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Teresian Spirituality

According to St. Teresa, one's spiritual life can be identified by the grade of prayer that the person is experiencing. So one's spiritual life is mainly to be identified with one's union with God. The teacher of prayer in the Church is inviting all of us to strengthen our relationship with God.

Teresian Prayer is contemplative, in that it desires contemplation and is open to contemplation. Contemplation is supernatural prayer; it cannot be produced by our effort; it is completely gratuitous. When we pray in the Teresian spirit, we dispose ourselves for contemplation.

"On the first water... We may say that beginners in prayer are those who draw the water up out of the well; which is a great labor, as I have said. For they find it very tiring to keep the senses recollected, when they are used to a life of distraction. Beginners have to accustom themselves to pay no attention to what they see or hear, and to put this exercise into practice during their hours of prayer, when they just remain in solitude, thinking whilst they are alone of their past life…

"On the second water… Having spoken of the effort and physical labor entailed in watering the garden, and what efforts it costs to raise the water from the well, let us now turn to the second method of drawing it which the Owner of the plot has ordained. By means of a device with a windlass, the gardener draws more water with less labor, and so is able take some rest instead of being continuously at work. I apply this description to the prayer of quiet, which I am now going to describe... This water of great blessings and favors which the Lord now gives us makes the virtues grow incomparably more than they did in the previous state of prayer. Our soul is already rising from its wretched state, and receives some little intimation of the joys of heaven. It is this, I believe, that increases the growth of the virtues and brings them closer to God – that true Virtue, from which all virtues spring. For His Majesty begins to communicate Himself to the soul, and would have it feel how He is communicating Himself.

"On the third water… He now takes on the gardener’s work, and desires it to rest. The will has only to consent to these graces that it enjoys, and to submit to all that true Wisdom wishes to do to it….now it is good for the soul to abandon itself entirely to the arms of God.The virtues, then, are now stronger than they were during the preceding prayer of quiet. The soul sees that is has changed, and is unconsciously beginning to do great things with the fragrance given off by the flowers. It is now the Lords will that they shall open, so that the soul may see that it possesses virtues, even though it also knows very well that it cannot and never could acquire them in many years, whereas the celestial Gardener has given them to it in a flash.

"On the fourth water... How what is called union takes place and what it is, I cannot tell. It is explained in mystical theology, but I cannot use the proper terms; I cannot understand what mind it, or how it differs from soul and spirit. What I want to explain is the soul’s feelings when it is this divine union. It is plain enough what union is; in union two separate things become one. O my Lord, how good You are! May you be blessed forever, O my God..."

Leaves Shadow

Spirituality of St. John of the Cross

The three theological virtues--faith, hope, and love--and the three Persons of the Trinity are shown by John to be respectively the means and the Agents of this oneness between God and man. The union is simultaneously cognitive and moral, operational and volitional, ontological and eschatological.

1. We are made for union with God, a process which begins with baptism (where the great gift of sanctifying grace concurrently prepares our soul for the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity) and which is meant to grow in intimacy and love by the increase of this grace throughout our lives.

2. This process of growing ever closer to God is in direct response to the great commandment: to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and with all our strength (see Matt 22: 37-40).

3. This journey to greater intimacy with God is hindered by false loves and inordinate attachments.

4. These false loves and inordinate attachments, although not necessarily sinful, nevertheless need to be purged and purified, so as to set our “house” in right order. This purification, then, involves not only the avoidance of sin but also the readjustment of our appetites and desires (it could be called an “un-possessing” of all the affections that capture our heart but impede our union with God).

5. This process of purification or mortification, which John of the Cross calls a “dark night,”

6. The active night of the senses involves our own effort, supported by grace, to mortify the inordinate desires of the senses (St John of the Cross often uses the phrase, “mortification of the appetites”). All the things we outwardly or secretly love and desire, which prevent us from setting our hearts on God, like creature wealth and selfish sensual pleasures, need to be put to rest, as if entering a dark night where they are no longer seen, so that the soul can advance unhindered towards the love of God. In this process there is a transformation of desire from the love of things and a disordered sensuality, to the LOVE OF GOD. This process involves self-denial, detachment, prayer, growth in virtue and the readjustment of our affections. What is crucial is to enkindle in our hearts a strong love of God. Again, what you love is what you will become.

7.  The active night of the senses prepares us for the passive night of the senses. The passive night of the senses involves God’s own action upon the soul in question. As the person begins to strip away his inordinate sensual attraction to the things of this world, thus getting rid of the “old-self,” especially through prayer, meditation and self-denial, God then allows a profound period of spiritual aridity to beset the believer, the ultimate purpose of which is to effectuate an even more powerful purification of our inordinate passions and desires, especially as these vices begin to manifest themselves on a spiritual level (as in craving for spiritual delights and pleasures). As the believer perseveres through this “dark night,” where no consolation of God is experienced, but not wanting to turn back to the futility of his old ways, a breakthrough ultimately occurs whereby, through sheer grace, the believer begins to experience the interior presence of God and makes the transition from meditative (discursive) prayer to contemplative (supernatural) prayer, thus moving from the purgative stage of the journey to the illuminative stage (from beginner to proficient).

8. The crucial importance of FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE! Saint John wants us to thoroughly cleanse the faculties which sense, know, desire, understand, remember, imagine and will. In short, John of the Cross wants to completely clean the house! 

Pink Petals

The Little Way Spirituality

The "Little Way" is a simple approach to the spiritual life that seeks to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Saint Therese emphasized the Fatherhood of God and how we as "little" children are totally dependent on Him for everything. Therefore, St. Therese's Little Way is the way of spiritual childhood - a way of trust and complete self-surrender.

She believed and taught us that life presents enough challenges and opportunities for grace. She teaches us that God is everywhere - in every situation and person - and in the ordinary, simple details of life.

Throughout her life St. Thérèse wanted to become a saint. Yet, in her eyes, her life wasn’t all that extraordinary. She compared herself to other saints and thought she could never reach the same heights of sanctity.

You know it has ever been my desire to become a Saint, but I have always felt, in comparing myself with the Saints, that I am as far removed from them as the grain of sand, which the passer-by tramples underfoot, is remote from the mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds.

Instead of being discouraged, St. Thérèse trusted in God and believed that it was in her “littleness” that she could become a saint.

I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realized, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new.

This “Little Way,” consisted in performing “little virtues,” not seeking grandiose sacrifices to God, but little acts of holiness.

You must practice the little virtues. This is sometimes difficult, but God never refuses the first grace—courage for self-conquest; and if the soul correspond to that grace, she at once finds herself in God’s sunlight.

Frequently she would recall the image of a little child and how we should be that child, trusting in our loving Father, always striving for Heaven, even when we make mistakes.

You make me think of a little child that is learning to stand but does not yet know how to walk. In his desire to reach the top of the stairs to find his mother, he lifts his little foot to climb the first step. It is all in vain, and at each renewed effort he falls. Well, be like that little child. Always keep lifting your foot to climb the ladder of holiness, and do not imagine that you can mount even the first step. All God asks of you is good will. From the top of the ladder He looks lovingly upon you, and soon, touched by your fruitless efforts, He will Himself come down, and, taking you in His Arms, will carry you to His Kingdom never again to leave Him. But should you cease to raise your foot, you will be left for long on the earth.

St. Thérèse never left the Carmelite monastery, didn’t become a martyr, and would have been lost to history if it weren’t for her autobiography.

Her “Little Way” reminds us that anyone can become a saint, whether they are a garbage truck driver, a sales clerk at a retail store, or even a retired grandparent. All are called to holiness. What we must do is strive for holiness in our everyday lives and place our trust in God.

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