Friday, 23 October 2015

135: St Teresa of Avila 14/16: God's Entrepreneur

There is one aspect of St Teresa's life that is usually rarely addressed by commentators: her Foundations. After having embarked on the spiritual journey, rich in its promise of forthcoming graces, St Teresa felt the call to found a monastery - San José of Avila - where a style of life would be established more in harmony with this new fervent spiritual life, done in order to promote, support and protect it. Encouraged by its success, and certainly guided by the Lord and his Mother, not to mention St Joseph, with the agreement of the ecclesiastical authorities, she started a long series of foundations of other monasteries in Spain – a staggering total of seventeen monasteries. These monasteries were replicas of the first one. When viewed objectively, this outstanding endeavour and the way she achieved it, never fails to profoundly impress. Teresa's action here was backed superbly by her spirit of faith, her practical sense and skill in implementing a project, and last but by no means least, the purity of her vision.

Bearing this in mind a modern expression presents itself to define this facet of St Teresa - 'God's entrepreneur'. The Saint fits this definition of herself most aptly if one considers the imposing number of her foundations realised in a very short space of time, especially given the difficulties and restrictions of her time (see 'Important dates' at the beginning of the book). One cannot fail to be impressed! Even more impressive is the impact on the modern-day reader who might be tempted to make some farsighted observations, namely, that there might be some profound relevance in her undertakings for our time which could do with further exploration, and that Teresa possessed a revolutionary view of economical crisis, of transformation in the world and the market place. Often Christians find a certain difficulty when dealing with money issues and riches, even with enterprise. Money seems to have a negative stain on it. This difficulty is certainly more present amongst Catholics than Protestants, our brothers from the protestant denominations being more flexible and uninhibited vis à vis these questions. But this observation does not infer that she accumulated huge sums of money, or that she made her monasteries wealthy, but on the contrary it alludes to something quite different: the method she used in order to acquire the monasteries; how she ensured they were run in a 'viable' way; the use she made of certain virtues; her vision and her managerial skills. Surely, as the evidence will show, this cannot fail to inspire!

As alien as it might seem, to be interested in 'management' and 'enterprise' is nonetheless pertinent. First of all let us examine the concept that 'mysticism' and 'action' are contradictory. Quite the contrary. Some may think that mystics are distracted, clumsy, with their heads in the clouds, and that they lack a practical sense. However, St Teresa's life and the life of a multitude of other mystics make a mockery of this. It would be even more relevant to observe that an authentic mystic has a superior fruitfulness or fecundity compared to a half-heartedly spiritual person. Indubitably, as mentioned in a previous chapter, this can only happen provided that we are in the presence of a healthy mysticism and not a deviation of it, a deviation that concentrates more and gives more credit to extraordinary phenomena - that are only for the very few and the ones who have special missions in the Church.

For the authentic mystic, then, the more spiritual they become the more they are transformed in Christ, and the more their actions are guided and inspired by Christ and 'co-moved' by Him. Inevitably the achievements of this individual become God's achievements, which would definitely not be the case for less spiritual people. This seems to be a paradox: having to get closer to God in order to become more fruitful. But this is not only normal, but it is a definite requirement. If the choice is made to spend time in daily prayer more frequently, the greater the opportunity becomes not only to enter into God but also to place ourselves into His Hands and improve his action in us and through us. As a natural consequence, for obviously material interest would be the last thing to inform our prayers, there would be greater clarity about what we are supposed to do and much time and energy would be saved! Ironically this fact seems to escape notice for many! The true reason for this is to be found in another area altogether, namely, the individual is not yet ready to have a personal relationship with Christ, and in consequence, completely fails to recognise the role they would play in a spiritual life, whereas, in fact the goal of this relationship is to be nourished by no less a Being than Christ Himself. The astounding secret is embodied in Christ himself! No matter the amount of searching undertaken, it is always to Christ that we return! Christ is both the starting point and also the heart of everything – He is both Alpha and Omega!

Now, a return to a closer look at the reality of St Teresa's life would illustrate this amply: her being 'God's entrepreneur'. Here it would be advantageous to adhere to this idea of entrepreneurship and to examine it in greater depth. It has therefore to be acknowledged that everything she achieved was the offshoot of a spirit of enterprise, and that, more precisely, it is poverty that is the fundamental characteristic of her foundations. Not only this, but an additional characteristic of her monasteries is work and economical time-management. The spiritual person does work! But he does it peacefully. If there is a distaste for work, then there is no place in the individual's life for St.Teresa's spirituality and the understanding of doing the will of God. The truly spiritual person accepts 'time' as an extraordinary gift from God, and understands that all that personal time belongs to God and not to idleness. It is opportune to remember, here, that idleness is the mother of all vices, a fact that monks constantly recall. This does not lead, however, to a frenetic race with time, but rather to a harmonious combination of work while being connected to the Holy Spirit, so that each moment is imbued with the ever-present incarnation of Christ.

It is important to work while being 'in God's hands', in the peace of Christ. In spiritual life the fact of being there 'for God', and 'for God alone', commands the entire action - our entire life - and in that there is definitely no room for stress and no need for anxiety. This is the heart of Teresa's enterprise! It was from God that she received this precious guidance, God who taught her the real meaning of life, life with Him – aptly depicted, the reader will recall, in the opening chapters of this book. It is Christ himself who is the real entrepreneur. Christ, in fact, succinctly expresses this in the Gospel when he says: 'the Father acts all the time”, and 'the Son sees what the Father does, and he does the same'. As we can see, mysticism is like an open window onto the 'CEO' (God) whom we 'see' (contemplate) incessantly. He is a 'CEO' whom we love, who died for us, who is our whole world, our All, our Spouse! This formula is unique! The business world, in fact, might do well to take a leaf out of Teresa's book and adopt this mode of action, the sole proviso being to start with Christ and a personal relationship with Him! However, to do so requires detachment from self-interest, from personal ambitions and goals. It is advisable then to take time, and with as much introspection as possible to allow ourselves to become so imbued with Christ and his Way, that our thirst for Him will so increase as to meet His thirst for us. It is absolutely crucial that we realise, here, that Christ cannot be approached in order to promote certain ambitions or goals, or with a particular wish or intention in mind. Indeed not! Christ is approached for the sake of Christ and Christ alone, unconditionally, with purity of intent and no ulterior motive whatsoever - without restriction of any kind! Without the grace of God it is impossible to follow Christ with purity of heart and mind!

The grace of God is at the centre of the secret entrusted to us by St.Teresa. It is widely assumed that it was she who wished to found the monasteries that she did, that she was a woman of action and enterprise... while, in fact, she clearly states in her writings that she doubted, that she had fears! There were, undoubtedly many obstacles she had to face. Humanly speaking, she stood a greater chance of failing and remaining in her monastery than to travel so widely in Spain in order to create her foundations. Remember, too, that she was a woman, a 'mystic' (therefore suspect), and that the Spain of Teresa's time saw the Church in serious combat with the Protestant Reformation and the damaging effects it unleashed through endorsing the personal interpretation of the Scriptures. Not only this, but there were also the' Alumbrados' (the Enlightened) proliferating throughout the country, resulting in extreme vigilance by the ecclesiastical authorities, the Inquisition, as it was to become known. Bearing this in mind, from a human standpoint it cannot be denied that it would have been impossible for her to succeed!

How then did she succeed? Her secret is simple: the Lord and his holy Mother assured her in more than one vision that the reformation of her religious order, the Carmelites, would take place and that she would see it prosper before she died. This vision was confirmed by her spiritual director and by the following authorisation by her superior who gave her permission to found monasteries 'as many hairs as she had on her head'. This is the secret of her foundations! All the rest was irrelevant and transitory! God alone knows how much she must have suffered, how many obstacles she undoubtedly encountered. It is impossible to conceive of her embarking on the plan of founding so many monasteries, had she not had the sure and certain conviction that the order was being issued by God himself! After all, in the grand scheme of things who was Teresa – a mere insignificant human being!

It would be of interest to investigate whether she had any means of human support: maybe a good network of acquaintances, friends or if she even gained entry into the royal palace, or had material means and an innate business acumen. In reality we know she had as many well-wishers as she had in opposition to her. The latter were not actively or in a literal sense anti Teresa, but rather they were in a position to create obstacles so that her progress was slowed down and the momentum interrupted. Ironically these people did not have The Saint's beliefs, endorsed as they were by all her visions, her beliefs being inconceivable to those who did not have the supernatural spirit of faith, who were unaware of the action of God in us. Significantly, when it is impossible to see beyond the events unfolding before one, many obstacles could manifest themselves. For Teresa, however, her guiding light was ever in heaven! If God lead her to understand that a particular desire she felt originated with Him, it was tantamount to God saying to the Saint: 'It is I, the Lord your God, who desires it!' It follows then that whatever God desires He is capable of bringing about. What is astounding, however, is that He needs us in order to do so.

Once Teresa took her decision with great resolve to obey God, and after having received the confirmation from her confessor, obstacles would emerge inexplicable or not, from every direction, but this for Teresa was proof positive that the Devil was becoming enraged and that it was the hand of God that was guiding her actions. Accordingly she just stood by, observed events, followed the Lord and contributed her part without too much interference. One can interpret this in ways without number. Although everyone around her had doubts – even herself, her human weakness creating these within her – her belief in Christ with His hand on the helm of events never wavered. She knew in the very core of her being that if God willed something, He was entirely capable of realising it, not without obstacles – decidedly not – but despite and through obstacles! This embodies the very reason, as we have said above, for her considering that one had to act with purity, namely, that one knew one's place, listened, followed and obeyed God's will! It is very easy to have our own personal vision of how things progress, but one enters another league completely when following the vision of God! If God allows the existence of obstacles, it is because we human beings have our own part to play in God's work! He dislikes working alone, preferring our collaboration, which cannot be termed as interference simply because He desires us to participate. Even if St Teresa's role in the Foundations is very small, they could not have materialised without her and without all the individuals who played a role in bringing them into being! The Foundations, the Reformation of the Carmelite Order were primarily Our Lady's concern: everyone who contributed did it for Her, and without a doubt it pleased Christ enormously, Christ who appreciates anything done for his Mother.

Taking this viewpoint into consideration, and expressing it in plain, unadulterated terms – the real 'boss' of Carmelite Order is Our Lady ! In many monasteries founded by Her, indeed, one can see in the Prioress' seat, not the Prioress herself but a statue of Our Lady! This viewpoint was actually supported by a vision received by St Teresa, where Our Lady assured her that all the prayers accomplished in the Choir by the nuns were presented to Christ by the Blessed Virgin herself. Having Our Lady's statue in the Prioress's place of honour can now be seen as anything but an act of devotion. On the contrary, it is something infinitely greater: it represents Our Lady herself who leads and guides us, and who is the one who presents all our prayers to the Lord. Not only this, but with Our Lady we have evidence of the greatness of Her tender love for St Joseph, coming from a personal experience of his presence and action in her life. She considers him as a Master of Mental Prayer, who together with the Mother of God, silently teaches us how to practise it. St. Joseph constantly watched over St Teresa's spiritual life and never neglected her material needs.

Each monastery is founded on a fervent spiritual life and on a total radical gift of oneself! This involves to this day a practice of detachment, real poverty, as well as evidence of great poverty in the outward trappings of the order, for example, in its buildings, cells, down to even the belongings of the community. Any ornamentation is decisively excluded, and this at all levels. The nuns are there for God and only for God. This provides ample evidence of the reduction in the needs of the nuns, even though it still remains necessary for them to work. But work does not have the upper hand: this is the prerogative of Christ and the life of prayer. Their work ethic is simple: one does not live in order to work. Rather one works to provide for material needs! The place of prayer in the life of the Carmelite nuns remains all-absorbing. They work, admittedly, but with intelligence and common sense offering only saleable products. However, their overriding and total support is found in the Providence of God! It is this delicate but fundamental combination, coming from above, that is the driving force for everything! Yes, today's world can learn this method of 'management'. It presupposes, however, the existence of a great 'poverty of spirit'!

All the nuns' lives, then, are geared towards Christ as has been noted. Without Him, their life would be a true prison for anybody, because in the monastery on a daily basis every action performed by the nuns has Christ as the reference point. This is why mentioning 'enterprise' and 'entrepreneurial spirit' tends to be misplaced! It is true to say that considering what St Teresa achieved, her spirit and her methods are certainly challenging, pertinent and inspirational, especially in today's world which is sinking into a deep economical crisis and is in search of a set of criteria for a healthy new economy.

St Teresa considers, as much as is humanly possible, that her monasteries are a slice of Paradise on earth, places where all Christ's Law is put into practice, where Christ not only dwells but is consoled and loved. The only master of these monasteries is Christ, and the world's master - money - is banned from their precincts!

Finally, it would be a healthy exercise to ask ourselves these questions: do we believe that God is capable of helping us to live by his Providence alone ? Do we abide by what the Lord says in the Gospel, instead of concerning ourselves about our clothing or our food, or is our prime concern to incarnate His kingdom here on earth? Can we watch the fields in their beauty and trust that God will cover us with a greater beauty? Can we radically live the Gospel of dependency on the Providence of God ? Is our economy capable of changing its principles? Instead of greed, the pursuit of riches, would it not be possible to apply the simple principle of placing in first place the search for the Lord in all purity and with radical determination? Only by trying His way will we discover the truth of Christ's' words!

Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. (John 5:19-20)

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:1-11)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

134: St Teresa of Avila 13/16: Fraternal Charity

Even if the position of fraternal love is not prominent on the list of theological graces, St Teresa places if first in her book. (see Way of Perfection chapters 4-7 and Interior Castle V,3). It forms, together with the two other virtues she highlights - detachment and humility - the indispensable trio that ensures a solid foundation for a fruitful prayer life. As she does for the two other virtues, St Teresa presents not not only a spiritual way of practising them, but a heroic way to do so. Hence her style of presentation is more radical, aimed at promoting perfection, as the title of the book illustrates: 'Way of Perfection'. By comparison with many other authors, Teresa delves more deeply into our minds and hearts, in order to dispose us to progress spiritually to the best of our ability, with the ultimate aim of reaching union with Jesus.

This process, to say the least, hardly leaves us unscathed! With spiritual finesse, the Saint unmasks what is deep within the soul yet barely discernible to the the average spiritual person! Holiness she reveals is not the for the faint-hearted! Strong courage, a fighter's spirit and powerful determination are some of the characteristics Teresa invites her reader to embody, not to mention aiming for and achieving the highest thoughts and ideals (see Way of Perfection, chapter 23).

- Resolve, sisters, that it is to die for Christ, and not to practise self-indulgence for Christ, that you have come here. (Way of Perfection, chapter 10)
- [...] commit yourselves wholly to God, come what may. What does it matter if we die? (Way of Perfection, chapter 11)
- Now, daughters, you have looked at the great enterprise which we are trying to carry out. What kind of persons shall we have to be if we are not to be considered over-bold in the eyes of God and of the world? It is clear that we need to labour hard and it will be a great help to us if we have sublime thoughts so that we may strive to make our actions sublime also. (Way of Perfection, chapter 4).

In sum Teresa advises that our overriding characteristic should be the courage to face our inner truth and then to be true to it.

Here a closer examination of her approach and an example to reinforce our findings would greatly enhance our understanding of Teresa.

It cannot be more vigorously emphasized that to exercise fraternal love is fundamental in Spiritual Life! God gave us two commandments - the first encompassing an all-embracing love of God (Matthew 22:37-39) - on which everything, the Law and the Prophets, hinges (Matthew 22:40). The second commandment is said to be 'similar' to the first: your shall love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39). One can assume, then, that it is absolutely normal for the second commandment to be prominent in the journey towards sanctification. As mentioned in a previous chapter, Christ cannot be cut into two parts, where we express interest in the Head of the Body, namely, Jesus of Nazareth, while we neglect his Mystical Body, namely, our brothers and sisters. Christ cannot be loved on the one hand, when, on the other hand, we reject Him and sadden Him by wronging a brother. The love of Christ, received and treasured during the Prayer of the Heart, must imbue our actions afterwards and become progressively refined during daily intercourse with our brothers. Incontrovertibly, love of our neighbour is part of the three indispensable virtues that summarise the Gospel and which elevate and purify us, in order to receive Christ more worthily within our hearts.

St Teresa's way of presenting the three virtues, consequently, becomes more elevated and gains in unusual intensity. Her aim now becomes to uplift us toward a purer practice in prayer embedded in greater spiritual awareness. Why would she do so? The reason becomes evident when we show determination in following Christ, for relatively soon we begin to feel his invitation to love, help and serve our brothers as He reveals himself to us in them. However, at this stage we lack sufficient self-awareness, being as yet at the beginning of the journey, and our way of loving is still very weak, feeble and quite imperfect! One could say with St Paul that the old man (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-11) in us is still alive and well and playing his usual tricks misleading us, thereby influencing our way of exercising the new virtue of Love. The capacity of the old man's influence is very limited and limits our way of loving.
The main purpose of Teresa's Way of Perfection is to speak about supernatural 'contemplation'. She issues a clear warning to the reader, namely, that God can be approached in two ways: one is through the means of the old man, and the other is to through the new man's ones. The beginning of our spiritual journey revealingly concerns this inability to love perfectly, and St.Teresa tries her utmost to highlight the impact of the old man on the practice of the virtues! She strongly advises against practising these willy nilly, in the hope of being successful. Rather she urges the reader to exceed their known limits, in order to awaken in the individual a fully functional new man. In this way Teresa stresses and only in this way, can the acts of love be purer and please Jesus-God who wants to give Himself to us.

A brief interjection regarding St. Paul would be useful here. Even if St Teresa does not directly use St Paul's expression 'new man' and 'old man', the real difference between imperfect spiritual love and perfect/pure spiritual love is found in the differing modalities and their effects in the human being of the 'old' and 'new' man. It is to St John of the Cross that we owe the full explanation of this difference. He makes a shrewd analysis of the seven mortal sins transposed onto the equivalent seven spiritual sins, encouraging us to discover that it is not enough to love God, but that, even more so, it is necessary to evaluate how we love Him: hence the expression 'imperfections of the beginner'. (See Dark Night Book 1, Chapters 1-7)

St Teresa invites us to love in an oblative detached manner and to do so likewise with everyone else, for the sake of the Lord. This new and radical way of loving our neighbour seduces God and powerfully increases his action in us during the Prayer of the Heart. It is breathtaking to realise that the more we do what is pleasing to God, the more He loves us, evoking in Him nothing less than an irresistible desire to give himself to us – like a magnetic force, God cannot resist being attracted to us! St John of the Cross confirms in the following extract, that we can almost impel God to love us more when we practise fraternal love:

God does not establish His grace and love in the soul but in proportion to the good will of that soul’s love. He, therefore, that truly loves God must strive that his love fail not; for so, if we may thus speak, will he move God to show him greater love, and to take greater delight in his soul. In order to attain to such a degree of love, he must practice those things of which the Apostle speaks, saying: “Charity is patient, is benign: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks not evil, rejoices not upon iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (Spiritual Canticle A 10,11 and B, 13,17)

The Lord himself underlines this strategic element of spiritual life: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him (John 14:23; 21). It is like a new wave of love that originates in God, and ends in us! This might seem astonishing, but this is one of the most important secrets of the Saints. We know that God loves us, that God is Love, but here we see it is something concrete, palpable, it is really received, poured into us! The love of God for us is the starting point of the Prayer of the Heart: a new love that God has toward us!

One can say that the entire book of the Way of Perfection is the illustration of this verse of St John: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him. This Teresa skilfully depicts in in the following manner:
The first part of the book shows our need to learn how to keep Jesus' word by practising in as perfect a way as possible and by the grace of God, the three virtues that please God most. The effect following on from this, initiates the start of the Prayer of the Heart: My Father will love him. Finally, pure contemplation can occur in the Prayer of the Heart when as a result: we will come to him and make Our home with him. Indeed, in its complete form, this verse shows us the link between the practice of the evangelical virtues and the new transformed love given to us during the Prayer of the Heart. To receive a new transformed love from the Father and the Son, and to receive this coming of the Father and the Son into us - does this not embody the Prayer of the Heart? Here it is patently obvious that there is a deep and intimate link between the virtues practised during our daily activities and the Prayer of the Heart.

Let us take an example in order to illustrate the difference between the two loves, the imperfect one and the perfect one. Accordingly, even if love is an act of the will, when we love our emotions are directly involved. Initially, however, they are not yet purified, transformed and totally moved by God. As a consequence, without our being aware of it, we make preferences in our way of loving: we do not love as God loves. God loves because He is Love: He comes out of himself, He gives himself to us without making any distinction between the good and the bad. He gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike”(Matthew 5:45). God does not find the motivation or the reason to love us within us, but within himself. By contrast, we human beings merely at the beginning of our journey, fail to act with such perfection, for to love in this way does not come easily to us. If, for example, in the workplace or in a religious community there are ten colleagues or brothers: we often find that with one or two we, quite spontaneously, have things in common, or whose company we really enjoy and desire to frequent more, all quite spontaneously, with another one or two, we find that we are not inclined to enjoy their presence, and our attitude towards the rest could is average normality. These three different reactions are spontaneous, natural, normal to have and not blameworthy by any means.These inclinations can in no way be considered sinful. But, if we surrender to this natural reaction and if our action is influenced by it, as a consequence the tendency to spend increasing time with the persons with whom we are in accord will result, so that we might neglect or even avoid the ones with whom we have no affinity or even dislike. Can this be to love as God loves? Ironically our way of loving leads to our being caught in the trap of our own superficial making. While it is evident that we all agree that we should love our neighbour, we deceive ourselves and do not necessarily acknowledge that our act of love is stained by a great weakness. It is therefore good to encourage detachment, especially of our instinctive preferences, to concentrate on overcoming our defects by the grace of God and to deliberately choose to love this or that person whom we actively dislike, by finding even more profound reasons to do so: to love because this individual has been created, loved and saved by God, because he or she deserves to be loved as God loves....

The Growth of Love

Of necessity, now, some questions arise: what is the relationship between the love of neighbour and the curve of our spiritual growth? Does love grow? Does love have a limit?

The love that binds us to God and the love that binds us to our neighbour is the same love - it is nothing less than the Holy Spirit! The closer we grow towards God, the more closely are we united to Him, and the more our love toward our neighbour is deepened, purified and enlarged, to embrace, finally, the whole world. Our spiritual life reflects this in an enhanced growth, where an acute awareness of our poverty, our weakness and the miserable state or our soul becomes increasingly manifest, but where, simultaneously, our appreciation of the infinite mercy of God becomes daily more apparent. As a consequence, there is a rising tide of Mercy and Compassion in our heart, this becoming instinctively translated into prayer.

For the human being who has reached, as it is termed, this Union with Christ (Spiritual Marriage, Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle), St Teresa repeatedly underlines the fact that it is a great act of mercy to remember in our prayers all those who are enslaved in grave or mortal sin, those who are in the First Mansions of the Castle. The action of the Holy Spirit within us now reveals itself in an enlarged capacity to gather our brothers and sisters into our hearts.

As one can see, during the Prayer of the Heart God purifies our love for our neighbour, elevates it, transforms it, and in tandem, our daily life offers us opportunities to love our neighbour as God desires. In consequence our capacity for love is enlarged, attracts God into our heart and draws Him with irresistible force to give himself increasingly to us!

Believe me, sisters, the soldiers of Christ - namely, those who experience contemplation and practise prayer - are always ready for the hour of conflict. They are never very much afraid of their open enemies, for they know who they are and are sure that their strength can never prevail against the strength which they themselves have been given by the Lord: they will always be victorious and gain great riches, so they will never turn their backs on the battle. (Way of Perfection, chapter 38)

A brief comparison with this and a comment made by St. Therese of Lisieux endorses this complementary action of love. This Saint remarked, that from her youth, she was very impressed by a passage of St John of the Cross where he says that exercising love is of utmost importance hastening our journey to the fullness of Love and Transformation in Jesus:
With what longing and what consolation I repeated from the beginning of my religious life these other words of St. John of the Cross: 'It is of the highest importance that the soul practice love very much in order that, being consumed rapidly, she may be scarcely retained here on earth but promptly reach the vision of her God face to face.' (Yellow Notebook, 27.7.5)

In fact a reading of Manuscript C of the Story of the Soul would greatly benefit the aspiring practitioner of the Prayer of the Heart, as it includes different examples and advice offered by Therese on the love of our neighbour.

Monday, 12 October 2015

133: Teresa of Avila 12/16: Detachment

As we have seen in a former chapter, in her book of formation, Way of Perfection, St Teresa considers that there are three essential virtues that are the foundation of the Prayer of the Heart: humility, love of one another and detachment. The Saint invites us to practise them in a 'heroic' way in order to trigger the flow of the Grace of God and to have a deeper prayer life. The reason for giving prominence to these three virtues, over many other virtues, is to be found in the Gospel. If we examine them more closely, we will find that all these virtues are intimately connected to the human being and most especially to the Evangelical Counsels. The human being we know has a spirit, a soul (heart, emotions) and a body (senses), but significantly these, simultaneously, mirror the identical rule of life summed up in the the Evangelical Counsels, later to absorbed in the vows of Religious. Thus 'obedience' requires 'humility' of the spirit, 'chastity' teaches us to have a pure 'heart', transformed emotions are required in order to love one's neighbour, as does a 'poverty' that 'detaches' us from all material goods and makes us free for the service of the Kingdom.

Just as it is impossible to separate 'spiritual life', or 'interior life', from the rest of our anthropological structure and our daily life, so too is it impossible to separate 'the prayer of the heart' from a 'prayer life'. This would indicate that there should not be any dichotomy between the time dedicated to prayer (and how it is spent) and the rest of the day! A deep bond exists between the two that cannot be dissolved. An apt example is that of the relationship of the artesian wells: all communicate with each other, support each other, but if this does not occur the very existence of each may be jeopardised. Juxtapose this relationship onto a person's daily life, if Christ figures only vaguely in daily life, the impact on the time dedicated to prayer will be felt in no uncertain terms.

The meeting with Christ the Head comes about during prayer, while an encounter with Christ 's Mystical Body occurs during daily life. But Christ's head and Christ's body are one and indivisible. Therefore Christ, whole and entire, Head and Body, is present to us during prayer. The disassociation of the two parts of his being is impossible, especially pertinent where we refer to 'his body' when his mystical body takes on concrete form in our brothers and sisters. Through this mystical body, the entire Christ remains undeniably present to us as well during the day, outside of moments of prayer! Given this fact it would be illogical to embrace one part of Christ – the Head – and ignore the other. A 'schizophrenic life', is not an option or even worse, if the reader permits the expression, it is impossible to 'behead' Christ. St Teresa is absolutely adamant about preserving the unity of our life. Ironically, however, there are some who desire Christ, but do not desire to be involved with the rest of his Body: the brethren, the Community, the Church – a ludicrous assumption in trying to separate the inseparable!


It cannot be denied that our heart can effortlessly become attached to material good of every kind. Even health is a material good. This in turn engenders having recourse to considering purely human means to fulfil our aspirations. What fails to enter this thought process is that when God calls, when Jesus calls, it is not possible to delay our response! It is imperative there be no delay because of the nature of the caller! Almighty God is the one who is calling, and He deserves an immediate and complete response.

In the Way of Perfection, St Teresa shows us how, when God's call is answered, it should be done with vigilance with regard to 'detachment' from material goods. Too easily does our weak human heart seeks support, help, consolation, human means, in the hope that with these means there will be a decided improvement! This is mere temptation says St Teresa of Avila. She is as radical as Christ in the Gospel (see Matthew 6:16 onward). A plethora of questions arise from this radical view: Where is our Faith in God's Providence? Are we really being called by our faith? Is He not God? Is He incapable of providing us with all that is necessary for us? Why the change of role?

In the Gospel, to aid our journey towards detachment, Christ invites us not to invert values and to keep our hearts pure, detached from material goods: seek first the kingdom of God... namely, if a person possesses goods, let him live in a detached way as if he had none:

But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be free from concern. (1 Corinthians 7:29-32)!

St Paul says it indeed, he who learned to live in abundance and in poverty: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12)

The Lord even before St. Paul said: seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice and all the rest (to which we easily become materially attached) will be given to you, in addition (Mt 6:33). He never states: first do this and then do that! He says: do this and only this, will all your energy, with all your heart! The tone is decidedly radical and has a quality and a purity that are vital components for our hearts as we go about our daily lives! What is at stake is our faith in God's Call, in the God who calls, and therefore in the Providence of the one who is Father, in his real presence, action and intervention in the world, in our life - the fact that He by himself takes care of even a single hair that falls from our head:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 'Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.' (Matthew 10:28-31).

The overriding advantage of Christ's statement is to show that once we are freed from 'what pagans seek', as the Gospel says (Matthew 6:32)), we abandon all to God, and to God only! This most assuredly comprises the essence of the First Commandment and its radical requirement as proclaimed by Jesus: you shall love, that is, you will give yourself to your God with all your heart, all your energy, all your thoughts. The first commandment comes first, indicating that it asks us to give everything! Thereafter, nothing is left in us, except God. That detachment is included in the First Commandment can emphatically be deduced from this, for if we give 'all' the energy of our heart, it would be impossible to dedicate time and effort to any attachment whatsoever! However, this might appear 'too radical' to some! But this begs the question as to our heart and in whose image and likeness it is made. Is it made in the image of material goods or in the image of God himself? Who is normally the only person who should dwell in our heart? God! Added weight is given to this for it is not only St Teresa who states this, but it is also to be found in the Holy Scriptures. In addition, we know that detachment is fully represented in the Gospel – with the two other virtues – in order to keep our heart free to love, free to give itself totally and solely to God.

God does not desire other gods (idols) in our heart!

It is true that if a little attention is paid to St Teresa's life an awareness rapidly grows that she is a true 'entrepreneur'. In truth she dealt with many earthly concerns - not that she was attracted to them, but because it was part of her mission as a founder. It is really striking to witness the the spirited way she interacted with the world! She founded many monasteries, and in order to do so she counted on the Providence of God. She even requested her nuns remain poor and that they count only on God's Providence. She required that they engage in some form of work, and to do so in an intelligent way in order ensure their products would attract buyers and so provide for their needs! The combination of all these elements in her, it must be noted however, is precise, well proportioned, and all this from Above! This purity she alludes to remains her constant guide, and she never accepts diluting it, changing it or diminishing it! This purity is but another face of detachment.

Another facet of her thinking must now be examined, for Teresa's sole concern was to serve the Lord in the best possible way. What did “best way” mean for St Teresa? It would be opportune here to return briefly to her second conversion at thirty-nine years of age and to the powerful spiritual life that blossomed in her from that moment onwards! Two profound lessons can be learned from this conversion and they are intertwined: she learned first of all that if she offered herself totally to God, then He would in turn offer himself to her totally and, moreover, that the abundant graces which would then ensue would be significant testimony to this! The fundamental lesson bears repetition here: God cannot be deceived in any way whatsoever! Expressed differently it stresses that one cannot offer oneself half-heartedly. We remain free undeniably, and He will never force us to give ourselves to Him, but, when doing so we must not dupe God! Another factor is also at play here, for it is God who desires to offer himself, totally and without reservation – one simply has to gaze at Him as He hangs on the Cross.... The profound lesson Teresa finally grasped was that a true and sincere offering to God would result in an abundance of graces being received. Her life after this discovery is a living testimony of how to attain the goal of union with the Lord and the fulness of Charity.

Who is Jesus? He is the Lord! This is the question Teresa's wit replies to so readily: 'The Lord of all money and of all who possess money'. (Way of Perfection 2:2). These words reveal how profoundly her discovery has imbued her very being, for she has learned that she cannot go to Him relying on her own human thoughts and plans. Decidedly not! The means of her approach to God need to be as elevated as the Person with whom she is interacting. Thus, if Jesus wants a monastery, Teresa trusts He will be able to provide the necessary means, her part in this being only to be attentive to his way of doing things, and not to force Him to follow her designs - after all, she has realised He is the Lord not only of heaven, but of all the earth as well! The mission for Teresa and for her nuns, as well as for the life they have to lead entailed, ever more from now on, fidelity to Christ 'in spirit' down to the minutest material detail. In fact, when she founded the new monasteries she indicated to the tiniest detail how things should be done, in order, also, to teach observance of even the smallest detail.

The above-mentioned interaction if expressed as a spiritual formula in real terms would be as follows: if you take care of Him, He will take care of you! After all the nuns are the Brides of the King for a real and true reason. The Gospel is the first place where this concept is outlined and it is applicable to all! The challenge is simply to try it: seek first the Kingdom of God, that is, put all one's energy into searching for Christ, into the gift of oneself and into the reception of his graces. Seek first the kingdom of God, and its justice. The Carmelite nuns do work as everyone does, working being an obligation as the Scriptures say: whoever doesn't want to work shouldn't eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Simultaneously however, this work is totally submitted to the essential enterprise: “to serve God in a specific way”, “to be faithful to their vocation” - nothing less than to “seeking the Groom”. Obviously it is sensible to use common sense when doing this work and not produce goods that are useless and not saleable. Using sound judgment when planning an enterprise is is not merely the preserve of the few! However, more important is the fact that it is eminently obvious where the “absolute” lies for them – and it is not in the work! It is the Lord who should be always the first to be served.

St. Teresa, through her works, can urge us to sample her philosophy and this, in turn, will reveal the substance of the the Providence of God. In all fairness, however, this philosophy does not originate with Teresa, but rather with Christ, with the Gospel, the Apostles' way of life: many before her lived in the same way and many after her will be doing the same! 

“I repeat that this consists mainly or entirely in our ceasing to care about ourselves and our own pleasures, for the least that anyone who is beginning to serve the Lord truly can offer Him is his life. Once he has surrendered his will to Him, what has he to fear? It is evident that if he is a true religious and a real man of prayer and aspires to the enjoyment of Divine consolations, he must not [turn back or] shrink from desiring to die and suffer martyrdom for His sake. And do you not know, sisters, that the life of a good religious, who wishes to be among the closest friends of God, is one long martyrdom? I say "long", for, by comparison with decapitation, which is over very quickly, it may well be termed so, though life itself is short and some lives are short in the extreme. How do we know but that ours will be so short that it may end only one hour or one moment after the time of our resolving to render our entire service to God? This would be quite possible; and so we must not set store by anything that comes to an end, least of all by life, since not a day of it is secure. Who, if he thought that each hour might be his last, would not spend it in labour?” (Way of Perfection chapter 12)

It would now be fitting to conclude with a number of profound questions to ask ourselves: Where is my heart truly to be found? Into what do I put my energy? What (or Who) comes first in my life? Is there purity in the way I act? Am I detached from material goods? What is my “enterprise”? What do I seek? What do I value most in my life, the value that guides me in everything? Would not the search for answers entail a full and honest enactment of St. Teresa's way of perfection...?