Readings: Romans 8:22-27; John 15:1-8
Today, October 15, we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church. It’s tough to describe her: she was such a profound and complex person. The task of overwhelming, and I’m sure many of you know her story and her spirituality far better than I do. To put it into one sentence: she was a contemplative who got a lot done. Also, she was a mystic who was extremely well grounded in reality. Who else would have said: “There is a time for penance and a time for partridge”? She was gentle and compassion, but tough as nails and didn’t hesitate to speak the truth to those in power. She followed orders even though they were meant to confine her, but she refused to stay bound.
Her times were difficult and she had many struggles, at one time her enemies had her brought up on charges before the Inquisition, but her inner peace is shown in one of her best known writings:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
Teresa came from minor nobility, her father was a knight, a very strict man and wanted to marry her off. Her mother died with she was 15, and a year later, she went to a convent, partly because her father didn’t think he could handle her. It took her quite a while to find her vocation, and after many years she was called to lead a reform of her community: at that time most convents were social groups of upper class women who couldn’t be married off, and they raised their money through hosting entertainment. Teresa wanted her community to focus on prayer and poverty. There was a lot of resistance, and she was called before the Inquisition at one point in time, but she persevered. A good woman who couldn’t be kept down: in fact, there were times when she was in ecstatic meditation she would levitate and called her sisters to hold her down so she wouldn’t fly away. She not only started a reform of her community but she also started a reform of Carmelite men with help of followers like St. John of the Cross, who was just made a Doctor of the Church himself a few days ago.
She once said: “The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.” She knew Christ was the source of everything, believed that, lived that. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus reminded His disciples that He was the wine and they were the branches; he is the source for all of us. This is part of the Gospel of John called “The Last Discourse”; the message He gives them at the Last Supper to prepare them for his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus is preparing his disciples to be on their own, so they can be messengers of the Good News without him. The three years they’ve spent with Him is just the beginning, the value of what they’ve learned and what they will keep learning will be fruit as they go forth to live the Gospel. Jesus has taught them how to listen, how to pray, how to learn, how to grow.
Teresa of Avila was a contemplative who said the proof of good contemplation was shown by a person’s deeds. One of her sayings is: “God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher.” She took time to Be Still, a lot of time to Be Still, but those hours of contemplation bore fruit for her in several books, two new religions communities, and in many ways, Avila University. We are called to be people of faith like she was: to reflect on Christ’s love and mercy, and to make that love known to all. She said: “Always think of yourself as everyone’s servant; look for Christ our Lord in everyone and then have respect and reverence for them all.” This is a call to reconciliation and justice. Her greatest call to action is probably best shown in this poem:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
your are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.