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St Teresa of Avila and Me

alec vanderboom

One of the coolest things about my bff St. Teresa of Avila is that she faced very similar cultural circumstances that we do in 21st Century America. In the 1500s, Spain was the world super power. They had tremendous, tremendous wealth. New wealth from Spain's new colonies flooded the country.  The colonies were the hot "tech stocks" of the age. Two of Teresa's brothers ended up going to Brazil or somewhere and coming home with huge amounts of cash.

Teresa was an aristocrat. It's hard for my modern mind to even comprehend what the title "Lady" meant--even to a 40 year old nun inside a cloister. When she stripped that off and wrote a simple "Teresa of Jesus" on her entry form to her first Reformed Carmelite Convent--that huge. That really meant something tangible about her growth in Faith.

Teresa lived in a time when she felt like the Roman Catholic church was being ripped apart from the inside out. Again, it's hard for me to imagine what life was like when every single Christian was either a Roman Catholic or an Orthodox Catholic. She was a contemporary of the first Lutherans and she's just furious of what she called "the heretics!" (Now the Catholic Church doesn't feel like that about the Lutherans today--in fact we're happily building new bridges with this Protestant Faith. But many readers can relate to shaking their fist with total frustration at the Yahoo News Reader and thinking "that statement is so untrue and a heresy against our joint Catholic Faith. Stop confusing people!")

During the time Teresa is forming her convents, Germany is actually at war--between the German Catholics and the German Lutherans. Teresa made such comments as "I wish I was a man so I could go fight for my Church. Alas, I'm only a woman." Because she was "only a woman" she decided to go back to the deep penitential rites of Carmel. Poverty, in the manner of the desert fathers was chosen so she could pray better. Her Carmelite prayers were for the protection of the Roman Catholic Church. I always like that irony because here she was so frustrated that as a "mere woman I can't do anything important." Meanwhile God is using the lance of her prayer life to shape his course of history.

So you can see how a nerdy historian like me could fall in love with this Saint. She's so right on. Her stuff is so counter-cultural. It's like she inverting the entire culture of Spain in the 1500s. She did the impossible.

It just seems to me that this poverty thread its not "accidental." It's a special sort of key to unlock the materialism and spiritual apathy of my Gen X generation.

Now the deal is --I don't know how to do this as a Third Order, and especially not how to do this as a Mother of Dependent Children. I'd be foolish Teresa's example in a literal sense. For example, I'm not going to try to shoe my kids in her famous "rope sandals" or sew our dresses out of course wool fabric that was intended to be used for horse blankets. But it's cool to read these electric passages and ask Jesus "How does this apply to me? What do you want from me?"