St. Teresa of Avila – A Lesson In Perseverance

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

St. Teresa of Avila, whose feast day is October 15, was a Spanish nun who lived from 1515 to 1582. She is a truly heroic figure in the history of the Church, a famous mystic known for her personal holiness, inspired writings, and courageous determination in reforming the religious life, particularly the Carmelite Order of which she was a member. Because of the enduring value of her teaching, St. Teresa was named a “Doctor of the Church” in 1970, one of the first women to be so honored.

Accepting the rigors of the consecrated life did not come quickly or easily to St. Teresa. She entered the Carmelites despite the strong opposition of her father. Throughout her spiritual journey she struggled with serious illness, spiritual temptations, and attractions to worldly pleasures. She was not a static, staid icon, but was “beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic and totally human,” as one biographer described her.

If you look up the famous quotes of St. Teresa of Avila you will no doubt be impressed by her wisdom and personal insights. She wrote clearly about the pitfalls of the human condition, the stark realities of the spiritual life, our need for God, and the centrality of Jesus in our lives.

St. Teresa could be feisty and funny. In one incident, as she was walking home to her convent during a rainstorm, she slipped and fell down an embankment landing unceremoniously in the mud. Looking up to heaven she complained to God: “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.” I suspect we’ve all had that feeling at one time or another.

Perhaps her most famous saying is this: “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid. All things are passing, God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God, you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.”

How peaceful our lives would be if we could adopt and live those words, if we could reach the point where nothing disturbs us, nothing makes us afraid; if we truly believed that with God at our side, we need nothing else.

Something to think about: Having the faith and trust of St. Teresa of Avila doesn’t come easily. It’s the work of a lifetime. But we can learn from her experience and be inspired by the courage and perseverance of her journey.