Monday, 30 November 2015

142: "Ensuring Steady Growth" Testimonies

After having attended the 4 Saturdays Course on "Ensuring Steady Growth" Carlos De Vera wrote the following text and he is happy to share it with us:

"To embrace 'Deeper Mystagogy'


St Augustine in his Confessions famously observed in the beginning of that great work that "You arouse him to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." This statement alone to me sums up the situation of the faithful Catholic living in the world today. Having long had such "restlessness" and taken a number of courses with great teachers in university years ago on Catholic history and intellectual life, as well as having widely read contemporary authors on Catholic faith, I was craving a practical course that addressed the spiritual life, what it means, how to grow in it, and how to know I am making progress. All too easily, faithful Catholics "settle" for accepting a faith consisting of partaking of the sacraments, merely attending mass and being on the right side of the Ten Commandments, believing this is the extent of what Jesus meant when he said "I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).  Understandably, getting Catholics to regularly come to mass weekly or attend confession can already be an achievement in itself for clergy. But for those of us who already do that, yet remain "restless" and want to grow further in the "abundant life", there is little guidance on what to do next or what such growth looks like.

4th and 5th Mansions

The story of Catholicism for those who do not yet know Christ is not merely promoting a 2000 year old institution of dogma, doctrine, theology and liturgy, but also a Church that actively encourages the faithful to embrace a deeper mystagogy and the means for the new and current faithful to approach Mary and Jesus more spiritually and confidently.
As part of the New Evangelization sought in Vatican II, this should change.

Holiness is the goal of all the faithful, not just for those ordained or religious. Vatican II's Lumen gentium (40, 41) states that

all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society….The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one….Therefore all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life.

With the above in mind, this is why the course from the School of Mary on "Ensuring Steady Growth", answered a need in me providentially at just the right time and the lectures provided by Jean Khoury helped me pull together many disconnected strands on Catholic history, faith and the rich mystical experiences of the Church's great spiritual masters - a treasure of the Church that should be made more accessible to the faithful.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course and came away with three quite profound insights.

1. The notion of "triggering" the Grace of God in one's spiritual life through loving as Jesus loved and by engaging in certain spiritual practices done by the Church's spiritual masters
2. The experiences of the Church's spiritual masters (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, etc.) are consistent with each other - they may be described, or different aspects emphasised, in different ways - but there is a reassuring consistency on what it means to grow in spiritual life as a Catholic regardless of the era.
3. God designed all human beings with the inner capacity to know Him, to be nourished by Him and to grow closer to Him and that such capacities are not reserved for those like Moses and the "burning bush" or those ordained or religious persons like monks or nuns. All Catholics, lay or ordained, are obliged to "wake themselves up" to such inner capacity (see Lumen Gentium above “obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life”) through practices like lectio divina and Prayer of the Heart, encouraged by the experience and insights of the Church's spiritual masters.
I hope this particular course of the School of Mary is more widely promoted in the Church, at least in London; it answers the restlessness of the faithful and gives them the applicable tools and context by which to approach God in the "burning bush" of their lives and in the process open up God's graces so that, as Jesus promised, we “might have life and have it more abundantly". "

Carlos De Vera

The course on "Ensuring Steady Growth" was one of the best I have ever taken on Catholicism, thank you for the great lessons.

From the First Lesson:

Another person wrote:

"Thank you for the amazing Course which exceeded all my hopes and expectations. It has renewed my hope and commitment for the future.

There were so many practical points and such a depth of understanding imparted in concise and impactful presentation that it will be a source of inspiration for a very long time." (P.R.)
Please find here the Video of the First Lesson of the Course. If you are interested to watch the videos of the entire 4 days Course, please do contact us at SchoolofMaryLondon (at)

Friday, 27 November 2015

141: The Duties of My State

For some the teaching of the First Level Course will look as if it is focusing exclusively on the practice of Lectio Divina and the Prayer of the Heart (LD and PH). A further cause for concern may be that, initially, many may feel they do not have the time in their daily life to dedicate one hour to one and one hour or more to the other. People, being full of good will, can then become very frustrated and feel that they are failing God, by failing to implement two practices that seemed absolutely sound and stimulating in the course.

In the case of those who cannot initially find time (there might be many), I offer an important piece of advice and a "trick" to solve the problem. First it is important not to worry and not to panic because of the fact that one cannot find the time. Then I suggest that there is a powerful prayer we can say and if it is done with sincerity, an extremely powerful response on the Lord's part could be released, namely,

"Dear Lord, I see the importance of the daily practice of Lectio Divina
and of the Prayer of the Heart,
but as you know I don't have time, but please find me the time,
reorganise my life in order to reach this goal."

In fact it is God's part to help us at this stage. Our part is to open our eyes to see how he will do it. In the meantime we do what we can, with five, ten or fifteen minutes found here and there.

But let us say that for a while God does not do anything, for the simple reason that our duties cannot change. A mother of young children remains a mother of young children, her situation will not change that much for a few years. She might then feel very frustrated, disappointed, and maybe depressed by the fact that, on one hand she really earnestly wants to take time for Jesus only, and on the other hand she cannot because of her daily duties as a wife and mother. Here I would like to indicate some important ways on how to manage this time of our life, until, some greater windows of time can open up. Ironically what I am about to say will seem opposed to what the teaching in the Course advises.

The element of the "duties of the state" (devoir d'état) is a fundamental element. It is a strong, clear, immovable manifestation of God's will for us. The duties of the said wife and mother are clear and evident, but Jesus calling her to follow Him at this stage of her life should not overwhelm unnecessarily, for He knows what He is doing perfectly well. Therefore a positive outcome can be entertained, with the possibility of following Him in this context of lack of time for intimate prayer.

It is undeniable that the obstacle of the lack of time during the day looks insurmountable, and this reminds me of what St Therese says about the horse. Celine her sister (Sister Genevieve) tells the story in her book Conseils et Souvenirs:

"All discouraged, and with a heavy heart because of a combat that looked unsurmountable I came to see her saying: This time it is impossible, I can't rise above it!
- This doesn't surprise me, she replied. We are too little to put ourselves above the difficulties, we need to cross them from underneath.
She reminded me of something that happened to us in our youth. We were at Alençon at some friend's place; a horse was just in front of the entrance of the garden's gate preventing us from entering. while other persons were searching for another access, our little friend [Therese Lehoux, who was seven, the age of Celine] easily found the solution of passing underneath the horse. She went first, extended her hand to me; I followed her taking with me Therese and without bowing too much our small bodies we reached the goal.
She concluded by saying: this is what we gain when we make the effort to be small. There are no obstacles for the small ones, they sneak everywhere. [...]" (Conseils et Souvenirs, Sr Genevieve)

What seems an obstacle to us is the duties of our state, the difficulty to find some spare time in order to dedicate it to Jesus (LD and PH). This is the "horse", standing in our way to Jesus in prayer. The good news is that if we are small, humble, accepting our place in life and our state, we can "sneak through" meaning we can find Jesus through the events of our day. Otherwise, we will not see through them, we will seek alternate means, and we will try to find a way in the midst of them, like the adults in the story, and we will get more and more frustrated, angry, and maybe in the end depressed, feeling that we have failed Jesus and that this is our fault. It can become a constant fight, generate great tension, and put our nerves on edge.

Rather the focus should be on Jesus who entered into the life of this young mother and called her when she was married and with children. So this is the actual frame-work of His Call for her. He knows that and He is capable of renewing her within this framework. In his wisdom He knows what suits her and us best.

In the Spiritual Life we cannot separate "the moments of prayer" from the moments of "daily life". Why? During the moments of prayer we meet Jesus the individual, in an intimate way. He is the head of an immense body. The first people to pay attention to in this body are one's husband, and one's children i.e.: one's family, one's daily life. Then of course come neighbours, friends, more distant family... All these make up Jesus' Body. But Jesus is One, the Head, the one we want to meet in our personal prayer-time while we meet his Body during the rest of the day. Jesus is the one we love, and Jesus cannot be split into two, or simply "beheaded", with our keeping only the intimate Jesus and casting His Body aside. It is of utmost importance to find and love Jesus' Body according to the new way of loving He is teaching us, to be led by Him. It is important to attend to the detail of His Presence in His Body... the beauty of meeting Him in His Body... through His Body... of loving Him in His Body.

What did Our Lady do? She too, was a wife, and a mother. She had her house to manage, her family to take care of. Yet - after Jesus - she had the deepest possible spiritual life on earth. Seen from outside, she led a very simple life, similar to millions and millions of other women. But hers was totally, totally different....

The "framework" is the same... but she was able to dedicate time to all her duties as well as find God in all her spare moments and be with Him. Let us invite her into our homes to teach us. Otherwise our spiritual life can be seriously jeopardised.

Jesus is really present throughout the day. Attention and care given to Him during the day in the persons we meet, in the different circumstances of the day, are a fundamental Spiritual Experience. All things considered, maybe this was not mentioned enough in the opening course (Initiation into Spiritual Life). However, in my view I felt this this would unbalance the course, because the said course not only encourages a full new attention to Christ, but it also provides the tools for achieving this. Admittedly I do not take ”exceptions” into consideration.... Maybe one could say that "exceptions" are the norm for many busy persons who come to the course. Maybe so,but still, in my humble view, the contents of the course should first and foremost provide the tools – bearing in mind that the first level course is not everything, it is only the starting point. So the "lesson" of this post is a continuation of the above-mentioned course.

Taking all this into consideration, we can conclude that it is important to remember that if we have a huge desire to find Jesus and follow him, He Himself has a desire that is thousands of times greater to find us and grab hold of us. Let us then, in all simplicity, allow him to find us and to draw us close to him. Let us leave Jesus and not us, to be in control of our spiritual life. Let us trust Jesus, humbly, totally, unconditionally, let us trust the one who called us, the one who knows all the details of our day, and the one who is hidden within each of these details, "playing" hide and seek with us.

"Lord Holy Spirit open my eyes so I can see Jesus within each event of my day,
open my eyes so I can notice the immense richness of each moment of my day,
make me understand that there is no lost time during the day,
important moments and less important moments.
Teach me O Lord how to leave God for God*.
Lord Jesus teaching me how to love at every moment of the day."

I hope this helps...

* "Leave God for God" is an expression used by St Vincent de Paul, explaining to his daughters that when a poor person knocks at their door while they are praying, they should leave God (in the chapel) for God (who is knocking at the door).

140: Finished and Unfinished Lectio Divina

from 'General to 'Particular' Light

The most challenging part in Lectio Divina is 'Listening'

The practice of Lectio Divina involves three movements: I- Preparation II- Listening III- Putting into Practice.
The first part gives us the spirit in which we practise Lectio Divina. It takes little time but it actually permeates the entire process of Lectio. The third part is the goal of Lectio: by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we put into practice a Word we have heard from Jesus. On a practical level, experience shows that the most challenging part in Lectio is the second: "listening", where by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we become capable of "hearing" and being touched by a practical word given to us by Christ.

Experience shows that the process of Listening is longer and more complex than we might think at first sight. It involves at least five stages (see the fifteen steps of Lectio Divina):

1- Listening to Jesus' word by reading in order to understand the text.
2- Listening to Jesus' word by reading in order to discover Christ’s will.
3- Listening to Jesus' word by reading until only one light is seen.
4- Listening to Jesus' word by reading until the light becomes clear.
5- Listening to Jesus' word by putting it into writing so we become more aware of the word received, and to have it ready to be put into practice (optional but recommended).

The various progressive phases of listening are normal for every human being, especially the need to read the text of Holy Scripture many times in order to compensate for our weak memories. In fact, for many today memory is very weak. This, however, was not the case a few decades ago, or even further back when culture was more oral and transmission was preferred through oral means and memory. Memory consequently grew stronger. When we read the passage about Mary: "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19) we are faced with a time where memory was still capable of retaining information with great ease. In this light "pondered them" could be translated by: "often dwelling on them in her mind", which means constantly repeating them in her mind.
This initial effort is dependent on a previous phase: to gather everything that happened and to "keep all" of it in the mind. This is the role of the memory.

"Listening", next, is a listening “through”... listening to God who speaks through the words and facts of an event.

Stages 3 and 4 require great delicacy when listening.
Providing we listen carefully, with all our heart, the supernatural action of God, will cause his words to come alive and capable of “talking” to us. In this case some words in the two or three readings start to talk to us, all in one and unique light, as if alive. We are touched by one light, one meaning, for example, mercy, love, forgiveness, patience,... At this stage, stage 3, we are facing the supernatural action of God but we do not have a clear practical insight on what to do exactly. The notion received is two abstract, in the sense that it is too general.
The first temptation now is to take this notion and apply it by ourselves to an area in our life that needs it. This, however, constitutes our interference in the process of the descent of the Word of God in us.

As the drawing reveals, we ourselves can create a diversion in the normal course of the action of God's Light, and we bring it down applying it to an area different to the area God wants to act upon.

Another much more common temptation is to first rejoice that the supernatural action of God has started - the proof is that the two or three texts are saying one thing - and secondly, at this point, not to progress toward a clear indication of God's will received at the end of Lectio Divina. Some would think that this was a complete Lectio Divina, while others will remain with their hunger unsatisfied by not having seen anything practical emerging from their lectio, with no change of will being indicated and nothing practical to perform.

What has really happened is that Lectio has been brought to a halt in the middle of the stream of thought, and although a light is being offered, it is left hanging between heaven and earth. (see the diagram below)

Apologies for making the following comparison because it might seem very brutal and inappropriate, but if we stick to its real meaning it will help: when Lectio is stopped at this stage, Lectio is 'aborted', which means it fails to reach our will, where it fails to achieve fruition. Fruition, therefore, means to allow God's light to descend until it reaches the point that God desires to touch in our will. This is the end of stage 4 (see diagram below).

More significantly this indicates that between where we are and the region God wants to reach, there is still some work to do in order to facilitate the way for the Light to descend. See in the diagram below the part that is left in darker blue:

The image of the motorcade will clearly illustrate this. When an important political personality is travelling, sometimes we have two sets of motorcycles opening the way for him or her. Similarly, we are not the Light, we do not direct the light. We just open the way for it, descending closer to our will that needs to be healed. Thus we humble ourselves, we beg and ask, being more attentive to Jesus' whispering (remember Elijah's gentle breeze), telling us what He wants to change in us. This entails another effort to be humble and beg being made to allow what is now already supernatural but too general, too abstract, to become precise, clear and practical. Only when the light has reached our will, indicating, first, a practical area that needs changing in our heart, may we then consider that fruition is in sight.

As a conclusion, therefore, when we practise Lectio Divina, and when we start to sense that the supernatural light of God is starting to appear, occurring when the two texts say the same thing, it is important not only to rejoice with gratitude, but to continue to open the way, humbling ourselves more and more, asking the Lord to tell us how He want to incarnate the word or light or indication He is revealing to us. Only humbling ourselves will open the way for Jesus' Word to reach us, touch our will, heal us, challenge us, enflame us. Within reason, therefore, we should not stop Lectio until the grace of God has touched us.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

139: Why 'Ensuring Steady Growth'?

Recently a number of people have been following a Foundation Course bearing the name: “Ensuring Steady Growth” in spiritual life. The following thoughts summarise the reason for the need of such teaching. These thoughts will lead to a better understanding of a very important passage written by St Teresa of Avila, to be found at the end of this article.

The First Formation in Spiritual Life

Those who received the First Formation in Spiritual Life, received tools for growth and will have started implementing them:
Taking on board Jesus and Mary,
Practising on a daily basis Lectio Divina, Prayer of the Heart, the Theological Acts,
Learning how to respond to ups and downs, temptation
And most of all learning how to remain faithful to the Holy Spirit and to respond constantly to to His Action.

Two aspects of this process, however, remain imperfectly understood:

First a necessary stage has to be reached: the Union of Will. It is a victory, a liberation, a stability, a short moment of rest, a break, an enjoyment. This first stage is within hand's reach but it is necessary to focus in order to take this big step. It is a veritable Crossing of the Red Sea.

Secondly that there are conditions to fulfil in order to reach “Union of Will”. Hence the word “ensuring” in the title. It is necessary to ensure that this will happen in their lives.

Because of this two-fold “ignorance” people can go round in circles, with ups and downs, but never cross over. We may compare it to a situation of the People of God in Egypt: they began gathering at a distance from the Egyptians, outside of the main cities, but they continued to do some work for them - they were not allowed to have total freedom. They remained physically in Egypt, under the rule of Pharaoh, even if they chose a piece of land beyond the cities.


When the human being starts his journey, implementing the tools mentioned above, he can be compared to a pregnant woman with twins: the old man and the new man. Of course the twins constitute a different life, and are not equal in size and influence: the Old Man is almost full-sized with strength and influence, while the New Man in us is very tiny, vulnerable. The Lord compares this to the smallest seed in a field. The person is not aware that there are two challenges in Christian life, not one: opting for Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Guide/Master, and allowing the new man in us to grow in order to lead us on our path as followers of Jesus Christ. It is true, then, that the goal of life has changed and has become “Jesus” - this as a result of its conversion. But it is nonetheless equally true that the means to follow Jesus should change as well. We have in us a real battle for real supremacy between the Old Man way of functioning and the New Man way of functioning. For the time being, even if Jesus is the Master and Guide, de facto, one is rather led - unconsciously - by the Old Man’s way of doing things. Our love of neighbour is full of imperfections, led by our sensitivity/emotions/taste/personal choices, our lack of real humility.Not having that virile capacity to put Jesus’ Truth in us above everything in us, we are still attached to various ties, especially blood-related ties, and we are concerned about our health, thinking that a too committed ascetic Spiritual Life (fasting, making sacrifices, training our body, praying,...) could damage our health. As yet the spirit of the world, our flesh and the devil have a share in our way of functioning.

Under these conditions, having a divided heart, not working to perfection on the essential evangelical virtues, real progress is jeopardised! The result is that too much effort is required, and there are too many leakages, ups and downs, of going round in circles.... We can safely say that the heart of the human being is divided, and that he epitomises the third soil of the Parable of the Sower: the good seed has been sown, it has really started to grow, striving to reach the maturity that will allow it to bear fruits, but sadly the soil bears another seed - attention to the world, with heart and emotions divided.

St Teresa of Avila

There is a well-known Saint who went through this very difficult situation of not being able to commit totally to Jesus: St Teresa of Avila. She remained in this troubled sea for almost twenty years with its ups and downs, receiving graces from the Lord, but not being able to keep them safe, and especially prone to a divided heart through which these graces seeped. It was, in her own words, a very hard situation, because on the one hand we have a person attracted to others, seeking their affection and support, while on the other hand she meets the Lord who wants from her all her heart, not a mere part of it. Facing the Lord in prayer with this attitude, certainly becomes an ordeal. Jesus wants all our attention, all our emotions: he wants us to love him with all our heart and not just a part of it (the upper one) the other part being given to human beings.

It becomes then a necessity to study the conversion of St Teresa of Avila, at the age of thirty-nine, and to deepen our understanding of
a- how rich in humanity her heart was
b- how it was divided
c- what constituted the elements that contributed to her conversion (studying her conversion),
d- how in fact all these elements structured her whole life.

The following is a very important passage of St Teresa of Avila where she speaks about the Union of Will with the Lord. Very few things have had to be adapted to the modern reader by putting them between squared parenthesis:

But note very carefully [dear friends] that the silkworm [the Old Man] has of necessity to die; and it is this which will cost you most; for death comes more easily when one can see oneself living a new life, whereas our duty now is to continue living this present life, and yet to kill it ourselves ["it" alludes to "the life of the silkworm", the Pauline old man]. I confess to you that we shall find this much harder, but it is of the greatest value and the reward will be greater too if you gain the victory. But you must not doubt the possibility of this true union with the will of God [Union of Will]. This is the union which I have desired all my life; it is for this that I continually beseech Our Lord; it is this which is the most genuine and the safest. But alas that so few of us are destined to attain it!

A person who takes care not to offend the Lord and has [decided to start the Journey of Spiritual Life] may think he has done everything. But oh, there are always a few little worms which do not reveal themselves until, like the worm which gnawed through Jonas's ivy [Jonas 4:6-7] they have gnawed through our virtues. Such are self-love, self-esteem, censoriousness (even if only in small things) concerning our neighbours, lack of charity towards them, and failure to love them as we love ourselves. For, although late in the day we may fulfil our obligations and so commit no sin, we are far from attaining a point necessary to complete union with the will of God.” [St Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, 5th Mansions, Chapter 3]

As we see, in this quote from St Teresa of Avila, she lays considerable stress on the fact that committing to spiritual life (in her case it is included in Religious Life) is not enough. One has to be aware of the worms that undermine steady growth. Indeed, she emphatically declares that the old man has to die, and even more so she underlines the necessity of a first important victory: reaching Union of Will. This passage is a hymn to the Union of Will and its importance in Christian Life.
These words of St Teresa of Avila are also a warning given to all the Church, and this warning should be taken seriously, because it comes from a Saint who is also a Doctor of the Church. A Saint who was sent to us at a time in the life of the Church where Reform was needed and showed us the way to true Reformation. It is simply not enough to commit to Spiritual Life, it has to bear the conditions of real steady growth in order to reach Union of Will with the Lord. Deep analysis of St Teresa helps us to avoid pitfalls as we proceed along the way.

Many are called, many engage in Spiritual Life, but how many succeed in reaching this first stage of Spiritual Life? And we are not talking about Spiritual Marriage....

Monday, 16 November 2015

138: Ensuring Steady Growth: Imitation of Christ

The Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis

Book I, The Eleventh Chapter

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection

I 1 We should enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with what others say and do, for these are no concern of ours.
2 How can a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?
3 Blessed are the simple of heart for they shall enjoy peace in abundance. (Ps 37 (36):11)

II 4 Why were some of the saints so perfect and so given to contemplation?
5 Because they tried to mortify entirely in themselves all earthly desires, and thus they were able to attach themselves to God with all their heart and freely to concentrate their innermost thoughts.
6 We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things.
7 Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent.

III 8 If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things (Mt 16:23) and experience something of heavenly contemplation.
9 The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the saints (Heb 9:8).
10 Thus when we encounter some slight difficulty, we are too easily dejected and turn to human consolations.

IV 11 If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us (Ger 41:16; 2 Chr 20:17).
12 For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is ready to help those who carry on and trust in His grace.
13 If we let our spiritual progress depend on the observance of its externals alone, our devotion will quickly come to an end.
14 Let us, then, lay the ax to the root (Mt 3:10) that we may be freed from our passions and thus have peace of mind.

V 15 If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect.
16 The contrary, however, is often the case—we feel that we were better and purer in the first fervor of our conversion than we are after many years in the practice of our faith.
17 Our fervor and progress ought to increase day by day; yet it is now considered noteworthy if a man can retain even a part of his first fervor.
18 If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we should afterwards be able to do all things with ease and joy. It is hard to break old habits, but harder still to go against our will.

VI 19 If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the more difficult?
20 Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.
22 If you but consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what joy it will give to others, I think you will be more concerned about your spiritual progress.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

137: St Teresa of Avila 16/16: Teresa's Heritage

In this concluding chapter I will present what I consider are the important elements of her heritage, collated and preserved not only for today, but constituting also a pertinent legacy for tomorrow. This is done with the actual state of the Church today in mind, and is seen under the light of St Teresa's contribution.

It is true that she was first sent by God for the Church of her time. But given that, I think that she still has much more to offer to today's Church, and that time, circumstances, and the Church have not explored all her riches. On the contrary, I firmly believe that we could be on the eve of a new and deeper discovery, not to mention use of the wisdom and treasures that God deposited through her in the Church. The full richness of St Teresa has not been exploited fully till now, for a great deal of powerful new energy is still enclosed in her writings, awaiting our belief in the experience she offers, our exploration of it to the full and the application of it to many areas in the Church. I believe that many of these areas are reaching their limits today, like in a desert that cannot flower without water. Heritage sometimes – in a very old-fashioned way – is like an old treasure chest containing the most precious gems to be handed on by parents to their children. So when we speak about 'St Teresa's heritage' we mean these important precious rich gems. We need to open that treasure chest and gather them up.

With these gems, can St Teresa influence the Church today? Some can argue that she has already done so to a full extent. This is true. But as we saw in the previous chapters and juxtaposed on the actual needs in the world and in the Church today, we can counter-argue saying that St Teresa's heritage is highly capable of creating a new wave of influence. What are the elements of this new wave? How can we encapsulate them? The following elements will outline what the Church still needs to invest in, so that new waves of the grace of God can be manifest:

1- The Immense Meaning of her Conversion

First, we need a renewed understanding of the meaning of her conversion and of its repercussions on the daily life of the Church, starting with formation of consecrated persons and Formation in general. In fact the story of her conversion shows that one can faithfully live nineteen years of religious life, and still lack something of paramount importance: a living relationship with the Risen Lord. We need to study the elements that trigger her conversion and their influence on the second part of her life (the most fruitful one). Amongst the most important elements are: total gift of oneself; the emotional/erotic attachments as real obstacles; the foundations of spiritual life (the virtues exercised in a perfect way); the presence of Christ at the centre of our being (eases prayer); the power of the the grace of God; and the importance of meditating on the Lord's Passion in order to open our hearts to his Grace.

By studying her conversion, we will discover that she had two different yet legitimate christian lives, one before and one after her conversion. This recalls the fact that in the early Church something similar existed:

a- First there was Catechesis aimed at people desiring baptism. This is an initial formation offered by the Church. Think of today's Catechism of the Catholic Church that offers the essence of our Catholic Faith, the structure upon which it will be built – or, to give it a more concrete image, the two slices of bread necessary to contain the ham which will later go to make up the sandwich.

b- After a while, having started to live this new life, the Church felt the urge to offer a more profound teaching, that initiates the Christian into a deeper level of Spiritual life encompassing the depths of Jesus' mysteries called: mystagogy, or the ham in the sandwich. Already in the letters of St Paul himself and in the letter to the Hebrews, there is an allusion to a deeper teaching.

With St Teresa's life we learn how Mystagogy is not only essential, but should also not be dismissed and should be revived and taught. In fact, all her teaching is one of the most complete and accessible form of Mystagogy in the history of the Church as testified in her trilogy: Autobiography, Way of Perfection, Interior Castle. St Teresa helps us to delve deeply into our Christian life and to understand that our horizons should be enlarged.

Note: Please read the Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte of St John Paul II where he invites the Church to delve deeply ('Duc in Altum'), setting out the programme of Holiness as the Parish's main programme, and emphasising learning to pray and praying as a necessity.

2- Style of Life and Spiritual Life

Since it is important, even if only as a result of her reflection on her conversion, a second element should be set apart because of its significance: the relationship between the style of life and the spirit that animates our prayer and soul, that is, form and content. After her conversion, having a new life in Christ, one of the lessons St Teresa learned is that the way one lives is directly connected to the quality of the spiritual life one has. This is why she decided that there was a need to change her life-style to one more in harmony with this new life. Again, it is very important to understand that her previous style of life in her first Monastery was not at all offensive.

Deepening our understanding of the direct relationship between life-style and spiritual life is, however, of paramount importance. We live in a world where we often think that time is at a premium, - a form, actually, of being enslaved by the concept. In this sense, our life, in practice (our time) does not belong to God. Lay people think that this is their problem, but it is one faced by everybody: religious, monks, priests who also think alike. Time and space, however, are intrinsic to the human being. Therefore, we need to become aware that our excuse is an obstacle preventing us completely from really following – as St Teresa shows us – the Lord. We are putting other values or excuses above and beyond the Lord. This is where St Teresa proves to be prophetic.

3- Goal and Journey of Spiritual Life

When St Teresa wrote her book The Interior Castle God allowed its influence to spread. This book is a masterpiece we all admit, but are we aware of the exact reason? Certainly it is not the first time we have a master of Spiritual Life who speaks about its goal and the journey to reach it. But it is the first time that we have so many details on both of them, as well as provided in a manner that has a practical influence on each one of us in the Church.

Outlining such a clear goal for life here on earth, showing that it is not to be attained in heaven after we die but here on earth; uncovering for us, too, that there is a life after Union, a fertile life participating in the work of salvation in a much more fruitful sense, is, to express it quite simply, an 'atomic bomb'. Even if today everybody in the Church accepts that holiness is the goal of each one of the faithful, there is no more popular or precise a description of holiness as the one written by Teresa, who not only has experienced it but has also been sent by God to impart her message to each one of us: here is the way, follow me, do a, b and c and you will acquire it, by the grace of God. Holiness with St Teresa not only becomes attainable, feasible, but she paves the way, showing us how to move forward at each essential stage. This is revolutionary. The majority of spiritual authors do touch on the early stages of spiritual growth. However, with Teresa we suddenly discover new horizons, new stages of growth, new challenges and we are offered a description of the journey in a very human, orthodox and safe way.

If this field is explored and developed we will certainly dare to embark more readily on the journey to holiness and have new things to discuss, instead of remaining at the point of departure going around in circles of indecision. If the journey is set out for us in a secure way, our Christian life will have a motive, and apostolate and ministry in the Church will start to be focused, centred and powerful.
We certainly need more experts in this field!

4- Clear and Practical Means

Another amazing step ahead is taken by St Teresa, when she offers not only a clear goal and describes the journey to reach it, but also when she offers a fruitful means to progress in a safe way on the journey toward union with Christ. Her means are two-fold: first, by working at the virtues, growing in them, practising them in a perfect way, a heroic and pure way; secondly, by constant daily practice of the Prayer of the Heart. Teaching in detail how to practise the first and the second, she never abandons us in the obscurity of this new world. To be more precise, Teresa not only teaches us how to practise the three essential evangelical virtues (see previous chapters), but she also teaches us how to practise the Prayer of the Heart (ibid). With St Teresa one really feels in safe hands, and that one will not err when following her advice. This is what God desires and is far removed from human endeavour – in truth a gift from God to us through her… rare gems of great practical clarity.

5- The Secret of the Prayer of the Heart

Within her teaching on the Prayer of the Heart, it is important to stop and ponder on various important elements, a salient one being to understand the difference between the action of the human being (with the general help of the grace of God) and the direct personal action of God in him. This is of paramount importance in the Church. Granted, many do pray. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the existence of a new phenomena: prayer groups spreading throughout the globe, which ironically reveal there is an undeniable thirst for God. But have they learned how to pray? Do we understand that prayer could be radically changed by knowing exactly what God is waiting for us to do? Do we appreciate the immense fund of graces that God desires to pour into us in order to sanctify us? Even from St Teresa we learn that there are at least two ways of attending Mass: one in prayer and one not in prayer (see previous chapters). Similarly, she illustrates how vocal prayer should be transfigured from within. Surely the value of this teaching and discernment cannot be doubted.

In sum we cannot simply have a prayer group, or personally pray at random. St Teresa firmly believes that it is necessary we learn to pray. This, in turn, entails the need for many formators in the art and theology of Prayer. We learn from the Saint that we can simply sit still and wait in faith for the grace of God. She reveals that there are triggers for the Grace of God, and that the main one is to offer ourselves to God, like a little child.

6- Spiritual Theology and Theology

In the light of St.Teresa, Doctor of the Church, what can we do for the future? How can we go about building it? The following are some suggestions:
Before anything else, in order to change the world we need to “change” Theology, in the sense of reforming it, improving it. We need to resurrect it from within! We need a rebirth from its ashes of “monastic theology” or better said “prophetic theology” or “integral theology” (in the sense of complete, wholesome). If we examine this more closely, we notice that what really governs the Church is “Theology”. Our universities, in their secular and intellectual way, reduce Theology to a dessicated shell of its true glory! Science is necessary and will always remain so! But science of what? A study of spiritual life is of the essence. It cannot be neglected. If we want to reform Theology, we first need to reform “Spiritual Theology” (or mysticism), for without it nothing really valuable and lasting can result! Without Spiritual Theology all that we accomplish is to produce empty sounds signifying nothing: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Co 13:1)

In my humble eyes, this is what St Teresa of Avila says, as a Doctor of the Church, to Theology. If we want any future, we need a theology that is alive from within, a theology that has at its centre a meeting, one to One, with Jesus the Risen Lord and helps us to reach union with him.

If we want a future for Theology, there is a definite need to pay attention to the modus operandi of theology: even if it seems an implicit aspect of Theology (almost unconscious in the theologian), it is a central aspect! It shapes the way we understand our faith and how we live it! It is according to this implicit way that Theology dictates to all of us, from the humblest catechist to the Pope, how to think our faith and how to act accordingly. Let us just hypothesize for one moment: if “Prophetic Theology” or “Integral Theology” were able to rise from its ashes, try to enumerate all the good things that could be extracted from it in the Church! This ironically is the powerful message of St Teresa to Theology: where it seems almost impossible to see this Phoenix rising from its ashes, she insists that it must. Why? Because the state of Spiritual Theology today is highly questionable. While, the Church is the one who guides us, as from above, showering her wisdom over everything, it is Spiritual Theology that re-forms, re-builds, also from above, from God, all things, including Theology itself. Spiritual Theology will be able to beget Theology from within, establishing bridges between the Church and Theology as we know it today. By so doing, Divine life will be revived in us, will flow in our veins and we will flourish.

Instead of talking about a distant future, however, let us examine a closer future and stop at that. If we were to decant St Teresa's Body of Teaching, it seems that the central requirement necessary for today would be the renewal of Spiritual Theology. The latter is a branch of Theology, or better said, a level of wisdom above mere Theology as we know it today. It gives an account of the spiritual growth in the human being until it is fully realised. With this in mind, St Teresa of Avila would have certainly rejoiced when the Church renewed the central proclamation of the Gospel that 'all are called to Holiness'. But at the same time, forty years afterwards, it is ludicrous to repeat to the faithful that holiness is the goal, when we fail to develop all that pertains to this important assertion, namely, to describe holiness; show the journey that leads to it; explain the conditions to reach it; offer the practical means to attain it and finally to develop the shrewd discernment that guaranties a safe journey! All this should be learnt, taught, transmitted. All these elements have their own science and wisdom: Spiritual Theology. That was the greatest part of St Teresa's Mission and the reason why the Church in the person of Pope Paul VIth declared her 'Doctor of the Church' :  'In the clock of history, we have arrived at the hour of Contemplative Prayer'. He said as well: 'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.' (Paul VIth, Evangelii Nuntiandi n°41, 27th September 1970).

In order to understand her message more fully, we need as a first step to take into account the richness of Spiritual Theology and to work on developing it, to make it known, and as a second step, we should use this science in order to reform our way of constructing Theology. This could be a possible starting point for a solid and durable future. What the world awaits from us is that we become experts in the Meeting with the Risen Lord! For now, we need go no further! One starts building a house from its Foundations.

7- Money, Economy and Providence

In a previous chapter we have seen how St Teresa's understanding of the following elements, and her gradual fine tuning of them is unique, revolutionary and can inspire a dying economy: Time, Work, Primacy of God and Purity of Heart, Providence of God, Shrewd Choice of Type of Work.

8- Apostolate and Spiritual Growth

St Teresa's approach to apostolate is unique, supported doctrinally by St John of the Cross, and lived perfectly by St Therese. Spiritual Growth implies the growth of God's love in our heart, namely, to reach the stage when our acts acquire, for the first time, a power over God that they did not have before, required in order to receive the plentiful graces that are the necessary to obtain the salvation of Christ on the Cross.

9- Offer of a Viable Future

St Teresa's power is the capacity to offer in a chaotic world, with its disintegrating values, references and traditions, a kernel of hope capable of encapsulating society entirely. A description of today's world reveals the pertinence of a new understanding of St Teresa's message and its capacity to generate a new form of life – not merely a movement in the Church, not a new order, but a new way of being.

One has only to look at today's world, or rather the negative side of it, to appreciate the enormity of the task in hand. Loss of guiding values, is compounded by constant and accelerated change in all areas of life. Perception of time and its duration consequently suffers, so that what happens today is totally cut off from what happened yesterday. Continuity becomes non-existent, as if a force is at work dedicated to generating chaos in a variety of forms – all this in order to shake the human being to the very foundations of his humanity where any form of behaviour is permissible. It resembles a stronger and more profound application of 'divide and rule' that has become more widespread, and will generate chaos where opposites are bedfellows and where all values are shaken to the core. Everything, it seems, exists for the benefit of the few. Mass media contributes much to generating the psychological effect that results, oscillating as it does between highlighting striking short-lived events with a constant stream of subtle messages, where information is limited and superficial so that it is of no use and is in no way uplifting. The resultant effect is to numb the mind, causing it to lose its critical ability and to encourage docility, producing depression as initiative is quashed. Individuality sapped, the human being degenerates into a mere follower, a consumer owing imaginary debts. Fear consequently results, masterminded in a very subtle way. How can a human being survive this state of affairs? How can the Church survive?

Paradoxically (since social media is diffuse) the human being is now living in great solitude. Now quest and thirst for God seems to be an important form of relief for this. There is a thirst for wisdom, a vision of life given from above, on how to put God above all else, not as other saints do but in a new way, capable of responding to the new requirements of today's spirit/mentality where the human being is at the centre. Despite many exterior structures collapsing in the actual globalisation process, what St Teresa is offering is a viable human style of life, full of wisdom, having God at the centre of the human being, and couched in the language of experience so appealing to today's mentality. Now too, society is becoming increasingly secularised, constantly straying from the old order and generating greater difficulty for remaining faithful to God. Time and space are kidnapped, even more now by the internet and the smart phone, so we find less and less time and space for God.

If we take a line going from William of Ockham up until today, passing through Luther, Kant and Freud, we see that the human being, especially after the revolution of the sixties and seventies, is increasingly to be found at the centre of society, subjectivity, the 'I' and 'experience' being the dominant features. St Teresa, however, illumines this line magnificently giving it a source of real fulfilment from within, and just as Pope Gregory presents St. Benedict before her as a 'luminous star' who in the words of Pope Benedict XV1 'point[s] the way out of the 'black night of history' (cf. John Paul II, 18 May 1979), so too does she show us how God can, with his grace awaken the potential of every human being, inviting him to embark on a fascinating journey that will give an aim and sense to his life, and will finally realise the great privilege of union with Christ. This is what will continue the life of Jesus on earth. To repeat: if with the human being, the 'I' has now become the centre of society, God through St Teresa imparts a new message: God alone is at the centre of the human being... From that inner central point, a new Way will blossom.... a Way that leads to real fulfilment, for both 'a new spiritual and cultural unity will result, that of the Christian faith shared by the peoples of the Continent.' (Pope Benedict XV1) It was St Teresa who mapped out the journey, and by so doing she mapped out a possible new world for us, a world in which the Church especially can be renewed. It is within the coordinates of her map that the future is possible. Outside of it chaos reigns.


In conclusion what can we say about the message of St Teresa and the heritage she bequeaths to us? As intimated before, what can we learn from her? From what she left us, what should continue? And in which way? What can her impact be on the Church of today and tomorrow? These are the questions that we should attempt to answer in a practical way.

For a start it should be recognised that within a few decades the world has truly morphed from an “ancient” form into a new and different one. The make-up of people has changed. Indeed it has yet to be finalised and this end result will depend also on the individual's contribution. Therefore in order to reply to the above questions, “heritage” or “contribution” need to be defined, namely, the entire body of graces granted by the Lord to the Church and the world through St Teresa needs definition, in order to ensure validity for today and tomorrow. If it were possible to look objectively at the elements that compose today's culture and the essential elements of St Teresa's heritage, without the pretence of being prophets, we might have a clearer and more mature vision of the future.

Returning to the description Pope Benedict makes of the world at the juncture between the Vth and the VIth centuries, some similarities with our time are soon found. In both times a world was in a state of collapse. Then, too, we ourselves are as yet unable to envisage the world that will emerge as we are participants in the process. History is always marked by the birth of forms, that reach their peek, fall and finally disappear. These forms (cultural, political, social, religious,...) are not a goal in themselves but the result of the synchronicity of effort and spirit. They inspire the driving-force behind many acts and give voice to the spirit. What matters most is the identity of the form, its very spirit embodied in those called to perform the task. Thus, in Teresa's case, if we look closer at the work the Lord called her to do for the Order of his Mother, the Carmelite Order, we will note that it contains clear and defined elements on four different but complementary levels: Legislative (Constitutions; Procedure when visiting a monastery,..); on daily life (Way of Perfection,...); on Spiritual life, interior life (Autobiography, Way of Perfection, Interior Castle,...); plus the expansion, the missionary dimension (Foundations). Here the consensus of opinion would be that this set is complete and homogeneous. In fact her input and heritage encompass not only one point – the “spiritual” for example. This is absolutely not the case! Her influence and teaching cover all the areas external to the interior life.

In this light, then, when Pope Paul VIth said in 1970 that 'in the clock of history, the hour of Contemplative Prayer ha[d] struck', we should not fall into the trap of understanding Contemplative Prayer in an ethereal way, not of this world. As we have said many times before: there is 'Contemplative Prayer' and there a life of prayer the rest of the day. It is timely to remember here that mental prayer without a 'life of prayer' is non-productive. A 'life of prayer' is composed of different concentric circles which have 'Mental Prayer' as their centre - meeting the Risen Lord one to One, living with Him. Mental prayer without commitment to the growth of the virtues (see Way of Perfection) will lead only to stagnation for the individual! And we know that in spiritual life if we fail to grow, we slide back on a journey that is at best haphazard! So too, mental prayer, will never be effective if it fails to expand to include the missionary dimension, the foundation of a prayerful spirit and life-style, not to mention prayer for the Church, as well as, last but not least, prayer for priests!


Extract from the Pope's Homily for the Doctorate of St Teresa of Avila, 27th of September 1970:

'The Message of Contemplative Prayer

The title of 'Doctor,' bestowed on St Teresa today, will ensure that the light she exudes will envelop us more brightly and penetrate more deeply.This light is the message of Contemplative Prayer!
It comes to us, children of the Church, at a time signalled by the great effort to reform and renew liturgical prayer; it comes to us, while we are being overcome by the overwhelming attractiveness of earthly delights, by their loud clamour and by our desire to be involved in the external world and surrender to the 'busyness' of modern life, to the detriment of the true treasures of our soul. This light comes to us, children of our time, at a point when not only the habit of having a dialogue with God is being eroded, but also the sense of the need and duty to adore and invoke Him. The message of contemplative prayer – the song and music of the spirit impregnated by grace and opened to the dialogue of faith, hope and love – is making itself known, at a time when psychoanalytical exploration is undermining the fragile and complicated instrument that we are, and is failing to recognise the voice of suffering and redeemed humanity, concentrating purely on the confused whispers of our sensual subconscious with its corroding passions and its desperate pain. The sublime and simple message of contemplative prayer according to the wisdom of Teresa now comes to us, exhorting us to understand 'what great blessings God grants to a soul when He prepares it to love the practice of prayer;... mental prayer, in [her] view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us' (Life 8:4-5).'

'O Eternal Father, through the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pour down your manifold graces up each and every reader so that they will bear many fruits to the glory of your name. This book and its readers I most humbly entrust to Her care.'