Today, September 14th , is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The cross is more than ever a sign of contradiction.
“The followers of the Antichrist show it far more dishonor than did the Persians who stole it. They desecrate the images of the cross, and they make every effort to tear the cross out of the hearts of Christians. All too often they have succeeded even with those who, like us, once vowed to bear Christ’s cross after him. Therefore, the Savior today looks at us, solemnly probing us, and asks each one of us: Will you remain faithful to the Crucified?”
In this particular writing, reflecting on the Elevation of the Cross, St. Teresa Benedicta asks Carmelites to consider what they have promised. Those in the Secular Carmelite Order have promised to “tend toward evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience, and of the Beatitudes, according to the Constitutions of the Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites”.
St. Teresa Benedicta uses her reflections of Christ on the Cross to expound on the virtues of obedience, poverty and chastity.
“Before you hangs the Savior on the cross, because he became obedient unto death on the cross. He came into the world not to do his own will, but his Father’s will.” To practice the virtue of obedience in imitation of Jesus, we are to have the same attitude. We have come into this world to do the Father’s will. Therefore, we are to renounce our own will. As a matter of fact, we should have no will of our own. We should have no other desire except to fulfill the will of God. This means we must listen! Listen as He speaks to us through our Rule and Constitutions. Listen as He speaks through the mouth of our superiors: of the Order, of the community’s council, of our pastors, of our spouse, and of our families. Listen to the Holy Spirit as He speaks gently in our hearts. All this listening means we have to daily, even hourly, crucify our will and self-love. This “demands your obedience because your human will is blind and weak.”
“The Savior hangs naked and destitute before you on the cross because he has chosen poverty.” To practice the virtue of poverty we must renounce earthly goods and gratefully receive whatever God sends to us. We are to be joyful in doing without. Our Holy Founding Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus, tells us we are to be unconcerned about our body, which makes so many demands with its selfish inclinations. We are not to be concerned about today or tomorrow. “He demands poverty because hands must be empty of earth’s goods to receive the goods of heaven.”
“ The Savior hangs before you with a pierced heart. He has spilled his heart’s blood to win your heart.” To come to such holy chastity we are to have a heart free of desires of this earth. Jesus is to be our desire. Let him be the object of our thoughts, longings, wishes and desires. “He demands chastity because only the heart detached from all earthly love is free for the love of God.”
“What you have promised is indeed beyond you own weak, human power, But it is not beyond the power of the Almighty – this power will become yours if you entrust yourself to him.”
“The arms of the Crucified are spread out to draw you to his heart. He wants your life in order to give you his.”
Ave Crux, Spes unica!
(Take and adapted from: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, The Hidden Life p. 94-95, ICS Publications, Vol. IV The Collected Works of Edith Stein)