Humdingers from the Saints: St. Teresa of Avila

I like a little sass in my saints… I love seeing their “human-side”… the not-so-perfect parts. It helps me to remember that the Saints were not born with their halos, and gives me hope that maybe someday, I can be a saint too. It also makes me re-examine what it means to be holy. Particularly, that becoming holy doesn’t mean that I become some cookie-cutter version of a Catholic. It means being me- fully me.

One of the ways I’ve grown is in understanding the importance of humility and authenticity… in being honest with myself and with God. If I’m unhappy with him… I am more than okay letting him know it… and not in a flippant way. It’s like resolving any disagreement. I prefer to be direct, to clean out the gunk right away. It might be more painful upfront, but in my experience, it always heals faster. When I’m honest with God about my sometimes negative feelings towards him, he helps me to resolve those feelings. He’s not offended either. He’s a big boy… he can handle it. I learned this truth from reading about the saints.

One such Saint is Teresa of Avila. She’s really pretty bad*ss. She’s intense, I mean, she was sent to the convent when she was 16 because she misbehaved so badly at home. Convinced that she was a terrible sinner and destined for hell, she decided to stay at the convent and enter religious life in the hopes that she would have less opportunities for vanities and sin. Even so, Teresa didn’t try very hard to avoid the opportunities that were still available.

The convent was actually a pretty rambunctious place. Many of the women who entered religious life at the time did so only when they had no place else to go. Thus, their vows weren’t taken seriously. They wore jewelry, had many parties and guests, and were over-dramatic in their spiritual endeavors.

It’s a very long conversion story… years actually. Teresa got very ill, then stopped praying because she felt like she didn’t deserve God’s attention. When she was forty-one a priest convinced her to pray again. She did so, but she hated it and was anxious about it… she couldn’t wait for her hour of prayer to end everyday. Then things began to shift… and she was having intense spiritual delights in prayer including overwhelming raptures and multiple instances of levitation… and she was especially embarrassed when these things would happen in public.

Teresa did not see these things as a reward from God, but a way in which he was teaching her to love him. She even wrote of her prayer experiences as God’s way of “chastising” or reforming her. The more spiritual gifts God gave her, the less she sinned; Teresa was falling in love with her Creator and couldn’t bear the thought of offending him. This eventually led to her efforts in reforming the Carmelite order… and as you can imagine, her fellow sisters were not too happy about this. Teresa was viewed as an outsider and an enemy; the topic of much gossip and belittling. When she would write, or start new convents, she was targeted by the Inquisition. It seemed that no one wanted to be reminded that they were not living the way that God wanted them to….

Despite all her efforts to do good and turn people back towards God, she faced a lot of difficulty and hardship. You would think that God would be “on her side” and make it an easy road (I mean, he can do anything), but he didn’t. And you know what? Teresa didn’t complain about it… although she still made her displeasure in some matters obvious.

In one of my favorite stories, Teresa was traveling between convents in the middle of a wicked rainstorm when she slipped down an embankment and fell directly into mud. Irrepressibly and without fear, the fierce nun quickly admonished Jesus, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies!”

On another occasion, Teresa was praying while she was using the bathroom (Carmelites are known for living a life of constant prayer). Apparently Satan appeared and started mocking her. She of course had a witty comeback, which was cleverly illustrated over On the Grapevine.

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I truly love this. I love that I can be cheeky, that I can express my human emotions in an amusing way. I am strengthened and encouraged by the fact that being holy does not mean I have to be boring or serious all the time. Teresa showed me that piety and humor do not have to be separate things. She was charming, witty, hilarious… and an incredible Church reformer. She was not only canonized, but she’s also a Doctor of the Church. This means that the Catholic Church holds her in such esteem that they HIGHLY encourage all Catholics to follow her examples.

As a woman with a mind for sass and a heart for loving, I’m grateful for the example of St. Teresa of Avila.

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