On the surface, however, her religious life seemed good. She was a spiritual person, observant, faithful to religious life. But seen from the perspective of the heart or the emotions, she was failing to belong totally to Christ-The-Groom. She was not, curiously, totally aware of this lack. This could seem strange considering her way of life where she used to meet people in the parlour and talk to them about prayer, mental prayer at that. She was capable of entertaining people concerning the spiritual life for hours.
Revealingly her emotions were not totally in the hands of Christ, liking as she did to talk, entertain, thereby clinging to these relationships. Indubitably no sin is being committed here, especially according to today’s criteria. But Christ does not look at the external part of our behaviour, rather he sees into our heart, and it’s our heart that He is waiting for!
One has to say that the Lord has been patient with her – almost twenty years – then He took pity on her, wanting to change her. Blessed be Him Eternally for His Mercy!
The modern reader, consequently, would not see a problem with what she was doing since, when looked at superficially, she is not committing any sin. We know as well that she would never have sinned knowingly on purpose. It must be remembered that it is for this reason that she entered the monastery: to avoid mortal sin. So if there is no apparent sin, where is the problem? Which ‘conversion’ does she need? After all, she leads a good monastic life and through it she glorifies God! The fact remains, however, that she was blind until the Lord, with His merciful Grace, showed her from within, in her heart and emotions, what was lacking, what she was not giving to Him. Her heart in fact was divided, even worse, it was scattered about,veering outwards rather than being focused inwards on God. The relationships she was having, talking about God, were certainly straightforward, but at the emotional level, her heart was geared outwards, her emotions being involved with them. Seen from Christ-The-Groom point of view, she was not totally His, certainly not in all her emotions.
Being in the monastery does not mean that one finds oneself automatically praising only God. One needs to be with Christ in order to receive all the Graces He wants to give us and grow until we reach Union with Him and the fullness of Charity. Monastic life does not mean only to refrain from sinning and fulfilling somehow or other the duties of our state of life. It goes infinitely deeper than that. Seen from this perspective, then, her vision of Christian life, Monastic life and of her duties was impoverished. Her understanding of Christ was limited, especially what He was seeking, what He was waiting for from her, what he awaits from each one of us: all of our heart given to him – our emotional heart included. Today one would use the word ‘eros’, recognised also as the second lower half of our heart that we often keep for the love of human beings.
St. Teresa often takes the time to explain in different places in her writings this turning point in her life. In fact we can only understand her life and achievements through it, for it will trigger a powerful spiritual life, an abundance of graces.
The Lord was patiently waiting for that change to happen, and it was not happening. She just was not seeing it! This is why, afterward, she will feel the constant urge to mention it and to sing the Mercies of the Lord who not only waited for her patiently, but who gently showed her what He wanted from her: all of her, all her emotions, every fibre of her being, all for Him and Him only! It is only after doing so that the torrent of his graces was triggered! And then, a new life started, another Teresa started to emerge, the Teresa ‘of Jesus’! From that moment on, as she states in the book of her Life, it is the story of the life of Jesus in her.
On the one hand I am sure that for the modern reader the difference is minute between the way she was leading her life and what Christ wanted from her. On the other hand, one has to sincerely admit that for us human beings (including consecrated people) if we apply her criterium (giving everything including our emotional heart), very few would be ‘saved’! Or, in other words: if we follow her reading and understanding of the light that Jesus showed her applying it to everybody, many things in the Church would have to change!
St Teresa gives a huge importance to this point and it is to be feared that it might be easily overlooked. According to the criteria of christian moral life, we all agree that she was not committing any sin, not even a fault against her state of life! Indeed, filtered through the eyes of moral theology, there is no formal sin. But what we are learning from her is that all christian life does not lie in moral theology. God sees the heart of the human being, but unfortunately the human being does not understand himself! As Saint Augustine said: we search for God in the external world! God searches for our heart, internally. Teresa was unconsciously searching for God outside of herself, in the relationships she was having. No formal sin was committed but she was ignorant, especially of God’s ways and how to reach Him, or better said: how to be reached by God, how to really open the door to the heart in order to receive the abundance of his graces and then grow until we reach Union with Him. “The Saint, who in that period felt deeply in tune with the St Augustine of the Confessions, thus describes the decisive day of her mystical experience: “and… a feeling of the presence of God would come over me unexpectedly, so that I could in no wise doubt either that he was within me, or that I was wholly absorbed in him” (Vida
, 10, 1).” (Pope Benedict XVI Catechesis, on St Teresa
Note: What is the light that St Teresa’s conversion sheds on today’s state of Theology? God asks us at least two questions when, through her conversion, He challenges our way of viewing Theology today.
– Does today’s teaching in moral theology speak in a practical way about ‘Union with God’? No, it does not.
– Does Christian Moral life still seem to consist only in the fact of avoiding sin i.e. being in a state of Grace? Indeed it does.
These are very important questions and the common answers to them do not give evidence of the salt of the Gospel. Therefore if we continue to reduce Christian life this way, St Teresa’s life will become incomprehensible to us, as, will be ,categorically, our understanding of Christian life in toto. We need fewer superficial criteria and more thorough filters, or rather a more refined filter: Spiritual Theology, or the teaching of the Church on Spiritual life. The reason here is fundamental: it reaches the core of our christian life. It shows the real goal of christian life, that is, union with God; it shows the decisive step to take to reach it hardly mentioned today, that is, giving Jesus the lower part of our heart (see also next chapter) and finally, as we will see later, it shows, in practice, the means to reach the Goal through practising virtues and the Prayer of the Heart.
It is not clear, as yet, whether we have or have not given our heart, our emotions to the Lord!