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.

The Kiss of His Mouth

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.


In a harsh world there is power in gentleness

The virtue of meekness which Jesus so strongly recommends brings many blessings. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land”(Mt 5:5) The meek soul is a gentle soul that does not easily get upset. These souls are calm, generous, patient, kind and self-possessed. Meekness is able to deflect and destroy the angry outbursts of another and therefore ‘inherit the land”. Humility and patience also accompany this virtue. Like all virtues, this gentleness needs to be practiced until it has been acquired as a sustained habit. A soul can be having a peaceful day until some trial, injury or contradiction comes along. Then peace disappears. This disposition needs to be more than just exterior; it should be interior as well. A meek soul has control over impulses and interior feelings like resentment, indignation and anger. When habitual, meekness is accompanied by a great peace. And who wouldn’t want to inherit peace in their land? Our Lord Jesus is the perfect example of meekness. In examining his life as recorded in the scriptures, many passages can be found exemplifying his gentle character. The way he treated others, especially his enemies and those who opposed him, his forgiving those who injured him and even his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey all bear witness to his gentleness. By his meekness he conquered the world. This is power.

Figures of Light Around the Manger

Following Christmas the Church celebrates three other important people and events closely related to the Incarnation and Redemption: December 26th – the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr; December 27th – St. John, the beloved disciple; and December 28th – the infants of Bethlehem, the Holy Innocents. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross writes in The Mystery of Christmas that these all have a place around the Child in the manger:

st. stephen

One the day after Christmas the Church removes her white garments and clothes herself in the colour of blood, and on the fourth day in the violet of mourning: Stephen, the first marytr, the first to follow his Lord to death, and the infants of Bethlehem and Judea who were brutally slaughtered by crude henchmen, all have a place around the Child in the manger. What is the meaning of this message? Where now are the jubilant sounds of the heavenly choir? Where the peaceful bliss of Holy Night? Where the peace on earth? Peace to those of good will; but not all are of good will. Therefore, the Son of the Eternal Father must leave the splendour of heaven because the mystery of evil has wrapped the earth in dark night.

Darkness covered the earth and he came as light to illumine the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend him. To those who received him, he brought light and peace; peace with the Father in heaven, peace with everyone who like them are children of light and children of a heavenly Father, a deep interior peace of the heart; but no peace with the children of darkness. To them the Prince of Peace brings no peace but the sword. He remains for them a stumbling block of scandal against which they charge and are smashed. That is the one hard and serious fact which we may not allow to be obscured by the visible attraction of the Child in the manger. The mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of evil belong together. The dark night of sin stands in stark and sinister contrast with the Light which came down from heaven. The Child in the manger extends its little hands and its smile seems to be saying what would come forth later from the lips of a man: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened’; and the poor shepherds out on the hills of Bethlehem, who heard the good news of the angel, follow his call and make their way with the simple answer, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem’. Also from the kings from the orient lands, who followed the wondrous star with like simplicity, there dropped from the infant hands the dew of grace and ‘they rejoiced with great joy’. These hands give and request at the same time: you wise men, lay down your wisdom and become like children; you kings, give up your crowns and your treasures and bow down meekly before the King of kings; do not hesitate to take up the burdens, sorrows and weariness which his service demands.You children, you cannot yet give of your own free will, of you these little hands will request your gentle life before it has even begun; it can serve no better purpose than sacrifice in praise of the Lord.

baby jesus

‘Follow me’ say the little hands, words which later will come from the lips of the Man. Thus they spoke to the disciple whom the Lord loved and who is now also a part of the group at the manger. St. John, the young man with the pure, youthful heart followed without asking, ‘where to? why?’ He left his father’s boat and went with the Lord along all his ways, even to Golgotha. ‘Follow me’ – young Stephen understood this also. He followed the Lord in the struggle against the powers of darkness, the blindness of obstinate unbelief; he bore witness to him with his word and his blood; he followed him in his Spirit, the Spirit of love, which resists sin but loves the sinner, and even in death intercedes with God on behalf of the murderer. These are the figures of light that kneel around the manger: the gentle, innocent children, the faithful shepherds, the humble kings, Stephen, the enthusiastic youth and beloved apostle, John – all of them follow the call of the Lord.

St. John

In contrast to them, there is the night of incomprehensible callousness and blindness: the scribes who have information as to the time and place where the Saviour of the world was to be born, but who say nothing about ‘Let us go to Bethlehem!’ and King Herod who wants to kill the Lord of life. In the presence of the Child in the manger, the spirits line up to take sides. He is the King of kings and Lord of life and death. He utters his ‘follow me’ and whoever is not for him is against him. He also speaks for us and invites us to choose between light and darkness.

(Taken from The Mystery of Christmas, the title of a lecture given by Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on January 13, 1931 in Ludwigshafen)

Innocents4_1

Dying of Love

I live without living in myself,

and in such a way I hope,

I die because I do not die.

Since I die of love,

Living apart from love,

I live now in the Lord,

Who has desired me for Himself.

He inscribed on my heart

When I gave it to Him:

I die because I do not die.

Within this divine prison,

Of love in which I live,

My God my captive is.

My heart is free

To behold my prisoner-God,

Passion welling in my heart,

I die because I do not die.

Ah, how weary this life!

These exiles so hard!

This jail and these shackles

By which the soul is fettered!

Longing only to go forth

Brings such terrible sorrow,

I die because I do not die.

Ah, how bitter a life

When the Lord is not enjoyed!

While love is sweet,

Long awaiting is not.

O God, take away this burden

Heavier than steel,

I die because I do not die.

Only with that surety

I will die do I live,

Because in dying

My hope in living is assured.

Death, bringing life,

Do not tarry; I await you,

I die because I do not die.

See how love is strong.

Life, do not trouble me.

See how all that remains

Is in losing you to gain.

Come now, sweet death,

Come, dying, swiftly.

I die because I do not die.

That life from above,

That is true life,

Until this life dies,

Life is not enjoyed.

Death, be not aloof;

In dying first, may life be,

I die because I do not die.

Life, what can I give

To my God living in me,

If not to lose you,

thus to merit Him?

In dying I want to reach

Him alone whom I seek:

I die because I do not die.

Poetry of St. Teresa of Jesus “Aspirations toward Eternal Life” trans. by Adrian J. Cooney, OCD (ICS Publications The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 3)