Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel on Prayer
by Thomas Dubay, S.M. (1989)
This is widely considered Fr. Dubay’s master work. It’s like a key that helps to unlock extra meaning from his other books. It is also the best preparation to reading St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross for yourself. Without this preparation, I am certain I would have given up, or maybe not even tried in the first place.
The greatest thing about Fr. Dubay is, while it is initially far from obvious, he says what he means and he means what he says. Repeated readings make that impression stronger and stronger. He is thoroughly convincing because of this. I cannot think of another author for which I could say it quite that way. He is unique in that regard.
From Chapter One, “A Question of Relevance”:
Because we are all without exception called to the heights of holiness, this volume is emphatically intended, also without exception, for all men and women in every way of life. When later we examine the inner reasons why this must be so, it shall become clear why our two saints are accurate in their assessment and fully in accord both with Scripture and the mind of the Church.
– pg. 4
A book on advanced prayer is a book on advanced joy. It is a love story, a book about being loved, and loving, totally. It is a book on holiness, the heights of holiness to which the Gospel invites everyone.
Still, we must face the fact that there are people who think the message is too good to be true. Strange as it may seem, among these people are not a few contemporary priests and nuns. It is regrettable, but understandable, that there are those that reject it out of ignorance, men and women who may know of our two saints only from hearsay, not close contact. Not infrequently, among these are religious who were told in their early formative years that Ss. Teresa and John “are not for you” and who could not find these saints’ works in the convent library, for they were erroneously judged as dangerous. Others, very likely, have heard stray bits about the nada doctrine and supposed it was only one spirituality among others that one could take or leave with impunity. Invariably these are people who have so tenuous a grasp of the New Testament that they would be astonished to learn that these two Carmelites say nothing significant that is not already in the Gospels and the canonical Letters of Paul and Peter, James and John. It is one of the tasks of this volume to show this last point to be true.
But how do we face the further fact of people who have read the sanjuanist and teresian works and who either misunderstand the message or forthrightly reject it? Few if any of these are serious scholars, but they do include some nuns, friars and priests. It may be useful to listen to their objections and respond briefly to them before proceeding further.
Perhaps the most frequent objection bears on the nada doctrine, the drastic detachment taught by both Teresa and John but especially emphasized by the latter. Death to one’s senses and desires is unhealthy if not impossible, it is said, and we understand better today that we can find God not in negation but in affirmation, joy and celebration. Mortification, penance and self-denial are considered to be of the old school, whereas an emphasis on delight and jubilation is more appealing nowadays.
The full response to this objection may be found positively explained in our chapter on freedom, for thorough understanding is the best answer to partial views. A few short comments will suffice for now. People who argue against detachment and self-denial are perhaps unaware that they are simultaneously rejecting the same teaching found in the New Testament. Jesus lays it down that to be his disciple, anyone and everyone must “renounce all that he possesses”, not just part or most of it. In Titus 2:12 we read that “what we have to do is give up everything that does not lead to God”. John and Teresa ask not a whit more . . . or less.
– pp. 5-6