October 15, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

St. Teresa of Ávila, a woman of prayer who was close to God

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.” (St. Teresa of Ávila)

Today, Friday, Oct. 15, is the Feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, one of the greatest spiritual writers in the history of the Church. St. Teresa was the founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. She was also a theologian, a religious reformer and a woman who was close to God.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called St. Teresa of Ávila (also known as

St. Teresa of Jesus) “a saint who is one of the peaks of Christian spirituality of all time.” The depth of Teresa’s spirituality is summarized in one of her most famous writings: “Everything passes, God never changes.” For

St. Teresa, calm acceptance of the fact that “whoever has God lacks nothing” is the result of a life grounded in prayer and dedicated to serving the needs of others.

We sometimes think of holiness or spirituality as a quality that is far beyond the reach of ordinary people like us. The witness of St. Teresa of Jesus tells us that the opposite is true. As Pope Francis frequently reminds us, saints like Teresa of Ávila are ordinary women and men who are close to God. Of course this immediately raises the question: How do we get close to God? Or, more accurately, how do we experience the presence of God who is already closer to us than we are to ourselves?

“God alone suffices,” St. Teresa wrote, and with these simple words she told us everything we need to know if we want to be like all the women and men who are close to God (saints).

We must begin with the absolute conviction that God alone satisfies all that our hearts desire. The longing we feel in the depths of our hearts is nothing more, or less, than our desire to be close to God, to be united with him in mind, body and spirit. This is what “spirituality” means—a pathway to union with our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

If we ask ourselves, as the rich young man did in the Gospel story (Mk 10:17–31), “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17), the answer Jesus gives is simple: “Keep the commandments” (Mk 10:19). If we ask Jesus what more is needed, the answer given is unsettling: “Sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me” (Mk 19:21). This is the road to eternal life, which encompasses the morality of the laws of love, but also requires a form of spirituality that is utterly selfless. To be holy, we must believe in God alone, and we must place God and our neighbor first, ahead of all other considerations.

If we ask ourselves, “Am I as close to God as I should be? Or as I would like to be?” the answer is invariably “no.” Even the greatest saints longed to grow closer to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christian spirituality is a journey that has many twists and turns, successes and failures, as we make our way to our life’s goal, the ultimate closeness to God that is union with him in heaven.

St. Teresa counseled her sisters, the Discalced Carmelites, to grow closer to God in prayer and in service to others. There’s nothing esoteric about this form of spirituality. It can, and should, be practiced by all of us. We really can’t expect to grow closer to God if we don’t open our hearts to him in prayer. And Jesus has told us that whatever we do to the least of his sisters and brothers, we do to him. When we serve others, we serve God. When we are truly close to our neighbor, we are close to God.

Saints like Teresa of Ávila show us in the diversity of their lives how to live the Gospel and, in so doing, grow closer to God. Their spirituality is not complicated, but it is challenging. It demands that we let go of all anxiety and fear. It insists that we trust in the providence of God. And it requires us to reject totally the idea that we are the masters of our own destiny. All Christian spirituality can be expressed simply as: “Let go. Let God.” Or as St. Teresa says, “Whoever has God lacks nothing.”

Let’s ask this great saint to help us recognize the truth of her words. St. Teresa, pray for us. Inspire us to grow closer to God by being faithful in prayer and steadfast in our service to our brothers and sisters in Christ. †

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