St. Teresa, Prayer and the Gift of Contemplation

St. Teresa of Avila was born in Spain in 1515. She is most known for her spiritual perfection and for the many mystical revelations that she received. After entering the Carmelite Order as a young woman, she soon began to have a desire to live her religious life more ardently. This caused her to attract many companions and eventually lead to the reform of the Carmelite Order. St. Teresa wrote several treatises on the topic of prayer. She is one of the few women that have been declared a Doctor of the Church. She died in 1582 in Alba de Tormes, Spain. Her feast day is today, October 15th.

Before she even begins to write about prayer in The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa says she will “mention some things that are necessary for those who seek to follow the way of prayer.” These things are so necessary that she says if one does not possess these, it is impossible to be a contemplative. So what are these things? 

“The first of these is love for one another; the second is detachment from created things; the third is true humility, which even though I speak of it last, is the main practice and embraces all the others.” (Way of Perfection 4: 4)

St. Teresa was keenly aware that the practice of the virtues is what supports prayer. Key to the spiritual life are these three: love, detachment, and humility. Love, of course, is first. It is love that moves us to pray, and it is love that is the greatest commandment: love God and love neighbor. It follows that some sort of detachment is also necessary because this virtue involves our choices. Our heart loves and is centered on what we love and desire and often these are not leading us to intimacy with God. Humility, which is next, but most importantly, is about the truth. The truth we are mainly concerned with is the truth about ourselves. An aid to the truth about ourselves is an honest examination of all areas of our lives and determining what is in need of repentance, where are our failures, and what are our sins, but also necessary is a look at our attitudes that may need to be pruned and gifts which may need to be cultivated.                       

Prayer is the activity especially intended for making fervent acts of charity. During prayer, the soul lovingly meets with God. A soul that loves God does so with a pure heart; a heart that loves Him so much that it seeks only after His glory and His will. The prayer of a soul that loves God forgets itself and is ready to sacrifice every wish for Him. Its love grows stronger and will continue to grow as it performs all its actions with a whole heart and with all of its capacity for goodwill.  However, St. Teresa says that it is also important for us to have a love for one another, but “because of either excess or defect we never reach the point of observing this commandment perfectly.” (The Way of Perfection, 4:5) When we live with others those annoying things and habits that we all have will be “suffered easily by those who love one another”.  Sometimes we gravitate towards loving one person more than another. St. Teresa also points out that when we love others excessively we are unable to love God excessively!  Nevertheless, she does value friendships and said that in her convents “all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.”  (The Way of Perfection, 4:7)   

Detachment is also necessary for one who is setting out on the way of prayer. Attachment is clinging to people, ideas, and things that give satisfaction, comfort, and pleasure. Detachment is letting go of the need to find pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction in these things and to center all our desires on God. Detachment is about seeking God first. One important way to practice detachment is to detach from the love of our bodies which demand so much comfort and strive to be more faithful to our duties. St. Teresa says that our bodies want so much comfort that the more we give it the more it demands. St. Teresa also suggests that souls try to remember that everything is vanity and will all come to an end. It is a great help for souls to remove any attachment it might have to trivial things and to center its thoughts on eternal things. Detachment and control of the passions can help our soul to be like Mary’s – silent and solitary- and filled with the presence of God.

In The Way of Perfection chapter 10, St. Teresa writes about the virtues of humility and detachment saying that “They are two inseparable sisters.” Our saint warns that souls need to not feel secure or fall asleep. She advises souls to be alert in “going against our own will”. Going against our own will is humility. She points out that turning and being against ourselves is a difficult thing because. . . we “love ourselves greatly”. How true this is! The soul should embrace these two virtues and by doing so, imitate Christ who “was never for a moment seen without them!” Another interesting thing about these virtues is that they “have the characteristic of so hiding themselves from the person who possess them that these persons never see them or manage to believe that they even have them”. 

St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection Chapter 17 writes about the importance of humility in regard to contemplation. She says, “this is an important aspect of prayer and indispensable for persons who practice it”. She understood that God, if He so desires, is the one who leads the soul that prays into contemplation.  Not everyone who prays must be a contemplative and being a contemplative is not necessary for our salvation. St. Teresa stresses that “to be a contemplative is a gift from God.” However, she does not want us to give up prayer for any reason, but we are to persevere because sometimes, “the Lord comes very late and pays just as well, and all at once, what he was giving to others in the course of many years.” So we should strive “in humility, mortification, detachment, and the other virtues…[and not] be afraid that you will fail to reach the perfection of those who are very contemplative.”                

“I don’t say that we shouldn’t try; on the contrary, we should try everything. What I am saying is that this is not a matter of your choosing but of the Lord’s….Be sure that if you do what lies in your power, preparing yourselves for contemplation with the perfection mentioned, and that if He doesn’t give it to you (and I believe He will give if detachment and humility are truly present), He will save this gift for you so as to grant it to you all at once in heaven.” (The Way of Perfection, 17:7)   

A soul devoted to loving God has made the one necessary resolution in prayer which is to be recollected. Only then is it able to give itself entirely to God. We often fail to dispose ourselves for contemplation either because we give in to too much activity or because we do not produce enough acts of love. By offering to God a holy heart, one free from all actual stain of sin, we can at least do our part and strive for perfection.

May all our efforts cooperate with the grace God gives in each moment to prepare a heart, pure and receptive, to receive so great a gift.

Today, October 15th, is the feast day of St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church. It is also a Solemnity within the Carmelite Order. On this day it would be good, inspired by St. Teresa, to begin to live our religious life more ardently. All of us, whether a priest, bishop, religious or layperson, can foster this desire to live our spiritual life more perfectly.

Today is a new day; a day to begin again. Today we can begin to say our prayers faithfully and to say them well. Today we can begin to remain in the presence of God throughout our day and while doing our daily duties. Today we can begin to partake in the sacramental life of the Church more regularly and with greater devotion. Today we can begin to practice more self-denial and be at the service of others.

Father,
by your Spirit, you raised up our Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus,
to show your Church the way to perfection.
May her inspired teaching
awaken in us a longing for true holiness.
Grant this through our Lord. Amen.
(from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours)

A Daily “Pause for Prayer”

October is traditionally the month devoted to the Rosary. Today, October 7th is the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. In this year of the great “pause”, where we all have had to stay home and avoid our usual social activities, the Rosary can be viewed as a daily “pause for prayer”. It is a spiritual aid that shouldn’t be underestimated. Praying the Rosary is not always easy and our praying it is in constant need of renewal in order to keep it from becoming dry and performed out of routine, thus losing its spiritual fruitfulness.

Perhaps a look at St. Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter on the Rosary can help us to renew our efforts to pray this beautiful prayer better. Rosarium Virginis Marie was written in October 2002 and in it the Holy Father added the new Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary and presented a catechesis on this devotion.

When praying the Rosary it is good to announce each mystery. A biblical passage that is related to the mystery should be read to help meditate and to supply the biblical foundation to this prayer. Long or short biblical passages can be used before each decade. Making use of an icon or picture of the mystery also aids in focusing on the particular mystery.

After the biblical passage is read a short period of silence should be included to nourish listening and meditation on the Word. A pause in order to focus on the mystery is quite appropriate before moving on to the vocal prayers. This way while praying the Rosary we are listening to the Word, focusing on the mystery and lifting our minds up toward the Father as we say, “Our Father…”.

The ‘Hail Mary’s’ should be recited with great love and affection for our Blessed Mother. It should be noted that this prayer with its two parts hinge on the name of Jesus. Each time we say the Hail Mary we are praising His name and telling our Blessed Mother how much we love her.

The ‘Gloria’ should be given prominence in our hearts. This prayer in praise of the Trinity is the high point of contemplation.

The Holy Father suggests that at the conclusion of each mystery a personal prayer be included for the fruits specific to that particular mystery. For example, after praying and meditating on the First Joyful Mystery we can add a personal prayer for the virtue of humility or for openness to God’s will.

The Rosary is a beautiful meditation on the Gospels and a path to contemplation. With renewed efforts to praying it well and a commitment to praying it daily, especially as a family, we can grow closer in our union with God.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/2002/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae.html

Spiritual Dryness

Dryness, or aridity, is when satisfaction and delight, that was once enjoyed during prayer and devotion, has dried up. It can have several causes. One reason for dryness is that the soul has neglected or set aside the practice of prayer. St. John of the Cross sums this cause up succinctly in The Sayings of Light and Love no. 39, “My spirit has become dry because it forgets to fed on you.” When we strive after various forms of recreation and the gratification of our senses, we will “find spiritual dryness and distraction”. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 3, Chap 42,1). The devil can cause dryness too. He can do so through visions and locutions, but the effects “are unlike those produced by the divine”. “The devil’s visions produce spiritual dryness in one’s communion with God and an inclination to self-esteem” and the pride of thinking one is important for receiving these. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 24)  When the origin is from the devil there is never a good effect. St. John of the Cross emphatically counsels in regard to locutions and visions, in order to avoid “delusion or hindrance”  that,  We should pay no heed to them, but be only interested in directing the will, with fortitude, toward God; we should carry out his law and holy councils with perfection.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 29, 12) Dryness can also be caused by God as a way to purify the soul. When God is the cause it is usually in those souls who are already quite solicitous in their love for Him and have already moved from the practice of discursive meditation to the state of contemplation. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 13) 

Two things one can do when experiencing dryness according to St. John of the Cross in The Spiritual Canticle are to first continue praying with love and devotion; second to ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance. The Holy Spirit “will dispel this dryness and sustain and increase” love. (Stanza 17, 2). Another thing the Holy Spirit does is to move the “soul to the interior exercise of the virtues” of faith, hope, and love. 

The Bride in the poem The Spiritual Canticle invokes the Holy Spirit in this way:

“breathe through my garden”

The Holy Spirit “awakens love” in the soul, which is the “garden”. Upon one of these visits of the Holy Spirit, the soul is refreshed, the will is awakened, and the “appetites that were asleep” are now filled with “the love of God”. (Stanza 17, 3-4) When the Holy Spirit breathes through the soul, He touches and puts “in motion the virtues and perfections already given”, and when this happens, “the Bridegroom, the Son of God, is himself sublimely communicated” evident by the beautiful fragrances that are released. (Stanza 17, 8) 

Dryness in prayer is an interior trial. Although interior trials involve much more than just a lack of devotion, dryness (or aridity), is a common phenomenon among those souls who have taken up prayer.To make an issue of dryness, according to St. Teresa of Jesus, shows a lack of humility.

St. Teresa exhorts beginners to begin with determination and to persevere in prayer. Dryness and difficulty at prayer will come and we are to not let this cause us to give up prayer. She advises us to not become “distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distressing thoughts. . .  For, clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means.” (from The Book of her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

During periods of aridity and excessive activity of the imagination, the soul can turn to meditative reading. When the soul is unable to meditate it can turn to a book to help collect the wandering thoughts and bring its soul in touch with God. St. Teresa confesses to not being able to meditate without a book for many years and recommends this practice.

The choice of a book should be one that is devout and will help in the time of prayer. The Gospels are always a good choice and are of great assistance in this matter. The book can also be one of the writings of the saints. It should be one that is practical and affective, not too speculative or intellectual. This is to foster love, a work of the heart, rather than that of the mind.

The purpose of reading is to put the soul in a proper disposition for a conversation with God. Read until enough has been read to arouse good and holy thoughts. Then when devote affections occupy the mind, stop reading and with the attention directed to God, meditate on the thoughts that have been read; speaking to Him or silently savoring the sentiments inspired by what was read.

“Like birds, who, when they drink, bend their heads toward the water, take a few drops, and raising their beaks toward the sky, swallow gradually, and then begin again, let us also bend our heads toward the devout book to gather a few drops of devotion, and then let us raise them to God, so that our minds may be fully impregnated with these thoughts. In this way, it will not be difficult to finish the prayer which we have begun by reading in an intimate colloquy with God.” (Divine Intimacy, #149 by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.)

St. Therese and the Holy Face

“Until my coming to Carmel, I had never fathomed the depths of the treasures hidden in the Holy Face.” (St. Therese, Story of a Soul)

St. Therese’s name in Carmel is Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. I have always focused on the Child of Jesus part of her spirituality and have never quite connected with her devotion to the Holy Face. Recently though I have wondered more about it. I can’t really explain why except that having to wear a mask on my face and to see other people wearing a covering over their mouth and nose has bothered me very much. There is something so beautiful and God-like about the “face” and covering it seems so dehumanizing. We are not meant to have on a mask.

Devotion to the Holy Face focuses on the Incarnation. God became a man like us with a human face. As Carmelites, we love to contemplate, and St. Therese, through her devotion to the Holy Face, reminds us of the beauty that lies hidden in the face of Jesus.  The Holy Face is a human face, even though a hidden face. The Holy Face is hidden in the face of others, hidden even under the disfigured face of sin.

The human face identifies that person. Just think of someone that you love. It is their face that identifies that person and expresses who that person is. We all love to gaze on the face of a baby. How long and lovingly Mary and St. Joseph must have gazed on the face of the infant Jesus. They were the first to adore His wonderful face. Then came the shepherds, the Magi, and later the Apostles and other disciples became admirers of His teachings, wisdom, and loving care – all impressed upon them by His Holy Face. Looking upon His face they saw expressions of tenderness towards little children, glory on Mount Tabor, and anguish during His Passion. 

We need to see peoples’ faces, and for them to see ours. So much communication happens when looking at someone’s face. When you look at someone’s face you get cues as to whether that person is happy, sad, or confused. A mask hides this and even muffles the voice! So much is lost when trying to hear someone talk to you through a mask. The distorted sounds and the inability to see the lips move is especially challenging for the elderly and hard of hearing. Interestingly, the word “person” is rooted in the Latin word that means “mask” and the Greek word for “face”.

Some background on the Holy Face devotion is necessary before I move on. The devotion began in Tours, France with a Carmelite nun, Sister Marie de Saint Pierre, during the mid-1800s. Sister Marie received visions from the Lord telling her that those who would contemplate His face on earth would contemplate His radiant face in heaven. The purpose of the devotion was to make reparation for sins against God, His Holy name, and the profanation of Sundays. In another sense, devotion to the Holy Face is to become like St. Veronica, who took pity on Jesus when He carried His cross and wiped the sweat from His Face with her veil. This veil bears the impression of His Holy Face to this day. St. Veronica did this act of kindness to comfort Jesus. The devotion calls us to do as she did and comfort Jesus for the wounds and sins that are still inflicted on Him today through the lack of reverence, sacrilege, and blasphemy that men commit. This devotion, based on the life and writings of Sister Marie, was approved by Pope Leo XIII. Mister Martin, St. Therese’s father, along with his daughters, enrolled in the Confraternity of the Holy Face, most likely after Pauline, her sister, had suggested they do so. It was Pauline who introduced St. Therese to this devotion; however, St. Therese puts a different twist on this devotion regarding the Face of Jesus. 

In the Story of a Soul, St. Therese describes the beginnings of her devotion to the Holy Face that began after her entry into the convent. She writes, “Until my coming to Carmel, I had never fathomed the depths of the treasures hidden in the Holy Face.” Locked away in the cloister she desired that like the Face of Jesus, her “face be truly hidden that no one on earth” would know her. St. Therese “thirsted after suffering” and “longed to be forgotten.” She knew that the face of the child in the manger was also the face of the man on the cross. Her desire to “be unknown and counted as nothing” was her way of drawing close to the suffering Christ. For St. Therese, contemplating the Face of Jesus was more about imitation and remaining hidden than about reparation. 

St. Therese had to obtained permission to add the title “of the Holy Face” to her name.  Her devotion to the Holy Face is rooted in the words from the prophet Isaiah, and it was from these words that St. Therese came to desire that she also would “be without splendor, without beauty, to tread alone the wine in the press, unknown by every creature.”  She wrote of Jesus regarding the words of the Old Testament prophet, “ ‘He was without splendor, without beauty, His Face was hidden, as it were, and His person was not acknowledged’; one finds in them the whole foundation of my devotion to the Holy Face, or to say it better, the foundation of all my piety. I also desire myself to be without splendor, without beauty, to tread alone the wine in the press, unknown by every creature.” (Story of a Soul) She longed to be forgotten and to suffer. How unlike many of us today who want to be seen and known and famous! Only to now have to cover our faces with a cloth.

St. Therese also longed to see the Face of Jesus as evident in her poetry. In her poem, “What I’ll Soon See for the First Time” (PN 33) these lines reveal her desire to see His face:

I am still on the other shore,
But sensing eternal happiness,
Oh! I would already like to leave this earth
And gaze on the wonders of Heaven….
When I dream of the joys of the other life,
I no longer feel the weight of my exile,
Since soon toward my only Homeland
I’ll fly for the first time!…

Ah! Jesus, give me white wings
That I may take flight to you.
I want to fly to the eternal Shores.
I want to see you, O my Divine Treasure!
I want to fly into the arms of Mary
To rest on that choice throne
And receive from my dear Mother
A sweet Kiss for the first time!….

My Beloved, let me soon catch a glimpse
Of the sweetness of your first smile,
And let me, in my divine delirium,
Ah! let me hide in your Heart!…
Oh! what a moment! what ineffable happiness
When I’ll hear the sweet sound of your voice,
When I’ll see the divine brilliance
Of your Adorable Face for the first time!…

You know well, Sacred Heart of Jesus,
My only martyrdom is your love.
If my soul sighs for your beautiful Heaven,
It’s to love you, to love you more and more!…
In Heaven, always intoxicated with tenderness,
I’ll love you without limit and without law,
And my happiness will unceasingly seem
As new as the first time!!!…

The poem, “Heaven for Me” (PN 32), written on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1896, reveals that she wants Jesus to see her face.

To bear the exile of this valley of tears
I need the glance of my Divine Savior.
This glance full of love has revealed its charms to me.
It has made me sense the happiness of Heaven.
My Jesus smiles at me when I sigh to Him.
Then I no longer feel my trial of faith.
My God’s Glance, his ravishing Smile,
That is Heaven for me!..

Heaven for me is to be able to draw down on souls,
On the Church my mother and on all my sisters
Jesus’ graces and his Divine flames
That can enkindle and rejoice hearts.
I can obtain everything when mysteriously
I speak heart to heart with my Divine King.
That sweet prayer so near the Sanctuary,
That is Heaven for me!…

Heaven for me is hidden in a little Host
Where Jesus, my Spouse, is veiled for love.
I go to that Divine Furnace to draw out life,
And there my Sweet Savior listens to me night and day.
“Oh! what a happy moment when in your tenderness
You come, my Beloved, to transform me into yourself.
That union of love, that ineffable intoxication,
That is Heaven for me!”…

Heaven for me is feeling within myself the resemblance
Of the God who created me with his Powerful Breath.
Heaven for me is remaining always in his presence,                                                                     Calling him my Father and being his child.
In his Divine arms, I don’t fear the storm.
Total abandonment is my only law.
Sleeping on his Heart, right next to his Face,
That is Heaven for me!…

I’ve found my Heaven in the Blessed Trinity
That dwells in my heart, my prisoner of love.
There, contemplating my God, I fearlessly tell him
That I want to serve him and love him forever.
Heaven for me is smiling at this God whom I adore
When He wants to hide to try my faith.
To suffer while waiting for him to look at me again
That is Heaven for me!…

In these and other parts of her writings, we can comprehend more of her devotion to the Holy Face. The Holy Face is one that she longs to see and gaze upon. It is a face that also glances at her in an intimate and beautiful exchange of love. It is a face that is also one she wants to imitate in being hidden. Because of the Incarnation Christ’s face is now on Earth though hidden in the Blessed Sacrament and veiled under the appearance of bread. We can sit before the Blessed Sacrament and look upon Him while He looks upon us!

St. Teresa of Jesus, spiritual mother, and reformer of the Carmelite Order, advises in the Way of Perfection that we should represent Jesus as close to us when we pray; to speak to Him face to face as Moses did. Just as you would speak with a friend, speak with Jesus who is at your side and sees you. St. Teresa writes, “I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me, and that was my way of prayer… I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him… He is always looking at you; can you not turn the eyes of your soul to look at Him?” No doubt the Holy Mother of Carmel influenced our young St. Therese in her devotion to the Holy Face. Let us let Him look at our faces. Imagine our faces with no mask of pretending on. Set our faces towards Him and let Him delight in us and pray as Moses did face to face. 

St. Thérèse also wrote many prayers expressing her devotion to the Holy Face. She wrote on a small card the words, ”Make me resemble you, Jesus!” (Pr 11). In another prayer, she desires to make reparation to the Holy Face disfigured in His Passion by the sins of men. Behind His disfigured appearance she sees love and wants to spread that love to everyone, to save souls, and to bear His image so that she can see Him in heaven. 

O Jesus, who in Thy bitter Passion didst become “the most abject of men, a man of sorrows”, I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men.

The tears that thou hast shed so abundantly appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value.

O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy Divine Image, to set me on fire with Thy Love, and to make me worthy to contemplate in Heaven Thy glorious Face.
Amen.

It is important for us to love and to let Jesus love us. Then being consumed by Love we can soon attain the vision of Jesus setting our eyes on His face and His glory in heaven. 

So let us turn our eyes away from our false self, that person we are pretending to be. Casting off the falseness of sin and pride and without pretense humbly sit before Him. And since the love Jesus has for us is a love that suffers, let us imitate Him. He loves those who do not love. He also loves those who do not deserve to be loved.

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

St. Teresa was distinguished as a Doctor of the Church, along with St. Catherine of Siena, by Pope Paul VI, on this day 50 years ago. These were the first two women to be given this title. St. Teresa is loved and revered as the Doctor of Prayer.

ICS Publications is offering a discount on all her works in honor of the 50th anniversary of this event. The discount will be applied from today until her feast day on October 15th.

https://www.icspublications.org/collections/teresa-of-avila?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=St++Teresa+of+Avila%3A+50+Years+as+Doctor+of+the+Church&utm_campaign=Doctor+50+%281%29&vgo_ee=jqWKc7UgJ%2B9kaazPR1tvow%3D%3D

Spiritual Communion

Many are not able to go to Mass during this present worldwide crisis and the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday is being dispensed for those that are at high risk, which reminded me of something St. Teresa wrote to her nuns:

“When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it, the love of God will be greatly impressed on you”. St. Teresa of Jesus (The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35)

Here is a spiritual communion prayer by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you have already come and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

Another good prayer for this time would also be the Sub Tuum Praesidium:

We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

 

Making Room for Jesus

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2: 7

With tender care and attention, Mary wrapped the infant Jesus tightly in cloth as any loving mother would do. Swaddling him in strips of cloth so that he would be warm, snug and safely protected from the outside world now that he has left the womb. Swaddling infants is still something mothers do today. In past years, narrow stripes of cloth wrapped around a newborn helped to restrain a baby’s movement and quieten him to sleep more contently and prevent him from accidentally scratching his soft, fine skin.

Mary would have brought these strips of cloth with her to Bethlehem, since the time of giving birth was approaching. The usual custom was to wrap the newly born infant in these strips of cloth after washing and anointing the body. 

St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and was poor, vulnerable, dependent and cold. The swaddling cloths foreshadowed the burial cloths. 

However, at his next coming, Jesus will be glorious – wrapped in light! 

“For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.” (Ps 36:10)

The Lord’s binding as an infant was one of love. He submitted to Mary’s love and attention to his tender, fragile needs as an infant. As a matter of fact, all of his bindings were bonds of love. He was bound and taken by his enemies as his hands were tied and he was led away from the Garden of Gethsemane out of love for us. He was wrapped in bands of cloth for his funeral, but at the resurrection – glorified, he removed the cloths that bound him.

There is a great lesson of the swaddling cloths for all of us that can be found here since we too can be wrapped in swaddling cloths. In this excerpt from Mother Marie des Doublers’ book, Joy Out of Sorrow, we can learn what it takes to make room for Jesus who could find no room in the inn of our heart. We can enjoy his presence only after we make an expansive space for him, for Light, for Love, for Peace.

The Marriage of Two Such as These

When the time had come

for him to be born,

he went forth like the

bridegroom

from his bridal chamber,

embracing his bride,

holding her in his arms,

whom the gracious Mother

laid in a manger

among some animals

that were there at that time.

Men sang songs

and angels melodies

celebrating the marriage

of Two such as these.

But God there in the manger

cried and moaned;

and these tears were jewels

the bride brought to the

wedding.

The Mother gazed in sheer wonder

on such an exchange:

in God, man’s weeping,

and in man, gladness,

to the one and the other

things usually so strange.

Romances by St. John of the Cross

Feast of St. Joseph

Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.

– St. Teresa of Avila

Renewal

What the Church needs now more than ever is renewal, which begins in our hearts. What our hearts need is cleansing. We can begin this cleansing by removing the clutter found there.

The Church is supposed to be a sign of heavenly glory, but it has lost its original beauty. The Church’s appearance has been muddled through the bad examples of some of its members, scandals and false teachings. All of these and more have tainted the clarity of charity, which is the Church’s mission. All this has happened because we have abandoned the pursuit of perfect charity! 

Therefore we need a renewal. Renewal begins with the interior and then moves out to the exterior.  We cannot begin to have an impact on the world with the Gospel message if we have not first let God “set charity in order within” (Song 2:4).

The first place to begin any renewal is with the heart. Ultimately the reason for so many deficiencies decried in the Church today are due to the fact that we have failed to love one another. We are no longer Christ-like. Christ is not dwelling within our hearts; therefore, there is no space for the thought of others.

Christ has called us to love; each soul should examen this call within before it can in any way be repaired. Love is a study we must each undertake and this will take place over our whole lifetime. In the examination of the heart, begin with looking at what it is we are pursuing.

If love is being pursued it will be revealed in our speech, in the way we talk to others, in our openness to new ideas and in the gentleness in which we listen to the thoughts and opinions of other people.  On the other hand if we are not pursuing charity, then this too will be made manifest. If we are narrow-minded, look down on others, are quick to argue or engage in back-biting, then we are not pursuing charity.

We must renew charity within and then bring it out to others. As we pursue perfect charity, love itself will let each of us know what changes will need to be made and how to fashion these changes.

St. Teresa longed for renewal of the Church in her time and set out to reform the Order with a clear resolution in mind – “ to do the little that was in my power: that is, to follow the evangelical couples as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live her do the same.” She embarked on this endeavor trusting in God’s goodness knowing that he “never fails to help anyone who is determined to give up everything for Him.” [Way 1: 2]

Constantly returning to the sources assists with renewal and will aid us to proclaim anew the message of our foundress. Or to return to the documents of Vatican II or even the Gospels and encounter them again, is another way to promote renewal. From the sources we can gain new inspiration and strength as we rediscover the original purpose intended by our founders or the council. Recovering the original heritage handed on to us, we can then determine how to present this fount of riches to the present generation. Needed also is a love of learning for the original formation. By returning to the Gospels – we return to Christ himself. We need to be steeped in the Gospels. For St. Teresa the book of the Gospels was her favorite for meditation. Similarly St. Therese and St. John of the Cross were also fond of the Bible. Their writings contain lavish quotes from the scriptures. 

Let us return to the sources in simplicity, but without discarding or sacrificing the development that happened over the years from our heritage. Diving into the writings of our Carmelite saints and rediscovering the vision St. Teresa had in her heart, and then to discover new ways to reproduce it using different styles and materials. In this rediscovery period it will serve us well to become like children and ask why? Approach the sources with this question to discover the reason we have been or are doing things as Carmelites. And to do them intelligently.

Any renewal will depend on the real and lasting work of faith that is exercised in prayer, silent prayer where one encounters love and discovers what is asked of him only to surrender to that love.

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Eph 3:20-21)