This March is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Teresa of Ávila, Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church. One of her legacies to the Church is her teaching about prayer.
In Teresa’s final book, The Interior Castle, written near the end of her life, she summarized her life of prayer. In it she imagined that her growth in love of God had been a journey from the outskirts of a crystal castle to its center, inhabited by her King. The castle image with its many rooms symbolized her soul. The King was God who beckoned Teresa to come to him and to be spiritually united with him.
Responding to her King’s call meant that Teresa first had to leave the dark, cold, noisy place outside the castle, where she spent so much time. Steadfast prayer was the key to unlock the castle door. Once inside she prayed faithfully. Quietly and persistently Teresa traveled through the castle’s rooms, each representing a stage of growth in her personal relationship with God.
Initially Teresa’s journey to union with God demanded great effort on her part. She had spent nearly two decades vacillating in her commitment to make God alone the center of her life. She longed to be a good nun and to observe the Carmelite rule of religious life, yet worldly interests equally attracted her. Because of her outgoing personality, she enjoyed spending hours in the convent parlor entertaining friends and listening to local news and gossip. She couldn’t have it both ways though. “No one can serve two masters (Mt 6:24a).”
One day St. Teresa knelt in prayer before a statue of the suffering Christ. She experienced a transformative grace. When she rose from her knees God had healed her ambivalence. For the remainder of her life Teresa’s priority was always to please God and to do his will.
God’s invitation to union with him is not for nuns only. All baptized Christians are called to be holy. Like St. Teresa we have struggles in our commitment to prayer. We resist God’s grace often when we participate in frivolous pastimes and pursue vain pleasures. What our hearts truly desire is God alone.
We must create a haven of quiet and prayer so as to hear God’s voice! Scripture tells us: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8a).” God, in our soul’s center, calls us to draw nearer. Do we hear? Do we listen?
Try it. God will call your name, and you will hear, “I love you.”