Worth Revisiting: Praying with St. Teresa of Avila (Pt 1)

Who is this saint, you ask? What does a young 16th Carmelite nun still have to teach us..or better yet, what have we left to learn?
Yearn to take an inner pilgrimage, or encounter God in a life changing way? Then, I invite you to join my friend and companion, saint and mystic Teresa of Avila for a time of intimate discovery.

In a time when Spain was experiencing a profound theological and spiritual dialogue of cultures, religions and ideas,Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born.[1] The granddaughter of Jewish merchants, and daughter of new Christian Spanish nobility, Teresa is said to have taken to the piety of Christianity with both passion and humility.  A passion witnessed early, in her readiness at age seven, to leave home to decisively embrace a beheading for Christ by the Moors.[2] Likewise, Teresa possessed a humility illustrated in an awareness of humbler Jewish origins, as a women in a patriarchal society, and ultimately in her place before God.[3] Therefore, at age 12 when her mother died, we see a turning point as she was placed in the care of Augustinian nuns and drawn to an educated life of pious contemplation. Inspired by the writings of St. Jerome, and disillusioned at the prospect of married life for women in her time, Teresa decided to enter the religious vocation with the Carmelites at age 21.[4]

However, it wasn’t until Teresa faced a sudden illness that she became aware of the practice of contemplative prayer and recollection as a source of strength. Still, Teresa faced a time of 18 years of spiritual dryness in which she found herself “unable to integrate her relationships with the world and with God”. [5] Teresa struggled both to incorporate a practice of mental prayer, and to explain her mystic visions to an often unbelieving world.[6] This as she encountered a conversion of heart and mind toward that of “the sorely wounded Christ” and began to embrace the “vivid experience of God’s presence within her”.[7]

An Interior Castle: 1st and 2nd dwelling places…

Awakened by the divine mercy of Christ to a call to an intensely loving friendship, Teresa began to understand all prayer must begin and end in Christ. Prayer then is seen as a “door that opens up to the mystery of God and at the same time a means of communing with Him”.[8] This door is entry to one’s soul, of a beautiful crystal design with many rooms, much like heaven, where God also resides in its center.[9] Passage through the rooms of this castle is illustrative of one’s spiritual life and openness to God’s grace and action. In the first of seven dwelling places, Teresa describes it as a room of self knowledge and awareness to grace and the effects of sin. Through prayer, recollection, and in humility we begin to recognize both God’s majesty and the fruitlessness of our own efforts.

In the second of these dwelling places, are rooms filled with people, books, sermons, and even memories of our trials that allow us to reflect on God and His will for our lives.[10] Despite the assiduousness of evil at work here to turn us backward, the cross becomes our weapon and determination our path.[11] Teresa advises that should we “at times fall, don’t be discouraged and stop trying to advance….For even from this fall, God will draw out good”.[12] This is something that Teresa knew well, having mistakenly given up prayer for a time, only to find a greater renewed strength and resolute trust in Christ .[13]

In The Interior Castle, I too am drawn through the open door of prayer to greater self awareness, and in intimately encountering God at work within our very soul.  In beginning prayer, Teresa observes how we often advise God as to what we need when, “He can rightly tell us that we don’t know what we are asking for” [14]. I have discovered this release of control of my life and inner soul to God so essential in my own faith journey. Here trust, release, and recollection have provided a means to inner peace when my mind is engaged with the certainty of an uncertain world.

Interested in the sequel? Tune in during the next few weeks as we travel through each of the remaining 5 dwelling places culminating in St. Teresa’s blessed union in Christ.

You can also find additional posts on Teresa of Avila and Carmelite Spirituality at Contemplative Homeschool by Connie Rossini.



[1] Avila, Teresa. The Interior Castle. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Introduction by Kieran Kavanaugh. Preface by Raimundo Panikkar. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979. (p. xiv.)
[2] New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., s.v. “Teresa of Avila, St.” by O. Steggink, and S. V. Ramge. Vol. 13. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 2003. 826-830.http://go.galegroup.com (accessed Oct. 9 2013). p.827
[3] Howe, Elizabeth Theresa. Education and Women in the Early Modern Hispanic World. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2008.p. 60.
[4] Ibid., pp. 62-63.
[5] Kieran Kavanaugh, Introduction, The Interior Castle, p. 2.
[6] Ibid., p. 3.
[7] New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 827.
[8] Kavanaugh, p. 21.
[9] Avila, p. 35.
[10] Ibid, p.49.
[11] Ibid, p. 51.
[12] Ibid., p. 52.
[13] Kavanaugh, pp. 2-3.
[14]Avila, p.52

Catholic Conference for Moms: Faces of Mercy


In this year of mercy, there has been much discussion about what this invitation truly means. What has been our experience of mercy and forgiveness, and how do we better extend this to all those we encounter in our daily lives? Without a doubt, each of these experiences are as diverse and intimate as our own relationships to God are. So what have we to learn from others? Quite personally, I can never tire of hearing the love story of God’s mercy as it continually allows me to fall in love with my Beloved all over again. Yet, there is something else at work here- a challenge and a widening of our undoubtedly limited perspective to grow in faith.

As this year of mercy draws to a close perhaps you might just take this opportunity to rediscover mercy and embrace its transforming potential in each of our lives. From October 20-23

 The Catholic Conference for Moms and all presentations will be available for FREE. No catch- just register and log on anytime during that time period.

 “It will be like a mini-conference, just in time to receive God’s amazing grace at the close of this Jubilee Year of Mercy, all in the convenience of your home!”

Simply sit back and watch the online HD videos or download the MP3s and take it with you wherever you go. With 21 presenters, in English and Spanish, and a variety of topics there is something new and thought provoking for everyone.

So what facet of mercy did I choose to share? What is near and dear to my heart?

“Catholic Social Teaching: A Catechesis at the Heart of Mercy “


One of Catholicism’s best kept secrets, Catholic social teaching is at the heart of understanding mercy.  So, how do we as parents and catechists of the faith help bridge the gap between practice and faith to our children?

This is quite a big lead in to say that I hope that you are able to join this conference and discover as I have… that we are loved beyond measure by an amazing God! 



Worth Revisiting: Open Windows

Beyond the treasures of abundant color, pumpkin lattes and cool crisp days, fall carries the promise to unwind, unplug and connect in a distinct way. With open windows, the tall sheer curtains stirring amidst the early morning breeze lays the invitation to allow the outside in. Beckoned to welcome the sunrise, to encounter the stillness, what a sweeping bequest upon my heart to throw wide the sash and to be open too.  To feel the Holy Spirit’s rousing presence to awaken, both to God at work within but also without in the world around me.

Oh, the temptation we face to sit on the other side of the pane of glass looking out. How easy it is to remain in the comfort of our own convictions, walled in by certainty and secure in customary routine. Surrounded by the air of self-assurance, we may not even fully realize the difference in what we are experiencing to what God is calling us to be and do.

Is this why vulnerability is so essential in our journey with God? Is our surrender and openness to God a window for us to begin to understand Christ’s gift on the cross?

With arms outstretched from East to West, we visibly see Christ as the profound sacrifice and witness of the unconditional love of God faithful from the very beginning of time. It is a love that draws us nearer into relationship, out of our selfishness and pride, to become vulnerable ourselves for others.  As the life of St. Ignatius exemplifies, a life of excess and self-importance are not satisfying alternatives to what a life lived in Christ can offer.

Yet, this invitation of Christ is not without risk, for this openness to love entails:

  1. Considering the armor that we have used to protect ourselves in the past. What is my go to defense, that shields me from the experience of pain and keeps my distance from the love that God has for me? Rather than in the security found in the things of this world, be it in wealth, power, pride, or vengeance we are called to find our strength in the counsel, generosity, righteousness and compassion of God.
  2. Acceptance that our hearts may be broken by others. For any of us that lay our hearts and lives bare in our discipleship, we understand all too well this reality. Still, one look at the cross and life of Christ and we recognize that vulnerability means a willingness to give without counting the cost. Are we willing, like St. Ignatius to lay down our sword to become men and women for others?
  3.  Radical forgiveness. Yet in these moments grace and healing await too. If we hold on to our pains, it can be quite difficult to open up fully to anyone else, or to share in the intimacy of Christ. Is there anyone in my life that I am being asked to forgive today? Am I being asked to forgive myself?
  4. Gratitude. When we are truly open to God’s love, it is difficult to remain unchanged, or unappreciative of the gift we have received. The open window which conveys that pleasant breeze of God’s presence, stirs our hearts to love, and challenges us to do the same also transforms our vision. Looking out upon the world, we can glimpse the One who is greater at work and respond in praise and surrender.

“Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours. Do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

The invitation is there for you, to open the window of your soul and discover God who is ever present and actively at work in all things. 



See You Soon!

From those knowingly facing death to those whose life is suddenly and unexpectedly ended  we are given a glimpse of the brevity of our time on earth and the urgency to be prepared. Yet, what are we preparing for, and what awaits us thereafter? Are we preparing for the end of our life, or a transformation to something greater?

Pope Francis has noted that “If death is understood as the end of everything, it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way.” Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, general audience on Nov. 27, 2013.

However, in our faith as Christians, we are given hope- that our present existence is as temporary scene, a blink as it were, passing into a greater eternity. It is a continuation of God’s immense love for us, a incomprehensible desire for us to be forever with him. How easy it is to be overwhelmed with the everyday details of this life or with living in or for the present moment that we fail to live in this awareness of eternity ahead.

What then does a life prepared look like?

Having sat with those imminently anticipating death, it is a surrender -of the events of the days and years leading up to that very moment to God. It is an acknowledgment that God is aware of all choices good and bad, and mercifully has embraced and forgiven them. It is a readiness to meet God, as St. Aquinas would say, not “through a glass darkly” but  look forward to the day when we shall see our Creator “face to face.”

What would our last words be?

A priest friend of mine the other day gave his homiletic retelling of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s heart attack last April. As the heart attack came on, Fr. Pacwa recounted that his thoughts and words were surprisingly not on where he might be going, but on the fact he did not want to die in the middle of Walmart. Though there is humor in this retelling, it does give each of us pause to contemplate how we leave this earth.

My aunt Bonnie, was given but a few months to live with a sudden diagnosis of Pulmonary Fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs. With this very painful condition, gradually the lung tissue becomes so thickened that oxygen cannot move and breathing becomes increasingly more difficult. As the days drew closer, and she was seemingly in between worlds, her last words remain with me. “I’m going home..I’m going home..I’m going home.” What a witness to the hope that God promises. What a gift to our family left behind. And when I think of my own final moments, it is how I wish to meet God and those who have gone before me.

Rather than dread, this instills in me such joy that I have already had the conversation with my immediate family on “if I were to go today”. For their benefit I have chosen readings, songs, and expressed my desire for them not to go overboard on the funeral expenses. This is not my home. Though while here, I fully intend on growing in love and learning all that I can to show that love to those I encounter along the way.

See You Soon,



Worth Revisiting: A Grandfather’s Legacy

Today I share a granddaughter’s revisiting of the legacy of a poet, not by trade but by heart. A teacher, farmer, surveyor, and cotton gin manager, Carl Wyatt Ferrell wore many hats in order to best provide for his family.  And still always the student he looked at life each day anew, finding God not in grand gestures but in the small everyday details of life. His love of poetry captures this awareness and is the treasure left to me by my grandfather a lifetime ago.

Dawn on the River

I stand at dawn above the stream
As skies begin to glow,
Like stirrings from a drowsy dream
I sense the river’s flow.

My face is fanned by morning breeze,
That stirs the trees so tall.
The squirrels chatter in the trees
While nuts begin to fall.

Now birds begin their morning song;
The dewdrops from the leaves;
The fog-bound river flows along
between the Cypress trees.

First signs of sunrise now appear-
the east is bright with gold.
The veiling fog begins to clear-
Earth’s beauties now unfold.

Below I see the shining stream,
this clear swift path of light.
The sunlight’s golden gleam
has took the place of night.

By Carl Wyatt Ferrell

Music that Moves Us: Take Me by Ben Walther


(This post is part of a series to be found at ReconciledtoYou.com hosted by Allison Gingras featuring the music of Ben Walther. For other bloggers and songs check out #MusicthatMoves)

“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”       – Sucipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola

The first time I heard this beautiful song by Ben Walther, I instantly recognized its Ignatian underpinnings. The Sucipe prayer by St. Ignatius is one that, as with Ben, speaks profoundly to a need in my own life- a need for surrender. A need to relinquish any misconceptions or desires to control situations, or cling to any gifts that I have received in my life.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”Romans 12:1

Understanding that all that I have or am comes from God does not imply a lifetime warranty or use thereof. Rather, it is accepting each gift or grace for the limited time that it may be given to me and expressing my heartfelt gratitude in these moments.Be prepared for surprises too, for God is the ultimate giver and will not be undone in love or mercy. Perhaps you have yet to discover a particular talent within, or a way to use that talent. Not to worry, when needed God will seek to bring forth the best use of that gift. All he asks of us is to “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning” Luke 12:35

God is calling us to be transformed- ready to be moved, to follow his lead and this entails letting go. Trusting that even in the most uncertain times, that the One with the map will guide and accompany us each step along the way. And sometimes we may become so certain of our place in life, of our abilities or lack of,  that we cannot see the greater opportunities he has in store. We resist taking on this new perspective, and in doing so become fearful of losing what was never ours to lay claim to in the first place.Detachment then from all that impedes our following God’s will is so essential in our discipleship.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

A once in a lifetime decision to follow Christ? Not hardly.  It is a daily turning of heart and surrendering of self (body and soul) to Christ that is being asked of us. In our doubt and trials as well as in our faith and joys our Risen Lord asks for our trust, our will, our understanding -our all.

For, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

What is promised through surrender?

There is much peace in actively and fully surrendering. In knowing, that He is God and we are not. In allowing God to be the primary mover in all that we do. In this invitation of surrender, and petition for direction we continually experience his unfailing love.

Father, when my own steps are unsure or I seek to better secure the path ahead please lead me on. For those times I rest in the grace that surrounds me when you are asking me to move, help me to find my security in you. All I am and do are because of You- and this life I live is Yours. Take All of Me.

Reflection:What if we each held onto the life we are living presently? Would we be able for God to move us where he wanted us to be..would the safety we feel be worth the treasure that awaits?

Worth Revisiting:When Words Fail

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” Thomas Merton

In sitting down this morning to write about this, I hesitated. Such a difficult topic, and yet so needed. On more occasions than I could have thought possible, I have encountered grief. Not only though my own experience but through those expressing abandonment in their grief, and confusion on the part of those who love them. While not professing to have a perfect answer, I humbly offer the following as spiritual guidelines in beginning the journey.

  1. Speak-but speak less. Do not underestimate the gift and consolation of listening. Your presence is still needed amidst the changes in the life of the one who mourns, though perhaps in a different way. Before speaking, pause, and allow the other the space to lead the conversation. In your listening, inwardly invite the Holy Spirit into the moment to guide the direction and breadth of discussion.

“Speak only if it improves the silence” Mahatma Gandhi

There are times when silence can speak volumes, and others where we are called to do more than talk but are called into the do-ing of life. When my brother, having committed suicide, left this world my own mother was left initially in a world of silence. The suddenness of his passing left her,for a short time, unable to cope with the everyday essentials of sleeping, eating and caring for herself. This I realized was something that I was being asked right then and there to take to doing. The roles had in one swift moment been reversed. For the many countless nights she had taken care of me, I felt privileged to return in kind, albeit in some small way. With a toddler in tow, I cleaned, cooked and took care of everything I could put my hands and feet to. Then I would sit beside her and let my son do his magic. Reaching up, smiling and looking into the eyes of his grandma he connected, drawing her out of herself and into the beauty of the life before her. Though slowly she came out of shell shock, it would really be months before she could truly speak to any of the pain that she had felt. This time of silence to the experience of grief was her a much needed time of healing and reflection, one that could not be rushed or anticipated.

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” Washington Irving

  2.  There is no perfect response- Perhaps the most common question that continually comes forward from those seeking to offer consolation is simply, “What do I say?” There is an honest seeking to meet the pain and loss that our loved ones are facing with some sage advice or uplifting heartfelt message to ease their suffering. And yet, our words often fall short of touching the profound pain in grief of the situation. The moment we release ourselves from the responsibility of saying just the right thing, we can embrace the other with authenticity. That is not to say, however, we should speak every word that comes to the forefront of our thoughts. Strive to avoid platitudes and clichés like, “Time heals all wounds”, “Your loved one is in a better place”, “God wanted him/her with him” or “I know how you feel”. To this day, three simple words seem to be a much needed balm when spoken truly from the heart..

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty – how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.                                                Mother Teresa

3. Love –but love more. The picture of someone that is deeply immersed in the grieving process isn’t a pretty one. It is messy, challenging, and calls forth from those that love them a willingness to get dirty in the process. It requires patience and understanding holding each death and each one who grieves in the uniqueness of the moment. Comparisons or preconceived notions of recovery fail to take this into consideration. So, for all those times when our desire to console is not well received or our small act of kindness feels unappreciated…love. When they reach for support from others, or seem to have no need for support from anyone…love. When we cannot understand what is holding them back , hold on to hope and…love.

Walking with someone in their brokenness is to recognize our own brokenness too. And in helping them to find their way, we discover both community and communion in the One who brings wholeness, love, peace, and joy in the journey.



Mercy Unwrapped with Kristine Franklin



Well the on air tables were turned recently, and I was blessed to be interviewed by Kristine Franklin as part of her series Mercy Unwrapped. As a wife, mother, grandma, radio host, a writer, and a speaker herself Kristine brings a lifetime of faith experience. But in her own words she is “most importantly, a child of Jesus Christ, living and loving, growing and becoming who God intends her to be, and happy in her spiritual home, the Catholic Church.”

Thus it was such a pleasure to have this on air conversation about the presence and experience of God’s mercy in our lives. Take time today to discover mercy in your own life and in those you encounter-God’s love is so complete!




Worth Revisiting: Contemporary Christian Music

For many years, I have followed the Contemporary Christian music scene.  Going beyond the artists themselves the message of the music gives true praise to the one true Artist, our heavenly Father- while speaking quite profoundly to God at work within each one of us. Not a faith removed from the world, it is a faith that finds us in our brokenness, enables us to meet the struggles,and celebrates the victory won in Christ. Thursday’s concert with Tenth Avenue North, Sidewalk Prophets and Dan Bremnes at Plymouth Memorial Hall would not disappoint!

Image result for holy ground tour 2015


Arriving early with press pass in hand, so to speak, I made my way onto the floor and delightfully bumped into Dan Bremnes! Completely humble and unassuming, Dan who was opening that night, called out “Hey there, how are you?” I have to admit I was just a bit caught off guard at first as to why he was not backstage, but oh so thankful for this opportunity to speak with him. So easy was the conversation, that we fell into an faith-filled back and forth exchange of inspiration for songs, our own faith journeys and the importance of events like the Holy Ground Tour.

(Paraphrasing here)

ER: Where do you find inspiration when writing songs- through events in your own life or through those you encounter?

DB: “Really, it is a well that I draw from.. Important to be filled and then the writing overflows”

ER: What is important for you to keep in mind in your relationship with our Heavenly Father when touring?

DM: ‘To be grounded in the word of God. Spending time with scripture, and in prayer allows for that needed time to connect.’

ER: I’ve found that sometimes I run across a particular passage, and wonder why that scripture was intended to be read that day and then God reveals it it’s importance..

DB: ‘So true, for we know that “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known..” ‘ (Luke 8:17)

Later at the VIP “Meet and Greet” with Tenth Avenue North, I posed a similar question to lead singer Mike Donehey..

ER: We are all so busy in our lives today.. how do you connect with God in midst of the busyness of touring?

MD: “Oh that’s easy! See there is silence and solitude when touring..it’s when I come home to my three kids that it is more difficult!”      (Truth!)

The concert itself was from beginning to end a whole sharing of self to all those who had gathered. With humor, sincerity and witness there was purpose in conveying a passion for the faith and a beautiful responsibility to live that faith out loud in the world around us today.



Why I didn’t want to write..but needed to.


Today, the advice of a good friend of mine Sr. Marie Paul, a Pauline sister by vocation, echoed in my mind. “If you find yourself at a loss of what to write or how to write what you feel you need to, just write about why you cannot write.” Why? First, it gets the flow going but also there may be something there worth exploring-the reason behind why you are feeling blocked or resistant. Doing this has helped me to see more clearly what it is that is holding me back and captive.

And so I begin..no longer a slave to fear but recognizing that it is with God , with his strength and desire that I can do all things. It isn’t that I am fearful of writing, or surrendering my inmost thoughts and feelings, but that the task of writing with and for a purpose takes both time and energy. Two things that can far too often seem in short supply. For, introspectively I understand my own tendency to give fully of myself to whatever I commit to. Not treading in the shallow, I long to see things to completion and rest only when I feel I have given my all. Yet, in my desire to serve, have I neglected my own cup that longs to be filled? Is this why I am clinging to down time, and stingy when it comes to writing lately?

And still I know that spiritually that tending to the seed of a budding question, or emerging prayer through writing is more than a facet of self expression. The fruit of which has, for me, been  a window of clarification and a path of discernment. It is an opening of mind and heart to the Spirit, a discovery of areas of needed improvement,  an acceptance of mercy and a recognition that I am loved. Even still it can be a means to encourage others in their walk of faith too, who may wonder if they are alone. In need of a Savior? Wonderful, there is much companionship in the journey!  However, for this to be possible we must be authentic-sharing equally of the challenges and successes, of the sorrows and joys and of a brokenness that is only made complete through Christ.

So, it is then that I am called to write. Hanging by a thread I cannot see the entire tapestry that God weaves. Perspective. Writing spiritually becomes a way to better see the gifts that we have and understand the why behind what we are to do. Up, down, in and out his hand guides my heart towards his purpose. With each word written and each pause placed -there is a conversation between my heart and God. A seeking and a finding, and a renewed desire to stay near when I once again have strayed. “There you are!”, I say. “I am where I have always been, right beside you.” He says.

While I initially had little inclination to write today, God knew that it was exactly what was needed. Have you considered writing as a way to move your heart, or as a means of discernment? What is holding you captive today?



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