Avila, Mary and Veritatis Splendor

Peter Paul Rubens, Teresa of Avila. wikipedia commons

On this half-way mark in the month of October we celebrate the great mystic and doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila (+1582) who, along with her male contemporary Saint John of the Cross, helped to reform the ancient Carmelite Order, like a female Elijah, albeit with more refined, New Covenant sensibilities (regardless of how bad her fellow Catholics might be, even her fellow Sisters, she would never have advocated the punishment Elijah had inflicted on the false prophets of Baal, but times are what they are).

It was Saint Teresa who described prayer quite simply as ‘conversation with God’, especially through the humanity of Christ, with Whom we are meant to build a friendship, based more on love than duty, as friendship should be. Yet as she once said to the Lord, at least half in jest, after a more-than-usual bout of suffering and dryness ‘If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!’ Yet Christ would also fill her soul with the most sublime spiritual ecstasies, a joy unsurpassed in the human milieu, a veritable glimpse of beatitude. As Saint Paul avers, once you have a taste of that definitive joy, all else seems like dross.

Saint Teresa comes across through her marvellous and engaging writings as a very attractive, warm, humorous, self-deprecating soul, filled with the love of God and a desire for perfection, strict with herself, but gentle with others, with profound insights on the human soul and its condition. Her treatises on prayer are amongst the finest in the Church’s tradition, along with those of her fellow Carmelite, John of the Cross. It was the latter who led Karol Wojtyla on the path to holiness (whose original intention was to join the Carmelites), as it was Teresa, particularly her autobiography, that inspired the conversion of the Jewish philosopher and future martyr Edith Stein, who adopted her name in joining the Carmelite Order, as Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. There truly is an interconnected community between earth and heaven, past and present, souls in via and souls in gloria, and, in that perspective, we are not all that far from each other. The saints are still very real indeed

Speaking of intercession, peruse Father Scott Murray’s fine article on the Marian encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII, and the beneficial effects of prayer to, or more properly through, Our Lady, especially her Rosary, an exhortation reiterated by Popes too numerous to mention. There is something very effective about this spiritual ‘weapon’, if one wants to think in those terms, for we are in a battle, as Saint Paul says, with powers and principalities beyond our ken, becoming all-too evident now.

Finally, I must confess to being remiss in not saying something to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of one of the finest of John Paul II’s encyclicals (even if they are all excellent), Veritatis Splendor, issued, hard to believe, a quarter of a century ago on October 5th, 1998. As others have remarked, this document has received rather scant attention in the current Magisterium, quoted neither in Amoris Laetitia nor in the Instrumentum of the current Synod on Youth, for reasons we must leave to the conscience of the current Pontiff. One wonders, for in Veritatis one finds an unsurpassed masterpiece in laying out the framework and purpose of what is meant by the ‘moral life’. To bring this back to Saint Teresa, John Paul sees the path to heaven, rightly, as a work of love and friendship, rather than of duty, if even ‘work’ it may be called. For in love and friendship, things that seem difficult become easy and delightful, as Christ’s describes the yoke He imposes, or, might I say, proposes.

I will have more to write on this, in part to expiate my own omission, so stay tuned.