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Friday, October 17, 2008

allocutio: 16/10

Yesterday was the feast day of St Theresa of Avila, doctor of the church, thus today’s allocutio will be a bit about her.

When Teresa first entered the Carmelite convent permanently, she started to learn and practice mental prayer, in which she "tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ present within me....” but she thought that her imagination was so dull that she had no talent for imagining or coming up with great theological thoughts." Still, Teresa prayed this way off and on for eighteen years without feeling that she was getting results. But the important thing was that she never stopped praying in spite of all this, and the Catholic church is so much the richer for all the writings that she has written out of all this prayer.

Teresa suffered the same problem that Francis of Assisi did -- she was too charming. Everyone liked her and she liked to be liked. She found it too easy to slip into a worldly life and ignore God.

I was thinking that we as legionaries who live not in the Carmelite monastery, but out in the world, would definitely meet many people of all walks of life as well, and hence we would be at even greater risk of earthly pride, and being overly caught up with the things of this world and being sociable, to the extent of not spending enough time with God. Being a legionary calls for us to attend to people, but it is difficult to mantain a high spiritual level consistently when interacting with various people, and to constantly remember that when we do our contact work, it is not for personal benefit, gratification, to gain ourselves friendship/ popularity, but all for our Mother and our God. There are pros and cons to this, the pro being, the need to feel validated from the contact work, or simply put, the need to feel “liked” while doing contact work, should not be there... if we are doing our work for God, then we should trust that even if we were to say something that might seem offensive to the person momentarily, or something that might cause them to see us as less likeable or less similar people to them (or seem like aliens from another world who has different beliefs or something), we shouldn’t feel humiliated, because what we say and do, should be for God.Afterall, logically, the further we are from earthly vanities, would mean that the closer we are to God. And we only have to be glad for that.

St Therese of Liseux, who had St Teresa of Avila as a patron saint but was quite the opposite in terms of having very few friends comparatively, said that an “immoderate love of creatures is a poison-draught which has always been kept away from my lips,” but that she was sure that “many souls go that way. They’re like the poor moths; dazzled by the lure of this rush-light; they fly into it and burn their wings, only to come back later into the soft radiance of that true love which is divine.” St Therese was of the opinion that “it was only God’s mercy that preserved me from giving myself up to the love of creatures” but at the same time, because of not needing to fall into this trap of being overly attached to earthly things and earthly “creatures”, St Therese thought that she owed God so much more.
However, if we attend to all our legionary work and contact with the idea that we are only doing it for God and our Mother Mary, and lose sight of the fact that we are also interacting with our contacts for the sake of ourcontacts’, we can end up sounding only self-righteous and pious but forget the importance of being first a friend to them, and wanting the best for them as well. The human element, of having relational skills and always treating everyone we meet with love is still the most essential part of our legionary service. It is through trying to imitate Mother Mary’s love for her son and her son’s love for the world, that we can truly appear to be sincere about our contacts’ well being and salvation. Earthly popularity is frequently determined by how much material wealth and luxury can be shared among the group and friends, however because we as legionaries should be concerned with bringing our contacts towards God and towards a spiritual awakening, the only way we can do this is through gestures of love and a spiritual concern for others, and not through material giftings. For example, giving a friend a $50 book voucher for a birthday might make the person think that you’re a really great friend, but it might not do as much good for the friend as sending bible passages or spiritually inspirational stories to the friend’s email everyday or sharing with the friend many more stories of the saints, that would be a much greater gift fulfilling the friend’s spiritual need, an everlasting gift in terms that it points the person more towards the eternal, and also a sign of a more constant friendship.

In the legion handbook, page 145, it is said that a “soul that is to win others must be great and wide as the ocean. To convert the world, one’s soul must be greater than the world.” Hence although we might think that our souls seem inadequate in terms of purity and grace, we should still aim towards an all-encompassing love for all, sinner and saint, Catholic or protestant alike. Our souls must not see things on merely an earthly level, but it must be greater than the world, able to resist temptations and rise after a battle with an unending fervour to win other souls for Christ. However to have a soul wide enough and great enough would mean needing to constantly ask our Mother to provide us with the necessary courage to answer contacts’ queries about the faith wisely, and also to have enough patience and compassion when dealing with people who might have a sense of who God is but who have yet to know and love God fully. It also takes a great deal of humility on our own part and our soul has to learn to reject pride, to the extent that we must acknowledge that we too have yet to know all the mysteries of our faith and God fully, and that we are all also just as sinful as the next person, and needful of even more prayer in our lives, for we might be inadequate and yet we are called as legionaries to still go forth to bring God’s word to others.

How then should we approach God, and try our best to live a life of prayer? St Teresa prayed for eighteen years without feeling results, but obviously there were results, or she wouldn’t have been able to claim this great truth that, and I quote "Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love." As legionaries, imitating Mary, the will to love should always be present, thus our very lives can be an active work and prayer, in spite of our busy schedules. Since love is more an action than just words, prayer is greater as acts of love rather than just words too. How then can we act with love daily?

It requres daily prayer and moments of discernment, As St Teresa says: “ it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything."
Thus as Legionaries, let us, regardless of whether we are called by God towards a path more like St Teresa’s who needed to grow closer to God by remembering to take the time out of her youthful popularity to pray more... or like St Therese who was born more resilient from the snares of earthly delights but reailzed that she had to be thankful for such a gift... aim to do our contact work in a manner of love that aims only to please God in everything.


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