Last month I had the great privilege and joy of accompanying a group of permanent deacons and their wives from our diocese on a pilgrimage to the shrines of St Teresa of Ávila and St John of the Cross in Spain. It is the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Teresa so it was a good time to visit.
Teresa was born in Ávila in Spain and entered the Carmelite convent there at the age of 20, not because of any great attraction to the religious life but because it seemed the most sensible thing to do. At this time Carmelite convents were comfortable places. One was well looked after, had as much contact with the outside world as one wanted and could keep one’s own possessions. With time, and despite ill-health, she made great progress in contemplative prayer and had a number of mystical experiences, which she treated with great suspicion since she felt that she was not nearly holy enough to be accorded them by God.
Teresa’s prayer life led her to seek a more perfect life, and in 1562, in the face of much opposition, she founded a convent of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Ávila. “Discalced” (“shoeless”) signified their devotion to poverty. The rest of her life is a story of the establishment of more and more Discalced Carmelite convents in the face of intense opposition from the unreformed Carmelites but with help coming from the highest levels at the same time.
St Teresa is an outstanding example of how the contemplative life can well up and overflow into action. In addition to all this, she wrote much on the subject of contemplative prayer and her writings are still standard works today. She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
During this month of June we will be hosting an exhibition of the life of St Teresa and her works at the Cathedral. It will be well worth a visit. It is touring the UK, going to 16 Cathedrals, two Carmelite monasteries and Walsingham. It is six freestanding banners depicting the life and times of St Teresa, her teaching on prayer and understanding the human person and her relevance for today. The exhibition will be at the Cathedral from May 30 to June 15, and our opening times and more about the exhibition is on the Cathedral website: www.middlesbroughrccathedral.org
Also this month, on the feast of St Ephraim, June 9, there will be a special celebration for the permanent deacons, their wives and families at Ampleforth. There they will renew their baptismal promises, their marriage vows and recommit themselves to the work of the diaconate. Please keep all our deacons in your prayers and promote the great vocation to the permanent diaconate at every opportunity.