Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Love... Embraces Every Time and Place - St. Therese

 "LOVE IS ALL THINGS. AND THAT, BECAUSE IT IS ETERNAL, EMBRACES EVERY TIME AND PLACE."

          (ST THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS AND THE HOLY FACE)

Reading her words again, through the Lens of God's Eye...

In the "LITURGY OF THE HOURS" (Saturday of the 6th Week of Easter), the Alternative Prayer of that day offers us a meditation on the mystery of God's timelessness and beauty. In these words, the Finger of God's Right Hand passes through our weak flesh and confused intellect and our disordered will to touch our longing hearts. And our souls soar to Himself. 

These are those words:

    "Eternal Father.....for You, time is the unfolding of truth that already is, the unveiling of beauty that is yet to be".

This profound prayer continues...
    
    "Your Son has raised us in history by rising from the dead, so that, transcending time, He might free us from  death. May His Presence among us lead to the vision  of unlimited truth and unfold the beauty of Your love".

Our eyes fall on key words in this mystical prayer and we discover that they echo the depths of the words of the Little Flower. 

From the prayer in Liturgy of the Hours, we read "Eternal"; "time...unfolding of truth that already is"; "unveiling of beauty that is yet to be"; "transcending time"; "the vision of unlimited truth"; "unfold the beauty of Your love."

St. Therese teaches us that Love is eternal.  And we realize that Love has a Name. It is Jesus, Lord. She teaches too that Love embraces every time and place. Have I ever met or known anyone who has revealed His Presence of Love in my life? An aunt? A little child? A stranger? A grandfather?  What truth about Love does their love unfold to me? Is it now limited in time or will the touch of their love forever soften my heart? Does this mean that their humble love will transcend time? Will I continue to encounter their love in Heaven, in eternity? Who enables their love? Is there a Source? Will the beauty of their love to me forever be unfolding the Beauty that is beyond description? Will their love continue to be unveiled in times that are "yet to be"? 

I never met my great, great, great grandmother in this life. Have you met yours? At the close of the 19th century, when she knelt down in the light of a flickering candle in a dark room to pray for her family, the words of St. Therese and the Prayer of Liturgy of the Hours tell me that her prayer "transcends time". The prayer of our ancients was offered through Love and so was eternal. Their prayer caused an "unveiling of beauty that was yet to be"...You and I were "yet to be" and our living faith today is the unfolding of that beauty. 

If her prayer of love offered through Love can soar beyond place and time, so too can ours for them. We can pray for a happy death for our ancients (the words of Padre Pio). And we can enter into the "beauty that is yet to be" by praying, through Love, for those of our families who will only ever see photographs of us, in other words, our great, great, great, grandchildren, nephews, nieces. 

Our prayers today will be numbered in the thurible of the angel of the Lord:

"An angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayer of God's people" (Rev 8:3).

And one day, when we too have become "ancients" to our living loved ones, this will be our eternal prayer of praise:

    "Eternal Father... for You, time is the unfolding of truth that already is, the unveiling of beauty that is yet to be."

Our prayer through Christ Jesus will be the unfolding of that truth that already is and the unveiling of beauty that is yet to be. 

    "LOVE IS ALL THINGS. AND THAT, BECAUSE IT IS ETERNAL, EMBRACES EVERY TIME AND PLACE" (ST.    THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS AND THE HOLY FACE).
     
And in the Most Holy Eucharist, the Fullness of His Time and Beauty meet in His perfection. All who ever were,  all who are, all who are yet to be are held there, in Him Who is, Who was and Who always will be.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

St. Teresa of Jesus and Spiritual Direction

DOES THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTION OF ST TERESA OF JESUS ASSIST THOSE OF ANOTHER FAITH TRADITION?

Whether a soul is seeking union with Christ the Lord or seeking, for example, nirvana through the 4 noble truths of Buddhism,  there are common disciplines, whether we seek the Way in Christ Jesus or we follow self-imposed disciplines on a path to interior peace. Some pathways have particular teachings which seem to be in common yet the ultimate goals are distinctly different. This would affect the guidance offered within a spiritual direction setting.

Practitioners of Buddhism for example follow a pathway which involves an understanding of the place of suffering in that tradition. One of its four noble truths focuses on the need to grow in awareness of suffering in the present in order that it may cease and have no power to destroy the future. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit gives the graces to recognize the power of suffering, interior and exterior, in the present, for the purgation of our souls. The Lord Jesus leads His children into an awareness of the beauty and power of offering our suffering and we learn that when it is offered to God through the Sacred Suffering Humanity of Christ, we join Him in His vicarious suffering for other by helping to carry the Cross. We are drawn into His Act of Redemption.  

In spiritual direction, and although the ultimate understanding of suffering is totally different, St Teresa of Avila provides a wisdom that is transferable and gives light to both the Christ-seeker or the Buddhist: "The blessings of suffering unlock....the power of patient endurance, no matter the hardship" (St. Teresa). For a Buddhist, her spiritual direction on God's virtue of endurance is revelatory and helpful because "endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but the final victory comes to the one who endures"(Buddha).

St. Teresa speaks to self-abandonment, the willing surrendering of all earthly attachments to cling to God alone. This too is one of Buddha's noble truths. Understanding the teachings of other faiths is essential when spiritual direction is involved. 

It is important  that the Spiritual Director understands the directee's chosen path and with deeper understanding can offer relevant insights rooted in the wisdom and the teachings of Teresa of Jesus.
  
St Teresa guides us on how to grow in self-knowledge, in our interior responses to life-suffering, our self-mastery, self-control, all nourished by humility. These are graces from God and these teachings and insights of Teresa that may bring light to someone on a path that is "corresponding" (Karl Rahner) to the Christian path. In the Interior Castle, she teaches us that the more a soul realizes its littleness and frailty, self-knowledge deepens as does  humility. She teaches the crucial need for self-knowledge, humility, meditation, surrendering to God all that attaches and burdens the soul. She teaches that  two important components of humility are to walk in truth and self-knowledge, "Spiritually, no matter how much we have matured, we must cultivate self-knowledge" (St Teresa).

For Teresa, humility is the foundation of spiritual life and prayer, without which nothing can grow. This is true also for a person traveling the path of Buddhism where: "... only a humble mind can readily recognize its own defilements of craving, aversion and ignorance, thereby embarking on the path of enlightenment and liberation".

Here, the wisdom of St Teresa offered in the First 3 Mansions of the Interior Castle can spiritually direct any soul into deeper  humility and self-knowledge. For a Buddhist, these are disciplines which take the soul into enlightenment. For the Christian seeking Christ Who dwells within the soul, these work together as we are led by the Holy Spirit into our own KENOSIS which involves the purging and subjugation of all within our de-formed nature that creates a barrier to our union with God.
  
When we focus on the KENOSIS of Christ at the Incarnation, we understand that He did not empty Himself of His Godhood. He emptied Himself of the glory that is His by Nature. In the call to our own KENOSIS, we ask the Holy Spirit to assist us in the self-emptying of our sinful nature to be filled with the Divine Likeness of the Nature of God (CCC 1702).

Our endless self-emptying alerts us to awareness of sin and humility deepens. Self-knowledge is born from this humility and in deepening self-knowledge, we are assisted in remaining faithful to our baptismal promises and to resisting temptations through self-discipline, offering our small sacrifices through Christ that others may be given new life.

Self-knowledge alerts us to the need to practice ascesis for spiritual reasons which is our Spirit-given desire for a deepening encounter with the Triune God Who dwells within us and in Whom all interior peace is found.

For a Christian seeking union with Christ within, this is "an exacting work, renewed effort at every stage of life" (CCC 234).

A soul may not be seeking the Indwelling God Present in the soul, but instead be seeking a pathway to interior peace and self-fulfillment through self-control, self-knowledge, self-mastery. This soul seems to be bravely embarking on such a journey alone. It is essential that the Spiritual Director understands their chosen path and is able to direct that soul with deep compassion. 

I look to the insights of Catholic Theologian Karl Rayner to better understand a theological response to walk with this soul into interior peace. This person is someone not overtly Christian but one who is seeking spiritual direction to try to follow a path,  for example, of self-forgetfulness, not in a nihilistic manner but to learn the reality of emptiness and to increase their own capacity for compassion. Rahner recognized the beauty of the Spirit of God at work in those who do not recognize His Presence and who are not striving to find Him. By the grace of the Holy Spirit however, this person lives the fragrance of Christ's Presence by seeking and spreading peace and compassion and acceptance. Rahner proposed that such souls are moved to choose to live lives of goodness, "according to their conscience," yet who do not name the Source of the loving inclinations which are nothing less than reflections of Christ, Himself Present but to whom that awareness of Himself  has not been given. Rahner refers to these souls as "anonymous Christians" in whom the Spirit of God provides the possibility for salvation of a corresponding faith for non Christians. 

As Spiritual Directors, therefore, we attend to their seeking with holy listening and great reverence for the Spirit of God active in their souls in His hidden Presence. 

When offering Spiritual direction to someone of another faith, I hear the Lord's cry, "That all may be one". This calls me to respond to that longing of the Savior. Knowing the power of prayer and the call to evangelize, I would silently petition the Lord, continually praying that He bless them with an awareness of His Spirit which is the only necessary knowledge and call them to Himself  

                   "... that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11).

GIfts or Giver?

Looking at the final 3 Mansions in St. Teresa of Jesus' INTERIOR CASTLE, what is more important for discernment....mystical experiences or growth in love and self-forgetfulness? 

When we desire to grow in love and self-forgetfulness, our desire is of and for God. We are not seeking the gifts of God which may include mystical experiences. We are seeking the Giver. 

The motives for seeking spiritual direction become very quickly apparent if a directee is seeking only God's gifts.  

Purification of motives during passage through the first 3 Mansions will begin when we offer little sacrifices; take extra time in prayer when time is not easily available. There are multiple other acts of self discipline which  reveal the interior discomforts brought about by disordered desires. Self-knowledge deepens as humility draws the Holy Spirit to gift His virtues. The gifts that God chooses to shower on the soul on the journey into union with Him may involve gifts. All of God's gifts lead us into self-forgetfulness and deeper love of Him. No matter the shape of the gift, be it one in a package of interior or physical suffering , or a gift that is mystical, it is for Him to fashion but always for the salvation of the soul and for the glory of God. Our journey into holiness in Him will help us to discern how to better serve Him with love through the gifts received.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

A Carmelite's Vocation through Suffering

When God gifts us a share in His suffering, emotional, physical or spiritual, a Carmelite begins to look within and is beckoned to pray for souls as well as for the alleviation of the suffering. St John of the Cross tells all Carmelites that we should never try to take away the suffering of another because God is doing mystical things through that gift. His words can be very challenging because of what appears to be an uncaring teaching.

There are many ways of sharing the heavy burden of the suffering which others are enduring.

Through prayer, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, (the Principal Educator in our spiritual journey), we learn that we may walk the journey of pain with those who are suffering, we may pray with and for them, shoulder their burden with them. We may offer them our hidden presence, offer hidden sacrifices for them which are known and seen only by God. This is vicarious suffering. We may never have met those we pray for; they may live miles from where we live or they may live just up the street; they may have gone Home to God or they may yet to be born.

Prayer and love are not bound by time or place.

Christ draws us into His Ultimate Sacrifice, invites us to plead for others by uniting our small sacrifices with His Act of Redemption, and He hears and answers each prayer petition. Then He waits to reward us for what He gave us the power to do in the first place.

The ultimate example of vicarious suffering offered in endless love from the Cross is Jesus and through His saints, we witness how He shares the power of His suffering with His saints. When St. Therese, our Little Flower, prayed and suffered within the four walls of the monastery, the Holy Spirit enlightened her mind to see that her vocation was love. She gave her Fiat to that vocation and her suffering intensified. Through her sacrificial and hidden prayer the power of her suffering reached depths unseen and unknown, even to her community.
She longed to be a missionary, calling souls to the Love of the Savior from every corner of the world. Her sacrificial prayer took her to every place where Christ was suffering in souls. She never left the Carmelite convent yet thousands of souls were won for Him.
She saw and was distressed by the behavior of priests on her journey to Rome so her prayer for priests became a driving force in her short life. She was given to understand that these men are chosen by God to bring us His Sacred Body and Blood in the Eucharist and the battle for their souls is terrifying. When the devil wins the soul of a priest, many sheep are in spiritual danger. She called praying for priests "Bulk buying" because keeping the shepherd safe means keeping the sheep safe.
Now, over 100 years after her returning to God, her vocation of love, of spending her heaven doing good on earth is clear to any who ask her intercession. Her life of terrible suffering and intense prayer has borne over a century of spiritual fruit. From deep in the Heart of her Beloved she continues to reply to a call from a broken child. She answers a cry from Vietnam as quickly and easily as one from France or Alaska. She hears our heartfelt prayers for the souls of priests ...and in our prayer, her pleading of a 100 years ago on their behalf now becomes her missionary work once more. Time and geography are irrelevant and her missionary zeal lives with and through and in every pulse of the Savior's Great Heart in His world, working endlessly through us in whom the Indwelling God lives and loves (Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity).
This is the vocation of a Carmelite. As we pray for one another, may we always remember the words of our fellow Secular Carmelite Discalced, Saint John Paul II: "Suffering is an invitation to be more like the Son in doing the Father's Will".
With the glorious help of these two Carmelites, may we offer the gift of our pain and climb on to the Altar with the Willing Victim of Love, our Master, and win thousands of souls for God.

Prayer soars beyond place and time.

" ... Love is all things, and that, because it is eternal, it embraces every time and place." (St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face)

"Behold, I am with you always, yes, to the end of time." (Matthew 28:20)

Anna Rae-Kelly OCDS