Monday, October 15, 2012

St. Teresa of Jesus: Carmelite Reformer, Doctor of the Church



« Il sortit et se retira dans un endroit désert. »


Comment ne pas nous rappeler un Maître comme celui qui nous a appris la prière, qui nous l’a enseignée avec tant d’amour et avec un si vif désir qu’elle nous soit profitable ? … Vous savez qu’il nous enseigne à prier dans la solitude. C’est ainsi que notre Seigneur faisait toujours, quand il priait, non que cela lui soit nécessaire, mais parce qu’il voulait nous donner l’exemple. Nous avons déjà dit qu’on ne saurait parler en même temps à Dieu et au monde. Or ils ne font pas autre chose, ceux qui récitent des prières et par ailleurs écoutent ce qui se dit autour d’eux, ou s’arrêtent aux pensées qui se présentent sans se préoccuper de les repousser.

Je ne parle pas de ces indispositions qui surviennent parfois, ni, surtout de la mélancolie ou de la faiblesse d’esprit qui affligent certaines personnes et les empêchent, malgré leurs efforts, de se recueillir. Il en est de même pour ces orages intérieurs qui peuvent troubler quelquefois les fidèles serviteurs de Dieu, mais que celui-ci permet pour leur plus grand bien. Dans leur affliction, ils cherchent en vain le calme. Quoi qu’ils fassent, ils ne peuvent pas être attentifs aux prières qu’ils prononcent. Leur esprit, loin de se fixer à rien, s’en va tellement à l’aventure qu’il semble en proie à une sorte de frénésie. A la peine qu’ils en éprouvent, ils verront que ce n’est pas de leur faute ; qu’ils ne se tourmentent donc pas… Puisque leur âme est malade, qu’ils s’appliquent à lui procurer quelque repos et s’occupent de quelque autre œuvre de vertu. Voilà ce que doivent faire les personnes qui veillent sur eux-mêmes et qui comprennent que l’on ne saurait parler à Dieu et au monde en même temps.

Ce qui dépend de nous, c’est d’essayer d’être dans la solitude pour prier. Et plaise à Dieu que cela suffise, je le répète, pour comprendre en présence de qui nous sommes et quelle réponse le Seigneur fait à nos demandes ! Pensez-vous qu’il se taise, bien que nous ne l’entendions pas ? Non, certes. Il parle au cœur quand c’est le cœur qui le prie.

Sainte Thérèse d’Avila (1515-1582), carmélite, docteur de l’Église: Le Chemin de la perfection, ch. 24 (trad. Seuil 1961, p.152)

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Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman.

Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers.

In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honoured.

Comment: Ours is a time of turmoil, a time of reform and a time of liberation. Modern women have in Teresa a challenging example. Promoters of renewal, promoters of prayer, all have in Teresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.

Quote: Teresa knew well the continued presence and value of suffering (physical illness, opposition to reform, difficulties in prayer), but she grew to be able to embrace suffering, even desire it: "Lord, either to suffer or to die." Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value." She is the Patron Saint of those who suffer headaches. www.americancatholic/saintoftheday

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O God, who through your Spirit raised up Saint Teresa of Jesus to show the Church the way to seek perfection, grant that we may always be nourished by the food of her heavenly teaching and fired with longing for true holiness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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