Wednesday, October 15, 2014

St. Theresa - Oct 15th

Today is the feast of St. Theresa of Avila. She has the distinction of dying right as the Gregorian Calendar was being implemented, during the night between Thursday October 4th and Friday October 15th. What can be said of this saint? Her mortifications, were they performed today, would no doubt shock the modern sensibility. Even in sickness she scourged herself, asking the Lord to send her suffering or death. We often call the souls in purgatory the Suffering Church. But in many ways we must recognize that to suffer is the lot of every Christian, in this life or the next. Suffering, accepted and even embraced in this life has merit. St. Theresa, in her conformity with God, recognized the value of the Cross. She knew well the call "to make up for what was lacking in the suffering of Christ."

But what could be lacking in His perfect Passion?

For what was lacking was that, just as Christ had suffered in His own body, so He should also suffer in Paul, his member, and in likewise in others. And for the body, which is the Church, which was to be redeemed by Christ: “That he might present himself a glorious Church, not having stain or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27). Thus also all the saints suffer for the Church, which is strengthened by their example. (St. Thomas Aquinas, commentary on Colossians) 

What is lacking is our conformity with Christ, which includes taking up the Cross. Modern sensibility runs away from such notion. And many today, even if they might be willing to offer up their own suffering are unwilling to present this scandal of the Cross to the world. Pastoral care is often invoked as a reason why we cannot confront sin. Those in adulterous unions, or worse, are not to be told they are living in sin. Because this "hurts" them. While most certainly one should not drive away the sinner, but following Christ's example should seek them, we should also follow His example where He does not mince any words. For Christ does not merely require of those who would follow Him that they should "sin no more," which must be the first resolution and beginning of the spiritual life before any progress can be made. Nay! Such suffering is still not conformity with Christ. He requires as to voluntarily accept suffering and to even mortify ourselves, denying ourselves even natural goods. How can we bring anyone to the Gospel, if we are to afraid of even highlighting the painful necessity of breaking with sin? How can the motifications and strictness of life, of a St. Theresa in her reform of her order, hoped to be emulated when we cannot even accept the pain that comes with ceasing to sin?

The world and the Church is in great need of renewal. This will not happen through a gradualism that cannot even accept the suffering involved in quitting one's relationship with sin. But what can the average Christian do? The example of St. Theresa here is a great one, even if we are not called to so strict a life. Her reforming of the Carmelites and her effect on others flowed from her own sanctity. And this sanctity was rooted in ever growing conformity with Christ, which requires that we not merely not in, but allow Christ to suffer in us, to mortify ourselves.

In the traditional liturgy we hear the Gospel pericope of the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. They are all virgins, yet that is not enough to gain entry. Matins presents us with this sermon of St. Gregory the Great.

Often, dearly beloved brethren, I warn you to flee depraved works, and to shun the defilements of this world. But I am compelled to speak of the reading of the Holy Gospel for today, that even the good things which you do, you should hold with great caution, lest through doing the right thing, favor or human grace is sought. Lest the desire of praise insinuate itself, that what is shown outwardly be empty of any reward inwardly. Behold! For in the word of the Redeemer there are ten virgins and all are called virgins, and still not all are accepted within the door of beatitude. Since some of them, while they outwardly sought glory of their virginity, refused to hold oil in their vessels.
But first we ought to ask "What is the kingdom of Heaven?" And why it is likened to ten virgins, which virgins are called prudent and foolish. For when the kingdom of heaven is established, since none of the reprobate shall enter, how can it be held to be like the foolish virgins? But we must know that often in the sacred eloquence, the kingdom of heaven is said of the Church in the present time. Concerning which, in another place, the Lord says: "The Son of Man shall send His angels and collect from His kingdom all things which offend." For in that kingdom of beatitude, in which there is the highest peace, nothing offensive will be able to be found, which they could collect.
Now in the body there subsists five senses and five doubled is ten. And since from both sexes the multitude of faithful are gathered, the holy Church is said to be like ten virgins. In which there is mixed the evil with the good and the reprobate with the elect, rightly held to be like the prudent and foolish virgins. And there are many continent who keep themselves from lusting outwardly after things and carried by hope to interior things, wear down the flesh and with total longing pant for the heavenly fatherland, seeking eternal rewards, refusing to accept human praises for their labors. Without a doubt these do not place their glory in the mouth of men, but conceal it within their own consciousness. And there are many, who afflict the body through abstinence but seek human favors from their abstinence.

St. Theresa of Avila suffered greatly, not only through her personal mortifications, but in her persecution, even by Church authorities. And in doing so, she had an unspeakable effect on the salvation of many souls. She panted after the Lord, not the praise of men.

What is necessary, therefore, is not the praise of the world. It is not even to practice humility or denial in such a way as to be attractive to the world. We are called to take up the Cross even to the point of concealing our humility and mortifications from the world. And in doing so will actually hold "oil" in our vessels, and only thus be a light to the world. One of the many seeming paradoxes of the way of Christ. In actually exercising humility, in mortifying ourselves inwardly, we will possess the fuel of charity with which our Lord can set the world ablaze. It is only, thus, in rejecting the world that we can save it. And it is only when the world hates us, as they hated Christ, because He convicted the world of sin, that we know we are "making up what is lacking" in His suffering.

As individual Christians we are called to take up this Cross and follow Christ. Even the suffering that comes down upon us, not just by the world, but by fellow Catholics. Those who are anxious over events in the Church or are pained by the disrepair she seems to be in, should look to the example of St. Theresa of Avila. She mortified her body, withstood condemnation by the world and won a glorious crown and in doing, and only in becoming holy, did she become an instrument of reform n the Church.

Sancta Teresa, ora pro nobis!

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