On Wednesday the Church celebrated the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and Doctor of the Church. The Carmelites are celebrating the 500th anniversary of her birth with an entire year of events beginning this month. Over that time period I hope to have many vibrant discussions here about Teresa, her life, and her teachings.
Sometimes we become interested in a saint when we hear one story about him or her. We don’t always view that story from the total context of a saint’s life and teaching. With my melancholic temperament, I like to look for the unifying principles behind things. This gives me a greater grasp of the meaning of individual facts. For St. Therese, that unifying principle was a childlike trust in God.
So what is the unifying principle behind true Teresian spirituality? Intimacy with Jesus.
Now, you may be asking yourself,”Does Connie really have to point this out? Isn’t this obviously true of every saint?”
But think for a moment about some of the misunderstandings about Teresa’s teachings. The primary one we see today is equating her teaching on contemplation with New Age mysticism. When we recognize that Jesus was absolutely essential to Teresa’s spirituality, we see how far from Buddhist-influenced spiritualities it is.
Remember, although we call her Teresa of Avila, her name in religion was Teresa of Jesus. In some ways, that says everything we need to know about her.
Let’s look at a few choice quotes.
Mental prayer, in my view is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us.” (Life viii)
“Then, daughter [after examining your conscience] as you are alone, you must look for a companion–and who could be a better Companion than the very Master who taught you the prayer you are about to say? Imagine that the Lord Himself is at your side, and, believe me, you should stay with so good a Friend for as long as you can before you leave Him” (Way of Perfection xvi).
“If you are happy, look upon your risen Lord. If you are suffering trials, or are sad, look upon Him on His way to the Garden. Love to speak to Him, not using forms of prayer, but words issuing from the compassion of your heart.” (Ibid. xxvi)
“This method of bringing Christ into our lives is helpful at all stages; it is a most certain means of making progress in the earliest stage, of quickly reaching the second degrees of prayer, and, in the final stages, of keeping ourselves safe from the dangers into which the devil may lead us.” (Life xii)
If we can remember to stay by the side of Jesus as much as possible, whether in our prayer or work or recreation, we will quickly progress along the Way of Perfection. This is the essential teaching of Teresa of Avila.