LOCUTIONS, TRUE AND FALSE
Notes from all over:
At Alba in Spain, during Mass in the church where Saint Teresa of Avila is entombed, I asked this great saint, this doctor of the Church, this expert on spiritual discernment about near-death experiences, whereby so very many report to have traveled through a "tunnel" and gathered a glimpse of Heaven. Sometimes, it is doubted by scientific skeptics or occasionally those who feel it might be a spiritual deception (which like any alleged mystical event, it can be).
Saint Teresa's body is interred above the altar in an alabaster coffin.
I received no guidance in prayer but immediately after Mass our pilgrimage guide pointed out an old tomb of white marble in the wall behind us.
The saint, she explained, had once been buried at this spot at ground level. Looking up, one sees a huge painting of Teresa on her deathbed, surrounded by fellow religious, and above that a more recent and striking painting of Saint Teresa rising through tunnel-like rings of bluish light towards Heaven -- a tunnel as is depicted in classic near-death experiences.
Did I get an answer?
I certainly felt connected to her the rest of the day.
It was Saint Teresa who taught so much about differentiating between true, imagined, and diabolical locutions, all of which she herself had experienced.
A true locution, she wrote, in her classic autobiography, cannot be resisted. It is so powerful that each word is etched in the memory. And it is understood, she said, "more clearly" than if the words were heard through normal hearing.
When what locutions say does not come true, she said, they are deceptive.
The mind, the "understanding," should distinguish between thoughts that are its own and those that take energy. A true one, she said, "costs me no labor."
"A further indication, which is surer than any other," she said, "is that false locutions effect nothing, whereas, when the Lord speaks, the words are accompanied by effects, and although the words may be, not of devotion, but rather of reproof, they prepare the soul and make it ready and move it to affection, give it light, and make it happy and tranquil."
When you read a locution, does it excite you into a frenzy or bequeath you with inner reflection and peace?
"In the one case it is as if the thing is there but we cannot be sure what it is, any more than if we were half asleep," wrote the saint. "In the other case there is a voice which is so clear that not a syllable of what it says is lost."
When a locution comes from the devil, the Carmelite said, "It not only fails to leave behind good effects but leaves bad ones. This has happened to me, though only on two or three occasions, and each time I have immediately been warned by the Lord that the locution came from the devil. Besides being left in a state of great aridity, the soul suffers a disquiet such as I have experienced on many occasions when the Lord has allowed me to be exposed to many kinds of sore temptation and spiritual trial; and though this disquiet continually tortures me, it is of such a nature that one cannot discover from whence it comes."
The devil "can play many tricks," she said, "and so there is nothing so certain as that we must always preserve our misgivings about this, and proceed cautiously." Harm, she said, can come "by slow degrees." An authentic locution, though it should never be sought (the devil too frequently responds), bears fruit for years, confirming the spiritual.
--Michael H. Brown
[resources: Michael Brown retreat in Shreveport, La.