Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Spiritual Direction with St. Teresa of Avila

Our community has been studying St. Teresa's work, The Meditation on the Song of Songs. Today, I share with you my teaching on Chapter 4.

The introduction to this chapter states:

Speaks of the prayer of quiet and of union and of the sweetness and delight they cause in the spirit; in comparison, earthy delight are nothing.
The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 2, Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D.

Teresa begins this chapter by telling us that the experiences of deep contemplative prayer, in particular, the gift of the Prayer of Quiet, is very difficult to explain.  Anyone who has read St. Teresa is very familiar with this statement, for she says it often! In fact, she warns us again in the 2nd paragraph that she hopes she can explain this type of prayer as the Lord wishes. And only those who experience this prayer will be able to understand her teaching.

In this chapter there are two points to consider. The first point is that of the petition of the bride. What is the petition of the bride?How long has she been petitioning the Beloved? We know it must have been a long time, for she says he answers her in his mercy. Later, she will tell us what is the petition of the bride, for now, St. Teresa states in point #1:

When His Majesty, through his mercy, desires to answer the petition of the bride, He begins to commune with the soul in so friendly a way that only those who experience this friendship will understand it...

The second point of this chapter is the response of the bridegroom: Christ bestows the gift of deep contemplation on his bride.

Let us recall that the gift of contemplation is just that, complete gift.  We cannot work ourselves up into a state of contemplation. This gift is infused prayer, bestowed on those who have been faithful in laboring in vocal prayer and meditation. This is the state of the soul who has reached the 4th mansion and higher according to St. Teresa's Interior Castle, for this is where infused prayer begins.

Now, in point #2 Teresa begins to describe this type of prayer.  But before we get to her current description, let's go back to what she says about it in her book The Way of Perfection, Chap. 31:

This prayer is something supernatural, something we cannot procure through our own efforts. In it the soul enters into peace, or, better, the Lord puts it at peace by his presence...so that all the faculties are calmed.

A person feels the greatest delight in his body and a great satisfaction in his soul. 

They don't want the body to move because it seems they would thereby lose that peace...

Sometimes in this prayer of quiet the Lord grants another favor which is very difficult to understand. When this quiet is great and lasts for a long while, it seems to me that the will wouldn't be able to remain so long in that peace if it weren't bound to something. For it may happen that we will go about with this satisfaction for a day or two...-these faculties are dull and at times as though in a stupor.

The above description is certainly hard for most people to comprehend unless they are living a deep prayer life and have experienced this type of deep contemplation. This teaching from St. Teresa in the Way of Perfection is her great teaching for us as Secular Carmelites.  She tells us that we can be so bound to the Lord in prayer, in effect, going about in a stupor, yet taking care of our daily business, thus, she says, Martha and Mary walk together. The active and contemplative nature of the human being are joined as one in a spiritual marriage.

Getting back to our lesson at hand, chapter 4-after we heard St. Teresa's description of this deep prayer, she states, The Lord now shows the soul that he loves it in so particular a way that there is nothing separating the two.

Then she goes on to explains that this type of divine love leaves the soul in a spiritual intoxication. And this experience of divine love leaves the soul with great determination to serve the Lord.  In fact, she tells us in The Way of Perfection, that this deep consolation from God gives the soul rest and strength for the journey that is doubled! So if one were previously able to perform great works of charity and suffer trials patiently, even more will the soul be able to accomplish after this experience of love. This is getting into the territory of the saints.  We only have to read the lives of the saints to see the great works they accomplished for God. 

In point #7 of this chapter 4, Teresa begins an exhortation that lasts until the end of the chapter.  She begins the exhortation by addressing her daughters:

Oh my daughters, may the Lord give us understanding or, to put it better, a taste-for there is no other way of being able to understand-of what the soul's joy is in this state.

Next she addresses Christians and her daughters:

Oh, Christians and my daughters! Let us now, for love of the Lord, awake from this sleep and behold that He does not keep the reward of loving Him for the next life alone. The pay begins in this life...

And here is where she tells us what is the petition of the bride:

I repeat, my God, and beg You through the blood of your Son that you grant me this favor: Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth.

This is the great petition of the bride, to be one with the Beloved (Spiritual Union). This is the metaphor of the kiss of the Bridegroom: Spiritual Marriage.

After she reveals the petition of the bride. St. Teresa addresses the Lord in a very beautiful prayer:

Oh, my Lord, my Mercy, and my Good! And what greater good could I want in this life than to be so close to You, that there be no division between you and me?...Now I see, my Bridegroom, that you are mine. I cannot deny it. You came into the world for me; for me You underwent severe trials; for me You suffered many lashes; for me You remain in the most Blessed Sacrament; and now You grant me so many wonderful favors. Well then, O most holy bride, with what ardor I have said what you say: "What can I do for my Spouse?"

Let us end our consideration of this chapter here. Let us ponder this statement "What can I do for my Spouse?"  

May the Lord give us the gift of deep prayer so that we may accomplish great things for his Kingdom.

Let us pray for each other.

St. Teresa of Jesus, pray for us!

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, ocds

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