What are the first things you think of when you think of a Carmelite nun? The majority of Catholics would probably think about things like:
- Lots of Prayer
- Lots of Saints
- Bare feet
Words that probably DON’T come to mind are:
- Love of books
And yet these last words, and more, describe one of the most widely known Carmelites in history: St. Teresa of Avila.
An Introduction to Teresa
St. Teresa of Avila was inspired to reform the Carmelite order in the mid-sixteenth century. Guided by God’s grace she helped bring it back to its beautiful roots of silence and contemplation after the order, especially her convent in Avila, had become more of an upper-class social hub than a place of prayer.
Continue Reading: Read St. Teresa of Avila’s Famous Poem, in Her Own Handwriting
However, there is more to this Carmelite reformer, mystic, and first female Doctor of the Church than meets the eye.
Below are six unexpected characteristics of Teresa of Avila that anyone—whether religious or layman—can and should imitate.
6 Surprising Ways to Imitate St. Teresa
1. Have a sense of humor – with others, and even with God
Just because Teresa was a cloistered nun didn't mean she couldn't sprinkle a little humor into both her joys and struggles. In her own words:
"God save us from gloomy saints!"
“If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!” (speaking to Jesus, after falling into the mud on the way to her convent)
Your Resolution: The next time I make a mistake, I will happily ask God to have mercy on my foolishness, instead of being discouraged.
2. Respect the power of friendship
Teresa saw friends as a power that could make or break a soul on the path to holiness. In her own words:
"To get to know God's friends is a very good way of 'having' Him."
"Much harm may result from bad company and we are inclined by nature to follow what is worse rather than what is better."
Your Resolution: I will thank a friend who has had a positive influence on my path to holiness.
3. Foster a Love of Books (To Nourish Both the Mind and the Soul)
Teresa spent many hours a day in silent prayer, and did not scorn books or see the use of spiritual books during prayer time as a sign of weakness. In her own words:
“I believe, unless I had a new book, I was never happy.”
“But always when I was without a book [in prayer], my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered. As I read, I began to call them together again and, as it were, laid a bait for my soul.”
Your Resolution: I will find a good spiritual book to nurture my adoration/prayer time. Click here for some great options!
4. Use concrete images to explain deep things
Even though she was a contemplative and a mystic, she sought to explain theology and prayer to others in a way that they could understand. In her own words:
"Mental prayer is, as I see it, simply a friendly intercourse and frequent solitary conversation with Him who, as we know, loves us."
"In the center of the soul there is a mansion reserved for God Himself."
Your Resolution: I will take one of these holy images to prayer.
5. Adopt a no-nonsense approach to holiness
When it comes to the battle between the flesh and the spirit—the world and the soul—Teresa wasn't afraid to say things as they are. In her own words:
"Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible."
"To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience."
Your Resolution: I will find an area of my life where I can make a small sacrifice to strengthen my soul.
6. Seek God in the ordinary and the daily
Teresa promotes contemplative prayer as a progressive and crucial means of reaching God, but she also speaks beautifully about how He can be found in anything and everything. In her own words:
"[God’s] voice reaches us through words spoken by good people, through listening to spiritual talks, and reading sacred literature. God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us…"
From her poem In the Hands of God:
“Give me, if you will, prayers;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?
Yours I am, for you I was born:
What do you want of me?”
Your Resolution: I will look for God in one of my daily activities where I normally don't expect to see Him.