St. Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens
“Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”
St. Teresa of Avila is considered an expert on prayer. In her many writings, she describes a four step process of growth in prayer, beginning with mental prayer and culminating in deep mystical experiences. Her writings are based on her personal experience and are deeply insightful.
Most of us pray on the first level, that of mental prayer. This is the type of prayer described in the above quotation. In this stage, prayer is a question of consciously choosing to pay attention and spend time with God, remembering and meditating on the love of God as seen through the life of Christ and His passion. This level of the journey of prayer requires our choice and active participation. God is there waiting for us to come calling, but God will not force us to stop and spend time in the divine company.
The good news is that prayer in this sense does not require hours of preparation nor does it remove the one who prays from the surrounding world. It’s wonderful when it’s possible to retreat to a place of solitude and spend time with the Lord, but when responsiblities of life and work don’t permit more than a few minutes of alone time, one can still speak with the Lord quietly in thanks or to ask for help. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about St. Teresa of Avila, she was very practical about prayer opportunities. As I stand with my hands in the dish water every evening, I remember her advice to one of her sisters: “God can be found even among the stew pots of the kitchen.”
Today as we celebrate her feast, may we remember to give thanks for the gifts God gave her and the insights she shared with us about God’s love. Let’s especially be grateful that our relationship with God is to be that of a close friend with whom we look forward to spending a few minutes of our time.
Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens
On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, when all is so uncertain in our world and so many worries seem to plague us all, I offer her reminder of what really matters. This quote is sometimes called her “Bookmark” because after her death in 1582 it was found written on a piece of paper in her prayer book.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away,
God does not change.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone is enough.
In the original Spanish:
Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante;
Todo se pasa.
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta:
sólo Dios basta.
St. Teresa of Avila - by Peter Paul Rubens
St. Teresa of Avila, also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, was a Carmelite nun, reformer of her order, mystic, and writer. She is one of only three women who have been named “Doctor of the Church.” She had a lively intellect and loved people and parties. She wasn’t afraid to argue with the Lord or to oppose those of her time who believed her reforms unnecessary and even dangerous. She experienced many years of illness, including three of paralysis. She found prayer difficult for many years and even refused to try. It wasn’t until she was middle-aged that she began her great work of prayer, reform and teaching.
Many books and articles have been written about St. Teresa of Avila. I refer you to them and to her own writings for details about her life and contributions.
I also invited Mother Marija of Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania to share a thought with us about St. Teresa. Her response:
The invitation: “What is one thing you would like people to know about St. Teresa of Avila?” To be true to Teresa one must be faithful to Teresa’s own thought, at least as well as another can understand and convey it. Our Holy Mother St. Teresa, is a Doctor of the Church, so she needs no other “recommendation” in her teaching capacity. Her own mystical life is self-described in her writings: Life, The Way of Perfection (written for her daughters the Carmelite nuns), and the Interior Castle, which book describes – even maps out – the journey of a soul through seven stages of the inner life to union with God. Again, Teresa had the Carmelite nuns in mind when writing this book, as the epilog expressly tells us. So what would I like people to know about Teresa? Simply that she is a true guide for a life of prayer – a “life”, meaning that prayer for Teresa is the WAY to God. Our Lord is, of course, the WAY and Teresa’s way of prayer is friendship with Jesus. The Way of Perfection, a life of Prayer and finding Jesus as the Way for each of us seems for Teresa to be identical. After all, she is Teresa of Jesus.
Thank you, Mother, for your contribution. May God bless you and all who seek to serve Him through a life of prayer and friendship with Jesus.
The books of St. Teresa of Avila are still in print today. You can find them listed in our discovery engine at http://www.theologika.net/search. Just enter her name and you’ll get links to her works.