15 October 2021

Lessons in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield,
from the life of Saint Teresa of Avila

Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, and Stowe Pool … lessons this week on the life of Saint Teresa of Avila (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila (15 October), the great Carmelite mystic and a Doctor of the Church.

During my visit to Saint Chad’s Church in Lichfield this week, I picked up the parish weekly magazine, which has chosen Saint Teresa as the ‘Saint of the Week, and summarises some of her key teachings in this way:

1. Prayer

One of the key hallmarks of the spiritual heights of Saint Teresa of Avila is the importance of prayer. Even though she struggled for many years, she teaches us this basic but indispensable spiritual truth – Perseverance in prayer! Meditate on her immortal words of wisdom and memorise: ‘We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.’

Jesus taught us the supremely important truth in the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Judge. The widow, due to her dogged and tenacious insistence, finally gained the assistance of this cold-hearted judge (Luke 18: 1-8). Saint Teresa insists that we must never give up in prayer. If you like an analogy: what air is to the lungs so is prayer to the soul. Healthy lungs need constant and pure air; a healthy soul must constantly be breathing through prayer – the oxygen of the soul.

2. Definition of Prayer

Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us simple but very solid advice: define your topic before you start to talk about it. By doing this you can avoid much confusion. Saint Teresa of Avila gives us one of the classical definitions of prayer: ‘Prayer is nothing more than spending a long time alone with the one I know loves me.

A short summary? Two friends love each other! Jesus himself called the Apostles friends – so are you called to be a friend with Jesus!

3. Love for Jesus, and his sufferings

Saint Teresa gives us a hint to prayer growth – meditating upon the humanity of Jesus. Spending time Jesus, the Son of God made man and entering into colloquy with him is a sure path to growth in prayer. Try it!

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises, insists on us begging for this grace: ‘Intimate knowledge of Jesus that we love him more ardently and follow him more closely.

4. Holy Spirit: The Divine Teacher in Prayer

On one occasion, the saint was really struggling with prayer and she talked to a Jesuit priest for advice on overcoming her struggle. His advice was simple and to the point, but changed her life! The priest insisted on praying to the Holy Spirit. From that point on, following this great advice to rely on the Holy Spirit, Teresa’s prayer life improved markedly.

Saint Paul to the Romans reiterates the same point: ‘In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings’ (Romans 8: 26). Let us be led by the best of all teachers, the Interior Master of prayer, the Holy Spirit.

5. Spiritual Direction.

To attain constant growth in the spiritual life, we must have some form of spiritual direction. Spiritual blindness, we all experience. The devil can disguise or camouflage as an angel of light. And the higher we climb in the spiritual life the more subtle are the tactics and seductions of the devil – ‘who is searching for us a roaring lion ready to devour us’ (I Peter 5: 8-9).

Saint John of the Cross put it bluntly: ‘He who has himself as guide has an idiot as a disciple.’

6. Spiritual Masterpieces – Her Writings

Without doubt, one of the major contributions to the Church as well as to the world at large are the writings or spiritual masterpieces of Saint Teresa of Avila. One of her basic themes is that of the importance of prayer, and striving to grow deeper and deeper in prayer until one arrives at the Mystical Union of the spouse with Jesus the Heavenly Spouse.

Anybody who takes his or her prayer life seriously should know of Teresa’s writings and spend some time in reading some of her anointed writings. What are her classics? Here they are: Her Life, The Way of Perfection, The Interior Castle, Foundations. In addition to these texts/books, she also wrote many inspiring letters. Want to become a saint? Read and drink from the writings of the saints, especially the Doctors of the Church!

7. The Cross as the Bridge to Heaven

Jesus said, ‘Anyone who wants to be my follower must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’ Another common denominator in the lives of the saints is the reality of the cross. Saint Louis de Montfort would bless his friends as such: ‘May God bless you and give you many small crosses.’

Saint Teresa lived with a constant friend – the cross of Jesus. Her health was always very fragile; she almost died while very young. Furthermore, for Saint Teresa of Avila to carry out the Reforms of the Carmelite order, she suffered constant attacks and persecutions from many nuns in the convent who preferred a more comfortable lifestyle, from priests (Carmelites) and from other ecclesiastics. Instead of becoming discouraged and losing heart, she joyfully trusted in the Lord all the more – anyway, it was his doing.

In conclusion, may the great woman Doctor of the Church – the Doctor of prayer – Saint Teresa of Avila, be a constant inspiration to you in your own spiritual pilgrimage to heaven. May she encourage you to pray more and with great depth, arrive at deeper conversion of heart, and finally love Jesus as the very centre and well-spring of your life!

The three spires of Lichfield Cathedral and Stowe Pool seen from Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
139, former Franciscan Friary, Henry Street, Limerick

The Franciscan Church and Friary on the corner of Henry Street and Bedford Row, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Askeaton after a three-day break in Lichfield earlier this week, staying at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, enjoying walks in the countryside, following the daily cycle of prayer in Lichfield Cathedral, meeting some old friends, and finding some ‘down time.’

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in the Franciscan (and Capuchin) tradition. My photographs this morning (15 October 2021) are from the former Franciscan Friary in Henry Street, Limerick, now the Limerick City Museum.

The façade of the Franciscan Church consists of an imposing entrance, a classical pediment and a portico of four towering Corinthian capped limestone pillars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Limerick City Museum is housed in the former Franciscan Friary in Henry Street. The Franciscan Church next door has been closed for 13 years, and at present it is closed to the public.

The first Franciscan friary in Limerick is said to have been founded in Limerick in the mid-13th century, and a sign on a house in Gaol Street identifies the site of the former Franciscan Friary or Abbey.

After the Reformation, some Franciscan friars remained in Limerick, and four friars re-established a friary in 1615. They were expelled in 1651, but recovered their chapel in 1687 and rented the site of their old abbey until the 1690s, when they were expelled yet again.

In the 18th century, they moved around between Burke House, near the corner of Nicholas Street and Athlunkard Street, a site in Newgate Lane, and then in Bank Place, until they acquired a site on Henry Street in 1824. There, a new church was built in 1826. and the Franciscans moved to the new friary in 1827 when the new church opened.

However, both the church and the friary were condemned by the Franciscan Visitor General in 1873. The foundation stone for a new church was laid in 1876, and the church was dedicated by Bishop Gregory Butler of Limerick to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 18 May 1876.

The architect was the Limerick-born architect and civil engineer William Edward Corbett (1824-1904) and the builders were McCarthy and Guerin. It is said the labourers who were working on Wellesley Bridge (now Sarsfield Bridge) contributed generously towards the building of the church.

William Edward Corbett was born in Limerick on 19 April 1824, the son of Patrick Corbett. He was the architect and borough surveyor of Limerick City from 1854 until 1899, and lived at Patrick Street (1856), Glentworth Street (1863-1898) and Lansdowne Road, until he died on 1 February 1904 at the age of 79. His other works in Limerick city and county include the former Jesuit church on the Crescent, Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Castleconnell, Saint Joseph’s Church in Limerick, and the Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place. Earlier, Corbett had worked with Hardwick on Adare Manor and at Mount Saint Alphonsus.

The Franciscan Church was completed in 1886. However, it was only partially finished and work on the final extension began in 1928. The church was extended and enlarged in 1930 under the supervision of the architects AE Jones and SS Kelly.

The church was consecrated by Bishop David Keane of Limerick on 7 December 1931, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The apse of the church was not completed until 1942 when the lands behind the church were bought.

This church is a formidable exercise in classical church architecture, and the façade consists of an imposing entrance, a classical pediment and a portico of four towering Corinthian capped limestone pillars.

The vertical emphasis of the imposing tetrastyle Corinthian pedimented portico recalls Saint Audeon’s Roman Catholic Church in Dublin. The way this portico reaches over the public pavement draws comparisons with the porticoes of the Bank of Ireland on College Green and the GPO on O’Connell Street in Dublin. It was probably designed like this to emphasise its presence on this relatively narrow streetscape.

The figurative sculptures on top of the pediment are of Saint Francis, the Virgin Mary and Saint Anthony.

The church remains closed, and I have been unable to gain access, but it is said the interior was inspired by the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

The square-headed window openings to the aisle bays were adorned with triangular pediments. Large granite pillars support the nave, and the clerestory consists of round-headed windows in sets of three which are also supported by granite pillars. I am told words of a Latin hymn the Franciscans used to sing could be seen around the walls of the clerestory.

The church decoration was the work of J Hodkinson & Sons of Henry Street, Limerick. At the back of the left aisle of the church there were stained glass windows of Saint Bernardine of Siena, Saint Louis of France and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.

The apse was tiled with coloured marbles and mosaics carried out in Venice and Pietra Santa. The painted ceiling depicted Franciscan saints.

The former friary next door is a four-bay, three-storey building, built in 1876-1886, but not finished until 1929, with a ten-bay, three-storey elevation facing Bedford Row.

The friars left Henry Street on 13 June 2008. They left taking nothing with them but the Stations of the Cross. The church and friary were handed over to the newly formed Saint Bonaventure Trust chaired by the Bishop of Limerick.

In 2011, the church was the venue for an exhibition of work by local art students, when it opened to the public for the first time since the friars left. In 2014, the church and the friary were leased to the Limerick City and County Councils to become the premises of the Limerick Civic Museum and Archives.

The portico of the church emphasises its presence on a narrow street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 47-54 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 47 ‘Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48 So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute”, 50 so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’

53 When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

The Franciscan logo over the door into the former friary, now housing Limerick Civic Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 October 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church of South India’s Focus 9/99 programme, centring children in the life of the Church.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The sculptures on top of the pediment represent Saint Francis, the Virgin Mary and Saint Anthony (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A pair of houses on Gaol Lane, said to stand on the site of the mediaeval Franciscan Friary or Abbey in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)