“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to travel in Scotland along with three other priest friends. As our rented minivan bumped along the highland roads, we (i.e. my companions) saw signs for Cawdor Castle. Well aware that Shakespeare’s Macbeth was made Thane of Cawdor, we could hardly pass up an opportunity to see such an historic and literary monument. Even as we stepped out of our vehicle, we saw and heard the rooks wheeling around the castle’s ancient tower. This was going to be great!
Once inside the edifice, we had no difficulty finding a pretty Scottish lass to show us the premises. We passed in and out of drawing rooms hung with tapestries on which were depicted elaborately wrought hunting scenes. We made our way through a grand hall with a magnificent 16th-century fireplace. We climbed up and down time-worn staircases. When, however, we arrived in the kitchen, it was as if we had suddenly entered modernity. Confronted with gleaming stainless steel countertops, we beheld a microwave oven, a brand-new Cuisinart, and a shiny meat grinder.
Our guide spoke up in her lilting burn: “You’ll notice the modern appliances. Cawdor Castle has the distinction of being the only castle in Scotland inhabited by actual royalty. The current resident is the Dowager Duchess of Cawdor.”
The Dowager Duchess of Cawdor! Now there’s the first line of a limerick if ever I heard one!
The Dowager Duchess of Cawdor
A hatchback intended to order.
But she thought it was swell
And liked it so well,
She ended up buying a four-door.
Well, how do you like that? I had been under the impression that Cawdor Castle was just another historic landmark, a museum and tourist attraction. Little did I suspect that a real flesh-and-blood personage actually lived there. I had no idea that there even was a Dowager Duchess of Cawdor, and here I was standing in her home! I suddenly felt as though I were trespassing.
I now imagine that the castle, like our own nation’s White House, has three sets of rooms. The outermost rooms would be open to the public. Then there would be more interior rooms in which the Dowager Duchess could receive friends and honored guests. Finally, in the very heart of the castle, would be Her Grace’s private apartments—including her intimate parlor and boudoir.
It is awesome to realize that, if we have been baptized and are in a state of grace, Christ Himself dwells in the depths of our souls, just as the Dowager Duchess of Cawdor inhabits the heart of Cawdor Castle. In fact, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic Saint Teresa of Ávila makes precisely the same point. In her treatise, coincidentally entitled Interior Castle, she asserts that the human soul is like a castle containing no less than seven sets of rooms or mansions and that Christ the King inhabits the inmost chambers. It is our task, says Teresa, through prayer, good works, and the sacraments, to penetrate to the very depths of our souls to encounter the living Jesus. Obedience to the will of God gives us access to the ever more private mansions until at last we embrace the King Himself. For some of us, this interior journey may take a lifetime.
We can ask ourselves some searching questions: If I am in a state of grace, am I oblivious to Jesus’ presence within me? Or am I well aware of the fact that He has chosen to dwell in the depths of my soul? If I am aware of Christ’s presence, is my relationship to Him only like that of a tourist to the Dowager Duchess of Cawdor? Do I do little more than acknowledge His presence within me? Or am I striving to enter into an ever more intimate union with Jesus by doing the will of God? Does each year find me closer to the King who inhabits the center of my soul?
This Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and as we await His Second Coming at the end of time, let us not neglect the Emanuel (the “God with us”) who dwells in the very core of our souls. Now is the time to slow down and make every effort to encounter Jesus in our own hearts and also in the hearts of our neighbors. For Christ was laid in a manger two thousand years ago that He might take up residence in our souls today. When He comes as Judge at the end of the world, He will call to Himself only those in whom He had found an eager welcome.
May God bless us all! May our preparations for the Christmas Season bring us nearer to the Lord who inhabits the castle of our souls!