Thursday, November 20, 2014

Prayer in the Quiet and in the Noise

Teresa of Ávila by Francois Gerard (1770−1837)
My junior year of high school, for my Spanish class, we had to do a biographical puppet show in Spanish on a famous Spanish-speaker. Having hosted a Spanish exchange student, that summer, I looked into female Spanish saints I could do. I ended up doing St. Teresa of Avila. Yes, I made a puppet of St. Teresa of Avila and wrote a speech for her to give on her life in Spanish. It wasn't bad. Later in my junior year of college, I attempted to read her book Interior Castle. Yeah, that pretty much went over my head. I'm going to try reading a commentary on it before I attempt it again.
During my engagement, I explored more deeply different spiritualities among the Catholic faith, and I found refuge among St. Teresa, St. Therese, and the Carmelites. Their quiet spirituality inspired me to become a Stay-at-Home-Mom. I grew a deep friendship with St. Terese through her book Story of a Soul which I will discuss at a later time. For now, I would like to discuss the first Carmelite I met.
My favorite story of St. Teresa was when she was five, she convinced her brother to accompany her to be martyred at the hands of Moors. Fortunately, her uncle found them outside the town walls and escorted them home. She reminds me of my grandma who, not so piously, during the Great Depression tried to convince her brother to shout "Boo Hoover" while they were out on the town as children. That spirit of mischief my grandmother and St. Teresa de Avila had in common. Though I myself would hope my children would not run off to be martyrs, I do hope my children live lives of piety with joyful spirits. And maybe a little mischief.
Another of my favorite stories of hers is when she had her visions, many of her friends ridiculed her and gossiped about her, thinking she was mentally ill or possessed by the Devil. Jesus' response to her complaints was "Teresa, that's how I treat my friends." She responded, "No wonder you have so few." This is a great reminder that the road with Christ is not an easy one, but we know it's the right one.
What are lessons that we moms can learn from Teresa? Well, Teresa spent most of her life struggling with illness, spending time in meditation and prayer, and reforming the Carmelite order. Let's focus on each of these individually in the context of motherhood.
Any one of us could be struck by illness or any other hardship. Teresa de Avila's illness was so severe, she was paralyzed for years. What if that were to happen to us? With all that is involved in running a household, I cannot imagine being bed-ridden. I would be so sad not to be able to play with my little boy like I can now. When we face a severe illness that may even take our life, we must place all our trust in God and be thankful for all that we have. We must not lose hope. All that we have belongs to God, and He can take it back when He so desires. As mothers, healthy or not, we must remember to appreciate every moment and trust in God no matter the struggles we may face.
I know for me, spending time meditating and praying is a necessity I wish I could afford more of. The semester before I became pregnant with my son, my husband and I took a weekly workshop at a local parish on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises which required an hour of daily meditation. I spent an hour every morning meditating before going to daily rosary and mass. I gained many fruits by doing this and was so sad to stop because being pregnant, I needed that extra hour of sleep. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2705 describes meditation as ". . . [seeking] to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking." Teresa describes mental prayer as ". . . nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us." In order to understand the needs and desires of our spouse and children, we must spend time with them to listen. When we are so busy that our prayer mostly involves daily speaking rather than listening, our purpose can become lost. It is even more important to spend a few minutes of quiet with the Lord whether we are in the shower, grocery shopping, or cooking dinner. If you can find time to pray quietly before an icon or the Eucharist, all the better. Even us busy moms can pray without ceasing if only we turn to the Lord in those quiet moments.
Now, we most likely will not need to reform an order of nuns. We do, however, need to make sure our domestic church has her priorities straight. Teresa noticed the vanity of her fellow nuns. After her years of prayer and visions, she knew the Carmelites needed to be more Christ-centered in their spirituality. Where does Christ live in your family's prayer life? Is He in the center or more off to the side? I know I struggle to keep Christ in the center of my family's prayer life. With St. Phillip's fast under way, it is the perfect time to put Christ at the center once more. Does your family observe the Liturgical Calendar? We make an effort to go to Divine Liturgy on special feast days even if they are not Holy Days of Obligation. In fact, we're going tonight to celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos, or the presentation of Mary for you Romans. Like Teresa de Avila, we can prioritize Christ no matter what stage of life we are in.
As a busy, stay-at-home-mom, I know how tough it can be to even remember to pray. This is something I struggle with every day. Though we ourselves are not cloistered nuns like Teresa, out in the world she has a lesson for us. Teresa believed that prayer should lead to action, which we moms are very good at. As long as we make time with Christ a priority and all things are done in His name, just like Teresa, God will take care of us and our children.

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