August 9: Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Fr Doyle does not have a specific entry in his letter home for August 9, so we will have one of his typical sayings, and resume his narrative tomorrow.
You must bear in mind that, if God has marked you out for very great graces and possibly a holiness of which you do not even dream, you must be ready to suffer; and the more of this comes to you, especially sufferings of soul, the happier it ought to make you. . . . Love of God is holiness, but the price of love is pain. Round the treasure-house of His love, God has set a thorny hedge; those who would force their way through must not shrink when they feel the sharpness of the thorns piercing their very soul. But alas! how many after a step or two turn sadly back in fear, and so never reach the side of Jesus.
COMMENT: This is classic Fr Doyle. But it is also utterly representative of the message of Christ Himself who tells us:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
The way is hard. This is seen in the life of every saint, from the martyrs to the hidden contemplatives to those living apostolic lives in the world, whether religious or lay. This suffering isn’t always physical, but will often entail a suffering of the soul, similar, for instance, to that darkness experienced by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for most of her life.
Progress in the spiritual life requires effort and pain, just like progress in a sport or a career requires effort and pain. But it is not enough to stay still; as Fr Doyle says, we may have been marked out for a holiness of which we do not even dream. What a tragedy, for us and the world, if we do not strive to reach the level of holiness God has planned for us. Imagine if Fr Doyle had settled for a life of average sanctity, if he turned “sadly back in fear”? He could have lived a comfortable life; he could have managed to get a relatively easing posting at home. But how many men in the trenches might have suffered as a result? The same can be said for all the saints – if they had turned back sadly in fear, how many religious orders with all their works would remain unfounded; how many works of charity or of apostolate would remain undone?
And the same can be said of us. If we turn back out of fear of suffering, how many people will be worse off? That’s why the universal call to holiness is so remarkable, and yet so frightening. So often people want to forget the implications of this spiritual truth which was re-affirmed by the Second Vatican Council.
Yesterday’s Gospel in the Ordinary Form of the Mass should cause us to shudder just a little:
And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
Much is expected of those to whom much is given; and those who know better will be judged more severely than those who did not know what they were doing. There are few passages that should strike more fear into the hearts of Catholics trying to live their Faith than this one.
But we must not give way to fear, for Christ has promised His grace, and this will help carry us forward, for without it we can do nothing.
Finally, we can turn today to St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross for help. She is one of the patron saints of Europe, where the Church suffers so much today. St Teresa Benedicta surely did not imagine what God had in store for her – from Jew to atheist to brilliant scholar to Catholic to enclosed Carmelite mystic to martyr of the Nazi holocaust. She did not turn sadly back when she felt the pain of the thorns, but trusted in God each step of the way. How richer the world, and the Church, is for her holiness.
St Teresa Benedicta, pray for us.