Saint Teresa of Avila – Readings

Commentary on Romans 8:22-27; Ps 18; John 15:1-8

In the First Reading from the Letter to the Romans Paul reflects on his mystical experience of knowing Christ. They parallel the experiences that Teresa also had. “We ourselves, although we have the Spirit as first fruits, groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies.” Like Paul, she wanted to be in the image of God’s incarnate Son.

At the same time, her experience is one of longing for something that has not yet been fully realised. It is a time for faith and trust and for hope. As Paul says, “It is in hope that we were saved.” And he goes on, “But hope is not hope if its object is seen; how is it possible to hope for what one sees?” Ultimately, our salvation is one of hope but it is hope based on confidence in the reliability of God’s Word.

And, when we are feeling less confident, then it is the Spirit “who helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought”. And Paul makes the striking statement that “the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech”.

Teresa knew all about this. Her attachment to Jesus knew no limits but, like many of the greatest mystics, she had her times of desert, what her companion John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul”. If the saints had this experience, we cannot expect anything different. But we need to realise, as they did, that when Jesus seems furthest away is often the time when he is closest to us. This is the time of our testing. As Teresa liked to say: “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

The Gospel reading is from Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper which we find in John. It is from Chap 15 where Jesus speaks of himself as the True Vine. While he himself is the Vine, it is his Father who is the Vinegrower. Jesus’ followers are the branches on the vine. Branches which produce no fruit will be cut off and while branches which do bear fruit will be pruned in order to increase their yield.

It is clear that, if we are to remain united with Christ, we must lead fruitful lives. Others are to benefit from the way we lead our Christian life. Elsewhere Jesus had told his disciples that they were to be the salt of the earth, to be a city on a hill, to be a lamp giving light to everyone in the house. Again, he had said it was no use accepting God’s gifts and then carefully burying them in the ground. They are to be used for the benefit of other people.

But, even in the case of those who are ‘fruitful’, there will always be need of some ‘pruning’. Some form of penance and self-denial is a central part of the fruitful Christian’s life. This penance may be self-chosen or it may come in the course of our daily lives. These are not meant to punish us but rather to purify our intentions and make us more effective in spreading the spirit of the Gospel among other people.

Jesus also emphasises in this image the importance of our being totally united with him. That means we accept entirely his Way of life and try to make it our own. Only then will we have something to share with others. “No more can a branch bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, than can you bear fruit apart from me.”

We need to realise that “a person who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt”. On the contrary, “if you live in me, and my words stay part of you, you may ask what you will – it will be done for you”. And the reason is, when we live in Christ, his will and our will coincide.

Finally, it is by leading truly fruitful lives that we will give glory to God. Words of adoration alone will not be enough.

We see all this fitting so well into the life of Teresa. Her whole life was to be deeply united with her Lord. She was indeed a living branch on the vine. She experienced pruning in the many challenges and difficulties she met in reforming the Carmelite Order not to mention the life of penance and austerity which were a feature of her convents.

But she was fruitful also in the influence she had on drawing others into living their lives at such a high level of commitment. This was shown by the large number of convents which were founded in her own country and eventually all over the world.

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