In Chapter 31 of The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila wrote about the Prayer of Quiet and why some people who reach that state do not make great progress toward contemplation. She wrote:
"I may be mistaken about this, but I have seen it and know that it happens, and, for my own part, I believe this is why spiritual people are not much more numerous. They do not respond to so great a favour in a practical way: instead of preparing themselves to receive this favour again, they take back from the Lord’s hands the will which He considered His own and centre it upon base things. So He seeks out others who love Him in order to grant them His greater gifts, although He will not take away all that He has given from those who live in purity of conscience."
Her saying that God "will not take away all that He has given" brought to my mind today's Gospel reading for Mass (Matt. 25:14-30), the parable about the servants who were given the 5, 2 and 1 talents. In the end, the servant who had been given 2 talents returned them to the Master with 2 more. That servant's talents were not taken away from him, and he was told to enter into the joy of his Master. He did not receive all that the servant with the 5 talents did, who brought back 5 more, and who also received the 1 talent that had been given to the third servant. That servant started with 5 talents and ended with 11. But the servant who started with only 1 talent and hid it, returning nothing more, had his one talent taken away.
So, I have wondered, did St. Teresa have in mind the parable of the 5 talents when she wrote about God not taking away what He has given to those who live in purity of conscience but do not reach the state of contemplation? If so, she does not say so. But it may be an interesting way to look at this chapter of The Way of Perfection.
The Gospel's reference to God taking away the one talent is an image of the judgment. P. Marie-Eugene, O.C.D. recognizes St. Teresa's allusion to the judgment in her own reference to God taking away what he has given. In Chapter VI of I Want to See God, he wrote:
Like St. Teresa, P. Marie-Eugene does not mention the parable of the talents. It is not clear whether she had that parable in mind, and he does not read the parable into it. Nor will I. However, it supports an interesting reading of the parable as a picture of a person's closeness to God in prayer. The servant with 5 talents who returns with 5 more and is given still another beyond what he gained would be seen as the person who is given the grace of contemplation as a gift of God, beyond the level of prayer that they could accomplish by themselves. The servant with 2 talents who returns with 2 more and is allowed to keep them and enter into the Master's joy would then be the person who prays mental prayer and lives in purity of conscience, but does not prepare for contemplation by asceticism, which P. Marie-Eugene says "has for its aim the complete gift of the will and of oneself."
There is another interesting point in her writing, which is also seen in the parable, is the eschatological view of a person's relationship with God that draws no solid line between our relationship with God in this life and in the life to come. Pope Benedict XVI mentioned that view of the Kingdom of God in today's reflection at the Angelus. The talents God gives us, he explained, are the riches that God has given to us, including prayer (the "Our Father") and more: "the Kingdom of God, which is Christ himself, present and living among us."
In an earlier post, I wrote about St. Teresa's and Pope Benedict's view of the Kingdom of God as seen in the Our Father (See Thy Kingdom Come in Jesus of Nazareth and The Way of Perfection). St. Teresa saw Jesus as having prayed that the Father would give us his Kingdom -- and she described God as the King of that Kingdom within us. In writing of those who reach mental prayer and those who aim to make that complete gift of the will and of themselves, and who are given contemplation, she had in mind the kingdom of God, the prayer of union with Christ who is the King of that Kingdom within us. In that context, she did not draw a sharp distinction between writing of hell (the person who does not live in purity of conscience and who thus could have what God gave him taken away), and in writing of prayer (the person who engages in mental prayer, and who will not have what God gave him taken away, and the person who gives his entire self and reaches contemplation).
St. Teresa's writing about three levels of prayer, and the parable's three servants, offer an interesting possible interpretation for each other.