Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ten Lessons from St. Teresa of Avila


There are two weeks apart every year in the Church Liturgical Calendar that separate two marvelous, inspiring, and most lovable saints, who truly love us and want us to love them: Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Avila.
Saint Therese Lisieux we celebrate October 1st; Saint Teresa of Avila we celebrate October 15th.  What do they have in common? Both are women, both are in the class of the few women Doctors of  the Church, both were great contemplatives, both were Carmelite nuns, but most important both were and are and will be for all eternity great lovers of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In this short essay we would like to pay tribute to Saint Teresa of Avila and highlight ten of her great contributions to the Catholic Church and to us as a model of holiness, that we are all called to attain.  Remember the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the context of the Sermon of the Mount: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.”(Mt. 5:48)   Being holy, arriving at sanctity of life, is not conditional, wishful thinking nor something that only a select group is called to, but all. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta challenges us with these stirring words: “Holiness is not the privilege of the few, but the duty of all.” Now let us lift our gaze to Saint Teresa of Avila who will point us to Jesus, our Lord, God, Savior and Faithful Friend.
1.    Prayer. One of the key hallmarks of the spiritual heights of Saint Teresa of Avila is the importance of prayer. Even though she struggled for many years she teaches us this basic but indispensable spiritual truth—Perseverance in prayer! Meditate upon her immortal words of wisdom and memorize: “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” Jesus taught us this supremely important truth in the Parable of the insistent would and the Judge.  This widow, due to her dogged and tenacious insistence finally gained the assistance of this cold-hearted Judge. (Lk. 18:1-8). St. Teresa insists that we must never give up in prayer. If you like an analogy: what air is to the lungs so is prayer to the soul. Healthy lungs need constant and pure air; healthy soul must be constantly breathing through prayer—the oxygen of the soul!
2.    Definition of Prayer.  Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us simple but very solid advice: define your topic before you start to talk about it. By doing this you can avoid much confusion. Saint Teresa of Avila gives us one of the classical definitions of prayer in the history of Catholicism.  “Prayer is nothing more than spending a long time alone with the one I know loves me.” A short summary? Two friends loving each other! Jesus Himself called the Apostles friends—so are you called to be a friend with Jesus!
3.    Love for Jesus. Saint Teresa gives us a hint to prayer growth! This woman Doctor of the Church said that she found many graces by meditating upon the Humanity of Jesus. By spending time with Jesus, the Son of God made man and entering into colloquy with Him is a sure path to growth in prayer. Try it! Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises insists upon us in begging for this grace:“Intimate knowledge of Jesus  that we love Him more ardently and follow Him more closely.”
4.    Love for Jesus in His Sufferings. It seems to be a common denominator in many saints—the call to contemplate the love of Jesus through His sorrowful passion—Padre Pio, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Faustina and Teresa of Avila.  For Teresa, she had a mystical experience of “Ecce Homo”; she saw Jesus with His crowned Head and this moved her to a greater love for Jesus.
5.    Holy Spirit: The Divine Teacher in Prayer.  On one occasion the saint was really struggling with prayer and she talked to a Jesuit priest for advice on overcoming her struggle. His advice was simple and to the point, but changed her life! The priest insisted on praying to the Holy Spirit. From that point on, following this great advice to rely on the Holy Spirit, Teresa’s prayer life improved markedly!  Saint Paul to the Romans reiterates the same point: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”(Romans 8:26) Let us be led by the best of all teachers, the Interior Master of prayer, the Holy Spirit.
6.    Spiritual Direction.   To attain constant growth in the spiritual life, we must have some form of spiritual direction. Spiritual blindness, we all experience.  The devil can disguise or camouflage as an angel of light. And the higher we climb in the spiritual life the more subtle are the tactics and seductions of the devil—“who is searching for us a roaring lion ready to devour us.”(I Peter 5: 8-9) During the course of her life, Saint Teresa of Avila had recourse to several spiritual directors and some of these are now canonized saints: Saint John of the Cross (Carmelite), Saint Francis Borgia (Jesuit), Saint Peter of Alcantara (Franciscan), and finally, Jerome Gracian—a well-known Dominican scholar and theologian. True, all of us cannot have three canonized saints and a brilliant Dominican theologian to guide us, but we can and must all find some form of periodic spiritual direction.  Saint John of the Cross put it bluntly: “He who as himself as guide has an idiot as a disciple.”  Bingo!
7.    Conversion and Reform.  A major highlight in the life of Saint Teresa of Avila was the whole concept of conversion or reform. With Saint John of the Cross, she was the primary instrument that God chose to reform the Carmelite Order. However, Teresa was keenly aware of this truth: to convert others we must start with ourselves—this she worked on during the whole course of her life on earth! Jesus’ first words in preaching were: “Be converted because the Kingdom of God is ate hand.”(Mk.1:15) May we constantly strive for a deeper conversion of heart through the intercession of Saint Teresa of Avila.
8.    Spiritual Masterpieces—Her Writings Without doubt, one of the major contributions to the Church as well as to the world at large are the writings or spiritual masterpieces of Saint Teresa of Avila. One of her basic themes is that of the importance of prayer, and striving to grow deeper and deeper in prayer until one arrives at the Mystical Union of the spouse with Jesus the Heavenly Spouse. Anybody who takes his or her prayer life seriously should know of Teresa’s writings and spend some time in reading some of her anointed writings. What are her classics? Here they are: “Her life”, “The Way of Perfection”, “The Interior Castle”, “Foundations”. In addition to these texts/books, she also wrote many inspiring letters.  Want to become a saint? Read and drink from the from writings of the saints, especially the Doctors of the Church!
9    The Cross as the Bridge to Heaven.  Jesus said:  “Anyone who wants to be my follower must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Another common denominator in the lives of the saints is the reality of the cross. Saint Louis de Montfort would bless his friends as such: “May God bless you and give you many small crosses!” Saint Teresa lived with a constant friend—the cross of Jesus. Her health was always very fragile; she almost died while very young. Furthermore, for Saint Teresa of Avila to carry out the Reform of the Carmelite, she suffered constant attacks and persecutions from many nuns in the convent who preferred a more comfortable lifestyle, from priests (Carmelites) and from other ecclesiastics. Instead of becoming discouraged and losing heart, she joyfully trusted in the Lord all the more—anyway, it was His doing!
10.  Our Lady and St. Joseph.  During the whole course of her Religious Life, Saint Teresa of Avila loved the Blessed Virgin Mary—as is common in the lives of the saints, and hopefully your life! The title of her specific Marian devotion was Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  Never forget, in your love for Our Lady, to wear the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This is your external sign of consecration to Mary. Furthermore, Saint Teresa of Avila cultivated a tender and filial love to Saint Joseph. She attributed her recovery from a sickness that almost ended her life to the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph.  Also, every new convent that she established she gave the name of San Jose—Saint Joseph!
In conclusion, may the great woman Doctor of the Church—the Doctor of prayer—Saint Teresa of Avila, be a constant inspiration to you in your own spiritual pilgrimage to heaven. May she encourage you to pray more and with greater depth, arrive at a deeper conversion of heart, and finally love Jesus s the very center and well-spring or your life!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Can We Reverse the “Fallen-Away Catholic” Trend?

Alice Heinzen

What does it look like when people leave the Church? Like this…

I recognized the family sitting in the booth across the restaurant from me. They’re members of our parish and usually sit a few pews behind our family. But, as far as I remembered, I hadn’t seen them for a couple of months.
One of the kids waved at me and I returned the gesture. (He and I became buddies during a parish based event earlier in the year.) He was the youngest of the family following two siblings who were now in high school. I had worked with the older kids also; well-mannered students, though they seemed to lack a joy for the Catholic faith.
I took the wave as an opportunity to stop by and greet them. When I walked up to the table, the parents looked a bit embarrassed. We exchanged pleasantries and shared our views about the current school year. My parting comment was, “Gosh, it’s good to see you again. Hope to see you soon at Mass.”
Why didn't the parents stay in the fight and help their kids see value in the Catholic faith?CLICK TO TWEET
The mother looked up at me and said, “We no longer go to church at the parish. We’ve decided to check out other places or ways to worship.”
I paused (awkwardly) and then said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Did something happen that caused you to leave?”
The mother cast a look at the older two children as if to say you tell her why we aren’t going to a Catholic Church anymore. Finally one of them spoke up, “We convinced Mom and Dad that God may not be as important as they think he is. I mean, some people believe in him, but most don’t anymore.”
The mother quickly added, “The kids have been questioning the Catholic faith for a while. We didn’t want to fight with them anymore so we’ve decided to take a break for a while.”
I held my thoughts because this wasn’t the time or place to address the situation. I reiterated that I would miss them at Mass and asked if I could call them to hear the rest of their story. Their response was a cool if you need to.

Young people especially leave because God isn’t relevant to them.

I left the restaurant with a very heavy heart and many burning observations. Why wasn’t God important to them anymore? Why didn’t the parents stay in the fight and help their kids see value in the Catholic faith? And what did this family hope to gain by taking a break?
Sadly, this family could be featured on a poster for those leaving the Catholic faith. According to recent national studies youth and young adults are disassociating with the Catholic faith for a variety of reasons: they can’t prove that God existsparents won’t impose their beliefs on their children; the Catholic faith isn’t as appealing as other denominations. (I’m providing three top reasons—but trust me, there are more…)
The average age for disengagement is 13.
This is not good news. Everyone from the Pope to the local pastor winces knowing that the average age for disengagement is 13. When one researcher learned of this statistic he said that three decades ago the Church was concerned that children would not have faith. Today, she is concerned that the Catholic faith will not have children.

So how can we help them see the value of religion and God?

I know this looks bleak and almost insurmountable. But is it not. We can tackle this trend and retard its progress—especially if we take advantage of two solid initiatives that come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Both are worthy of your review and attention.
  1. Check out the proceedings from a convocation held this past July entitled the Joy of the Gospel in America. Watch the videos. Download the resources.  Invite your parish leadership to get the guide book and study it.
  2. Secondly, take the time to learn about the robust campaign called Living as Missionary Disciples that provides clear and practical initiatives for parish adoption. Read the booklet online or order it and then share it with other concerned Catholics at your parish.
Don’t walk away from these initiatives. Schedule time this week to dig into these resources. It’s not too late to reverse this trend and pass on the faith to our young people.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On Perserverance

J.K. Rowling was a waitress on public assistance who experienced rejection by a dozen publishers before the Harry Potter phenomenon. Michael Jordan was rejected by his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was told he did not have imagination. Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was “too stupid to learn anything,” that he had to be homeschooled by his mother. Ludwig van Beethoven was completely deaf when he composed four of his greatest works. The manic depressive Vincent Van Gogh said, “Only when I fall do I get up again.”

       We all experience failures in various magnitudes at different stages of our lives. The greater challenge is how we deal with it. The Gospel (read Luke 18:1-8) provides us with a key: Perseverance.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Today's Gospel Reading

Luke 18:1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Prayer of Thomas Merton

       “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does, in fact, please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer from a song

“How shall I sing to God when life is filled with bleakness, empty and chill, breaking my will? 
I’ll sing through my pain, angrily or aching, crying or complaining.
This is my song; I’ll sing it with love.”

taken from the song:
 "How shall I sing to God"
 by David Haas

Thursday, November 16, 2017

St. Theresa's Prayer

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly 
where you are meant to be. 
May you not forget the infinite possibilities
 that are born of faith. 
May you use those gifts that you have received,
 and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
 Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow
 your soul the freedom to sing, dance,praise and love.
It is there for each and every one.