“My daughters and ladies, for the love of God I ask you to keep the rule well; if you keep it in every particular no further miracle will be needed for your canonization” (St. Teresa of Avila)
Saint Teresa taught her sisters that if they were to adhere to the constitutions faithfully there would be no need for further effort in sanctity. Seems somewhat isolated from that which the Church tells us will lead us to Holiness, namely through Baptist where we are set apart for God, the Sacraments, precepts, virtuous living, and prayer. But when truly analyzed, the hidden gem of religious life is revealed. Opposite of being an isolation from this universality of holy living, religious life is a more perfect fulfillment of it. The beatitudes for one, are more perfectly embraced by religious life such as “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (Vow of Poverty), “Blessed are the Pure of Heart” (Vow of Chastity), “Blessed are the Meek” (Vow of Obedience). These are only three examples of how St. Teresa and all religious surpass the requisites of christian living and thus if lived fully could merit sanctity. These were the first three things prescribed to the Carmelite order by Saint Albert and are the first three rules given to any religious community regardless of charism.
It seems that our generation tends to steadily agree with the beauty and grandeur of religious life in all its radical acceptances. We praise them for their heroic yes, for the holiness of life they have chosen to live. All of which is rightly due to women and men who leave all in order to gain all. But we, at times, get caught up with admiration and forget to take a step back in order to dip our own feet into the waters of holiness. Should we wait for our entrance into consecrated life, or to join forces with our future spouse?
Our present state in life is not a waiting period for a future “Yes” to God’s invitation, it is a lively participation in his ongoing invitation to live radically in love. A sister, a brother, and a priest are able to give their BIG yes to a permanent vocation but they too rise every morning with a promise of continued “yes’s” in hundreds of little ways. For instance, have you ever asked a sister what she does when she has a heated quarrel with another sister, on any given day? Well . . . She goes on to join her for the coming meal, she has recreation with her later that evening, and she sits by her side, in the pew, for night prayer. Can we bring to mind when we last quarreled with a person and proceeded to invite him/her for lunch, then out for a movie, and finally end the day with prayer? This is not something we are obliged to do, we must simply make amends and go our merry way but how awesome would it be to practice radical charity and extend friendship to our enemy? These are things that allow our heart a sense of satisfaction in our expression of love for God, through others.
The Beatitudes for example serve as a means to virtue and holiness but we have been given the capacity through grace to radicalize them in our everyday life, we can surpass the precepts of the Church by attending Mass not only on Sunday but on a Monday too, or fast on a Tuesday not only a Friday in lent. We can confess once a month instead of once a year, we can turn every corner with an intentional disposition of heart by spreading charity toward anyone who crosses our path and in this way fully embody Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.
When Saint Teresa said [live these rules and become a saint], she said it with the clear understanding of her belonging to the body of Christ. It was a given that apart from her radical way of living she would embrace the entirety of the Church’s commands and exhortation to holiness. Nevertheless she delights in surpassing the precepts set before her by taking on a radical life style which wholly satisfies the heart of Christ, we too are called to live the Lords commands in a radical way. It would be good to consider the uniqueness of this circumstance. Here we have someone (St. Teresa) who was certainly immersed in the living of her christian life, seeking to grow in virtue and grace as the church called her to do; and still she wanted more, she sought more, more than she was required to give.
Many of us happily accept the precepts of our faith, those that the church prescribes for our life of holiness. We are present at Mass, we file behind others near the confessional, we give alms, we fast at appointed times, which is all very good, but have we taken the time to contemplate the purpose of each of these graces? Do these sacraments, and ascetics mean anything more than actions? If we do these things simply to fulfill a duty, can we call them acts of love? Fulfilling them, yes, can become a means for holiness but can we live more intentional in God’s love and surpass every command by radically embracing our faith?