Friday, October 15, 2010

Teresa, Avila, and Joy.

Today, the Church celebrates the life of St. Teresa of Avila, dear to my heart. Her Autobiography ranks right up there with Augustine's Confessions, with the added bonus that, hey!, she's female. I just love this quote from Butler's Lives, because it sums up so perfectly why we love her:

"THE HUMBLE relation which St. Teresa has left us of her own life, in obedience to her confessors, is the delight of devout persons, not on account of the revelations and visions there recorded, but because in it are laid down the most perfect maxims by which a soul is conducted in the paths of obedience, humility, and self-denial, and especially of prayer and an interior life."

That's right. It's not the Teresa of Bernini (see above), but rather the Teresa of the second image (below), the only known contemporary portrait (can someone tell me who painted it, please?). The second Teresa has thick eyebrows and looks a little stern, as though she's repeated herself several times already today. But her eyes are raised, looking up, in a practical expectation that her Spouse will visit her in prayer. She is one real woman, this Teresa.

According to Butler and "Herself" (I love the English title for the Penguin translation), she repeatedly fell from great religious fervor into a sort of unreflective, lukewarm faith.

"Who ought not always to tremble for himself, and excite himself by humility and holy fear to watch continually with the utmost attention over his own heart, to apply himself with his whole strength to all his duties, and with the greatest earnestness to call in Omnipotence to his assistance, since this holy virgin, after receiving so many favours from God, fell again from her fervour and devotion? Her prudence and other amiable qualifications gained her the esteem of all who knew her. An affectionate and grateful disposition inclined her to make an obliging return to the civilities which others showed her. And, finding herself agreeable to company, she began to take delight in it, by which she lost that love of retirement which is the soul of a religious or interior life, and in which she had been accustomed to spend almost her whole time in prayer and pious reading."

Yes. I tremble.

For twenty-freakin' years, she struggled with true devotion to God:

"Yet for a long time she continued still to pursue her amusements of worldly dissipation, and receiving visits at the grate, as if she had a mind to reconcile two contraries, which are so much at enmity with one another; a spiritual life and sensual pastimes, or the spirit of God and that of the world. The use she made of prayer made her see these faults; yet she had not courage to follow God perfectly, or entirely to renounce secular company. Describing the situation of her divided soul at that time, she says that she neither enjoyed the sweetness of God, nor the satisfactions of the world; for amidst her amusements, the remembrance of what she owed to God gave her pain; and whilst she was conversing with God in prayer, worldly inclinations and attachments disturbed her."

That means this mammoth of a mother saint was almost forty when she finally said "yes" to God with her whole heart.

"After twenty years thus spent in the imperfect exercise of prayer, and, with many defects, the saint found a happy change in her soul. One day, going into the oratory, seeing a picture of our Saviour covered with wounds in his passion, she was exceedingly moved, so that she thought her very heart was ready to burst. Casting herself down near the picture, and pouring forth a flood of tears, she earnestly besought our Lord to strengthen her, that she might never more offend him."

And He heard her prayer.

May it be so for us all.

St. Teresa, pray for us.

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