“I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels [that have come from that most sacred mouth in the way they were said] and found more recollection in them than in very cleverly written books. I especially had no desire to read these books if the author was not well approved. If then, I draw near to this Master of wisdom, He will perhaps teach me some worthwhile thoughts that will please you.”
(Way of Perfection, 21:4)
Teresa of Avila was a great lover of books and a great reader, but she discovered that the Gospels had a unique strength that no other book had. The words of the Gospels, she tells us, “recollected me”. The Gospel texts moved her to a loving recollection that led her to an encounter with Christ, whom she calls “Maestro de la sabiduría” or “Master of wisdom”. The Gospels helped the Saint to pray; that is, to meet Jesus personally. Teresa had met many theologians who identified prayer with intellectual activity, through the work of thought and reason. For her, however, prayer was something else. She had come to understand that in the interior life the relationship with God was something that had to do with love, and for this reason, she wrote that “the soul’s progress does not lie in thinking much but in loving much” (Book of Her Foundations, 5:2; cf. Interior Castle, IV, 1:7). This is why she values the Gospel texts so much, because they lovingly “recollected” her, leading her to a personal meeting with Jesus.
Bishop @silviojbaez says: “The Gospels helped St. Teresa to pray; that is, to meet Jesus personally.” #StTeresaofAvilaTweet
St. Teresa will speak at length about the “prayer of recollection”, which she describes with these simple words: “the soul collects its faculties together and enters within itself to be with its God” (Way of Perfection, 28:4). It is about perceiving and welcoming God within us, looking at Him, and listening to Him from the innermost part of our being. St. Teresa doesn’t suggest methods or describe a precise path for this experience. She simply says: “do that which best stirs you to love” (Interior Castle, IV, 1:7). This prayer of recollection is of great importance for those of us who wish to adopt an attitude of availability and interior attention before beginning to read and meditate on a text of the Gospel. It isn’t something excessively complicated. St. Teresa explains in simple words how she did it: “I strove to picture Christ within me” (The Book of Her Life, 9:4), “I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me” (The Book of Her Life, 4:7). St. Teresa is speaking of Jesus, her interior Teacher.
We know that one of the most extraordinary intuitions of St. Teresa of Avila was to use the concept of friendship to refer to our relationship with God. Hence her well-known definition of prayer, which, according to her, is “taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” (The Book of Her Life, 8:5).
What Saint Teresa teaches us is very important: prayer is an experience of love—it’s all about friendship. It is an intimate, affectionate, face-to-face relationship with the Lord. In speaking of prayer as friendship, St. Teresa uses an image with deep biblical roots. God calls Abraham “my friend” (Is 41:8) and of Moses, it is said that he spoke with God “face to face, as a man talks to his friend” (Ex 33:11; Nm 12:7; Dt 34:10). Friendship with the Lord in prayer isn’t lived just any old way, but “alone,” as Jesus teaches, withdrawing into our “private room” (cf. Mt 6:6); not just once, but “many times,” untiringly; being with that God who “we know loves us” as only he can love.
Bishop @silviojbaez says: “What Saint Teresa teaches us is very important: prayer is an experience of love—it’s all about friendship.” #StTeresaofAvilaTweet
St. Teresa of Avila invites us to welcome Jesus as a Teacher, especially during our prayer time. In chapter 26 of the Way of Perfection, in which St. Teresa offers concrete teachings for experiencing mental prayer, she writes: “Represent the Lord Himself as close to you and behold how lovingly and humbly He is teaching you” (Way of Perfection, 26:1).
To pray is to listen to Jesus, who, from the most intimate part of our being, is teaching us with love and humility. To pray is to discover that we are loved by our interior Teacher: “Consider the words that divine mouth speaks, for in the first word you will understand immediately the love He has for you; it is no small blessing and gift for the disciple to see that his Master loves him” (Way of Perfection, 26:10). Our reading of the Gospels changes completely when we do it by listening to Jesus who, from the most intimate part of our being, is “lovingly and humbly” teaching us. To pray with the Gospels is to discover that we are loved, personally meeting with the “interior Teacher”, the “Master of Wisdom”.
This is why St. Teresa of Avila invites us to experience prayer as an opportunity to listen to the Lord: “Draw near, then, to this good Master with strong determination to learn what He teaches you (…), consider the words that divine mouth speaks” (Way of Perfection, 26:10). To pray is to be close to the Master and to listen to him: to listen to him and learn from him with loving availability, an openness of mind and heart. If we open ourselves deeply to Jesus, our interior Teacher, and persevere in listening in silence to his voice, we will be drawn little by little to follow in his footsteps in a simple life, open to the mystery of God, and dedicated to doing good to all, without exclusion.
Bishop @silviojbaez says: “St. Teresa of Avila invites us to experience prayer as an opportunity to listen to the Lord.” #StTeresaofAvilaTweet
Only prayer—listening to Jesus—will allow us to receive the gift of familiarity with God, which has nothing to do with experience in religious matters, belonging to some ecclesiastical institution, or having a good theological or biblical background. On the contrary, familiarity with God is the exclusive fruit of authentic prayer, through which we know and appreciate in our hearts God’s loving plan that we may experience and proclaim it in a concrete, prompt, and generous way. If we persevere in praying the Gospel, we will experience little by little that Jesus, our interior Teacher, becomes more and more intensely and clearly the center of our life, the foundation of our existence, and the reason for our ultimate hope.
Silvio José Báez, o.c.d.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua
Day of Reflection, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary
18 March 2022 (excerpt)
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Translation from the Spanish text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.