Teresa, Teacher of Prayer

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Today is the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a discalced Carmelite nun who reformed the Order, which traced its origins way back to the 12th century in the Holy Land, to that very ‘Carmel’ spoken of in such exalted terms in Scripture where Elijah met with God.  The Order developed through the ages, with men and women immersed quietly in prayer and work for Christ, but now, in the midst of the Protestant revolution, in proximate danger of becoming dissolute and irrelevant.

It was Teresa’s task, along with her contemporary Carmelite and mystic, John of the Cross, to bring the Carmelites back, not to the Holy Land, but to holiness, a long and arduous task, for there is no mountain more difficult to move than the recalcitrant human will. The mystical works of Teresa (and John, whose feast is on December 14th, and on whose works Karol Wojtyla completed his doctorate) are masterpieces, on prayer, on growth in the spiritual life, on what it means to be made in the image of God and destined for eternity.

Saint Teresa died on October 4th, just as Pope Gregory XIII was, by papal authority, shifting the Julian calendar by two weeks due to centuries of its slight inaccuracy in measuring a ‘year’ (which is not exactly 365 days).  Hence, the saint went into eternity on what became the morning of the 15th, demonstrating not just the relativity, but the malleability of time. Sort of a fitting footnote to one who dedicated her life to that timeless activity we call ‘prayer’, which the saint described quite simply and aptly as ‘conversation with God’.

And on a final note, on this day in 1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, published a very helpful treatise on prayer, Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, based in large part on the doctrine of Teresa of Avila, now a doctor of the Church, along with her namesake two and half centuries later, Terese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, more commonly known as ‘of Lisieux’. Peruse their work, and Ratzinger’s document, and, more importantly, spend time speaking with God, like Moses, face to face, when and as you have time.  Or make time, for there are no things more important than making time for God.

Saint Teresa of Avila, ora pro nobis!

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