St Theresa of Avila

(central Spain) Virgin, Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven this day in 1582)

Dear Daniela,

I commend you for your efforts to find the shortest route to holiness and happiness.  Would that my other nieces and nephews made such a priority switch! But I have to chide you a bit anyway.  As I have often said, the fastest route to inner strength, peace, and beauty is also the simplest: it’s Christ.  “I am the way” he told us, and he didn’t lie. You should, of course, study the ways of spiritual growth, but always in the context of seeking to know, love, and follow Christ better.  Christ is all you need. That was the great lesson that today’s remarkable (and remarkably influential) saint took half her life to learn, and the other half to teach.

She was the most normal of children, exhibiting a love for the faith (quite natural considering the prominent role of the Church in sixteenth-century Spain), but also a fascination with fashions and romance and the sparkle of high society.  When she began to listen to her conscience and felt the tug of her religious vocation, it was hard for her to accept it. She had to battle against contradictory desires in her own heart, and opposition from her beloved and devoted father. When she finally did enter the convent, she fell into the widespread spiritual mediocrity that plagued Spanish religious life, and for years enjoyed all the dissipation of the nuns’ peculiar social life (the convent was one of the busiest of Avila’s social parlors).  But God’s love wouldn’t leave her alone. A good priest here, a saintly layman there – bits and pieces of sound spiritual advice combined with special favors in her prayer (and with plenty of trials – especially long illnesses) connived to lead her down a path of ravishing intimacy with the Lord. Levitations, visions, interior locutions, trances, angelic visitations – God showered her with extraordinary signs of his love, because he had an extraordinary mission for her to carry out.

At the suggestion of a young nun, she discovered what it was: reform the lax Carmelite lifestyle, and begin a new foundation in which the nuns dedicated themselves seriously to prayer, simplicity, work, and the love of God.  This she did, having to overcome a whole range of mountainous obstacles (from her sisters, from the clergy, from lay people, from townspeople, from her own followers…) in order to lay the foundations of thirteen new Discalced (“unshod” – they wore sandals instead of shoes as part of their rigorous poverty) Carmelite convents for nuns and two for monks.  Admittedly, Theresa was endowed with uncommon natural qualities of good humor, charm, wit, intelligence, and prudence, but it was because she generously put those talents (plus her burning, passionate heart) at the service of God’s call that she achieved her personal fulfillment and a renewal in the Church that continues even today.

When she speaks of the spiritual life, therefore, we all should listen.  That’s why she was named a Doctor of the Church. And here’s what she says about the shortcut to holiness and happiness: “If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us.  He is a true friend… Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near.”

That’s the shortest route.  And the surest.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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