St. Teresa of Avila has given us piercing insights into the heights of mystical prayer and the phenomena that can come with it. She received these as gifts for the help and salvation of every person who comes seeking a deeper relationship with the Lord. What most inspires from her life and writings, however, is that tenacity with which she drove to do the simplest thing: God’s will. She knew what it was to experience fear. To be paralyzed by the thought that she had strayed off the right path for which Christ had redeemed her. To be told that she had deceived herself or had been deceived by the devil or bad confessors: all these wore away at any false sense of self-confidence in her own ability to reach the goal of union with God.
Teresa declares with her typically Teresian boldness and humility, “You know well, my God, that in the midst of all my miseries I never failed to acknowledge Your great power and mercy.” (Soliloquies, 4) In our lives, we are constantly battered by temptations, from within and without, that we cannot possibly hope to grow in holiness, that we may never achieve a deep sense of faithfulness to God. (And maybe we’re not meant to have that assurance for ourselves.) But God does. This is what Holy Mother Teresa has to teach us here today. “Leave aside your fears where there is no reason for fear.” (Way of Perfection 21,10)
Today there seem to be innumerable “reasons” to fear. One, of course, is whether we’re going to get coughed on by the wrong person if we step outside our home. This is entirely understandable. Teresa herself experienced fear, both in herself and her society, and knew for a fact that her nuns did so as well. It is what we do with that fear that matters most. Do we let it paralyze us, to turn in on ourselves? Or do we relinquish its power over us in the indispensable treasure that is prayer? The choice is ours, but Teresa shows us where these two choices lead.