Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of the church and mystic. St. Teresa was born in Spain in a tumultuous time, at the cusp of the Protestant Reformation and the expansion of the world Westward. When we look at her life as a whole, she is perhaps one of the most relatable saints we can find. As a young woman, she loved romance novels. She was charming, beautiful, loved to socialize, and had quite the rebellious streak. She was incredibly scrupulous, and that fear of being a terrible sinner is what led her to the religious life. The woman we now know as saint and doctor, whose insight has revolutionized the way we think about prayer, actually struggled deeply with mental prayer her whole young life. In her thirties, complications of severe malaria left her paralyzed for three years, and even that suffering was not the catalyst to her prayer life that you might expect. In her writings, she says that in those years she hardly prayed at all. It wasn’t until she was forty-one, and a priest encouraged her to go back to prayer, that the interior life she is now so famous for began to form. Still, she says, I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don’t know what heavy penance I would have gladly undertaken rather than to practice prayer.
Her life becomes quite a remarkable story of profound encounters with God, of visions, and conversations with angels. Her book, Interior Castle, revolutionized the way we think about prayer and the ability to converse with God, with humility and self-knowledge, to attain greater understanding of his great love for us. But what can St. Teresa of Avila teach us about motherhood? How can she speak into our lives in this vocation? At the core of all of her writings, St. Teresa calls us to love. Motherhood is by nature an act of love, a pouring out of self that has no end. I know we often feel there is no time for prayer. We are growing people in our bodies, they are hanging off of our breasts, filling our arms, taking our physical and mental energy, and all of our time. And yet St. Teresa describes mental prayer as an intimate sharing between friends . . . the important thing is not to think much, but to love much and so do that which stirs you to love. Love is not great delight, but desire to please God in everything. So, you see, our lives are an outpouring of love, and therefore our lives are a prayer. Motherhood stirs us to love, and even when we aren’t delighting in it, we are desiring to please our loving Father in our giving, and that sacrifice is a prayer. St. Teresa also reminds us that we are Christ’s hands and feet to the world, and most especially to our children. She says: Christ has no body but mine. He prays in me, works in me, looks through my eyes, speaks through my words, works through my hands, walks with my feet, and loves with my heart. If we can embrace this truth, and remember that we are truly being Christ to our children, drawing them with love to the Savior of the world, and allowing that transformative love to permeate all of our work, we will not only build the Kingdom of Heaven, but we will also find eternal rest and peace for ourselves.
St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!