The Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association Home Page
The Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association Home Page

Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives


Religious Life

Return to:  Home > Archives Index > Religious Life Index

The History of Religious Life
St. Teresa of Avila and the Carmelite Reform

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.


First in terms of the title, notice we call this Teresian spirituality and not precisely Carmelite spirituality. There is more than passing importance in noting that what we call the great spiritualities of the Church, such as the Benedictine, the Franciscan, here the Teresian, they are rather identifiable with some great man or woman who may indeed, and so far in all cases, happen also to be the founder or foundress of a religious community. But because the Church’s authority stands behind the person, the word Franciscan spirituality is misleading, the word Dominican is misleading. There can be no misleading about Ignatian. That is because Ignatius is not the Jesuits. St. Ignatius was be it said a Jesuit. The reason for the importance is first of all that the Church’s authority stands behind the person whom she has either canonized or beatified and above all has approved that person’s writing, soundness of doctrine, and for our purpose, way of sanctity.

When the Church canonizes people, she infallibly declares two things: one, that the individual is certainly in heaven in the glory of God; and secondly, the effect this person’s way of life is a secure and effective means of also attaining holiness. The spirituality therefore has to do with that tried and approved means of growing in holiness. It would be a mistake, frankly, to talk about Carmelite spirituality in a course like this. Now there happens to be, we finished as much as we really wanted to give attention to, Ignatian spirituality. But there is and I think I mentioned didn’t I, the outstanding work on Jesuit spirituality by Father Joseph de Guibert. But when we talk about Teresian, we are talking about the spirituality of St. Teresa. When we talk about Dominican of St. Dominic; Franciscan, St. Francis. Am I clear? It is not the by now, millions, and often quite different, and be it said not always authentic. And I can say this for my own least Society of Jesus. You don’t lose ten thousand men in fifteen years in a religious order unless there is something wrong. And consequently, to make sure that when we talk about Teresian, we are talking about St. Teresa; Fransciscan, it is St. Francis. And for the Franciscans in class, that is of great importance. Otherwise, we can get ourselves bogged down in all kinds of people’s interpretation, which may be valid may not be so valid. Or at least are not of that universal import which all of the major spiritualities of the Church are. All right? Then, not just for Dominicans the Dominican, for the Franciscans the Franciscan, or the Teresian for Carmelites, or the Ignatius Ignatian just for Jesuits.

Origin of the Carmelites

First then something about context. Regarding the origins of Carmel, as they speak of it, the Carmelites themselves. There are two descriptions of that origin. There is the traditional which goes back to no less a person than the prophet Elijah. And for any one who doubts it, all you have to go is St. Peters in Rome. And among the, in the gallery of the founders, the great founders of religious institutes is himself, Elijah. Well, I call that traditional. I didn’t want to call the other historical. I changed my vocabulary. I call it documentary.

Now what do we know about the origins of the Carmelites, back in Elijah’s time? Where clearly that is slightly before Christ. And there are other problems that arise if you take that literally. What it means is that in Palestine, Elijah himself was a great mystic and contemplative, that there seems to have been an unbroken chain of groups of contemplatives on or about Mount Carmel and Elijah recognized as their great inspirer. The actual documentation about the foundation of the Carmelites has two types, an earlier in Palestine with hermits following the Rule of St. Augustine and a group in Europe, both by the way of the 13th century started by St. Simon Stock. From what country was St. Simon Stock? England. Approved be it said by the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyons. You will notice this is the third great religious tradition started in the 13th century. Carmelite origins as far as they can be traced in a documentary way, with the Church’s approval, date from the 13th century.

You will notice the Palestinian origins are rather eremitical; those in Europe are rather mendicant. More heavily on the apostolic and active in Europe; more contemplative and cloistered, even eremitical, in Asia.

Ambiguities and Abuses

Now in drawing up your outline, I put abuses first and ambiguity second. It really should be ambiguity first and abuses second.

The first source of ambiguity which then gave rise to a Teresa of Avila and a John of the Cross, we are talking now about three centuries of time. Right? From their 13th century origins to the 16th century was long enough for the Carmelites to have fallen on bad times. There was need for reform, and hence the two great reformers, Teresa and John, came into existence. There was the ambiguity as to whether Carmelites should be hermits or should be living in a community. All I can tell you is the ambiguity is still there. What I mean is that there are those Carmelites who more strongly favor the eremitical and others the communal.

Secondly, and corresponding to the first, whether the community should be strictly contemplative or whether it should engage in the active apostolate outside the cloister. The Asian origins and those favoring the oriental form would be more eremitical and more intensely cloistered and contemplative. Those in Europe, I leave it to Europeans to be the more activist, they would favor the more communal and externally apostolic. What then Teresa was doing is seeking to restore what she firmly believed was the primitive rule of Carmel, which was not European, but oriental.

The last four are abuses. The problem arose of whether the superiors in Carmelite foundations were to be appointed or chosen for life. Not a few Carmelite institutes had superiors who stayed on a lifetime, which created not a few problems. Some were good superiors, some were not so good. That was an abuse. It was not so much in having permanent superiors as rather that the Church had not sufficiently got control. Or if the control was there externally, not a few Carmelites did not submit to the control of having, if you want, permanent superiors, be sure they are qualified to rule for life. There are very few religious institutions in the Catholic Church today whose superiors are appointed or elected for life. The one dramatic exception is the Society of Jesus. Our general is elected for life.

Fourth but second abuse. Private property. The Carmelites though professing poverty, not a few of them, through obtaining permission often coming from fairly wealthy families. Though they might have protected themselves canonically by not using things say without permission. But not a few Carmelite institutions became weak in the practice of poverty, with scandal to the faithful, with often the more wealthy families migrating towards Carmel with other disastrous results notably the kind of vocations were not infrequently those who could afford it.

Now those two fours are wrong. It should be five and six. I am not sure what time of the night I did this.

Outside work, that became quite an abuse. Although some of the greatest monastic leaders in Europe, take a man like St. Bernard, very active in working for the Church. The point is that not everybody has the sanctity of a St. Bernard. In any case, the Carmelites were abusing the privilege which they had of being asked, invited, sometimes even commanded by Church authorities to engage in the active apostolate. Let me tell you that one of the problems facing religious communities today, especially as they seek to be more contemplative, more prayerful, is to find ways and if necessary, to create means of saying “no” even to sometimes worthy causes for the Church. I think not a small part of the problem in the Catholic religious life today, is that too many religious had too soon, in too great numbers, with too great intensity, became involved in all kinds of apostolic work. With the dreadful result, that they were, well, zealous indeed, but they had in many cases even lost the right to the title religious, where religious has to do with the things of God.

Finally, sounds like the 20th century. Small convents. That became an abuse. They found that they could live more congenial in having a smaller group, no doubt by choice. Now if you could find all that many congenial people, well, have a large convent. But human nature but being what it is, the odds are there wouldn’t be all that many kindred spirits. That became an abuse. It created polarization. It deprived the religious of that kind of practice, especially of charity, which having different kinds of people, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick, the ambitious and the not so ambitious, living together under the same roof and in the practice what by then must be, Christ-like supernatural charity.

So much for the abuses, towards which mainly when Teresa came to write and of course administer, she had to face. She had the option of course, of either a larger foundation or a smaller one. But she decided that if you want to live the strictly contemplative life, larger numbers are a handicap. And this may have been the historical reason, why so many of these convents they became, if not dissolute at least not as fervent as they had been. Because, either given the larger numbers, there were not a few who wanted to engage in the active apostolate which then weaken the spirit of the community or if the numbers were small, they were gathered together as a small number not because the contemplative life could be better lived, but because it would be less demanding on human nature.

And in fact one reason as you read Teresa’s writings, one reason why the Carmelites, that is the authentic ones, practice very severe austerity is because they do not have, given the relatively small numbers and they are carefully chosen, the normally the kind of mortification that is built into any community that has a large variety of people. And since then of course, the Church has approved her way of life. So I would say, once she made the decision to be strictly contemplative, which was one of the decisions to make. She found from experience that having a larger number of women, now this I have to say this, living as constantly in each other’s company, notice, having no apostolic work outside of themselves to both absorb their attention and, well, divert their attention from one another. Does this make sense? People have written about, you know, why the number is small. I should add however, that by then, it had become quite common for small convents to exist, so she did not innovate the small size. She made sure however that the smallness of the size would not be because it would be easier, but rather would be more effective for the purpose for which the strictly cloistered contemplative life was founded.

Significant Features of St. Teresa's Life

Among the significant features in her biography, just to mention one or the other, she had a series of bouts with illness. She was first as you know a boarder in an Augustinian convent, cloistered indeed, but Augustinian. She took sick, came back home, entered, well, a Carmelite convent, and then took sick again. It is well to note that between 1515 her birth and 53, which she herself identifies as the date of her reconversion, that except for her having converted herself, she could never have reformed others. Now this I have noticed both in my dealing with people and by now the reading of the Church’s history. Sometimes we joke among ourselves as Jesuits, as we look back over the, well, the most demanding superiors that we have recollections of, the really tough confrere not infrequently we found, those who make the toughest superiors, are those who in their own early days were not outstanding for austerity. There is such a thing as first learning the importance of being severe with oneself and to change one’s life, as Teresa did, from being mediocre, and as we know that she was even told that if she continued in this way she wouldn’t even be saved. In any case, her own conversion was a necessary factor in her becoming a reformer.

Three names of three spiritual directors occur in her life. And leave it to me to put St. John of the Cross, I manage to find space for him, in 1567. I should have put him, well, among the major events of her life. Because there is nobody who is more major in Teresa’s life than St. John of the Cross. But each contributed something to her sanctification and to her spirituality. Francis Borgia, the Jesuit general, himself as we know had been a married man, his wife died, he later on became a Jesuit and became one of our great generals. When she confessed, this is Teresa to Francis, she by then already experienced mystical phenomena. He was the one who identified, and she was grateful for the rest of her days, he identified her gifts as being genuinely from God. Let me tell you, this is a great discovery. Because the more a person seeks to serve God intimately, and Teresa surely did, the more God will lead the soul by unique paths. There is no rule book by which you become a mystic. In any case, he identified her experiences as truly supernatural. Peter Alcantara, a contemporary, taught her the importance of penance. And St. John of the Cross, gave her, what without him, she could never have done, gave her the contact with the Carmelite authorities and with the hierarchy in the Church; otherwise, she would have been Teresa the would-be reformer, instead of the saint and the reformer she actually was. Because behind what he pointed out to her, was if you want to reform the Carmelites, reform them from within.

You cannot imagine how much this has meant to me, especially for the last 22 years, in the Society of Jesus. I make no hesitation, in publicly affirming that the Society of Jesus needs a drastic reformation.

I might also add, this is on a very personal note but it needs saying, Ignatius when he founded the Society of Jesus because of his own great bent for the contemplative cloistered life. Into his constitutions, he gives his men the option any time they want to, we are free, a letter to the general is all that’s required, I want to leave the Jesuits and become a Carthusian, or a Trappist or a Camaldolese. And the general must respect my request, and no other permissions are necessary. And I try it out. If I find I can’t take it, I must be readmitted. Isn’t that good? That’s Ignatius.

Principle Sources of Teresian Spirituality

What are the principle sources of her spirituality? Three writings, her Autobiography, The Way of Perfection, and Carmelite theologians say the Interior Castle especially. Although I would distinguish, I would say if you look on Teresian spirituality in terms of method, of how you get there, I think it is mainly her Autobiography and Way of Perfection. If you want to know what Teresian spirituality is once you are there, then it is the Interior Castle. The road map is the Way of Perfection and the Autobiography. The photograph of Teresa at her peak, when God’s grace had you might say done it’s work in her soul, is the Interior Castle.

Now the features. I don’t know whether I’ve ever had occasion to mention this. In the novitiate, our novice master, a very wise man, would not allow any of his novices to read either Teresa or John of the Cross. Did I tell you this? Now we could get special permission. But he was the judge whether you could take it. I am embarrassed to say, I never asked permission. Because what he told me about my state of soul convinced me he was sure I couldn’t take it. Both Teresa and John therefore must be handled carefully. I have seen more good souls, misguided, living a spirituality of illusion, from having too widely and indiscriminately, steeped themselves in the right literature of mysticism until they really thought they were mystics. Take it from a priest. It’s what I call cerebral mysticism. It’s all up here – unmortified, proud, selfish. Better not to have read a woman like Teresa then to read and think, well, I’m not quite sure which castle I am in but I’m getting there, and not having coped with the fundamental drives of human nature, like pride.

Features of Teresian Spirituality

Now the features. Some of these are obvious, some less so. None however is unimportant. I will try to say at least a sentence or two about each one.

First. The primacy of prayer in the spiritual life means as Teresa understands it, that you can quite identify one’s spiritual life by the level of prayer that the person is living. Now that is profoundly true. All I know is that you require a professional guide to judge whether you are or are not progressing in the spiritual life because maybe you don’t see your prayer as advanced as St. Teresa might indicate. So one’s spiritual life is mainly to be identified with one’s union with God.

Second. The primacy of grace in the growth in holiness. As we know there are two elements necessary for becoming holy. They are divine grace and human freedom. Neither without the other makes a person holy. Now Teresa lived as we know in that period of the Church’s history when freedom was widely denied by the reformers. What she brought out and was very conscious of the need for exertion using human effort, your own freedom, what she recognized, however, and no doubt God raised her for this purpose, is to lay to rest once and for all the charge that Catholicism so stresses good works that it ignores or even minimizes the prior necessity of grace. Consequently, while God wants everyone to be saved, and those who have received the gift of Baptism, God also wants to become holy. But be it said, if some are holier than others, and the comparative degree is most true. It is not mainly because some are more generous, it is primarily because some have received the grace. And there is no greater pride known to man than the pride of thinking that you have the grace and you don’t.

Third. Prayer is normative of spiritual progress. She uses these four figures of speech, which you may recall, that is of progress in the sense of watering the soil, that prayer is the means of obtaining grace, without grace, no holiness. How do you get the water, otherwise known as grace? Well, those four are just successively easier ways of getting grace. The most difficult is where you have to carry the water in the bucket. So you got some kind of a mechanism that can, say draw the water up. Then maybe some vehicle that can transport the water, irrigation, these are Teresa’s figures of speech, simplifies it even more. And of course, the best is where you just sit inside and watch the rain come down.

The language is very simple, but the lesson is profound. We must do what in us lies. But when God wants to give grace, that is the grace of prayer which then makes for union with God, to reach Teresa’s vocabulary is union with God equals sanctity. And the subjective evidence of union with God is one’s life of prayer. Evidently being in union is bi-focal. The heart of union with God is God’s giving himself through grace. But I am not yet united unless I give myself with freedom. What Teresa is here illustrating is how do you get the grace. Well, there are four successive ways. And provided you do your part, come a day, why as you know it took years for her, before the rain just came down. Rain, symbolizing divine grace, the grace of prayer. And not to say either give up prayer or even weaken in one’s life of prayer, because it’s hard. Don’t be dumb, she would say. You’re maybe just in the stage of carrying the water in buckets. So, you don’t want your spiritual life to grow and the plants that God has planted there to grow. It’s too much work carrying the water. Don’t be silly, of course, it’s hard work, carry the water, lug the buckets. In time it is God’s will, you won’t have to carry any buckets, God will just come down.

But, and this is one important qualification that has to be made regarding St. Teresa, and why it is of great importance not to just read Teresa or people like her and try to imitate her because unless a person has the spirituality which this reflects, it is quite possible for a person to have difficulties with prayer, carrying the water in buckets all one’s life, hardly knows how to spell the word mysticism, and would surely be stumped on spelling the word ecstasy. Many people who wouldn’t know how to spell the word ecstasy let alone have one can become great saints. You hear it. That’s why we are going through the history of religious life. Notice, each saint has something to teach us. No one of them, no dozen of them, no thousand exhaust the riches of the imitation of Christ. Martha was not Mary. Right? Mary no doubt had ecstasies. And Martha, well you know, you know the story. Yet both are saints. How’s that. Don’t you think we need that. Otherwise we are liable to read very fine, great spiritual literature of the ages and then mistakenly suppose that because I have not even reached the second, let alone the third or fourth stage, how unholy I must be, woe is me. Thirty years in the religious life, and look at me, I haven’t had even one two-minute ecstasy.

Fourth. Growth is conditioned by effort determined by grace. The verb notice change. What determines our holiness is God’s grace. He gives it, in the amount, to whom, and in the degree that He wishes. But all the grace in the world will make no one holy. The condition for that grace sanctifying us is our free will. We must exert ourselves. And this is where Teresa was so grateful to her Jesuit advisors, because she had them, besides Francis Borgia, for having taught her what Ignatius was so strong on. If you want there must be a dozen descriptions of Ignatius that would fit the pattern. Ignatius is the great teacher of human liberty as the condition for sanctity. And although he never personally instructed Teresa, through his sons, he did teach her. You must exert yourselves, and it’s the effort that is sanctifying.

Five. Reparation by substitution. It is well to remind ourselves that she lived in an age not like our own, massive defections, whole countries were lost to the Church; bishops, many apostatized. Well, she needed strong motivation for the life of prayer and mortification. She found it in reparation. But note the logic. And she was a very logical woman. She took literally the teaching of Christ, and especially of St. Paul, who was so clear that where one part of Mystical Body is unfaithful, or weak, or sinful, others should make up. And consequently, where there is a lack of humility, we practice humility. Or where there is a lack of whatever virtue, as a result of which the Church is in trouble, that others sincerely believe the best way they can sanctify the Mystical Body is by substituting themselves for sometimes the most debauched criminals or the most arrogant heretics in order to repair for their misdeeds.

Number six. Sanctification through community life. Though although she found from experience and by the way, she never said that either St. John of the Cross or the men Carmelites were to have small communities. But for the women folk, she had no doubt. Her reasons best known to women and those like Teresa who understood the feminine gender. That there will be the sanctification through living with others but the purpose was then not as it would be in larger communities for the sake of the external apostolic work. Because that was not the purpose of her understanding of Carmel. You see, she made the decision that the original Carmelite spirit was in Palestine, that it was on the side of contemplation, and as close as possible to the original model which was eremitical. All right?

But she never questioned, either the value of the importance of other forms of religious life, including the larger communities. But you are sanctified through living in a community. I should like to add, however, that unlike Ignatius, for whom sanctification in a community was mainly obedience. It was not so much obedience with St. Teresa, which of course, she much respected, but it was rather regularity and uniformity. And we know what that means. Regularity, everybody doing the same thing, in the same way and at the same time; and uniformity together. That can be very sanctifying.

I had a taste of that when I was a scholastic, my first year of teaching in Cincinnati. Did I tell you about this, the litanies we had, reciting the litanies by the community, litany of the saints for about fifteen minutes. Then we’d assemble now first in chapel for fifteen minutes, then we’d go down to dinner. Always, dinner followed litanies. I was there maybe two months in that community. And they put the youngsters the scholastics in front so that the fathers could watch us. And well, what I was hearing behind me just sounded like mumbling. I thought to myself, here are these veterans in the spiritual life, I’ll show them. So the answer is always “ora pro nobis” and for the plural saints “orate pro nobis.” So I raised my voice to, well, witness to how fervent prayer should be said. After about three days, the rector put a note in my box, “Will you please look me up at your convenience.” I looked him up. “Hey”, he said, “What are you trying to do, reform us?” I was honest, I said, “Frankly, yes.” “Well, look, if I think the fathers and brothers are not reciting the litanies the way they should, as slowly, and as loudly as they ought to, that’s my business, not yours. You pipe down.” Well, I was scared to raise my voice. In any case, sanctification through community life. My dear friends, who doubts it.

Seven. Solitude for recollection and growth. Now this business of solitude is all the more strange because Teresa did want community life. But this is where silence comes in. Because as you know there is such a thing as being in solitude with a lot of people and there is such a thing as being in a crowd where there is just one other person in the room. Two can be a crowd. You know that. Two can be too many. In any case, the spirit of silence. And if there is one thing that Teresa, reread Teresa on the subject of silence, she’s scary. And I honestly believe that her emphasis on silence is drastically needed in religious communities today. We have by now written books on why we’ve got to talk. But as she made so plain to me, and I have been saying it ever since, what the world calls solitude, the lover of God calls conversation with the one that I love. So that it’s rather that I choose with whom I speak. How much dialogue we engage in with other people and fail to talk with the one who is within us and who wants nothing more in our lives than for us to talk to Him.

Number eight. It is not for nothing that St. Teresa of Avila was declared a doctor of the Church in 1970. A doctor of the Church is a teacher of the Church. Teresa had an extraordinarily clear and profound mind. She could be as we know ecstatically affectionate, but she always thought clearly and logically and as you remember, she would say she preferred spiritual directors who were clear thinkers to others who were perhaps more holy but muddled. She respected a good mind; she had one herself. The point behind this feature of her spirituality is that she was always concerned that the spirituality that she herself followed or urged on others was sound, based on the faith, on the Church’s teaching, on authentic orthodox doctrine. And in today’s mixed up world, believe you me, there’s so many attractive and appealing things being written, and said about the spiritual life, but unfortunately, not everything that is appealing is sound.

Without identifying the priest, but recently I was in the room of a very good priest. We know each another, we respect one another. And he had something to do with the counseling of religious, but I happened to notice. I was in his room when he happened not to be in the room, all very legitimately. And I saw there 11 volumes by Louis Evely. My dear friends in Christ, Louis Evely is a very dangerous character. And the fact that he had since left the priesthood is quite secondary. So that right thinking, sound doctrine.

Nine. Love in details, there is the woman for you. You don’t love in big broad strokes. Or as Teresa would put it, in the Spanish, that often cannot be translated, you don’t love God in generalities. It’s the minute details. God after all Who is weaving the tapestry of our lives is meticulous in the extreme. There are no trifles with God. Chesterton, you may have read him, by the way I recommend, G. K. Chesterton, wrote an essay years ago, on “Tremendous Trifles”. And anyone who is concerned about the little, the minute details, I don’t mean the picayune things, but where God’s will is involved. For example, somebody calls on the telephone, we have a problem, a perfect stranger. I am busy, looking at the watch, I can just make the train. But I take a chance, so I spend two minutes on the telephone, maybe I missed the train, but it’s God’s will that we take care of everything that He puts into our lives. Because that one soul, as I found out since, a life can be changed.

Ten. Humility through daily growth in self-knowledge. Sometimes we rhapsodize this self-knowledge. We kind of elevated it to a fourth dimension. Frankly, this self-knowledge, oh it is self-knowledge all right. But the more you know about yourself, the less and less you find to admire. To persevere in this growth in self-knowledge. Notice, growth in self-knowledge. There are three classes of people when it comes to self-knowledge. Assuming that the person has started to know him or herself. The first class, after looking into the self for awhile, says that is impossible and hardly ever goes back again. A second class keeps looking all right, but the more the person sees the more discouraged they become. “Lord, if this is me, what chances have I got”. The third class, balances what Ignatius calls “prudent humility.” You look at yourself, you see your faults, your weaknesses, your sins, but you do not allow that self-knowledge to make you despair. I have dealt with not a few suicides and attempted suicides in my life as a priest. I would say that most people who either attempt or eventually succeed in taking their own lives, despair because they cannot bear to live with themselves.

But we dare not make the mistake of saying because there are such dreadful things in that ego, that therefore we won’t look at it. No, it is to look at the self just long enough to keep us humble. And then, quick, turn from self to God lest you despair. And that is not a figure of speech. Now there are some foolish persons that are so blind they don’t even realize how little, and how bad, and how weak they are.

Number eleven. This is one of Teresa’s many quotable definitions. Humility is to keep within the bounds of truth. I like that. Either amend bring humility in twice, I figure it’s worth it. Make another feature out of it. So what. In other words, humility does not mean that I am always degrading myself. No, humility means that I recognize there are boundaries. Now there are boundaries – if the self is a square (pardon the pun). There are four boundaries, there is an upper, a lower, and the two sides – I am truly humble when I recognize that there are people who are better than I. All right? No problem. And above all I recognize and I’m humble, the truth of Who is above me, God. In fact, all humility begins with the recognition that I am below God, and so far below that the very preposition below loses its meaning. Except for God I wouldn’t even be around. That’s pretty far below Him.

But humility is the true recognition that I have or I possess what others don’t have. That I have gifts which others don’t possess, talents of nature, possessions of grace. It is not humility to not recognize those gifts and it is a sin not to use them. This of course refers also to my relationship to people, for example, in the social order. There are those to whom I’m supposed to be subject. That’s the truth. There are those who are to be subject to me. I might much prefer to not be a superior. That’s not the point. That has nothing to do with it. The simple fact is that I happen to be superior. And I am not being humble if I don’t tell people what they are supposed to do. How I do it is a matter of prudence and charity. Then there are those who are my peers. That I deal with others who are my peers as my peers that I don’t lord it over them. In any case, humility is to keep within the bounds of truth.

Number twelve. Bodily mortification. For Teresa I pulled out these four. The habit. By the way, not only as you know, do all good Carmelites wear the habit. Do you know not all Carmelites now do, including cloistered nuns? That’s right. I was told by a prelate at a meeting of contemplatives there were not a few in pant suits. These are cloistered contemplatives. And some puffing away. In any case, the habit. And she made sure it was a mortification. Remember, it was of what kind of…of fine silk? Wool, and there is woolen wool. Fasting, as you know severe fast, abstinence from meat and fasting. Who knows when the Carmelite fast begins? But it starts much sooner. It begins on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In other words, most of the year is spent in fasting. Then silence. Now while silence is hard to keep for both men and women, you appreciate this is part of the spirituality. For people who naturally prefer to talk, silence can be a severe mortification. And finally enclosure. Enclosure as we know is not only protection, it is for our purpose here, mortification.

Thirteen. Reform is return to the primitive rule. For Teresa, that meant, mainly the Palestinian rule of 1210. For the Carmelites then first approved by the local hierarchy, happened to be the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who approved the rule, it was that of St. Augustine, and was basically eremitical. Which by the way should be a symphony to us. That for us, in the 20th century, the reformation of a religious institute is what, is a return to the primitive rule. All right? It is that embarrassingly simple. Of course, in returning to the primitive rule we have got to shovel away tons of criticism of our being well, archaic, preconciliar, old-hat, ancient, stodgy, static, you name it. All right? Remember this, the reformation of any religious institute is either a return to its primitive rule or it is to have that institute disappear.

The history of religious communities is very simple. They started with great men and women of faith. They reached a peak, they declined, after being less fervent, declining, losing members, not getting vocations and having all kinds of learned excuses for not getting vocations but never admitting the one principle reason, a lack of fervor. One of two things has happened, and this is now a thousand years of recorded religious history. They either have got hold of themselves and went back to their origins or they disappeared. And historically most have disappeared. That’s why, in plain Anglo-Saxon, I want to help so that your communities and mine will not disappear. Otherwise, they will. No question. Teresa saw that, and she went back to what she considered the primitive rule. And the Church then approved it. And the opposition and criticism she met as you know made her a saint.

Fourteen. In Teresa both as a person and in her spirituality, there is practicality, realism and a psychological balance. Some of her insights into human nature and into women’s human nature are very profound. It means that for that any spirituality that fails to take into account the psychology of man is doomed to frustration or even failure. Nature, as Teresa discovered, is the foundation for grace. Grace must build on nature. Nature must be recognized, the weaknesses of nature, the capacities, the tendencies because grace will not substitute for nature.

Fifteen. This I have found over the years most satisfying. Because a great deal of my writing, well, how shall I put it, a great deal of what I would, if I had my choice prefer to spend in prayer, I spend in writing. Yesterday I had to get a manuscript that I am working on. Somebody else was doing the publication. But I am going over the manuscript piecemeal, over two large sections. I needed two hours. I knew I had to keep out of the room but that was not the main reason. I went to chapel from 11:30 to 1:30, finished the manuscript before the Blessed Sacrament. Every once in awhile, I would look up and say, “Lord, here I am, I’m still here.”

I saw in – it’s called a needle-point shop in Manhattan in New York. I guess they sell whatever artifacts you need for needlecraft. There was a finished tapestry. And there was embroidered in color on a dark background, this inscription: “True friendship is found when two people can remain comfortably together in silence.” When you love somebody, you don’t have to do a lot of chatting. Right. Sometimes talking can be a substitute for affection. In any case Teresa knew that. She did a great deal of writing and her prayer much of it was written.

Sixteen. We’ve touched on this before. Except now she was more concerned about heresy, I would say than any other sin. And this, by the way, I just wish that more communities were more concerned about unsound doctrine among their members. Other sins are more notorious. There is none more devastating than a lack or a loss of the true faith.

And Finally. Sanctity through the rule. She told her daughters on one occasion you observe the rule and the Church will be ready to canonize you. As I tell people try it for twenty-four hours, be really faithful to the rule. Of course, I know I am talking to the right audience. Is to make sure that our own constitutions our rules are sound because then we can follow with serene resignation to God’s will knowing this is the sure path to sanctity.

How I would like to spend more time on St. Teresa of Avila.

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

search tips advanced search

What's New    Site Index

Home | Directory | Eucharist | Divine Training | Testimonials | Visit Chapel | Hardon Archives

Adorers Society | PEA Manual | Essentials of Faith | Dictionary | Thesaurus | Catalog | Newsletters

Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
718 Liberty Lane
Lombard, IL 60148
Phone: 815-254-4420
Contact Us

Copyright © 2000 by
All rights reserved worldwide.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior
written permission of