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Friday, December 12, 2014

Formation Friday: Teresa of Ávila

“It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”

Teresa of Ávila also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, an author for the Counter-Reformation and a theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered to be a founder of the Discalced Carmelites along with St. John of the Cross.

Teresa was also the first of only three women to obtain the title "Doctor of the Church", the most prestigious canonization of any saint.

(Translation: She is a pretty big deal for Catholics and many Protestants.)

Last night I was talking with my friends, Evan and Breanna, and I told them who I would be writing on for today. Evan responded by saying that Teresa is like oatmeal. The first time you try it, you may like the taste but the texture sometimes has to grow on you. Especially if it is very soggy oatmeal.

Now before I get called out for comparing a great woman of God with a bowl of oatmeal, let me explain...

I liked that analogy when it comes to Teresa. Evan isn't convinced whether he likes her or not, but nonetheless we all acknowledge she is an important figure in Christian history. She was at the forefront of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and brought a mystical love for Christ back to a very rigid and overly-structured time for the Catholic Church... much like Pope Francis is seeming to do right now with the Roman Catholic Church. Not everyone likes this Pope, but no one can say he isn't doing good things. He has to grow on you. You have to get used to him. Much is the same with St. Teresa. Her words were shocking to the church in her time, and they remain today, just as shocking.

“In order that love be fully satisfied, It is necessary that It lower Itself and that It lower Itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire.”

For many, she is hard to take in. Maybe it is her story. Maybe it is her writing style. Maybe it is her experiences, or maybe, what is hardest for most to accept, it is her mystical thoughts on the nature of prayer and of God.

Her story is much too long for me to cover here, however to give a quick overview. Teresa's life can be summed up with one word: ill.

She experienced more illnesses than most, and suffered greatly from them. She drew strength from prayer, meditation, and study during these times. More than most of the people we will cover in these Formation Friday posts, one could draw great encouragement from the example and life of St. Teresa.

To put it in modern terms, she was a trooper. In everything she said and did, she persevered and God granted her a strong faith in the midst of all her trials and sufferings.

“In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

Her most famous work is "Interior Castles" which she wrote after a long fight with one particular illness in which she experienced a revelation or vision of the soul as a metaphorical castle.
Many of the quotes below are from that work and others.

Perhaps more than any other person I can highlight in these posts, Teresa is my favorite for her one-liners. There were so many for me to choose from... I couldn't. So there are many quotes, and less of my writing for us to ponder today.

“Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible.”

"Our souls may lose their peace and even disturb other people's, if we are always criticizing trivial actions - which often are not real defects at all, but we construe them wrongly through our ignorance of their motives."

"The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too. With you. With me. He journeys with us and through us."

“Any true ecstast (sic) is a sign you are going in the right direction...don't let any prude tell you otherwise”  
(Controversial much? I'm not sure I can agree with this thought, but maybe that just makes me a prude.)

“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.”  

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” 

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

“Untilled ground, however rich, will bring forth thistles and thorns; so also the mind of man.”

“Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be."

“It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.”

One final thought...

“The important thing is not to think much, but to love much.”
(That one hits home doesn't it? It does at least for me.)


Nathan Bryant

is a pastor living in Phoenix, AZ. As a student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri he majored in Biblical Leadership, New Testament Studies, and Missiology. Nathan has a combined passion for unity and discipleship in the global church.

Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our causes.
Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our boundaries.

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