The Way of Perfection
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication Date: 2012-01-17
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This classic of the interior life and Christian mysticism remains as fresh and inspiring today as it was 400 years ago. Written by a prominent sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, it forms a practical guide to prayer that embraces readers with its warmth and accessibility.
St. Teresa of Avila's detailed directions on the achievement of spiritual perfection designate three essentials — fraternal love, detachment from material things, and true humility. She discusses a variety of maxims related to the practice of prayer and concludes with a thought-provoking commentary on the Lord's Prayer. A work of sublime mystical beauty, The Way of Perfection is above all a treatise of utter simplicity that offers lucid instruction to all seekers of a more meaningful way of life.
"At about this time there came to my notice the harm and havoc that were being wrought in France by these Lutherans and the way in which their unhappy sect was increasing. This troubled me very much, and, as though I could do anything, or be of any help in the matter, I wept before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil. I felt that I would have laid down a thousand lives to save a single one of all the souls that were being lost there."
"True humility consists in our being satisfied with what is given us."
"This is no time for believing everyone; believe only those whom you see modelling their lives on the life of Christ."
"Where the devil can do great harm without our realizing it is in making us believe that we possess virtues which we do not: that is pestilential."
"Try to be as pleasant as you can, without offending God, and to get on as well as you can with those you have to deal with, so that they may like talking to you and want to follow your way of life and conversation, and not be frightened and put off by virtue."
St. Teresa of Avila was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer in the Carmelite Order of her time and the movement she initiated, later joined by Saint John of the Cross, eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, though neither she nor Saint John were alive when the two orders separated.
While studying to be a third order Carmelite, we read and studied this book. We found that this saint is very down to earth. She gives very practical advice on prayer and the spiritual life. Though it was written for her nuns, it is highly informative to regular laymen seeking to become advanced in the spiritual life.
I delved into this book because I really wanted to know how to pray better; so who better to turn to than one of the great stalwart contemplatives of Carmelite spirituality?
As St. Teresa will tell you, praying well isn’t just about effort and focusing on the right thoughts. First and foremost, it’s about developing various virtues in yourself. The more you work at developing your interior life, on focusing on things like charity, humility, and detachment of worldly things, the better you’ll be able to pray, and the more pleasing your prayers will be to God. St. Teresa starts off by explaining in detail how to develop these three virtues.
One of the other themes St. Teresa talks about is discerning whether to engage in mental prayer like a contemplative, or vocal prayer. This is very important, because people pray differently. For some people, vocal prayer is the ideal way to go. St. Teresa will help you make a decision on this matter.
When it comes to prayer itself, the entire focus is on the Lord’s Prayer – the Our Father. She walks you through a meditation of sorts on each step of the prayer. She has special insights into the depth of the meaning of each line, such as what is meant by “Give us this day our daily bread.” Are we talking about our daily needs, or the Eucharist, or God’s Grace, or all of these things combined?
Also, I highly recommend reading this book with a pen and writing down notes.
For modern people, St. Teresa poses one of the toughest reads there is because her writing style is old-fashioned, and the concepts she expresses are deep and elongated. I had to reread many of her paragraphs to fully grasp what she was communicating. I don’t recommend this book if you’re just dipping your toes into spiritual reading. But I heartily recommend it if you are one of those avid spiritual readers who just can’t get enough of the saints.