October 15, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Teresa of Avila

John F. FinkSt. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila, was a remarkable woman, as the first woman to be declared a doctor of the Church would have to be. Pope Paul VI honored her in 1970. She displayed great sanctity while simultaneously accomplishing a great deal, especially the reformation of the Carmelite Order. The Church celebrates her feast on Oct. 15.

She was born in Avila, Spain, in 1515, and died there in 1582. She had poor health most of her life, and had to endure tremendous opposition from other members of the Church, including being examined by the Spanish Inquisition. She once prayed to Christ, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few.”

Her principal writings were her autobiography, The Way of Perfection, written for the guidance of her Carmelite nuns, and The Interior Castle, one of the masterpieces of mystical theology. I chose the following thoughts about prayer from The Way of Perfection.

She wondered if perhaps our prayer should simply be, “Father, give us whatever is good for us.” After all, since God understands everything so perfectly, what need is there to say more than that? It is how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although he expressed his desire and fear, he surrendered himself to his Father’s will.

But we are not perfect as Jesus was. We are less submissive to the will of God, and need to mention separately all the various things we desire.

It is true that the gift that God intends for us is by far the best, Teresa wrote, but “if it is not what we wanted we are quite capable of flinging it back in his face. That is the kind of people we are; ready cash is the only wealth we understand.”

Therefore, she says, Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” Jesus placed these two petitions side by side, she says, “because he realized that in our inadequacy we could never fittingly hallow, praise, exalt or glorify this holy name of the eternal Father unless he enabled us to do so by giving us his kingdom here on Earth.”

Teresa wrote that we must not only know what we are asking for when we pray, but also do everything in our power to please the one who is to give it to us.

She said that, of all the joys that will be found in the kingdom of heaven, the greatest for her is “the sense of tranquility and well-being that we shall experience when we are free from all concern for earthly things.” In heaven, we will be glad because others are glad and forever at peace, and we will have a deep satisfaction of seeing that the Lord is honored and praised by all creatures.

Here below, Teresa wrote, our love of our Lord must necessarily fall short of perfection. Nevertheless, “How different it would be, how much more like that of heaven, if we really knew our Lord.” †

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