“Be gentle to all, and stern with yourself.” ~~ St. Teresa of Ávila
One of the (many) things I like about Santa Teresa de Jesús is the way she seems to contradict herself. I contradict myself too. But then if you read Jesus carefully in Holy Scripture even He seems to say one thing and turn around and say almost the opposite a few chapters later. Know what I mean?¹
We humans are a complicated and contradictory lot. But then Life is a strange and confusing journey at times, isn’t it?
So what does Teresa mean when she says on one hand that patience attains all, but on the other to be stern with ourselves? Which is it? And is she even referring to prayer in these quotes? Good questions! With Teresa, one never knows ... exactly—which is why it is very dangerous to take her out of context, just as it is to take Our Lord's words apart from, or out of, Holy Scripture. And even reading her writing in context, one must be very careful, as she freely admitted, which is why she was stern with herself; she knew herself. She knew and recognized her own shortcomings—and that is the real point of that second quote.
Recently when I was reading Father Christopher Renger's The 33 Doctors of the Church, I discovered Teresa’s title was “Doctor of Prayer”. In light of what I've been trying to write about and do in my own life, I was amazed by this. And yet, why so? If we Catholics truly believe that it's God who passionately loves us and initiates all, then why is it so strange to think that our patron saints choose us and are actively involved in our lives?
Ever since watching the mini-series on Santa Teresa many years ago, I’ve been drawn to her like a fly to honey. I share her enthusiasm for books, love her sense of humor, have a deep affection for my brother and know I possess all of her faults without having yet acquired her virtues. Still, when I visited her home town of Ávila (in 2007) I begged for her help and protection—and believe she is giving it to me every day.
In a previous post, I spoke about my firm belief in the Communion of Saints. Every time we say the Rosary or the Creed, we say, “I believe in the Communion of Saints!” Do we mean it? Do we really mean it?! We call – and call on – our earthly friends all the time, but what about our Heavenly ones? They are nearest Him who we profess to love. They long to help us in our prayer. Ask them to help you. Beg for their help every time you pray ... which is also becoming the poor beggar.
Begin all things in prayer and be a beggar when you pray.
'“To make a lame man walk without a limp is less absurd than to try and succeed without Thee, my Savior” (St. Augustine). Why do my resolutions bear no fruit? It can only be because my belief that “I can do all things” is not followed by; “in Him Who strengtheneth me.” And this brings me, then, to that part of my prayer which is in certain respects the most important of all: supplication, or the language of hope.
Without Your grace, Jesus, I can do nothing. And there is absolutely nothing that entitles me to it, Yet I know that my ceaseless prayers, far from irking You, will determine the amount of help You will give me, if they reflect a thirst to belong to You, distrust in myself, and an unlimited, not to say mad, confidence in Your Sacred Heart. Like the Canaanite woman, I cast myself at Your feet, O infinite goodness. With her persistence, full of humility and hope, I ask You not for a few crumbs but a full share in this banquet of which You said: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”' ~~DOM JEAN-BAPTISTE CHAUTARD, O.C.S.O.
Which Beloved of God has chosen you? Is calling to you ... asking you to continue 'to do the will of Him' by following in that Saint's footsteps?
¹ Matthew 10:34 and Matthew 26:52