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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Perfection Part Six-The Teresas

Continuing the series on perfection, I have switched temporarily from Garrigou-Lagrange to the Interior Castle of St. Teresa of Avila. In this book, St. Teresa refers to the enlargement of the heart. Quoting Prime, Teresa writes, “Cum dilatasti cor meum. When thou shalt englarge my heart”, from Psalm 119. She notes that it is not in consolations, or the “spiritual sweetness” that the heart if made larger, more capable of Love. She is writing about the characteristics of the Fourth Mansion, a state commonly attained by serious Catholics. This is the stage of pursuing one's heart's desire, not through thinking, but through loving. Teresa writes a curious sentence: “So then do whatever most en-flames your heart to love.” Those who have reflected and learned some ways of meditative prayer, and even contemplation may find this an odd statement. Teresa is encouraging the enlargement of the heart through and in Love, the pursuit of Love. She is very keen to point out that most people might not even know what Love is, and I capitalize Love, as to me, it is a Person and not a feeling. Teresa states that joy does not start in the heart, but in the will, in the desire to please God and not to offend Him. Like a good bride who defers to her husband, Teresa knows that Love is in the Will, and not in some pursuit of feelings or consolations. That the will is connected to the dilation or enlargement of the heart is a mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit, bringing the person to an awareness that the life of God springs up spontaneously, not through effort, but through Love.

And, what is it that attracts Love to the heart through the will? Humility. Teresa makes it very clear that only the humble come to this well of interior life springing up and nourishing the soul. Only those who Love Love without self-interest, without expectation, experience humility. It is as if one must see one's self as the only person on the street, in a shop, going up the stairs in a flat, loving God just for the sake of loving Him and for no other reason.

Sometimes, I play a little game of Love. When I am in a small, ordinary place, like walking to the shops, or sitting on the bus, I think, “God, there is one small person in …..who is loving You.”
For awhile, I lived on top of a high set of flats, with no elevator. I had to walk up many flights of stairs, and if I had bags of groceries, it was hard. I would stop at the top of each flight and say, “Jesus, there is one person climbing the stairs, in …..who is loving You. There is one person at 2:00 in the afternoon, who is thinking only of You.” Joy flows from these little acts of the Will, the joy which Teresa states comes not from the heart, but from the depths of one's being.

Little things lead to Love and if one is humble and realizes that one only has little things to offer, joy follows. Humility, taking the small and offering to God, is also the Little Way of St. Theresa, the Little Flower, and here, the two Teresas overlap. The third step in this way of Love is to desire suffering. This separates us from the pagans, who at all costs, want to avoid suffering. If one truly loves someone, does not one want to share in the suffering of that person in order to relieve the loneliness and isolation, which suffering causes? The Little Flower wrote of the “unfelt joy”. This is the joy which does not console. It is a type of infused knowledge that one is suffering in and with Christ, without the consolations. Again, this wells up from an interior life of grace, freely given, but available to all, not some.

The last point in these steps to real enlargement of the heart is detachment, totally, from all things and all people and even, all places. Teresa writes that self-denial must be real. It cannot be a pretence. We must even be willing not to receive grace, if that is God's desire. To be holy only in so far as He has decided that for us. We need to be completely detached even from holiness.

There is a freedom given in all of this, which allows one to have a sense of salvation, through the mercy of God, not through deeds. Such freedom leads one to be bold in God, to evangelize just by being, to recollect immediately, to have discernment and to give peace to others in mysterious ways. So, is the heart enlarged to love all, but mostly to Love Love.

If one is in grace, one can trust the movements of the Holy Spirit. Going to Mass and Confession regularly increases personal discernment. When Teresa writes, “So then do whatever most en-flames your heart to love,” she is encouraging us to follow our heart, minds, and wills to follow the vocation, the way God has chosen for us. Garrigou-Lagrange believes this call to holiness and intense intimacy with God is for all Catholics. In following one's way, in humility and peace, God works His Will in each person to lead one to perfection. This is a real possibility. The Gospel challenge from Christ Himself, “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” is for all of us. To be continued.