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Archive for the ‘St. Teresa Benedicta of The Cross’ Category

The Way of the Cross is a devotion in which the faithful follow the journey of Christ’s last day on earth. Through this devotion the Church has walked from the Mount of Olives to the hill on Calvary with Christ for many years. The Holy Land was a place of particular devotion to the Medieval Christians. Pilgrims would go to Jerusalem, walk the same path of sorrow, with stops along the way to meditate on the events of his passion, and consider the suffering of Christ.

The cross was a burden that Christ took upon himself. That burden is corrupt human nature, sin and suffering that all men are subject to in this life. However the “meaning of the way of the cross is to carry this burden out of the world.” (Hidden Life, p. 91 The Collected Works of Edith Stein, ICS Publications)

Jesus falls on the way to Calvary three times, and the “triple collapse under the burden of the cross corresponds to the triple fall of humanity: the first sin, the rejection of the savior by his chosen people, the falling away of those who bear the name of Christian.” (Hidden Life, p. 92)

The sin of our first parents brought sin and death, but Jesus freed mankind from sin and weakness by traveling this way of the cross. He embraced his passion and crucifixion so that through baptism, with the promises made to renounce sin and Satan, and through our sufferings we may rise with him in the newness of life free of self centeredness and full of joy and service to others.

Isaiah’s prophesies of the Lord’s passion were clear to all who had eyes to see. It was “our sufferings that he endured” and “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins”. He was also “ harshly treated” and “a grave was assigned him among the wicked” although “he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.” (Isaiah 53) Yet many of the chosen people rejected him as the Messiah. Even today many still reject Christ as savior. Thus the reason for the second fall.

It is the third fall that is of particular concern for our time. There seems to be so much falling away from the faith. Who doesn’t know of someone who once believed and now no longer practices the faith or even believes in God anymore? This is the cause of much heartache, especially when the person who has fallen away is held so dear and loved so much.

Therefore it is for this third fall that we are called to assist the Lord by helping him bear the cross. Jesus was not alone while he made this way to Calvary carrying the cross. There was Simon of Cyrene, Veronica and his mother to accompany him, as well as all the people who love him, and it was “the strength of these cross bearers” that helped “him after each of his falls.” (Hidden Life, p. 92)

Since by Christ’s example we know that suffering is the proof of God’s love for all mankind, we can love the cross and bear with our own sufferings and trials for the love of God and help him carry this burden out of the world. By bearing this burden we become united to God, to glorify him and prove our love for him and for others.

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We all have this tendency to enjoy (or seek satisfaction) in ourselves, in our pride or in other people and things. St. John of the Cross teaches that these tendencies are the root of our attachments. Attachments are those “inordinate appetites”. Basically, they are those desires we have for things that are not rightly ordered in our lives and lead us into sin, mortal and venial, and imperfections. It is important to get to the root of these inordinate desires if one desires union with God. To get to the root of these, which are the inclinations of our nature, we must oppose them and make ourselves do what is repugnant to our nature.

Gnarled Tree Roots --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Gnarled Tree Roots — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

This would mean ‘going against the current’ and requires strength of will. St. John of the Cross, in the Ascent to Mount Carmel, gives us “rules” for detachment. He tells us the soul must always be inclined:

not to the easiest thing ~ but to the hardest
not to the tastiest ~ but to the most insipid
not to things that give greatest pleasure ~ but to those that give the least
not to the restful things ~ but to painful ones
not to consolation ~ but to desolation
not to more ~ but to less
not to the highest and dearest ~ but to the lowest and most despised
not to the desire for something ~ but to having no desires.

So all that is difficult, disagreeable or wearisome to us needs to have our attention. These are the things to work on! These reveal to us our desires.

Our saint says we are to oppose these inclinations with order and discretion. In other words, we need to train ourselves to not shrink back from something we find disagreeable or that requires effort or that we find difficult or challenging. In order to strengthen the will, we can put into practice the above rules starting with little things in order to gain strength of will and then be strong enough to tackle the bigger attachments. For instance, being inclined to “restful things” like not getting out of bed when the alarm clock first goes off. The tendency is to hit the snooze and rest ten more minutes! It is a bit painful to jump right out of bed at the first call; it will require strength of will. “I will!” “I will get up right away when the alarm sounds off.” Or how about the inclination to the highest and dearest . . . a promotion, recognition, a word of praise? Can we train the will to not desire these and rather hope to be despised, past over and unnoticed? All this may sound harsh, but there is a purpose to this and it is to bring us to union with God. As we practice detachment from our desires this end is always to be kept in mind. Our desires should always be for God.

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If our desires are centered on God then we will be moving our heart to purity. The deepest, most spiritual meaning of purity is to “be detached from all creatures, free of a fixation on oneself and on others.” (Edith Stein Collected Works: Woman, p. 203)

This purity is so necessary to attaining union with God. Purity is a matter of the heart. The heart must not be allowed to be captivated by creatures, no matter how fascinating they may be. The soul longing for union with God will live among creatures and be occupied with them with all charity, but will not allow the heart to become attached to them or seek gratification in them.

The most challenging part of this virtue is the detachment from ‘self’ which we carry around with us all the time and are never wholly free. This detachment requires us to renounce our preoccupation with ourselves: our way, our wants, our comfort, our rights -to name a few.

When we become attached to something it prohibits our ascent to God. It is the virtue of purity that will help us to take flight and reach God.

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The duties and cares of the day ahead crowd about us when we awake in the morning (if they have not already dispelled our night’s rest). Now arises the uneasy question: How can all this be accommodated in one day? When will I do this, when that? How shall I start on this and that? Thus agitated, we would like to run around and rush forth. We must then take the reins in hand and say, “Take it easy! Not any of this may touch me now. My first morning’s hour belongs to the Lord. I will tackle the day’s work which He charges me with, and He will give me the power to accomplish it.”

(Edith Stein Collected Works, ICS Publications p. 143)

How often I have begun my day full of anxiety and already exhausted by the thoughts of what needs to be done ‘today’. I can’t go about my day disturbed and agitated. In today’s society we live with almost constant stress in our daily lives. Many things need to be done and physically we can feel overwhelmed, if not totally exhausted.

I believe St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) quoted above in her essay on Principles of Women’s’ Education has the answer for us. Our first duty each day should be to spend time with God in prayer. Ideally, it should be spent at Mass where we participate in the great offering of reconciliation and are purified and made happy. As we participate in Mass we lay all our doings and troubles along with the sacrifice on the altar.

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However, this is not always a possible way to start our day when we have a house full of small children to raise or if we don’t have the luxury of a convenient Mass time and a nearby church. Nevertheless, I can get up a bit early, before everyone else in the house has awaken, and spend some quiet moments with the Lord in prayer.

I can spend a moment making a spiritual communion and unite myself with Him. A spiritual communion is the best way to express, in prayer, my desire to receive Jesus. God will respond to this act with His grace. St. Teresa of Avila encouraged this practice as well. “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” (The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35)

And when the Lord comes to me then in Holy Communion, then I may ask Him, “Lord, what to you want of me?” (St. Teresa). And after quiet dialogue, I will go to that which I see as my next duty. (Edith Stein Collected Works, ICS Publications p. 144)

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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:

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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.

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‘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)

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One can only teach what one practices. In many respects this means we are all teachers. Our principles and moral views will influence our reasoning and our conduct.  Read the rest over at Suscipio by clicking here. 

 

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“The kings have a special meaning for us, too. Even though we already belong to the external church, an interior impulse nevertheless drove us out of the circle of inherited viewpoints and conventions. We knew God, but we felt that he desired to be sought and found by us in a new way. Therefore we wanted to open ourselves and sought for a star to show us the right way. And it arose for us in the grace of vocation. We followed it and found the divine infant. He stretched out his hand for our gifts. He wanted the pure gold of a heart detached from all earthly goods; the myrrh of a renunciation of all the happiness of this world in exchange for participation in the life and suffering of Jesus; the frankincense of a will that surrenders itself and strains upward to lose itself in the divine will. In return for these gifts, the divine child gave us himself.”

(The Hidden Life and Epiphany –from The Collected Works of Edith Stein: The Hidden Life, ICS Publications)

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The cross is a symbol of all that is difficult and oppressive and so against human nature. In the writings of St. John of the Cross, however, the prevailing symbol is not the cross but night. What is meant by ‘symbol’? In The Science of the Cross, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross explains that in the broad sense a symbol is everything sensory by which something spiritual is significant. It is everything familiar through natural experience that signifies something unfamiliar (or even that is not perceived naturally). In this broad sense night and cross are symbols.

A sign can be used in place of a symbol; however, a symbol usually represents a broader range of meaning.  An image can also represent someone or something. The difference between a sign and an image is that an image is a likeness; it points to what is image through inner similarity. For example, an image is like a reflection in a mirror. Whoever sees it will immediately be directed through it to the original that is recognized in that image. A sign has no such substantial agreement; the relation is arbitrary. A sign has an arbitrary meaning attached to it that must be told in order to understand it. For instance, a red octagon shape with white letters on it is a commonly recognized sign. A meaning is given to that sign. All, then, understand that meaning and know to stop when it is seen.

The cross is not an image in the strict sense as a symbol is in the broad sense above because there is no immediate perceptibility of similarity between the cross and suffering. The cross has acquired this meaning. It is a sign, but not one that was artificially given to it. It is because of history and its use as a tool that gives the cross this meaning. The cross earned its meaning.

As an emblem the cross is a symbol or figure adopted and used as an identifying mark. Christians identify with this emblem. They will sometimes wear a cross as an identification that they are a Christian.

In contrast with the cross, night is natural, the counterpart of light. It is not literally an object because it is not visible. Night is the absence of light and, though invisible and formless, it can, interestingly, still be perceived.

St. Teresa Benedicta describes, in The Science of the Cross, how night symbolizes the cross, that is in all that is difficult, oppressive and contrary to the will, because it limits the use of the senses, limits the use of movements, weakness strength, banishes in loneliness, and makes shadowy and ghostly.

The physical night, the night of nature, is similar to the spiritual night, or death, that St. John of the Cross describes with this difference: the physical or natural night of human experience is “the moonlight magic night”. Everything in natural night is flooded by a mild soft night. “This softly lit night does not devour things, but instead gives them a glowing nocturnal visage” (appearance). Things can be seen in this “moonlight magic night” only they are not as sharp or clear, rather they are “muted and soothed”. The saint goes on to note that “characteristic traits are revealed that never appear in bright daylight.” What an interesting perspective. An example would be, if while trying to sleep while staying in a noisy, busy part of a town, the quiet hum of the interstate traffic that was drowned out by all the other activity that went on during the day could be heard off in the distance now that it is night and the daytime hustle and bustle has ceased.

So, the night is good and has value, just like the mystical night does. Natural nightfall      “puts an end to the haste and noise of the day, it brings rest and peace.” This has a correlation with the spiritual “night”. The spirit is “freed from the drudgery of the days duties, relaxed and recollected, at the same time it is absorbed in the profound relationships of its own being and life, of the word and the world beyond. And there is a deep, grateful repose in the peace of night.”

In order to understand St. John of the Cross it must be kept in mind one important difference between this mystical, spiritual night and this natural night symbolism. Natural night imposes itself from outside. This mystical night “does not impose itself on us from without, but rather has its origin in the interior of the soul and affects only this single soul in whom it arises.”

The effect this night has on the interior of the soul can be compared to the effects that natural light has:

“it entails a submersion of the exterior world event though outside it is bathed in    bright daylight. It casts the soul into loneliness, desolation and emptiness, stays the activity of all her faculties, frightens her by threatening horrors it conceals within itself.”

Since this is all taking place interiorly in the soul, to look on someone who is experiencing this, would be no different than looking at someone who isn’t experiencing this night. It is all interior.

However, “there is also a nocturnal light that reveals a new world deep in the interior and at the same time illumines the outer world from within so that this outer is given back to us entirely transformed.”

[The Science of the Cross, Edith Stein (pages 35-42), ICS Publications]

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