Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Way of Perfection

By St. Teresa of Avila, 183 pages, Paraclete Press.

The language of poverty, humility, and service to God forms the vision of The Way of Perfection. Repeatedly, St. Teresa warns about the power of sin. Jarring for modern readers used to therapeutic religion, she sees the world theologically.

Sin, like good and evil in general, is a theological issue. That it, it pertains to the truth. Feelings are lower than the truth on St. Teresa's scale of things, and shouldn't be the highest voice of moral guidance.

Yet the great saint is also rightfully acknowledged for her practical outlook. She has neither a therapeutic nor a sentimental view of how humans should love one-another, but a practical and theological vision:

"Love for each other is of very great importance. Anything, no matter how annoying, can be easily borne by those who love each other. If the world kept this commandment, I believe it would take us a long way toward keeping the rest."

Like a good Christian mother concerned about her squabbling children, St. Teresa's above words reflect her belief that practical matters, such as bickering, can harm us spiritually.

Equally jarring to the modern reader, she observes that religious life is not about affirmation but, in fact, the complete opposite – sacrifice, self-denial, avoiding the need to be in the right, and more. Readers can understand why St. Therese de Lisieux was so inspired by the Carmelite nun concerning the little things:

"Anyone who wants to be perfect must shun such phrases as: 'I had right on my side'; 'They had no right to do this to me'; 'The person who treated me was not right.'" Such words strongly counteract today's entitlement, me-first culture.

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