The foundation of St. Teresa’s teaching

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 5

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.

Connie Rossini

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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5 Responses

  1. Alyosha

    I don’t think anyone would confuse Teresa for a Buddhist!

    It is interesting, though, the different perspectives of Christians and Buddhists on the two religions. Christians tend to focus on belief in Jesus or the Trinity as the primary difference. I don’t think a Buddhist would mind Jesus — and likely would very much respect the power of devotion to Jesus. A Buddhist might be more likely to say that the primary area where a Buddhism would disagree with Christianity is the belief in an unchanging self or soul.

    • Connie Rossini

      Interesting. I can see what you’re saying. Of course, our belief about the nature of man is included in our belief about Jesus. Just ask the early Church Fathers, who had to combat Gnosticism, Docetism, Arianism, and the like.

      • Alyosha

        Interestingly, I spent the weekend at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, NY. The lama, a Tibetan with very good English, was teaching on a text on inspiration, aspiration and confidence by Gampopa, an eleventh century meditation master. The lama happened to mention the Bible. First, he said that the Bible was a great text for learning English — it uses a many short words and sentences. Then he said that the Bible was very inspiring — particularly the New Testament. He referred specifically to the story of the woman who was about to be stoned — where Jesus intervened and admonished the crowd about who should cast the first stone.

        • Connie Rossini

          Yes, on these issues we can agree. Of course, Christianity is not primarily a moral system. While a Buddhist could practice many of the things Jesus taught, Jesus for us is not just a good teacher, but the Second Person of the One Triune God and Savior of the world. The relationship with Him is primary. Yesterday’s Gospel was about the greatest and second commandment–the commandments to love. And total love of God means total surrender to Him. That is where we part. I wrote a post about love that should be up some time this week or next at I’ll link to it when it goes live.

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