How beautiful and life-giving it is to see the saints’ lives as pointers to true life! St Teresa of Avila, whose feast is today, Friday, October 15, is undoubtedly one of them. In her writings one clearly sees that her holiness was, in fact, grounded on Jesus and all the more relevant to our daily life.
Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada reminds us that our human life can be successful. Who of us does not want a successful life? If we are true to ourselves we cannot help it but admit this great truth which pervades our being. Hence, the following insights can help us to look at our lives from the view point of success.
For Teresa, our lives are authentically successful if we accept our calling to be Christ for one another. She says: Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now. Being Christ, in other words being truly successful, means complete trust in God. She reminds us: Let nothing Disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, Though all things pass, God does not change. Patience wins all things. But he lacks nothing who possesses God; For God alone suffices.
Being successful also means blooming where you have been planted. Teresa whispers to you and me: Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. And this trust in God is translated in the love of God and the neighbour. She reflects: The surest way to determine whether one possesses the love of God is to see whether he or she loves his or her neighbor. These two loves are never separated. Rest assured, the more you progress in love of neighbor the more your love of God will increase.
Loving our neighbour makes us more open to God, thus rendering our life more successful in the process. Obviously, even when we love God and our neighbour there are moments when things do not come on our way, when various problems arise. Teresa wants us to be successful even at this challenging juncture in our lives. That is why she counsels us in this way: When we accept what happens to us and make the best of it, we are praising God.
Pleasing God is essentially living our lives successfully. But if we want to please God, we have to start a relationship with him. How can we do that? St Teresa, as a Doctor of the Church, shows us the way: Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.
In order to make our life really successful through prayer, Teresa offers some very fine reflections on what prayer is. She tells us that prayer is an act of love. Words are not needed. Furthermore, prayer also means considering whom you are meeting at this special time between you and God. She makes us aware of this in her own way: Before prayer, endeavour to realise Whose Presence you are approaching and to Whom you are about to speak, keeping in mind Whom you are addressing. If our lives were a thousand times as long as they are we should never fully understand how we ought to behave towards God, before Whom the very Angels tremble, Who can do all He wills, and with Whom to wish is to accomplish. Prayer means being with the God you love. The life of prayer is just love to God, and the custom of being ever with Him. Moreover, the hub of prayer is one’s conversation with the God whom I know he loves me so much and in great detail. Teresa tells us: Prayer is a friendly conversation with the One we know loves us.
Prayer is, indeed, a powerful instrument thanks to which we can see that our life is a success, even when it is assailed by all kinds of problems. We can see it this way because we are close to Jesus. St Teresa tells us: We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.
For Teresa God is the backbone of our life’s success. She says: Desire to see God, be fearful of losing Him, and find joy in everything that can lead to Him. If you act in this way, you will always live in great peace. Teresa also helps us see our lives as precious because through them we can love the God who created and saved us. She says: Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life. . . . If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.
If our soul is the most precious thing we have in our lives then everything connected with its well-being not simply makes sense but also shows that when we care for it we are caring for our very lives. In view of this understanding Teresa gives us the following counsels:
First, Every part of the journey (of our spiritual life) is of importance to the whole.
Second: Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don’t remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.
Third: They deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will – with our thoughts, words and actions – to the will of God.
The great Teresa hammers down the point that if we truly want that our lives be successful we have to speak less and do more! Teach by works more than words.
St Teresa of Avila, teacher for a flourishing successful life, pray for us!