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A Crash Course in Prayer According to St. Teresa of Avila

Dr. Patricia Cooney Hathaway Speaks at Theology on Tap

by Katherine Tibai

On Tuesday, January 21, Dr. Patricia Cooney Hathaway, professor of Spirituality and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, spoke to over sixty young adults at the Theology on Tap event held at the Royal Oak Taphouse in Royal Oak, Michigan.

The event was organized by Patrick Howard, young adult and campus ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Detroit. He believes that these types of events are important in helping young people embrace their Catholic faith in a comfortable environment. “Theology on Tap provides a shallow entry opportunity for young adults and a better understanding and knowledge of different aspects of the faith and hopefully encourages them to grow deeper in it,” said Howard.

Dr. Cooney delivered on this idea as she broke down the complex layers of prayer into digestible pieces of information. Despite a faulty speaker system, the packed room spent an hour entranced by her overview of St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle and the saint’s method of prayer and contemplation.

Dr. Cooney explained, when St. Teresa sat down to write her book on prayer, she had no idea where to begin. She was inspired by the image of a castle and how heaven is similar in that there will be multiple dwelling places inside. Her prayer analogy has seven mansions within the castle, and each mansion draws a person closer to God and towards transforming union. Dr. Cooney described it as a transition from silkworm to butterfly: “Let it [the silkworm] die so that the butterfly can be born. Let your false-self die so that your true-self can be born.”

Dr. Cooney told of how St. Teresa says that Jesus wants you to have an enriched friendship with him, and that he wants the world to fall in love with Him through that friendship. The main way to build this relationship and strengthen this love is through habitual prayer and listening to God’s words as described in the fifth, sixth, and seventh Mansions.

Deacon Mark Tibai, transitional deacon serving at St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak and former student of Dr. Cooney, noted how poignant the malfunctioning speaker system was for this topic. He said, “It was interesting to have the noise from the other side of the bar as she talks about the need for quiet. You had to focus and pay attention, or you would miss something important.”

Taking from St. Teresa, Dr. Cooney reflected that, “Prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends. It means taking time frequently to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.” She continued to say that it means to take time out of a busy schedule to be in communion with God. There is always time for prayer even if it is only five or ten minutes in the morning. Once talking to God becomes a habit, it will be easy to find time for conversation with God, and then a natural progression to find the silence and unity of listening to what He has to say back.

The mind is like any other muscle in the human body, and Dr. Cooney suggests forming prayer muscle memory. Make a conscious effort to give God a set time and tell Him, “God, this is Your time.” It’s about showing up and letting Him do what He wants to do.

The importance of this idea resonated with Zaid Chabaan, Theology IV seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “The spiritual life is not knowing about God, but actually coming to know God,” he said. He was inspired by the large crowd in attendance and reflected that “it was helpful to see so many helped me to recognize the hunger and thirst for God which exists in the lives of so many.”

Dr. Cooney concluded her talk with a famous quote from St. Teresa that sums up our calling to strive for sainthood and to be like Christ unto others:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

by Katherine Tibai

Katherine Tibai

Katherine Tibai works in the Development and Mission Advancement Office at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.