Saint Teresa of Avila: Virgin and Doctor of Prayer
devil; and, as the devil is darkness itself, the poor soul becomes darkness itself likewise. . . . When the soul, through its own fault, . . . becomes rooted in a pool of pitch-black, evil smelling water, it produces nothing but misery and filth" (Ibid., p.10).In an age when many abuses and novel notions of what passes for "spirituality" appeal to so many, we are in dire need of St. Teresa's clarity of teaching. She has a way of returning us, again and again, to the foundation of prayer - "His Majesty". We owe our Lord a great debt of gratitude for bringing us our cherished Doctor of Prayer, with her ability to express the tenets of prayer in such eloquent, wonderful words, which can be readily grasped by all who are interested.
Fr. Christopher Rengers notes that Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), on speaking of the importance of St. Teresa's work concerning prayer, stated with magnificent precision of the need for her message of prayer in today's world: "Teresa's message of prayer comes to us children of the Church at a time marked by a great effort at reform and renewal of liturgical prayer. It comes to us who are tempted by the great noise and business of the outside world to yield to the frenzy of modern life and to lose the real treasures of our souls in the effort to win earth's seductive treasures. It comes to us, children of our time, just when we are losing, not only the habit of conversation with God, but also the sense of the need and duty to worship and call on Him . . . Psychoanalytical exploration is breaking down the frail and complicated instrument that we are, in such a way that all that can be heard is, not the sound of mankind in its suffering and its redemption, but rather the troubled mutterings of man's animal subconscious, the cries of his disordered passions and his desperate anguish" (33 Doctors of the Church, p. 436-37).
St. Teresa taught that along with prayer one must strive to lead a virtuous life. The path of virtue is one of frequent confession, prayer and Eucharist; including a firm resolution to avoid all venial sin. Grave sin, of course, is to be avoided at all costs. So, what we learn is that the way of perfection consists in living the Catholic life with fervor and diligence, always and everywhere. As the soul finds itself rising to the heights through the cultivation of virtue, prayer and love, attaining to advanced prayer and receiving the unfathomable consolations which, as St. Teresa tells us, are granted to those whose virtue has reached perfection, the person experiences the realization that the world and all that is in it is are as nothing.
St. Teresa relates it this way: "On arriving at this state, the soul begins to lose the desire for earthly things - and no wonder! It clearly sees that not even one moment of this joy is to be obtained here on earth, and that there are no riches, estates, honours, or delights that can give it such satisfaction even for the twinkling of an eye. . . . the soul [will] realize that He [God] is so near to it that it need not send messengers, but may speak to Him itself. Nor need it cry aloud, since He is now so close that it has only to move its lips and He will understand" (Ibid., p. 99).
After being suddenly drawn into rapture and experiencing a vision of heaven, St. Teresa tells us this event was "accompanied by a joy so sublime as to be indescribable. All the senses are filled with such a profound bliss and sweetness that no description is possible. It is better, therefore, to say no more about this" (Ibid., p.284).St. Teresa's whole life is one of simple beauty and fervent purpose; it is a life contained in Christ; it is a life of service and humility, fully submitting to "His Majesty" and the Catholic Church he founded, the Bride of Christ.
On reading from St. Teresa, a deep feeling of her love for His Majesty envelops us; we begin, in a very real, tangible manner, to taste the love and dedication she held for God in our own heart. Further, is that not what all the saints do? That is, do they not draw us toward God as they march in front as warriors for the Faith? We have a great deal to learn from St. Teresa. No Catholic family should remain ignorant of her wonderful works on prayer. After reading her simple, profound and touching words, Catholics around the world truly feel as though they love her. And so it is. The community of Christ's Mystical Body truly loves this great saint, Teresa of Avila, Doctor of Prayer.
After having founded the convent at Burgos, near the end of July, 1582, St. Teresa of Avila died at the Carmelite convent at Alba de Tormes at about 9:00 p.m. She had not made it back to Avila. Giving thanks to God for his many graces, voicing her love of holy mother Catholic Church, St. Teresa repeated over and over again, "I am a daughter of the Church." At the time of her death, a sweet odor pervaded the room in which her body lay; so strong was the odor that it was found necessary to open windows, allowing outside air to dilute the intoxicating fragrance.
St. Teresa was canonized in 1622, a scant forty-five years after her death. Pope Paul VI, on September 27, 1970, officially declared the Carmelite nun to be the first woman Doctor of the Church.
"It is no small pity, and would cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, . . . though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. . . . All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and the outer wall of the castle - that is to say, in these bodies of ours" (Interior Castle, p. 4). - St. Teresa of Avila; Virgin, Doctor of Prayer.
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at www.joyintruth.com
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Saint Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, holiness, women saints, virtue, universal call to holiness, prayer, contemplation, Saint Teresa of Avila
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