Item #: 0985-4
St Pauls Price: $14.95


Author: Sr. Vilma Seelaus, OCD
Copyright: 2005
First Printed: 09-01-2005
Reprints: 2007

“A great deal of commentary has been written on this archetypal work of Teresa’s, but no one has approached the work as Sister Vilma does. If we have read The Interior Castle before, we will read it now as though it is an entirely new book. Sister Vilma takes us through the castle from the viewpoint of our distractions. Distractions are, after all, the major problem in anyone’s prayer, and this is why it is so important to have a commentator of the author’s depth guide us through Teresa’s castle from this one perspective: distractions, their meaning for us in our spiritual lives. It is Sister Vilma’s conviction that Teresa’s insights to the dwelling places of the soul alert us to the meaning of our distractions. As we reflect with her, we begin to see how instead of being a curse, our distractions are a blessing, a visitation from God. Journeying again through the castle and looking at distractions and their meaning through this prism of the seven dwelling places, we will listen with fresh insight to the voices of these distractions and will then even learn to welcome them as integral to God’s transforming process.” – Kieran Kavanaugh, ocd

About the Author: Vilma Seelaus, ocd, is a nun of the Carmelite monastery in Barrington, Rhode Island, where she has served as prioress and formation directress. A member of the Carmelite Forum, she is known for her insightful lectures at their annual meeting. A participant in many inter-denominational monastic gatherings, she has been in constant dialogue with a broad spectrum of contemplative nuns and served two terms as President of “The Association of Contemplative Sisters.” As a author, her interest is to offer a contemporary understanding of the presence of God in human life with a focus on the interface between psychological and spiritual realities. A number of her audio tapes on spirituality have been published by Alba House and she has also contributed articles to Spiritual LifeReview for ReligiousMystics QuarterlyLiving Prayer,Anima, and The Way.

Book: 158 pages
ISBN-10: 0-8189-0985-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-8189-0985-6
Prod. Code: 0985-4




          There is a right time for everything. A year ago I was asked to review Sr. Vilma Seelaus' book, but circumstances prevented me from giving full attention to it then. Now, a year later, having in the meantime undertaken a course of training for formators, during which the necessity for growth in self-knowledge was emphasized, I returned to this book. The timing was perfect. There is no suggestion that Seelaus intended this book specifically for formators, but she might well have done. It is an excellent resource -- lucid, practical, wise and immensely encouraging -- and could likewise be of great help to spiritual directors.
          In his introduction, Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, observes: "A great deal of commentary has been written on this archetypal work of Teresa's, but no one has approached the work as Sister Vilma does. If we have read The Interior Castle before, we will read it now as though it is an entirely new book" [p. xv]. I agree.
          Seelaus' central thesis is simple: distractions in prayer are always with us, and Teresa refers frequently to them in each of the dwelling places of The Interior Castle. Under every persistent distraction there exists both a feeling to be named and a deeper issue to be confronted and exposed for God's healing and transformation. By ferreting out the various levels of distractions and their different meanings, we can discover their potential to transform us through growth in self-knowledge. If we are attentive to them and allow God to work. God uses our distractions to draw us into an ever-closer relationship with the Trinity
          Seelaus begins with a caution that the journey to the centre room of the interior castle is not linear, but that a kind of fluidity characterizes the soul, such that its movements into the various dwelling places are like the ocean tides flowing and ebbing. The book is divided into seven chapters, one for each of Teresa's dwelling places. Each chapter begins with a lucid description of the essence of its dwelling place, followed by a discussion of the particular nature of the distractions that are to be found at this stage of the spiritual journey. Seelaus' exposition of the psychological origins and manifestations of the various types of distractions are insightful and practical, obviously arising from her lived experience in Carmel. And yet, when she focuses on the dark side of our human fragility, her discussion is always encouraging, for she repeatedly emphasizes that our distractions are a valuable source of self-knowledge through which God invites us to ever-deeper conversion, surrender and transformation.
          This is a book to which I will return often for practical wisdom and personal guidance, and for encouraging those in formation. It is written simply and lucidly. Any reader who is serious about the spiritual life will benefit from the insights in this book. --Jocelyn Kramer, OCD in Mount Carmel, March 2009

          The Interior Castle, the final word and masterpiece of St. Teresa of Avila, is one of the classical maps of the spiritual journey. Commentaries on this treasure abound and the book under review belongs to that genre. It is not just about distractions, but addresses the general teaching of this classic from the unique vantage point of distractions. Distractions are only part of the discussion. The book is a running commentary on the seven stages or dwelling places of the Interior Castle from the viewpoint of the negative side of the journey, what one must face and overcome for the full possession of each dwelling place. The distractions vary with the mansions, and they are tip-offs for identyifying the obstacles.
          Distractions might seem like just a useless bother, a waste of time, and better ignored than fussed over. They look like dead-ends and without value for the prayer journey. Sister Vilma's study shows how wrong that judgment would be. Distractions are in fact like undercover agents that ferret out the nature of each level of distractions and warn the traveler about what to expect and how to meet their challenge at each stage. Distractions are by no means a curse, and they can be a blessing. Failure to examine them is our own loss. Such is the thesis of this insightful little book of Sister Vilma Seelaus, an experienced Carmelite nun and teacher, whose book witnesses to a lifetime of prayer and reflection on this material.
          Distractions are in the mainstream of the journey. They serve to enlighten the negative side of transformation in Christ just as the graces of prayer are positive indicators. The negative parts of the journey are what we must die to, the positive the graces we are to embrace. It is rare to find such a complete inventory of the problems to be faced along the way, but it is one half of the journey. The movement is from the outside to the inside, from less to more, from self-possession to self-surrender. What distracts us at any given moment in the process is the enemy we need to face at that time.
          So in the first dwelling places of the castle the beginner is challenged to work on charity, the heart of every spiritual journey, and the enemy is whatever cools charity and ultimately freezes it into the ice of Dante's hell. The journey once begun needs to address addictions and the occasions of sin in the second mansions. The hazard of the third dwelling places is being duped into thinking its paper thin spirituality is the real thing, whereas it is only a veneer. God takes over in the fourth dwelling places and the major task is letting go of control. The fifth mansions confront the need to surrender more completely to God, a task that also occupies the sixth mansions as well in order to find deeper purification and the acceptance of the cross as a staple of holiness. Finally, in a beautiful exposition of the seventh dwelling places Sister Vilma describes coming home to the center, where the soul dwells permanently in peace with God, even though there are still the vagaries of life, the exterior disturbances that do not mar the inner joy and peace, but rather contribute to apostolic suffering with Christ.
          This quick summary gives only the skeleton of the detailed analysis of each dwelling place. The value of these descriptions, as of The Interior Castle itself, is in the details. These particulars are carefully recorded along with comments and observations from contemporary sources. Sister Vilma's book is like a modern adaptation of Teresa's great classic itself.
          I have one small quibble. In the context of the prayer of (passive) recollection (IV.3) and John of the Cross' famous three signs validating the onset of contemplation, Sister Vilma writes: "In this experience [of contemplative prayer], the use of a mantra as is used in centering prayer, can actually get in the way of a deeper reality" (p. 49). She cites in a footnote "the writings of Thomas Keating and the many books available on centering prayer." There is some confusion here. Thomas Keating does not use the word mantra, but only the "holy word," which is not repeated mantra-like, but as needed to renew consent to God's action. John Main, the author of Christian Meditation, does teach that the mantra is to be repeated throughout the prayer and is to stop only if God intervenes and silences the person by a mystical grace of absorption. This often repeated teaching of John Main is perfectly compatible with Teresa. She counsels against "stopping the mind" in the prayer of recollection under discussion, only "if His Majesty has not begun to absorb us" (IV.4). "Stopping the mind" is the same as "stopping the mantra." Teresa revisits this topic in chapter 7 of the VI Dwelling Places, where she disallows discursive meditation once the stage of contemplation has been reached, but approves the simple recall or imaging of Christ in one of his mysteries when the interior recollection wanes in order "to blow on the fire so that the heat will be given off" (Seelaus, pp. 49 and 101). The mantra of Christian meditation or the holy word of centering prayer is the equivalent of the imaging of Teresa. John Main and Thomas Keating are on the same page as the Doctor of Prayer, St. Teresa.
          For newcomers to The Interior Castle Sister Vilma's book is an excellent primer; for veteran readers it offers a refreshing new look at this great classic. -- Ernest E. Larkin, O.Carm., November 11, 2005

Or is art a distraction from prayer? Vilma Seelaus OCD would say no. Her book Distractions in Prayer: Blessing or Curse? (Alba House, $14.95) calls on Teresa of Avila to corroborate, from her careful study of the seven dwelling places in Teresa's Interior Castle. If recognized and handled rightly, distractions help toward self-knowledge and humility, and that will be encouraging news to many devout people. -- Review for Religious


Pin It

Email A Friend

Send your friend a link to this product.