Feast of our Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus (Teresa of Avila)
Reformer of the Carmelite Order and Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites of the unmitigated Primitive Rule
Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum (With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts…) – 3 Kings 19.10. These are the words of inscription that cut across the sword of flame held by the hand of the great Prophet of Mt. Carmel – the Prophet Elias – which one reads as he looks closer to the coat of arms of the Carmelite Order of Teresian Reform. And this phrase forms the first part of the very words the great Prophet of Carmel replied to Our Lord Who asked His Prophet the reason for hiding in the mount of Horeb – in Sacred Scriptures, the mount of God.
In reforming Carmel, St. Teresa of Jesus, no doubt inspired by the spirit of the Father and Founder of the Carmelite Order, looked up to the primitive eremitical life led by the successors of the Prophets Elias and Eliseus on the Mount of Carmel – a life permeated by those words of their Father and Founder: zeal for the honor and glory of God. And a burning zeal it must be for the Order is the contemplative Order par excellence.
Common opinion has it that a “contemplative” Order such as Teresian Carmel is one that is devoted to prayer and silence. Some deny Teresian Carmel as the contemplative Order par excellence because silence in the monasteries of the Carthusian Order is almost absolute. It must be distinguished that the exercise of prayer is one thing and the grace and gift of prayer is another, and that prayer – both as exercise and grace – together with silence [and penitential exercises] are only means toward our goal: that of infused contemplation, that is, God’s gift of Himself or God, our Highest Good, communicating and giving Himself to us in so far as we are capable of receiving Him in this life and according to the degree of our generosity in giving ourselves wholly to Him.
This burning desire – this zeal – that a Teresian Carmelite carries in his heart is not human passion but the intense charity of God and which intensity heightens as the soul draws closer and closer to the summit of the mount of Christian Perfection. It is that divine fire which set the bush in flames but without destroying it and in the midst of which God communicated Himself to Moses on the mount of Horeb (cf., Ex. 3) – the same mount as above where the great Prophet of Carmel spoke about his zeal for Our Lord. The fire of divine love so intense yet so delicately gentle towards those it draws and chooses to be drawn to the Heart of God to be Its fit receptacle of repose; but also the fire of God’s avenging justice, which did not shy to consume the heart of the Prophet Elias, towards those who turn souls away from the true God* and who obstinately spurn God’s merciful love and goodness – the height of which was manifested on Calvary.
* The fiery Prophet of God had the more than four hundred false prophets of a false god seized and killed (cf., 3 Kings 18.40).
The Teresian Carmelite Spirit then is prophetic. In Scriptural language, a prophet is a “man of God” called to bring God to His people and his people to God – to speak in the place of and to give witness to the true God: the God of justice and of mercy. And for this reason, this prophetic vocation is eminently Marian – hence the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apocalyptic Woman that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array (Canticle of Canticles, 6.9), with Her diadem on Her head of twelve stars, crowns the edifice of the Order surmounted as it is with the Cross of Her Crucified Son: for it was Our Immaculate Mother who brought forth the God-Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and still brings forth and forms Her son in the souls of God’s children until they are perfectly conformed to the image of Her Son consumed with the vehement intensity of divine charity, of that perfect love towards God and towards souls – the image of Her Son on the Cross, Him Crucified (2 Corinthians 2.2).
According to the Word of God, a prophet is one who is raised up to take the place of God as regards the people (cf., Deut. 18.16). But what is man, like Moses, to be counted upon by God to take His place and to represent His interest? Sacred Scriptures tells us that the Lord… called Moses unto the top [of the mount]…. And the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend (Ex. 19.20; 33.11); that is, he who is called the “man of God” is the friend of God. But a true friend is proved in times of trouble when his heroic love is counted upon: Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15.13). And since, looking on Him Whom they pierced (Jn. 19.37; also, Zacharias 12.10), it is a “dreadful” thing to have God for one’s friend because of the cost of being counted upon by Him, Our Lord gives his friend the company of His Mother who, though bodily stood at the foot of the Cross, burned nevertheless in Her grieving heart with the zealous love of a mother most ready and determined to take the place of Her only beloved child!
This sentiment of the Immaculate Heart is what Our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross bequeaths especially to Her children who asks to be clothed in Her holy Habit – Her Scapular. When our dearest “Little Therese” (as she would like to be called) recalled an incident in her childhood, where she was offered by her sister Leonie a basket filled with doll dresses and other pieces for making others and then was asked to “choose,” she took her reply “I choose all!” as the summary of her whole life (cf., Story of a Soul, Chapter 1). She writes: “later on when perfection was set before me, I understood that to become ‘a saint’ one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, there were many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to ‘choose’ among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: My God, ‘I choose all!’ I don’t want to be a ‘saint by halves,’ I’m not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my ‘own will’; so take it, for ‘I choose all’ that You will!” St. Therese proved how faithful a daughter she was of St. Teresa who in turn proved also a faithful daughter of Her Mother of Carmel. The “Little Flower” of Carmel took to heart the admonition of La Madre (Teresa de Jesus) which rings as a Teresian Carmelite religious enters his cell wherein on the wall is hung a big cross without the corpus or the body of the Crucified: “be ready to take the place of your Beloved on the Cross!”
“When evening comes, you will be examined in love.
Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.
Learn to love as God desires to be loved and abandon your own ways of acting.
What does it profit you to give God one thing if He asks you another?
Consider what it is God wants, and then do it.
You will as a result satisfy your heart better than with something toward which you yourself are inclined.”
– St. John of the Cross, co-reformer of St. Teresa of Jesus
See also: “Trouble-Maker Prophet“, “To Fly the Colors of the Immaculata“, “Teresian Carmelite Vocation Discernment – I“, “Teresian Carmelite Vocation – II“, “Intimate Friendship with God“, and “What it takes to become a Teresian Carmelite Saint“