Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Feast of St Teresa - "Mystery of the Church" excerpts from the book by Fr P. Marie-Eugene, OCD 'I am a Daugther of the Church' - Practical Synthesis of Carmelite Spirituality



Union of the will (which is granted to the soul through the perfection of charity) transform the soul and places it at the treshold of a new world, which appears still in a semi-brightness while only partly revealing its grandeur. But the full brightness and splendour of the new world will be reached by the soul in the next mansion. What are these lights that form part of the riches of the union of will...


Zeal for souls.
"The very soul does not know itself (Vth Mansion, 2:255), writes St Teresa. The change is attended with surprise and even anxiety, when it is produced suddenly by mystical grace. The little white butterfly that has come out of the cocoon, whose wings has grown, no longer has a resting place, for it feels itself "a stranger to things of earth. But where will the poor little creature go?" (Ibid, ;256)


This confusion is not merely the effect of a passing bewilderment . It comes upon a soul already established in detachment, a soul stirred by new and deep desires. True, it may long to return to those obscure regions whence it has come with the certitude: "that God has been in it and it has been in God," (ibid, 1:251) but there is now a burning and painful solicitude for God and for souls, which it had not known before to so intense a degree:
  
Only a few years since - perhaps only a few days - this soul was thinking of nothing but itself. Who has plunged it into such grievous anxieties? (ibid, 2:257) I know that the torment which a certain person of my acquaintance has suffered, and suffers still, at seeing the Lord offended, is so intolerable that she would far sooner die than suffer it (ibid; 258)


This is a new trait that the Saint wants to point out. At some length she reflects upon the Passion of our Lord, who "saw everything and was continually witnessing the great offenses which were committed against His Father," (ibid) and upon jer own ardent desire to suffer and die for the salvation of sinners. This suffering of the soul, due proportion kept, resembles that of Christ; and Saint Teresa says it is essential mark of this spiritual stage:


If anyone told me that after reaching this stage he had enjoyed continual rest and joy, I should say that he had not reached it at all. (ibid; 256)


In these pages where the Saint is treating, with her characteristic logic, of union of will - not with the formal logic of thought but the logic of description which embraces all that is before it - she speaks of the immense work of conversion effected by great saints who had received such favours and corresponded with them (ibid 4:266). Without any doubt, the prayer of union gives the soul  a deep concern for the salvation of souls. This is an important fact that we must remember.
Whence comes this zeal? Saint Teresa answers:


I will tell you. Have you not heard concerning the bride (I said this a little while back, though not with reference to the same matter) that God put her in a cellar of wine and ordained charity in her? Well that is the position here. (ibid 2:257). 


Charity has been ordered by God Himself in the soul, toward its twofold object: God and neighbour. And, commenting on the double precept, the Saint writes:


The surest sigh that we are keeping these two commandments  is, I think, that we should really be loving our neighbour....And be certain that, the farther advanced you find you are in this, the greater the love ou will have for God. (ibid 3:261)


The importance that the Saint now attaches to love of neighbour, even to the point of sacrificing one's devotions for acts of charity (ibid; 263) is an indication of a new state of a soul. It is not long since Teresa was signalizing as a grave danger for the soul the urge to distribute the fruits of its garden. The recipient of that advice had drunk of the third water of perfect quiet, which is the sleep of the powers (Life, 17). After the grace of union, the soul, "having now a clear realization that the fruits of this prayer are not its own, can start to share them and yet have no lack of them itself." (ibid 19). 


Even more is to be said: the soul thus strengthened not only can but must give of its riches, although still with prudence. It feels an urgent need to do so. To explain this profound change by saying that God has ordered the soul's charity this way does not seem sufficient. Why does the ordering of charity actually require that the soul now turn towards its neighbour? Saint Teresa does not explicitly  say why, for she disclaims being a theologian and having the ability to give reasons for many things that she has observed. Yet she gives us the key to the problem. In developing the analogy of the silkworm, she makes this remark, singular at first sight:


When it is full grown, then, as I wrote at the beginning, it starts to spin its silk and to built the house in which it is to die. This house may be understood here to mean Christ. I think I read or heard somewhere that our life is hid in Christ, or in God (for that is the same thing), or that our life is Christ. (The exact form of this is little to my purpose.) (V Mansions, 2)


This surprising statement, connected in no way with what the Saint has previously said, obliges her to explain what we can do, so that "His Majesty Himself [may] be our Mansion as he is in this Prayer of Union"; (ibid) it seems to introduce a new element, increasing the complexity of the description. but this thought is dispelled on a moment's reflection. Actually the statement reveals to us a spiritual experience, most important and of great interest. Saint Teresa was aware that in the prayer of union she entered into the living Christ, and that thereafter Christ was to be the dwelling place where her life would be hidden. What else is this than the discovery of her incorporation into the mystical body of Christ, the Church; the awareness of her belonging to the whole Christ. That incorporation into Christ should be experienced by her at this time as a living reality obscurely grasped is truly a great thing. We can understand the consequent change of attitude in her soul, which we have observed; and we shall not be surprised at a new orientation of her life. A mystery of union, a mystery of darkness, yet the source of resplendent light! Let us pause here a moment to give it thought.

The mystery of the Church
The prayer of union, or union of will, is a seizure of the will by loving Wisdom. The soul thereafter bears the impress of a divine seal, (5th Mansion ii;257) which although not indelible is nevertheless permanent; and it produces a state of self-abandonment and suppleness. We may explain the symbol by saying that Holy Wisdom dwells habitually in the will, to reign there as Mistress. 
Holy Wisdom can reign for no other purpose than to realize the thought of God. She is herself the Thought of God. She extends her conquest, acts, acts and initiates action, only to show forth God's thought for the world, living and concrete, in events and in souls. Through the apostle St Paul we know what is this eternal purpose of God:


...the dispensation of the mystery, which has been hidden from eternity in God, who created all things...which in other ages was not known to the sons of men, as now it has been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; namely, that the Gentiles are joint heirs, and fellow members of the same body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph 3:5-11)


God design is to save all men without distinction by making them all one with Christ Jesus, in the unity of His mystical body.
Already in eternity, God contemplated the whole Christ, the Church, and took His delight in it as in the masterpiece of His mercy. In the exterior works of His creation God moved through all the vicissitudes of the works of His love, toward the realization of His Christ, His Anointed One. Finis omnium Ecclesia, the Church is the end of all things, according to Saint Epiphanius. The very vicissitudes, the fall of the angels, the sin of man, were permitted by God only as an occasion and means for showing forth the whole strength of His arm, the full measure of the love that He would give to the world. Did not Saint Augustine say that God permitted the fall of the of the angels so as to create man? And the sin of man is a felix culpa, a "happy fault," (Liturgy for the Holy Saturday, Exultet) that won for us Christ the Redeemer.
it is through Christ Jesus that God is going to realize His mystery of mercy; through Christ who is generated eternally, for he is the World of God.


He is the image of the Invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto him, and he is before all creatures, and in him all things hold together. (Col I: 15-7)


After the fall of man, the Word became incarnate; and in the new plan of the redemption God gave to Him, to Christ Jesus, the primacy and plenitude of all things:


He is the head of his body, the Church; he, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the first place. For it has pleased God the Father that in him all his fullness should dwell, and that through him he should reconcile to himself all things, whether on the earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross. (ibid; 18-20)


The Epistle to the Ephesians testifies also to the eternal plan of God to unite all things in Christ:


....so that he may make known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure. And this his good pleasure he purposed in him to be dispensed in the fullness of the time: to re-establish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth. (Eph I:9-10)


In His eternal thought God sees only His Christ; and in Him He sees each one of us, because in Him He has placed us:


Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight in love. He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons, according to the purpose of his will, unto the praise of the glory of his grace, with which he has favoured us in this beloved Son. In him, I say, in whom we also have been called by a special choice, having been predestined in the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to contribute to the praise of his glory, we who before hoped in Christ. (Eph I:4-6, 11-2)


And so, this divine decree that tells us of the eternal love of the Father for His beloved Son, and for us in Christ, causes to surge up from our hearts a hymn of thanksgiving:


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing on high in Christ. (Eph I:3)


Christ Jesus came on earth to accomplish this divine decree. (On coming into the world Christ had said: "Behold, I come to do thy will, O God."Heb. 10:7)

More to follow...