Hello everyone! This week we celebrated two beautiful and prominent feasts of Carmel! On this past Friday, we celebrated the Feast of St. Bartholomew, and on that very day 450 years ago St. Teresa of Avila founded the Carmel of San José in Avila. This would be the first of many monasteries that Teresa would found in her reform of the Carmelite Order – and it marked the beginning of the Discalced Carmelites. Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of the Transverberation of St. Teresa of Avila. Don’t let the long name blow this feast over your head – transverberation simply means “the piercing of the heart.” This refers to a mystical experience of St. Teresa, in which her heart was pierced by an angel and she was set a blaze with the love of Christ – her spouse. For one discerning a Call to Carmel, these two feasts bear considerable significance. Please allow me to share my thoughts.
I’ll start with the Transverberation.
St. Teresa was privileged to experience many ecstasies throughout her life. One such experience took place as she was deep in prayer. Teresa explains in her Autobiography:
“It pleased the Lord that I should see this angel in the following way. He was not very tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem all afire. They must be those who are called cherubim: they do not tell me their names but I am well aware that there is a difference between certain angels and others, and between these and others still, of a kind that I could not possibly explain. In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it-indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks that I am lying I beseech God, in his goodness, to give him the same experience (The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila Trans. & Ed. by E. Allison Peers 192-193).”
As I mentioned in the beginning, as one discerning the Call as a Carmelite, I find a source of strength and inspiration in the Transverberation of St. Teresa of Avila. Like Teresa, we all have that place in our heart that needs a little cleaning-out in order for Our Lord to make his home. Those of us discerning a religious vocation have this challenge in a unique proportion. As we look at the world and all of its fabricated “happiness” we cannot help but feel a negative tug on our hearts as we journey ever forward to the Beatific Vision. Yet, we know that we must conquer these sentiments in order to be most perfectly united with Christ and thus attain our fullest joy. Unlike St. Teresa, we probably won’t have our hearts cleaned out by a cherubim with a fiery dart – rather we’ll follow her example of prayer and penance. And like her, when we too fail at times, we will throw ourselves at the foot of the Cross and beg of mercy and guidance.
Now onto the 450 anniversary of the founding of St. Teresa’s Carmel of San José in Avila – the first of many she founded in her Reform of the Carmelite Order.
This event bears relevance to anyone discerning a vocation – in particular as a Priest or religious. No matter what we decide to do with our lives, any decision we make entails a certain risk and uncertainty. For those of us seeking to give our lives to the service of Christ and His Church, we face similar kinds of uncertainty as to what lies ahead. Our Holy Mother, Teresa of Avila, was subjected to the same experience as she set out to reform Carmel. Yet she did not let the fear of the unknown stop her from accomplishing the mission to which Our Lord had called her. Rather she turned to the inner silence of her soul, where Our Lord speaks and grants guidance and strength.
For those of us who are discerning, we too must find our solace and direction in this inner silence. Like St. Teresa we must first build a strong spiritual foundation of prayer and contemplation of Christ; then we must take charge of the mission Our Lord has given to each of us and live it out in zeal and without fear – for “God Alone Sufficeth.”