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False Peace

In St. Teresa’s Meditations on the Song of Songs she outlines the different kinds of false peace that comes from the devil, the world and the flesh.  False peace is the kind of peace that worldly people have, and this is the kind of peace that brings perpetual war. 

The first kind of false peace St. Teresa mentions is with those people in the world who are quiet, yet go about living in serious sin. They have made peace with their vices. Their consciences are undisturbed, and they do not feel any remorse about anything. Such is the state of souls in mortal sin. Having made friends with the devil, he leaves them alone. 

However, the devil could offer the friends of God peace in small things, the second kind of false peace. St. Teresa tells us that we should greatly fear this kind of peace. Therefore we should always be on guard against growing lax even in things that seem to be small and of little significance. If we become persistently lazy soon there will be no feelings of regret. St. Teresa explains that we can begin to grow lax in small matters and persist in them without any prick in our conscience, which will result in peace – a bad kind of peace.

St. Teresa gives some examples of the small matters that the devil can draw a soul into: “an infraction of something in the constitutions, which in itself would not be a sin, or being careless, even though without malice, about what the bishop commands (in fact he stands in God’s place, and it is good always- for this reason we have come here – to consider what he desires), and many other little things that come along which in themselves do not appear to be sins. In sum, there are faults and always will be, for we are miserable creatures.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2)

Basically, she is telling us that when we commit some fault we should feel it and understand that it was a fault. If we don’t feel that a fault has been committed, then we can be sure that the devil is rejoicing. “He will go further”, she says, and we should “for love of God be very careful. There must be war in this life.” We cannot just sit idle; we must be about the battle. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2) Our saint does not wish to instill a sense of scrupulosity in souls. Her main point is summed up in this counsel: “ Always fear when some fault you commit does not grieve you. For in regard to sin, even venial, you already know that the soul must feel deep sorrow.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 5)

We don’t want venial sins, those faults that are committed habitually without any attention to them, to become so much a part of our lives that we never feel them. When we come to think of them as of no importance, showing no sorrow for them, we then fail to make amends for them too.

Then there is the peace that the world gives. First among this type of peace is riches. People with wealth and who try to lead holy lives avoiding any serious sin, think that they are secure. Nevertheless they often fail to reflect on the fact that they are stewards and that their money is not theirs, but has been entrusted to them by God. Oh they do give sometimes, but they need to be sure to not delay in helping those who are poor and suffering with the surplus. For those who are not rich, St. Teresa counsels to “be content with little.“ (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

The second false peace the world can give is through honors. If we heed her advice on being content with little, then this next one should not be too difficult, since “the poor are never honored very much.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 11). Praise can cause much harm if one is not careful. Words of praise can cause harm by making you “believe that the truth was spoken or make you think that now everything is accomplished and that you have done your part.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 12) St. Teresa’s advice is that whenever you are praised to move quickly in waging war interiorly by humbling yourself. She is wise in saying that we should remember our sins, “and if in some matters people speak truth in praising you, note that the virtue is not yours and that you are obliged to serve more.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 13)

Then there is the false peace that comes from our bodies, which are very fond of comfort. She wants us to understand that there is a false peace that comes from seeking “one’s peace in comforts” and living comfortably, since the Lord suffered so much and underwent many trials. Additionally, “the body grows fat and the soul weakens” when we give the body so much pampering. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15) Craving comforts can harm the soul without one even being aware. She gives examples of how one day the body can endure a hardship and then a week later it is unable to bear with something like a rough tunic. Or that “some days eating fish may hurt you, but once your stomach gets used to it, it will not harm you.” Her point here is that “we must not find our rest in being lax.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15) Since the body can be so untrustworthy, we need to understand this about it and to use discretion. 

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him.

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Can we know if we truly love God? If we love Him our heart will not rest in ourselves or in the things and activities that profit us. We would not find satisfaction in anything except God. Our hearts will be set on pleasing God striving to give Him all the glory and honor possible. 

The saints tell us that once we have reached this point of union we will come to possess Him and begin to receive the kiss of His mouth. The mouth is the Son of God – the Word – revealed to us in order to speak the words of eternal life. The kiss is His spirit of love that comes from the Father and the Son. Those who have reached this perfection of love experience a sweet enkindling and endless burning of the flames of love. They over and over ask like the Bride in the Song of Songs: Kiss me.

Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth.

St. Teresa in her Meditations on the Song of Songs  writes that this passage can mean many different things, but it is “the soul that is enkindled with a love that makes it mad” that it “desires nothing else than to say these words”. 

Then St. Teresa wonders if the Bride in this passage is really just asking for the favor that Christ has given us: peace and friendship. For she sees that the union the Bride is seeking in the kiss “is the sign of great peace and friendship among two persons”. She then advises us to pray for this peace.

Now the kiss we are speaking of here is a completely spiritual kiss. In it the soul is united to the Word, and through the Word the Spirit is brought about in the soul. Love causes the desire in the soul for this kiss and is unable to be content with less. The soul is also acutely aware that it does not deserve to kiss the Lord’s feet.

However, in the midst of these ardent desires no one should presume or attempt to reach this high state in the spiritual life without first passing through the earlier stages. It would be presumptive to try to receive the kiss from the Divine lips without first being purified with the kiss of the Sacred wounds of Christ. Filled with sin and following the passions, we need to remain in that place where the repentant rids itself of the weight of these sins. So remain, happily, at His feet, embracing and kissing them, washing them with tears. Then when we hear Him say, “Your sins are forgiven”, we can rise, remembering always that the distance from Christ’s feet to His mouth is great, and we cannot suddenly pass from one extreme to the other.


 

Today’s feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus celebrated on January 3rd. Mary’s exalted role glorifies the Father; therefore, her name is to be honored and reverenced as we call upon her with devotion and trust. The name of Mary occurs in both parts of the Hail Mary giving us ample opportunities to say this beautiful name with love and sincere affection.

The origin and meaning of the name of Mary is debated. In the Old Testament the sister of Moses was named Miryam. But this was not a common name used in the Old Testament. What does the Hebrew name Miryam mean? It may have an Egyptian origin. In Egyptian mer or mar means “love”. The Egyptian meaning of Miryam is “cherished or beloved”. Given this meaning it is an appropriate name for a daughter. Combine this interpretation with the Hebrew name for the Divine name of God yam or Yahweh. Then the meaning could be “one beloved by Yahweh”.

Many believe the name is of Hebrew origin. They see the word as the combination of two words. Mar which means “bitter” (myrrh) and yam meaning “sea”.  Seeing the name Miryam as one word could give “hope” as the meaning.

Another popular interpretation dates back to St. Jerome. St. Jerome adopted the meaning of the name to be Stella Maris, or “star of the sea”. Mary has been invoked under the title of Stella Maris or “Star of the Sea” by seafarers to calm storms or the ocean waters. Under this title she could even be invoked to calm the storms in our lives.

St. Bernard of Clairvoux wrote of her: “If the winds of temptation arise; If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary; If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary.

St. Louis de Montfort uses this prayer to Our Lady, Star of the Sea in his consecration to Jesus through Mary:

Hail, bright star of ocean
God’s own Mother blest
Ever sinless Virgin
Gate of heavenly rest

Taking that sweet Ave
Which from Gabriel came
Peace confirm within us
Changing Eva’s name

Break the captives’ fetters
Light on blindness pour
All our ills expelling
Every bliss implore

Show thyself a Mother
May the Word Divine
Born for us thy Infant
Hear our prayers through thine

Virgin all excelling
Mildest of the mild
Freed from guilt, preserve us
Pure and undefiled

Keep our life all spotless
Make our way secure
Till we find in Jesus
Joy forevermore

Through the highest heaven
To the Almighty Three
Father, Son, and Spirit
One same glory be. Amen.

Polaris, the North Star, is also given the name Stella Maris because it was this star that was used to guide travelers, just like Mary. We can use this feast day dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary as a way to reflect on how she is a hope for all Christians and a guide for us, leading us on our way to her son, Jesus. May Mary help us to open our hearts to God and His ways.

We should honor and praise the name of Mary because she is the Mother of Jesus, who is truly God; therefore, we can call her the Mother of God. Her name reminds us, as we say in the Hail Mary, that she is full of grace, blessed among all women and a woman who has found favor with God. We should also honor the name of Mary because she is our Mother, since the Lord gave her to us when he was dying on the cross.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

St. Therese had to wait to make her profession. As she waited for this day, she told God she would wait as long as he desired. Until that day she resolved to carefully “make a beautiful dress enriched with priceless stones”. Therese began applying herself to practicing little virtues, by doing little penances that especially mortified her self-love. She was not practicing these virtues alone. St. Therese stated that the Blessed Virgin, “was helping me prepare the dress of my soul; as soon as this dress was completed all the obstacles went away.”

The Bishop finally gave his permission and the community voted in favor of receiving St. Therese. The date set was September 8, 1890, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. St. Therese writes of this occasion,  “What a beautiful feast on which to become the spouse of Jesus! It was the little Blessed Virgin, one day old, who was presenting her little flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little that day except for the graces and peace I received.” (Story of a Soul, Ch 7)

St. Therese was set on mortifying her self-love and practicing little virtues and said that the Blessed Virgin Mary was helping her do this. The Blessed Mother teaches us to live these virtues hidden and under God’s shadow. Her birth was unnoticed, yet without her the greatest mystery of our faith could not have taken place. It is because of Mary that the Incarnation of the Son of God and Redemption of man was made possible. Her birth is like the dawn projecting new light over the new day. Yet her birth is unknown, unnoticed and not even mentioned in the scriptures.  She remains hidden to the world except for the eyes of God, who see her in the silence and obscurity of her life.

Today’s feast invites us to imitate this hidden life of Mary and even that of St. Therese, who was enclosed in the cloister and unknown to all expect for God. A hidden life that focuses on the interior by quietly practicing virtue and doing little penances keeping in check the selfish ego. Putting to death the need to be noticed or seeking praise or making excuses for failures, these can be done under the shadow of God, just like Mary. St. Therese knew this and put this ideal into practice in the convent. We too can do this in the ordinary circumstance of our days under the watchful patronage of the Blessed Mother, whose birth we celebrate today.

Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, heralded joy to all the world.

When to be Silent

What should one do when blamed for something that is not your fault? St. Teresa of Jesus counsels us to avoid giving self-defense, since it is not good for one to make excuses a habit. She says that “not making excuses for oneself is a habit characteristic of high perfection, and very meritorious.” (Way, Ch 15:1)

Ever so in tuned with human nature, she notes that even she at times reasons that it is a greater virtue to make an excuse for oneself and at other times it is lawful to do so. However, humility and discretion are both necessary to determine when it calls for one to be silent and when one should speak up. This is especially so when one is being accused without fault. There is no reason to excuse oneself when being accused of something that is not your fault, that is, unless the case is “where not telling the truth would cause anger or scandal”. (Way, Ch 15:1)

When to excuse oneself or not needs discretion. Discretion requires thought about the situation.

Will I cause offense if I speak? Is what I am about to reveal private information? Does this person really need to know? 

Discretion requires one to think about the situation and decide what should be done. Humility is also needed in order to refrain from making excuses. The truly humble do not have any desires to be held in high esteem by anyone. Neither do they care if they are “condemned without fault even in serious matters”. (Way, Ch 15:2) 

For St. Teresa this is the way for one who desires to imitate the Lord and to receive strength from no one but God. She sees this action as a a great interior virtue and as a penance that doesn’t do any harm to the body. Though the practice of this type of mortification can be difficult at first, especially if one has a sensitive nature, but with practice, and grace, this self-denial and detachment from oneself can be attained. 

St. Teresa said that she was “always happier that they speak about what is not true” of her than of what was true. (Way, Ch 15:3)  She goes on to say the if we really think about things, we are never totally without fault. Only Jesus can make that claim. Therefore she states, “even though we are blamed for faults we haven’t committed, we are never entirely without fault.” (Way, Ch 15:4)

St. Teresa also reminds us that we should “never think that the good or evil you do will remain a secret.” (Way, Ch 15:7) She says that if it is needed, there will be someone to come and defend you. She tells us to “observe how the Lord answered for the Magdalene both in the house of the Pharisee and when her sister accused her.” (Way, Ch 15:7) So, too, will he do so for us. Someone will come to our defense, if it is necessary. And if no one comes to do so, we shouldn’t  think about being defended because it wasn’t necessary. Instead we should rejoice in the freedom we are obtaining when we don’t care what others are saying about us. 

“It calls for great humility to be silent at seeing one condemned without fault.”

 St. Teresa of Avila

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O Lord!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19: 4)

The Israelites had become comfortable worshiping the Lord and Baal, giving each one an exclusive area of influence in their lives. So the Lord takes his claim by exerting his authority over the rain, thus challenging the domain and power of Baal. Elijah proclaims a drought at the command of God, leaving the land parched and dry. The story as it plays out in chapter 17 and 18 of the First Book of Kings is explicit: the Lord and Baal – who will the people of Israel be loyal to? After three years of no rain, Elijah challenges the prophet of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel. After this the prophet it worn out and cannot go on. He lays down and falls asleep “under the broom tree”. He was exhausted and depressed and ready to just give up, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. “Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water.”

There is a profound similarity between our present times and those of the prophet Elijah. It seems like we are wandering in the desert, dry and weary in the spiritual life and everyone is worshiping Baal. What is a faithful person to do? Like Elijah we need to be nourished by God and persevere.

“After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the Lord came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”(1 Kings 19: 6-8)

We too are on a journey to the mountain of God. To get there we need to persevere. Perseverance means we need to continually begin again. To arrive at our destination we need to persevere in our struggle in going against our defects and to acquire virtue. Perseverance in prayer is necessary in order for our life to bear fruit.

God will reward our efforts if we rely on God’s strength. He supplies us with daily nourishment in his word and in the Sacraments.

For daily nourishment and inspirational quotes from Carmelite Saints for the journey visit Hearthcake and a Jug of Water here.