Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: March 2004 Archives

"Deliver us from evil,
--and from slavery to the senses, which blinds us to goodness."
(from the intercessions of Morning Prayer--Wednesday 5th Week of Lent)

How providential that our subject from St. Teresa Benedicta this morning is presaged by the intercession from morning prayer.

We don't like to face the truth of Jesusí dictum, but it is important for us to do so. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it " (Matthew 16:25). In short, we can't do it ourselves. Moreover, we should not expect it to be either easy or without unpleasantness--dying isn't a particularly easy process. But dying to self is critically necessary for advancing in real life.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (and St. John of the Cross)

To take up battle against it [the animal spirit] , or to take one's cross upon oneself, means entering into the dark night actively. The saint [John of the Cross] gives several concise directions of which he himself says: "A person who sincerely wants to practice them will need no others since all the others are include in these." These directions are:

"1) Sustain always the desire to imitate Christ in all things and to bring your life into conformity with his. You must therefore study his life in order to imitate it and behave always as he would.

"2) In order to do this well, you must deny yourself every pleasure that presents itself to your senses, keep it far from you if it is not solely directed to the honor and glory of God.

"And in fact you should do this out of love for Jesus who knew no other joy and had no desire in his life other than to fulfill the will of his Father. He called this his food and nourishment [Jn 4:34]. If, for instance, some amusement offers itself to you in hearing of things that do not contribute to the service of God, then you should neither have pleasure in them nor wish to hear them. . . . Likewise, practice renunciation in regard to all your sense for as much as you are able to refuse their impressions readily. Insofar as you are unable to ward them off, it is sufficient that you take no enjoyment when these things approach you. Take care how you mortify your senses and preserve them from being touched by any inordinate desire. Then they will remain alike in darkness and in short time you will make great progress."

"The follow maxims will serve as a thoroughly effective means of mortification and harmoniously ordering the four natural passions: joy, hope, fear, and sorrow. . . . Take care that your inclination is ever directed:

not toward the easier, but toward the more difficult;
not toward the pleasant, but toward the unpleasant;
not toward the restful, but toward the troublesome;
not toward the more, but toward the less;
not toward what brings you more joy, but what brings displeasure;
not toward what prepares consolation for you, but toward what makes you disconsolate;
not toward the higher and more valuable, but toward the lowly and insignificant;
not toward what wants to be something, but toward what wants to be nothing."

. . . No further explanation is necessary to see that this active entry into the dark night of the sense is synonymous with ready willingness to take up the cross, and with persistence in carrying the cross. But one does not die from carrying the cross. And in order to pass completely through the night, a person must die to sin. One can deliver oneself up to crucifixion, but one cannot crucify oneself. Therefore that which the active night has begun must be completed by the passive night, that is, through God himself.

Always remembering that passing through either night is only possible with the generous assistance of Grace.

We don't like to think about these things. We would prefer to squeak into heaven, on a technicality if necessary. Who really wants to die to self--to give up the pleasures of the world, to not find joy in the little things that are around us? But I look at the lives of the Saints who chose to do this and fact of the matter is, their lives were filled constantly with a far greater joy than I can summon up from any created thing (except, perhaps, Samuel--but that's another matter.)

We don't want to do the work of sacrifice. We'll give money, we'll look to buy our way out of real self-giving, but it isn't sufficient. To truly serve God and to claim His greatest gifts for us we must die to self. There is no compromise. If we are to live the life God has for us we must abandon the one by which we protect ourselves from God's agency. We must shed the self-created life and assume the one that God has had for us from the beginning. It will either happen here on Earth or in the life to come. But it will happen. It seems to me that I would rather choose the joys the Saints partook of than the ones that I have daily, the ones that more and more taste of dust and ashes. The joys of eternity are available to us but we must be open to receive them and to receive them, we must love God more than we love ourselves. Loving God is the only thing that makes entry into the active dark night possible. We cannot do it by will, though we might start. We cannot do it by our own power, though we must contribute to it. We cannot do it without grace. And even with grace, if we do not allow grace to feed and fan the fires of love we cannot do it. Only love can draw one through the dark night. God's intense love for us is the magnet and our love for Him must transcend all earthly loves (even while it incorporates a great many of them). If we do not love God most of all, we cannot enter into the night, our strength and our courage will fail. And God wants us to enter this night so He can share how much, how intensely, how completely He Loves us. We cannot know this while senses are dulled by all the glittering attractions of the world. We must abandon our love of it (even as we continue to live in it) and direct all of our devotion and attention to God. In this we purify the senses, and like John of the Cross we will begin to truly love the vistas of creation, not for creation itself but for and by intense love of our creator. Our eyes begin to see what is really there, our ears to hear, our sense to actually touch. The weariness of the world washes away from them and we, like Lazarus are called out of the tomb into the real world--the world "charged with the Glory of God." That is our goal, that is ultimately our destiny. Why would we want to put it off until later? Why would we choose a lesser love over a greater?

But if we would choose this greater way, it will be hard to walk because of our fallen nature. Nevertheless, I, for one, want to open myself to God's call and to find Him here and now. I want to walk in the Garden in the evening and to be reborn into His image of me. He dreamed me into existence from the beginning of time, I want to fulfill His dream. I want to realize His dream for me.

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Hard Words for Hard Times

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Oh, you didn't think you got away from St. Teresa Benedicta so easily did you? Thanks to the resounding silence (perhaps the highest of compliments, considering the material) I have determined to post more, as she must be making an impact. In this passage she refers to the beginning of the Dark Night of the Senses and why one embarks upon it, indeed, why it is truly necessary to embark upon it.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

On the other hand, something entirely new is begun when the Dark Night starts. The entirely comfortable being-at-home in the world, the satiety of pleasures that it offers, the demand for these pleasures and the matter-of-course consent to these demands--all of this that human nature considers bright daily life--all of this is darkness in God's eyes and incompatible with the divine light. It has to be totally uprooted if room for God is to be made in the soul. Meeting this demand means engaging in battle with one's own nature all along the line, taking up one's cross and delivering oneself up to be crucified. Holy Father St. John here invokes the Lord's saying in this connection: "Whoever does not renounce all that the will possesses cannot be my disciple" [Lk. 14:33].

And it is in this last line that the true hardship of the word comes. It isn't that we can't be saved or we can't enter into heaven, but at times that seems like so small a goal compared with that of serving the Lord as Disciple. And discipleship is costly. I would recommend Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship were it not so virulently anti-Catholic. But he points out in the course of the work that many of us want a costless or cheap discipleship. Such a discipleship is inauthentic--and that makes sense. How can carrying a cross be cheap or costless? If we wish to serve Christ in this world and in the world to come, it will only be at great cost. Consider the very short parable of the man who found a pearl of great price and sold all that he owned to purchase it. That is the cost--all that we think we own, all that we think is ours, all that the senses "possess," these must be completely surrendered to God as the "cost" of serving Him. And the cost yields a valuable rebate. No matter how much we give up and give to Him, He returns countless amounts more in the freedom, peace, and serenity of serving Him.

The gradual shedding of the world's hold on us is a necessary prerequisite to focusing our attention completely upon the Crucified One. And what other meaning in life is there? If Jesus is not the complete focus then we are not seeing anyway--so what loss is our sight of this world?

(Tomorrow, perhaps, I will include the précis of what is required to enter the dark night of the senses--other than the call by grace, of course.)

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On Taking Up Our Crosses--WOW!


from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Knowing this, Jesus' disciple not only takes up the cross that is laid upon him, but also crucifies himself: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." They have waged an unrelenting battle against their natures, that the life of sin might die in them and room be made for the life of the spirit. That last is what is important. The cross has no purpose of itself. It rises on high and points above. But it is not merely a sign--it is Christ's powerful weapon; the shepherd's staff with which the divine David moves against the hellish Goliath; with it he strikes mightily against heaven's gate and throws it wide open. Then streams of divine light flow forth and enfold all who are followers of the Crucified.

It is in passages like this that we come to understand the true meaning of the word visionary.

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The Science of the Cross

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St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross made such a splash yesterday and the enthusiastic plaudits were such that I couldn't disappoint by not bringing more. First a definition: "St Paul who already had a well-developed science of the cross, a theology of the cross derived from inner experience (p. 20) And now this passage:

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The saving power: this is the power that awakens to life those to whom divine life had died thorugh sin. This saving power had entered the Word from the cross and through this word passes over into all who receive it, who open themselves to it, without demanding miraculous signs or human wisdom's reasons. In them it becomes the life-giving and life-forming power that we have named the science of the cross.

Paul brought it to fulfillment in himself "Through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

It could prepare one to recive life, but of itself it could not give life. Christ took the yoke of the Law upon himself in that he fulfilled it perfectly and died for and through the Law. Just so did he free from the Law those who wished to receive life from him. But they can receive it only if they relinquish their own life. For those who are baptised in Christ are baptized in his death. They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life. This life will be ours in its fullness only on the day of glory. (p. 21)

There are two points in this that really spoke to me:

(1) In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

The law is the sign that points to the great redeemer, not redemption itself. I know this from all that is taught and yet to hear this revelation from one who would know--a Jewish convert to Catholicism--completely transforms an intellectual truth into a heart-truth. St. Teresa Benedicta lived this transformation and more. She learned the truth of the law, abandoned it, and then learned the fullness of the law in Jesus Christ. She died as a martyr for her people (in her own words), taking them with her in a mystical way in the reality of her own death and rising. She reified the truth of Christ's sacrifice on the cross in her own life and death. And as with all martyrs she is among the best imitators of Christ.

(2) They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life.

This may be more significant for those of us who had adult, full emersion baptisms. In the Baptist Church, once you accept Christ, you are baptised in a pool of water--not by having water sprinkled or poured on you, but by being completely emersed in the water three times--"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." This is quite a different experience from that of most Catholics (many of whom cannot remember their baptism) and even most adult converts. I've seen many who have had water poured over them, but have yet to witness a full emersion Catholic baptism. That's an aside, but important. In full emersion you are truly submerged, and brought forth again fully symbolizing the death and resurrection into which we are being baptised.

In St. Teresa Benedicta's terms we are submerged into the body of Christ which is the living Church and the body of the resurrection. We die to self to become part of what is greater than we are. In dying we are resurrected as more than self, as a member of the body of Christ.

But I like the sense of submerged for another reason. It suggests the fullness of the truth that Christ is not only completely surrounding us, but within us. When one is completely submerged, eventually the fluid one is submerged in enters the body. Submergence in Christ once again suggests the truth of becoming a new person, of losing the old, false identity and assuming one's god-given place in the body of Christ. In addition, submergence contains within it hints of subordination, of right ordering, and of proper relation between the creation and the Creator. In all, a very satisfying fleshing out of Paul's magnificent, life-giving teaching.

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from The Science of the Cross: Introduction
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

But--in contrast to a holy realism--the artist's receptivity to impressions is one that the world views in the light of a particular domain of values too readily at the expense of other values. This results in a particular sort of responsive behaviors. It is characteristic of the artist to transform into image anything that causes an interior stirring and demands to be expressed exteriorly. Image here is not to be restricted to the visual arts; it must be understood to refer to any artistic expression including the poetic and musical. It is simultaneously image (Bild) in which something is presented and structure (Gebilde) as something formed into a complete and all-encompassing world of its own. Every genuine work of art is in addition a symbol (Sinnbild) whether or not this is its creator's intention, be he naturalist or symbolist.

It is a symbol: that is, it comes from that infinite fullness of meaning (Sinn) into which every bit of human knowledge is projected to grasp something positive and speak of it. It does so in such a manner, in fact, that it mysteriously suggests the whole fullness of meaning, which for all human knowledge is inexhaustible. Understood this way, all genuine art is revelation and all artistic creation is sacred service.

Despite this, it is clear that there is a danger in an artitistic inclination, and not only when the artist lacks an understanding of the sacredness of his task. The danger lies in the possibility that in constructing the image, the artist proceeds as though there were no further responsibility than producing it. What is meant here can be demonstrated most clearly by the example of images of the cross. There will sacrcely be a believieng artist who has not felt compelled to portray Christ on the cross or carrying the cross.

But the Crucified One demands from the artist more than a mere portrayal of the image. He demands that the artist, just as every other pesron, follow him: that he both make himself and allow himself to be made into an image of the one who carries the cross and is crucified.

(Note to T.S.--this definitely adds to Mr. Gibson's accomplishment in that the media excoriation is a definitive image of the One scourged. I too have little use for the detractors from the film who see only what they wish to see.)

The other aspect of responsibility for the art is too readily dismissed by modernists and postmodernists. Once the work is created they disavow any reactions or results of the art. We get crucifixes in urine and dung-smeared Madonnas and outrage when such works of "art" are criticized or publically declaimed. We get eminem saying that his lyrics encouraging hatred of women and of homosexuals aren't there to inspire hatred (then, what, pray tell, are they there for, because they certainly don't edify or entertain); we get filmakers who produce films that "tell the truth" (or so much of it as they are capable of seeing) who say they are not responsible for offending, hurting, or inspiring acts of terrorism and hatred. Nonsense. The artist's responsiblity does not stop at the production of the work. This is part of my problem with Stockhausen's comments after 9/11. The artist is also responsible for some interpretations of the work. Stravinsky was not responsible for the battles that broke out over The Rite of Spring but he was responsible for the music that resulted from his work. An artist cannot bear the burden of responsibility for every crackpot interpretation of his work, but as Mr. Gibson once again amply demonstrates, he must in some way answer for it--publicly or before God. Personally, I'd rather face the public than offend my God.

St. Teresa Benedicta goes on to point out another crucial responsibility of the sacred artist and that is to live out the life he is called to. Just as every one of us is called to imitate Christ in His mysteries, so too the artist is called to so. And perhaps an artist is called to do so more publicly because their work is in the realm of the public. That is, when we as individuals think matters less in some very real ways, than what those who have access to the media think and do. Thus, we have a personal, community, and familial responsibility to imitate Christ, but the more public the figure, the greater the burden of responsibility for the proper representation of Christlikeness. This is why so many are hurt and disappointed when Christian artists do patently non-Christian things. We have an example before us presently that needs our constant prayer that the party involved realize the implications of his action and learn to do the right thing rather than buying into the lies of the culture of death.

So the artist's work is a sacred undertaking because it draws our attention to Meaning and the One who is inexhaustible. And also the artist's responsibility is commensurately greater as his work is more popular.

All of this from an introduction to a book about St. John of the Cross and his doctrine. One can readily see why St. Teresa Benedicta is so much lauded and admired for her intelligence and her thought. And The Science of the Cross is her EASY book.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Teresa Benedicta of the Cross category from March 2004.

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