This is part 2 of a series of 6 blogs where Lisa Small, a Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, shares about her 8-day silent retreat in Avila and what St. Teresa of Avila and the current Carmelites living there had to teach her about her own vocation as a lay consecrated woman called to evangelize and sanctify the world through her Regnum Christi spirituality.
“To fulfill our mission, we seek to make present the mystery of Christ who goes out to people, reveals the love of his heart to them…” RCF Statute #8
“St. Teresa – am I called to the same intimacy with Christ that you had?” I whispered to her in prayer during my first Mass in Avila. I had woken early and walked the three minutes to the Monastery of the Incarnation for Mass with the Carmelite nuns. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as I entered the small chapel where the nuns were softly chanting their Lauds behind the grill, I was greeted by a small sign hung on the door – “The Chapel of the Transverberation: This house of Teresa receives you with love.”
Transverberation? I tried to recall what that meant but as soon as I saw the beautifully painted image above the altar of St. Teresa being pierced by the arrow of God’s love, I remembered and understood. This was the exact place where she felt pierced by an arrow of Divine Love that transported her into an experience of deep union with God, which had also inspired Bernini’s incredibly crafted statue of “The ecstasy of St. Teresa.” I was here in her personal cell where this happened! I couldn’t quite believe it!
A plaque on the ground read La tierra que pisas es santa – “The ground you tread upon is holy.” As the mass began, I begged to understand the profound significance of this place as I tried to enter the mystery of Teresa’s experience and the incredibly deep love that Jesus had for her as His chosen spouse.
“St. Teresa – I’m a lay consecrated woman. Can I have that same intimacy that you had, a contemplative nun? I long for that. I desire that.” Immediately the passage from John 15 came into my heart and mind, “Remain in Me as I remain in you.” (Jn 15: 4) This was to become the theme of my retreat: Yes, Jesus already dwelt within me – it was up to me to choose to be with him in the intimacy of my soul. I needed that. I yearned for that. I was thirsting to encounter God deeply and just be with him during these days.
The words of Pope Francis, quoted in our General Assembly’s communique also spoke deeply to me, “Are there moments when you place yourself quietly his presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How then will you be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness?” (Gaudete et Exsultate, #151)
As my days of retreat continued, St. Teresa’s own example of spousal love for God deepened an inner conviction: Of course my call to lay consecration demands an incredible intimacy with Christ. What can I bring into this secular world if I am not deeply united to him and filled with his own Spirit? Its not easy to ‘be in the world, but not of it’. To incarnate Christ in a certain way within the world so I can pour my heart out to others and love them in and through Christ. If I remain in him, he safeguards and protects my own heart that could easily be filled with the things of the world and take up the space where God longs to ‘remain with me’.
And each Mass is a key moment where this intimacy takes place – both consecrated, and as a lay person. It becomes the place where, as Lumen Gentium states, “sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God” (Lumen Gentium #34).
This moment of prayer brought be back to an experience I had had in the summer. A place I would typically avoid became a place of deep encounter with God. I found myself in Miami Beach for a few days – a place I realized is probably one of the most decadent party capitals of the country. Everything you can imagine goes on there, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Drugs, blasting music, girls in bikinis atop of convertibles gliding up and down the main street. It was a bit of an overload for my senses and not the typical place you would find a person who had committed their life to live poverty, chastity and obedience.
I was there on my own. My days were filled with emails, zoom meetings and online spiritual directions. But at the beginning and end of my day, I would take the elevator from the 11th floor down to the entrance to the beach so I could spend some time in prayer contemplating the beautiful ocean. In the mornings, I was usually only accompanied by a handful of other people on the beach, whether homeless and asleep on the sidewalk, or a few jogging or taking photos of the sunrise over the ocean. Those were special moments of prayer for me as I met the new day with the first rays of light proclaiming the goodness of our Creator and Father.
But the nights were busier. The beach was usually full of volleyball games, parties, drinking, smoking, drugs, and music. I would meander up and down praying my rosary. And while this wasn’t as quiet and tranquil as my morning prayer, strangely, I felt closer to Christ’s heart.
As I walked up and down the beach, I felt like Jesus was allowing me to see these masses of people as individuals and as he does, with great love. I saw each one of them as his beloved son and daughter and the line from psalm 149 became a looped anthem within me ‘The Lord delights in his people.’ And surprisingly, in this place of revelry, I too delighted in them. My heart seemed to swell with a love for each of them.
A new sense of my lay vocation washed over me as I united myself to God dwelling within me. My consecration, my baptism and the fact that God dwells within me, allows me to bring the world back to him, and consecrate the world to him. My call to ‘incarnate’ God in the world through my consecrated vocation, in a certain way meant Christ himself was walking up and down that beach, delighting in each person, and interceding for their own salvation and holiness.
Cristifidelis Laici #15 speaks beautifully into this call for all lay people, “The ‘world’ thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ. (Christifidelis Laici #15). The world is good. God created it, saw it and pronounced that it was good. Yes, it has become fallen, broken and disordered, but Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption has restored it and we are called to share in his same mission and bring it to completion.
So as I continued my retreat in Avila, each Mass became a moment to bring the world and its people to Christ, consecrating them in his loving sacrifice. It also became a moment to beg him for deep union and intimacy so that I could truly make Christ present in the world and love with his heart, living out the morning prayer that many Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi and ECYD members pray around the world:
I give you my hands to do your work.
I give you my feet to follow your path.
I give you my eyes to see as you see.
I give you my tongue to speak your words.
I give you my mind so you can think in me.
I give you my spirit so you can pray in me.
Above all I give you my heart so in me you can love your Father and all people.
I give you my whole self so you can grow in me, till it is you who live and work and pray in me. Amen.