2 Doctors, 2 Ways, 1 Goal: Sts Teresa and Therese (Part III of III)
Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus
Virgin and Doctor of the Church
Editor’s note: In part II, we looked at Saint Teresa of Avila, in particular, and the way St Teresa and St Thérèse differed from each other. Today, we’ll put what we’ve considered in the previous posts of this series into perspective.
Putting it Into Perspective
Several years ago I had the opportunity to spend the days of my retreat by the ocean. I would arise while it was still dark and make my way up upon the deck overlooking the ocean to enter into prayer. Being January it was freezing cold but it was a time of solitude and silence with only the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks below. As dawn began to creep up from the east, the colors of red, orange and yellow would begin to spill into the sky above creating a breathtaking panorama. As I marveled in the display before me I thought that there could never be another sunrise this striking. But the next day and the ones after it repeated the spectacle but never quite the same and every day seemed more beautiful than the previous one. Such an experience is a foretaste of what the Lord has in store for us at the end of life’s journey. We cannot begin to even imagine what this will be.
Mountain climbers who reach the summit of a peak or mountain must experience something like this. When they are at the base of a mountain looking up at the top, they have an experience of the mountain’s beauty, but when they actually arrive at the top and look around, the scenery spread before them is exhilarating and far beyond anything they could have imagined previously. All the trials, struggles, and difficulties of the climb are forgotten as they bask in the grandeur of what they now experience. They will go back down the mountain and when they look up again it will be with new eyes, for what they have witnessed will have changed their perspective. They may never be able to put into words what they have experienced but they will never view the mountain the same again.
Our two Saints may not have climbed a physical mountain but during their lifetime they scaled the spiritual mountain that would lead them to their goal. They too experienced the trials, struggles and difficulties that life put before them and along the journey glimpses and foretastes of the beauty that awaited them. They also were at a loss for words at times to express these encounters, but their resolve was strengthened to keep climbing, to persevere in reaching their goal.
When Thérèse had read in the words of St. Paul that charity is the excellent way that leads most surely to God, she recognized that she had found the key to her vocation. This perfection of charity could not wait for Thérèse until the end of the journey but, because of her delirious joy, was begun immediately. She had broken free and was coming into full blossom enjoying that lofty contemplative prayer that St. Teresa of Avila described in her Interior Castle.
Thérèse saw herself as Love in the Heart of the Church; Teresa founded her monasteries to be love within the Mystical Body of the Church. Two Saints, two Doctors, two ways, one goal. Both saints were rooted in the Gospel, both burned with divine Love.
Let us give thanks to God for their lives and turn to them in prayer to assist us on our journey as we strive to reach the perfection of charity!
This post originally appeared on the website of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles. Used with permission.
Art: Mirror of Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615 and sepia of Therese von Lisieux, unknown photographer, between 1888 and 1896; both PD-US copyright expired; Wikimedia Commons, original composite Liz Estler.