Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Paths of Santa Teresa of Ávila

Teresa of Ávila (1550-1582) is also called Saint Teresa of Jesus and the subject of the inauguration of the exposition, "Los Caminos de Santa Teresa" and tonight's music and poetry recital in the Bishops Palace of Astorga.
Teresa was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, author during the Counter Reformation and a theologian of contemplative life through meditative prayer.

After her death, Teresa's had a cult following in Spain during the 1620s, and for a time she was considered a candidate to become a national patron saint.

Her books, which include her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) and her seminal work El Castillo Interior(The Interior Castle), are an integral part of Spanish Renaissance Literature as well as Christian mysticism and meditation practices. She also wrote Camino de Perfección (The Way of Perfection).
In 1622, forty years after her death, Pope Gregory XV canonized her, and recently, September 27th, 1970 Pope Paul VI named her Doctor of the Church. I'm not really sure what that means and it's beyond me why fellow Christians feel the need to promote admirable people in such a way. Still, both of these honors require a whole series of religious requirements, and even a lay person like myself understands that to qualify one must be a very important indeed.
Nonetheless, I wondered about the details about Saint Teresa's life that might have personal interest.

We are often driven by the political and social pressures of our day. And so I find it very interesting that Teresa's paternal grandfather having been condemned (and I assume tortured and killed) by the Spanish Inquisition, had very devout Christian parents. Her grandpa was a Jewish convert, called a marrano, but had returned to his Jewish faith. This was absolutely unacceptable and so his son found a way to assimilate into Catholic society by paying to become a knight. His knighthood and her mother's piety spurred Teresa and her brother grandiose ideas of martyrdom and they even try to run away from home when Teresa was seven to fight the Moors. Fortunately, they were sent home before they could die at the hand of some Arab sword and Teresa

Teresa became devoted to the image of Mary, mother of Jesus when she was 14 and her mother died. It must have been traumatic for her and she began to see the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother, like never before. Not having an earthy mother, however, can allow for some worldly practices like reading books of chivalry and other popular pieces of fiction at that time. She also took notice and began to care about her looks, something that seemed to be frowned upon because she was soon after swooped up and sent away to study with Augustine nuns in Ávila.

If you've ever survived a great grief and change in your life as I have you'll know that you are usually beset with a myriad of illnesses. Teresa's immune system was just as poor when she arrived and she was often sick. Lying in bed, young and imaginative, and probably delirious at times, Teresa experienced what has been described as religious ecstasy as she read her devotional the Third Spiritual Alphabet (1527) and later other mystical ascetic publications. Her "devotions of silence" became "devotions of ecstasy" where she said to feel complete oneness with God. She also talked about a "blessing of tears." I'm interested in that. Today, in fact, while counting gifts to be thankful for today the prompt was 3 Gifts Difficult. It's the hard eucharisteo, as Voskamp describes it.
Teresa because obsessive with the Problem of Sin, that terrible inherent nature of original sin and the evil of it, as well as her impotency to do anything about it. While she discovered the need for total subjugation to God, she unfortunately didn't remember to read scripture or look to Christ in any way as a solution to her dilemma and pain. She began to physically torture herself, as "mortifications of the flesh" weren't unknown at the time. Moreover, instead of using scripture as Jesus did when tempted by Satan, Teresa thought the use of holy water would ward of evil.

The whole Gospel, and new testament in general, talks of the amazing hope and freedom we have because Christ already paid all of our debts and suffered all the world's sins on the Cross. Teresa, on the other hand, got stuck in her religious fervor and believed physically hurting herself and suffering would somehow make her more acceptable to God. Her punishments to achieve righteousness are not reflected in God's word:
Galatians 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Galatians 5:13
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

John 8:32
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:36
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Romans 8:1-4
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-2
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Ephesians 2:8
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Romans 14:1-23
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. ...

Galatians 5:13-14
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Romans 8:21
That the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Galatians 4:3-7
In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I'm not the only one to think she was off-base at this point. In 1556 even friends said her "new knowledge" was diabolical, not divine. Still, she's been hailed for her Christian work, despite her theological angst and personal doctrine of suffering, and she went on to found many convents, in total seventeen, and establish as many men's cloisters due to her reform activity of twenty years, thus furthering the Catholic Church

I do love her last words when she was dying, so much so, I could imagine them for myself when my time comes: "My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another."

Here is one well-loved poem I find especially beautiful and deeply spiritual along the same lines:

Vivo sin vivir en mí ; I live without living in myself
Poem by St. Theresa of Avila
Literal English translation by Fr. Paul Ward

Vivo sin vivir en mí,
y de tal manera espero,*
que muero porque no muero.

Vivo ya fuera de mí
después que muero de amor; 5
porque vivo en el Señor,
que me quiso para sí;
cuando el corazón le di
puse en él este letrero:
que muero porque no muero. 10

Esta divina prisión
del amor con que yo vivo
ha hecho a Dios mi cautivo,
y libre mi corazón;
y causa en mí tal pasión 15

ver a Dios mi prisionero,
que muero porque no muero.
¡Ay, qué larga es esta vida!
¡Qué duros estos destierros,
esta cárcel, estos hierros 20

en que el alma está metida!
Sólo esperar la salida
me causa dolor tan fiero,
que muero porque no muero.

¡Ay, qué vida tan amarga 25
do no se goza el Señor!
Porque si es dulce el amor,
no lo es la esperanza larga.
Quíteme Dios esta carga,
más pesada que el acero, 30

que muero porque no muero.
Sólo con la confianza
vivo de que he de morir,
porque muriendo, el vivir
me asegura mi esperanza. 35

Muerte do el vivir se alcanza,
no te tardes, que te espero,
que muero porque no muero.
Mira que el amor es fuerte,
vida, no me seas molesta; 40

mira que sólo te resta,
para ganarte, perderte.
Venga ya la dulce muerte,
el morir venga ligero,
que muero porque no muero. 45

Aquella vida de arriba
es la vida verdadera;
hasta que esta vida muera,
no se goza estando viva.

Muerte, no me seas esquiva; 50
viva muriendo primero,
que muero porque no muero.
Vida, ¿qué puedo yo darle
a mi Dios, que vive en mí,

si no es el perderte a ti 55
para mejor a Él gozarle?
Quiero muriendo alcanzarle,
pues tanto a mi Amado quiero,
que muero porque no muero.

I live without living in myself,
and in such a way do I hope,
that I die because I do not die.

1. I live now outside of myself
for I die of love;
because I live in the Lord
who claimed me for himself;
when I gave him my heart

I put in it this sign:
I die because I do not die.

This divine prison of love
with which I live
has made God my captive,
and my heart free;
and to see God as my prisoner
causes in me such a passion
that I die because I do not die.

Oh, how long is this life!
How hard these exiles,
this jail, these iron bars
in which the soul is put!
Just awaiting my departure
causes in me such a pain,
that I die because I do not die.

Oh, how bitter this life
where one does not enjoy the Lord!
For if love is sweet,
long waiting is not.
God, take this burden from me,
more heavy than steel,
for I die because I do not die.

I live only with the confidence
that I have to die,
because upon dying, my hope
assures me of life.
Death, where living extends itself,
do not delay, for I await you,
for I die because I do not die.

See that love is strong,
life, be not bothersome to me;
see that the only thing that is left for you
to gain yourself is to loose yourself.
Let sweet death come now,
death come swiftly,
for I die because I do not die.

That life above
is the true life;
until this life dies,
one doesn’t savor being alive.
Death, don’t evade me;
live dying first,
for I die because I do not die.

Life, what can I give
my God, who lives in me,
if not the loosing of you,
to enjoy him more?
I want to attain him dying,
for so much do I love my Lover,
that I die because I do not die.

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