Monday, March 2, 2009

St. Teresa of Avila and Spiritual Growth

St. Teresa of Avila one of the greatest mystics in the Catholic Church left us a profound treasure of spiritual heritage regarding the ways to grow in the spiritual life. For those whom Teresa considered beginners she always warned them about the necessity to grow in prayer and self-knowledge. St. Teresa likens the prayer life to tending a garden. The garden represents the heart, planted by the Lord but tended by us. Service for the Master is a great honour and delight. He walks there often and delights in the flowers which symbolize our developing virtues. Developing our prayer life is not easy, and Teresa acknowledges that the beginning stages require some hard labour, which she likens to watering a garden by drawing buckets from a well. We need to train ourselves in the ways of prayer but, just as in any discipline, rewards are sure to follow as we build upon sound instruction. With growth the required labour progressively lessens until, in the highest form of prayer, God pours out blessings as the rain falls from heaven, requiring no effort at all from the gardener.
Regarding self-knowledge she speaks about the need for humility in the First Mansion of the Interior Castle, Chapter 2, she says "(First Mansion, Chapter 2): "I do not know whether I have put this clearly; self-knowledge is of such consequence that I would not have you careless of it, though you may be lifted to heaven in prayer, because while on earth nothing is more needful than humility. Therefore, I repeat, not only a good way, but the best of all ways, is to endeavour to enter first by the room where humility is practised, which is far better than at once rushing on to the others. This is the right road;—if we know how easy and safe it is to walk by it, why ask for wings with which to fly? Let us rather try to learn how to advance quickly. I believe we shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavouring to know God, for, beholding His greatness we are struck by our own baseness, His purity shows our foulness, and by meditating on His humility we find how very far we are from being humble."


  1. Yes, St. Teresa is so wise. The older I get, the more I love her. Indeed it seems to take forever for some of us to finally figure out a bit of the person we really are inside. Without knowing our personal pitfalls how can we go anywhere, spiritually? And even if we do know ourselves, without prayer, the battle of overcoming ourselves and growing close to the God who draws us is a battle we can never win. That is one reason why guidance from those knowledgeable in spiritual matters is so important; St. Teresa spoke extensively on this, as did St. Faustina and many other saints. If scarcity of such guides was a problem in the times of these saints, how much more are they in ours. Our dear priests, especially the more enlightened ones, are over-run with petitions from parishioners, and even those outside their parishes, asking for regular guidance. This, I am sure, must leave our generous-hearted pastors to feel overwhelmed, and perhaps that they have failed somehow at being enough for enough people. It is simply not true. God always finds a way to pass His Holy Spirit on to the one who truly desires and petitions Him with confidence, usually in a way we least expect. How our Jesus makes me smile sometimes with the inventive things He comes up with--all to say "I have not forgotten you. I know you love Me, and you will know the full extent of My love for you, if you persevere in desiring to know and love Me more." There is no match for His Mercy--neither to any member of His flock who searches Him out, nor to any of His good shepherds who spend themselves in winning mercies for the souls they are given charge of, many more of whom they will NOT know they have helped in profound and significant ways, than those they are allowed by God to touch directly. Indeed, God has His ways, and His Spirit moves in and through souls, not only today, or 5 centuries ago, but He has fixed it so that we today can live in the wealth of the saints of any century, moreso than ever--just as I was able to open this blog a little bit ago and find my old friend, St. Teresa of Avila, waiting to tell me once more, something that I needed to hear. God knew it, and God entrusted one of His faithful shepherds with the inspiration to hand on her words and teaching. He does the rest. I am learning more and more what miracles confidence and obedience to His will can bring about--and miracles can certainly be found in disappointment too--two of the greatest are growth in humility and inner peace. With a long way left to go, the Light is beginning to shine.

    1. She is so sweet, teaching us patience and loyalty to prayer