By Fr. Alex Ezechukwu, OCD
Spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila
Eight years ago the Church of England developed a film campaign for the United Kingdom to encourage people to pray. It featured a variety of clips of people from all walks of life praying phrases of the Lord’s Prayer.
However, it was pulled just before it was released because of public controversy. The video was criticized as being offensive and as proselytizing the public.
Opposition to Christianity is not new, as noted by Fr. Anthony Parsons, OCD, a Discalced Carmelite friar and priest. Even in the early Church, a Christian’s prayer to God the Father was resisted. One of the reasons was that the pagan people around them believed in many gods, and Christianity was a monotheistic religion.
“At the time of Matthew,” explains Fr. Anthony, of the Anglo-Irish Province in the UK, “The Our Father could be a dangerous prayer.”
The title “Son of God” in the time of the Roman Empire was attributed to the emperor, as was the title “Father.” Those praying to Jesus Christ or God the Father were thus subject to the charge of treason, which was punishable by death.
And even in the Jewish religion, God is addressed as our Father in the Old Testament only once, according to Fr. Anthony.
The Perfect Prayer: The Our Father
These teachings of Fr. Anthony are part of several of his talks, “Lord Teach Us to Pray: The Perfect Prayer,” which is part of the Wisdom Lecture series of DecorCarmeli Media, a project of the Discalced Carmelite friars of Oxford.
Referring to the cinema cancellations, he said, “Is this then a representation in a culture that fears anything expressing a belief in God?”
“This prayer,” Fr. Anthony continued, “sums up the whole Gospel life, the Good News. It’s meant to be self-contained in this particular prayer.”
“God the Son, Jesus is making available the resources – that He has access to – to bring about reconciliation to peoples’ lives. To bring about healing…. But He is aware that the Father too is making available everything to him. And the Holy Spirit comes in, and is the love that Jesus and the Father share. So you can see that everything is trinitarian, and leading into that trinitarian aspect.”
Throughout the lecture, Fr. Anthony ties together the theme of Jesus making resources available to us. And we find these resources in prayer.
“In the Our Father, Matthew was bringing us into a communitarian sense of God’s presence. That Jesus was inviting us to participate in the resources that He made available. But it was a resource that He always plummeted into by taking time out.”
Prayer is Time Out With God
“St. Teresa’s definition of prayer is: A frequent time out with the one whom we know loves us.”
Jesus gave it to us, and Teresa incorporated it into a lived experience. She did it by making sure the nuns in her cloistered convent lived a life of charity toward one another.
“What would galvanize the community of discalced Carmelite nuns called to shut the door [to the outside world]?” Fr. Anthony asked.
Teresa emphasized this principle within her Carmelite communities. He quoted her, “All must be friends. All must be loved. All must be held dear. All must be helped.”
“It’s simple, but definitely challenging,” the friar said. “She is leaving no wiggle room. If you really want to live in community this is what you must do.
“Translate that into your families. Translate that into your workplaces. It’s not so easy.”
Knocking One Another Off
Fr. Anthony told a story of a new prior of a community who very seriously announced to his community that they should take one day a week off to rest. They were allowed to do anything they wanted on that day – stroll about or stay in their rooms.
One friar objected, “But father, I don’t need a day off.” The prior responded, “You might not….” The implication of course was that the other friars needed a day away from him.
“You’re always knocking off one another,” Fr. Anthony said of community life. “There is always resistance. But Teresa would say that you must look at the resistance in you. That resistance must be met with surrender. That surrender brings us into transformation.”
Fr. Anthony said that the popes are telling us that Christianity is about falling in love with Christ. “That love is the galvanizing point. But how do you meet that love? It’s prayer. Because you are looking to seek to always understand and experience what you don’t yet understand or experience in God.”
Seek Yourself in Christ
Teresa says to “seek yourself in Christ.” But what does that mean? “You have to go to prayer. And in yourself, seek Christ,” he adds. “There is something in me that is in Christ.
“What Teresa is saying is that prayer gives you the accessibility for you to encounter the Christ of love. Prayer is the glue that galvanizes communion.”
Sometimes we meet the resistance in ourselves; sometimes we meet it in other people. But it must be incorporated into the reality of who we are.
“If it was left to me, there’s no way I would live with Fr. Liam,” he says jokingly. “But Christ brings us together. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of unity, of community.”
The Community and the Individual
Here are a few of Father’s overall principles regarding prayer and the Our Father:
- All persons are made in the divine image and must be free.
- All resources must be shared equitably, to meet basic human needs.
- Look after the individual, look after the community. They are complementary.
- All ways of relating among persons and resources should promote relations of communion.
Several times in the talks, Father referred to an icon of the Trinity, in which the three Persons are sitting down together. The Spirit and the Son are looking at the Father.
“The Father is always perceived as the source of all love,” he explains. Our prayer in the liturgy is oriented to the Father. “When you are celebrating the liturgy the whole liturgy is not addressed to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s going to be in and through Jesus and the Holy Spirit to the Father.”
“Our prayer in the Christian liturgy is all oriented towards the Father as the source that makes available everything that’s necessary … to follow Christ. He’s given us Christ; he’s given us the Holy Spirit.”
For Teresa, prayer is an enkindling of love. “Contemplation for Teresa is a gift from God. It is an impact of God on a life. And that impact of God brings about an enkindling of love in our lives. What we do to get to these points. The practicality for Teresa was always detachment, humility, love of neighbor – the three key elements of any formation of community life.
“She recognizes in the Our Father that Jesus is bringing us into a really close relationship of intimacy that He has with the Father. Contemplation is when God decides, ‘I’m coming in there.’”
Everything that we do regarding contemplation is to facilitate God’s desire to make that impact in our lives.
Wisdom Lectures Available
There are many more insights and spiritual jewels in Fr. Anthony’s lectures. I encourage you to check out our Wisdom Lectures series.
In all, you’ll find more than one hundred videos available in the Wisdom Lectures series from DecorCarmeli Media. We produce these videos so that people can have access to authentic teachings on the spiritual life so they can benefit from the insights from the Carmelite tradition – a tradition that has produced many saints and doctors of the Church.
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