Wednesday, October 16, 2019

S. Teresa of Avila, Virgin & Doctor of the Church

Today is the feast of S. Teresa of Avila, whose best known writing is a very brief poem known as her “Bookmark”, because it was found in her prayer book when she died:

Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain in 1515. After her mother's death she was sent to be educated by Augustinian nuns, but became ill and returned to live with her father and other relatives. One of her uncles introduced her to the Letters of Saint Jerome, and these inspired her to consider that she had a vocation to the religious life. At the age of 20 Teresa entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila.

During the sixteenth century many religious communities had lost their original devotion, discipline and openness to God. In many places convent life had become lax. Teresa's convent at Avila was no exception. She tells how she lost her first love for the Lord and embraced the status quo of comfortable convent living. In fact, she struggled with her vocation until after her father's death, and then a number of illnesses. In 1555 she underwent a spiritual renewal in which she saw the risen Jesus, and experienced 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." She gave herself completely to prayer. 

Teresa began to have more spiritual experiences and visions which she, as well as the clergy she consulted, often thought were delusions. But two confessors believed that her experiences were genuine graces from the Lord, and encouraged her to embrace them as such, and to deepen her life of personal prayer and radical discipleship. More than that, they told her to write down her experiences so as to help others understand contemplative prayer. So she wrote the Life of herself (up to 1562), The Way of Perfection and Foundations for her sisters, and The Interior Castle, as a guide for praying people in general. Her writings are intensely personal spiritual autobiographies, and take their place alongside The Confessions of S. Augustine (which had also been a major influence on her). It was mainly on account of her writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. (Teresa had been declared a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.

After many tribulations and much heart-searching, Teresa felt that God was asking her to leave the Convent of the Incarnation and establish St Joseph's, a new monastery that would conscientiously observe the original Rule of Carmel. 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 having been deceived by her mystical experiences in prayer. Eventually the hostility died down and 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 houses for the nuns and, in association with John Yepes (later known as S. John of the Cross), at least two for the friars. In 1580, the Holy See recognised the Discalced Carmelites as distinct from the other Carmelites. By then Teresa was sixty-five years old, and in very poor health. Even so, she continued her work. The last Carmelite house she founded was at Burgos in July, 1582. On her way from there to Alba de Tormes she became ill. On October 4, 1582, three days after reaching Alba de Tormes, she died, and was buried there.

The parish of All Saints' Benhilton (Sutton) in the south of London, which I serve as Vicar, is in the care of the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev'd Jonathan Baler, according to the provision made available to traditional Catholic parishes following the ordination of women in the Church of England. In October last year, Bishop Jonathan took a group of his priests to Avila in Spain for a week that was really a blend of clergy conference, clergy school and retreat. We were ministered to by Bishop Norman Banks, the Bishop of Richborough, who is the Provincial Episcopal Visitor ("PEV") for many traditional Catholic parishes in the Canterbury Province. Drawing on his own experience, Bishop Norman led us through the spiritual journeys of S. Teresa of Avila and S. John of the Cross. We were fortunate to have been able to visit significant sites that brought alive some of the historical aspects of S. Teresa's life and teaching. Here are some photos. (Click on them to enlarge!)

Here is a photo of the clergy having concelebrated Mass in the Convent of the Incarnation, Avila, where S. Teresa lived for 27 years, and where she was prioress when S. John of the Cross was Confessor, between 1572 and 1576: 

Here is S. Teresa's cell in the Convent:

and her kitchen:

After our concelebrated Mass on Thursday 11th October at Alba de Tormes:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I believe that love is the measure of our ability to bear crosses, whether great or small. So if you have this love, try not to let the prayers you make to so great a Lord be words of mere politeness, but brace yourselves to suffer what God's Majesty desires. For if you give God your will in any other way, you are just showing the Lord a precious stone, making as if to give it and begging God to take it, and then, when God's hand reaches out to do so, taking it back and holding on to it tightly. Such mockery is no fit treatment for One who endured so much for us . . .
(From: The Way of Perfection)

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.
(From The Interior Castle)  

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. 
(From The Interior Castle) 

Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a more fervent determination to 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.
(From The Interior Castle) 

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.
(From The Interior Castle) 

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.
(From The Interior Castle)  

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 realise its danger.
(From The Interior Castle)

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.


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