Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
In a former parish I had the fascination of ministering to a retired diplomat who for his final posting had asked to be consul general in Spain. He was a man of wide culture and had four daughters all of whom had earned a Ph.D. and of them he was justly proud. The reason for wanting to be in Spain for three years was to be able to further acquaint himself with the life and person of Saint Teresa of Avila and he duly visited all seventeen monasteries which she had founded up and down the peninsula. When discussing Teresa the retired diplomat would say that no man who got to know her could do other than fall in love with this incredible woman – she certainly seems to have been able to twist Philip 11 around her little finger.
Teresa was born on 28th March, 1515 (she was to die on 4th October, 1582) and the Carmelite Order which she reformed, and indeed the whole Catholic Church, has just begun a year of celebration of five hundred years since her birth. Over the next twelve months expect to hear much more about this remarkable woman who has gone down in history as one of the great Christian teachers of prayer. Despite this, she never prescribed a formal method of how to go about praying. She directs her advice to those who, like herself, have “minds so scattered they are like wild horses”, and who find intellectual or thought-based meditation difficult. Teresa’s teaching is drawn from her own experience of struggling to pray, and of her awareness that all prayer is ultimately the gift of the Holy Spirit.
God seems often to spring surprises on people, and no one – least of all Teresa herself – could have foreseen the direction which her life would take. She had entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation in Avila at the age of twenty and experienced there a relaxed regime which in some ways was congenial to her temperament (she loved to gossip) but it was not to prove enough, and at forty-three, after a vision of the wounded body of Christ, she began the reform of her Order which was to consume the rest of her life. Together with her co-operator Saint John of the Cross, Teresa was gifted not just with remarkable gifts in prayer but with the ability to record them, often in striking images to which others could easily relate. Her “Way of Perfection” and “The Interior Castle” remain classics of the spiritual life, as relevant today as when they were first written down.
“May God protect me from gloomy saints”, Teresa once said, and that is how she ran her convents. To her, spiritual life was an attitude of love, not a rule. Although she proclaimed poverty, she preferred work to begging. She believed in obedience to God more than penance. “If you do something wrong, don’t punish yourself –change”. When one of her sisters felt depressed, her advice was that she should go to some place where she could see the sky and take a walk. When someone was shocked that she was going to eat well, she answered: “There is a time for partridge, and a time for penance”. To her brother’s wish to meditate on hell, she answered: “Don’t!”, and made the comment: “Good effects are better than pious sensations that only make the person praying feel good”.
Teresa of Avila offers insights which are both orotund and full of sound common-sense. Her most consistent understanding of prayer is that it is friendship with Christ. Prayer is what happens when friends spend time together, sharing joys and sorrows or enjoying silent companionship. As such, prayer is above all a task of love, and "the important thing is not to think much but to love much”. We all have much to learn from this fascinating woman over the coming twelve months.