There is much we can learn from the mystic and reformer of the Carmelites, Saint Teresa of Avila. Sor Teresa de Jesús, the doctor of the church whose feast is celebrated today, was, in the words of a papal nuncio, “a restless, disobedient and contumacious gad-about woman.”
She was a woman who persevered in the face of trials, reforming the Carmelites, writing on mystical prayer, and founding monasteries throughout Spain.
It was not an easy life. But, as she wrote in her autobiography, “If people have Christ Jesus with them as Friend and loving Guide, they can put up with everything.”
That was tested many times, including the time when she was thrown into a muddy river when her cart overturned. She is reported to have remarked in prayer, “If this is the way you treat your friends, this is why you have so few of them.”
But her first years in a Carmelite convent were comfortable and didn’t show signs of a deep spiritual life and commitment to God.
But one day when she was about 39, she was praying before an image of the wounded Christ. “When I fell in prayer and looked at Christ hanging and naked upon the Cross, I felt I could not bear to be rich. So I besought Him with tears to bring it to pass that I might be as poor as He.”
She and her sisters lived poorly from alms, wearing sandals instead of shoes (and so were called the Discalced – shoeless – Carmelites).
Poverty was for her a part of her way to open herself to Jesus, the God who became flesh as a poor human being.
And, as Paul wrote to the Romans (1:16), she was “not ashamed of the Gospel.”
In fact she wrote these pointed words about money and wealth in Conceptions of the Love of God:
“Some people have all they need and a good sum of money shut up in their safe as well. Because they avoid serious sins, they think they have done their duty, They enjoy their riches and give an occasional alms, yet never consider that their property is not their own, but that God has entrusted it to them to share with the poor. . . . We have no concern with this except to ask God to enlighten such people. . . and to thank him for making us poor, which we should hold as a special favor on his part.”
Pope John XXIII called for a “Church of the poor,” and Pope Francis has called for “a poor Church, a Church for the poor.” St. Teresa can help us turn to the poor Christ and be truly a Church of the poor, imitating our Savior.”