We have now past through the First, Second, Third andFourth Mansions and have reached the Fifth Mansion. St.Teresa opens her commentary on the Fifth Mansions by exclaiming, “How shall I ever be able to tell you of the riches and the treasures and the delights which are to be found in the fifth Mansions? I have not yet treated, for no one can describe them, the understanding is unable to comprehend them and no comparisons will avail to explain them, for earthly things are quite insufficient for this purpose” (Fifth Mansions, Chapter 1).
As we move closer to the center of the castle, the mansions appear to get harder and harder to describe as those who enter them become fewer and fewer. However, the closer we move to the center the less the devil wages successful attacks against us. St.Teresa says, “And I shall venture to affirm that…the devil cannot enter or do any harm; for His Majesty is in such close contact and union with the essence of the soul that he will not dare to approach” (Fifth Mansions, Chapter 1).
St.Teresa makes several interesting points in this section; however, I will only focus on one. In Chapter 2 of the Fifth Mansions, St. Teresa uses the analogy of a worm becoming a butterfly to describe the transformation that occurs within these mansions. I’ll let St. Teresa’s words stand for themselves:
“The silkworm is like the soul which takes life…The soul begins to live and nourishes itself on this food (which is Church, confession, good books and sermons), and on good meditations, until it is full grown…then it starts to spin its silk and to build the house in which it is to die. This house may be understood here to mean Christ” (FifthMansions, Chapter 2).
As our souls begin to build their cocoon in Christ, we hide ourselves in Christ and are able to rest in Christ. However, that is not the end of the silkworm. St.Teresa notes that many people want to remain here in the cocoon of Christ and in the rest of Christ, but the silkworm must die and become a butterfly in order to complete its purpose. The transformation is not the result of our works but on God’s blessing.
The transformation of the butterfly which, St. Teresa says, occurs within these mansions, does not constitute the end. While it seems like the silkworm has definite purpose (to grow and build its cocoon), the butterfly seems, at first, not to have a purpose. The butterfly flies almost aimlessly and restlessly. “It is not surprising, then, that, as this little butterfly feels a stranger to things of the earth, it should be seeking a new resting-place. But where can the poor creature go? It cannot return to the place it came from…the very discontent caused by the things of the world arouses a desire to leave it…it is a result of the great grief caused by seeing how often God is offended, and how little esteemed, in this world, and by considering how many souls are lost” (Fifth Mansions, Chapter 2).
Would it be better to remain in the cocoon, where one is at rest and at peace in Christ? St. Teresa says no; “I do not mean that those who attain to this state have no peace: they do have it, and to a very high degree, for even their trials are of such sublimity and come from so noble a source that, severe though they are, they bring peace and contentment…To see, then, the restlessness of this little butterfly- though it has never quieter or more at rest in its life” (Fifth Mansions, Chapter 2).
We see, then, that we can learn a lot from the silkworm and the butterfly. It shows the transformation that God wants to do in our lives. God wants us to progress from rest to restlessness; from peace to discontent. Many times we want our Christian walk to go the opposite way. But the mystics explain over and over that the easiest time for a Christian is right after conversion, when they are a baby in Christ. Babies are kept warm and safe. They are feed and nourished. But one would not want to stay a baby forever and as one grows up they experience all the great aspects of life but also some of the trials and difficulties of life as well. The restlessness and discontent that Christ wants us to experience, as St. Teresa says, is for those around us who lost.
As we close, here is a final paragraph from St. Teresa on the silkworm and the butterfly: “But note very carefully, daughters, that the silkworm has of necessity to die; and it is this which will cost you most; for death comes more easily when one can see oneself living a new life, whereas our duty now is to continue living in the present life, and yet to die of our own free will. I confess to you that we shall find this much harder, but it is of the greatest value and the reward will be greater too if you gain the victory. But you must not doubt the possibility of this true union with the will of God. This is the union which I have desired all my life; it is for this that I continually beseech Our Lord; it is this which is the most genuine and safest” (FifthMansions, Chapter 3).
© Ryan Vanderland 2012