Saturday, 15 October 2011

Levitation, Flagellation, Ecstasy and the Baroque

St Teresa is a saint that most people find rather hard to understand.  All those stories of levitation, flagellation and ecstasy.  It's hard to link that to the experiences most of us have on a day-to-day basis (at least it is in my case).  The record shows that it was rather awkward for St Teresa in her own time too.  Levitation has always been seen as rather socially awkward.

Yet, there is a side to St Teresa that surely everyone can understand.  She is often cited as some who engaged in many forms of prayer, and this is so, but most of us can probably relate more easily to an earlier period of St Teresa's life, when she found prayer very difficult.

A homily preached at Pusey House many years ago by one of the clergy there who is now a Catholic layman related a tale from his Anglican seminary days at Mirfield.  A young seminarian was feeling a lack of motivation to engage in the programmed hours of meditation and prayer.  When challenged on this, his response was to say "I am very worried, Father, because I don't want to pray".  The answer that came back was in the form of a question "Ah, but do you want to want to pray?"  That mini-debate must resonate with many a well-intentioned believer struggling to build their prayer life. 

St Teresa was a reformer, not only in ecclesiastical terms but also in social terms, a prolific writer, a great intellect and a powerful theologian.  She was, along with St Catherine of Siena, one of the first two women to be declared a Doctor of the Church.  She has been a huge influence in Spanish Catholicism but also very far beyond - the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has written a book on her, and along with Julian of Norwich, she was regularly cited by the then Vicar of St Mary's Bourne Street in homilies during my early years there.

You can find out more about her here.

The Holy Father gives a concise summary of her importance in this video. 

The Introit set for mass today is Dilexisti justitiam, the same text as was sung during communion during the Holy Father's recent visit to Germany.  Here you can see the small schola singing the chant.

Finally, since we have had a few days without anything baroque, here is a rather fine piece of Spanish baroque sacred music by Sebastian de Vivanco, who was born in Avila in the same century as St Teresa. 

St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

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