There is one aspect of St Teresa’s life that is usually rarely addressed by commentators: her Foundations. After having embarked on the spiritual journey, rich in its promise of forthcoming graces, St Teresa felt the call to found a monastery – San José of Avila – where a style of life would be established more in harmony with this new fervent spiritual life, done in order to promote, support and protect it. Encouraged by its success, and certainly guided by the Lord and his Mother, not to mention St Joseph, with the agreement of the ecclesiastical authorities, she started a long series of foundations of other monasteries in Spain – a staggering total of seventeen monasteries. These monasteries were replicas of the first one. When viewed objectively, this outstanding endeavour and the way she achieved it, never fails to profoundly impress. Teresa’s action here was backed superbly by her spirit of faith, her practical sense and skill in implementing a project, and last but by no means least, the purity of her vision.
Bearing this in mind a modern expression presents itself to define this facet of St Teresa – ‘God’s entrepreneur’. The Saint fits this definition of herself most aptly if one considers the imposing number of her foundations realised in a very short space of time, especially given the difficulties and restrictions of her time (see ‘Important dates’ at the beginning of the book). One cannot fail to be impressed! Even more impressive is the impact on the modern-day reader who might be tempted to make some farsighted observations, namely, that there might be some profound relevance in her undertakings for our time which could do with further exploration, and that Teresa possessed a revolutionary view of economical crisis, of transformation in the world and the market place. Often Christians find a certain difficulty when dealing with money issues and riches, even with enterprise. Money seems to have a negative stain on it. This difficulty is certainly more present amongst Catholics than Protestants, our brothers from the protestant denominations being more flexible and uninhibited vis à vis these questions. But this observation does not infer that she accumulated huge sums of money, or that she made her monasteries wealthy, but on the contrary it alludes to something quite different: the method she used in order to acquire the monasteries; how she ensured they were run in a ‘viable’ way; the use she made of certain virtues; her vision and her managerial skills. Surely, as the evidence will show, this cannot fail to inspire!
As alien as it might seem, to be interested in ‘management’ and ‘enterprise’ is nonetheless pertinent. First of all let us examine the concept that ‘mysticism’ and ‘action’ are contradictory. Quite the contrary. Some may think that mystics are distracted, clumsy, with their heads in the clouds, and that they lack a practical sense. However, St Teresa’s life and the life of a multitude of other mystics make a mockery of this. It would be even more relevant to observe that an authentic mystic has a superior fruitfulness or fecundity compared to a half-heartedly spiritual person. Indubitably, as mentioned in a previous chapter, this can only happen provided that we are in the presence of a healthy mysticism and not a deviation of it, a deviation that concentrates more and gives more credit to extraordinary phenomena – that are only for the very few and the ones who have special missions in the Church.
For the authentic mystic, then, the more spiritual they become the more they are transformed in Christ, and the more their actions are guided and inspired by Christ and ‘co-moved’ by Him. Inevitably the achievements of this individual become God’s achievements, which would definitely not be the case for less spiritual people. This seems to be a paradox: having to get closer to God in order to become more fruitful. But this is not only normal, but it is a definite requirement. If the choice is made to spend time in daily prayer more frequently, the greater the opportunity becomes not only to enter into God but also to place ourselves into His Hands and improve his action in us and through us. As a natural consequence, for obviously material interest would be the last thing to inform our prayers, there would be greater clarity about what we are supposed to do and much time and energy would be saved! Ironically this fact seems to escape notice for many! The true reason for this is to be found in another area altogether, namely, the individual is not yet ready to have a personal relationship with Christ, and in consequence, completely fails to recognise the role they would play in a spiritual life, whereas, in fact the goal of this relationship is to be nourished by no less a Being than Christ Himself. The astounding secret is embodied in Christ himself! No matter the amount of searching undertaken, it is always to Christ that we return! Christ is both the starting point and also the heart of everything – He is both Alpha and Omega!
Now, a return to a closer look at the reality of St Teresa’s life would illustrate this amply: her being ‘God’s entrepreneur’. Here it would be advantageous to adhere to this idea of entrepreneurship and to examine it in greater depth. It has therefore to be acknowledged that everything she achieved was the offshoot of a spirit of enterprise, and that, more precisely, it is poverty that is the fundamental characteristic of her foundations. Not only this, but an additional characteristic of her monasteries is work and economical time-management. The spiritual person does work! But he does it peacefully. If there is a distaste for work, then there is no place in the individual’s life for St.Teresa’s spirituality and the understanding of doing the will of God. The truly spiritual person accepts ‘time’ as an extraordinary gift from God, and understands that all that personal time belongs to God and not to idleness. It is opportune to remember, here, that idleness is the mother of all vices, a fact that monks constantly recall. This does not lead, however, to a frenetic race with time, but rather to a harmonious combination of work while being connected to the Holy Spirit, so that each moment is imbued with the ever-present incarnation of Christ.
It is important to work while being ‘in God’s hands’, in the peace of Christ. In spiritual life the fact of being there ‘for God’, and ‘for God alone’, commands the entire action – our entire life – and in that there is definitely no room for stress and no need for anxiety. This is the heart of Teresa’s enterprise! It was from God that she received this precious guidance, God who taught her the real meaning of life, life with Him – aptly depicted, the reader will recall, in the opening chapters of this book. It is Christ himself who is the real entrepreneur. Christ, in fact, succinctly expresses this in the Gospel when he says: ‘the Father acts all the time”, and ‘the Son sees what the Father does, and he does the same’. As we can see, mysticism is like an open window onto the ‘CEO’ (God) whom we ‘see’ (contemplate) incessantly. He is a ‘CEO’ whom we love, who died for us, who is our whole world, our All, our Spouse! This formula is unique! The business world, in fact, might do well to take a leaf out of Teresa’s book and adopt this mode of action, the sole proviso being to start with Christ and a personal relationship with Him! However, to do so requires detachment from self-interest, from personal ambitions and goals. It is advisable then to take time, and with as much introspection as possible to allow ourselves to become so imbued with Christ and his Way, that our thirst for Him will so increase as to meet His thirst for us. It is absolutely crucial that we realise, here, that Christ cannot be approached in order to promote certain ambitions or goals, or with a particular wish or intention in mind. Indeed not! Christ is approached for the sake of Christ and Christ alone, unconditionally, with purity of intent and no ulterior motive whatsoever – without restriction of any kind! Without the grace of God it is impossible to follow Christ with purity of heart and mind!
The grace of God is at the centre of the secret entrusted to us by St.Teresa. It is widely assumed that it was she who wished to found the monasteries that she did, that she was a woman of action and enterprise… while, in fact, she clearly states in her writings that she doubted, that she had fears! There were, undoubtedly many obstacles she had to face. Humanly speaking, she stood a greater chance of failing and remaining in her monastery than to travel so widely in Spain in order to create her foundations. Remember, too, that she was a woman, a ‘mystic’ (therefore suspect), and that the Spain of Teresa’s time saw the Church in serious combat with the Protestant Reformation and the damaging effects it unleashed through endorsing the personal interpretation of the Scriptures. Not only this, but there were also the’ Alumbrados’ (the Enlightened) proliferating throughout the country, resulting in extreme vigilance by the ecclesiastical authorities, the Inquisition, as it was to become known. Bearing this in mind, from a human standpoint it cannot be denied that it would have been impossible for her to succeed!
How then did she succeed? Her secret is simple: the Lord and his holy Mother assured her in more than one vision that the reformation of her religious order, the Carmelites, would take place and that she would see it prosper before she died. This vision was confirmed by her spiritual director and by the following authorisation by her superior who gave her permission to found monasteries ‘as many hairs as she had on her head’. This is the secret of her foundations! All the rest was irrelevant and transitory! God alone knows how much she must have suffered, how many obstacles she undoubtedly encountered. It is impossible to conceive of her embarking on the plan of founding so many monasteries, had she not had the sure and certain conviction that the order was being issued by God himself! After all, in the grand scheme of things who was Teresa – a mere insignificant human being!
It would be of interest to investigate whether she had any means of human support: maybe a good network of acquaintances, friends or if she even gained entry into the royal palace, or had material means and an innate business acumen. In reality we know she had as many well-wishers as she had in opposition to her. The latter were not actively or in a literal sense anti Teresa, but rather they were in a position to create obstacles so that her progress was slowed down and the momentum interrupted. Ironically these people did not have The Saint’s beliefs, endorsed as they were by all her visions, her beliefs being inconceivable to those who did not have the supernatural spirit of faith, who were unaware of the action of God in us. Significantly, when it is impossible to see beyond the events unfolding before one, many obstacles could manifest themselves. For Teresa, however, her guiding light was ever in heaven! If God lead her to understand that a particular desire she felt originated with Him, it was tantamount to God saying to the Saint: ‘It is I, the Lord your God, who desires it!’ It follows then that whatever God desires He is capable of bringing about. What is astounding, however, is that He needs us in order to do so.
Once Teresa took her decision with great resolve to obey God, and after having received the confirmation from her confessor, obstacles would emerge inexplicable or not, from every direction, but this for Teresa was proof positive that the Devil was becoming enraged and that it was the hand of God that was guiding her actions. Accordingly she just stood by, observed events, followed the Lord and contributed her part without too much interference. One can interpret this in ways without number. Although everyone around her had doubts – even herself, her human weakness creating these within her – her belief in Christ with His hand on the helm of events never wavered. She knew in the very core of her being that if God willed something, He was entirely capable of realising it, not without obstacles – decidedly not – but despite and through obstacles! This embodies the very reason, as we have said above, for her considering that one had to act with purity, namely, that one knew one’s place, listened, followed and obeyed God’s will! It is very easy to have our own personal vision of how things progress, but one enters another league completely when following the vision of God! If God allows the existence of obstacles, it is because we human beings have our own part to play in God’s work! He dislikes working alone, preferring our collaboration, which cannot be termed as interference simply because He desires us to participate. Even if St Teresa’s role in the Foundations is very small, they could not have materialised without her and without all the individuals who played a role in bringing them into being! The Foundations, the Reformation of the Carmelite Order were primarily Our Lady’s concern: everyone who contributed did it for Her, and without a doubt it pleased Christ enormously, Christ who appreciates anything done for his Mother.
Taking this viewpoint into consideration, and expressing it in plain, unadulterated terms – the real ‘boss’ of Carmelite Order is Our Lady ! In many monasteries founded by Her, indeed, one can see in the Prioress’ seat, not the Prioress herself but a statue of Our Lady! This viewpoint was actually supported by a vision received by St Teresa, where Our Lady assured her that all the prayers accomplished in the Choir by the nuns were presented to Christ by the Blessed Virgin herself. Having Our Lady’s statue in the Prioress’s place of honour can now be seen as anything but an act of devotion. On the contrary, it is something infinitely greater: it represents Our Lady herself who leads and guides us, and who is the one who presents all our prayers to the Lord. Not only this, but with Our Lady we have evidence of the greatness of Her tender love for St Joseph, coming from a personal experience of his presence and action in her life. She considers him as a Master of Mental Prayer, who together with the Mother of God, silently teaches us how to practise it. St. Joseph constantly watched over St Teresa’s spiritual life and never neglected her material needs.
Each monastery is founded on a fervent spiritual life and on a total radical gift of oneself! This involves to this day a practice of detachment, real poverty, as well as evidence of great poverty in the outward trappings of the order, for example, in its buildings, cells, down to even the belongings of the community. Any ornamentation is decisively excluded, and this at all levels. The nuns are there for God and only for God. This provides ample evidence of the reduction in the needs of the nuns, even though it still remains necessary for them to work. But work does not have the upper hand: this is the prerogative of Christ and the life of prayer. Their work ethic is simple: one does not live in order to work. Rather one works to provide for material needs! The place of prayer in the life of the Carmelite nuns remains all-absorbing. They work, admittedly, but with intelligence and common sense offering only saleable products. However, their overriding and total support is found in the Providence of God! It is this delicate but fundamental combination, coming from above, that is the driving force for everything! Yes, today’s world can learn this method of ‘management’. It presupposes, however, the existence of a great ‘poverty of spirit’!
All the nuns’ lives, then, are geared towards Christ as has been noted. Without Him, their life would be a true prison for anybody, because in the monastery on a daily basis every action performed by the nuns has Christ as the reference point. This is why mentioning ‘enterprise’ and ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ tends to be misplaced! It is true to say that considering what St Teresa achieved, her spirit and her methods are certainly challenging, pertinent and inspirational, especially in today’s world which is sinking into a deep economical crisis and is in search of a set of criteria for a healthy new economy.
St Teresa considers, as much as is humanly possible, that her monasteries are a slice of Paradise on earth, places where all Christ’s Law is put into practice, where Christ not only dwells but is consoled and loved. The only master of these monasteries is Christ, and the world’s master – money – is banned from their precincts!
Finally, it would be a healthy exercise to ask ourselves these questions: do we believe that God is capable of helping us to live by his Providence alone ? Do we abide by what the Lord says in the Gospel, instead of concerning ourselves about our clothing or our food, or is our prime concern to incarnate His kingdom here on earth? Can we watch the fields in their beauty and trust that God will cover us with a greater beauty? Can we radically live the Gospel of dependency on the Providence of God ? Is our economy capable of changing its principles? Instead of greed, the pursuit of riches, would it not be possible to apply the simple principle of placing in first place the search for the Lord in all purity and with radical determination? Only by trying His way will we discover the truth of Christ’s’ words!
Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. (John 5:19-20)
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:1-11)