‘When you start to pray, never stop again, even if your life is bad. For prayer is the way to change your life, and without prayer such change will be much more difficult… And for those who do not pray yet, I implore them by the love of the Lord not to deprive themselves from such a great good… If you persevere in prayer, I have good hope that you will receive the mercy of God, for no one ever became his friend without being rewarded amply. Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.’
– St Teresa of Avila
St Teresa of Avila – Feast: 15th October
Teresa was born into a Spanish noble family in Avila, Spain, and grew up to be a beautiful and proud woman. She loved romance stories, nice clothes, flirting and rebelling. When she was 16, her strict father sent her to a convent to be controlled and educated. After an initial rebellion, Teresa started to like the convent, partly because the discipline was less strict than her father’s. When she reached a good age for marriage, she had difficulty in making up her mind. A nun’s life did not seem much fun, but marriage had not made her mother perfectly happy either. Teresa was convinced that she was a very sinful girl. She decided to enter a convent of Carmelite sisters so that she would be better protected against sin. Monastic life proved not to be very strict: her sisters, who had promised to leave their worldly lives behind and live only for Jesus, were leading a mundane life with jewellery, vanity, and many visitors. In fact, life in the convent led Teresa to pray less and less.
Some 20 years into monastic life, at the insistence of a kind priest, Teresa decided to start praying again. This was very difficult, as she encountered many distractions in her prayer, and it required great persistence. You may recognise her experience: “My mind is so wild that it seems to be like a frantic madman no one can tie down”. But eventually her persistence was rewarded. She received many graces and even visions of Jesus in her prayers. She loved him more and more and spoke very openly to him.
One day she realised in prayer that she was too attached to friendships. This discovery gave her a lot of interior freedom, and while she dedicated less time to them, for her real friends she became even a better friend, without false attachments. She was a lovable person who enjoyed life and a good laugh. She loved Jesus above all. One day, she was travelling in bad weather along a muddy stream. Her carriage got stuck and she tumbled into the water with her belongings. As she complained to Jesus, he said: ‘That’s how I treat my friends’, and she replied promptly: ‘No wonder you have so few friends.’ This made her think. Precisely because Jesus had so few friends, Teresa felt they had to be good friends. So she decided to do what she could to reform her own life, and the Carmelite order. A simple life of prayer and poverty was what she envisioned. She encountered a lot of opposition, and even inquiries by the Spanish Inquisition. But her faith was strong, and she was convinced of the power of prayer. Part of the opposition was because other sisters did not wish to change their lavish lifestyles. But she succeeded and founded many new convents.
O God, who through your Spirit raised up Saint Teresa of Jesus to show the Church the way to seek perfection, grant that we may always be nourished by the food of her heavenly teaching and fired with longing for true holiness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Deus, qui per Spiritum tuum beatam Teresiam suscitasti, ut requirendæ perfectionis semitam Ecclesiæ manifestaret, da nobis et cælestis eius doctrinæ pabulo semper nutriri, et veræ sanctitatis desiderio accendi. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
Is Prayer a Waste of Time? Answers from St Teresa of Avila
In her writings, St Teresa deals with the practical questions her sisters have: Is prayer a waste of time? Does prayer really bring souls to God? Teresa’s response is that the devil often gives great desires – daydreams – ‘so that we will avoid setting ourselves to the task at hand, serving the Lord in possible things.’ But what if there are no great things to do for Him? – ‘My Sisters, what I concluded with is that we shouldn’t build castles in the air. The Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done’.
The Interior Castle
Shortly before her conversion, Teresa had a vision of hell, in which she found herself confined in a tiny, noisome hole. For a soul as expansive as Teresa’s, to be confined like this would truly be hell. But this generosity and expansiveness of spirit was a charism not for herself alone, but a legacy to be passed on to her daughters and to all who would learn from her. While a Carmelite is restricted in her surroundings, there is no limit to her spiritual dwelling, which is no less than the palace of the King of kings.
This palace or castle Teresa sees as consisting of seven rooms or mansions, leading from the outside inwards towards the innermost room where God dwells. She describes the outer rooms where there were snakes and vipers of worldliness and distractions. Did she realise that those years when she felt herself far from God were in reality the first steps in her journey to the indwelling of God within her deepest being?
She takes the soul through the mansions of the palace, but insists that in reality it consists of an infinite number of rooms or mansions leading off from the ones she describes. No one soul is led in exactly the same way – the infinity of God is the only limit. What is required is an increasing conformity to the will of God, an increasing capacity to receive and to reciprocate the love of God.
Teresa hastens towards the two final mansions, which, she says, are closely joined, with the soul passing from one to the other. This is the deepest union of the soul with His Majesty, as she loves to call Him; but there is a surprise. Rather than seeing it as a state of continual bliss, she warns that courage is needed – there will be many hardships and trials, for if one is totally united to Jesus, then one is called to share in his Passion.
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