Glimpses of Carmel – 4 – St. Teresa

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Glimpses of Carmel – 4 – St. Teresa
When our Holy Mother St. Teresa wrote the Way of Perfection, she was responding to the request of her nuns who asked to be taught about prayer. What was intended to be a collection of practical advice for her Carmelite daughters, however, was destined to become a valuable guide on the spiritual life benefitting the entire Church.
She sums up her whole aim when she writes, “Everything I have advised you about in this book is directed toward the complete gift of ourselves to the Creator.” In her delightful conversational style, she seems to address those who, like the rich young man in the Gospels, realize they still lack something to fulfill their highest aspiration, the goal he calls “eternal life.” This something could be described as spiritual freedom, and it is a quality so central to the writings of St. Teresa and beautifully observed in her life.
Our Holy Mother had great interior liberty, making her docile and receptive to the extraordinary graces Our Lord gave her in prayer. This enabled her to live in a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus, always aware of His loving gaze upon her and striving to please Him in all her actions. As a mother and teacher, her desire is that we too might come to know ourselves in the light of God’s infinite mercy and goodness, and humbly acknowledge our dependence on Him.
St. Teresa thus encourages us in the virtue of detachment to bring about this “holy freedom of spirit,” which she tells us is needed to “fly to your Maker without being held down by clay or leaden feet.” Time and again she urges us to reflect on how swiftly the things of this world pass away. “This helps remove our attachment to trivia and center it on what will never end.
Detachment according to the Teresian ideal is not somber deprivation . It is the joyful renunciation that results in enlargement of soul, increasing our capacity to receive God’s own life. As our Holy Mother says, “What helps is that the soul embrace the good Jesus our Lord with determination, for since in Him everything is found, in Him everything is forgotten.” By freely choosing to reach out to the eternal good, our hands necessarily let go of what prevents us from attaining the true happiness we seek.
The connection between freedom and the eternal good is at the heart of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), which celebrates its 25th anniversary on August 6 this year, the feast of the Transfiguration. St. John Paul II states: “Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called.” The gift of freedom bestowed on us by God reaches its peak when we use it to make a gift of ourselves to Him. Our Holy Mother affirms, “O my Sisters, what strength lies in this gift! It does nothing less, when accompanied by the necessary determination, than draw the Almighty so that He becomes one with our lowliness, transforms us into Himself, and effects a union of the Creator with the creature. Behold whether or not you are well paid and have a good Master.”
The rich young man in the Gospels went away sorrowful because he could not give up his possessions, nor ultimately his very self, to follow Jesus. But it is not too late for a happy ending. Echoing the words of our Good Teacher, Jesus, our Holy Mother St. Teresa extends the same invitation to each one of us.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have
treasure in heaven; and come … ” Follow Him.

Categories: Carmelite Life

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