Today is our daughter’s 19th birthday, a happy occasion I always love to celebrate. I recall back when Kieran’s second birthday was approaching that my father-in-law commented casually, “I always remember Kieran’s birthday, because she was born on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila.” Knowing he had grown up in St. Teresa of Avila Parish on Cincinnati’s west side, I immediately grasped the significance. I was also intrigued, because I knew nothing of St. Teresa at that time.
Eventually I learned that she’s a great saint with whom to share a special day. Born in Spain in 1515, Teresa grew up in a large family and had a lively personality. As a child, Teresa was captivated by the idea of becoming a martyr and set out with her brother to the “land of the Moors,” but their uncle stopped them on the way out of town. She entered a Carmelite convent at age 20 at a time when personal wealth impacted religious life. Nuns were able to have private suites with servants and often entertained visitors. Teresa settled into this lifestyle until around age 40, when she experienced a deep conversion. Subsequently she felt called to a life of greater simplicity and contemplation which led to her founding reformed monasteries across Spain where a stricter rule was observed. Through much of her life, she was plagued by ill health due to malaria but carried on despite these struggles. She came to regard prayer as friendship with God and had many mystical experiences, which she wrote about in several books. During her life Teresa was the target of criticism and suspicion because of her reform efforts and because some thought her visions were “from the devil.” What I love about Teresa of Avila is that while it’s possible to present her story in a very pious, spiritualized way, it’s clear from her own words that she always had a certain spark – a dry wit, a flair for sarcasm, an ability to laugh, down-to-earth encouragement – that makes her appealing even 500 hundred years later.
“Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”
“The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.”
“To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.”
“There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”
“To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience.”
“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.”
“I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.”
“It is here, my daughters, that love is to be found – not hidden away in corners but in the midst of occasions of sin. And believe me, although we may more often fail and commit small lapses, our gain will be incomparably the greater.“
“All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted.”
It is true that we cannot be free from sin, but at least let our sins not be always the same.
(said of God, after her wagon turned over in the mud) “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”
(About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church.) “Don’t go by one text only.”
“Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don’t remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.”
“God save us from gloomy saints!”
“I cannot think why we should be astonished at all the evils which exist in the Church, when those who ought to be models on which all may pattern their virtues are annulling the work wrought in the religious Orders by the spirit of the saints of old.”
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”