Friday, October 15, 2010

Memorial of the Great St. Teresa - The Mood in Rome (some photos)

Today's liturgical memorial is of the great virgin mystic, spiritual reformer and teacher (doctor) of the Church, St. Teresa of Jesus:

One of the most charismatic of the Church's counter-reformation saints, Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born the daughter of a saintly and literate father, Don Alonso, and a pious mother.

At fifteen, after her mother's death and the marriage of her oldest sister, Teresa was sent to be educated with Augustinian nuns, but after an illness she returned to live with her father and other relatives. An uncle acquainted her with the Letters of Saint Jerome, which led her to pursue religious life. At the age of 20 Teresa joined the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila.

During the sixteenth century the early austerity and religious enthusiasm that had characterized religious orders when they were founded, had been lost, and "worldliness" of all kinds, and even moral corruption was widespread. (The Protestant Reformation began in 1519 in Germany, at first as a reaction to the pervasive corruption and lack of governance by Church authorities.)

Teresa's convent at Avila was no exception. Although she had been devout at first, she lost this fervor and embraced the lax life of her convent. After the death of her father, and several serious illnesses, however, she was led to reform herself through intense prayer, and began to have religious experiences which she, and the priests she consulted, thought were delusions.

Two Jesuit confessors, however, believed Teresa's experiences were genuine graces, and advised her to lay a firm spiritual foundation through private prayer and the profound practice of virtue. During this time, she had even more intense and extraordinary experiences of "heavenly communications" -- including "mystical marriage", or the "espousal" of her soul to the person of Christ -- and even bodily manifestations of her spiritual elevation.

Her confessors ordered her to write her experiences of the spiritual necessity for prayer, the practice of contemplative prayer, and its fruits. She wrote the Way of Perfection and Foundations for her nuns, and The Interior Castle, as a guide for all. It was principally for these writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church four centuries later. Her writings are intensely personal spiritual autobiographies, based on her own experiences and insights, and are remarkably clearly written. They remain spiritual classics -- along with Saint Augustine's Confessions.

Inspired by a niece, who was also a Carmelite at Avila, she decided to undertake the establishment of a reformed convent that would be restored to the austerity and devotion of earlier times. This effort met strong opposition from several quarters. In 1562, Teresa received approval for a new foundation, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of Saint Joseph, at Avila, which she began with with her niece and three other nuns.

Several years later, while she was establishing a new convent in Toledo, she met John Yepes (later John of the Cross), and soon after made new foundations for men that were eventually placed under his care. Difficulties and opposition to the newly established reformed Discalced Carmelite foundations persisted. ("Discalced", literally "shoeless", refers to the austerity of the new foundations. The nuns and friars wore sandals instead of shoes).

Finally, in 1580, the separation of the Discalced Carmelites from the other Carmelites was recognized by the Holy See -- when Teresa was sixty-five years old, and in poor health. Teresa made seventeen foundations of the Discalced Carmelites, her last at Burgos in July, 1582.

Instead of returning to Avila from Burgos, she set out for Alba de Tormes. It was a difficult trip and she was ill. Three days after reaching Alba, she died -- on October 4, 1582, and was buried there. The next day the Gregorian reform of the calendar was effected, which resulted in dropping ten days. Thus her feast is fixed on October 15.

St. Theresa’s most popularly known writing is a brief poem is known as her “Bookmark”, because it was found in her prayer book after her death in 1582. It has been variously translated into English, and has been very widely circulated.

Original Spanish:

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante;
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda.
La pacientia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada la falta:
solo Dios basta.

* * *

O God, who through your Spirit raised up saint Teresa of Jesus to show the Church the way to seek perfection, grant that we may always be nourished upon the food of her heavenly teaching and fired with longing for true holiness. Through our Lord.

* * * * * *


After some rainy days, the weather is clearing and the pilgrims are arriving  in great numbersfor the six canonizations. 

Here are some photos giving the upbeat mood in the Historical Centre (Trevi Fountain, Piazza Novana, etc) as Sunday approaches:

The Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon under restoration (like much in Rome)

The obelisk in the square before the Pantheon

Aussie pilgrims (priests and laity), devotees of St. Mary MacKillop

Piazza Navona

One of several fountains in Piazza Navona

A quiet neighbourhood on  side street

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