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Fr. Anton's Sermon for the

Solemnity of St. Teresa of Avila 2005

Today we have great cause for rejoicing as we celebrate the feast of Holy Mother, St. Teresa. A famous writer once spoke of her as an "eagle" and St. Therese as a "dove", although I believe that Teresa actually possessed the best qualities of both. These beautiful birds can teach us many things and provide us with models that each Carmelite is called to follow. But how is she to do this?

In her famous book on prayer, 'The Interior Castle', written for her nuns, St. Teresa says, "All of us who wear the holy habit of Our Lady of Mount Carmel are called to prayer and contemplation. This is the purpose of our Order." The old Catechism informs us that prayer is "the raising of the heart and mind to God". The heart and mind, then, are to fly to the heights, to pierce the skies and soar towards the throne of God Himself. The flight of the eagle eloquently expresses this: the eagle flies higher than the other birds and soars to the heights; yet from the heights she can behold the earth, the trees, the movement of animals and men. When she prays, the Carmelite is mindful of the needs and troubles of the world. She takes with her the intentions, anxieties and requests for prayer on behalf of aching humanity; yet like the eagle, she sees them in their true perspective - insignificant when compared with the majesty of God. The eagle is a strong and practical bird; it builds its nest and protects its young. So, too, the Carmelite is active in the service of her community in manual labour, be it cleaning, cooking, card-making, sacristy work or administration, or even starting new foundations and enduring hardships. We do not need to search too deeply into the life of Holy Mother to find numerous examples. Yet we know how work can renew and invigorate us, and can deepen our love of the Lord. This work for God, this Opus Dei, in a spirit of prayer, "renews our youth, like the eagle", as the psalmist says.

Let us now think of the Carmelite as a dove. The dove is one of the gentlest of all birds, a symbol of pure love. The author of the Song of Songs speaks of his lover as a dove, sheltering in the cleft of the rocks. It is here that the Carmelite becomes united to and enfolded in the embraces of her heavenly Master. This is contemplative prayer, once described as a long, loving look at the Lord. It is in contemplative prayer that she becomes absorbed in the love of God. This love enriches her soul with innumerable graces and affections and leads her further on the way of perfection. St. Francis de Sales tells us that jewels, if steeped in honey, increase in brilliance and richness. So the Carmelite, by immersing herself in the sweetness of contemplative prayer, deepens and strengthens her love and commitment to her Master.

But we must remember, love of God is a strength, a virtue; to reduce it to a feeling of sentimentality or romance is to cheapen it. It involves obedience, resignation of will, perseverance and self-sacrifice. St. Teresa, sensible as ever, realised this when she wrote, "Love is not made up of sweet feelings, but is a determination to please God in everything. It is avoiding, whenever possible, all that may offend him. It is praying that the glory and honour of His Son may increase and His Church may grow."

Teresa did not let her visions and ecstasies impede her from her duties. They rather became the source of her determination and strength; a driving strength that enabled her to achieve the reform of Carmel, the foundation of new houses, the writing of spiritual works. Her strength, high flying ambition and active prayer, coupled with her contemplative and sometimes ecstatic inner union with the Lord, made her both eagle and dove; a role model for every Carmelite.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council give us insight into the nature of contemplative life for female religious, and I shall conclude with a quotation from Lumen Gentium par. 6: "These women, by their very nature portray in a more meaningful way the mystery of the Church, the spotless spouse of the spotless lamb, and seated at the Lord’s feet and listening to his teaching in silence and withdrawal, seek and savour the things that are above, where their lives are hidden with Christ in God, until they appear in glory with their spouse."