Summary: Love and fear are the two driving forces in human nature, so we need two kinds of saints today.

Tuesday of 28th Week in Course 2019

St. Theresa of Jesus (of Avila)

There are two forces that drive the human being. On the one hand, love responds to the eternal creative and embracing Trinity, who loved us into existence and longs to divinize us. Fear, on the other hand, responds to the evil and destructive forces unleashed by the devil’s plot to destroy the human race through the action of human free will crippled by original sin. We run in the direction of love, as we perceive it to be offered; we flee in terror from those things and people and events we fear, as we perceive their threats.

St. Paul outlines love and fear as he sees them in pagan culture, in these first thoughts from the letter to the Romans. Outside the divine plan, human beings have only their own weak minds and hearts to give direction to life. Now if they stop and use whatever crude science is available to them, with unprejudiced minds, they have to realize that everything we see and touch and hear is contingent on something else. For human beings it is the action of their father and mother that resulted in their conception and birth. The contingent being, the one who did not cause his or her or its own existence, stands as a witness to the existence of a necessary being, One whose existence is not contingent on the existence of something or someone else. That, Aquinas taught, is the only Necessary Being, God, who puts us into existence and keeps us in existence.

But without faith, without the guidance of the True God, human beings respond–usually in fear of wind and storm and earthquake and volcanic eruption–by trying to placate those forces they fear. They erect idols of wood and stone and silver and gold and try to placate those false gods with all kinds of human-devised actions, like animal sacrifice. Our eternal Enemy uses this false worship to insinuate more and more evil actions. To the false god of war, humans even offered their own children in sacrifice. To the false gods of fertility, they engaged in ritual orgies. So they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the lustful and murderous worship of demons like Baal, Astarte and Moloch.

Even the chosen people fell into false worship again and again, succumbing to the temptations of the surrounding culture of Canaan. And when defeat and exile had purified them of those lusts, when they returned to the land, the best they could produce from their post-exilic philosophy was called the Pharisee–the “separated ones,” who did holy things without becoming holy themselves. Jesus founded His Church on human weakness that acknowledged weakness. Look at the first disciples. Peter the Rock was Peter the coward. All of them fled when Christ was arrested; only John returned with Mary and Mary Magdalene to the foot of the cross. But the Holy Spirit turned them into fearless preachers of the Word of God, and over a millennium and a half that Word, and the Church who preached it changed the civilized world into a Christian world–still imperfect but full of saints.

Teresa of Avila, called Teresa of Jesus, was born into that world, but it was a world in ferment and transition. When she was two, Martin Luther began the movement that eventually tore most of Northern Europe away from the Church. So we should remind ourselves that the many saints of that sixteenth century who came from Northern Europe were, by and large, martyrs in blood. They witnessed fidelity to God’s true Church at the cost of their own lives, and so they lived a particular kind of mixture of love and fear–a love of God’s Truth that conquered their fear of torture and death.

The saints of the Mediterranean nations, on the other hand, were frequently mystics whose experience of faith led them to a mixture of love and fear that was quite different. The persecution that John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila experienced was largely by the will of their religious brothers and sisters and superiors. Having experienced intensely the presence of God, and fallen in love with Our Lord, much of their lives were spent in a dark night in which they had to take their consolation through faith and love from a God who was silent, unfelt, but intensely present especially amid the feelings of absence.

Today we need both kinds of saints. Our Western culture has become depraved and is no longer amused by our devotion to God and the Church. They seek to destroy us, or at least turn the Church into a gutless, godless caricature of Herself. So prayer and penance and fasting must be our vocation, and witness to the Truth. St. Teresa of Jesus, pray for us.

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