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"Fire Within: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and the Gospel on Prayer" by Fr. Thomas Dubay S.M.
Chapter 7: Condition for Growth: St. Teresa
Living, as we do, in a consumerist age that looks to technology to solve most its problems, we will, unless immersed in a serious prayer life ourselves, assume as obvious that prayer is mainly something produced in a human manner...The literary and audio markets are replete with techniques and methodologies...These are presented and promoted in streams of articles, tapes, books, workshops and courses. While some of this is good for some people at some times, the extension of it to most people at most times is more than misleading. Extended indiscriminately, it becomes a dead end and more than a dead end. It blocks real prayer growth.
Growth in prayer does not depend on a person's immediate situation. We tend to suppose that if only we could find an ideal community, be it marital or religious or clerical, if only we could locate in another setting, if only we had a different superior or set of associates, if only we had more money (or less), we would skyrocket in prayer. Not so, says the foundress, for "the time is always propitious for God to grant His great favours to those who truly serve Him."
Conformity to the divine will does not mean merely that we fulfill commandments but also that we generously go beyond what is strictly required. A man in love happily fulfills obligations, yes (and this, too, is an act of love), but he is eager to do much more: he gives the beloved everything and nothing that will please her and that lies in his power to give. The saint says: "Everything we gain comes from what we give." Noting that attaining the divine riches is possible for everyone, provided each gives what he has, she adds that "if you are to gain this, He would have you keep back nothing; whether it be little or much, He will have it all for Himself, and according to what you know yourself to have given, the favours He will grant you will be small or great...there is no better test than this of whether or not our prayer attains to union."
Teresa is as insistent as St. John of the Cross that there is no prayer development unless it be accompanied by purification from faults. Given what a love communion with utter Purity demands, one could not conceive the matter to be otherwise: only the pure can commune deeply with the all-pure One. We have difficulty in understanding that we have many defects that need to be rooted out. Some people are so blind to the pauline "illusory desires" that when a trial strikes them, they complain to God, "what have I done to deserve this?"--the implication being that they have done nothing, that they are innocent of a great deal of inner disorder lurking in their minds and hearts. Even after she had been purified a great deal and was receiving "sublime contemplation" from her Lord, St. Teresa still saw an abundance of imperfections in herself: "How I fail, how I fail, how I fail--and I could say it a thousand times--to get rid of everything for you!...How many imperfections I see in myself! What laxity in serving You! Indeed I think sometimes I would like to be without consciousness in order not to know so much evil about myself."