Teresian Carmelite Prayer


(Picture of St. Teresa of Jesus’ Cell)

In the Way of Perfection St. Teresa exhorts her daughters in Carmel: “Strive to be such that our lives may be fruitful for the Church.” To understand Teresian Carmelite prayer, we must first know that for St. Teresa prayer is a way of being. “Strive to be such.” It embraces the totality of our life; it is not confined to the two hours we spend in formal prayer each day. It is a way of being and of living. Whether in the Kitchen, in the Laundry, eating, sleeping, praying in the choir, attending Mass, recreating—all must be prayer, all must be done in union with Jesus. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity once said describing our Carmelite life, “The life of a Carmelite is a life of communion with God from morning until night, and from night until morning.”

For our Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus, prayer is relationship, a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, our true Friend. It is “taking time to be alone with the one who we know loves us.” For St. John of the Cross, we see in the Spiritual Canticle that prayer is the communion of spousal love between the soul and Christ, the Bridegroom.


In the Interior Castle St. Teresa uses an image in which she describes the soul “to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.” In the center of this “castle” God dwells. “He is seated on a very valuable throne, which is your heart.” Here within our souls dwells the King of heaven and earth! St. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you?” St. John of the Cross also exclaims: “Oh, soul, most beautiful among all creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your Beloved so you may go in search of him and be united with him, now we are telling you that you yourself are his dwelling and his secret inner room and hiding place. What more do you want and what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction, fullness, and kingdom—your Beloved whom you desire and seek? Be joyful and gladdened in your interior recollection with him, for you have him so close to you. Desire him there, adore him there.”

In the Way of Perfection, a book written principally to teach her Carmelite daughters about genuine prayer and the way that leads there, St. Teresa teaches us of a “method” of prayer called recollection, a recollection that we can obtain through our own efforts: “All one need to do is go into solitude and look at Him within oneself, and not turn away from so good a Guest but with great humility speak to Him as to a father.” This form of prayer is a way of being present to God who is within, “looking” at Him with a simple gaze of faith. “For centered within oneself, it can think about the Passion and represent the Son and offer Him to the Father and not tire the intellect by going to look for Him on Mount Calvary or in the garden or at the pillar.” Teresa continues elsewhere: “The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.” Our Holy Mother assures us that if we get used to this way of prayer, this active recollection, we will journey far in a short time, because the King will find us near Him and ready when it so pleases Him to lead us on. The Lord is pleased with this effort of ours “until after many of these entries the Lord wills that [you] rest entirely in perfect contemplation.”

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