"Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be lost."
Today there are two options for who we commemorate at the Mass: there is St. Teresa of Avila and Our Lady of Walsingham. Because Fr. Bell is commemorating Our Lady of Walsingham tonight, I took Teresa at our twelve o'clock Mass.
Teresa's writings are a treasure-trove of spirituality, and the nice thing about the way she writes is that there is much that is still practical for the beginner even when she explains the highest levels of prayer.
The main thing I want to hone in on from her writings is the virtue which makes the highest levels of prayer possible but is also required at the very beginning and is fundamental; and that is the virtue of humility, which she calls "the best of all ways." She says, "Endeavour to enter first by the room where humility is practised, which is far better than at once rushing on to the others."
I want to talk about humility specifically as it relates to "consolations." Consolations are the sensible blessings that God gives us in prayer. To come away from your prayer time feeling restored and blessed is a consolation. Gifts like this are within God's power to give and to withhold, and it is not on us to manufacture feelings of consolation. Sometimes we make ourselves ill-disposed to receiving gifts in prayer (like when we are proud or sin in another way so as to distance ourselves from God); and sometimes God withholds consolation in order to train us to love him even when it's tough. Either way, the absence of sensible devotion, these emotional gifts, is called "aridity," which means dryness.
What Teresa teaches us is that when aridity comes (as it inevitably will at points in our life of prayer), we can use the trial productively if we take it as an occasion for humility.
"Oh humility, humility! I know not why, but I am always tempted to think that persons who complain so much of aridities must be a little wanting in this virtue... If we turn our backs on Him and go away sorrowfully like the youth in the Gospel when He tells us what to do to be perfect, what can God do? for He must proportion the reward to our love for him."
In other words, we must love God above all things, and then proportionally, we will receive the rewards; but instead, we prefer to be rewarded rather than to do the hard but delightful work of growing in love, which is ultimately the way of the Cross: the way of following Jesus in loving God above ourselves. "To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that."
"Reap humility from your dryness, instead of the disquietude the devil strives to cause by it. I believe that where true humility exists, although God should never bestow consolations, yet He gives a peace and resignation which makes the soul happier than are others with sensible devotion. These consolations, as you have read, are often given by the Divine Majesty to the weakest souls who, I suppose would not exchange them for the fortitude of Christians serving God in aridities: we love consolations better than the cross!"
So St. Teresa reminds us that even when we go through dry spells in the spiritual life, that these trials can become for us opportunities, so long as we approach them as occasions to deepen in cruciform love, loving God rather than his gifts. As the old Stoic saying goes, "the obstacle is the way."
"Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee;
All things pass;
God never changes.
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices."