The world is on fire - the Feast of St Teresa of Jesus 2019

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The world is on fire - the Feast of St Teresa of Jesus 2019

It is worth recalling the situation of the Church at the time of St Teresa of Avila. The Church was suffering greatly as whole countries broke as the Reformation broke across Europe. The Church was in turmoil and struggling to contend with the forces unleashed upon her.

What could the Church do? The answer in the end had to be spiritual and not just political. One can say that St Teresa was a key instrument of God for the spiritual response so badly needed.

She understood this herself. She wrote in the opening chapter of The Way of Perfection:

At about this time there came to my notice the harm and havoc that were being wrought in France by these Lutherans and the way in which their unhappy sect was increasing. This troubled me very much, and, as though I could do anything, or be of any help in the matter, I wept before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil.

Clearly she understood the enormity of what was happening and she searched her heart to know what she should do.

She then tells of her resolve in these words:

And, seeing that I was a woman, and a sinner, and incapable of doing all I should like in the Lord's service, and as my whole yearning was, and still is, that, as He has so many enemies and so few friends, these last should be trusty ones, I determined to do the little that was in me - namely, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could, and to see that these few nuns who are here should do the same, confiding in the great goodness of God, Who never fails to help those who resolve to forsake everything for His sake.

Her response to the sufferings of the Church of her day was to devote herself to her life as a contemplative nun. In The Way of Perfection she urges her sisters to be resolute in their dedication to a life of prayer for the sake of the Church. Later in this same chapter she says:

The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again, as it were, for they bring a thousand false witnesses against Him. They would raze His Church to the ground – and are we to waste our time upon things which, if God were to grant them, would perhaps bring one soul less to Heaven? No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance.

In a desperate time for the Church St Teresa urged her sisters on to total dedication and generous sacrifice.

In 2012, marking the 450th anniversary of St Teresa founding the Monastery of St Joseph, which marked the beginning of her Carmelite reform, Pope Benedict commented: “The ultimate goal of Teresa’s reform and the creation of new monasteries in a world lacking spiritual values was to protect apostolic work with prayer.”

The Pope went on to comment:

Today too, as in the sixteenth century, in the midst of rapid transformation, it is important that trusting prayer be the heart of the apostolate, so that the redeeming message of Jesus Christ may sound out clearly and dynamically.

In this Extraordinary Missionary Month, called for by Pope Francis, as we were on the feast of St Therese of Child Jesus, we are aware that the mission of the Church must be grounded in prayer. This is expressed by St Teresa in The Way of Perfection.

This book is a practical guide to prayer intended to help her sisters. It is not about the theory of prayer but as she says in the Prologue:  "I shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience, either in my own life or in observation of others, or which the Lord has not taught me in prayer."

Thus, while it moves into areas of sublime mystical beauty, its outstanding characteristic is its simplicity and practicality. St Teresa simply instructs, exhorts and inspires her sisters and all those who are seeking a more perfect way of life as to how this can be achieved.

St Teresa was deeply aware of the dire struggle for the faith outside the convent walls. She understood that the contemplative cannot ignore the world outside. The contemplative does not hide from the world or seek to escape its pain and anguish.

Thus she writes in the second chapter:

Seeing how great are the evils of the present day and how no human strength will suffice to quench the fire kindled by these heretics … it seems to me that it is like a war in which the enemy has overrun the whole country, and the Lord of the country, hard pressed, retires into a city, which he causes to be well fortified, and whence from time to time he is able to attack.

The convent becomes a place where spiritual resources can be mustered for a fresh assault on evil.

She urges the sisters to pray that the Lord will raise up “preachers and theologians” to enter the fray. She says, “Let us strive to live in such a way that our prayers may be of avail to help these servants of God, who, at the cost of so much toil, have fortified themselves with learning and virtuous living and have laboured to help the Lord.” 

St Teresa wants the sisters to provide the spiritual help for those in the world who struggle to proclaim the Gospel.

Dear Sisters today was we honour the great St Teresa of Avila let us hear her own urgency as an urgency that applies also to our own times. She knew that her life as a woman of prayer was for the good of the Church. She understood that there was a spiritual battle raging in the world. She called her sisters to engage in this battle in their life devoted to prayer.

St Teresa of Jesus, pray for us.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday, 15 October 2019