Homily for the Memorial of St. Teresa of Avila
Throughout the history of the Church, every time there has been a period of persecution, uncertainty, or just downright confusion, the Lord has called forth heroic men and women who stand apart from the culture to become saints. Time and again that has been the case. There is no greater example of that than the 16th Century saint whom we celebrate today – St. Teresa of Avila.
Teresa was born before the Protestant Reformation and died a couple of decades following the close of the Council of Trent. She lived during an age of great exploration, but also a time of political, social, and religious upheaval – a time of turmoil and reform.
Throughout her life as a religious sister, Teresa found herself at odds with how many within the convent were living their lives. The rules of the cloister were not really being respected as people would come into the convent on a regular basis. Spiritual practices and prayer were also so lax that Teresa really struggled to enter into a deeply personal relationship with the Lord at times. In fact, there was a period of time when Teresa really didn’t pray that much at all.
But at the age of 41, Teresa selected a new spiritual director, a Franciscan priest, who really challenged her to take her prayer life seriously again. As she grew in her ability to enter into contemplative prayer, her relationship with the Lord was renewed and it gave her the strength and the courage to fight to reform the Church. Like Jesus in today’s Gospel who is calling out the Pharisees and the scholars of the Law for not embracing the fullness of their responsibilities to hand on the Jewish faith, Teresa worked tirelessly to reform the Church and to call those in positions of leadership in the Church to task for their failures in leading the people to a deeper sense of faith.
As a way of beginning this needed reform in the Church, Teresa established her own Carmelite convents in which the primitive Rule of the cloister was to be respected and cherished. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew and to reform. In herself, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life. She was a prophet of her time who challenged others to recognize how they were called to stand against the culture and to embrace a radical form of self-giving. That is the same call that each of us has been given by the Lord.
It is no doubt that we, too, are living in a time of political, social, and religious upheaval. In the midst of the uncertainty and the turmoil that we are all experiencing as individuals, as a culture, as a Church, the Lord is calling all of us to be heroic men and women who stand against the culture. The Lord needs us to be the St. Teresa’s of our time, to remind others to not buy into what the culture is selling us – to remind others that we are called to be different. We are called to renew; we are called to reform. We are called to prayer, to relationship with Jesus. We are called to embrace who we are as children of God and to take seriously our call to holiness. Because, if we really want to change the state of our culture, that is the way to do it. If we are holy, others will become holy as well.
So today, may we very clearly hear and respond to the Lord’s invitation to be heroic. As we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, may we ask Him for the grace to be those prophets of our time, to speak out against the culture. May we have the courage to be saints.