Teresa of Avila: ‘Prayer is Dynamic’

Sculpture of Teresa in Avila, Spain (photo by Jim Forest)

October 15 is the feastday of Teresa of Avila, mystic, philosopher, author, reformer, and saint.

In 1970, Pope Paul VI awarded Teresa and Catherine of Siena the distinction Doctors of the Church, making them the first women to be so named.

“Prayer is not just spending time with God … If it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us–unmasks us.”Teresa of Avila

Benedictine Joan Chittister offers a wonderful reflection on prayer for this feastday:

To wait for God does not mean that there is nothing else for me to do in the spiritual life than pray. Prayer is not a cocoon. We do not simply go into prayer and hope to come out on the other end of the exercise fully grown in the Spirit, perfectly new, totally finished. All dross removed. All rust scoured. The soul burnished. The heart refurbished. The soul bright and radiant. The mind clear and certain.

Not at all. There is too much of us in us to ever disappear. Nor is it meant to. No, the function of prayer is not to obliviate the self. It is to become to the utmost what we are meant to be no matter what situation we are in. Prayer is the process that leads us to become what Jesus models for us to be.

To pray does not mean that we will cease to be ourselves. It simply means that we will come to know clearly what it will take to become more of the Jesus figure we are all meant to be.

We watch Jesus confront the leaders of the day. He calls the priests and Pharisees to cleanse the temple and lift from the backs of the people the laws of the synagogue that burden them. He calls the leaders of the state to stop living off the backs of the poor. And he calls us to do the same.

Being immersed in prayer, really immersed in prayer, sears our souls. It forces us to see how far from our own ideals we stand. It challenges the images of goodness and piety and integrity we project. It confronts us with what it really means to live a good life. It requires courage of us rather than simply piety.

It is in following Jesus down from the mountaintop, along the roads of the world, through the public parts of the city, into the ghettoes of the poor and the halls of government and the chanceries of the churches, saying with John the Baptist, “Repent and sin no more” that prayer gets its hallmark of undisputed credibility.–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpted from The Breath of the Soul by Joan Chittister

Irish Priest: We Will No Longer Be the ‘Silent People of God’

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland is holding an gathering this week in Dublin entitled “Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church” aimed at restoring the Spirit of Vatican II.

More than a thousand showed up for conference that took place in the weeks following the Vatican censure of several progressive Irish priests, in what appears to be a blatant attempt to deflect the spotlight away from the Vatican’s failure to protect and defend Irish Catholics against predatory priests within the hierarchy. The ACP hopes to move toward a national dialogue on the Irish Catholic Church. Other countries are looking at similar gatherings.

Fr. Desmond Wilson, a priest who has served in West Belfast since the mid-1960s, wrote this thoughtful letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith out of his experience of the Irish context. It sheds light on the American situation of the Vatican’s harassment of Catholic sisters:

Dear Friends in The  Congregation for the Doctrine of theFaith,

You may be aware that we  in Ireland have a special reverence for  our Saint Columbanus. He was one of our saints who disagreed with a Pope and said so. You may be more acquainted with Saint Catherine of Siena who did the same, although she had the disadvantage of having  to disagree with three possible popes at one time.

Some of us view with dismay then, but no great alarm, your decision to censor some of our fellow citizens and fellow members of the Catholic Church who have done nothing at all so serious.

We are puzzled – naturally and supernaturally –  by the fact that you and we preach the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then you tell us, so inspired, to stop talking –   as if we had nothing important to say. This is not a matter of doctrine, it is one of logic and we in Ireland are inclined to judge these things by logic as well as doctrine  and not too often  by emotion. We remember  the Gamaliel principle – you remember it too, when forced to make a decision, he told his colleagues, If this be of God it’s useless to oppose it,  if it be of human planning it will fade away in any case, so we should not take extraordinary measures for ordinary happenings.

Continue reading “Irish Priest: We Will No Longer Be the ‘Silent People of God’”

Joan Chittister: ‘Mercy Is What God Does for Us’

Sr. Joan Chittister and the folks at Benetvision have just released a new book on forgiveness. As we seem to live in a culture that promotes “mercilessness,” rather than a “quality of mercy [that] is not strained” (as Shakespeare put it), this book is a good one to use with small groups and for summer meditation. (Also listen to the podcast with Sr. Joan below.)

Mercy is what God does for us. Mercy discounts the economic sense of love and faith and care for a person and lives out of a divine sense of love instead. Mercy gives a human being who does not “deserve” love, love. And why? Because, the Scriptures answer, God knows of what we are made.

The fact is that we are all made of the same thing: clay, the dust of the earth, the frail, fragile, shapeless thing from which we come and to which we will all return some day. We are all capable of the same things. Our only hope is that when we are all sitting somewhere bereft, exposed, outcast, humiliated and rejected by the rest of society, someone, somewhere will “reach out a hand and lift us up.”

Mercy is the trait of those who realize their own weakness enough to be kind to those who are struggling with theirs. It is, as well, the measure of the God-life in us.

Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people because they have either not faced themselves or are lying to themselves about what they find there. “We are all sinners,” we say, and then smile the words away. But the essayist Montaigne was clear about it: “There is no one so good,” he wrote, “who, were they to submit all their thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in life.”

It is our very weaknesses that enable us to understand the power, the necessity of mercy.

The Sufi mystic Mishkat al-Masabaih reminds us, when we are overwhelmed by our own inadequacies, our own diversions from the straight paths of life, that the mercy of God is always greater than the sin of being too humanly human. He writes: She who approaches near to Me one span, I will approach near to her one cubit; and she who approaches near to Me one cubit, I will approach near to her one fathom; and whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to her running; and she who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet her with forgiveness equal to it.”

The mercy we show to others is what assures us that we do not need to worry about being perfect ourselves. All we really need to do is to make the effort to be the best we can be, knowing we will often fail. Then, the mercy of others, the mercy of God is certain for us, as well. “The only thing we can offer to God of value,” St. Catherine of Siena said, “is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we are of God’s love.” –Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness by Joan Chittister

Listen to a podcast with Sr. Joan on forgiveness and the conversation about the controversy about the Cordoba Center at Ground Zero in New York.

Chittister: ‘Call on God, but Row Away From the Rocks’

chittister

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister, author, excellent lecturer, and leading champion for women around the world. I like the way Chittister and her community ground themselves in daily prayer and take a very realistic view of the world – a view that is shot through with a sense of humor.

Here’s an excerpt from her book The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer:

“Call on God but row away from the rocks.”–Indian Proverb

Healthy prayer and neurotic prayer are two different things. Neurotic prayer denies reality. Healthy prayer grows both spiritually and psychologically as a result of it.

When we fail to accept the fact that some things just are: that rain rains and sickness comes and the unexpected is commonplace—when we fail to realize that life is life, all of it meant to teach us something, to give new opportunities to be better, stronger people—we miss both the meaning of life and the real role of prayer in it.

The spiritually mature person does not rely on God for miracles. They rely on God for strength and courage, for insight and hope, for vision and endurance. They know that God is with them; they do not believe that God is an instrument for the comfort of human beings.

They do know that one of the purposes of prayer is to give them the courage it takes to do what we are each meant to do in the world that is ours. They do not forgive themselves the responsibility for changing their own little piece of the world on the grounds that if they pray hard enough God will change the world for them. They know that, without doubt, it is their responsibility to change the world.

The mystic Catherine of Siena, whose relationship with God was legendary, changed her part of the world by chiding popes and feeding the poor.

The mystic Ignatius of Loyola, whose life of prayer is exactly what took him and his men to the streets of Europe, changed the world by defending the faith and re-catechizing a generation gone dry.

The contemplative Thomas Merton, whose life in a cloistered religious community made prayer the context of his very life, changed the world by speaking out from the cloister to lead an anti-war movement intent on stopping the illegal war in Vietnam.

The laywoman Dorothy Day, whose life of prayer followed a tumultuous life, changed the world by modeling the care of the poor on the streets of New York City.

None of the great spiritual personalities of the Church have ever made prayer a substitute for justice and mercy, for peace and equality, for honesty and courage.

They “rowed the world away from the rocks,” made the miracles the world needed—and so must we.–Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

An excerpt from The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)