Born 500 years ago today, St. Teresa of Avila

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“Estasi di Santa Teresa”, Rome*

St. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila, was born on March 28, 1515 to Don Alfonso Sanchez de Capeda and Dona Beatriz Davila y Ahumada in Avila, Spain.  As a child she was fascinated with saints and attempted to run off with her brother to be martyred in Africa only to be caught by an uncle. Teresa’s imagination turned to becoming a hermit, instead, keeping her closer to home and out of trouble.

At 14, she lost her mother, which devastated her, but she sought refuge in the Blessed Mother:

“As soon as I began to understand how great a loss I had sustained by losing her, I was very much afflicted; and so I went before an image of our Blessed Lady and besought her with many tears that she would vouchsafe to be my mother.”

After that, she lost herself in books about chivalry. She explains in her autobiography, written near the end of her life:

“These tales did not fail to cool my good desires, and were the cause of my falling insensibly into other defects. I was so enchanted that I could not be happy without some new tale in my hands. I began to imitate the fashions, to enjoy being well dressed, to take great care of my hands, to use perfumes, and wear all the vain ornaments which my position in the world allowed.”

Her father, seeing the change in his daughter, sent her off to a boarding school at a convent where she says the dangers of where she was headed became apparent to her.  She suffered from what was believed to be malaria, not two years later, but recovered despite dire expectations.

Teresa became concerned with being pushed into marriage and a pious uncle got her thinking about religious life.  Influenced by the writings of St. Jerome, she decided to pursue that course, but her father would not consent, telling her she could do as she wanted after his death.  But she was resolved and went outside of Avila to join the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation.  She wrote of that experience:

“I remember . . . while I was going out of my father’s house—the sharpness of sense will not be greater, I believe, in the very instant of agony of my death, than it was then. It seemed as if all the bones in my body were wrenched asunder…. There was no such love of God in me then as was able to quench the love I felt for my father and my friends.”

During another bout of illness, in which her father had her removed from the convent, that same pious uncle gave her the book, Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna**. It was here that Teresa began to learn about mental prayer and the prayer of quiet.

In 1562, in her 40’s, Teresa founded a new community of Carmelites, reforming the rule of life, and ultimately limiting each Carmel cloister to 21. In all, she founded 17 communities of Carmelites that would become known as “discalced.”  (See an explanation here about the different branches of Carmel).

The Wikipedia for Teresa of Avila page nicely wraps up her elevation to sainthood and status as doctor of the Church:

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. The Cortes exalted her to patroness of Spain in 1617, and the University of Salamanca previously conferred the title Doctor ecclesiae with a diploma. The title is Latin for Doctor of the Church, but is distinct from the papal honor of Doctor of the Church, which is always conferred posthumously and was finally bestowed upon her by Pope Paul VI in December 27, 1970 along with Saint Catherine of Siena making them the first women to be awarded the distinction.[5] Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer. The mysticism in her works exerted a formative influence upon many theologians of the following centuries, such as Francis of SalesFénelon, and the Port-Royalists.

The writings most quoted from by Teresa of Avila include the Way of Perfection, the Interior Castle, and the Book of her Life.   The latter can be found in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 1**; the former, which is an excellent book to start with, is in the Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Vol.2**.  The Book of Her Foundations is also very good and is, found in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol 3**.   

Many of Teresa’s writings are online, as well.  These will be different translations, but readily available by searching using the title. One place to find them collected is at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Fr. Jordan Auman, O.P., whose book on Spiritual Theology is well known, summarizes what he calls the grades of prayer given to us by Teresa of Avila, whom Pope Paul VI named a Teacher of Prayer upon conferring the status of, Doctor of the church. He writes:

By collating all the material contained in the works of St. Teresa and taking into account the contributions by later authors on the practice of prayer, we can offer the following schema of the grades of prayer:

Vocal Prayer, with attention to what one is saying or reading and God, whom one is addressing.

Discursive Meditation: consideration of a spiritual truth; application to oneself, and resolve to do something about it.

Affective Mental Prayer: one turns to “other,” namely, God, and prayer becomes “the language of love.”

Acquired Recollection: also called prayer of simplicity, prayer of simple regard, acquired contemplation, the loving awareness of God.

Infused Recollection: the first degree of infused, mystical contemplation.

Prayer of Quiet: the will is totally captivated by divine love; sometimes all the faculties are likewise captivated (sleep or ecstasy).

Prayer of Simple Union: both the intellect and the will are absorbed in God.

Prayer of Ecstatic Union: this is the “mystical espousal” or “conforming union.”

Prayer of Transforming Union: also called the “mystical marriage” because it is the most intimate union of the soul with God that is possible in this life.

Further reading:


*Photo at top: “Estasi di Santa Teresa” by [1]Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

** Kindle versions can be found for linked books in this post, but may require a separate search within Amazon.

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Conversing with God in his own language

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What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.   –St John of the Cross, OCD

God speaks many languages, but we hear Him best in silence.  Perhaps that is why we have a draw to solitude at one time or another. This is a grace which comes first from God. But, if we enter solitude with God only when we are drawn, then we make it conditional on when it is convenient for us.  If we love God, we will look for ways to enter silence with Him, even if only for brief periods.

Sometimes, we fill our lives with noise so that we do not have to think about wounds we might be suffering. Other times, we do so because we know deep down that we engage in things that are displeasing to God, but we are not ready to give them up.  Among the many famous quotes attributed to St. Augustine, one of them was, “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”  After Jesus cast demons out of two men and into some swine which then drowned themselves, the people of the town pleaded with Jesus to leave  (Mt 8:28-34). They did not want to change.  Likewise, we avoid Jesus when we do not quiet ourselves.

Man in silenceTalking is also natural to us, as is our desire to share with others what we are thinking.  We sometimes take this approach with God, spending more time talking to Him than listening to what He has to say.  We may believe we are praying, when we are actually talking to God.

God is there, waiting for us to enter into silence so we can hear His voice above all others.  It is in this silence to which he calls us, even if only for brief periods through the day.  It is not a matter of being in silence to collect our thoughts as even this is a form of noise.

Consider a child who nestles in the warm embrace of a parent and sits contentedly for a period of time.  No words are exchanged, but a bond forms and strengthens.  Any loving parent knows what a gift this is and doesn’t want the moment to end.  God is pleased when we sit quietly in His embrace, content to give ourselves to Him, asking for nothing in return.  In this silence, we still hear His voice, but in the depth of our hearts. This is nothing extraordinary, but the ordinary way He communicates with us.

Look for small opportunities to be in silence.  Work for a time in silence if you are accustomed to having some kind of noise.  Ask God for His assistance, as well as that of your guardian angel.  Start with just 30 minutes.  Also, if you are having a meal alone – at work, or at home – take some time to have “lunch with God.”

A useful resource to understand the various forms of noise and how they affect the spiritual life was this great talk by Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC: On Holy Silence

Silence is a necessary condition for growth in the interior life. The spiritual doctors of the Church offer practical advice on how to observe 12 forms of silence in order to dispose ourselves for a deeper union in prayer with Jesus and to receive the subtle guidance of the holy angels.

Here also, is the trailer for a movie which was popular some years ago called, “Into Great Silence.”  There is something about the solitude here that is appealing to us even though most of us could not live in silence to this extreme. If you hover your cursor in the lower left there is a gear. Click that and choose an HD version for optimal clarity.

Image at top: “Pearce Solitude” by Charles Sprague Pearce[1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Embedded photo: By Simon Speed (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the long-suffering of God

Yesterday, I began a discussion about long-suffering, or sometimes less referred to as longanimity.  This is the ability to bear patiently with wrongs committed against us, or as Fr. Hardon put it, “extraordinary patience under provocation or trial.”  In that post, I explained how this was manifest in Jesus. Last night, as I was concluding that post, I had stumbled upon something from St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lecture 2, in which he talks about sin, repentance, and Satan. Cyril drives the point home many times in this lecture about the long-suffering of God in how he deals with us.  He provides many examples from Scripture.  In one part he writes:

Bartolozzi_St_Cyril_of_Jerusalem7. Would you see the loving-kindness of God, O thou that art lately come to the catechising? Would you see the loving-kindness of God, and the abundance of His long-suffering? Hear about Adam. Adam, God’s first-formed man, transgressed: could He not at once have brought death upon him? But see what the Lord does, in His great love towards man. He casts him out from Paradise, for because of sin he was unworthy to live there; but He puts him to dwell over against Paradise : that seeing whence he had fallen, and from what and into what a state he was brought down, he might afterwards be saved by repentance. Cain the first-born man became his brother’s murderer, the inventor of evils, the first author of murders, and the first envious man. Yet after slaying his brother to what is he condemned? Groaning and trembling shall you be upon the earth. How great the offense, the sentence how light!

Read the full catechetical lesson. He gives several other examples from Scripture detailing all the ways God has put up with members of the human race since the beginning. One thing is for certain:  God puts up with a lot out of us, not only because He loves us, but because he’s allowing us to learn and exercise the free will He has given us.  We have to take care not to abuse His love for us by choosing good, rejecting bad, and making use of Sacramental Confession to acknowledge our sins.


Image Attribution: “Bartolozzi St Cyril of Jerusalem” by Francesco BartolozziHodie Mecum Eris In Paradiso. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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Longanimity (Long-Suffering)

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In case you missed it, this new blog, Standing Before Mount Carmel, is explained in the first post.

I’ve been reflecting of late a lot on long-suffering. It’s not really discussed and yet, it is very relevant to our own spiritual formation.

Long-suffering is expressed in an old word not heard so much in contemporary world: Longanimity.  My WordPress spell-check does not recognize it.  The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines longanimity as, “a disposition to bear injuries patiently.”

Longanimity, or long suffering, is explained in Fr. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary this way (emphasis mine in bold):

“Extraordinary patience under provocation or trial. Also called long suffering. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It includes forbearance, which adds to long suffering the implication of restraint in expressing one’s feelings or in demanding punishment or one’s due. Longanimity suggests toleration, moved by love and the desire for peace, of something painful that deserves to be rejected or opposed.”

Fr. Hardon was using the Vulgate text when listing the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity.

To me, these are much more clear than most contemporary versions even if we need to study some of the terms to grasp their meaning.  In fact, the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE) lists only 9. If you want more confusion, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a full twelve, but there are some differences from the Vulgate.  We will use what Fr. Hardon presents since this post is about longanimity.

Christ exemplifies longanimity in his passion and death

Jesus was mocked, scorned, spit-upon, beaten, endured long thorns shoved into his head, and even deeper nails penetrating his hands and feet.  This, by those whom he loved. He met it all with silence when it was clear this was the will of the Father for him.  In one piece attributed to St. Augustine on patience we read:

This patience the Lord taught, when, the servants being moved at the mixing in of the tares and wishing to gather them up, He said that the householder answered, Leave both to grow until the harvest. That, namely, must be patience put up with, which must not be in haste put away. Of this patience Himself afforded and showed an example, when, before the passion of His Body, He so bore with His disciple Judas, that ere He pointed him out as the traitor, He endured him as a thief; and before experience of bonds and cross and death, did, to those lips so full of guile, not deny the kiss of peace.

The Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas, lists seven reasons why Christ had to suffer on the cross. In his sixth reason, he says, in part:

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Hans Thoma Kreuzigung” by Hans Thoma – Festkalender von Hans Thoma, Verlag von E. A. Seemann, Leipzig. Mappe mit 31 farbigen Tafeln.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Not without purpose did He choose this class of death, that He might be a teacher of that breadth, and height, and length, and depth,” of which the Apostle speaks (Ephesians 3:18): For breadth is in the beam, which is fixed transversely above; this appertains to good works, since the hands are stretched out upon it. Length is the tree’s extent from the beam to the ground; and there it is planted–that is, it stands and abides–which is the note of longanimity. Height is in that portion of the tree which remains over from the transverse beam upwards to the top, and this is at the head of the Crucified, because He is the supreme desire of souls of good hope. But that part of the tree which is hidden from view to hold it fixed, and from which the entire rood springs, denotes the depth of gratuitous grace.”

In the beginning of paragraph 2 by St. Iranaeus in Against Heresies: Book III, Chapter 20, he explains:

This, therefore, was the [object of the] long-suffering of God, that man, passing through all things, and acquiring the knowledge of moral discipline, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience what is the source of his deliverance, may always live in a state of gratitude to the Lord…

There was more to read, but I did not want to make the post too long, so continue reading what St. Iranaeus had to say by following the link.

In another post, we will look closer at how the fruit of long-suffering is manifest in ordinary living and in extraordinary circumstances.


Flagellation-of-christ- Rubens” by Peter Paul Rubens – http://www.aiwaz.net/uploads/gallery/flagellation-of-christ-3728.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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Another day; another blog

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I’ve been blogging since 2006 in Blogger, most notably at Te Deum Laudamus.  On that blog, I have discussed just about anything pertaining to Catholicism, including current events; and, even some non-Catholic topics I labeled, “Off Topic.” Sometimes, it is so easy to get drawn into everything that is going on, that the spiritual life gets left behind.

In recent years, I wanted to try WordPress, but did not want to get involved with migrating the original.  At the same time, I’ve wanted to narrow my focus on discussions within Catholicism to more truly spiritual matters and having a blog just for that will help me stay on course when writing here. That is what I intend to do at Standing Before Mount Carmel.

So, Te Deum Laudamus will continue, but this blog will have a more narrow focus, but one that I believe will blossom with more fruitful spiritual goods.

Since this blog does not yet have a following, I will make a post at Te Deum Laudamus to alert readers of a new post here.  I hope you will add this blog to your RSS reader or follow using the email option.  I’ll also be sharing from my Twitter account (in the sidebar) and on Facebook.  If you simply use the “Follow” option in Facebook, you’ll get my content.  Almost all that I put up on Facebook is public.  You can find most of my social media accounts in the About section (also seen in the bar below the header of this blog).  You can find a little more about me and this blog there, as well.

Bear with me as I learn how to use WordPress.  Thus far, I am liking it, but have much to learn.  I’m trying to disable comments as this takes up even more time which I do not have.  People use social media to discuss things today anyway.


Attribution for photo at top: “Carmel IMG 2874” by deror_aviOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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