Tag Archives: St Teresa of Avila

October Synthesis

The month of October opens with the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is known for having preached “the Little Way”. By reminding us of the biblical teaching on spiritual childhood, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught us that we should not be afraid of God nor of aspiring to be saints despite our weaknesses, because it is precisely our littleness that attracts God’s mercy and compassion.

The following day, October 2, is the feast of the Guardian Angels – our guides and allies in our quest for sanctity.

Devotees of St. Josemaria Escriva know that it was on the feast of the Guardian Angels that he founded Opus Dei – another reminder of the universal call to sanctity and of the truth that sanctity is an accessible, albeit challenging, goal.

The month ends with the eve of All Saints’ Day, more popularly known as Halloween.

The appropriateness of Catholics celebrating Halloween in the popular manner of doing it is hotly debated. It is hard to give a blanket condemnation or approval of it, however, because people do it in different ways. On one side of the spectrum are those who dabble in the occult on the occasion; on the other side are those who hold saint-themed costume parties. In between are those for whom Halloween is just an occasion for good clean fun, playing dress-up, and perhaps a little bit of spookiness.

My own take is that barring downright sinful activities, the celebration of Halloween is a matter for every Catholic’s prudential judgment. Furthermore, while dabbling in the occult is definitely a no-no, neither are saint-themed costume parties obligatory (though they definitely can be a good catechetical tool), nor should a reasonable degree of spookiness be forbidden.

In fact, just as a morbid fascination for the occult is dangerous, it is equally harmful to ignore the reality of evil as if the saints were born with halos and never had to contend with the dark side of life. It is healthy to remind ourselves that spiritual warfare is a reality. And scattered throughout the month of October are feasts to remind us of what are our weapons in spiritual warfare.

October 1 reminds us of the need for childlike trust in God that St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us. October 2 reminds us of the help of the Guardian Angels. The feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 reminds us of the need to practice poverty and detachment. October 7 reminds us of the power of the Rosary. The feast of St. Teresa of Ávila on Oct. 15 reminds us of the need to develop a life of prayer. The feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on Oct. 18 reminds us to “use the force” of the Gospel. The feast of the apostles Sts. Simon and Jude on Oct. 28 reminds us that all of us are called to be apostles too; apostolate, after all, is also a form of spiritual warfare.

After the last day of October is All Saints’ Day. We have been reminded the whole month of what our goal is in life and how we are to attain it. So we begin a new month reminding us of the reward for our efforts, and renew our resolve to continue working and to fight once more.

Spiritual Direction from a Mediocre Homilist

This is a post about a Spanish Jesuit priest, who, according to his superior, “is a mediocre preacher and hears confessions and is fit for nothing more” (Walsh 123). Now we have to add a caveat: he was a second-generation Jesuit who lived at a time when the Jesuits were the prized order in many areas. He was a contemporary of the likes of St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis Borgia, and Blessed Edmund Campion.

There is not much else written or known about this priest who has seemingly fallen away from history, another forgotten name only known to people who read about that era. He died young, at age thirty-six, and while he enjoyed preaching about Christ, the above quote from his superior indicates that few others liked his homilies. At the tender age of twenty-three, just three years after he professed his vows, this priest was sent to examine the holiness of a nun in her mid-forties who was having extraordinary mystical experiences. When this nun was examined by a few of the local priests, they didn’t seem to fully understand just where these experiences could be coming from. One felt that her favors “belonged to persons very far advanced, and very mortified” (121). There was thought that these experiences, instead of being the fruits of her prayer, were the product of some evil spirits. This assessment was devastating to the nun; the two holiest people she knew suspected her of being duped by the devil. When she pleaded for their help and asked whether she should give up mental prayer altogether, the authorities, convinced of the demonic roots of these experiences, requested she speak to a priest in the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Finally able to arrange a confession and spiritual direction, the nun met the hero of our story: a twenty-three-year-old who, according to himself, had “half his health” (123).

After listening to her general confession and mystical experiences, he told her that she was on the right path and not to fret about being possessed by any demons. Her experiences were rooted in God, but what she needed to do was to renew her mental prayer, not abandon it and turn to mortifications. In this first meeting, this spiritual confirmation and advice became a focal point of the nun’s mission and purpose. Rather than abandon her progress, she became determined to go further. She now had confirmation of the validity of what she was experiencing and was able to deepen her mental prayer without worry that Satan was fooling her. This nun was a little-known mystic; she would later reform her order, forming her own monastery of contemplatives, and produce some of the most important literature and guidance on the devout life. This nun, whose mental prayer would have ended that day if this mediocre priest had advised otherwise, is a Doctor of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila.

While we all know what would follow with Teresa, not much is known about the priest, Fr. Diego de Cetina. He was only her spiritual director for about six months; many other Jesuits would follow in his steps afterward. And that is the point of my reflection. He was not necessarily gifted with great talents (like the 3 Jesuits listed above), but he was devoted to Christ in prayer and was therefore able to communicate with a misunderstood nun. This man, who gave mediocre homilies, served at a major turning point in St. Teresa’s life while he was only twenty-three and just barely ordained. Without his advice and approval, we may never have known of St. Teresa, nor been gifted with her writings and spiritual directions, nor see the reforms she brought about.

He, in many ways, serves as a model for most if not all of us. He lacked great gifts and was not the first man sought for any type of spiritual direction. It almost seemed an afterthought for the authorities to send him to this nun, as though he was the only one available. God, however, had a role for him, and possibly the most important role was to help pave the way for someone else’s talents. In many ways, he echoes those who work tirelessly without worldly recognition for their labor but without whose efforts, churches, orders, businesses, and governments fail. And what about those who, while serving a purpose, never reach any great heights, yet still do the necessary work for others to function? This is discipleship: to serve others and form each other to grow closer with Christ. In a world obsessed with celebrity (which we, too, can get caught up in), it is good to stop and reflect on the “foot soldiers” who ultimately win the battle and sacrifice for the greater good. While we are all destined for “greatness,” we must remember that this greatness does not imply great gifts, nor great notoriety; rather, like Fr. Diego de Cetina shows, it comes with growing closer to Christ and, from this, sharing Him with all we encounter. Maybe then we can pass on the faith to someone who will leave a permanent impact on the world.

Even if we are mediocre at what we do, our deeds, when done in love, can allow His greatness to take charge. As God revealed to Paul through Paul’s own thorns, God’s “power is made perfect in weakness…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10). As a biographer of St. Teresa of Avila mentions, “Yet this same poor Jesuit, humble and self-effacing, was able through his own experience with mental prayer to understand the soul of the great saint who knelt in Confession beside him, and to give her the exact and intelligent direction she had sought in vain from more famous clergymen” (124). We should not grow tired of preaching Christ, nor should we be intimidated by others’ supposed superiority. Rather, we must recognize that we too have been given the gift of faith, and what may seem to be of little to no significance can play a vital role in the conquering of the world by Christ.

Source: William Thomas Walsh, St. Teresa of Avila (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 1987).

Prayer Takes Two

We know we need to do it; to put our busy lives on hold for just a bit, turn off the phone and computer and spend time in prayer. We want to do it. We know we’ll be better for it. But life churns at an incredible pace that keeps us racing from one thing to another. We procrastinate. Time passes.

What to do? What we really need is to retreat!

What? No time for a week-long retreat let alone a weekend? Not a problem! A spiritual director told me recently, “God doesn’t need a lot of your time (since He is not bound by time); but He does need a little, not much, at least enough to get His foot in the door of your heart.” It is a good way to look at prayer then, as mini-retreats, moments to let ‘God get His foot in the open door of your heart.’

Saint Teresa of Avila described prayer this way:  “…prayer is nothing else than a frequent solitary sharing with a friend of whose love we are certain.” If prayer is a sharing with a friend, why is it so difficult for us to do so with God?  Saint Teresa is a good retreat director for us here, as she herself struggled in the beginning of her prayer; she understands our struggle and distractions and gives us some simple, sound advice.

According to Teresa, our prayer journey has two main parts: our effort (such as is found in vocal prayer and meditative prayer using our imagination) and that infused by God (this is where we move away from the activity of prayer into the quiet and are able to remain still before the Lord, which leads to a deeper prayer, union with God).

Part one. Our effort means, we have to show up. We have to show up at our friend (Jesus’) door and knock. This is our assent – our turning to God. When we show up at Jesus’ door and he invites us in, we do not distract ourselves with our media devices. We silence them and speak with our friend. Remember – not a lot of time; but in the beginning, especially, be attentive to the wonderings from prayer and call yourself back. St. Teresa’s friend in her distraction was perseverance. We must work to come back to our prayer – again and again – especially when it doesn’t seem to mean anything; those times when it seems we are doing all the work, and God is absent.

Part two. All the while, with our small efforts in prayer – whether it is vocal prayer* or meditation – God is pouring His gifts of prayer on us. God desires union with us, thus he infuses a spirit of prayer in our hearts, allowing us to experience intimacy with Him, an increased detachment from the preoccupations of our daily life, and hopefully, a deep union with God (this is our goal: to be transformed in our relationship with God).

Throughout our prayer, St. Teresa mentions, it helps us ‘advance’ in our prayer, to recall the sacred humanity of Jesus in our conversation with the Lord. She explains, having this capacity will not always require words to be spoken, but at times silence is even better, as we grow in awareness that we are not only looking at him, but that he is looking at us.

This act of prayer, from the active, imaginative prayer of talking with Jesus, to the quiet reflective prayer of silently being with Jesus is a progression from the “carnal” love to a “spiritual” love for God. It is a recognition that our prayer takes two. It is a meeting that involves more than our showing up; but it is a sacred meeting between us and our Creator – an appointment that can’t wait forever.

So, what will it be for you? Will you procrastinate or persevere? When is your ‘retreat’ or appointment with God?

* examples of vocal prayer: memorized prayers, rosary, talking out loud with God.