Chapter 6 -Teresian Asceticism
TERESIAN ASCETICISM – Chapter 6
Fr. Marie Eugene begins this chapter reminding us of the quote of St. Teresa that she makes to her parents when she returns from fleeing to the area of Spain where the Moors were persecuting the Christians and says: “To see God – we must die.” This chapter is about how we are to give up ourselves to Christ and His Church. We must proceed through this chapter knowing that God is all powerful, all knowing and all loving. He is able to supply all our needs. He does not like mediocrity. He wants us to give Him our all. “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Matt. 23:35-38. As much as we try to tell ourselves that this is impossible; we must remember that God has demanded it of us and if He demands it – He can supply all that we need. We must have faith and believe this. He wants us to obtain that same intense love which He has for us and He cannot just give it to us – we must SHOW Him that we truly seek it and want it. We must labor for it!
We find in the Way of Perfection, Chapter 12: “Prayer cannot be accompanied by self-indulgence.” This self-indulgence shows God that we are truly not serious about being with Him. This chapter tells us that in order to arrive at perfect union with God, we must submit to an energetic and absolute asceticism. In order for this asceticism to be efficacious and proportionate to human strength, it will have to be adapted to that strength and progressive. Therefore, we will cover Absolute Asceticism, Adapted Asceticism and Progressive Asceticism.
Teresa continues to ask her sisters to endure all without complaining. She says that generosity is necessary from the very beginning of the spiritual life. This is difficult on its own. We must pray for the graces necessary to understand what it was that Jesus endured for us in His Life, Passion and Death. We are called to take up our cross and follow after Him. “Many never manage to finish their course because they do not “embrace the Cross from the beginning.” (Life, Ch. 11) “The aim of all my advice to you in this book is that we should surrender ourselves wholly to the Creator, place our will in His hands and detach ourselves from the creatures.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 32)
It is stressed that St. Teresa does not mean to condemn people to Hell who do not abide by her advice. She merely states that one will remain in the lower parts of the mansions if we do not strive for more. One cannot make it to the summit of contemplation without labor. When one deceases from this life, one dies at different stages of spiritual growth. Our eternal happiness will be experienced differently by everyone according to his surrender and embracing of his own particular cross. She says in the Seventh Mansion that we must be branded with the sign of the Cross.
St. John of the Cross is of the same mindset. In his book, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel. He states that there are three ways open to the beginner. First, is the way of the soul that is led astray, and follows the search for the goods of earth: liberty, honors, knowledge and comfort. The Second is called the way of the imperfect and leads towards the goods of heaven; glory, sanctity, joy, wisdom; but because it seeks them, the soul finds them less abundantly and it does not scale the mountain of perfection. The third way is going straight to the summit where there is a narrow path on which the Saint has written four times over; “nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.” This path leads to the fullness of the gifts of God to the banquet of divine Wisdom. This is interpreted in the following way: “In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing. In order to arrive at possessing everything, desire to possess nothing. In order to arrive at being everything, desire to be nothing. In order to arrive at knowing everything, desire to know nothing.” Ascent, Book 1 Ch. 13. In plain language – God will provide – do not worry – just surrender!
It is clear that the slopes of Carmel are steep and we are advised not to concentrate on the road traversed or how high or hard it is to climb but to contemplate on Our Lord Jesus Christ – our ultimate goal - union with Him. Our only support to get there is the staff that is the cross. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” Matt. 16:24 ---- There is no other way than the way to Calvary! “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into his glory?” Luke 24:26. The disciple is not above his Master. The world hated me and it will hate you. They will persecute you as they have persecuted me…I am sending you forth as sheep among wolves.” Matt. 10. We try to forget that Christ announced no other victory than that of the Cross on Calvary. If someone comes to you, preaching an easy doctrine, even if he were an angel and worked miracles to support it, do not believe him. Put your trust in austere penance and detachment from all things.” St. John of the Cross Maxim 124
Fr. Marie Eugene beautifully reminds us that to find the immolated Christ we can go to the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us the superabundant life of the Christ Who does not die and announces to us through His Passion, His sufferings, the necessity of participating in His sacrifice, of completing what is lacking to His Passion for the application of His merits to our souls.
The asceticism that tends to absolute detachment must proceed progressively, by degrees; if not, it will fail completely. A prudent and enlightened director must regulate this progress by considering the actual strength of a soul. Know that God is a God of love and compassion. He has the most perfect patience and will tenderly guide your soul to Him. He is not forceful but gentle towards your needs which He knows best. We must have profound trust in Him!
It is stressed that a time for making resolutions is critical to growth and progress. It is not recommended in this book, but it is in our Rule that we are asked to take time out each year for a retreat; possibly the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Miles Christi priests do offer retreats throughout the year for both men and women which last an entire weekend but are profitable for the soul to advance in its generosity with God.
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Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene