Today, 15 Oct 2011, the Church gives us the memorial of St Teresa of Avila, giant of the spiritual life, foundress of the Discalced Carmelites and Doctor of the Church. Her writings have assisted countless souls to holiness and her Order has produced Saints in plenty – including St Therese of Lisieux, St Elizabeth of the Trinity, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (a.k.a. St Edith Stein) and many more.
What I love about St Teresa is that she was a strong warrior of a woman. It is so good to have her as a role model, there is nothing ‘wimpy’ about her at all. God graced her with so much wisdom, and she shared it abundantly. Granting her also the grace to be able to explain her mystical experiences to others. Through her writings I visualise her saying to her fellow religious, ‘Yes, we are but weak women, yet we serve the Great King, and we can do it together with His grace, so let’s get on with it.’
Here is an excerpt from the ‘Way of Perfection’, Chapter 21….
“I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels and have found more recollection in them than in the most carefully planned books…If I keep close to this Lord and Master of wisdom, He may perhaps give me some thoughts which will help you. I do not say that I will explain these Divine prayers, for that I would not presume to do, and there are a great many explanations of them already. Even were there none, it would be ridiculous for me to attempt any. But I will write down a few thoughts on the words of the Paternoster (Our Father); for sometimes, when we are most anxious to nurture our devotion, consulting a great many books will kill it. When a master is himself giving a lesson, he treats his pupil kindly and likes him to enjoy being taught and does his utmost to help him learn. Just so will this heavenly Master do with us.”
This excerpt marks a bit of a turning point in the book, where St Teresa moves from discussing the dispositions and disciplines needed to advance in the spiritual life to meditations on each phrase of the Our Father.
Each time I pick up St Teresa’s writings they help me to get into the right spiritual place before God. I think what makes this happen is how frequently and respectively she refers to God, with phrases such as : ‘His Majesty’, ‘our Spouse Jesus Christ’, ‘King’, ‘good Master’, ‘my Lord’, ‘Divine Master’, ‘good Jesus’, ‘Eternal Father’. It is so easy for us to shrink the size of our mental concept of God, and St Teresa helps us to acknowledge our smallness and dependence on Him.
How we address God does make a big difference in our relationship with Him. The new English translation of the Roman Missal is helping us to relearn the language of faith. Compare this line from the old translation of Eucharistic Prayer III, ‘And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit’ with the same new translation ‘Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore You: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to You’. The language of humble faith expresses our true relationship with God so much better.
St Teresa of Avila, through her many writings, has helped me enormously in life and in prayer, and I thank her so much for this.
At one point in her writings St Teresa notes her great devotion to St Mary Magdalen and to St Augustine. They both had a huge influence on her life: St Mary Magdalen with her robust, vehement love for Jesus ; St Augustine in the clarity of insight into God’s ways and human history. St Joseph also had a very special place in St Teresa’s heart, and she entrusted him with the protection and supply of the convents’ needs. Without this Saintly help, she would have accomplished so much less in God’s service.
When the Vox Clara committee gets around to re-translating the Divine Office (soon I hope) may they do something about honouring St Teresa of Avila. Currently all we have is the common of doctors or the common of virgins, with only a concluding prayer specifically written. No Benedictus or Magnificat antiphon, or any other aid to help us liturgically meditate upon her life! May these omissions be fixed quickly!
St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.