Saturday, October 16, 2010

Interpreting Saint Teresa- Part 2

Patrick Burke, O.Carm
‘The soul can place itself in the presence of Christ and grow accustomed to being inflamed with love for His sacred humanity.”
(Life, 12, 2)
St Teresa in The Way of Perfection (40, 3), treating of the petition of the Our Father “Deliver us from evil”, says that “those who truly love God, love every good, desire every good, favor every good, praise every good. They always join, favor and defend good people. They have no love for anything but truth and whatever is worthy of love. Do you think it is possible for a person who really loves God to love vanities? No, indeed, he cannot; nor can he love riches or worldly things, or delights or honors or strife or envy. All of this is so because he seeks only to please the Beloved.” This truth, the result of Teresa’s sensitivity to the sufferings of Jesus for us and of her fidelity to the practice of reflecting on the gospel events, enabled her to make her own contribution, to put her own special stamp, on Christian spirituality. Her concern was primarily to help people grow in the friendship of God; and she strove to discover how best Jesus Christ, God made man, was to be communicated and integrated in the lives of Christians of her time. She was a product of her world, Spain of the 16th century, when books and even instruction on religion were limited. Her family background as well as the existing institutions of Church and State were to cause her much anxiety and at times pain.

After entering the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila and receiving the habit in 1536, she had years of great physical sickness. At the beginning of this period, she had made great progress in prayer and at times experienced extraordinary intimacy with the Lord, what she believed to be “union” with God. The weakness and depression that was associated with her illnesses took a toll on her prayer life and for a period of years she abandoned private prayer almost completely. It was ten years later - in 1554 -  that she experienced a “conversion”. She was entering the chapel one day and was confronted, as it were, by the “Ecce Homo” statue of the Suffering Christ, which had been borrowed for a special celebration in the Convent. Teresa writes (in Life 9,1): “It represented the much wounded Christ and was very devotional, so that beholding it I was utterly distressed in seeing Him that way, for it well represented what He suffered for us. I felt so keenly aware of how poorly I thanked Him for those wounds that, it seems to me, my heart broke. Beseeching Him to strengthen me once and for all that I might not offend Him, I threw myself down before Him with the greatest outpouring of tears.”
After that experience, Teresa became more sensitive to God’s eternal plan of consuming the evil of the world’s sin in the fire of suffering love which is seen in the terrible passion of the Son, always intent on the eternal good in which the world too should participate. Teresa was to learn more about the mystery of the Cross. She wrote: “If you are experiencing trials or are sad, behold Him on the way to the garden: what great affliction He bore in His soul; for having become suffering itself, He tells us about it and complains of it. Or behold Him bound to the column, filled with pain, with all His flesh torn in pieces for the great love He bears you; so much suffering, persecuted by some, spit on by others, denied by His friends, abandoned by them, with no one to defend Him, frozen from the cold, left so alone that you can console each other. Or behold Him burdened with the cross, for they didn’t even let Him take a breath.” (W.P.26, 5).
Teresa portrays Christ as our primary teacher and by identifying His prayer with ours, as He did in giving us the Lord’s Prayer, He teaches us still and continues the work of the Word-made-flesh into the very heart of our world. She writes: “And when I say, ‘Our Father’, it will be an act of love to understand who this Father of ours is and who the Master is who taught us this prayer.” (Ibid. 24, 2). Furthermore God wants us to remember Him often when we say this prayer, even though because of our weakness we do not do so.
Teresa acknowledges that she found her post-Communion reflection the heart of her prayer. Though in later life she experienced fewer ‘raptures’, she records in her Spiritual Testimonies several occasions when intellectual communications occurred after receiving Communion. One of these, which occurred probably in Seville in 1575, enhances her Eucharistic Theology as described in the Way of Perfection. She writes: “ Once after receiving Communion, I was given understanding of how the Father receives within our soul the most holy Body of Christ, and of how I know and have seen that these divine Persons are present, and of how pleasing to the Father this offering of His Son is, because He delights and rejoices with Him here -let us say - on earth. For His humanity is not present with us in the soul, but His divinity is. Thus the humanity is so welcome and pleasing to the Father and bestows on us so many favors” (Sp.T. 52). She is saying that the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is present in the soul but by the coming at Communion of the Son in his humanity into the soul the communion graces, which God wills for us, are bestowed. In this way, on our earthly journey, the joy of eternal life is realized.

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