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October 15, 2008
“And nothing would again be casual or small…” Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila . Daughter of the Church, Doctor of the Church, mystic, Carmelite reformer and foundress, for everything she was, she was fully herself: she was authentic. I love the story of her long awaited visit to one of her Foundations. The nuns had lovingly prepared her favorite meal of partridge. St. Teresa arrived and had barely crossed the threshold of the convent when, spying the cooked bird, she immediately set upon devouring it as the nuns watched in shock. Looking up, she acknowledged their astonishment by saying with an educating sincerity: “Sisters, when I pray, I pray, and when I eat partridge, I eat partridge.” In life she is said to have been magnetically attractive; even when we read her works today, her passion for the Lord and her courage in carrying out His works seem to communicate themselves to the reader, setting heart after heart ablaze down the centuries.
But St. Teresa’s life wasn’t all fervor – her courage was first exercised in accepting, after a long struggle, the greatness for which her soul was meant. She entered the convent at age 21, but it was years later – at age 39 – that she truly gave her fiat to the Lord. She tells us in her Autobiography that before that total surrender, her soul was tormented by mediocrity. She wasn’t in mortal sin, but her soul was constantly in danger because she was literally caught in the snare of habitual venial sin – she liked being liked by others, and she allowed herself to be drawn along by the current of the crowd, despite knowing in her heart of hearts that God was asking more of her.
So what propelled St. Teresa out of the mud and into living water? After almost 20 years of roller-coasting up and down between holy desire and moral mediocrity, she began to pray more deeply, despite her faults, and she prayed through the trials of seeing those faults more clearly. She increasingly came to trust that the disquiet in her heart reflected a reality - something had to change in her. And she also became increasingly aware that she was powerless to do the changing. One night, she slipped into the chapel to pray and saw an image of the suffering Jesus which had been placed there for a feast. As she gazed at our Lord wounded for love, St. Teresa was so deeply moved she felt her heart would break, and she was filled with deep sorrow for her weak response to so tremendous a love. In that moment she crossed the threshold of trusting abandonment: “I threw myself down beside Him, shedding floods of tears and begging Him to give me strength once for all so that I might not offend Him…placing all my confidence in God. I believe I told Him then that I would not rise from that spot until He had granted me what I was beseeching of Him.” She was made free, and began to live out her Amen – her total yes - to the Lord. And what an Amen it was.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know we, too, need conversion, deeper conversion. We may have moments of fervor, of desire to be totally for the Lord but when given the opportunity to actually live by that desire in the small things, it is remarkably easy not to. It is easy to let venial sin become casual, almost expected, to not think twice about gossiping, or making rash judgments about someone, or even lying, to cower when someone brings up issues like abortion or same sex marriage. But these failings, while not separating us totally from the love of God, offend the love of God – they wound Jesus’ Heart and they impede our becoming Saints. We know this, and when we recognize them in ourselves, we can get discouraged into thinking the spiritual status quo is our permanent territory. But this is not the promise He gives us! Integrity is what we seek and what gives peace – it’s the promise of living as sons and daughters of God. “Holiness” is connected with “wholeness.” And the opposite of integrity is duplicity, a kind of deceit within ourselves. Though it’s easy to stay there, who really wants to?
Here we are in October, in the midst of the 40 Days for Life, Respect Life month, Our Lady’s month and in preparation for an election. Is there a better time than now to place ourselves in trust before our loving Savior, to allow His gaze of mercy to penetrate the deepest recesses of our hearts and to leap with abandon into the promise of life He offers? He wants to light us on fire and awaits our confidence in His power to do so. My goodness, the whole world awaits our confidence. May there be a chorus of Amen’s rising from the earth, allowing His Holy Spirit to pour out power and love anew upon our world so thirsting for the change only He can give.
St. Teresa of Avila , pray for us!
Check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church # 598, 1432, 1487, 1863