Tuesday, 30 June 2015

BOOKS FOR THE SOUL AT THE CARMELITE LIBRARY

An article about the Library published this month in Kairos,
the official journal of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Words and photograph by Natasha Marsh




Set inside a glamourous 1918 heritage
dance hall, the Carmelite Library in
Middle Park has the largest collection
of Carmelite writings in Australia. With
something for every reading level, the
library is home to researchers, students,
readers curious about the spiritual life
and locals looking for a lovely place to
relax and read. Natasha Marsh spoke with
head librarian Philip Harvey about
this treasure trove.

When the Carmelites first came to Australia from Ireland,
they brought their books with them. This became the basis
of a library for their student seminarians. In the 1980s the
Carmelites wanted to do something a little different with
their growing book collection.

‘The Carmelites decided that they didn’t want a library
that was just a duplicate of the other theological libraries
in Melbourne,’ said Philip Harvey, head librarian of the
Carmelite Library, Middle Park. They sought to put together
a special collection, one devoted to spirituality and
contemplation.

‘One of the very particular things about the Carmelite life is
its spiritual tradition. The Carmelites looked at this—and at
the great thinkers and holy people in their order (Sts Teresa
of Ávila and John of the Cross come to mind) —and decided
that that’s the kind of library that they wanted to build, one
specialising in spirituality.’

In just over 30 years, the Carmelite Library collection has
grown to be one of the strongest spiritual collections in
the country, and one of the largest collections of Carmelite
writings in the world.

‘There is much heated argument about which library is the
biggest,’ Philip said. ‘The three largest Carmelite libraries
are in Rome, Washington DC and Holland. After that, the
squabbles begin, but Melbourne is certainly the fourth or
fifth largest,’ he said.

The Carmelite Library provides an opportunity for people to
focus on what Philip calls ‘life’s important questions’ such as
‘What is wisdom? Who is God? And what is my relationship
with Him?’

‘In 1934, poet TS Eliot asked “what is the knowledge that we
have lost in information?” With so much information around
it’s easy to miss the things that are really important. This
library is one place that has a clear idea about what these
important questions are,’ he said.

The library has a strong research collection for students
of theology. It is an affiliated member of the University of
Divinity and first resource of Sentir, the spiritual direction
school at Campion College, Kew. According to Philip,
however, the largest group that uses the library is the
general reading public.

‘Spirituality is the favourite reading of a lot of people—much
more than many realise. Wherever you happen to be at,
there’s something here for you’.

 The library presents a welcoming environment to visitors.
Set in the beautiful hall opposite Our Lady of Mount Carmel
church, it retains many of the quirky features of the original
1918 heritage dance hall, complete with curtained stage.

The central long study desk is flanked by shelves of books,
while the rare books and Carmelita line the walls. Some
of these date to the 16th century. The library also has
several quiet nooks and crannies for reading. Onsite coffee
and tea making facilities allow visitors to cosy up for a
whole afternoon to read, or chat with the friendly staff
and volunteers.

Philip said the welcoming environment means that they get
many visitors from the local area. ‘There are a lot of people
in the area who treat this as their local library. We also have
people coming in off the street, of all sorts.’

The Carmelite library runs spiritual reading groups, lectures
and other activities.

‘The spiritual reading groups are very successful. People want
to talk about what they’ve read … we look at some text and
everyone gets carried away,’ he laughed.

The interplay between practical, welcoming and spiritual
reflection echoes the writings of St Teresa. Philip talked about
how the library reflects the ‘spirit’ of the beloved Spanish
mystic.

‘This library exists because of people like Teresa. She was very
much about the practical world of the everyday in terms of
what she could do, but linked with this is a very strong prayer
life,’ he said.

‘Most of the great spiritual writers are people looking at a way
of living in relationship to God and their neighbours. They are
interested in the idea of the “personal relationship”, in other
words; prayer, contemplation and meditation.’

Visit the Carmelite Library at 214 Richardson Street,
Middle Park. For more information on opening hours or
events, go to www.carmelitelibrary.org or call 9682 8553.
You can also visit the library’s popular blog at
http://thecarmelitelibrary.blogspot.com.au/.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Saint Teresa's Birthday Poem Reflected in Her Life


Sr. Teresa Jerome OCDM delivered this paper on Friday morning the 22nd of May as part of the Symposium conducted by the Carmelite Centre to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Saint Teresa of Avila
We are honouring the 500th birthday of St. Teresa, for us Carmelites she is our Holy Mother who has left us and the whole Church a great heritage.  I would like to begin with a quote from her birthday poem, a few selected lines, which I think capture in Teresa’s poetic words some of the special moments of grace in her life. I have chosen three sections, the early years leading to her conversion, then establishing the reform and how she envisaged life in her Monasteries, and something about her writings.
                               I am Yours, born for you
                           What do you want of me?
                               Majestic Sovereign
                               Eternal Wisdom
                          If You will, give me prayer,
                          Or let me know dryness
                           Or darkness or sunlight.
                         Move me here or there.
                          Give me Calvary or Tabor,
                            Desert or fruitful land,
                             Sorrowing or exulting,
                                 You alone live in me.
                         Yours I am, for You I was born
                            What do you want of me?
As Teresa’s life unfolded she found what God wanted of her, but like so many of us, she too had to search for her way, face the highs, the lows of her indecision, and she has passed her story on for us, the story of God’s work in her soul, God drawing her to holiness.
Teresa was an extraordinary woman – born in a Spain that was trying to close its eyes and ears to the religious and political upheaval that was smouldering in the European countries – the Spanish rulers were trying to control the Church and State of Spain in a firm and rigid grip with the Inquisition as watchdog over both the written word and the prayer of Spain’s saints! 
Teresa of Avila came from a persecuted Jewish family, she broke out of the rigidity, simply by living, by developing and using her great gifts.
So much was against women, yet Teresa was able to write books which still speak to us today – she lamented being a woman because she was deprived of doing things for God which men were free to undertake, but her work has endured for centuries. She could not speak in the Church, yet she is an acclaimed Doctor of the Church with a world-wide audience, she was the foundress of a Reform within the ancient  Order of Carmel, giving to her Monasteries the stamp of how she understood the Carmelite vocation and which has now spread to so many countries in the world—we might be different in culture, language, liturgy, but we can recognize each other as Carmelites, daughters of St. Teresa, our Holy Mother, a simple, joyful, friendly smile is a good sign!  
What do you want of me? It took Teresa time to find what God wanted of her. When writing of the period of her life before deciding to enter the Incarnation she asked friends to pray that she would do God’s Will.  There were really only two options for a young woman of her background, marriage or religious life. Marriage did not appeal to her, perhaps seeing her mother bearing nine children and dying at 33 was not a good role model. Neither did religious life appeal to her, and she tells with no hesitation that it was the fear of hell that pushed her decision to become a nun. But once she had decided and told her father, she said that nothing would make her change her mind. “I was so persistent in thoughts of honour”.  –no going back on her “life decision” (a very different attitude to life decisions of today)  She was a very strong, determined Spanish young lady, preserving her honour, and with plenty of umph and character! The reason for her choice? The Monastery was a safe place to save her soul. As she said herself, she was moved by servile fear, not by love.  Her great desires to serve God and the Church would come later, after her conversion.
                                     Majestic Sovereign 
                                 If You will give me prayer
                                        Or let me know dryness
                                  Or darkness or sunlight –
So Teresa went through all these landscapes of the spirit as she set out in her long struggle of almost twenty years with prayer – to live her life with integrity and truth as the Rule of Carmel challenges all of us to do – its call to silence and recollection, to live in allegiance to Our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in continual prayer. Teresa’s battle with prayer during these early years as a nun is a hard read. We can feel the tension and anguish, even as she recalls it, years later. It was a battle between friendship with God and friendship with the world, her friends, her attachments. She received graces, calls within herself from Our Lord, even what she would later realize were real encounters, mystical graces, to live a more radical, true following of her vocation. She had great desires to serve God but not having the firm purpose of will to give all to the inner call. “All the things of God made me happy; those of the world held me bound ....my spirit was not proceeding as lord but as slave”. They were hard years to live through and even for the reader today,  the wonder is that she could keep on going, falling back and trying again; her determination well in evidence! I think that we have to remember that this is a mature Teresa writing, a holy woman, graced by God, looking back on her early life, judging herself from a new perspective – the kind of self-judgement we make during life, the opportunities we too have missed for a deeper “conversion”, that deeper turning to God, which we try to live each day.
Teresa knew dryness, darkness and moments of sunlight, before her agonized prayer to the suffering Lord, won her the grace to let go the “frivolities” of her friendships, the attachments that distracted her from total commitment to God’s Will, distracted her from a life of prayer with all that it demands. Teresa never set down a strict form of prayer, but she tells what she did, how she recollected herself, centred herself in God’s presence; her carefully worded definition of prayer in Ch 8. of The Life gives us an understanding of how she herself prayed.  “Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us”.  
The Way of Perfection sets the foundation for prayer. Teresa states strongly that vocal prayer does not hinder mental prayer. All prayer is addressed to God. We must come to both mental and vocal prayer, the prayer of the liturgy, with the awareness to Whom we are speaking, reverence in God’s presence. No just saying words, thoughtless recitation, all should be addressed to Our Lord with reverence and respect. Those who read Spanish tell us that Teresa always addressed God and Our Lord with the formal Thou, while St. John of the Cross used the intimate You. ( It looses bit in the English but we get the idea.) While Teresa had great friendship and intimacy with Our Lord, she also had  great respect. She reminds us to come to prayer with self-awareness, facing and acknowledging our own sinfulness, our brokenness and bringing to God our need for His loving mercy and forgiveness. In an attitude of reverence we praise, adore, offer our words of love and desire – share all with this Friend. Teresa allows us to share her own intimate colloquies with Our Lord which flow through all her writings.
While Teresa leads us into her way of prayer she is also adamant about building the solid foundation for prayer, the practise of the virtues – all the ascetical endeavour that must go into growing in “friendship with God”.  She will repeat continually when teaching her nuns, the need to develop, strengthen the virtues ....detachment and humility (which always go together in Teresa’s teaching,) self-knowledge, charity, obedience, forgiveness. We must make progress in these virtues, her warning. “don’t stand still, don’t be dwarfs”!
Teresa gives instruction and encouragement all through The Way of Perfection. Her commentary on the Our Father, is an insight into how Teresa herself came to this prayer and what she could draw from her meditation. She does not “push” her reflections onto us, there is a great freedom and space in all her teaching, but she gives guide lines, suggestions. Her desire is that all will reach the prayer God is offering. As she said, “the complete gift of ourselves to God, the surrender of our will to His and detachment from creatures”  This is the ideal and challenge she puts before her nuns, and indeed all of us. Not all of us will receive the extraordinary graces, they are not the important part, they are “extra”. If God gives them O.K. but the criterion for holiness is doing God’s will, love of the neighbour, charity. Teresa often stressed that holiness, depends on that, and holiness is what we are all called to, not just religious, it is the call addressed to everyone. 
Teresa knew the sunlight of the wonderful mystical experiences she had of God’s love, the locutions, ecstasies, raptures that poured into her soul at the period before the Reform, these mystical graces that were preparing her for the mission she would have in the Church. It was a time of grace, but also a time of suffering, because grace always costs; she herself was amazed at the development of the virtues in her soul during this period. 
Fr. Kavanagh writes in his introduction to The Way of Perfection, “Teresa never received revelations for the Church.....(he noted that many saints did)  Her mystical life consisted in an inner experience of the content of Revelation”  She was tireless in checking that all her mystical experiences were recounted to her confessors and were in conformity with Sacred Scripture  - this gave her peace and assurance. Anything not valid, “tear it out, burn it” she begged those who censored her writings.
                                             Move me here or there
                                          Give me Calvary or Tabor.
When Teresa undertook the work of the Reform of Carmel she was aflame with desires to do great things for God but as she wrote in The Way of Perfection, “I realized that I was a woman.....and incapable of doing any of the useful things that I desired to do in the service of the Lord....as a result I resolved to do the little that was in my power” 
The Church in 1562 was in a process of reform. The Council of Trent was in its final phase; the Reformation was in full swing and echoes of it reached Spain in some form which greatly disturbed Teresa. The Reform was to give her the opportunity to do something.  Teresa and her friends were finally able to set up the small Monastery of St. Joseph’s in 1562. It is a long and interesting story but I would like to talk about what were Teresa’s hopes for the Monastery.
In setting up the Reform of Carmel Teresa’s ideal was to return to the original Rule of Carmel—to the life lived by those unnamed hermits on Mt. Carmel in the 1200s.  In all the upheavals Carmel has been through during the centuries, the life had changed from the eremitical to the mendicant form of life...but in the heart of every Carmelite there lives the desire for the solitude and space of our early hermits, who left us a Rule and way of living that they treasured and which they brought to Europe when they were really squeezed out of the Holy Land—in the time of the Saracens.
Teresa’s desire was to recapture the spirit of the hermit way of life, to value silence and solitude and to live in continual prayer as the Rule enjoins us to do. Her genius was that she could build the life of solitude into community living. So, how did she envisage the way of life? The important emphasis was on prayer, the liturgical prayer of the Church, and time and space for mental prayer, a more contemplative approach to prayer. What was her purpose? We must all have a purpose for what we do.   To pray for the Church; by prayer and sacrifice, by following the evangelical counsels, by a cloistered life of solitude and silence, she sought to support the Church, the leaders, the teachers, the whole mission and life of the Church. This was her purpose, what inspired her. St. Therese of Lisieux understood all this profoundly.
Teresa emphasised small in number. She wanted her nuns to be friends with each other, “in this house ...all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped”. Teresa recognized that this was a big challenge; she knew that it is not always the holiest one in the community who is the easiest one to get on with, but, “no one is to be excluded, or feel excluded”. In Spain all were not equal. Teresa was well aware of exclusion in communities and made a strong point that this was not to be the case in her Monasteries. She wanted her nuns to be united in their love of God, in their prayer for the Church.
Community life is built and strengthened by time together, and Teresa introduced a period of recreation into the daily horarium. This also was an innovation and Teresa was adamant that all participate in this time together. She herself made this an entertaining time, the nuns enjoyed her company, her stories, her experiences with the foundations, and of course she expected that they too shared their conversation with each other, and that they had peace and joy in community. I think Teresa always communicates joy, joy in living, “God preserve us from sorry saints”.
                                             Give me Calvary or Tabor.
A Tabor moment at this time was the visit of the Carmelite General to Spain in 1566. Teresa had been living at St. Joseph’s for two years; this was the first visit of a Carmelite General for over a hundred years, (they just never got around to getting over to Spain!) and Teresa was justifiably anxious. She a Carmelite nun setting up a “reformed house” and actually living in it, with a group of women she was directing, while she was  still under obedience to the superior of the Incarnation. She had established a Monastery, St. Joseph’s, outside the jurisdiction of the Order, under the Bishop of Avila.  The Bishop of Avila explained all and asked the General to visit the Monastery. Teresa said she spoke openly to General Rossi, telling him the whole story of the foundation, her hopes and her prayer.....as Fr. Smet writes in his Carmelite History, Rossi “was captivated by his vivacious daughter” and he approved the Monastery and asked her to found more!  He visited Teresa a number of times to speak about prayer. Teresa always held General Rossi in high esteem and even when the troubles in the Reform broke out and Rossi was given false reports of Teresa, his disapproval was a great sorrow for her but her affection and gratitude to him never wavered.
                                                
                                                 Sorrowing or exulting
                                                  You alone live in me.
St. Thomas said that it is grace to receive mystical experiences and it is another grace to be able to describe them. Teresa could recount her story and also do something more – she inflames us  with the desire to enter the world of the soul, where God dwells, where he draws us. I remember when I was  novice and after hearing some pious talk saying to the Novice mistress, with a good amount of fury, I don’t want to be holy, I can’t stand this, someone’s idea of what holiness is”... I was expecting big trouble!  Mother laughed, “go out to the garden, dig your patch and see if you can remember what St. Teresa says about gardening”.....I got the message, I was enthused! We all know what it is like to dig, to carry the bucket of water, put the thirst plant under a dripping tap, the good fortune to find a spare hose ....and then the relief when the rain does come....a blessed relief all we Aussies from the out-back country know. It is not hard to translate all that into life in the spirit! 
 The Interior Castle, the masterpiece of the interior journey by which God led Teresa to union with the Divine Lover; the long hard road that led to the transformation of the caterpillar into the beautiful butterfly.  What I love are the images that Teresa uses, they seem to capture and carry  her story – like poetry – we don’t have to understand everything but there is a beauty and wonder in her images, she tells us that “we could never imagine the beauty of our soul” Her amazing crystal castle, the castle that we all have, with its millions of rooms, spaces of prayer, suffering, challenges, where the soft whistle of the Shepherd reaches through the spaces, the distractions, it reaches to the soul, drawing it towards Our Lord and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. There are the serpents, the darker areas that must be recognized and taken along on the journey to transformation. 
Teresa reached her centre – and she didn’t go off into a life of ecstasy and contemplation, but rather, the enormous, arduous work of the foundations; 17 convents, going from one end of Spain to the other in a mule cart!  All kinds of problems, accidents on the road, frightened, terrified nuns! law suites, litigation, letter writing, troubles that seemed as though all her work would be undone; and through it all, her poor health. Reading her I certainly tend to forget that it is an elderly lady with very frail health telling this incredible story, doing this amazing work for God.  I think St. Teresa would say to us, after the time of prayer,  “ my daughters , Good Works, God wants Good Works”!
She could surely say at the end of her life to Our Lord  -- to His Majesty – “Yours I am, for You I was born.. You alone live in me. I’ve tried to do what You wanted of me”! 
Thank you dear St. Teresa for all that you did with such love for God, for the Church and which continues to live and reach us today in Carmel. A very Happy 500th Birthday. May I ask you for a special blessing as I share your date .....but my years look very insignificant beside your 500!



Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Jesus Christ, Teresa's True Friend and Companion



A paper by sister angela ellwood ocdm given at the SYMPOSIUM ON SAINT TERESA OF AVILA commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of her birth – 1515.
THURSDAY 21 – SATURDAY 23 MAY 2015 at theCarmelite Centre, Middle Park


Jesus Christ, Teresa’s True Friend and Companion[1]

Her Definition of Prayer



Teresa, as a member of a converso family in the Spain of her day, had a deep loneliness and profound longing for truth—longing for God.[2]  Her passionate longing for love and wholeness –her search for God– took her beyond the tenets of society’s conventions and constrictions with their obsessive concern for status and reputation.  Through her struggle for inner truth, integrity and wholeness (a struggle fraught with conflict) she was led into an intimate friendship of love with the Risen Jesus, who freed and transformed her.
Behind Teresa’s loneliness and vulnerability, was the fact that she belonged to a marginalized group.  There were three areas in which she had constantly to battle:
1.       She was of Jewish blood and belonged to a converso family: this was a deep secret shared in the intimacy of the family.  Yet, the old aristocracy keenly suspected or knew, “who was who” — conversos were ostracized and not really accepted by them.  Rowan Williams says they had become “objects of continuing hatred and suspicion from both the lesser gentry and the population at large.”[3]  Converso families longed for acceptance and Teresa struggled with these anxieties and fears for years – from her teens onwards.  It was only in 1554, with the grace of conversion, that healing and freedom from these anxieties began.
2.       She was a woman in a society which extremely distorted and devalued the female sex.  There was great mistrust of women’s virtues and capabilities.
3.       She was a woman who had ecstatic experiences, practised interior prayer and authoritatively wrote books on it.  This, together with the founding of San José in Avila, brought her into the public forum. All of these points were closely watched by the Tribunal of the Faith.
Rowan Williams says, any one of the above qualifications would have been sufficient for the society and Church of her day to see her as a “threat and a pollutant.”[4]  Therefore, he says, she had to live and “negotiate her way in an almost entirely suspicious environment.”[5]  She faced enormous obstacles.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the all-pervading presence of the Inquisition and the pernicious reigning climate of suspicion, mistrust and fear, Teresa courageously pursued her goals with the utmost determination and shrewdness, her eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.  For authentication, we know that she consulted the best theologians of Spain’s Golden Age of theology.  Because, before all eyes she had to show that she wanted only what God wanted— what God wanted through the mediation of the teaching Church.[6]
Prior to her conversion in 1554, Teresa (because of her converso origin and her warm, affective personality) longed for acceptance, legitimacy, love and affection.  That was the mine field in which she “struggled” and in which God “struggled” to be present to her.  Yet, she often tells us in the early part of the Life that she was greatly loved.  She possessed a warm, extravert, human personality — she longed to love and had a profound capacity for love and friendship.  However, within these great qualities was her “shadow” or dark underside in which she lived ‘outside’ herself, caught in crippling, dependant relationships, where she lived on the periphery of life.  This prevented her from surrendering herself more completely to God.
Daniel Chowning says, “Love is the most important key for understanding her life and message and also for explaining the intimate conflicts that she suffered for many years.[7]  In fact, she defines prayer in its terms: “an intimate sharing between friends — with Him, who we know, loves us”[8] — frequently and secretly communing heart to heart with Him, in the intimacy of love.  For Teresa, it was “a loving friendship that grew in intensity and presence and transformed her entire life”[9] — her whole human personality caught up in Christ.

The question of Teresa’s formation in Christology:
1.       According to Tomás Alvarez, Teresa had the fortune of a rich and complete formation in Christology, both in childhood and as an adult.
2.       As a child she read the Flos Sanctorum, texts of the Passion according to the four Gospels.  The illustrated vignettes would have had a powerful impact on the young Teresa.  One really impressive drawing was Jesus praying in the garden.[10]
3.       As an adult, Alvarez says Teresa’s real manual of Christological formation was a four volume work of 1320 pages, The Life of Christ by the Carthusian, Ludolph of Saxony.  It contained an “immense Christological spirituality.”[11]  This comprehensive life of Jesus was one of her favourite books for meditation and a rich source of Scripture — it was “the equivalent of one of our intense biblical courses.”[12]  [Scripture otherwise, was only available to Teresa in Latin and she didn’t know Latin.]

Teresa’s quest for the Lord began in childhood.
Even as a small girl she sought solitude for prayer.  When her Mother died, Teresa was still a young adolescent girl of 13 years.  Bereft, vulnerable and lonely, she was led to the practice of prayer – prayer as friendship with Jesus, the God-Man.  Most nights, for many years, before she went to sleep, she would look at Our Lord’s solitary suffering in the Garden.  His loneliness cried out to the Motherless girl.  She began to look at Him in the forsaken moments of His life – when He was alone and afflicted.  He was someone like herself, who needed companionship and compassion.  She felt that if Jesus was a person alone, afflicted and needy, then He had to accept her in her brokenness and poverty.  And so, she would remain there with Him in faith, as His companion — consoling Him by her compassionate and loving presence.[13]  Teresa says she gained a great deal through this custom.  It became so habitual that she did not abandon it.[14]

When Teresa entered the Monastery of the Incarnation, she threw herself into religious life with all the intense enthusiasm and religious fervour of the Castilian character.  And so very early in the Life, she says:
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.  If I reflected upon some phase of his passion, I represented him to myself interiorly.[15]

Later in the Life she continues:
This method of keeping Christ present within us is beneficial in all stages of the spiritual journey – beginning, middle and end.... It is what we of ourselves can do.[16]

Presence to Jesus living within her — that was her method of prayer.  This means drawing near in faith and love — to Jesus living within us.[17]  “I am not asking you to do anything more than look at Him,”[18] she says.  To look at Jesus, means to study with the heart all the movements and sentiments of His person,[19] so that the truth that he is will be imprinted in us.
In the Life, Teresa writes:
If we are able, we should occupy ourselves in looking at Christ who is looking at us, and we should speak, and petition, and humble ourselves, and delight in the Lord’s presence.[20]

Later in the Way she instructs her nuns to look at the life of Jesus, no matter what psychological state they experience.[21]
Every human emotion and situation, from pain and sorrow to joy and ecstasy, finds an echo in the historical life of Jesus.  By relating our lives to the mysteries of his, we establish a relationship with Jesus, and will find renewed meaning, hope, and transformation.[22]

Ways in which Teresa maintained her presence to Jesus:
1.       She would identify with those characters of the Gospel, with whom she could relate out of her own weakness and struggling humanity and/or who stood in need of conversion.  For instance, Mary in her desolation at the foot of the Cross, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, St Paul at the moment of his conversion, St Peter in tears after denying Christ and St Augustine.  Their prayer, their difficult situation, their struggle, their longing for freedom and healing became hers.  The Samaritan woman especially, was dear to Teresa.  When Teresa prayed she would often identify with this woman’s longing and with her, ask for the living water which Jesus promised — that living water which alone slakes the thirst of the human heart.[23]
2.       “The moment after receiving the Eucharist was the privileged time for Teresa.”[24]  She would free herself from all exterior things, so that she could enter within herself and be lovingly present to Jesus, her divine guest living within her.

But silent prayer was not the only means by which Teresa encountered the presence of Christ.  When reading the Life, we find that it was especially in and through her experience of human limitations, crises and conflicts, that Teresa was led to discover the transforming presence of Jesus in her life.[25]
Teresa’s first years in religious life were marked by intense religious experiences.  YET despite this, her spiritual ascent stalled.  For almost twenty years, her journey towards inner freedom involved an intense battle and conflict between friendship with God and friendship with the world.
Her overwhelming need to receive and give love, although a God-given gift in itself and a sign of her capacity for the infinite, ran the risk of living perpetually outside herself in others, in a state of dependency and restlessness –mediocrity.  It clashed with her spiritual longings for God.[26]  She was unable to integrate her affective relationships with her relationship with God.  Because of her charming, outgoing personality, obedience required that she be deeply and constantly involved with the city’s prestigious families — soliciting funds for the monastery.
The same personal conflicts which gave rise to her vocational crisis at boarding school still divided her — God and the world (but then, the world was her family, friends of childhood, and father).  That affective crisis was the beginning in embryo of the long battle and conflict to overcome her inordinate or dependant relationships.[27]  In the Life, Teresa describes the state of inner conflict and fragmentation which held her captive and unable to surrender herself more completely to God.  She likened it to “voyaging on a tempestuous sea.... a war so troublesome.”[28]  Many times she searched for a remedy, but to no avail — she felt she was struggling with a shadow of death.  It was a major crisis — “the life I was living,” she said, “was not life.”[29]
When she reached the point of complete powerlessness, she let go of the trust she had in herself and placed it in God.[30]  God’s healing love would set her free and transform her.  She was aged 39 when she experienced a profound conversion.  It was the decisive turning point — after which her life began to change, to that, which she says, God lived in her.
One day in Lent 1554, she entered the Oratory and was overcome by an image of the wounded Christ — an image which bore the realistic and bloody appearance, so typical of Spanish devotional art.  The sight of Jesus’ wounds, his neediness, loneliness, and brokenness, undertaken for love of her, struck a deep chord within her.  Overwhelmed by a sense of her own sinfulness and “with the greatest outpouring of tears” she surrendered herself before the power of the Risen Jesus.[31]
This grace, together with another in 1556 (under the direction of the Jesuit Father Pradanos) liberated her from her unchanneled affectivity.  Her act of surrender was paramount in her discovery of Christ.[32]  It opened her heart to her loving Saviour, who was at work healing and transforming her.[33]  Rowan Williams says Teresa’ conversion was her discovery of being desired by God in her entirety, as she was.  She was ‘needed’ by Christ and she had a gift to offer God and his people.  She found an integrating reality for her life, and thus a spring of motivation not dependent upon her social and ecclesiastical context and its immediate pressures.... She was set free from the constraint of needing to be approved.[34]
Her capacity for love and friendship was integrated and channelled, because it was rooted in Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate.  In him alone she would find satisfaction of heart.[35]  Her love was more refined, more mature and free from egotistic demands.
Out of Teresa’s long crisis and arduous struggle with friendships, there emerged an experiential knowledge of Jesus as the true friend, who accompanies us in all our undertakings and remains loyal to us when all others fail.[36]  The title of Jesus as friend is central to her experience of him and permeates all her writings and understanding of the Christian life.  She conceives of the Christian life as a journeyin the company of our good Friend Jesus who leads us to union with the Father and with one another.[37]
Whoever lives in the presence of so good a friend and excellent a leader, who went ahead of us to be the first to suffer, can endure all things.  The Lord helps us, strengthens us, and never fails; he is a true friend.... God desires that if we are going to please him and receive his great favors, we must do so through the most sacred humanity of Christ, in whom he takes his delight.... This Lord of ours is the one through whom all blessings come to us.  He will teach us these things.  In beholding his life we find that he is the best example.  What more do we desire than to have such a good friend at our side, who will not abandon us in our labours and tribulations, as friends in the world do.[38]

Eamon Carroll tells us, “When Teresa speaks of the ‘humanity’ of Jesus,” she means, “the whole Christ, including all aspects of His human life, crowned by the Resurrection.”[39]
Teresa’s human need and search for redemption and liberation made Jesus above all her liberator and friend.[40]  We also see that paralleled in the Gospel stories and in the New Testament.
For Teresa, the discovery of the human condition of God, i.e., the humanity of Jesus, was the most transforming experience in her life.[41]
No longer would her search for God seem in opposition to daily life or her humanity.  Rather, it would be integrated into concrete bodily existence, for in Jesus, God has entered fully into human life and has become one of us.[42]

She discovered a friend, who would satisfy all her desires—Jesus the God-Man.  She found him fully human, praying and struggling with God's will.  And she never tires of reminding us that he lived with trials during his entire life.[43]  She says in the Life:

Christ is a very good friend because we behold him as man and see him with weaknesses and trials–and he is company for us.[44]

Teresa, looking at human nature, realized how much we need the humanity of Jesus.  Although propelled towards the infinite, we have bodies and live in a world where we must eat, sleep and deal with our limitations and material realities.  We are not angels, but human beings who need human support.[45]  The body has to be integrated in our search for God.  For this reason, we need the company of those who had mortal bodies in order to learn how to please God and work for God.  She says, “A good means to having God is to speak with his friends.”[46]  But then she continues, how much more necessary is the Sacred HUMANITY of Jesus, from whom we learn about God and how to do God’s will —what it means to be totally directed towards God, as well as to be fully human.[47]
Teresa experienced that life is hard and we need the example and companionship of one who has gone before us, so as to better support our human weakness.[48]  She writes in the Interior Castle:

Life is long, and there are in it many trials, and we need to look at Christ our model, how he suffered them, and also at his apostles and saints, so as to bear these trials with perfection.  Jesus is too good a companion for us to turn away from him.[49]

For Teresa, Jesus supports us because he is fully human.  He entered our human condition completely and experienced human reality with all its brokenness, limitations, and weakness.  Jesus’ solidarity with us in our human condition is the basis of our confidence and trust in him.  She says, this makes him our friend, brother, and companion in life:
A much greater love for and confidence in this Lord began to develop in me when I saw him as one with whom I could converse so continually.  I saw that he was man, even though he was God; that he wasn’t surprised by the weaknesses of men; that he understands our miserable make-up, subject to many falls on account of the first sin which he came to repair.  I can speak with him as with a friend, even though he is Lord.[50]

As Jesus plunged Teresa ever more deeply into this world of flesh and blood, life and death, joys, sorrows and instabilities, so did he empower her to EMBRACE REALITY with confidence and trust in his faithful and enduring love.  This accompanied her in the midst of all life’s complexities and difficulties.[51]  The presence of the Risen Jesus thrust Teresa into the heart of life.  He freed her to live more fully in the here and now.
In conclusion, Teresa’s charism is thoroughly incarnational.  “It involves obedience to life under God’s conditions.”[52]  Through all the obstacles, crises and difficulties, the only way she could carry out what she perceived to be God’s work, was to “Fix her eyes on Jesus.”  She put all her gifts of personality and grace at God’s disposal in accomplishing that.  The will of the Beloved had become her sole compass.





[1] In this essay I acknowledge the debt I owe to Daniel Chowning ocd in his two articles: “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus” in Kevin Culligan ocd, ed. Carmelite Studies X: A Better Wine: Essays Celebrating Kieran Kavanaugh ocd (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2007), 3–61 and St. Teresa of Avila: Her Way of Prayer: Fix Your Eyes on Christ (Washington, DC: ICS Publications Audio Cassettes).  Readers familiar with Chowning’s work will notice how much in debt I am to him.
[2] See Rowan Williams, Teresa of Avila in Outstanding Christian Thinkers Series, edited by Brian Davies OP (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1991).  Under the heading, “Honour: ‘The Greatest Lie,’” 18-25, Williams makes some interesting observations regarding acceptance depending on fraud or secrecy.  [We find] e.g., “... roots of protest against a dishonest social order, an interest in virtue or moral achievement in its own right, and a high valuation of situations and persons that could make honesty possible, that could lift the burden of concealment.  Converso society would be interested in value, weight, meaning beyond the realm of social appearance, which tells us something of why New Christians showed interest in radical religious movements that stressed interior truthfulness and purity, and the conflict between inner promptings and social networks of convention,” 21.
[3] Ibid, 13.
[4] Cf. Ibid, 37.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Cf. Williams, 44.
[7] Daniel Chowning ocd, St. Teresa of Avila.  Her Way of Prayer: Fix Your Eyes on Christ (Washington, DC: ICS Publications Audio Cassettes).
[8] Life 8:5.
[9]    Chowning, audio cassette, Fix your eyes on Christ.
[10] Cf. Tomás Alvarez ocd, St Teresa of Avila: 100 Themes on Her Life and Work, trans. by Kieran Kavanaugh, ocd.  (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2011), 439.
[11] Ibid, 198.
[12] Ibid,200.
[13] Cf. Chowning, audio cassette, Fix your eyes on Christ. See also, The Book of Her Life, 9.4.
[14] Cf. Life, 9.4
[15] Ibid, 4:7
[16] Ibid, 12:3.
[17] Cf. Chowning, audio cassette, Fix Your Eyes on Christ.
[18] Way of Perfection, 26, 3.
[19] Secundino Castro, "L’humanité du Christ selon Ste. Thérèse d'Avila," Carmel 33 (1984), 41.  Cited in Daniel Chowning, ocd, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus” in Kevin Culligan ocd, ed. Carmelite Studies X: A Better Wine: Essays Celebrating Kieran Kavanaugh ocd (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2007), 3-61 at 40.
[20] Cf. Life, 13:22.
[21] Cf. Way of Perfection, 26.4-5.
[22] Daniel Chowning, ocd, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus” in Kevin Culligan ocd, ed. Carmelite Studies X: A Better Wine: Essays Celebrating Kieran Kavanaugh ocd (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2007), 3-61 at 35.
[23] Chowning, audio cassette, Fix Your Eyes on Christ.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Cf. Ibid.
[26] Cf. Chowning, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus,” 22-23.
[27] See discussion of Daniel de Pablo Moroto, Santa Teresa de Jesús, doctora para una Iglesia en crisis (Burgos: Editorial Monte Carmelo, 1981), 47-52, cited by Daniel Chowning, ocd, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus,” op. cit., 58, footnote 15.
[28] Life 8.2.
[29] Life 8.12.
[30] Ibid.
[31] See Life 9.1.
[32] Chowning, audio cassette, Fix your eyes on Christ.
[33] Cf. Ibid.
[34] Cf. Williams, op. cit, 54.
[35] Cf. Chowning, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus,” 23-24.
[36] Cf. Ibid, 24.
[37] Cf. Ibid.
[38] Life, 22.6-7.
[39] Eamon R. Carroll, “The Saving Role of the Human Christ for Teresa” in John Sullivan ocd, ed., Carmelite Studies 3 (Washington, DC: ICS, 1984), 133–151 at 137.
[40] Cf. Chowning, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus,” 3.
[41] Chowning, audio cassette, Fix your eyes on Christ.
[42] Chowning, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus,” 25.
[43] Life, 22.11.
[44] Life, 22.10.
[45] Ibid.
[46] Way 7.4.
[47] Cf. Chowning, audio cassette, Fix your eyes on Christ.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Interior Castle, 6 M7.13.
[50] Life 37.5.
[51] Cf. Chowning, ocd, “Jesus Christ, Friend and Liberator: The Christology of St Teresa of Jesus,” 47.
[52] Ibid, 53.