Thursday, October 15, 2009

St Teresa of Avila - Today's Saint

St Teresa, a woman of passion and prayer, was born in Avila, Spain, on 28th March 1515 and entered the Carmel of the Incarnation there in1536. She struggled with her vocation until she underwent an experience of spiritual renewal in 1555, in which she saw the risen Jesus, and knew a mystical transverberation, which she described as the piercing of her heart by an angel. She called this spiritual union with God, her "mystical marriage."

After many tribulations and much heart-searching, St Teresa felt that God was asking her to leave the Incarnation to found St Joseph's, a new monastery in which she planned that the original Rule of Carmel would be kept faithfully. This she did on 24th August 1562.

There was a great deal of opposition to the new Carmel and it was some time before she was able to live there in peace. Many condemned her as a woman deceived by her experiences in prayer.

Eventually the hostility died down and St Teresa was asked to found more of these houses of prayer in other cities of Spain. Over a period of twenty years she founded 15 more houses for the nuns and, in association with S. John of the Cross, at least two for the friars.

St Teresa introduced a fresh orientation into Carmelite life combining silence and solitude with community living and giving the life of prayer a specific apostolic role in the Church and the world. Prayer was to be the great outreach to others, the one and only work of her nuns. Her energy, resolution and sense of humour were unfailing, animated as they were by her immense desire to serve the Lord as lovingly as she could. She died at Alba de Tormes on 4th October 1582.

In her writings she compares the mystery of the soul to an Interior Castle with many secret chambers into which the Lord seeks entry. She also celebrates the sorrows and blessings of faith, and the endless power of God's love.

St Teresa frequently shows the power of meditation and prayer to deepen our union with God.

"All the way to heaven is heaven," she writes. She teaches human love and compassion, believing that real maturity can only be achieved through prayerful dependence on God.

St Teresa was canonized in 1622, and in 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

Here are two of her prayers:

"O Lord, regulate all things by your wisdom, so that I may always serve you in the manner that you will. Do not punish me by granting my desire if it offends your love, for I desire your love to live always in me. Help me to deny myself in order that I may serve you. Let me live for you - who in yourself are the true life. Amen."

"Lord of all pots and pans and things, since I've no time to be a great saint by doing lovely things, or watching late with you, or dreaming in the dawnlight, or storming heaven's gates, make me a saint by getting meals, and washing up the plates. Warm all the kitchen with your love, and light it with your peace; forgive me all my worrying, and make my grumbling cease. You who always gave your people food, in the house or by the sea, accept the service that I do - I do it for you."

And here are some of her sayings:

"Christ has no Body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on the world; Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world."

"Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honey-comb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God."

"Do not build towers without a foundation, for our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our works as for the love with which they are done. When we do all we can, His Majesty will enable us to do more every day."

"God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher."

"Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a more fervent determination too strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honour of his Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church."

"Our souls may lose their peace and even disturb other people's if we are always criticising trivial actions which often are not real defects at all, but we construe them wrongly through ignorance of their motives."

"I can find no simile more appropriate than water by which to explain spiritual things, as I am very ignorant and have poor wits to help me. Besides I love this element so much that I have studied it more attentively than other things. God, Who is so great, so wise, has doubtless hidden secrets in all things He created, which we should greatly benefit by knowing, as those say who understand such matters."

"How many maggots remain in hiding until they have destroyed our virtues. These pests are such evils as self-love, self-esteem, rash judgement of others in small matters, and a want of charity in not loving our neighbour quite as much as ourselves. Although, perforce, we satisfy our obligations to avoid sin, yet we fall far short of what must be done in order to obtain perfect union with the will of God."

"The only remedy for having given up a habit of recollection is to recommence it, otherwise the soul will continue to lose it more and more every day, and God grant it may realize its danger."


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