In this concluding chapter I will present what I consider are the important elements of her heritage, collated and preserved not only for today, but constituting also a pertinent legacy for tomorrow. This is done with the actual state of the Church today in mind, and is seen under the light of St Teresa’s contribution.
It is true that she was first sent by God for the Church of her time. But given that, I think that she still has much more to offer to today’s Church, and that time, circumstances, and the Church have not explored all her riches. On the contrary, I firmly believe that we could be on the eve of a new and deeper discovery, not to mention use of the wisdom and treasures that God deposited through her in the Church. The full richness of St Teresa has not been exploited fully till now, for a great deal of powerful new energy is still enclosed in her writings, awaiting our belief in the experience she offers, our exploration of it to the full and the application of it to many areas in the Church. I believe that many of these areas are reaching their limits today, like in a desert that cannot flower without water. Heritage sometimes – in a very old-fashioned way – is like an old treasure chest containing the most precious gems to be handed on by parents to their children. So when we speak about ‘St Teresa’s heritage’ we mean these important precious rich gems. We need to open that treasure chest and gather them up.
With these gems, can St Teresa influence the Church today? Some can argue that she has already done so to a full extent. This is true. But as we saw in the previous chapters and juxtaposed on the actual needs in the world and in the Church today, we can counter-argue saying that St Teresa’s heritage is highly capable of creating a new wave of influence. What are the elements of this new wave? How can we encapsulate them? The following elements will outline what the Church still needs to invest in, so that new waves of the grace of God can be manifest:
1- The Immense Meaning of her Conversion
First, we need a renewed understanding of the meaning of her conversion and of its repercussions on the daily life of the Church, starting with formation of consecrated persons and Formation in general. In fact the story of her conversion shows that one can faithfully live nineteen years of religious life, and still lack something of paramount importance: a living relationship with the Risen Lord. We need to study the elements that trigger her conversion and their influence on the second part of her life (the most fruitful one). Amongst the most important elements are: total gift of oneself; the emotional/erotic attachments as real obstacles; the foundations of spiritual life (the virtues exercised in a perfect way); the presence of Christ at the centre of our being (eases prayer); the power of the the grace of God; and the importance of meditating on the Lord’s Passion in order to open our hearts to his Grace.
By studying her conversion, we will discover that she had two different yet legitimate christian lives, one before and one after her conversion. This recalls the fact that in the early Church something similar existed:
a- First there was Catechesis aimed at people desiring baptism. This is an initial formation offered by the Church. Think of today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church that offers the essence of our Catholic Faith, the structure upon which it will be built – or, to give it a more concrete image, the two slices of bread necessary to contain the ham which will later go to make up the sandwich.
b- After a while, having started to live this new life, the Church felt the urge to offer a more profound teaching, that initiates the Christian into a deeper level of Spiritual life encompassing the depths of Jesus’ mysteries called: mystagogy, or the ham in the sandwich. Already in the letters of St Paul himself and in the letter to the Hebrews, there is an allusion to a deeper teaching.
With St Teresa’s life we learn how Mystagogy is not only essential, but should also not be dismissed and should be revived and taught. In fact, all her teaching is one of the most complete and accessible form of Mystagogy in the history of the Church as testified in her trilogy: Autobiography, Way of Perfection, Interior Castle. St Teresa helps us to delve deeply into our Christian life and to understand that our horizons should be enlarged.
Note: Please read the Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte of St John Paul II where he invites the Church to delve deeply (‘Duc in Altum’), setting out the programme of Holiness as the Parish’s main programme, and emphasising learning to pray and praying as a necessity.
2- Style of Life and Spiritual Life
Since it is important, even if only as a result of her reflection on her conversion, a second element should be set apart because of its significance: the relationship between the style of life and the spirit that animates our prayer and soul, that is, form and content. After her conversion, having a new life in Christ, one of the lessons St Teresa learned is that the way one lives is directly connected to the quality of the spiritual life one has. This is why she decided that there was a need to change her life-style to one more in harmony with this new life. Again, it is very important to understand that her previous style of life in her first Monastery was not at all offensive.
Deepening our understanding of the direct relationship between life-style and spiritual life is, however, of paramount importance. We live in a world where we often think that time is at a premium, – a form, actually, of being enslaved by the concept. In this sense, our life, in practice (our time) does not belong to God. Lay people think that this is their problem, but it is one faced by everybody: religious, monks, priests who also think alike. Time and space, however, are intrinsic to the human being. Therefore, we need to become aware that our excuse is an obstacle preventing us completely from really following – as St Teresa shows us – the Lord. We are putting other values or excuses above and beyond the Lord. This is where St Teresa proves to be prophetic.
3- Goal and Journey of Spiritual Life
When St Teresa wrote her book The Interior Castle God allowed its influence to spread. This book is a masterpiece we all admit, but are we aware of the exact reason? Certainly it is not the first time we have a master of Spiritual Life who speaks about its goal and the journey to reach it. But it is the first time that we have so many details on both of them, as well as provided in a manner that has a practical influence on each one of us in the Church.
Outlining such a clear goal for life here on earth, showing that it is not to be attained in heaven after we die but here on earth; uncovering for us, too, that there is a life after Union, a fertile life participating in the work of salvation in a much more fruitful sense, is, to express it quite simply, an ‘atomic bomb’. Even if today everybody in the Church accepts that holiness is the goal of each one of the faithful, there is no more popular or precise a description of holiness as the one written by Teresa, who not only has experienced it but has also been sent by God to impart her message to each one of us: here is the way, follow me, do a, b and c and you will acquire it, by the grace of God. Holiness with St Teresa not only becomes attainable, feasible, but she paves the way, showing us how to move forward at each essential stage. This is revolutionary. The majority of spiritual authors do touch on the early stages of spiritual growth. However, with Teresa we suddenly discover new horizons, new stages of growth, new challenges and we are offered a description of the journey in a very human, orthodox and safe way.
If this field is explored and developed we will certainly dare to embark more readily on the journey to holiness and have new things to discuss, instead of remaining at the point of departure going around in circles of indecision. If the journey is set out for us in a secure way, our Christian life will have a motive, and apostolate and ministry in the Church will start to be focused, centred and powerful.
We certainly need more experts in this field!
4- Clear and Practical Means
Another amazing step ahead is taken by St Teresa, when she offers not only a clear goal and describes the journey to reach it, but also when she offers a fruitful means to progress in a safe way on the journey toward union with Christ. Her means are two-fold: first, by working at the virtues, growing in them, practising them in a perfect way, a heroic and pure way; secondly, by constant daily practice of the Prayer of the Heart. Teaching in detail how to practise the first and the second, she never abandons us in the obscurity of this new world. To be more precise, Teresa not only teaches us how to practise the three essential evangelical virtues (see previous chapters), but she also teaches us how to practise the Prayer of the Heart (ibid). With St Teresa one really feels in safe hands, and that one will not err when following her advice. This is what God desires and is far removed from human endeavour – in truth a gift from God to us through her… rare gems of great practical clarity.
5- The Secret of the Prayer of the Heart
Within her teaching on the Prayer of the Heart, it is important to stop and ponder on various important elements, a salient one being to understand the difference between the action of the human being (with the general help of the grace of God) and the direct personal action of God in him. This is of paramount importance in the Church. Granted, many do pray. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the existence of a new phenomena: prayer groups spreading throughout the globe, which ironically reveal there is an undeniable thirst for God. But have they learned how to pray? Do we understand that prayer could be radically changed by knowing exactly what God is waiting for us to do? Do we appreciate the immense fund of graces that God desires to pour into us in order to sanctify us? Even from St Teresa we learn that there are at least two ways of attending Mass: one in prayer and one not in prayer (see previous chapters). Similarly, she illustrates how vocal prayer should be transfigured from within. Surely the value of this teaching and discernment cannot be doubted.
In sum we cannot simply have a prayer group, or personally pray at random. St Teresa firmly believes that it is necessary we learn to pray. This, in turn, entails the need for many formators in the art and theology of Prayer. We learn from the Saint that we can simply sit still and wait in faith for the grace of God. She reveals that there are triggers for the Grace of God, and that the main one is to offer ourselves to God, like a little child.
6- Spiritual Theology and Theology
In the light of St.Teresa, Doctor of the Church, what can we do for the future? How can we go about building it? The following are some suggestions:
Before anything else, in order to change the world we need to “change” Theology, in the sense of reforming it, improving it. We need to resurrect it from within! We need a rebirth from its ashes of “monastic theology” or better said “prophetic theology” or “integral theology” (in the sense of complete, wholesome). If we examine this more closely, we notice that what really governs the Church is “Theology”. Our universities, in their secular and intellectual way, reduce Theology to a dessicated shell of its true glory! Science is necessary and will always remain so! But science of what? A study of spiritual life is of the essence. It cannot be neglected. If we want to reform Theology, we first need to reform “Spiritual Theology” (or mysticism), for without it nothing really valuable and lasting can result! Without Spiritual Theology all that we accomplish is to produce empty sounds signifying nothing: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Co 13:1)
In my humble eyes, this is what St Teresa of Avila says, as a Doctor of the Church, to Theology. If we want any future, we need a theology that is alive from within, a theology that has at its centre a meeting, one to One, with Jesus the Risen Lord and helps us to reach union with him.
If we want a future for Theology, there is a definite need to pay attention to the modus operandi of theology: even if it seems an implicit aspect of Theology (almost unconscious in the theologian), it is a central aspect! It shapes the way we understand our faith and how we live it! It is according to this implicit way that Theology dictates to all of us, from the humblest catechist to the Pope, how to think our faith and how to act accordingly. Let us just hypothesize for one moment: if “Prophetic Theology” or “Integral Theology” were able to rise from its ashes, try to enumerate all the good things that could be extracted from it in the Church! This ironically is the powerful message of St Teresa to Theology: where it seems almost impossible to see this Phoenix rising from its ashes, she insists that it must. Why? Because the state of Spiritual Theology today is highly questionable. While, the Church is the one who guides us, as from above, showering her wisdom over everything, it is Spiritual Theology that re-forms, re-builds, also from above, from God, all things, including Theology itself. Spiritual Theology will be able to beget Theology from within, establishing bridges between the Church and Theology as we know it today. By so doing, Divine life will be revived in us, will flow in our veins and we will flourish.
Instead of talking about a distant future, however, let us examine a closer future and stop at that. If we were to decant St Teresa’s Body of Teaching, it seems that the central requirement necessary for today would be the renewal of Spiritual Theology. The latter is a branch of Theology, or better said, a level of wisdom above mere Theology as we know it today. It gives an account of the spiritual growth in the human being until it is fully realised. With this in mind, St Teresa of Avila would have certainly rejoiced when the Church renewed the central proclamation of the Gospel that ‘all are called to Holiness’. But at the same time, forty years afterwards, it is ludicrous to repeat to the faithful that holiness is the goal, when we fail to develop all that pertains to this important assertion, namely, to describe holiness; show the journey that leads to it; explain the conditions to reach it; offer the practical means to attain it and finally to develop the shrewd discernment that guaranties a safe journey! All this should be learnt, taught, transmitted. All these elements have their own science and wisdom: Spiritual Theology. That was the greatest part of St Teresa’s Mission and the reason why the Church in the person of Pope Paul VIth declared her ‘Doctor of the Church’ : ‘In the clock of history, we have arrived at the hour of Contemplative Prayer’. He said as well: ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’ (Paul VIth, Evangelii Nuntiandi n°41, 27th September 1970).
In order to understand her message more fully, we need as a first step to take into account the richness of Spiritual Theology and to work on developing it, to make it known, and as a second step, we should use this science in order to reform our way of constructing Theology. This could be a possible starting point for a solid and durable future. What the world awaits from us is that we become experts in the Meeting with the Risen Lord! For now, we need go no further! One starts building a house from its Foundations.
7- Money, Economy and Providence
In a previous chapter we have seen how St Teresa’s understanding of the following elements, and her gradual fine tuning of them is unique, revolutionary and can inspire a dying economy: Time, Work, Primacy of God and Purity of Heart, Providence of God, Shrewd Choice of Type of Work.
8- Apostolate and Spiritual Growth
St Teresa’s approach to apostolate is unique, supported doctrinally by St John of the Cross, and lived perfectly by St Therese. Spiritual Growth implies the growth of God’s love in our heart, namely, to reach the stage when our acts acquire, for the first time, a power over God that they did not have before, required in order to receive the plentiful graces that are the necessary to obtain the salvation of Christ on the Cross.
9- Offer of a Viable Future
St Teresa’s power is the capacity to offer in a chaotic world, with its disintegrating values, references and traditions, a kernel of hope capable of encapsulating society entirely. A description of today’s world reveals the pertinence of a new understanding of St Teresa’s message and its capacity to generate a new form of life – not merely a movement in the Church, not a new order, but a new way of being.
One has only to look at today’s world, or rather the negative side of it, to appreciate the enormity of the task in hand. Loss of guiding values, is compounded by constant and accelerated change in all areas of life. Perception of time and its duration consequently suffers, so that what happens today is totally cut off from what happened yesterday. Continuity becomes non-existent, as if a force is at work dedicated to generating chaos in a variety of forms – all this in order to shake the human being to the very foundations of his humanity where any form of behaviour is permissible. It resembles a stronger and more profound application of ‘divide and rule’ that has become more widespread, and will generate chaos where opposites are bedfellows and where all values are shaken to the core. Everything, it seems, exists for the benefit of the few. Mass media contributes much to generating the psychological effect that results, oscillating as it does between highlighting striking short-lived events with a constant stream of subtle messages, where information is limited and superficial so that it is of no use and is in no way uplifting. The resultant effect is to numb the mind, causing it to lose its critical ability and to encourage docility, producing depression as initiative is quashed. Individuality sapped, the human being degenerates into a mere follower, a consumer owing imaginary debts. Fear consequently results, masterminded in a very subtle way. How can a human being survive this state of affairs? How can the Church survive?
Paradoxically (since social media is diffuse) the human being is now living in great solitude. Now quest and thirst for God seems to be an important form of relief for this. There is a thirst for wisdom, a vision of life given from above, on how to put God above all else, not as other saints do but in a new way, capable of responding to the new requirements of today’s spirit/mentality where the human being is at the centre. Despite many exterior structures collapsing in the actual globalisation process, what St Teresa is offering is a viable human style of life, full of wisdom, having God at the centre of the human being, and couched in the language of experience so appealing to today’s mentality. Now too, society is becoming increasingly secularised, constantly straying from the old order and generating greater difficulty for remaining faithful to God. Time and space are kidnapped, even more now by the internet and the smart phone, so we find less and less time and space for God.
If we take a line going from William of Ockham up until today, passing through Luther, Kant and Freud, we see that the human being, especially after the revolution of the sixties and seventies, is increasingly to be found at the centre of society, subjectivity, the ‘I’ and ‘experience’ being the dominant features. St Teresa, however, illumines this line magnificently giving it a source of real fulfilment from within, and just as Pope Gregory presents St. Benedict before her as a ‘luminous star’ who in the words of Pope Benedict XV1 ‘point[s] the way out of the ‘black night of history’ (cf. John Paul II, 18 May 1979), so too does she show us how God can, with his grace awaken the potential of every human being, inviting him to embark on a fascinating journey that will give an aim and sense to his life, and will finally realise the great privilege of union with Christ. This is what will continue the life of Jesus on earth. To repeat: if with the human being, the ‘I’ has now become the centre of society, God through St Teresa imparts a new message: God alone is at the centre of the human being… From that inner central point, a new Way will blossom…. a Way that leads to real fulfilment, for both ‘a new spiritual and cultural unity will result, that of the Christian faith shared by the peoples of the Continent.’ (Pope Benedict XV1) It was St Teresa who mapped out the journey, and by so doing she mapped out a possible new world for us, a world in which the Church especially can be renewed. It is within the coordinates of her map that the future is possible. Outside of it chaos reigns.
In conclusion what can we say about the message of St Teresa and the heritage she bequeaths to us? As intimated before, what can we learn from her? From what she left us, what should continue? And in which way? What can her impact be on the Church of today and tomorrow? These are the questions that we should attempt to answer in a practical way.
For a start it should be recognised that within a few decades the world has truly morphed from an “ancient” form into a new and different one. The make-up of people has changed. Indeed it has yet to be finalised and this end result will depend also on the individual’s contribution. Therefore in order to reply to the above questions, “heritage” or “contribution” need to be defined, namely, the entire body of graces granted by the Lord to the Church and the world through St Teresa needs definition, in order to ensure validity for today and tomorrow. If it were possible to look objectively at the elements that compose today’s culture and the essential elements of St Teresa’s heritage, without the pretence of being prophets, we might have a clearer and more mature vision of the future.
Returning to the description Pope Benedict makes of the world at the juncture between the Vth and the VIth centuries, some similarities with our time are soon found. In both times a world was in a state of collapse. Then, too, we ourselves are as yet unable to envisage the world that will emerge as we are participants in the process. History is always marked by the birth of forms, that reach their peek, fall and finally disappear. These forms (cultural, political, social, religious,…) are not a goal in themselves but the result of the synchronicity of effort and spirit. They inspire the driving-force behind many acts and give voice to the spirit. What matters most is the identity of the form, its very spirit embodied in those called to perform the task. Thus, in Teresa’s case, if we look closer at the work the Lord called her to do for the Order of his Mother, the Carmelite Order, we will note that it contains clear and defined elements on four different but complementary levels: Legislative (Constitutions; Procedure when visiting a monastery,..); on daily life (Way of Perfection,…); on Spiritual life, interior life (Autobiography, Way of Perfection, Interior Castle,…); plus the expansion, the missionary dimension (Foundations). Here the consensus of opinion would be that this set is complete and homogeneous. In fact her input and heritage encompass not only one point – the “spiritual” for example. This is absolutely not the case! Her influence and teaching cover all the areas external to the interior life.
In this light, then, when Pope Paul VIth said in 1970 that ‘in the clock of history, the hour of Contemplative Prayer ha[d] struck’, we should not fall into the trap of understanding Contemplative Prayer in an ethereal way, not of this world. As we have said many times before: there is ‘Contemplative Prayer’ and there a life of prayer the rest of the day. It is timely to remember here that mental prayer without a ‘life of prayer’ is non-productive. A ‘life of prayer’ is composed of different concentric circles which have ‘Mental Prayer’ as their centre – meeting the Risen Lord one to One, living with Him. Mental prayer without commitment to the growth of the virtues (see Way of Perfection) will lead only to stagnation for the individual! And we know that in spiritual life if we fail to grow, we slide back on a journey that is at best haphazard! So too, mental prayer, will never be effective if it fails to expand to include the missionary dimension, the foundation of a prayerful spirit and life-style, not to mention prayer for the Church, as well as, last but not least, prayer for priests!
Extract from the Pope’s Homily for the Doctorate of St Teresa of Avila, 27th of September 1970:
‘The Message of Contemplative Prayer
The title of ‘Doctor,’ bestowed on St Teresa today, will ensure that the light she exudes will envelop us more brightly and penetrate more deeply.This light is the message of Contemplative Prayer!
It comes to us, children of the Church, at a time signalled by the great effort to reform and renew liturgical prayer; it comes to us, while we are being overcome by the overwhelming attractiveness of earthly delights, by their loud clamour and by our desire to be involved in the external world and surrender to the ‘busyness’ of modern life, to the detriment of the true treasures of our soul. This light comes to us, children of our time, at a point when not only the habit of having a dialogue with God is being eroded, but also the sense of the need and duty to adore and invoke Him. The message of contemplative prayer – the song and music of the spirit impregnated by grace and opened to the dialogue of faith, hope and love – is making itself known, at a time when psychoanalytical exploration is undermining the fragile and complicated instrument that we are, and is failing to recognise the voice of suffering and redeemed humanity, concentrating purely on the confused whispers of our sensual subconscious with its corroding passions and its desperate pain. The sublime and simple message of contemplative prayer according to the wisdom of Teresa now comes to us, exhorting us to understand ‘what great blessings God grants to a soul when He prepares it to love the practice of prayer;… mental prayer, in [her] view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us’ (Life 8:4-5).’
‘O Eternal Father, through the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pour down your manifold graces up each and every reader so that they will bear many fruits to the glory of your name. This book and its readers I most humbly entrust to Her care.’