Friday, October 14, 2016
The Carmelite Order celebrates the feast of St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) October 15th. St.Teresa does not need any introduction. She is famous among the laity and a shining luminary in the Catholic Church. She is one of the three women Doctors of the Church, with St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine of Siena, being the other two. She is known as the Reformer of Carmel, along with St. John of the Cross, and founded the Discalced Order of the Carmelite family. The Teresian reform is not the only reform in Carmel. There were other reforms including the Reform of Touraine in France (17th century) and the Mantuan reform in Italy, which effected many changes in the Order. But St. Teresa's reform was the most well known partly because of her own charismatic personality and widespread influence. She was a very influential woman of her day and collaborated with powerful people .
She wrote books dealing with her Life and Prayer. To mention some of her famous works: The Life (autobiographical), The Way of Perfection (written for her Nuns) and The Interior Castle (on Prayer). There are a variety of commentaries written about these books and you can check them out at http://www.icspublications.com/.
I got to know St. Teresa in 1984 after I graduated from College. My favorite reading is her Way of Perfection . It deals with the subject of prayer. I also like The Interior Castle when I am trying to analyze what mansion I may be in! Although the Way of Perfection was written for her nuns and is tailored to those living a solely contemplative lifestyle, one can use her counsels in this book to know about prayer and how to grow in the life of prayer. She summarized three preconditions for a life of prayer: Humility, Detachment and Charity. The entire book expounds on these three criteria.
One subject St. Teresa persistently wrote about was how to pray . In her own life, she had a terrible time praying, to be specific 18 years, of not being able to pray. In her autobiography, she stated that she needed the security of a book to get her focused. Even though most of the time she did not read the book, she needed the security of having it with her for reassurance. Because of her personal difficulties in praying, she is able to explain to us through her writings difficulties we ourselves often experience. She is very insistent about imagining Christ in His humanity. She imagined him in those moments when he was most alone because she figured she will not be turned away when he is so abandoned.
I thought of presenting a little of her thoughts on Mental Prayer or meditation. I used the article presented by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello OCD “Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer”.
Lectio Divina (or divine reading) is not particularly exclusive to Saint Teresa of Avila. It is an old form of monastic prayer used throughout many centuries. It is a monastic designation for meditative reading of the Scriptures. According to Fr. Morello’s book, there are four steps to lectio divina:
1. LectioMeaning “reading”, understood as the careful repetitious recitation of a short text of Scripture.
2. MeditatioMeaning “meditation”, an effort to understand the meaning of the text and make it personally relevant to oneself.
3. OratioMeaning “prayer”, a personal response to the text, asking for the grace of the text.
4. ContemplatioMeaning “contemplation.” It is gazing at length on something. The idea behind this element is that sometimes with God’s infused grace, one is elevated beyond meditation to an experiential contact with the divine presence, to God’s truth and benevolence.
Applying the Teresian flavor to the basic elements of lectio divina, we come to the following exercise:
1. Teresa’s “lectio” Reading the Word of God with Teresa
She counsels that when we start to pray, we must be aware of the following: who it is who is praying (we are creatures), who it is we are praying to (God), what we are praying for.
Attentiveness to what one is doing and saying is the first of Teresa’s advice.
2. Teresa’s “meditatio” - meditating with Teresa.
Saint Teresa counsels that one aid to prayer is to find a companion at prayer. She is referring to taking Christ as our companion in prayer. Whether one imagines Christ within oneself or before the Blessed Sacrament (although Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament is not imagined but a reality), or in the image of the crucifix. She teaches us to think of God as very near to us or as within us, dwelling in our depths. With Teresa we go where God is. Her advice is to locate God according to one’s inclinations. There is no one way we ought to pray. We pray as we can, not as we ought. Teresa also wants us to ‘think” of Christ. We address ourselves to him, or we try to “hear” his words in Scriptures addressed to us.
3. Teresa’s “Oratio” Prayerful expression with Teresa.Teresa’s prayer is full of affectionate expression to Christ. It is the prayer that comes out of a heart that begins to be filled with love. The heart can express itself in a million ways. But here we implement the Teresian principle of making Christ the object of that prayer. You can utter words that come spontaneously to you. This is the part where prayer becomes a conversation.
4. Teresa’s “Contemplatio” Contemplating with Teresa.After going through the steps of reading the text to feed the mind, meditating on the meaning of the text to move the heart and praying the words or other emotions that come to heart. Teresa describes a state of “resting” in the Lord. A new recollection of the soul, in its innermost core, is experienced. With Teresa, we rest in the presence and take a holiday from the work of meditation.
The fruits of contemplation for Teresa is shown in the growth of virtues. For her, the virtues are the flowers in the garden of the soul.
We have explained in summary the exercise of mental prayer according to Saint Teresa of Avila. We should endeavor to learn this exercise of mental prayer for our growth in the spiritual life.
"God our Father, by Your Spirit you raised up Saint Teresa of Jesus to show your Church the way to perfection. May her inspired teaching awaken in us a longing for true holiness. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen"
Known to her family as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, she became the reformer of Carmel, mother of the Discalced Carmelite nuns and friars, "spiritual mother" (as is engraved under her statue in the Vatican Basilica), patron of Catholic writers (from 1965) and Doctor of the Church (1970), the first woman with Saint Catherine of Siena to ever receive this last title. She was born at Avila in Castile, Spain, on 28th March 1515 and died in Alba de Tormes, near Salamanca, on 4th October 1582 (a correction due to the Gregorian reform of the calendar that year, as the following day was officially 15th October). She was beatified in 1614, canonised in 1622 and her feast day occurs on 15th October.
Her life needs to be understood in the light of the plan which God had for her, with the great desires experienced in her heart, with the mysterious illness to which she was subject in her youth (and with the ill health from which she suffered throughout her life), and with the "resistance" to divine grace for which she blamed herself more than she should has. Running away from home, she entered the Carmel of the Incarnation in Avila on 2nd November 1535. As a result, partly of the prevailing conditions in the community and partly from her own spiritual difficulties, she had to struggle before arriving at what she called her conversion at the age of 39. But, benefitting from various spiritual directors, she then began to make great strides towards perfection.
In 1560, the idea first emerged of a new Carmel, where the Rule could be followed more closely, and this was realized two years later when the monastery of St. Joseph was founded without any endowments and "following the Primitive Rule": a phrase that needs to be clearly understood because both then and later it was a notion which was more nostalgic and "heroic" than practical. Five years later Teresa obtained from the Prior General of the Order, John Baptist Rossi, then visiting Spain, permission to increase the number of monasteries and a licence to found two communities of contemplative Carmelite friars (later to be called Discalced) who would be the spiritual counterparts of the nuns and, as such, able to help them. At the death of Saint Teresa, there were 17 monasteries of nuns in the Reform, and the communities of friars also quickly outstripped the original number, some founded with permission from the Prior General Rossi but others, especially those in Andalusia, established against his will, relying on the approval of the apostolic visitators, the Dominican Vargas and the young Discalced Carmelite Jerome Gracian (a close spiritual companion of Teresa, for whom she vowed to do whatever he asked her, as long as it was not contrary to God's law).
There followed a series of unedifying quarrels, made worse by the interference of the civil authorities and other outsiders, until in 1581, the Discalced were formed into a separate Province. Saint Teresa was then able to write, "Now all of us, Discalced and Calced, are at peace and nothing can hinder us from serving the Lord".
Saint Teresa is among the most important figures of all time for Catholic spirituality. Her works - especially the four best known (The Life, The Way of Perfection, The Mansions and The Foundations) - together with her more historical works, contain a doctrine which encompasses the whole of the spiritual life, from the first steps right up to intimacy with God at the centre of the Interior Castle. Her Letters show her occupied with a great variety of everyday problems. Her doctrine on the unity of the soul with God (a doctrine which was intimately lived by her) follows the Carmelite tradition which had preceded her and to which she herself contributed in such a notable way, enriching it as well as passing the tradition on, not only to her spiritual sons and daughters, but also to the whole Church which she served so unsparingly. When she was dying, her one joy was to be able to affirm that "I die a daughter of the Church".
SOURCE: CARMELITE WEBSITE
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