by Susan C. Fox(This review of the temptations of St. Teresa of Avila is based on the saint's autobiography. From her temptations, she discovered God's plan for her life -- to be a FRIEND OF THE LORD)
She enjoyed gossip, respected wealth, read trashy novels of chivalry, and took great trouble with her hair and hands.
Worldly honor was important to her and she bestowed her friendship in an ill-advised manner, believing mistakenly that it is a great virtue to be grateful to those who like you.
But once Jesus chose to be her friend, Teresa of Avila changed to become one of the great spiritual mystics of all times.
She single-handedly reformed the Carmelite order against fierce opposition, returning the nuns to the practice of the strict rule of its foundation. She founded 16 reformed convents, and lived to see her discalced reform recognized by Pope Gregory XIII only two years before her death at age 67.
She died Oct. 14, 1582, calling herself a "child of the Church" because she had come to mistrust herself so completely she acted only under obedience to her confessors. She was canonized in 1622, and enjoyed the distinction of being the first woman declared a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. The honor was bestowed on her by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
But all of that was at the end of a long and bitter struggle with self, the world and Satan, a struggle that characterized Teresa's life, and the lives of all who seek the "narrow gate."
The story of this struggle is contained in St. Teresa's autobiography, and it's worth reviewing her temptations because even today over 400 years after her death, Teresa's struggles are frighteningly familiar to those seeking the narrow and sometimes obscure road to glory.
For as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "discernment is required to unmask the lie of temptation, whose object often appears to be good." As Eve found in the garden of Eden, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a "delight to the eye" and desirable. But in reality, the eating of this fruit led to death.
Teresa was born on March 28, 1515 at Avila, Castile, Spain to Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and his second wife, Beatrice.
Teresa admired her mother, who was beautiful, chaste, without vanity and very devoted to the Blessed Virgin. When Teresa was 12, her mother died. And in her grief she turned to the Mother of Jesus, and asked her to be her Mother also. In later years, she felt this one act of consecration to Mary gave her a special protection during her entire life.
As a young girl, she developed a habit of reading trashy novels of chivalry, and found she wasn't happy unless she had a good book. Later she understood this was a great waste of time, and found her treasure in God's friendship.
The simple words of the Our Father, "and lead us not into temptation" implies a decision of the heart, according to the new Catholic Catechism. Unless we wholeheartedly desire to do God's will, we will never know it. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. . . . No one can serve two masters." (Matt. 6:21,24)
Throughout her life Teresa was plagued with the temptation to care what others thought of her. She learned to enjoy gossip at a young age. And even as a young novice in the Carmelite convent, she engaged in frivolous conversations with visitors. This was strictly speaking against the rules of her order, but was a widely accepted practice. The visits also had the advantage of enhancing her reputation from a worldly point of view.
But God sent her many signals about the danger of bad companionship and the value of good companionship. As a child of 12, she was sent to an Augustinian convent after her mother's death where the friendship of a good nun turned her back from a lifestyle of vanity and worldly honor, which she had been about to embrace.
As a young novice Christ appeared to her in her mind's eye - that is interiorly - and with great sternness warned her about wasting time with visitors. Satan, however, convinced her that unless a vision is in bodily form, it doesn't count. So she continued to receive visitors in the convent, but one day was frightened when a big ugly toad hopped toward her and a visitor. She eventually learned interior visions or locutions are far more valuable than exterior visions because Satan cannot interfere with these.
Teresa was tempted by false loyalties. She befriended a priest, who had an affectionate relationship with a woman in the convent for several years. She said that he'd lost all honor, but no one had reproved him. Teresa liked him very much, and felt sorry for him. At this time, she felt it was a virtue to be loyal to anyone who liked her.
"I had a very serious fault which led me into great trouble. If I realized that a person liked me, and I liked them, I would grow so fond of them that I would think of them constantly without any intention of offending God. This was such a harmful thing, it was ruining my soul."
God solved this problem by giving her a vision of Himself: "Once I had seen the great beauty of the Lord, I saw no one who by comparison with Him seemed acceptable to me or on whom my thoughts wished to dwell. For if I merely turn the eyes of my mind to the image of Him which I have within my soul I find I have such freedom that from that time forward everything I see appears nauseating to me by comparison."
Teresa's final temptation to misplaced loyalty was severed when a spiritual director told her to abandon certain friendships that were not actually causing her to offend God. Believing this would be an act of ingratitude, she asked him why. He told her to ask God that question and then recite the hymn "Veni Creator." While she was doing so, she was put into rapture, and heard these words: "I will have you converse now, not with men, but with angels."
After that she said she was unable to be friends with anyone except those who loved God and were trying to serve Him. She reported that this gave her such freedom - something she had been unable to achieve for herself despite doing violence to herself to the point where it affected her health.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus also faces the great tempter before beginning his public ministry. After fasting 40 days in the desert to prepare Himself for His ministry, Satan appears to Him, and offers Him something good - bread. But He turns it into a test of Jesus' identity: "If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread."
Then the devil offers Christ His own Father's protection, but wants Him again to prove who He is by jumping off a building. Finally, Satan offers Jesus the homage of all the kingdoms of the world. The catch is that Jesus must first fall down and worship Satan.
Each temptation appeared on the surface to be a good thing - bread, the Father's protection, the world's homage. But each would take Jesus away from God's plan for His Life. There was to be no short cuts for the Son of God. He was to go the way of the cross. Jesus rejects each temptation, never revealing to Satan who He really is. The third temptation - leading to blatant idolatry - was the last straw.
Jesus said, "Begone Satan: for it is written, "The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve." And Satan left Him.
Teresa similarly sent Satan away once and for all when she abandoned all other forms of friendship except her friendship in prayer with her Lord, when she abandoned all other loyalties except her loyalty to God, and when worldly honor ceased to matter. In short, she ceased to serve "two masters" and put her heartfelt trust into God alone.
Each of us, too, must find our way to obedience to this one basic commandment: "I am the Lord your God, and I will have no other gods before me."
The means by which God weaned Teresa from her false loyalty was by drawing her into intimate friendship with Himself through prayer. Teresa reports that her virtue increased as she spent more time with the Lord in prayer.
As a beginner, Teresa endured great aridities in prayer and was distracted by evil thoughts. She said at this stage it's important to persevere in prayer solely to please God. She endured these trials for many years with great courage.
But the Lord gives these "tortures" and many other temptations to test "His lovers" to see if they are willing to drink of the same cup He drank and to carry the same cross He bore for our transgressions. Once they persevere through these trials, then He can begin to trust them with His great treasures.
Teresa was given all this, and more. In fact, Teresa often says that the Lord trusted her with "His secrets" of prayer, giving her infused knowledge that allowed her to explain the prayer life to the simple and the learned. "Although He is my Lord, I can talk to Him as my friend," she wrote. And the fruits of her life show that Our Lord could talk to her in the same fashion.
However, Satan recognized this "intimate friendship of prayer" was disturbing his plans for Teresa.
After she was no longer a beginner in prayer, Teresa was tempted by false humility to abandon her friendship with Christ. Seeing her sins, she resolved to stop praying until she had achieved virtue. She went on this way for more than a year, and the result, she says, was she almost lost her soul.
"I do not believe I have ever passed through so grave a peril as when the devil put this idea into my head under the guise of humility," she wrote.
This was the same principle on which the devil tempted Judas, also identified as a "Friend of the Lord" in Sacred Scripture. Teresa wrote that Satan would have gradually brought her to the same fate of betrayal, suicide and despair. "The worst life I ever led was when I abandoned prayer," she said.
Returning to prayer, Teresa found she still suffered terrible bouts of false humility between her raptures in prayer. She felt evil, and felt like all the evils of the world were caused by her sins. This disquiet and unrest plunged her soul into a state where she had no disposition to prayer or good works. This state of desolation is caused by Satan and leads a soul to despair. Over the centuries, her books have taught many others to ignore desolation and consolation, to simply persevere in prayer regardless of what is taking place in the soul.
Teresa learned the value of trusting in the goodness of God, which is greater than any evil we can do. Because she persevered in prayer, Her own love for God finally overcame her fear and self-loathing.
Teresa also was tempted by what might seem to be prudent concern for her own health. Fears for her health held her back from undertaking penance and impeded her prayer life. She finally overcame the temptation, and her health improved. When Satan would suggest something would ruin her health, she'd respond, "Even if I die, it is of little consequence." She found that silence was a wonderful mortification, and never ruined one's health.
Another temptation Teresa had to face was the desire to do good for others. When she began to experience the benefits of prayer, she desired that everyone live a very spiritual life. It's not wrong to desire this, but it must be done with discretion. For Teresa was preaching the benefits of prayer when she was still poverty stricken in virtue and this taught others that some sins are okay because Teresa did it, and she prayed.
Another way this temptation played out was that she became distressed by the sins and failings of others when she should have kept her focus on Christ and her own faults. This caused her to stop praying and become anxious. It also leads to meddling. Safety lies in not being anxious about anything or anyone. This experience taught Teresa humility: she found her happiness in considering all others greater than herself.
Word of Teresa's great favors in prayer eventually got out through a mistake made by one of her spiritual directors. She was judged and persecuted. But this experience also taught her humility. And best of all, Teresa no longer cared what other people thought of her. Only God's opinion mattered.
"No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it." (1Cor 10:13)
"It is by his prayer (lead us not into temptation) that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony," the new Catholic Cathechism states.
"In this petition to our heavenly Father, Christ unites us to his battle and his agony. He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with his own." Jesus prayed for us to the Father: "Keep them in your name." (end)