THE MARVELS OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA
There are two weeks apart every year
in the Church Liturgical Calendar that separate two marvelous, inspiring, and
most loveable saints, who truly love us and want us to love them: SAINT THERESE
OF LISIEUX AND SAINT TERESA OF AVILA.
Saint Therese Lisieux we celebrate
October 1st; Saint Teresa of Avila we celebrate October 15th. What do they have in common? Both are women,
both are in the class of the few women
Doctors of the Church, both were great
contemplatives, both were Carmelite nuns, but most important both were and are
and will be for all eternity great lovers of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In this short essay we would like to
pay tribute to Saint Teresa of Avila and highlight ten of her great
contributions to the Catholic Church and to us as a model of holiness, that we
are all called to attain. Remember the
words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the context of the Sermon of the
Mount: “Be holy as your heavenly Father
is holy.”(Mt. 5:48) Being holy, arriving at sanctity of life, is not conditional, wishful
thinking nor something that only a select group is called to, but all. Blessed
Mother Teresa of Calcutta challenges us with these stirring words: “Holiness is not the privilege of the few,
but the duty of all.” Now let us lift our gaze to Saint Teresa of Avila who
will point us to Jesus, our Lord, God, Savior and Faithful Friend.
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 upon her
immortal words of wisdom and memorize: “We
must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” Jesus taught
us this supremely important truth in the Parable of the insistent would and the
Judge. This widow, due to her dogged and
tenacious insistence finally gained the assistance of this cold-hearted Judge.
(Lk. 18:1-8). St. 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; healthy soul must be constantly breathing through
prayer—the oxygen of the soul!
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 in the history of Catholicism. “Prayer
is nothing more than spending a long time alone with the one I know loves me.”
A short summary? Two friends loving each other! Jesus Himself called the
Apostles friends—so are you called to be a friend with Jesus!
LOVE FOR JESUS. Saint Teresa gives us a hint to prayer
growth! This woman Doctor of the Church said that she found many graces by
meditating upon the Humanity of Jesus. By spending time with 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
upon us in begging for this grace: “Intimate
knowledge of Jesus that we love
Him more ardently and follow Him more closely.”
LOVE FOR JESUS IN HIS SUFFERING.
It seems to be a common
denominator in many saints—the call to contemplate the love of Jesus through
His sorrowful passion—Padre Pio, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Faustina and
Teresa of Avila. For Teresa, she had a mystical
experience of “Ecce Homo”; she saw
Jesus with His crowned Head and this moved her to a greater love for Jesus.
HOLY SPIRIT: THE DIVINE TEACHER OF
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!
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) During the course of her life, Saint
Teresa of Avila had recourse to several spiritual directors and some of these
are now canonized saints: Saint John of the Cross (Carmelite), Saint Francis
Borgia (Jesuit), Saint Peter of Alcantara (Franciscan), and finally, Jerome
Gracian—a well-known Dominican scholar and theologian. True, all of us cannot
have three canonized saints and a brilliant Dominican theologian to guide us,
but we can and must all find some form of periodic spiritual direction. Saint John of the Cross put it bluntly: “He who as himself as guide has an idiot as a
CONVERSION AND REFORM. A major highlight in the life of Saint Teresa
of Avila was the whole concept of conversion or reform. With Saint John of the
Cross, she was the primary instrument that God chose to reform the Carmelite
Order. However, Teresa was keenly aware of this truth: to convert others we
must start with ourselves—this she worked on during the whole course of her
life on earth! Jesus’ first words in preaching were: “Be converted because the Kingdom of God is ate hand.”(Mk.1:15) May
we constantly strive for a deeper conversion of heart through the intercession
of Saint Teresa of Avila!
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 from writings of the saints, especially the
Doctors of the Church!
THE CROSS AS A 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 Reform of the Carmelite, 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!
10. OUR LADY AND SAINT
JOSEPH. During the whole course of her Religious
Life, Saint Teresa of Avila loved the Blessed Virgin Mary—as is common in the
lives of the saints, and hopefully your life! The title of her specific Marian
devotion was OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL.
Never forget, in your love for Our Lady, to wear the Scapular of Our
Lady of Mount Carmel. This is your external sign of consecration to Mary.
Furthermore, Saint Teresa of Avila cultivated a tender and filial love to SAINT
JOSEPH. She attributed her recovery from a sickness that almost ended her life
to the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph.
Also, every new convent that she established she gave the name of SAN JOSE—Saint Joseph!
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 greater depth, arrive at a deeper
conversion of heart, and finally love Jesus s the very center and well-spring
or your life!