St. Teresa of the Andes & Chapel Rats

by Therese Ivers, JCL

One day, as I was helping out a friend in the sacristy, she mentioned something about “the chapel rats”.  My friend was not referring to rats scurrying about – for as far as I know, there were none in the building.  Rather, she was talking about those who spend practically all their time in the chapel, every day, in the mistaken notion that it is more holy to spend one’s life in the chapel or one one’s knees rather than to lead a balanced lifestyle.  This tends to be a common error in those discerning their vocations.

People who are single who are discerning their vocations should pray, yes.  Prayer is  very good thing.  But to spend 4, 5 hours a day in the church, working at a job, and then spending another hour or two on spiritual reading and research on communities or charisms each day is usually unwise.  Why?  Because the laity have a special mission in the world.  They should participate in a prudent manner in the civic, social, family, and spiritual spheres.  Volunteering, political activism (even just folding envelopes), building family and social ties, getting enough exercise, healthy meals, etc. are proper activities for those who are free from community or spousal ties. These should all have a slot on a single person’s calendar.

The role of the laity is to be beacons of light in the world.  Lay persons, especially singles, whether they are minors or whether they are working adults, should live out their state in life according to their circumstances.  In certain areas, it may be too dangerous for a young, single woman to minister directly to the homeless.  But surely she can help someone learn to read or volunteer for a day to bring meals to a family in need or do some work of corporal or spiritual work of charity.  A man might consider helping out single mothers with repairs around the house (observing all proprieties) or doing a spiritual or corporal work of mercy on a regular basis or as they are called for.

The single person should not forget that he/she is a human being.  Having appropriate hobbies, growing in knowledge, interacting with other people and families, participating in cultural enrichment activities, etc. is an integral part of developing one’s humanity.   Of course, a person might object, “I’m discerning a vocation!  I’m in a different situation than other singles.  I need to be holy and learn what God is calling me to.  It’s a waste of time to be normal and participate in all these ‘worldly’ activities!”

Again, it is extremely important that the single person pray, do a daily examination of conscience, go to Mass frequently, etc.  However, the Church reminds us that the laity have a mission in the world.  If you don’t know where you are being called whether by vow, ordination, or consecration, the holy thing and proper thing to do is to live your state in life well and fully.  Even if you know you’re being called to the ordained life or consecrated life or marriage, for now you are still single and lay!

Is it too “worldly” to be active in politics, volunteerism, etc.?   Will it make a person less “holy”?  Will it distract me from God?  The answer to this question is that if these activities are done well, prudently, and in accordance with one’s path as discerned in the concrete circumstances of life, they should help the person to grow in holiness, their humanity, and happiness.

To my mind, St. Teresa of the Andes is a perfect “modern” example of how holiness can be found in every day life.  Most of St. Teresa’s life was lived as a lay person.  She was great at sports, loved airplanes, went horseback riding, went to the opera, played the piano, took care of a poor orphan, lived a social life…  and yet, she was extremely holy!  It was only the last 11 months of her life that she became a nun.  She agonized over her discernment – like so many people do today.  She didn’t know which order she was called to.  But, while she was discerning and growing up, she lived a normal lifestyle for the people in her family situation.  Yes, she prayed, prayed intensely, but she also partied.  She was a lay woman, and she was very holy.

It is because I think St. Teresa of the Andes is an attractive, easy to relate to saint, that I spent quite a bit of time contacting people in Chile, EWTN, and other places to see how the TV series on her life could be republished on VHS or DVD a couple years ago.  This series is one of my favorite movies because it shows how a person can be normal and holy and that a holy person is surrounded by the same problems everyone else is.  To my great delight, I just discovered that Ignatius Press has released the series in DVD format. If you wish to help support the work of this website, you can order this set below by clicking on the picture:

St. Teresa of the Andes

(c) 2009 by Therese Ivers, JCL.

All Rights Reserved.

This entry was posted in Consecrated Life, contemplative, private vow, Religious, Religious Life, single life, single state, vocations, Vows and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to St. Teresa of the Andes & Chapel Rats

  1. Elizabeth D says:

    I was involved with politics before I returned to the Church. My politics were decidedly not the Church’s politics, though I have since awkwardly embraced the Church’s positions on various matters, even if my feelings haven’t adapted. I gave up politics, which no matter which party you are affiliated with easily becomes a kind of competing religion with its own loyalties and ideology. I have given up voting too since my diocese distributed literature stating that the only issues Catholics may vote on the basis of are abortion and gay marriage and not any of the issues I’ve deeply cared about all my life, and various bishops claimed it is a sin to vote for the candidates that I would have voted for, if I had voted my conscience. I still feel almost nauseous thinking about it, as I feel nauseated by the whole spectacle of the culture war. Yet you claim lay people are required to be political? I am not convinced, no matter which Church documents recommend that everyone should be political. Some, like me, are too at war within themselves in regards to the Church’s guidance vs the way we actually feel, leading to impossible situations of conscience. And, I think we need some people to be political and to work for good in that sphere, and we also really need some people NOT to be political, to be little, to live life on a personal scale, to love their neighbors, to be peacemakers.

    I’m also the poster child of the lay person whose life is centered on going to church. A dedicated celibate and legally disabled and therefore no job, and far from parents or relatives, and not that interested anymore in anything secular, Church is my family and my life. My parish has adoration from 8-9, Morning Prayer and 9, I go home and then come back at non for Mass. There is also a Perpetual Adoration chapel nearby. I also pray at home of course. Everyplace and every time is a good place and time to pray. This is not to say I pray well or fruitfully or with excellent attention, but I am devoted to prayer.

    In short, I am the antithesis of “Christifideles Laici,” a document which made me feel I was entirely failing to “perform” the lay vocation, a vocation I had no sense of being divinely called to nor having any human aptitude for. I am not married (have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom), not a professional (legally disabled), not political, not involved in the culture, etc. These are the things Christifideles Laici associates with the lay state. I do not do these lay things. I pray. I do a little volunteer work (including serving the homeless).

    What is the meaning of my life? Where is the place for me? The priests, sisters and other wise people I have consulted in my vocational discernement have impressed upon me that I am not fit for religious community life or for various other means of consecration. After pursuing the consecrated virgin vocation and even being encouraged by the diocesan vocations director and a CV I know, only to discover that this vocation is widely considered to be only for women who are virgins in the physical sense. What this has to do with wanting (and feeling an absolute confidence of being called) to devote oneself in celibacy and single heartedness for Christ Who has taken away my sins, I have no idea, but I felt awful humiliation and grief. That’s not my only disqualification, though, my mental health and social functioning is probably not good enough to reflect well on the diocese in that vocation. But I am restless and uncomfortable, wanting an ecclesial means of offering the gift of myself, or any fitting means.

    I am a Secular Carmelite (OCDS) novice. One ofthe other Secular Carmelites thinks I should be a diocesan hermit. I do love the Carthusians. However, I suspect this might not be as humanly healthy for me as the Consecrated Virgin style of life. And there is presumably the same issue of my personal weaknesses reflecting poorly on the diocese or even on Christ. Do I overstate it? I don’t know.

    I have a very, very wonderful spiritual director, he is from heaven. My spiritual director is so wonderful, such a consolation and a joy, an entirely unmerited gift from God, he is so much Christ to me, that I have no possible excuse for clinging to the many bitternesses that try so hard to cling to me. Demons go away! Pride go away! Anger go away! Lust go away! Vainglory go away! Gluttony and greed go away! All of you go away and leave me in my poverty, in the presence of my God! What vocation have I got, or has anybody got, no matter where they fit in ecclesially, what part of the Body they are, but to be poor and to know oneself in relation to God Who loves us, and to love one another.

    It is 2am, that is the explanation for this post.

  2. a newly consecrated virgin says:

    Elizabeth D.,

    I hope Therese won’t mind me addressing you on her blog.

    Have you ever thought about making a private vow of celibacy? This wouldn’t change your state in life or establish you as a canonically “consecrated” person, but it would still allow you to make a real commitment to Christ. And even though a private vow is not publicly received in the name of the Church, you can still have other people or your spiritual director with you when you make a private vow.

    And you would be in good company—there are lots of saints in the Church’s history who simply made private vows, such as St. Joan of Arc, St. Catherine of Siena, Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, and St. Gemma Galgani (who also struggled with disabling heath problems).

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I’m not that sure whether I have already made a private vow, in a kind of “indirect” way, by strong insistence of my dedication to celibacy for God in the face of priestly skepticism. The particular priest I am thinking of, who really gave me a hard time, later would often exhort me in confession to “live your consecration to the full!” and other priests also have told me similar things. I had the sense of having been consecrated by my fighting insistence on my lifetime commitment to God, versus painful skepticism. This is nothing so clear and serene as kneeling in front of an altar and reciting a formula, but whether God (or spiritual theologians) views it as a vow, I do not know. Since a private vow has no canonical status, who is to say if it is valid, but God? Maybe I should ask my spiritual director. For some reason I feel shy asking him about private vows.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    To make it clearer, the priest who gave me a hard time felt like one shouldn’t commit one’s whole life, but should leave open the possibility that one might later fall in love and want to get married. To me this attitude was opposed to the sense of vocation that I felt, and my desire to give the gift of myself in this way, not to mention already being in love, with God. This was an old religious order priest, for 40 years a missionary in Africa, whom I really love and respect, who felt like he was being realistic, but in this case didn’t understand at first.

  5. motherov4 says:

    To refer to parishioners who, for whatever reason, feel called to spend lots of time in prayer in the chapel,to refer to them as “chapel rats” is extremely demeaning and uncharitable, to say the least. There’s a lot of judgmentalism going on here. Could it not be possible that God has opened up windows of time for these folks to spend with Him in the chapel?

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