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Center for Action and Contemplation
Teresa of Ávila
Teresa of Ávila

The Beloved Desires Action

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Teresa of Ávila was investigated several times during the Spanish Inquisition. At the insistence of her superiors, she wrote of her many visions and raptures to prove they came from God, and that she was firmly rooted in “orthodox” Catholicism. Translator and spiritual teacher Mirabai Starr writes: 

Through her many writings, Teresa of Ávila openly shares her humanity with the world. There were times when she was paralyzed by fear of rejection and others when she was so courageous in the face of what she knew to be her sacred destiny that she risked being executed as a heretic. She made mistakes, as we all do. Some she apologized profusely for; others she refused to admit to until years later. Like us, she was petty or generous, irritable or unconditionally loving, attributing everything to her progress along the path of contemplative prayer. But she never ceased showing up for the spiritual work. [1]   

Teresa was a real person with real advice for real people of her time—and our own. Here are some examples from her masterpiece, The Interior Castle:  

It’s tempting to think that if God would only grant you internal favors, you would be able to withstand external challenges. His Majesty [a name Teresa uses for God] knows what is best for us. He does not require our opinion on the matter and, in fact, has every right to point out that we don’t have any idea what we’re asking for. Remember: all you have to do as you begin to cultivate the practice of prayer is to prepare yourself with sincere effort and intent to bring your will into harmony with the will of God. [2]  

Teresa was also an astute spiritual director who turned people away from an emphasis on perfection and piety and toward compassionate action: 

Sometimes I observe people so diligently trying to orchestrate whatever state of prayer they’re in that they become peevish about it. They don’t dare to move or let their minds be stirred for fear of jeopardizing the slightest degree of devotion or delight. It makes me realize how little they understand of the path to union. They think the whole thing is about rapture.  

But no, friends, no! What the Beloved wants from us is action. What he wants is that if one of your friends is sick, you take care of her. Don’t worry about interrupting your devotional practice. Have compassion. If she is in pain, you feel it, too. If necessary, you fast so that she can eat. This is not a matter of indulging an individual, you do it because you know it is your Beloved’s desire. This is true union with his will. What he wants is for you to be much happier hearing someone else praised than you would be to receive a compliment yourself. If you have humility, this is easy. It is a great thing to be glad when your friends’ virtues are celebrated. [3]  


[1] Mirabai Starr, Saint Teresa of Ávila: Passionate Mystic (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2007, 2013), xix. 

[2] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. Mirabai Starr (New York: Riverhead Books, 2004), 60–61. 

[3] Teresa of Ávila, Interior Castle, 142. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Les Argonauts, Camino de Santiago, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Perched in solitude, in communion with the Beloved. 

Story from Our Community:

I currently find myself in a desert, accompanying a beloved child though dark paths of severe and life-threatening depression. In some moments, it has seemed as though every resource in me has dried up, exhausted. I am not sure I have ever experienced myself as so separate and distinct from another person, so solitary and powerless. Only God has filled the vast emptiness of my soul in the face of this unfathomable illness. During this desert time, I have come face to face with my limitations and also the incredible reality of God’s endless love. —Laurie M. 

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