Blog Post

Feast Day Mini-Study: St. Teresa of Avila

September 15th
St. Teresa of Avila
1515- 1582
I’d like to cut right to the chase: In this little blog on St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila), who we Discalced Carmelites call “Our Holy Mother,” I’ll simply share three ways in which her life and teaching on prayer has touched my life. Hopefully some of these insights will enrich you as well.

God’s posture toward us

Most of us have need of continual healing in our image of Who God really is - from an aloof parental figure to the best of Fathers; from a vague deity to my loving Bridegroom, indwelling my soul through baptism, Who desires to be my eternal Spouse.

To help heal our image of God, St. Teresa offers the following truths of God’s constant and dynamic posture towards us (all taken from her book “The Way of Perfection”).  Regarding His attentiveness, “…your Spouse never takes His eyes off you” (26.3).  On His delight in our smallest movement towards Him, “Just the raising of our eyes in remembrance of Him will have its reward” (23.3).  His nearness should awe us:  “All the harm comes from not truly understanding that he is near, but in imagining him as far away. . . .For indeed we have heaven within ourselves since the Lord of heaven is there” (29.5).  Let’s often ponder these truths of our good Jesus!

Key ingredients of mental prayer

In St. Teresa’s autobiography, “The Book of Her Life,” she explains:  “…we are not angels but we have a body…Ordinarily, thought needs to have some support. If at times the soul goes out of itself or goes about so full of God that it has no need of any created thing to become recollected, this isn't so usual” (22.10).  We earthy people need helpful tools to aid our prayer.  Some tools Teresa offers are her descriptions of mental prayer:  “…an intimate sharing between friends…taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” (Life 8.5).  These last 7 italicized words are key in stirring up our affections for Jesus while making time to be alone with Him, seeking as best we can to give Him our undivided attention.

Another of St. Teresa’s teachings on mental prayer says, “Mental prayer consists of…being aware and knowing that we are speaking, with whom we are speaking, and who we ourselves are who dare to speak so much with so great a Lord” (Way 25.3).  Periodically stoking our awareness of His Majesty’s transcendence, closeness, and personal attention on us (“…your Spouse never takes His eyes off you” because He loves you!) helps to intensify our union, in faith, with the Lord.

* (For further resources on mental prayer, google the following short, but sweet - and free! - PDFs:  “Little Catechism of the Life of Prayer PDF” by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., see especially chapter 2;  and “Prayer of Recollection PDF”.)

Never give up personal prayer

Fr. Thomas Koller of the Trinity, one of my novice masters (the Lord knew I needed two!) used to encourage us:  “Never stop showing up for mental prayer, even if you feel like you’re just sitting there staring at the wall!”  Prayer is work leading us to rest.  I repeat, prayer is WORK leading us to REST.  When consecrating time for prayer, the first step - stopping, or better, slowing down to pray - is the hardest.  After that, we find that we never regret this precious time.  Yes, distractions will come.  St. Teresa, our brilliant “Doctor of Prayer,” once commented that distractions are an incurable disease in this life!  To help manage distractions, we should take a little time to slow down and recollect as we go to pray (like stretching before the game) and gently return our attention to God’s presence when our mind wanders.

However, we must never give up personal prayer!  St. Teresa seeks to light a fire under us “pray-ers” with her words:  “They must have a great and very resolute determination to persevere until reaching the end, come what may, happen what may, whatever work is involved, whatever criticism arises, whether they arrive or whether they die on the road, or even if they don't have courage for the trials that are met, or if the whole world collapses” (Way 21.2).  The holy struggle is eternally worth it!

So, as we ponder God’s posture toward us, some key ingredients of mental prayer, and the vital advice to persevere in personal prayer (especially in dryness!), let’s pause now to offer our own prayer of gratitude to our good Father for Who He is and for the gift of St. Teresa of Jesus!  (Insert your own prayer now :)

in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Fr. Matthias of the Immaculate Heart, O.C.D. Vocation Director

Carmelus Totus Marianus Est


For more reflections on this special feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, click here.