I was going through St. Theresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle and had a small inspiration as I was going through chapter 9 of the sixth mansion. I thought I would share this with you as I found it to be somewhat fruitful for me. Some of what I may describe to you may be similar to what St. Theresa of Avila wrote in her autobiography but the way I saw it in my mind helped tie things together better for me. I was brewing on grace, good works and growth. By growth I am specifically referring to spiritual growth.
I am going to ask you to have a mental image of the following: a dammed river, and a watermill. This watermill is used to grind wheat (that is provided to us by our master) into flour that we need for nourishment and growth (in this fantasy world, flour is all we need to survive). The flow of the river is also controlled by our master and he raises and lowers it as He wills. What is our role in all this? Well, this watermill is a bit silly and the main water wheel needs to be manually lowered by us into the water so that we can use the water in order to grind the wheat that our master left for us. This is the extent of our job.
I want to expand on three particulars in this crude example:
- The master that controls the dam is God. The water that flows is equivalent to grace. It is clear from scripture and Church teachings that all good, supernatural things can only be accomplished by grace (this includes salvation). Even if we were to raise and lower the main water wheel, without water there would be no profit to our actions. God also controls the flow rate of water, meaning He can give more or less water as He wills. More water flow means we can get more out of our watermill. At a lower water flow, we grind at a slower pace. The key thing here is that we have no control over the amount of water flowing.
- Our job of lowering the water wheel into the water is in reference to good works. Our goal is to do good works by the grace of God. We need to work or act in order to be able to profit from the flow of water (or grace). This can manifest itself in so many ways which I will discuss later. There are two other points to note with this job of ours: we can choose not to lower the main wheel as water is flowing and we can choose to lower it but not fully (imperfectly).
- The flour that is produced for us from the result of grace and good works is the spiritual food that provides a growth in the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc. By the grace of God and by our response to it, we will become spiritually nourished and we will grow stronger. For this fictious example, I need you to accept the following: for each individual movement of grace, there is a set quantity of wheat that can be ground into flour. If we grind it perfectly, we take all the flour and are nourished. If we grind it imperfectly, we make some flour and the extra is cast aside on a pile. If we fail to grind any, that wheat is cast aside on a pile. Every single event occurs in a similar fashion.
What I am trying to highlight with everything that I have written is that God does the bulk of the work. Not only does He provide us with the grace in order to do good works, He also portions out to us the fruits of our work to us so that we may benefit spiritually from those works. How much water flow or the amount of wheat that is portioned out is dictated by Him. Theologically speaking, I am not sure if an identical action done by two different people will yield the same amount of flour. This I do not know and will air on the side of caution. But you know what? Irrespective of how much water flow there is or how much wheat we are given to grind we have an important role in all this: we can choose, by our free will, to either grind the wheat perfectly, imperfectly or not at all! Since we know that our Lord is good, just and loving, how much water flow and the amount of wheat given is exactly what we need and this varies from individual to individual. There is a reason why some saints are called to be Church doctors and why some are very simple, uneducated lay people: all this is because this is how He dictates it to be so. This is not up to us to question, as St. Paul describes:
But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, “Why have you created me so? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? – Romans 9:20-21
Let us run through an example. Suppose we receive an inspiration to pray the rosary. This is equivalent to the water flow. Now in this example, we respond to this grace however, during the whole time of prayer we are distracted about some TV show. This is equivalent to us lowering the water wheel. In this particular example, although we have responded to the inspiration, we have done so imperfectly and will yield little flour for our spiritual growth. Another example may be when we are presented with an opportunity to be humble. A fellow co-worker, whom we find it very hard to like, has just made fun of us at a staff meeting (this is the water flow). In our rage, we respond back harshly to this person for making fun of us and make a big scene (this is equivalent to us not lowering the main water wheel). The result? No wheat has been ground to flour and no spiritual growth! Had we responded more humbly and bore the embarrassment better, we perhaps could have yielded much more fruit but we have forgone that opportunity.
The list of examples goes on and on. In all this, we have to realize we have a choice. If we do our best to always lower the water wheel, we will gain profit. Even a small amount of flour each day will provide us with some nourishment, although not nearly enough if we had done the action perfectly. Nevertheless, we must continue to receive nourishment and as we do, I believe our actions will tend to be more perfect overtime. Some of you may be wondering about the discarded pile of wheat. Well, I almost like to imagine that as our punishment in the afterlife. There is no exact science here but whether we go to purgatory or hell is dependent on the weight of the discarded wheat. The lower the pile, the less likely we may go to hell BUT we may have to spend time in purgatory for all of our imperfect actions along the way. Can this pile be reduced? I would think so. Just as one can atone for the temporal punishments in purgatory in this life through suffering, I believe that as we become more like saints and the Lord will take from the discarded pile of wheat and allow it to be ground into flour but this will come at a greater cost and likely much suffering in this life. Nevertheless, I believe our desire to do more perfect acts increases as we grow spiritually, and the thought of suffering becomes joyous to us, as many saints describe.
How do we know when the grace of God, this water flow, is active? That, I imagine, takes experience. To be able to see these movements takes time but as we become more nourished and as we grow, I believe we will be able to better to see when the grace of God is active . Perseverance is key early on as we begin to set our hands to work.
Again, like my great mentor St. Theresa of Avila, I do not know all the technical ins and outs of theology and perhaps have misspoken. This is not my intent but this is just my simple attempt of explaining the movements that occur in the spiritual realm. This really helps me to realize that although the interior life does have a priority over the active life, we still need to act in order to grow. Failure to act will result in no growth and may lead to spiritual death. Let us do our best to act on the graces of God as they present themselves so that we may constantly grow to be saints.
Blessed Mother, pray for us!