Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saint Teresa of Avila and the Gift of Suffering

Saint Teresa: Mystic. Contemplative. Imitator of Christ. Writer. Reformer. Woman. Doctor of the Church.

She was all of these things and more: she suffered from ill health and bodily pain through most of her life, a condition I relate to in my own physical challenges stemming from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and the other diagnoses I have received.

I could write so much about Saint Teresa of Avila, but this daily e-mail Saint of the Day from is simply and beautifully written:

Saint Teresa of Avila
Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. Her life began with the culmination of the Protestant Reformation, and ended shortly after the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left
her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a
contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman.

Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her own conversion was no overnight affair; it was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer,in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

In 1970 the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: Doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honored.

Today we live in a time of turmoil, a time of reform and a time of liberation. Modern women have in Teresa a challenging example. Promoters of renewal, promoters of prayer, all have in Teresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.

Teresa knew well the continued presence and value of suffering (physical illness, opposition to reform, difficulties in prayer), but she grew to be able to embrace suffering, even desire it: "Lord, either to suffer or to die." Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value."

May we all understand the value of suffering, as much as our souls cringe away from pain of any sort. I have always felt an affinity toward Saint Teresa in that she also received the gift of illness, of bodily weakness, of physical pain, and I look to women life her who have suffered as I do for comfort, for inspiration. In the bodily pain I suffer daily, I am slowly accepting the gift for what it is and am starting the process of offering it back to Christ, one ache, one shoot, one twinge, at a time.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Her bookmark is my alltime favorite prayer, I repeat it frequently each day in an effort to never forget what is most important-"solo Dios basta-God alone suffices".

God bless you Susanne!


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