothing left to learn. Because they feel they’ve met the goals for Christian living, they may also be confused when they learn other spiritual experiences are available to those who travel deeper.
The rich young ruler
Teresa reminds us of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, which can be understood when viewed through this mansion. The rich young ruler had a “well-ordered” life, priding himself on his reputation for diligently obeying the law. But he may have come to Jesus because he sensed he was missing something in his devotion to God. He asked Jesus, “what do I still lack?”
Jesus told him what was required to travel deeper: “Go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus knew the young man’s wealth and prestige were the real rulers in his life.
Teresa’s advice to Third Mansion Christians
The rich young ruler walked away with sadness, knowing how comfortable he had become in his Third Mansion. Teresa explains, “to continue, the Lord must take complete possession of our soul. It is not enough just to say we desire to move ahead.” At least at this point in his life, the young man was not ready to surrender.
Teresa advises us to press on and suggests finding mature spiritual guides who can help us learn by imitation. She describes staying in this mansion as “oppressive”, which she will explain more in the Fourth Mansion. She also says that staying in this mansion with un-surrendered parts of your life is risky. “The strength of souls in the Third Mansion is not planted on the solid ground of those in deeper mansions who are practiced in suffering.” Without forward motion, temptations can pull these Christians backward.
Have you ever felt the sadness of the rich young ruler? Despite outward appearances, are there areas of your life that you haven’t allowed God to fully possess? In the Fourth Mansion, a soul has the possibility of richer experiences with God as it escapes the oppressive order of the Third Mansion.