Translated from the original by Ana Giménez.
Saint Teresa combined life in community at The Encarnación with periodic meetings outside the monastery; a group of friends “to back each other up”, usual expression which means to help each other to grow in faith. Some texts:
“O my Lord! How necessary is thy aid herein, without which nothing can be done! In thy mercy, permit not this soul to be deceived, by leaving off what she has commenced. Give her light to see, than herein all her happiness consists to avoid bad company; it is very important to converse with those who speak on such subjects, and to associate not only with those who are in the same rooms where she is, but with those also who she knows have entered further into the rooms nearer; for this will be exceedingly useful to her“ (Interior Castle 2.6).
“It is very beneficial to confer with persons of experience” (Interior Castle 2.10).
“For one who has this sickness it is a great thing to find another stricken by it too. It is a great comfort to him to see that he is not alone: the two are of mutual help in their sufferings and their deservings.They stand shoulder to shoulder, ready for God’s sake to risk a thousand lives and longing for a chance to lose them.” (Life 34.16)
“For here I found the Bishop and the saintly Fray Peter of Alcántara, and another gentleman, a great servant of God, in whose house this saintly man was staying he was one with whom God’s servants could always find hospitality.” (Life 36.1).
“For people trouble so little about things pertaining to the service of God that we must all back each other up if those of us who serve Him are to make progress.” (Life 7.22).
The group of friends used to be small, five or six people. We don´t even know the exact number, nor the content of the meetings. What is certain is that they helped each other in Christian growth.
I believe they are still the model for Christian renovation in times of massive withdrawal of religious practice, at least in northern Europe. In some regions it is threatened with extinction. An old model of living our faith is dying and another one, in a silent way, is setting the foundations of a new way of living our Christianity. We are talking about those small groups that, following the Gospel, grow as persons, pray together and learn about the main things in faith.
In my opinion, these groups should be open to receive new members and also have their doors open to allow people to come in and out.
In my view, there are two main risks, creating closed groups or convert them in “stove” groups, where people feel well but don´t need anybody else; they lose the desire to evangelize and they end up by forgetting the ultimate goal, disappearing as groups and creating new ones, as first Christians did expanding themselves in the Roman empire without being noticed by historians. They may prefer to put up three shelters and avoid going down the mountain for the strong cold, as the disciples in Tabor Mt. The practice of preaching the Gospel in groups should start as soon as possible, following Jesus example who would send the apostles in pairs when they hardly had much knowledge at all.
I have learnt a lot about group behaviour from Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. You can and you must talk in these groups about deep matters. Also keep utmost secrecy about what is said by others. Fully avoid gossiping against each other. Deep communication but not a collective confession. The sacrament of reconciliation has this aim. In case there are no priests available, as it may happen, turn to the “godfather”, freely chosen person with whom we can have a deeper relationship and spiritual accompaniment.
The help we may offer to each other will lead to praying together vocal, meditation and recollection prayer. It will also lead to learn the basics of catechism and spread- among those interested- the facts of the blessings of a spiritual life.