October, the month dedicated to Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, let us ask our Blessed Mother for the Peace of Christ to reign in our country and the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart in our world! This Sunday, I share with you a reflection on the life a great Carmelite Saint, St. Theresa of Avila (Feast day is October 15). I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week: “October 15 - St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church Memorial: St. Teresa of Avila was born in Spain on March 28, 1515 and joined the Carmelite Order at the age of eighteen. In response to the extraordinary graces she received from the Lord, she undertook the reform of her Order with the assistance of St. John of the Cross. In carrying out her work, she met all sorts of setbacks with noble spirit and had to overcome many obstacles in our Lord’s service. Her writings are a sure guide for reaching union with God. She died in Avila on October 4, 1582. Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church on September 17, 1970. The need for prayer and its primary importance in Christian life: St. Teresa was certain that through prayer we can achieve all God asks of us including what seems impossible through our own effort alone. Several times throughout her life she heard the Lord’s words: What is it you fear? Though she was old, sick and tired, God gave her strength to carry out her resolutions by way of her constant union with Him. After prayer the foundress could return to her work and apostolate ready to overcome any obstacle. One day after Communion when her body was offering resistance to setting up even more new convents she heard Jesus from within say: What is it you fear? When have I failed to help you? I am the same now as before. Don’t hold back from setting up those two foundations, He told her, referring to the new convents to be set up in Burgos and Palencia. St. Teresa exclaimed: Almighty God, how different are Your words from those of men. She continues in the same vein: I was then so determined and encouraged that the whole world could not stand in the way. (St. Teresa, Foundations, 29, 6) Years later she wrote of what must have been a difficult foundation in Palencia: All is going so smoothly I don’t know how long it can go on like this. (ibid., Letter, 348, 3) In another letter she went on to say: Each day it is more obvious how right it was to establish a foundation here. (ibid., Letter, 354, 4) She would say the same about the new one in the other city too: In Burgos there are so many who want to join it is a pity not to have enough room. (ibid., Letter 145, 8) All her confidence from God filled her with joy and cheerfulness in spite of the difficulties of the situation: For me to go to Burgos with so many ailments when it was so cold outside did not seem at all feasible. (ibid., Foundations, 29, 11) However, the Lord never left her on her own. Through prayer we gain energy to carry out whatever the Lord asks of us. This is as true for the priest or the mother of a family as it is for the religious or the student. The devil therefore makes a concerted effort to get us to omit our daily prayer or do it in a perfunctory way. The tempter knows that the soul who perseveres in prayer, and who through the goodness of God advances in His service after every fall, is lost to him. (ibid., Life, 19, 2) Souls who have always been close to the Lord speak to us of the primary importance of prayer in Christian life. The Cure d’Ars taught: It is not surprising the devil does everything in his power to get us to lessen the time of our personal dialogue with the Lord or to do it poorly. (St. Jean Vianney, The Cure d’Ars, Homily on Prayer) Prayer is the foundation of faithful perseverance in the Lord’s service. St. Teresa teaches: A person who does not stop going forward will eventually arrive, though perhaps late… There is no greater cause of straying from the path of faithful perseverance than letting up in prayer. (St. Teresa, Life, 19, 5) Therefore we have to prepare carefully for prayer beforehand, and bring to it the clear realization that we pray in the presence of the living and glorious Christ. He sees and hears us with the same affection as He had for those who drew near Him during His life on earth. How wonderfully well the day goes when we take care of our daily conversation with God with calm and attention. How joyful we should be to enjoy the presence of Christ. Look at that senseless set of reasons the enemy gives you for abandoning your prayer. ‘I have no time’ – when you are constantly wasting it. ‘This is not for me.’ ‘My heart is dry…’ Prayer is not a question of what you say or feel, but of love. And you love when you try hard to say something to the Lord, even though you might not actually say anything. (J. Escriva, Furrow, 464) Let us make the resolution never to slacken in our devotion to prayer. May we always dedicate the best possible time and place to it, in front of the Tabernacle as often as we possibly can. Dealing with the most Sacred Humanity of Jesus: Our prayer will be easier if together with the decisive effort not to give in to voluntary distractions we try to have dealings with the most Sacred Humanity of Jesus, an inexhaustible source of Love. This practice will greatly facilitate our fulfilling the Divine Will. St. Teresa tells us of the capital impact on her soul of a passing occurrence. It left an indelible impression on her. She wrote: Going into the oratory one day I saw an image some workers had brought in to be put into storage. It depicted the wounded Christ and was so true a rendering of the unspeakable horror of what took place for our sake that it moved me to visualize Him that way from that moment on. I felt so ungrateful for those wounds that my heart seemed to split in half within me. I threw myself down near Him weeping bitter tears and begged Him to strengthen me once and for all so that I might not offend Him again. (St. Teresa, Life, 9, 1) This great outpouring was not provoked by sentimentality, but by contrite love for Christ, who loves us so much, He suffers for us as a most convincing proof of His Love. How natural it is for St. Teresa to long to behold an image of the One dearest to her. She later added: How deprived are they who have no conception of the look of Our Lord. It would seem their love were small since if it were not they would long to see His face. Even here on earth it makes us happy to see whoever it is we love a great deal. (ibid., 9, 6) We cannot let our relationship with Jesus be distant and impersonal. It is often helpful to make use of our imagination in order to represent Jesus at different moments during His life. He is born in Bethlehem. The Christ child is subject to Mary and Joseph. Later the young worker Jesus learns his trade. We can remember Mary being hard pressed during the flight into Egypt and her pain at the summit of Calvary. Sometimes we may draw near the group of disciples to who Jesus is explaining a parable. We can join Him too, on His long journeys from city to city and from town to town. We might decide to simply remain at His side and enter the house of His close friends from Bethany. There we can contemplate the affection those close friends must have shown Him. No matter what particular occasion we consider, Jesus is our closest Friend, One we can always rely on. In front of the Tabernacle we can continually learn to refine our dealings with the Lord. We pray so that we may encounter the living Christ, who is awaiting us. Teresa had no time for books that proposed contemplation as a nebulous immersion in the Divinity (Life 22, 1) or as ‘not thinking about anything’ (Interior Castle 4, 3, 6). She perceived the danger of self-absorption and of getting separated from Jesus, the ‘Source of all that is Good’ (Life 22, 4). Thus, her loud cry: ‘To go off from Christ? I couldn’t bear it’ (Life 22, 1). This exclamation is valid in our own day in the face of certain methods of prayer that are not inspired by the Gospel. These approaches tend to do without Christ in favor of a mental emptiness far removed from Christianity. (John Paul II, Address, 1 November 1982) Many of our difficulties in prayer disappear when we pause to consider that we are in the presence of God. We need to focus our attention on the preparatory prayer we may be in the habit of saying: My Lord and my God, I firmly believe that You are here, that You see me, that You hear me. I adore You with profound reverence… If we realize that He is as much at our side as He was with the ones who heard Him in Nazareth or Bethany, we are already praying. We look at Him and He looks at us. Perhaps we formulate a petition. At times we may identify with a particular reading or pause at a given point to make a resolution to improve somehow in our ordinary life. Perhaps we see a way to attend to our family better. We could smile more though we are tired or when we are frustrated in trying to resolve certain challenging problems. Maybe we need to struggle to work with more intensity and greater presence of God. Maybe we could arrange to speak with a friend about going to Confession. Given our effort and the grace of God we will share the experience encountered by Teresa and by all those who try to pray well. She confides: I would habitually finish my prayer with consolation and renewed energy. (St. Teresa, Life, 29, 4) Difficulties in mental prayer: The most serious difficulty that militates against perseverance in our daily prayer is discouragement. We should not get disheartened if in spite of every effort we still experience distractions, or the time spent seems fruitless. Prayer requires work on our part. St. Teresa relates her own struggles: For many years I kept wishing the time would be over. I had more in mind the clock striking twelve than other good things. Often I would have preferred some serious penance to becoming recollected in prayer. (ibid., 8, 3) As many spiritual authors point out, if we try to reject distracting thoughts and are firmly decided to seek more the Lord of consolation, than the consolation of the Lord, our prayer will always be fruitful. Besides, it will often be beneficial for us not to have sensible consolations. This way we seek Jesus with greater rectitude of intention and thus unite ourselves more intimately to Him. At times the aridity we experience is not a trial sent or permitted by God so much as a lack of real interest on our part in speaking to Him. We may not have prepared sufficiently well beforehand, or perhaps we are lacking the necessary generosity to control our imagination. We need continually to relearn how to focus our attention with real generosity. For whoever is seriously trying to pray well, the time will come when prayer seems like wandering in the desert, because in spite of all our efforts nothing is ‘felt’. These trials are not spared anyone who takes prayer seriously. We should be aware that the experience is common to all Christians who pray. We should not immediately identify this fairly common experience with ‘the dark night of the soul’ described in mystical theology. In any case, however, we should make a firm effort to continue praying during such periods though it seems ‘artificial’. The exact opposite is in fact the case. Precisely at this juncture prayer represents a true expression of our fidelity to God. We want to remain in His presence despite not having any sensible consolations. When this moment arrives the time has come for proving that our love for God is real. (S.C.D.F., Letter on Christian Meditation, 15 October 1989) Now as in the day of St. Teresa there is great necessity for prayer, since there are so many needs. (cf., St. Teresa, Letter, 184, 6) The Church, society, families and the health of all souls, including our own, stand to profit from it. Prayer allows us to make progress in the face of every difficulty. It unites us to Jesus, Who awaits us each day in our work, in our family duties and in a particular way during the time of prayer we dedicate to Him alone.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Joseph, St. Columbkill, and all the Holy Angels, may God grant us the gift of being committed to daily prayer! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel
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