St. Teresa of Ávila, bride of the Crucified
In a Holy Hour earlier this week, I was reflecting on Mother Teresa’s intimate, personal response to the question posed by Our Lord in Matthew 16:15 – “Who do you say that I am?” – written while she was hospitalized after a fall. The prayer is arrestingly straightforward, and powerful in its simplicity (just like Mother herself, I suppose). I’d read it many times before, but yesterday it was the end of it that really struck me:
Jesus is my God.
Jesus is my Spouse.
Jesus is my Life.
Jesus is my only Love.
Jesus is my All in All.
Jesus is my Everything.
Jesus I love with my whole heart, with my whole being. I have given Him all, even my sins, and He has espoused me to Himself in tenderness and love. Now and for life, I am the spouse of my Crucified Spouse. Amen.
I had to keep reading that phrase over and over again:
“I am the spouse of my Crucified Spouse.”
The bride of the Crucified. Of all the titles I will assume when I am consecrated by my bishop this June, I can admit that this is the one I am most reluctant to own. To be the “bride of Christ” can sound like such a romantic, picture-perfect, sunshine-and-roses thing. What a life, to be married to Jesus!
But being the bride of Christ means marrying all of Him, His whole Person. In this way, it means being the bride of the Crucified One, and not only that! Not only is the bride of Christ asked to accept her Spouse’s suffering – she’s asked to share it. She must allow her uniquely sensitive, feminine heart to be conformed to all of the dispositions of Christ’s Sacred Heart. Which, of course, doesn’t sound intimidating in the least.
I’ll be honest – sometimes when I try to think about what that could mean, I’m frightened. “Bride of the Crucified?” A life full of sufferings yet unknown to me? Doesn’t seem like something to look forward to. Doesn’t seem very natural or very human to desire such a thing. Doesn’t sound consoling in the least. The prayer of my heart this Lent has been: I am not very good at suffering, Lord! How can I learn love the Cross?
That phrase – “spouse of my Crucified Spouse” – kept resounding in my mind throughout the Holy Hour, and I kept trying to get away from it because I didn’t know what it meant, and didn’t really want to know. I was still thinking about it when I walked out of church and ran into some ladies from the parish. We’d just started chatting when we were approached by an elderly priest who I’d been hoping to meet for some time. (He has such a reputation for sanctity that I’d been hoping for a chance to be near him and hopefully “soak up” some of his holiness and wisdom.)
When I introduced myself and briefly explained that I was in formation to become a consecrated virgin, Father’s face lit up, and he took my hand, saying: “Oh, God bless you, dear!” And then, without missing a beat: “You know, there is nothing greater, no power greater than the power of the Cross. When things get hard, when you’re tempted, just remember that: the Cross. Make the Sign of the Cross and the devil will have to flee.” With that, he grinned, gave me his blessing, and left.
I was speechless. Not only had I been praying for weeks for guidance to help me overcome a particular temptation (the Sign of the Cross – I feel pretty foolish for not having thought of that!), but I had also been asking the Lord to use this Lent to teach me how (and why?) I am supposed to love the Cross. Then this little priest came out of nowhere and spoke straight to my heart.
The reading for Evening Prayer that night had been from the Letter of James – Submit to God; resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you (James 4:7-8) – and when I remembered that, I had an epiphany.
Becoming the “bride of the Crucified” shouldn’t frighten me, because that’s really just another way to talk about drawing near to Jesus. Love the Crucified One, love the Cross. So long as I cling to the Cross, none can touch me. So long as remember the Cross, the devil will flee. And when I embrace Christ Crucified, He will be nearer to me than I am to myself – and that is a very consoling thought, indeed.
“Yes, I love the Cross… I love it because I always see it behind Jesus’ shoulders.”
– Padre Pio of Pietrelcina