On this feast day of St. Teresa of Jesus (St. Teresa of Avila), I returned to the writings of my own patron saint, Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), who first introduced me to St. Teresa of Jesus, her own patron saint, in her essay, “Love for Love: The Life and Works of St. Teresa of Jesus“. Here, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross passed on to me a great love of and appreciation for this beautiful saint. The treasures to be mined from this saint are great, but I will only touch on the work she began, which Edith Stein saw as critical in keeping the spirit of St. Teresa of Jesus alive.
In the foreword to her essay, Edith Stein offers us a glimpse of her own experience as a Carmelite nun of the reformed order that St. Teresa of Avila established. The image St. Edith offers us is particularly helpful for us to see the importance of religious life and the work of monasteries in our modern time today, as she saw it in her own time during the Second World War. In the end of her foreward, she points us to St. Teresa of Jesus in Spain who lived during the time of the Inquisition and much division within the Church, that we might be moved by her life and her work and learn from this great saint.
“Yesterday in our monastery church we had perpetual adoration [forty hours devotion]. On such days, the faithful who are associated with our Carmel gather around the altar singing and praying from about six o’clock in the morning until about ten o’clock at night. Then the church is closed and during the night the sisters take turns keeping watch in the choir before the Blessed Sacrament. While outside in carnival’s frantic tumult people get drunk and delirious, while political battles separate them, and great need depresses them so much that many forget to look to heaven, at such still places of prayer hearts are opened to the Lord. In place of the cold, the contempt, that he receives out there, they offer him their warm love. They want to atone for the insults that the divine heart must endure daily and hourly. By their steadfast supplications, they draw down God’s grace and mercy on a humanity submerged in sin and need. In our time, when the powerlessness of all natural means for battling the overwhelming misery everywhere has been demonstrated so obviously, an entirely new understanding of the power of prayer, of expiation, and of vicarious atonement has again awakened. This is why people of faith crowd the places of prayer, also why, everywhere, there is a blazing demand for contemplative monasteries whose entire life is devoted to prayer and expiation… One almost feels transported into the time when our Holy Mother Teresa, the foundress of the reformed Carmel, traveled all over Spain from north to south and from west to east to plant new vineyards of the Lord. One would like to bring into our times also something of the spirit of this great woman who built amazingly during a century of battles and disturbances.” (29)
St. Edith portrays beautifully the work of the monastery, the beacons of light that they are as places of peace and conversion of heart. This is the work St. Teresa of Avila sought to increase and strengthen. In a time of great anger and polarization, and especially of great noise and distraction in the modern world, monasteries and churches are havens of rest for the weary. They are places of quiet contemplation of the face of Jesus, places where the lost might flock and find peace and love in the midst of violence and hatred. And they are places where a battle is fiercely being fought for the winning of souls and the strengthening of the Church militant, the Church here on earth.
St. Teresa of Jesus knew the kind of lives to which contemplative religious were called and she saw where they were lacking. Thus, she brought new life and enkindled love in what had become lukewarm in religious life, and she carried out the work God began in her for love of her Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the stead of the Church and the lost and suffering in the world. She could not bear the thought of Jesus being cast aside or of so many souls being lost, as she knew she could have been one of them, saved only by God’s mercy. She resolved to bring other devoted brothers and sisters around her to be in constant prayer for those in the work of saving souls and to fast for the sins of the world. As a result, she established many convents devoted to Our Lord all over Spain, and the fruit of her labors continues to this day.
I praise God that He calls people to dedicate their whole lives to praying and fasting for the Church. We can only imagine the mountains God has moved through the prayers of these saints, and the hearts that have been turned as a result of their unceasing prayers. I thank God that He offers us sacred places where He is present in the sacrament of the eucharist and in the prayers of the people. May we be inspired by the love of Christ to pray and fast also for the strengthening of the Church and the saving of souls, and may we flock to Him in the Blessed Sacrament where He feeds us, His sheep.
In the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila, let us pray and fast as we are able for those whom God has called to religious life, for the flourishing of monasteries and of the Church, and for the opening of hearts to Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
St. Teresa of Jesus, pray for us!
I highly recommend reading more about St. Teresa of Avila from The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, or for a more brief account of her life (though still quite comprehensive), see St. Edith Stein’s piece on St. Teresa of Avila in “Love for Love: The Life and Works of St. Teresa of Jesus“.
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