It is my Breviary that most often reminds me of various saints being commemorated by the Church around the world. So when I have a day or two when something bumps my attention away from praying the Divine Office, someone I love as dearly as St. Teresa of Avila can sneak by completely unnoticed. Her commemoration was October 15. I am remiss.
Here are a couple of brief quotations from The Way of Perfection that highlight some of her insight into the spiritual life. I have never read up on the proceedings leading Rome to declare her a “Doctor of the Church” (one of only three women so designated) she’s my teacher on prayer just for this kind of stuff.
Take my advice, then, and let none mislead you by showing you any other road than that of prayer.
For nuns and monks then and now, as well as for us run-of-the-mill Christians, I imagine it would be easy to think that some other road would reach God more quickly. Practice virtue, especially by serving the poor, and we just feel like we are drawing closer to God.
Prayer, on the other hand, unless you have the kind of temperament and sensitivity and outright spiritual gifts of St. Teresa, can be singularly unrewarding. But this is the road to God.
Teresa knows that the test of whether we are really following on the road of prayer is that, along the way, we will be led to serve the poor and others around us:
Let the truth be in your hearts, as it will be if you practise meditation, and you will see clearly what love we are bound to have for our neighbors.
But will that leave us pouring ourselves out in two ways at once, in peril of burning out? Teresa uses the metaphor of the thirst one would face in a long desert road:
Therefore, sisters, have no fear that you will die of thirst on this road; you will never lack so much of the water of comfort that your thirst will be intolerable; so take my advice and do not tarry on the way, but strive like strong men until you die in the attempt, for you are here for nothing else than to strive.
Jesus does promise living water in his own presence among us, after all. It is on Jesus that our minds should dwell as we pray. We are, of course, to pray the prayer Christ taught his disciples, the Lord’s Prayer. If our minds drift, we return to Jesus who gave us the prayer and invites us into conversation:
I have sometimes experienced this my self, and the best remedy I have found for it is to try to fix my mind on the Person by Whom the words were first spoken.
Part of Teresa’s genius is, despite her convoluted writing style, simplicity. Draw close to Jesus. Speak to Jesus. Focus your attention on Jesus. And in the end, be transformed by Jesus to live as he showed us.
How do you experience prayer as the road to God?
How do you keep from drifting attention at prayer?
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