This homily or conference was given by Father Robert Elias, OCD at the Carmelite House of Studies in Mount Angel, Oregon as part of a private retreat to friarsin formation during the season of Epiphany 2020.
In this homily, Father Robert Elias reminds us that the bounty of God’s divinity is linked to our frail humanity through the bridge of His merciful love. It is there in our woundedness that we are able to encounter the Father’s Love and experience our epiphany and our path to healing.
This homily or conference was given by Father Robert Elias, OCD at the Carmelite House of Studies in Mount Angel, Oregon as part of a private retreat to friars in formation during the season of Epiphany 2020.
In this homily, Father Robert asks, “How has God inspired a fire in your life? What are the lights that have spoken to your understanding and kindled a fire? These are the stars that have lead to our deeper understanding of who God is.”
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.
I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen.
EXODUS 3:1-14 Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. 3S Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” 5God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.b 6I am the God of your father,* he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.c Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
9Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13“But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you
Homily at Memorial Church of Moses, Mount Nebo (Madaba, Jordan) – loose transcription below
Moses was chosen by Adonai, our Holy God to be the mediator of the communion between his holiness and his people. He was a beloved of God and was chosen for a mission of liberation.
In the first reading, we heard about this emancipation from slavery to freedom and new life when God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.
This was a process that took a long time. When we ask for God’s intervention, we expect results immediately, but his plan for his people’s happiness took a long, long time. And what prolonged the blessings to be received? – the disposition and attitude of his people, their wayward thinking; their deceiving and their negative speaking put up roadblocks and prolonged their arrival to the Promised Land.
Moses represents the holiness of God amidst of his people. He is a prophet of God’s presence, who hears the cries of the poor, knows their afflictions, and desires our liberation. God wants us to be happy just as any parent desires for their children.
Mount Sinai is is a place of Moses’ extraordinary experience of God and Mount Nebo is where he saw the fulfillment of the promise of Sinai from a distance:
Deuteronomy 34:1-6 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,a the peak of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land—Gilead, and as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, the plain (the valley of Jericho, the City of Palms), and as far as Zoar. 4The LORD then said to him, This is the land about which I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over. 5So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the LORD, died as the LORD had said.
Moses was a prophet of liberation and freedom. His encounter with God gave him the strength and endurance to journey for forty years. It is from Mount Sinai, where God manifested himself as a bush and revealed himself as ‘I am who am,’ a mystical expression of his identity. It was so holy that his name couldn’t even be pronounced or expressed in a single name.
There are countless names that reveal God’s majesty, but the greatest name that Jesus revealed to us is Abba – Father. God doesn’t want us to be afraid to come near him and know his majesty and merciful love, which is expressed through a filial love, so that we know his majesty with a heart-felt affection.
The same access of love that Jesus has for the father is our birthright. We have rights to God’s heart as our father. We have to know our real father. And Jesus wants to set us free from that which causes fear and intimidation. He is the new Moses who brings about the ultimate revolution of new life – and the cost was Himself.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent so that anyone who looked at it would be healed, we too have to face our fears. The Israelites were bit by the snake of their own complaining, which created a bitterness that was killing them from the inside out. In order to be freed from the sickness of their heart, they had to face their fears by looking at what they feared the most.
John Paul II said that the first thing we should do to discover our own exodus is to be not afraid; open wide the gates of your heart to Christ. The truth is that he will not hold back anything; there is no price he will not pay for our reconciliation.
The cross saves. This sacrifice saves us, but to enter into that sacrifice, we must embrace the cross of our own lives. Only by doing so can you be healed from it. In that cross is the wisdom and power. But you must face the enemy to experience the emancipation and liberation of the crossing of the Red Sea.
God wants us to have our own salvation history. And Jesus is the new Moses who brings about this new-found liberty.
SOURCE: The Feast of Christ the King Homily, St. Victor’s Church, San Jose, CA. November 2018)
(Click on the triangle to play)
The Trial before Pilate (John 18:28-38)
28Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.
29So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?” 30They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
31At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” 32*in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.
33So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
37So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.
Today we celebrate a King – not a czar or a political figure – but a King who’s status ranks second to none. To this king belongs the primacy and priority. Another way of understanding a king is a champion, a chief, a master.
As we celebrate the King of the universe, the question for us, is ‘Are you down with the King? Are you willing to lay your life down for Him, as He has laid His life down for you?
Christ the King desires to reign not only in nations, but also in our hearts. His rule is redemption. He restores all things of who I am and who I am meant to be, and I say that speaking for everybody. As soon as I surrender my life to His, He starts to write straight on crooked lines. He begins to turn my wrongs into right. He desires to reign in our hearts for our sakes, and not for His own, so that He can liberate us from all that can shackle our capacity for happiness.
What shackles our capacity for happiness more than anything else? — sin and death – but He also came to liberate us from everything in between. For example, fear in all its forms – the fear of death, or even fear as a sole motive of obedience to God. He wants to set us free even of fear of the Lord if that’s the only motive of why we believe.
For He came that we might be free, so that our obedience can come from a place of freedom and love. In calling us to be free, He is calling us to victory. Our identity as believers in Christ is victory; therefore, we are not called to be victims of anybody or anything – not of our past or of our past choices or decisions. Nothing is capable of limiting us but our own selves.
God’s victory is vast and He has a vast vista, a broad horizon for who we are and what we’re capable of. We’re not to be victims of the past, of persecution, of oppression, or of abuse; we are not to be victims of pain because victory is our birthright and He is the King.
As the Psalms says, ‘His throne stands firm.’ Jesus is still seated on His throne no matter how bad things get; no matter how ugly things get in the world, in the Church or in your personal lives, Jesus’ throne stands firm. He’s still in control, He’s still in charge, and He’s still the chief. He is still writing straight out of crooked lines, bringing good out of everything.
His dominion is everlasting – definitive and indestructible. No one has more authority than Him in the whole universe. How did this King, our King accomplish this victory? – by Himself becoming a victim, out of empathy for our battle, and for the fight that we have to fight in order to be saved.
The victor became a victim. And how did He win this victory? In the second reading, it says ‘to Him who loves us and freed us’ – that’s how we won the victory – by His love. His love is the power that allowed Him to obtain the victory on our behalf. It was love that gave Him the strength and courage to lay down His life for our sake in order to lift us up; He lay down His life to give us the victory that we could never accomplish by our own strength.
He won the victory by His blood and by the sacrifice of His life on the cross. He who was pierced allowed His heart to be broken; He allowed His heart to be pierced in order to open up paradise for us through the forgiveness of our sins and the restoring of our lives.
He who was pierced became the victor. In the Book of Revelations, He says, ‘I am the beginning and the end of all time. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, who was, and who is to come, to Him be glory and power forever and ever.’
He is the source and summit of everything and everything in between. All life revolves around Him – not us. He is the center of the universe – not me.
The wisest thing we can ever do is to give our lives to worship Him. That’s wisdom, because by worshiping Him, be become united to Him whom we love, and when we’re united to Him whom we love, we’re united to all that belongs to Him. And His life is victory. It is eternal and indestructible.
That’s not simply a hope for our future, like fire insurance or a back-up plan, it is a victory and reality of love; we’re meant to know the power of His love working in our life today, in our concrete circumstances and situation. In whatever challenges you may experience, the presence of Jesus and His victory is taking action, and taking flesh in your particular situation and in the context of your relationships.
Being united and being children of the King means that our blood is royalty. It means we have birthrights to His blessing. We share in His authority.
When we pray, we have the power to pray in the Spirit, to declare His promises over our lives, and to claim His victory in advance in the midst of the trial; knowing that if we trust, the Lord is going to transform this trial into a triumph. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but I know He is. We can possess that kind of confidence when we belong to the King because the victory has been won and it just has to be daily reinforced in you and me.
We heard about His majesty prophesied in the first reading from Daniel, centuries before Christ even came to the world. It was prefigured. And in the gospel, Jesus says, ‘For this I was born, and for this, I came into the world to testify to the truth,’ – a truth that is not of this world, a truth that is greater than common sense or natural wisdom, a truth that sometimes might contradict what you might expect, a truth that will really set you free, more than anything or anybody could or can.
This truth will set us free from slavery from a lesser self and a lesser way of living; this truth is not a something but a Somebody, and is all centered in the person of Jesus, the King of the Universe.
Jesus says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ It’s not political but spiritual; not temporal but eternal. Everything belongs to Him, both seen and unseen – in our physical body, on our health, the health of the planet, and all the cosmos. Everything is in His hands.
Therefore, our destiny is not limited to this world. It’s but the training ground and platform. Sometimes, this place where we must work out our salvation can be a battlefield. But Jesus says ‘I am not of this world’ and we too, if we really belong to Jesus, we also have to say, ‘I am not of this world. I belong to the truth. I belong to Somebody who loves me and who has given His life for me.
His victory is my identity; it is my birthright as a believer in Christ. I am called today to share in the victory of Jesus as King and even if we don’t literally win at everything, which is very possible, even if we don’t always win, as long as we learn and rise up – that’s where strength is found. That’s where true victory lies – in the cross.
Jesus referred to that cross as His glory yet it is seen to be far from glory for those who are worldly-wise. And yet He refers to that cross as His glory because it is the means for His resurrection, the means of His victory.
So too is every struggle and cross in our lives, every sacrifice of obedience of God’s law and will, even when it hurts to love in the way we are supposed and are meant to; it’s in the pain that we find the cross that is life-giving. And it’s by the cross that we shall be crowned.
No cross, no crown. Where there is the cross, there will be the resurrection. Jesus desires and He died so that He could crown our lives with His glory – so that His cross may be our anchor.
Are you down with the King? The choice is up to each of us whether or not we are willing to lay down our life in love, for Him who laid down His life for ours.
O lavish Giver of light, You alone are the fullness of life. Teach us to relearn how to listen, so as to be filled with the love of Your wisdom, and abide in the beauty of truth & holiness. Our heart of hearts is the Holy of Holies of Your dwelling, Lord God of Hosts. Enrich us in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit’s Effervescence. May his blazing radiance take possession of our hearts, now and forever. Amen.
At the age of 15, Thérèse entered the Carmel in Lisieux. It was a poor convent, damp at times, and always cold in winter. She tells us that her little cell filled her with joy. Rising from the corridor where she lived, there was a circular staircase leading to the cell for the prioress, Mother Gonzague, whom she loved very much. As a young novice, Thérèse felt a deep attraction to her prioress; and she often tried to find an excuse to go to visit her. Perhaps she needed the attention and affection she had had back at home. Thérèse realized the danger of false affection; at times she had to hold onto the banisters to stop herself from going up those stairs. This heroic self-discipline bore rich fruit. Instead of being spoiled and dependent, her relationship with Mother Gonzague grew into a pure, strong love between two independent, respectful, mature women.
The love Thérèse had for the prioress is evident in the section of the autobiography written for her. When going through a deeply traumatic time after the difficult election of 1896, it was Thérèse who was able to comfort and strengthen the older woman. The battle with immature love on the stairway yielded a rich bounty later on.
Under Mother Agnes, Thérèse was practically the mistress of novices; and she lived with the novices upstairs in the Novitiate. This wing was on the opposite side of the quadrangle from where most of the community lived. On cold winter nights, the sisters gathered around the fire in the community recreation room. To go to her cell, Thérèse had to traverse the open cloister in the cold night air and climb the stair. She spent hours trying to sleep but was unable to do so because the cold went right through to her bones. As her tuberculosis developed, she suffered more from the freezing weather.
As she climbed the stairs, she must have offered the painful, breath-consuming steps for her beloved missionaries. Turning a bend in those stairs, she saw each time a saying boldly written over the window: “Today a little work, tomorrow eternal rest.” Though exhausted emotionally and physically and dragging her weakened body Thérèse could not accept that pious saying. For her, heaven was not eternal rest but, in the words that Florence Nightingale said at this time, “an immense activity.”
Stairs were a fact of life for Thérèse. She used them as metaphors at various times. As her desire for sanctity grew, she sought a direct and easy way for little souls to ascend to God. She remembered an experience she and Celine had in Paris on their way to Rome. In a big department store, they discovered an elevator. One can imagine the excitement of two teenagers, tired from shopping and sightseeing, riding the elevator from floor to floor. They were fascinated by this new invention. Thérèse would find in the elevator a new metaphor for her little way. A weak child did not have to ascend to God by climbing the steep stairs. The elevator was the merciful arms of the good God, carrying the child aloft in confidence and love. Thérèse even wrote to her missionary brother, a man plagued with a sense of weakness and inadequacy, “Ascend the elevator of love, not the stairs of fear.”
Years after Thérèse’s death, her novice mistress, Sister Mary of the Angels wrote: Thérèse teaches and enlightens me. I ask her continually to help me enter her Little Way so that in death Jesus will truly be my elevator.
SOURCE: Carmelite Digest, Autumn 1997, reprinted with permission
By the end of her life, St. Thérèse had discovered an elevator to lift her up to heaven: the arms of Jesus. Before she found the shortcut, she had many stairs to contend with. Father James Geoghegan, OCD has visited some of the stairs in our saint’s life, climbed one of them, and meditated on all of them.
In April 1896, after climbing the stairs to her cell, St. Thérèse coughed up blood. It was the beginning of the end. At the same time, the brand new opera of Puccini, “La Boheme,” presented to the world a tragic romantic heroine. Mimí, dying from tuberculosis, enters the garret where Rudolfo asks her if she feels ill. “No, it’s nothing,” she says. “I’m just out of breath, it’s the stairs.” The fictional character and the saint would have understood each other.
Thérèse, throughout her life, had to climb stairs to go to bed. Today, a pilgrim visiting the shrines of St. Thérèse discovers that stairs played a significant role in her life and spiritual development.
When you enter the house where Thérèse was born, ahead of you are the hallway and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. The stairs rise in a high, steep, elegant curve. As a child, Thérèse tried to climb them. Later, she told her novices to keep persevering like a little child climbing a steep staircase.
In a letter to Pauline, Zélie Martin describes her daughter fearfully ascending those stairs “crying out ‘Mama Mama’” at each step. If Zélie forgot to say, “Yes, my child,” Thérèse would stop and not go any further. The steepness of those stairs would be frightening for a little child. Eventually, her mother would come and pick her up and carry her to the room upstairs.
Later, Thérèse saw this as an image of her life. Though she is weak and frail, God reaches down and carries her in his arms like a loving mother.
Each morning, Zélie came down those stairs to go to morning mass. When she became too weak from cancer to descend the stairs, she and her family knew that the end was near. Standing at the foot of the stairs, Thérèse, aged four years, saw the coffin for her mother. She died in the bed in which she had given birth to Thérèse. Zélie’s body was carried down the stairs and brought to the Church of Our Lady, where 19 years before she had married Louis and where Thérèse was baptized.
Three months later, Louis and the five girls moved to Lisieux where they rented the delightful “Les Buissonnets.” Thérèse loved this house, “For there my life was truly happy.” The house is charming, in lovely grounds. It is smaller than it appears in photographs. The kitchen and dining room are on the ground floor. A short staircase with angular turns leads to the bedrooms upstairs. On Christmas night, the almost 14-year-old Thérèse rushed up and down those stairs on her night of illumination, the night of her conversion, when she grew up and became a strong woman of the Lord. She had returned from Midnight Mass. In the middle of December, it is a cold time in Normandy. With Céline, she went up to their bedroom and they took of their hats and coats. Thérèse heard her father, who was not well and who was tired and cold at this late hour, complain that Thérèse was still acting like a spoiled child and it was time for her to grow up. She was hurt, but Jesus had changed her through the Christmas Eucharist. Jesus had done in a moment what she had not been able to do in ten years. Instead of weeping and feeling sorry for herself, she bounded down the stairs and, with the happy appearance of a queen showed her gifts to her father who soon regained his own cheerfulness. Soon everyone was happy celebrating the birth of the Infant Jesus and, without realizing it, the birth of Thérèse into womanly spiritual maturity (to be continued).
SOURCE: Carmelite Digest, Autumn 1997, reprinted with permission
NOTE: If you would like to get a virtual tour of the sepulcre where St. Teresa’s heart is kept, click on this Alba de Tormes link
St. Teresa was so profoundly the temple of the Holy Spirit. She was so filled with the zeal and spirit of Saint Elijah, that God’s love in her heart was confirmed through the Transverberation. The Transverberation is a special grace that is typical of souls whom God has exalted and elevated to the sixth mansion predominantly, but slightly overlapping with the seventh mansion. St. Teresa is famous to have received this grace.
She wasn’t the only one, of course. St. John of the Cross probably experienced it, but he just didn’t say it, which was very typical of St. John. He knew and expressed the grace so well that it’s likely that he also received the same grace. St. Thérese received something very similar to the Transverberation in the Choir of her convent. Blessed Mariam of Jesus Crucified, we know for a fact, received that grace, as did the most wonderful and illustrious St. Father Pio, in the confessional.
These special graces are insignias; they are signs of what God has done in a person’s soul already, but is manifesting in a special and specific way. In St. Teresa’s case, the Transverberation was such a profoundly spiritual experience that it had a physical effect, as the doctors found out when examining the mortal remains of St Teresa’s actual, physical heart. This is kind of perplexing and paradoxical because when we speak of the heart like the Sacred Heart of Jesus or when we speak of God dwelling in our “heart” we don’t necessarily mean specifically, the physical organ of the heart, but the center of the person’s soul. Nevertheless, St. Teresa’s physical heart did receive the effect of that spiritual manifestation.
These graces are accidentals in the lives of the saints. St. Teresa wasn’t declared or made a saint because she had these spiritual experiences. She was declared and made a saint because she had the infused virtues of what unites us to God: Faith, Hope, and Love! That’s what made her a saint! This is what is necessary. This is what is essential to be united with the splendor of God’s truth.
These infused virtues are most beautiful. They bestow the transfiguring love of God’s eternal life, enlarge our lives and enable us to share in His holiness. It was Saint Teresa’s cooperation with the grace of God’s inspirations, in obedience to His divine will that allowed the kingdom of God to make in her, His temple. That’s what made her a saint! Her ‘Yes,’ her fiat, her agape, her ‘Be it done unto me according to thy will. Here I am I was born for you! What do you want of me? I am yours!!’
That fundamental disposition is what led to St. Teresa’s transformation, and as the book of Hebrews says, ‘Without faith, it is impossible to please God.’ In other words, without faith we’re not open to friendship with God. Our Lord says in so many ways in the gospels that it’s not enough to be religious. Being religious isn’t what saves us; it is obedience to His will and uniting our hearts to His, according to how He wants us to love – not in the way we want, in conformity to our comforts.
Jesus expresses this truth in the gospels when He says, ‘Not everybody who says Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my heavenly Father.’ In other words, we can be very religious, have statues and pictures, and even pray rosaries, but if we’re not living what we believe by aligning our lives with the love of God and how He asks us to love in our daily circumstance, then according to God, our talk is cheap. We need to live what we believe. When we say, ‘Yes,’ when we live what we believe and make that sacrifice, that death to self in order to be lifted up in Him – then that transformation can begin. Otherwise, our faith is superficial and only on the surface.
The saints show us what is beyond the surface, the depths of our own identity, the depths of who we are each called to be in His divine mercy. The saints reveal to us the glory of God’s love for everyone, for it is the saints who have the courage to say, ‘Yes’ to the maximum. The saints had the courage to let themselves be loved to the full. That’s all God wants of us – to let ourselves be loved to the full. This is a gift and the greatest gift we could possibly have – more than our physical life, more than our jobs, more than our own family, more than all the physical necessities of our daily life, or of what makes life pleasurable. Our greatest gift is faith! Without faith we have Nada! Nada! Nada! — Nothing!!
Without faith, even the beauty of the most magnificent churches passes away, for that beauty is only meant to point us to Him. It is meant to point us to Him in friendship. It is meant to inspire this ‘Yes Lord, live in me. Be it done unto me according to your will.’ Salvation began with the ‘Yes’ of Mary. God’s mission of the Messiah, Emmanuel, began to embrace the world with the simple ‘Yes’ of a woman so humble, with Mary just saying ‘Yes’ to Him.
Amidst this invitation and this beauty of what we are called to and who we are called to be in His love, there will be a battle. We hear in scriptures, in the reading of St. Paul to the Ephesians, that there is a battle; there is a spiritual world behind the material scenes of the world. Our world is the stage where we will each decide whether we will be a winner or a loser; whether we will be victorious by saying ‘Yes’ to God’s love and allowing that to transform our lives; whether we are able to share in the only love that overcomes death and sin that cleanses us from within. And this decision will determine our ultimate destiny.
In order to be faithful to this love, we need to put on God’s armor in the midst of the battle. We need to be protected; we need to fight to defend this dignity. We need to fight a spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our primary General is Mary, who crushes the head of the serpent, who is full of grace and conceived without sin. It is she who can help us to be united to the victory of her Son.
As we prepare the stage of our lives, we ask Jesus for the grace to grow more and more in His love, in holiness and the perfection of charity. We ask that God’s love be brought to maturity in the whole of our identity and personality. In St. Teresa – this illustrious human being , in all of her warmth, intelligence, and humor of her personality – shines a love that is larger than life and out of this world. She points us to God’s love, as God draws us to Himself. Through the intercession of St. Teresa, may we receive the grace to be faithful to the end that our faith may be set fully on fire. Saint Teresa, pray for us.
This week we celebrate a wonderful occasion! We celebrate one of the most exquisite graces, one of the most special gifts that God did in Saint Teresa’s soul. We refer to that gift as the Transverberation. Saint Teresa is the seraphic doctor of the Church…seraphic meaning, that she is full with fire. Her greatest virtue, her greatest gift was the love of God.
In First Corinthians 13, Saint Paul writes, ‘If I have all of these things, and have not love, what does it amount to? It is useless, it is nothing.’ What does he use as examples? He doesn’t say, ‘If I have the latest pleasure in terms of a worldly treasure’, he doesn’t say, to use common terms, ‘If I have the latest Lexus, and have not love, I will be an empty dog,’ or ‘If I have all of these other legacies and luxuries, but have not love, I have nothing.’
Instead, as examples, Saint Paul uses the most amazing qualities of God’s grace in a soul! He refers to the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of tongues, and working mighty deeds through the power of faith, and miracles. If I have all these extraordinary gifts of God, to be such a warrior for the Lord…and yet have not love—nada…it amounts to nothing.
Saint Teresa’s greatest attribute, quality, and gift, were not the extraordinary mystical experiences she had. It was her love of God…and it was this love of God that was sealed; it was consummated through the experience of the Transverberation of her heart. We can date this with confidence to the year 1559. That’s important because she experienced the Transverberation, this mystical grace, three years before her first foundation of the renewed Carmel of St. Joseph, the first of her seventeen foundations.
It was not, as it was generally supposed, a single vision, as what many might assume from Bernini’s artwork and depiction of this experience. Rather, the vision was repeated several times over a period of days.
What happened? Saint Teresa describes what happened to her in her Life when she writes her autobiography under obedience to her spiritual director. In the 29th chapter of her Life, about halfway through it, she writes:
I saw in the hands of this beautiful cherubim angel a large golden dart and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a little fire. It seemed to me this angel plunged the dart several times into my heart that it reached deep within me [in Spanish she says, “it reached into my entrañas”]. When he drew it out, I thought he was carrying off with him the deepest part of me; and he left me all on fire with great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan, and the sweetness this greatest pain caused me was so superabundant that there is no desire capable of taking it away; nor is the soul content with less than God. The pain is not bodily but spiritual, although the body doesn’t fail to share in some of it, and even a great deal. The loving exchange that takes place between the soul and God is so sweet that I beg him in his goodness to give a taste of this love to anyone who thinks I am lying.
The entrañas… What is that depth of her being that was touched so intimately by God? Saint John of the Cross describes this as the intimate center of the substance of the soul; in common terms -the heart of hearts, the spirit, and the depth of one person’s being. Saint John of Cross says that God’s purpose in granting this kind of deep communication of Himself to someone else’s depth ‘is to exalt the soul, to enlarge it, and enrich it.’
Saint Teresa’s mystical experience must not be confused with mysticism, as it is popularly known on the level of cultural or television mysticism. On that secular level, mysticism is often associated as a grandiose or paranormal psychic adventure, and that’s not the point of this experience at all. For our holy mother, Saint Teresa, authentic mysticism always had an ecclesial dimension, in other words, genuine mysticism always involved mission for others; it wasn’t just for herself.
One of our Carmelite opening prayers expresses this aspect of mysticism leading to mission. ‘Almighty God, you filled the heart of Saint Teresa, our mother, with the fire of your love and gave her strength to undertake difficult tasks for the honor of your name.’
This is really important because Saint Teresa experienced the Transverberation before all of the marvels of her foundations…and before all that God did through her. Saint Teresa says about her mission in Carmel:
‘If our Lord hadn’t granted me the favors he did, it doesn’t seem to me that I would have had the courage for the works that were done or the strength to support the trials suffered and the statements and judgments made against me. So after the foundations were begun, the fears I previously had in thinking that I was deceived, left me. I grew certain the work was God’s and so I threw myself into difficult tasks, although always with advice and under obedience. As a result, I understand that since our Lord desires to revive the original spirit of this order, and in His mercy he took me as a means, His majesty had to provide me with what I was lacking, which was everything, in order to get results and better manifest His greatest through so wretched a thing’ (referring to herself).
This grace was a catalyst, a turning point in her life, just like the Transfiguration was to the Apostles. The mystical experience that the three Apostles had on Mount Tabor of seeing Jesus transfigured, left a special mark on their souls and it prepared them for their mission…but more so, it prepared them to endure the crisis of the Cross before they were endowed and equipped for their mission. It was a special turning point.
In the life of Saint Teresa, Allison Peers writes, “At the time of the Transverberation, though she could not have known it, she was nearing the end of the quarter century during which she had been an obscure daughter of Carmel, and she was standing on the threshold of the lifework which was to make her be immortal.”
The Transfiguration in the lives of the Apostles, and the Transverberation in the life of Saint Teresa, show that God communicates Himself in times that we need Him most, and in the times that we need it most. An authentic relationship with God is always going to have an impact on our relationships with others. God’s grace, in granting us an extraordinary experience of His love, is always…that we may have an extraordinary love for others and be willing to share in His mission for the salvation of souls.
To use one Mass Offertory Prayer, ‘Lord God, we offer you this victim of charity, may He kindle in us a love as intense as that which let Saint Teresa of Ávila to offer herself a living sacrifice for the Church.’
May we, like our holy mother, Saint Teresa, have a generous, determined, and courageous spirit to endure all things for Christ who strengthens us…that we may be filled with the infinite fire of His divine love! Saint Teresa, pray for us.
On this Solemnity, Father Robert Barcelos explains the victory over death that already belongs to those who follow Christ in Mary, and exhorts us to embrace that victory even when sometimes, it appears that we are without hope.
SOURCE: Homily, 8/15/17, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Gospel: Lk 1:39-56 Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me,that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
According to Saint John Paul II, we honor and venerate Mary more than any other human being, more than any faithful disciple of God, more than any saint, but she is still nowhere near her Son. Many of the saints describe that difference as the difference between the glory of the sun, the bright star of day, in comparison to the radiance of the moon. There’s no comparison. The moon receives all of its radiance from our sun. The moon is important at night and brightens the night. Though the moon is nothing compared to the sun, at night, in comparison to the stars of the galaxy, is far superior than any star. So too, Mary is far superior to any saint, but nowhere near her son, the source of her holiness.
Archbishop Sheen says that Mary, the Woman “is not a goddess, she is not divine, she is entitled to no adoration… without Christ she would be nothing.” It almost sounds irreverent and disrespectful, but it’s truthful and is Catholic doctrine. In the Magnificat, when Elizabeth honors her and says, ‘I am not worthy to be in your presence because you contain my savior, the mother of my Lord.’ And in the presence of His tabernacle, she genuflects before Mary who contains the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Blessed are you among all women. Blessed are you for your faith. Blessed are you who believed that what the Word promised to you would be fulfilled, which has allowed God’smiracles to happen in the world by the author of all miracles being born through you. After all that, Mary herself says, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. ’ It’s not about me. ‘My Spirit rejoices in God my savior because He has looked upon my nothingness.’ I am nothing. He is everything. That is Mary’s Magnificat and represents her attitude. She is so pure and so full of grace. Because she is so selfless, God lives in her. Mary is such a perfect instrument of the Holy Spirit. She is so radiantly immaculate that she is the perfect pure vessel for God to work through her.
When we read Saint John of the Cross, we read about how awesome God is and what He is capable of accomplishing in a human soul; He transforms us to such an extent that we can share in His divine nature, as Saint Peter and Saint Paul say. Saint John of the Cross expresses what this exalted stage of transforming union with God looks like and says that this person who has been transformed in God is so filled with the presence of God that they are like a conduit for God to work through them, to think through them, to speak through them, to act through them, to accomplish God’s work in them. They are so magnificently filled with God that you would think that you are looking at God, but you’re not. It is a human being transformed by the grace of God. If we can say that about an ordinary human being, how much more can we say that about the greatest of all human beings, the mother of the divine redeemer. She’s not divine, but she’s so transfigured by grace, that she is the most perfect instrument of the divine. Not of worship, because that’s for God alone and we should have no false gods before us; we only worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The most perfect worshiper of God ever, was Mary. Nobody ever worshiped God with such a perfect love, a purity of heart, with zealous devotion and generosity of spirit than Mary. She had the most intimate relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit than we can ever imagine or ever duplicate. There’s no greater model. There’s no greater mother. To disrespect her is to disrespect one of God’s greatest gifts, after the Holy Spirit. For us as Carmelites, she is the model of our desire for union with God. It’s her like union with God that’s the inspiration for ours. Our whole identity as Carmelites is to honor that by living it, by allowing Mary to reproduce in us the quality of divine intimacy that she possessed with the Holy Trinity. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.