Carmelite: October 2002 Archives

More on St. Teresa


Like St. Joan of Arc, our Saint of the day has a propensity for showing up in the oddest places. Witness this:

from Middlemarch "Prelude"
George Eliot

Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors? Out they toddled from rugged Avila, wide-eyed and helpless-looking as two fawns, but with human hearts, already beating to a national idea; until domestic reality met them in the shape of uncles, and turned them back from their great resolve. That child-pilgrimage was a fit beginning. Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order.

Here she is used on the very first page of a massive novel as an example of a vibrant, truly alive woman. A women who took care of a group of (perhaps often cranky) young nuns, founded new monasteries, wrote books, played tambourine and danced, and still found time for prayer that led her to union with God, is certainly an example for all of us. What she could do is, obviously, possible with proper love of God. More than that, it is a desirable way to spend one's life.

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Quote of the Day "It


Quote of the Day
"It is not a matter of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal, so do whatever arouses you most to love." ~ St. Teresa of Avila

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For La Madre


For La Madre

Perhaps more appropriate for the Feast of the Transverberation. Nevertheless, offered here for your delectation.

"The Flaming Heart Upon the Book and Picture of Saint Teresa"
(As she is usually expressed with a Seraphim beside her.)
Richard Crashaw

WELL meaning readers! you that come as friends
And catch the precious name this piece pretends;
Make not too much haste to admire
That fair-cheeked fallacy of fire.
That is a Seraphim, they say
And this the great Teresia.
Readers, be rul'd by me; and make
Here a well-plac'd and wise mistake
You must transpose the picture quite,
And spell it wrong to read it right;
Read him for her, and her for him;
And call the saint the Seraphim.
Painter, what did'st thou understand
To put her dart into his hand!
See, even the years and size of him
Shows this the mother Seraphim.
This is the mistress flame; and duteous he
Her happy fireworks, here comes down to see.
O most poor-spirited of men!
Had thy cold pencil kist her pen
Thou couldst not so unkindly err
To show us this faint shade for her.
Why man, this speaks pure mortal frame;
And mocks with female frost love's manly flame.
One would suspect, thou meant'st to paint
Some weak, inferior, woman saint.
But had thy pale-fac'd purple took
Fire from the burning cheeks of that bright book
Thou wouldst on her have leapt up all
That could be found seraphical;
Whate'er this youth of fire wears fair,
Rosy fingers, radiant hair,
Glowing cheek, and glistering wings,
All those fair and flagrant things,
But before all, that fiery dart
Had fill'd the hand of this great heart.
Do then as equal right requires,
Since his the blushes be, and hers the fires,
Resume and rectify thy rude design;
Undress thy Seraphim into mine.
Redeem this injury of thy art;
Give him the veil, give her the dart.
Give him the veil; that he may cover
The red cheeks of a rivall'd lover.
Asham'd that our world, now, can show
Nests of new Seraphims here below.
Give her the dart for it is she
(Fair youth) shoots both thy shaft and thee.
Say, all ye wise and well-pierc'd hearts
That live and die amidst her darts,
What is't your tasteful spirits do prove
In that rare life of her, and love?
Say and bear witness. Sends she not
A Seraphim at every shot?
What magazines of immortal arms there shine!
Heav'n's great artillery in each love-spun line.
Give then the dart to her who gives the flame;
Give him the veil, who kindly takes the shame.
But if it be the frequent fate
Of worst faults to be fortunate;
If all's prescription; and proud wrong
Hearkens not to an humble song;
For all the gallantry of him,
Give me the suff'ring Seraphim.
His be the bravery of all those bright things,
The glowing cheeks, the glistering wings;
The rosy hand, the radiant dart;
Leave her alone, the Flaming Heart.
Leave her that; and thou shalt leave her
Not one loose shaft but love's whole quiver.
For in love's field was never found
A nobler weapon than a wound.
Love's passives are his activ'st part.
The wounded is the wounding heart.
O heart! the equal poise of love's both parts
Big alike with wound and darts.
Live in these conquering leaves; live all the same;
And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame.
Live here, great heart; and love and die and kill;
And bleed and wound; and yield and conquer still.
Let this immortal life where'er it comes
Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms.
Let mystic deaths wait on't; and wise souls be
The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.
O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,
Upon this carcass of a hard, cold heart,
Let all thy scatter'd shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day,
Combined against this breast at once break in
And take away from me my self and sin,
This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be;
And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dow'r of lights and fires;
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove;
By all thy lives and deaths of love;
By thy large draughts of intellectual day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large than they;
By all thy brim-fill'd bowls of fierce desire
By the last morning's draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz'd thy parting soul, and seal'd thee his;
By all the heav'ns thou hast in him
(Fair sister of the Seraphim!)
By all of him we have in thee;
Leave nothing of my self in me.
Let me so read thy life, that I
Unto all life of mine may die.

The poetic transfiguration of St. Teresa into a Seraphim is really quite nice. And I'm uncertain that there are any lines in relgious poetry quite so powerful as:

"By all thy brim-fill'd bowls of fierce desire
By the last morning's draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz'd thy parting soul, and seal'd thee his; "

I'm certain there must be, but most certainly not on this day. St. Teresa of Avila is one of those saints you can't help not only admiring, but once you come to know her, really liking. To show this two small anecdotes:

Writing to her Foundations and advising the young nuns there St. Teresa of Avila said something to the effect: "If you believe you are having visions, you need to eat more."

Upon arriving at an important interview with a local Bishop, she dismounted and stepped or fell into a puddle of mud, upon which she raised her eyes to heaven and said, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few."

May this day be a blessing upon all of you and through the intercession of La Madre, may your prayers and your prayer life improve today and each day that you turn your heart to God.

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Dealing with God


Sometimes, in fact more often than not, God seems some very distant figure--rather like a stage director in the tragedy or comedy of our lives. I know that I often suffer from this. When I am saying morning prayer and I'm feeling particularly dry, I imagine the words trailing up like smoke from a fire, taking an idle turn about Heaven and joining those much more grateful, robust strands of incense in the great Throneroom where certainly God can notice them, but does He? I often feel at a very great distance. And the reality is, of course, that I am, because I have placed myself there. I have chosen to be at a great distance for one reason or another that I may not even be aware of.

In the course of a day, or a week, or a month, I can and do move closer, or I should more properly say, I feel closer, because I could not possibly be closer. Because of my baptism and the grace of my confirmation I have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that proceeds from the love of the Father and the Son for each other is part of my make-up. I may ignore Him, I may not turn a thought to Him at any time. I may choose some other substitute for Him. But He is there, and when I cannot pray, He is praying with groanings beyond human hearing.

But what about the feeling? I've always wondered about this, and it is a very difficult point. We humans place so much trust in feelings that change and transmute, are here today and gone five seconds later. We can plunge from ecstatic happiness to tears in a matter of moments. We can rise from the abyss (but that always seems to take a great deal longer). St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila teach us that feelings are another example of "consolations" in prayer. They are sometimes granted for the purposes of strengthening our resolve, but they are not to be sought after.

My preferred thinking about this feeling of closeness parallels the teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux on Love. While Love carries with it feelings of involvement, it is not primarily a feeling, it is a continual series of actions--it is a movement of the will that results in a movement of the person to action on part of the loved one. So too the feeling of closeness to God. We should not trust or rely upon feeling, it is deceptive and potentially destructive. Here we must trust our minds to allow the truth to trickle down to our hearts and change them. Whether we "feel" God's presence or not, we are told that He is present. It is a tenet of our faith that not only is He present, but He lives within us. And if we direct our attention to Him for a moment, we know it--we may not feel it, but we do know it in some way that transcends rational thought. Trust the knowing and forget the feeling. In this case the feelings may be manipulated by any number of factors. Loving God and feeling His presence, is an act of will that results in tangible actions toward those around us. It is something that should occupy our every waking moment. Loving God, who loves us enough to live within us despite conditions that would resemble deepest, darkest Detroit at our very best times, is the one key to life on Earth. Loving Him despite what we may feel about His distance or His lack of concern.

God is concerned about us. He does love us. And sometimes the love He shows us is harsh and difficult. We would prefer to live our own lives than the life of love of God. I think about St. Thérèse and the awfulness of the last 18 months of her life--the terrible darkness in which she lived, uncertain even of the existence of God, and yet, in some mysterious way, never doubting and never ceasing her enormous love for Him. l so much so that her dying words, "O How I Love Him," still resound in the miracles she performs and in the immediacy with which she seems to attend each person who earnestly implores her assistance.

Closeness to God is a reality. Our feelings are untrustworthy. As Scrooge says to Marley regarding why he does not trust his senses, "A little thing can disturb them. You could be a bit of undigested beef or a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you." So too our feelings about God--they are moved by little motions within us--fear and anger are the principle currents that drive how close we feel. We cannot control our emotions, or if we do so they may ultimately turn on us anyway, but we can balance the emotional sense of things with the reality that we face over and over when we open the Bible. We are "the apple of His eye," we are "written on the palm of His hand." We are the people of John 3:16--"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on Him should not die but should have life everlasting." When our feelings get in the way, we need to retreat, even if only momentarily, to reality.

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Fr. Thomas Dubay, S. M.


First let me display my enormous ignorance of the alphabet soup of Catholicism. Would someone please advise as to what the S.M. stands for?

Second, let me say that Fr. Dubay has to be one of my very favorite writers of the day. His works are never easy reads, but they have been, for me, enormously rewarding. That is why I delight in a very promisingly title book reissued by Ignatius Happy Are You Poor. Apparently the first edition was released in 1981 and Fr. Dubay has added enough material to get a second copyright for the second edition. Generally this means that the revision contains about 20% new material. The book professes to be about the simple life and spiritual freedom. I know that this is one of the main themes of my reading--so much so that I have abandoned the simple life simply in persuing my reading about it.

Father Dubay's magnificent study of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, The Fire Within must be one of the most profound, but unfortunately not easily digested works on the two saints. I thought about having people read Fr. Dubay's book before we started talking about The Ascent of Mount Carmel but I felt that Dubay's book was, in fact, far more difficult than attacking the writing of the Great Poet-Doctor himself. So too with the remarkable Evidential Power of Beauty and Authenticity. No question but that the good father's books are well beyond the apprehension of a great many who could profit from reading him cover-to-cover. However, they are wonderful, well-written, and quite worthwhile for any who wish to take the time and effort.

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What is a Third Order?


Laura, in a comment below asks a question I too often take for granted and which I think requires something more of an answer than one might infer from writing:

Your blog says you are a member of the third Order of Carmel. What exactly does that mean? I became a full-fledged Catholic in my late 20's and so I don't understand a lot of the lingo. Are you a brother or something else that I am not familiar with?

When I joined the Catholic Church I did not realize the presence of Third Order members, or for that matter have a lot of background on First and Second Orders. I had been in the Church about 15 years before a friend of mine brought to my attention opportunities that exist to enrich your spiritual life. And that is what they must be viewed as opportunities or vocations to a particular spiritual direction.

Many orders have a rule or provision that allow people to live the rule in a way modified to accommodate the fact that the person is in the world and needs to make a living, take care of a family, and attend to other matters that may be part of their first vocation (for example, marriage). In some orders, notably the Benedictines, there is no division (or so I'm told) between First, Second, and Third order (Normally, Brothers or Priests, Sisters, and Lay people). The rule apparently is flexible enough to accommodate all Oblates. These lay people are indeed part of the order, but they are not Religious in the sense of a completely dedicated religious life.

In the Carmelite Order we recognize two major divisions and three groups within each. I'll talk only about the Old Order or O.Carm. group to which I belong. They have a separate rule for first and second, and a rule for lay Carmelites. What this means is that we are indeed part of the order, we are not religious in the sense of being brothers or sisters, but we practice the spirituality of the order and live by a rule that has been promulgated for the lay Carmelite. Our order requires daily prayer, monthly meetings, promises of Obedience and Chastity according to the Station in Life, and other odds and sundries that come down the pike. Our official "habit" you may see occasionally (if you go to Daily Mass, look for them on October 15) is the Large Ceremonial Scapular which is a two pieces of brown cloth about 5" x 5" in size connected by the 1/2" brown ribbon. On the front are the initials BVM and on the back IHS. (The ODCS--lay part of the other division may still be wearing ceremonial scapulars with no initials, I don't know). These are worn only on Feast Days of the Order. There are two such, with a minimal provision for a third this month--Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux (October 1) and Feast of St. Teresa of Avila (La Madre-October 15). The wearing of the scapular on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, is, I believe, permitted. In addition, in correspondence not related to the order or to religious matters, we are not permitted to use the T.O. Carm or other designation. We reserve that only for certain internal communications and religious publications.

My personal practice, which is not required by the T.O. Carm rule, but highly encouraged is Morning Prayer, Office of Hours, Evening Prayer, and usually one of the minor hours that I squeeze in just before noon Angelus and Mass, and an additional hour (minimum)of meditative reading, scripture reading (lectio) and meditative prayer. Daily Mass is strongly encouraged but not required. As Carmelites we are called to follow the way of contemplative prayer as outlined by our Great Teachers--St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux. Now, I think it is very important to say that there is very little in these three saints that is not taught by nearly all of the teaching saints with regard to spirituality. What really differs order to order is charism, calling, and emphasis. In the Carmelite order we travel largely by what has been called (properly or not) the via negativa a way of detachment from worldly things and notions. It sounds very difficult, but it makes perfect sense once you understand the point. It's just very hard to put into practice alone. Thus we gather in monthly meetings to pray together, teach one another, and assist one another in advancing along the Carmelite way. It's very important to recognize that this is a vocation and not all are called to it. It takes time and careful discernment to understand whether or not you are being called. As a result the T.O.Carms have a year of preliminary teaching required before you are received and then an additional two years before you profess (fully join the order, requiring a writ of dismissal from Rome to leave). So once you are in, you are truly part of the order.

Hope this helps a bit. If you have other questions please ask. I forget how much I did not realize when I was discovering all that the Church had to offer. Most major orders have tertiaries or third orders--Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Benedictines all do. I hope others who are in a better position to know will let you know about other possibilities for lay people will comment in the comments box.

Shalom, and thank you for taking the time to ask.

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Unlike many people I know in the blogworld, at least according to their own reports, I tend to be a nicer person here than in reality (at least I hope that is true). I don't often answer people in the white heat of anger--I may start, but before I send anything, I very carefully consider it and usually delete one or two responses before I actually post anything. (Except when I'm talking about literature, and I doubt seriously anything I might say about poetry is likely to provoke enormous reaction.) I thought to myself, why do I have this restraint on the blogs and not in real life. The answer is two fold--part on it is that the answer or response need not be in real time. I don't have to answer every comment immediately or even at all.

The second reason is by far more important--I am detached from what happens on the blogs. I care about many people, surprisingly intensely considering my real lack of knowledge, but I don't need to control them. I don't need for them to do as I say. My identity is not wrapped up in whether Mr. X or Ms. Y follows my advice. I can advise and let it go. The person being advised can listen or ignore as the spirit leads them, and all is well. At home however, much is wrapped up in my identity as husband, father, coworker. I need to make this impression or that. I have to have validation from all and sundry. In short, I am terribly attached. As a result everyone around me suffers. I need to let go of that attachment. I need to break free from the need to identify myself in others (the Sartreesque "hell is other people") and identify myself only in God. I need to claim my identity in Christ wholly and to have that identity at all times in every place. I hope and pray that my conduct here is more indicative of what that identity in Christ is likely to be, because otherwise, I would be quite likely to be one of the "sour saints" that St. Teresa prays for deliverance from.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from October 2002.

Carmelite: September 2002 is the previous archive.

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