Journey in a prayer with St. Teresa of Jesus

As a school community, each morning we have been praying a decade of the Rosary. Hanging on the side wall of my classroom is a framed jigsaw puzzle reproduction of the William Holman Hunt painting “Light of the World.” Just this week, my students noticed that during prayer I was gazing at Jesus knocking on the door with no handle. After prayer, I asked them what they saw in the picture. 

With one voice, they responded, “Jesus.” I then asked Who was inside. There was silence. Then, one child said, “There is light inside. God is inside.” Then he asked, “How can God be inside and outside?” In an instant, his young mind had discovered the mystery of St. Teresa of Avila’s doctrine of the union of the soul with God. The young students were astonished to realize that each of us has the privilege time and again to invite Jesus when He knocks to enter our heart. 

Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year in honor of St. Teresa of Avila. It began this month on her feast day (October 15) and will culminate on October 25, 2015. This Jubilee Year celebrates the 400th anniversary of her beatification. St. Teresa was a mystic, contemplative, writer, and reformer. She is the patron of Spanish Catholic writers and was the first woman Doctor of the Church. That title comes from the Latin docere which means to teach. As John Fink describes in “The Doctors of The Church,” in essence, the title recognizes significant contributions made to the understanding of the Catholic faith. 

Why is she also called St. Teresa of Jesus? This reflects the closeness to God evident in her life and writings. St. Teresa said, “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” According to St. Teresa, the characteristics needed to cultivate or deepen that friendship are love for one another, detachment from earthly things, and true humility. The challenge available for each of us is to use this year to reflect upon St. Teresa’s insights. Rather than walk this road alone, we should choose a friend for the journey and/or to mentor a younger parishioner upon the journey. 

For those who might wish a place to start before attempting to tackle St. Teresa’s writings, the Internet provides biographies, popular quotes, and even short articles on her writings. One such example is Dr. Muto’s reflections on St. Teresa’s insights into the Lord’s Prayer …

What are some areas for exploration especially relevant to mentoring a younger Catholic? St. Teresa’s parents were deeply religious, but her dad refused consent for her to enter the convent. St. Teresa looked within herself, found who she was, and chose to enter the convent anyway. For much of her life, she was ridiculed because of her visions. She kept going anyway (inner peace from God). St. Teresa said, “God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person.” In her religious life, her “Spiritual guide St. Peter of Alcantara” directed her to ask God to guide her to what would be most pleasing to Him. She chose each day to live a deep, personal relationship with God. St. Teresa said, “The Lord knows everyone as he really is and gives each his work to do — according to what He sees to be most fitting for his soul, and for His own Self, and for the good of his neighbor.” 

Legend has it that one day St. Teresa shook her fist at Heaven and told God, “If that is the way You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!” The first time I heard that tale I was at a very low point in my life. The priest who was speaking with me had told me to tell God exactly how I felt. I did what I was told to do. To my surprise, before I even finished, a feeling of peace settled into my heart. I, not my physical circumstances, had changed. If you never have felt this, then it is time to try. If you have felt this, then this year it is time to share your story. 

As we start this jubilee year, let us be guided by the words of the “Peace Within” prayer which is attributed to St. Teresa: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you never forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.” 

Remember to watch for what God will accomplish with the seeds you plant. I smile as now, when we pray, my students turn to gaze upon Jesus knocking on the door that has no handle. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts