By Sean Mulcare
In the second stage of the spiritual life, the individual has made some progress in resisting sin, although there is still a lot of work to be done. They start to be fascinated by the things of God, but the things of the world still have a strong hold on them. “They see imperfectly, and they act imperfectly, but nonetheless some growth has occurred. God is calling them ceaselessly, and they are able to hear him now,” (Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, 83). They hear the Lord through conversations with good people, through homilies, through reading, and through prayer.
In the second mansion, the enticements of the world are very strong, but the attraction to the divine is present too. It is as if they begin to be at war with each other. Earthly pleasures are attractive, desires for honor (such as wealth or beauty) are hard to give up, and the soul fears the demands that will be placed on it if it follows the Lord wholeheartedly. It sees the rewards of the world to be magnificent. Yet despite this attraction to worldly things, the soul begins to see that all those things are temporary. It begins to see that God will satisfy it and realizes that life is short and that heaven is eternal. The saints say that reflecting on the four last things will help a soul in this predicament to emerge victorious. The four last things are death, judgment, hell, and heaven. There are many who don’t win this battle, who settle with good enough, and who stop their pursuit for greatness. Remembering the last things will help us to overcome this temptation and to live for the one thing that is eternal: God.
The virtues are starting to grow but are still young. The soul in the second stage is beginning to be touched by the Lord, and God is bringing that soul closer to himself. Through prayer and good interactions, it is as if the seed of faith is being covered with dirt where it will be protected and allowed to grow. However, the seeds that are furthest into the ground are the most likely to survive. The seeds with a light covering of dirt will still be affected by the world and will likely not survive. We have to “bury” ourselves in Christ and pursue him more than we pursue the world if we are to become a great tree instead of food for the animals.
As far as practical advice for how to grow, St. Teresa of Avila tells people in the second mansion to seek out good friends who will bring them closer to Christ. This is so important as who we associate with greatly influences us. Secondly, we must also be willing to share the cross of Christ and to have a willingness to endure suffering and dryness in prayer. Thirdly, seek to do and to accept the will of God. The more we do this, the more we will receive from God. Fourthly, we ought not to despair when we fall. We are to simply repent of our sins and to keep moving on. If we do this, even good can come from our failure: namely, humility. And lastly, daily prayer is absolutely necessary to advance. I encourage you to start with 15 minutes and to gradually increase it to 30. This is the primary place in which God will work and transform your life. There is simply no way to grow without prayer. We could expand on all of these points as they are much easier to say than to do. Nevertheless, if the individual perseveres in these things, they will move on to the third stage of the spiritual life.