The Teresian Carmelites of the Anglo-Irish Province
To help people in every aspect of their lives by sharing and exploring
with them the rich sources of Carmelite teaching on prayer
within the broad perspective of Christian spirituality and life experience.

James McCaffrey, OCD

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Joanne Mosley

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James McCaffrey

'Do that which best stirs you to love': St Teresa and the Virtue of Flexibility
Steven Payne

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (2): The Nights of Sense and Spirit
Shelagh Banks

Sts Louis and Zélie Martin (4): The Sources of their Holiness of Life
Saverio Cannistrà

What Teresa Means to Me: An Inspiring Love
Anna Faure

Voices of the Heart

Mother Maravillas of Jesus: A True Daughter of St Teresa
Gus Puleo

Marie Guérin: A Twin Soul of Thérèse
Jennifer Moorcroft

Augustine of Hippo and Teresa of Avila: Two Flaming Hearts
Margaret Lane

Living the Desert Experience: Present to the Divine Presence
Susan Muto

Food for the Journey - Books








James McCaffrey


The gospel story of the Epiphany reads almost like a fairytale. It has all the ingredients to captivate the imagination of a child: an adventure story about wise men from the east bearing treasures to a new-born king, and led to him by a mysterious star. The presence of evil also casts a dark shadow over everything: there in the background lurks a jealous king with his wicked designs on the life of an innocent child. Into this simple story the evangelist has distilled the deepest longings of every restless human heart in search of meaning, a heart destined to remain always restless until it rests in God.

The Epiphany is like an extension of our Christmas celebration. The light of Christ has come into the world. It now radiates beyond his own people to enlighten the whole world. This great truth was already foreshadowed and foretold in Isaiah's marvellous vision of final redemption at the end of time. The Church invited us to reflect on it during the first days of Advent as we prepared to welcome the light of Christ. The prophet foresaw the salvation of all nations like a new people of God on pilgrimage being gathered to a new temple at the end of time: 'all the nations will stream to it and many people shall come to it.' A revelation or manifestation of God will emanate from that temple, Isaiah tells us, like a beacon of light - a great and final epiphany: 'For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.'

This vision of Isaiah is wonderfully fulfilled in the feast of the Epiphany. In the Magi, we see embodied and personified the whole Gentile world, the new people of God in search of wisdom and finding it in a child. Unwittingly, they are listening in anticipation to the voice of that same child who will later beckon to the whole world: 'If anyone thirsts, let that person come to me and drink, who believes in me.' The Magi are searching unwittingly for the deep gospel values that alone can ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. They discover divine wisdom in a powerless and defenceless child: 'The disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."' The lesson of the Epiphany is for everyone: the wisdom of God is 'hidden from the wise and the learned and revealed to little ones'.

The Gospels, we are told, were written in retrospect - with hindsight - in the full light of the passion-resurrection of Jesus. 'Thus the road from Bethlehem leads irresistibly to Golgotha,' Edith Stein once wrote, 'from the manger to the cross.' And so the story of the Epiphany takes on its deepest meaning in the light of that great paschal mystery. This perspective opens up for us in another simple gospel story: 'Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.' These are representatives of the Gentile world. They ask to see Jesus; they long to have access to him. Jesus makes no answer to them - directly. But he does reply to them - indirectly. He points to his exaltation on the cross and the universality of redemption: 'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' The message of the Gospels is a light for all peoples.

The Magi offer their gifts: 'gold' for a king, 'frankincense' for a priest's offering to God, and 'myrrh' for the burial of this priest and king who is God. So, the significance of these treasures deepens in the light of the passion-resurrection. This child is born to be king, but a king who will be enthroned on Calvary. Above the cross are emblazoned the words for all to see: 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews'. He is a priest who will offer himself in sacrifice to God and for all who believe in him: 'For their sake do I sanctify myself, in order that they may be sanctified in the truth.' And within days of his burial, a woman anoints him in Bethany 'with costly ointment', for as Jesus says, 'she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial.'

The story of the Magi embodies the whole plan of salvation: the spread of the gospel message to the ends of the earth. It is also a challenge for every believer to explore the mystery in ever-greater depth and to continue the search for the truth. It was the first question Jesus asked of his disciples in John's Gospel: 'What do you seek?' They were already 'seeking' for Jesus unwittingly, like the Magi, before they ever encountered him personally.

This is a lesson at the very core of our Carmelite spirituality. Looking back to the time when she was an atheist, Edith Stein wrote: 'My longing for truth was a prayer in itself.' Thérèse said on her deathbed, 'I never sought anything but the truth.' Teresa herself speaks of her favourite virtue - humility - which, she said, 'is truth'. And the whole teaching of John of the Cross is like an expansion of the Church's prayer at the Epiphany - a feast which proclaims nothing less than the manifestation of God for all who seek him: 'Lead us from the faith by which we know you now to the vision of your glory, face to face.' As John writes: 'this seeking is my only hope…' It is an endless search - 'fired with love's urgent longings… with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart', until the final cry of the transformed soul in the endless embrace of God's eternal love: 'now consummate!… tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!'




The author is a Secular Carmelite in the St Elijah group, Oxford. In this article, she reflects on the love and mercy of God, the truth of which is brought out so profoundly and authentically by Teresa - this inspiring saint, she says, whose 'truthfulness and commonsense teaching warm my heart', and who portrays Jesus to us as our best friend and our Lord.


In the universe of God

I first encountered St Teresa when I was at the Carmelite Priory, Oxford. I did not know about her until, by chance, I read an article in Mount Carmel which was left on the desk in the room where I was staying. That article, on The Interior Castle, described St Teresa's metaphor of the castle as a funnel that goes down into the centre. I was drawn by this image and it had a hold on me. It was as though Teresa was saying to me: Look no further - go within yourself, go deeper and you will find him.

I had an image of being drawn downwards into the centre. It was as if, at the top of the funnel where it was wider, were all the distractions. The further down I went, the more focused I became in my search for God. At the centre, where it was narrowest, there was no room for distractions: there was room for God alone. Gradually, I developed a more meaningful understanding of God dwelling in the depths of my soul. From that moment on, St Teresa took me on a journey into the universe of God - instilling in me a keener awareness of God's presence, awakening me to his mercy in my life, and bringing me into a closer relationship with him.

Conscious of the sacredness

For a good part of my Christian life, I have had an image of God being out there, up in heaven, or in another realm, unreachable. Part of me still retains my childhood image of God: a bearded old man who will judge me when I die, and decide whether I go to purgatory or to hell. I am aware that this is a very immature image of God, although intellectually I know that God is beyond our understanding and imagination. I believe that Jesus Christ is God, and that he is the Person of the Trinity who took on human form to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God. Because he became man, we are able to relate to him. Hence, all through my baptised life, Christ has been the Person in God to whom I pray, and with whom I have a relationship.

St Teresa tells us that, when we pray, we have to be aware of God: 'look at Him…[who] never takes His eyes off you' (WP 26:3). Her very practical reasoning makes so much sense, as when she says: 'we must not approach a conversation with a prince as negligently as we do one with a farm worker' (WP 22:3). And she explains:

if you are to be speaking, as is right, with so great a Lord, it is good that you consider whom you are speaking with as well as who you are, at least if you want to be polite. How can you call the king 'your highness' or know the ceremonies to be observed in addressing a highest ranking nobleman if you do not clearly understand what his position is and what yours is? (WP 22:1)

My increased awareness of God when I pray changes the quality of my prayer. It makes me more conscious of the sacredness of the time I spend in prayer. When I go into a church or a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is present, I am more aware of the presence of God and the holiness of the place. I am really aware that I am standing on 'holy ground'. Hence, my genuflection and bowing are done with more care.

'Tweeting' God

Jesus has always been a central part of my prayer life. I always 'talk' to Jesus when I pray, because my mind often wanders when I say vocal prayers. Hence, I often doubt if I am trying hard enough. Sometimes I used to wonder if, praying in this way, I had made Jesus into my 'imaginary friend' - or 'domesticated Jesus', to quote a well-known spiritual teacher, Fr Robert Barron. So it was such a relief to read St Teresa talking about prayer as a conversation with a friend - 'an intimate sharing between friends' (L 8:5) - and advising us to spend time with God as with a friend, which means 'taking time frequently to be alone with Him' (L 8:5). If praying is like sharing what is happening in my life with my best friend, it makes a lot of sense that I would naturally like to pray often, anywhere, and without feeling obliged to do so. It is like 'tweeting' God whenever we want to.

The logic of friendship

However, St Teresa goes one step further. She says: 'it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us' (L 8:5; my italics). St Teresa has complete confidence in God's love for us. So, if God loves us so much, what are we going to do to show him our love? This is what she suggests: 'In order that love be true and the friendship endure, the wills of the friends must be in accord' (L 8:5). That is, we must conform our will to God's will.

This is just logical. Good friends tend to like to do the same things, and they share the same likes and dislikes. So, if we really are friends with God, we must want the same things that God wants. 'Thy will be done,' we often say - but do we really mean it? St Teresa explains: 'you do not yet love Him as He loves you because you have not reached the degree of conformity with His will' (cf. L 8:5). She is right. If we abandon our self-will, then we will be able to take God's will as our own. That is why she urges us to abandon ourselves to God. It is easy to see the logic, but I still have a long way to go, to get there. Meanwhile, I am encouraged by St Teresa's prayer to God: 'You wait for others to adapt to Your nature, and in the meantime You put up with theirs!' (L 8:6).

Remaining in his company

This way of looking at prayer also clarifies my doubts about whether or not I should ask God for favours. Sometimes I ask myself if we should really ask God to intervene in our lives - for example, to cure someone of a disease, to help someone get a job, or to end war and violence in the world. All these petitions are good and altruistic, but we are asking God to do something at our demand. We feel disappointed if these good requests are not met. Teresa reassures me, however: 'Beseech Him as you would a father; tell Him about your trials; ask Him for a remedy against them…' (WP 28:2).

Perhaps even more than this, though, Teresa would remain praying, so as to keep Jesus company as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and not be like his disciples who either abandoned him or fell asleep. That is true friendship and true prayer. Therefore, during Holy Week, and in particular on the evening of Holy Thursday when the Blessed Sacrament is placed on the Altar of Repose, I like to stay in the church to pray - to be there with Jesus and to tell him that I am sorry for my sins, for which he came into human history, suffered and died for us.

Proper reverence for God

Through St Teresa's teaching, I begin to shed my immature relationship with Christ. I realise that Jesus is more than a friend. St Teresa addresses Jesus as God, as the Lord, 'His Majesty' and the King. She refers to herself as a servant and, most of the time, as a 'wretched' sinner - 'my soul which was so wretched', 'my great sins and wretched life', 'beholding such great Majesty, how would a little sinner like myself…' At first, I thought it was just her style of writing or the custom of her time that made her so self-deprecating: especially being a woman, whose place was seen by many as inferior to that of men. I did not at first perceive the great respect she had for God, as it is not at all the language of the twenty-first century.

Little did I know that she was going to correct my attitude. Indeed, God the Almighty is the Creator, and we are his creation. He is the Almighty who created out of nothing the universes (there is not just one universe) - and us! We are one of his many creations - among the constellations, the elements, the birds, animals, fish and plants. 'By his word the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all the stars. He collects the waves of the ocean; he stores up the depths of the sea… He spoke; and it came to be. He commanded; it sprang into being' (Ps 32:6-7.9).

With the advance of science and technology, we are able to see how vast is the universe, and how numerous are the 'stars' - they are not twinkling lights but 'suns'! By continually reading St Teresa, who addresses God as 'Majesty' and 'Almighty', and who acknowledges her lowliness and unworthiness, I realise to my shame and horror that I have been rather 'rude' to God: I have not given Christ the proper reverence. Jesus is God! And this almighty God has made himself one of us, in order to save us! His humanity and divinity are fused. St Teresa has inspired me to appreciate the awe, the immensity, the might and the 'majesty' of the infinite God.

What great love!

Like St Teresa, I am overwhelmed by the sufferings that Jesus has borne for us and the injustice that he had to undergo. However, those thoughts only bring about my repentance for my sins. I understand God's mercy as the clemency of a judge. St Teresa teaches me a more profound way to respond to this truth. Jesus' suffering generates in St Teresa her love for God.

Through his love for us, God sent his Son to become one of us in order to reconcile us to God. Christ not only brought himself down to our level and took on our mortal body: he also suffered the most humiliating and horrific torture and death. As God, he did not have to undergo all that suffering, but he willingly went through with it to the bitter end. On the eve of his death, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begged his Father: 'if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it' (Mt 26:39). It is admirable for one to die for a friend, but 'Christ died for us while we were still sinners' (Rm 5:8). What great love! St Teresa is very fond of meditating on this particular scene; she wanted to be Christ's companion in the Garden and to remain with Him as long as she could (cf. L 9:4). I am inspired by her love.

Realising God's great mercy

The Israelites experienced the mercy and love of God who brought them out of slavery, gave them food and drink, and led them to settle in the promised land. I often struggle to identify with Jewish salvation history for I have not had a dramatic conversion experience. Not until I was at a low point in my life, when I turned to God, did I realise God's great mercy. St Teresa's love of God and her total abandonment of herself to God show me a way to deal with it. God led me to the Carmelite Priory in Oxford and let me feel his presence in the serenity of the place. This experience was new to me. It was like fresh spring water. I began to look for more opportunities for silence, and at the same time for a community of prayer. In hindsight, I can see that God led me to find the Secular Carmelites. When eventually I was introduced to them, I was given such a warm welcome. I felt I had found my spiritual family.

Through my formation, I study St Teresa's writings which show me her deep relationship with God. Her truthfulness and commonsense teaching warm my heart. I learn to let go of my desire to take control of my life, and I begin to find peace at prayer. It is a slow process and I am not aware of the change in me until I look back. During these years, there have been challenges in my life - and I fell every time. Inspired by St Teresa's teaching, I am able to feel the presence of God in these challenging moments, his forgiveness for my many offences, and his way of drawing me out of my self-centredness. In short, his merciful love.

The funnel inside out

God is great in turning things upside down! God has a surprise for me. Just as I am being drawn to seek him in the centre of my soul, he makes me realise that he is not for my own possession. He is God of all humanity and of all of his creation. We are all to be one - his Mystical Body, his Church, his new people. He pushes me out of my shell. I feel a little yearning (tingling?) to reach out. As St Teresa points out in the seventh Mansion of The Interior Castle, the effect of prayer and contemplation is that it leads to service - the soul's great desire to serve God: 'Martha and Mary must join together in order to show hospitality to the Lord and have Him always present and not host Him badly by failing to give Him something to eat' (IC VII 4:12).

I believe this is a natural process: that when we have received this wonderful gift of love and mercy - like the blind men who, having been cured, could not help but tell everyone of Jesus' healing (cf. Mt 9:31) - we will want to let others know of this amazing love of God. I feel it so apt that Secular Carmelites, and all who follow the spirituality of Carmel, are placed in the world to share with others this tremendous gift of his generous love and greatest mercy.

How privileged we are to have this poem, attributed to St Teresa, which captures her spirit so beautifully:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.