The most popular image of St. Teresa is her holding a pen in one hand ready to write, an open book in the other and the dove of the Holy Spirit. This very image will grace the corner of Armitage and Seminary. Teresa was a woman of inspiration, a word meaning to “let breath in.” She surrendered to the Spirit of Christ while pleading that God hear her prayer to completely take over her life. She spent many years praying for this moment in which the Spirit penetrated her heart, creating an ecstasy of Love that overpowered her.
The Spirit led her on a journey, a camino, of massive change and upheaval. She was “inspired” to see the truth of religious life as she was living it; she “saw” the hypocrisy within the walls of her convent where the wealthy nuns were served by those who had no dowry. The life inside the walls of the Convent of the Incarnation was a breeze that spoke apathy and indifference to gospel living. Teresa herself was a bit of a busybody who loved to chatter and gossip. But something happened within the heart of Teresa that turned her world upside down.
In a powerful touch of irony, Teresa actually died on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. But the next day the reformed Gregorian calendar went into effect, so her date was moved to the 15th. Reform was a constant theme in Teresa’s life, a reform that really did not settle until until she was in mid life. There’s hope for us late comers!!
What Teresa proposed was a total reform of the Carmelite Order, compelling the sisters to live a life of evangelical poverty, prayer and obedience. She went even further and inspired her companion in the spiritual life, St. John of the Cross, to make a similar reform in the male branch of the community.
What was the result? She and John formed a new community of Carmelite reform; they branched off, so to speak. Their actions caused both saints horrible consequences. Teresa was despised by most of the nuns who tried to throw her out and succeeded. Many in authority were suspicious of her inspired teachings. Even the Inquisition tried to condemn her, but was no match for her intelligence and faith. Women were supposed to be seen and not heard and their prayer life reduced to “saying prayers.” Teresa was calling her nuns to a life of contemplative prayer, what she called ”prayer of the heart.” This was unthinkable in the 16th century Church. This attitude that deep prayer was only for monks and some priests was expanded to include women religious. The laity would not experience what Teresa was trying to teach until the Second Vatican Council, just 50 years ago!!
St. John of the Cross didn’t fair much better. His fellow friars hated the reform he proposed to such an extent that they locked him in a tiny closet for nearly a year!! It was within these dark, confined walls that John wrote much of his masterpiece, The Dark Night of the Soul. He had to escape the men of his own community; his teachings and radical ideas of reform were under suspicion.
To be inspired by the Spirit sounds beautiful but it always demands a price and is never easy. The same “Spirit” that inspired and filled Teresa hovers over each one of us and our journeys. The open book that Teresa holds in her hands is an apt symbol of our lives: may we be an “open book” that allows the Spirit to not only hover over us but to fill us…change us….reform the way we are living life.
To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.
– St. Teresa of Avila
May the Spirit freely write the message God has just for YOU in your very heart. But be forewarned by Teresa and John, to change or reform your life will most definitely involve resistance and even rejection.
On this feast of our patron, may our parish community make a difference in our city and church. May we have the courage to become and be reformed into a parish that speaks to the 21st century. We need to have our own parish synod , like the one going on in Rome right now, to forge a new path of evangelization. The people in our neighborhoods are waiting for us.
Buen Camino and blessed Feast
Happy 125th anniversary.