Feast of St. Teresa of Jesus
Virgin, Reformer of Carmel, a ‘Doctor’ of the Science of Divine Love, and our Mother
“Make up your minds, my [children], that you came here [to our Reformed Carmel] to die for Christ and not to have a good time for Christ.” – St. Teresa of Jesus
It is said that “virtue lies in the golden mean.” This maxim which is so exact for the moral virtues, cannot be applied to the theological virtues [Faith, Hope, and Charity], which, having an Infinite Object – that is, God – can have no limit. The measure of our faith, hope, and charity is to believe, to hope, and to love without measure. However much we love God, we can never love Him too much, nor can we love Him as much as He is lovable. By its very nature then, the precept of charity admits of no limit and we could never say, “I shall love God up to a certain point and that will be enough,” for by doing so, we would renounce tending toward the perfection of charity, which consists in loving God in a way that is as nearly proportionate as possible to His infinite lovableness.Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5.48). This is why it is necessary never to stop in the practice of Christian charity – not mere love or philanthropy – employing all our strength that it may continually increase in our soul.
Because the precept of charity concerns the love of God – the Infinite, Supreme Good – it possesses an absolute character: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength (Mk. 12.30). If we so little and so limited, do not employ in the love of God all the little that we have are, how can we truly tend toward the perfection of charity?
Furthermore, even human love by its nature is ‘totalitarian’. The more intimate and intense a friendship, the more it demands the exclusive give of the heart; and when a friend begins to make reservations or to give his affection to others, the friendship loses its vigor, grows cold, and may even vanish. Therefore, we must guard against any coldness in our friendship with God, being careful to keep for Him alone the first fruits of our heart and to employ our self wholly in loving Him with our whole heart, with ourwhole soul, with our whole mind, and with our whole strength.
It is true that only in heaven will we be able to love God with our whole soul (that is, with our whole mind and heart) and our whole strength and in such a way that our love tends always and actuallytoward Him. Although this absolute totality and stability in charity is not possible to us here on earth, it is possible to love God above all things. He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me (Mt. 10.37). This precept, however, can be interpreted in two ways. To love God more than any creature to the point of being ready to give up everything rather than offend God gravely is the first degree of charity. It is indispensable for all who desire to be friends of God and to possess His grace, and therefore, it is required of all. But in a more profound sense, to love God above all things means to prefer Him to everything else, not only to what might be an occasion of mortal or venial sin, but even to all that does not fully correspond to His good pleasure [which means also corresponding to the good pleasure of our legitimate superiors – especially of our spiritual fathers in so far as it is not evil in itself, against the Rule, or against our Faith* and Morals]. This is the degree of perfect charity toward which every soul aspiring to intimate friendship with God must tend. this degree requires absolute detachment and renouncement, and absolute purity – that is, the total absence of every shadow of sin or attachment to creatures (persons, things, comfort, pleasures, devotional practices, spiritual consolations, etc.). The exercise of perfect charity requires, therefore, a work of total purification of the heart so that it can be employed in loving and serving God alone.
* For this reason, we can never share in the ‘pleasure’ of our Holy Father in declaring his renewed commitment to Vatican II – of which he stood as one of its ‘guiding lights’ – and we can never participate in the ‘New Evangelization’ which, according to the intervention of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, must be “open to others” (a search for a ‘gospel’ subject to a never-ending discussion or debate).
It must be emphasized then that whoever aspires to sanctity should have a generous, magnanimous heart, which is not satisfied with doing little things for God, and tiny acts of virtue, but is determined and eager to do great things and give great proofs of love: there is no sanctity without heroic virtues. This virtue of magnanimity inclines the soul to do great things for God, but never to the detriment of true obedience, true humility, or the fulfillment of duty required by our state of life. Generous souls, precisely in this domain, will often meet arduous, difficult things which call for much virtue, but which usually remain hidden from the eyes of others. In circumstances such as these, we are often tempted to give up, under the pretext that it is not necessary to push virtue to such extremes; we excuse ourselves, saying that we are not angels nor saints. La Madre (our holy Mother Teresa of Jesus) says, “We may not be; but what a good thing it is for us to reflect that we can be if we will only, and if God gives us His hand!” Our holy Mother strongly insists that those who have dedicated themselves to the spiritual life should nor nourish petty desires, but generous ones, nor should they fear to emulate the Saints; she affirms with authority, “I have never seen any courageous person hanging back on this road, nor any soul, that, under the guise of humility, acted like a coward, go as far in many years as the courageous soul can in a few.”
The contrary of magnanimity is pusillanimity, or faintheartedness, a defect which prevents souls from accomplishing great things through excessive fear of failure [the Cross, the most eloquent expression of a heroically magnanimous love towards God and souls, is it not a sign of apparent failure and even of defeat?]. Certainly, of our own volition, we should not rashly attempt to do what is beyond our strength. This, too, is a defect, evincing imprudence and presumption, which displease God. But when, in particular circumstances, and after sufficient examination with the guiding light of an orthodox and devout Spiritual Director, we see clearly what Our Lord wishes of us, we should not refuse, however difficult it may seem to be. Can God not give us the strength to do what He asks? Why do we doubt Him?
A pusillanimous person who withdraws on such occasions, under the pretext that he does not feel capable of doing so much, may believe that he is humble; but in reality he is a coward, proud, and lacking trust in God. He is a coward because, preoccupied with himself, he fears failure, he is afraid to expose himself to the criticism of others, he dreads fatigue and sacrifice. He is proud because he relies more on his own erroneous judgment than on God’s and His grace.
Our Lord once said to St. Teresa: “Knowest thou what it is to love Me in truth? It is to realize that everything which is not pleasing to Me is a lie [For all that is not of Faith is sin (Rom. 14.23)].” Without sound of words, the Holy Ghost gives this lesson to every soul that lets itself be formed and purified by Him. The more He enlightens it also on the truth of its own misery and that of all creatures, the more the soul remains disinclined toward them; it withdraws all its hope from them and comes truly to esteem God above all things and to prefer Him to everything else. I count all things to be but loss for… Jesus Christ, my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3.8). Just as this soul is not concerned about acquiring any possession except the possession of God, neither is he concerned about any loss, if it be not the loss of God. Everything can be taken from it: health, riches, honors, esteem, trust, the affection of the most cherished persons, and these persons themselves; but never could the soul endure that God should be taken from it, or that it should be prevented from loving Him. Thus have the Saints thought and acted. “Let your desire be to see God [face to face in heaven]; your fear, that you may lose Him; your sorrow, that you are not having fruition of Him; your joy, that He can bring you to Himself,” wrote St. Teresa to her Discalced religious.
Such is the characteristic of the measure of true love: to create but one preoccupation in the soul, one fear, one desire, and one joy – all which are concentrated on God alone.
A most blessed Feast to all!
See also “God’s Purifying Love“.