‘In the first place, St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life, in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water; without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture.
In the second place, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus.
The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, “means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent face to face the One whom we know loves us”. St Teresa’s idea coincides with the definition that St Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum”, a type of friendship of humanity with God, who first offered his friendship to humanity; the initiative comes from God. Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life. It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorisation through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy”. She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with him/her; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.
Another topic dear to the saint is the centrality of the humanity of Christ. In fact, for Teresa, the Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus, which culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance that she attributes to meditation on the passion and the Eucharist, as presence of Christ, in the Church, for the life of every believer and as heart of the liturgy. St Teresa lived an unconditional love for the Church. She manifested an intense “sensus Ecclesiae” in face of incidents of division and conflict in the Church of her time. She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending better the “Holy Roman Catholic Church”, and she was prepared to give her life for it.
A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine that I would like to underscore is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole Christian life and the final end of it. The saint had a very clear idea of “fulness” in Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the course of The Interior Castle, in the last “stanza” Teresa describes this fulness, realised in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity’.
Pope Benedict XVI
Merciful God, who by thy Spirit didst raise up thy servant Saint Teresa of Jesus to reveal to thy Church the way of perfection: grant that her teaching may awaken in us a longing for holiness until, assisted by her intercession, we attain to the perfect union of love in Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon