Thursday, October 15, 2015

St. Teresa of Avila and the Joy of the Lord

I have a love-hate relationship with holy cards.  You know what I am talking about - those laminated depictions of the saints with golden halo's and pious looks on their faces.  I have a ton of them and use them as bookmarks and small gifts in birthday cards.  The problem is, the saints' images often look like they have just sucked on a lemon.  Not a lot of "joy of the Lord" on display. 

St. Teresa of Avila is one of my favorite saints - I am in awe of her deep mystical life and her fearlessness in taking on the reform of the Carmelite order despite overwhelming obstacles.  She persevered in prayer despite trial and physical sufferings and was one of the great champions of the value of spiritual friendships as evidenced in her close relationship with St. John of the Cross.

In addition to one of the loftiest prayer lives the church has ever seen, St. Teresa of Avila also displayed a practicality and a sense of humor that is quite legendary. Even the Lord himself was not immune to her humorous jabs. After being thrown from the horse she was riding on and landing in a pile of mud and rain,  she quipped to the Lord: "If this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few."

Perhaps my favorite of all of St. Teresa of Avila's quotes is this one: "God save us from gloomy saints."  This mystic, contemplative Doctor of the Church deeply understood the need for the joy of the Lord to shine through the hearts and faces of his disciples. 

Pope Francis, in a homily given on May 23, 2014 echoes St. Teresa's sentiments saying:

"Joy, is like the sign of a Christian. A Christian without joy is either not a Christian or he is sick. There's no other type! He is not doing well health-wise. A healthy Christian is a joyful Christian. I once said that there are Christians with faces like pickled peppers (sour faced)... Always with these [long] faces! Some souls are also like this, this is bad! These are not Christians. A Christian without joy is not Christian. Joy is like the seal of a Christian. Even in pain, tribulations, even in persecutions.
Let's dispense with the notion that holiness looks like the stiff, waxed, artificial images of the saints depicted on the holy cards.  I feel confident in saying that St. Teresa of Avila would cringe at some of the gloomy portraits of herself.  Instead, I challenge you smile and let the joy of the Lord inform your face! The world surely needs to see the witness of joyful Christians.

St. Teresa of Avila, Pray for Us

Want to learn more about St. Teresa of Avila? - Check out the epic dramatic miniseries St. Teresa of Avila, which depicts her life. 

Feeling more ambitious?  Read her autobiography entitled: The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

Ready to jump into her spiritual writings?  Check out the Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection

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