Authentic Obedience and the Cleansing Power of Almsgiving
“I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible.” ~ St Teresa of Avila
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel” Paul boldly and bluntly asserts in the opening words of today’s 1st Reading (Romans 1:16-25), going on to promise that “the one who is righteous by faith will live.”
Paul points out that God has indeed revealed himself in such a way that his eternal power and divinity should be evident. Yet the wicked chose disobedience, becoming “vain in their reasoning,” giving way to the foolishness of idol worship and the like.
Disobedience is part of the intrinsically disordered and sinful human condition. Saint Teresa of Avila, whose quote leads off today’s essay and whose Feast Day we celebrate today, allowed obedience to be her roadmap to sainthood. Although born into a life of nobility in Spain, she instead chose a monastic life, one rooted in discipline, simplicity and yes, above all else, obedience.
Active during the Counter-Reformation, Teresa set out to reform the Carmelite Orders of both women and men. She would cross paths with a young Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic in the process, John of the Cross, a man destined for sainthood in his own right. This chance encounter eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites. These men and women dedicate themselves to a life of deep and profound prayer, contemplative lives spent in cloistered monasteries.
Saint Teresa would go on to become recognized as one of only 36 Doctors of the Church, a title bestowed upon her four centuries later in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, the first woman to earn this lofty designation. Many think that attaining the title of Doctor of the Church requires one to be an uber-intellectual esoteric theologian. Saint Teresa of Avila proves otherwise. One achieves this title by re-shaping the way people go about praising, worshipping and subsequently acting out their faith and love for God. One need only read ‘The Way of Perfection’ or her seminal work ‘The Interior Castle’ to see the genuine and concise authenticity with which she taught. No-nonsense practicality was her calling card, and her words still resonate today. They’re needed now more then ever too I might add.
In our Gospel today (Luke 11:37-41) Jesus encourages the Pharisees he dines with to give alms as a means of “internal cleansing,” something he made very clear that they were in dire need of.
But aren’t we all?
Saint Clement of Alexandria, in taking this passage very much to heart, once said “Sins are purged by alms and acts of faith.”
Indifference to the poor is unacceptable to the genuine Christian. The prophets long held that compassion, feeling the pain of others in our own hearts, must become a part of who we are. We know that the two great commandments are tightly interwoven and must be pursued and obeyed as such: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and love your neighbor as yourself."
Or to give the great Saint Teresa of Avila the last word on this the day we celebrate her sainthood:
“. . . . accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”