Listening to the Saints 1 – Teresa of Avila

I enjoy reading classic writings by Christians and since they are basically free on the Kindle they are very available.  So I figured I would blog on what I am reading.  Many of the most well-known classics I have already read (such as Augustine’s Confessions, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Kempis’ Imitation of Christ) and while they’d be fun to blog on, I don’t plan on getting back to them for a while.

Teresa of Avila lived as a nun in Spain in the 1500s.  She lived during the exciting time of the Protestant Reformation.  Though Spain remained strongly Roman Catholic it is an error to think the Catholic church did not change at all at this time.  In response to the Protestant Reformation the Roman Catholic church experienced what has been called the Counter Reformation.  This was focused in the Council of Trent, which spelled out many Catholic doctrines, and the founding the the Jesuits by Ignatius Loyola.

Teresa is also called a “reformer”.  She entered the Carmelite monastery in Avila at the age of twenty-one.  This monastery was known for its laxity.  She ended up establishing convents that were more simple, free of distractions from the world.  Her most famous written work is The Interior Castle.  I am reading The Way of Perfection, another of her works.

What does a nun who lived five hundred years ago possible have to say to a non-Catholic Christian male like me?

“It should be noted here that, when we desire anyone’s affection, we always seek it because of some interest, profit or pleasure of our own.  Those who are perfect, however, have trodden all these things beneath their feet – [and have despised] the blessings which may come to them in this world, and its pleasures and delights – in such a way that, even if they wanted to, so to say, they could not love anything outside God, or unless it had to do with God. What profit then, can come to them from being loved themselves?” (chapter 6)

A challenge to love God above all things?  I think that challenge is appropriate today for Christians.

Of course, we might think that if someone loves God in such a way that they would be no earthly good.  What about our friends and family?  Teresa answers:

“Do you think that such persons will love none and delight in none save God? No; they will love others much more than they did, wich a more genuine love, with greater passion and with a love which brings more profit; that, in a word, is what love really is. And such souls are always much fonder of giving than of receiving, even in their relations with the Creator himself. This [holy affection], I say, merits the name of love, which name has been usurped from it by those other base affections” (chapter 6).

I have to say that when she talks about this sort of love, she sounds like John Wesley.

A final challenge I have had from Teresa is about “rights”.  We Americans are proud of our rights, rights to things like life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I am glad to have these rights too.  Yet I cannot help but remember that Jesus lay down his rights to save us and that Jesus calls his followers to do the same.  Teresa reminds us of this:

“Anyone who wishes to be perfect, must flee a thousand leagues from such phrases as: ‘I had right on my side’; ‘They had no right to do this to me’; ‘The person who treated me like this was not right’.  God deliver us from such a false idea of right as that! Do you think it was right for our good Jesus to have to suffer so many insults, and that those who heaped them on Him were right, and that they had any right to do Him those wrongs?…To desire to share in the kingdom [of our Spouse Jesus Christ], and enjoy it, and yet not to be willing to have any part in His dishonours and trials, is ridiculous” (chapter 13)

Obviously there is some things Teresa says that sound foreign to me or that I disagree with.  She was a nun who lived 500 years ago!  But I am moved by the places where it is clear the Holy Spirit spoke through her, providing a message that still has truth today.

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