A Saint

Her (St Teresa of Avila) sense of guilt, exaggerated by the conflicts of adolescence, followed her into later life. It shows itself in a diffidence that at first sight seems surprising in one who was otherwise courageous and enterprising. “I am always timorous when I have to make a decision about anything—I immediately think I’m going to do everything wrong,” she writes from the Incarnation when she is Prioress in 1573. Often when she has achieved something in the face of difficulty and opposition, she suffers a reaction, begins to question the wisdom of what she has done. This happened after the founding of Saint Joseph’s, and again at Medina del Campo. This weakness in Teresa is a very human one. It is a reminder, too, that those whom the Church has raised to her altars as great servants of God, heroic in courage and singleness of heart, are yet persons like ourselves. The saints will not please the cold perfectionist nor the stoic. They are not superman, flawless, nor beings changed once and for all by a lightning conversion. Saint Paul’s conversion appears to have been a lightning one, if any was. Yet in the years that followed he was buffeted by an angel of Satan, nor is there any reason to suppose that he ceased to be buffeted to the end.

A person suffering from a sense of guilt can be cured, or at least made better, through treatment from a psychologist; or through a change from unfavorable environment to favorable. In either case the part played by encouragement is all important. Teresa, though in her spiritual and active life she had much to discourage her, found encouragement, too. When all were against her, thinking her a madwoman and deluded by the devil, Peter of Alcantara encouraged her. Possibly that strange character, as remote from our understanding as one of the desert hermits and the last person one would expect to take up a woman’s cause, was himself encouraged by the young Teresa who, so she tells us, took an interest in his affairs. She was encouraged, too, by the Dominican, Vicente Barron, Don Alonso’s confessor and afterwards her own, who, when she had given up prayer, saved her from the sloth of false humility, making her understand, what she was later to pass on to others, that to pray is always good nor is any soul, however evil, excluded from the love of God. –‘A Journey in Spain: Saint Teresa’ Elizabeth Hamilton


Leave a reply