Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saint Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

St. Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent. The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer. As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman. Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God. Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She travelled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life. Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers. In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honoured.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (11.47-54)

Jesus said to the experts in the law, Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in His wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose Him fiercely and to besiege Him with questions, waiting to catch Him in something He might say.

(Homily By Fr. E.J.Tyler)

In his diagnosis of the religious life of the England of his time, John Henry Newman made a point he often repeated. People had little fear of God. We might put it more colloquially - they viewed God as being fairly harmless. In all things, God is assumed to be benevolent in the sense that only pleasant things are to be expected of Him. We could say that this is very much the modern Western image of God, except that now the prevailing image of God is faint anyway. The world is what commands the attention of modern man. Newman urged that the intimations of God the Judge prompted by our conscience be attended to, as well as the manifest warnings of Revelation. Related to this common and very modern impression of God, is the notion that while the Old Testament presents a wrathful God, the New has done away with this and offered a truly kindly God. Talk of terrible punishments both immediate and ultimate is deemed to be inappropriate. Satan is often depicted as something of a goblin - a mischief, it is true, but also not to be taken very seriously. Of course, these are generalizations and there are exceptions without number, but the point is that the real Christ and His preaching is absolutely relevant to the spiritual emptiness of modern Western secular man. Set the preaching of Christ next to any of the prophets and it will be seen that Christ speaks far more of eternal punishment than they. Our Lord repeatedly accuses people of wrongdoing and sin and warns of the judgment of God and Divine punishment. He speaks with thunder and lightning, as it were. He means His audience to change their lives, for their result will be terrible. Consider our Gospel passage today: “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all” (Luke 11: 47-54). What is our Lord saying here? He is warning those who are rejecting Him that the consequences will be terrible, and that the opposition they are mounting towards Him is all of a piece with all that has gone before. The prophets were rejected and this pattern of rejection has been at work from the very beginning, as evidenced in the biblical figure of Abel and his murder by Cain. It seems that our Lord is pointing to a coming catastrophe which will be the fruit of the numerous rejections of God and His servants, the prophets. I referred earlier to Newman - the acknowledged leader of the Oxford Movement during the third decade of the nineteenth century. In a work he wrote later in life he speaks of the fall of the Roman Empire under the weight of its own gradual decay and the irresistible Barbarian invasions. In that particular work he sees the invasions as (at least in part) the judgment of God on the Roman persecutions of the Christian Church. That is a view that one may accept or not, but it illustrates the general point that while God is indeed a God of love, His is a Holy Love and He judges sin. God is not just a kindly and harmless pie-in-the-sky. He is the very moral Ruler and Judge of the world, and all creation derives its being, moment by moment, from His creative Will. Sin is the one thing God hates. Ultimate and confirmed sin will be punished. Now, we must never attribute sin to those who suffer. Nevertheless the hardships of this life can serve as an illustration of the consequences of sin and of God’s call to repent. Great catastrophes and mass hardships can also at least illustrate the consequences of sin. It is surely the case that accumulated sins and rejection of God do have their historical consequences - consequences which will also affect the innocent. There have been terrible moments in history following long periods of moral decline. I cannot help but think that the carnage of the French Revolution and the vast loss of life of the Napoleonic wars were a consequence of the moral and religious decay of the century prior to it. It may have been - at least partially - a judgment. We ought have a holy fear of offending God. He is our Father and our Judge. In ordinary experience we see many things without noticing them, or to put it differently, we look at things and not see them. Then we look back at them and we see. The same thing can happen in our reading and hearing the word of God in holy Scripture. We can read the words of Christ and never notice many of the things He says and the force with which He says them. Let us notice and take to heart that He warns us that God will judge and punish sin - so we must repent to avoid this judgment. He pronounces harsh woes on the lawyers of today’s Gospel. Let us take these woes to heart, and resolve to live in union with Jesus our Lord.

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