August 14, 2013

cosa tan ruin

The other day I went to the library of this friary where I have been staying to look for something light to read (and light to carry) for when I take the subway. For this purpose I was delighted to find the Cistercian Studies edition of Jean Leclercq's Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian Spirit, which I think I may have read before but I can't remember. In any case it's a lovely little book. But I also took it to be a work of Providence that I came across an old paperback edition of St. Teresa of Ávila's The Way of Perfection, which I am now going through for the first time in years.

I thought the find perhaps providential because I have been seeking Teresa's example and intercession from time to time lately. Why?

Because of her account of herself as someone who experienced a conversion some years after having entered religious life, finding a new inspiration for prayer and perfection. More and more, I feel like I need that too. In certain ways I feel like the church in Laodicea, neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. It's funny, because I think my socialization to religious life has been more or less a success, and I think I have become a passable priest, comfortable enough at this point (or maybe too comfortable!) practicing the trade of the priesthood and its functions. But I can't help but think that underneath it all, my love of God and my desire for prayer have cooled somewhat.

I feel a lot of resonance with Teresa's description of her religious life before her 'conversion':
It is not without reason that I have dwelt so long on this portion of my life. I see clearly that it will give no one pleasure to see anything so base; and certainly I wish those who may read this to have me in abhorrence, as a soul so obstinate and so ungrateful to Him Who did so much for me. I could wish, too, I had permission to say how often at this time I failed in my duty to God, because I was not leaning on the strong pillar of prayer. I passed nearly twenty years on this stormy sea, falling and rising, but rising to no good purpose, seeing that I went and fell again. My life was one of perfection; but it was so mean, that I scarcely made any account whatever of venial sins; and though of mortal sins I was afraid, I was not so afraid of them as I ought to have been, because I did not avoid the perilous occasions of them. I may say that it was the most painful life that can be imagined, because I had no sweetness in God, and no pleasure in the world. (The Book of Her Life, VIII:1, text from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
So I have been asking God through St. Teresa's intercession for the grace of accepting the conversion that God must will for me, so long as this desire I feel for it be of his inspiration. I had even thought to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Victory in Rome, home of Bernini's famous Ecstasy of St. Teresa and, coincidentally (or not), the titular church of my ordaining bishop, Seán Patrick O'Malley, but I haven't done it yet. It's also, coincidentally (or not), one of the small handful of Catholic churches I visited before becoming a Christian.

After spending some time with my family in the course of this current vacation, my sister-in-law remarked that I seemed to be "on the verge of some big decision, some big change, but unclear what or what was really happening."

I don't need clarity about what's happening; I've learned to let go of that little demand of the flesh. But whatever that decision and change is, may it be for the Lord!

St. Teresa, pray for us!


Anonymous said...

It is only when we've spent some time in the spiritual desert that we emerge more ready than ever to be refreshed. " My soul is thirsting for the Lord" Remember too that when God doesn't appear to be speaking, he is listening for you-- keep silently talking. Cecily.

Silvana said...

Thank you for your honesty. You're not the only one who feels lukewarm, but it's not easy to face up to and tackle.

So thank you for reminding me about St Teresa, my patron (I'm Silvana Teresa); I'll try and enlist her aid as well. Hopefully, it's onwards and upwards for us both!