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Following the Breadcrumbs of St. Teresa of Avila

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”

St. Teresa of Avila

I love quotes. I love reminding myself of the truths taught in Scripture and seeking out snippets of wisdom from the saints. 

Awkwardly taped on the mirror in my bathroom years ago, this quote has brought me so much peace over the past few years. I have shared it with countless friends on Instagram, texted it to friends and family when they were struggling through hard times, and often recited it myself in the morning as I started my day.  

I had seen this quote resurface repeatedly, and it seemed to be a little “love letter” from this saint to me. A reminder of who I was called to be. A woman of faith who trusts in God alone. I loved her honesty in acknowledging how anxious and fearful this world can make us. However, she reminds us that if we have the Lord, we lack nothing.

Growing up, I remember my mother encouraging us to seek out the intercession of particular saints when we needed help. St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, was called upon when we traveled and when we first got our driver’s license. St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases, to help us find our keys, special forms we needed, and the occasional lost homework assignments. We prayed for St. Joseph’s intercession, the patron saint of workers, as we applied for jobs or asked for assistance in taking tests. 

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

St. Teresa of Avila

Little would I know that these words would come from a saint who had been leaving me “breadcrumbs” in my spiritual formation. She was walking with me this whole time. 

tammi mccarthy

The words from this St. Teresa of Avila quote breathed life into me in college as I worked with mentally challenged adults in ministry. I remember hearing these words played through a song on our campus, and it gave new life to my understanding of serving others. I needed to understand that I was put on this earth for a purpose. Any opportunity that I had to serve others and do “good” for those around me, I should. This quote was a reminder of how to love those around me with the invisible hands and feet of Christ. Little would I know that these words would come from a saint who had been leaving me “breadcrumbs” in my spiritual formation. She was walking with me this whole time. 

As I began to grow in spiritual maturity, I looked for “companion saints.” Saints whose biographies resonated with me, their writings and their words striking me deeply. Saints who modeled more of my spicy, extroverted, loud personality versus so many of the meek introverts that I had learned about in my studies. I longed to read the writings of a soul like myself. I longed to find comfort in learning about a soul that paved a similar road to heaven that I could walk. I wanted to be inspired by a saint that I could relate to on a deeper level. 

A few years ago, I joined a study with the women of the Abiding Together podcast, diving into the four female Doctors of the Church. 

“Doctor of the Church, also referred to as Doctor of the Universal Church, is a title given by the Catholic Church to saints recognized as having made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing.” (Wikipedia2020). The Catholic Church has named 36 Doctors of the Church, only four of those being women. 

Through this study, I found two saints who seemed to befriend me. St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila. I remember when one of the podcast ladies referred to them as “spicy,” and I felt like I found my companion saints. The introduction to the section of the journal, Restore the Beauty, describes St. Teresa of Avila as a saint “who conversed with her Creator using wit, humor, and her fierce convictions.” That sounded like a great saint to befriend!

If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies.”

St. Teresa of Avila

When I first heard this quote in a podcast, I laughed so hard. “What an amazing saint!” As I later researched this quote, several sources cited a story passed down about the little saint. 

As St. Teresa made her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm, she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”

I could imagine myself saying that–so frustrated with whatever path God might have me on but so willing to see the Lord as my dearest friend. My heart would need to express its disappointment, its frustration at my earthly predicaments. My heart that was truly open to what the Lord was doing regardless of my shortcomings. 

Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible.”

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa taught me how to be comfortable with being “uncomfortable.” I was learning that it’s OK to be afraid of having to do something hard. I can be afraid of suffering or being called outside of my “comfort zone,” but my prayer must push me to desire the Will of God over all comforts. I must be willing to be a “fool for Christ” over and over again. My prayer must not be for worldly pleasures or delights, but to be uncomfortable on this earth. 

The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.”

St. Teresa of Avila

As I was reflecting on this quote from St. Teresa a few years ago, I wrote the following in my journal:

I am learning to understand that God’s love must burn so strong inside of me that I yearn to save souls and draw others into His heart. My love for the Lord must turn my thoughts from an inward perspective toward love of neighbor. The Lord is showing me that loving Him involves loving those whom He places before me to love. God’s love has no bounds, no limits, no fear of rejection, no desire to hold back. His love is constantly seeking out those to call to Himself. The Lord is schooling me on love and how to gather souls for His banquet table. If only I can get people to sit and stay.”

The Lord had me on this beautiful journey of discovering who I was and what He was asking of me.

As I grew in my desire to learn more from St. Teresa of Avila, I began reading Interior Castle. I filled pages of my journal with all the notes from this book. In Interior Castle, Our Lord teaches St. Teresa about the seven mystical dwellings that we undergo in the interior castles of our heart as we grow closer to the throne of the Lord. Very similar to the physical distance of beginning in the foyer of a home, then moving to the gathering space such as a family room or living room, we eventually gain the trust and respect of our friend to be invited into their bedroom. A space where they feel the most exposed, and vulnerable. We must first offer our friendship and allow our intimacy and trust to grow in time. 

These seven dwellings represent the levels of personal and spiritual intimacy that we pass through with the Lord as He allows us to grow in relationship with Him. 

These dwellings can be summarized as follows:

1st dwelling: We are learning the disciplines of humility and self-knowledge. We are challenged by Satan as we attempt to grow in holiness. Satan will try to undermine our charity. We must love all those around us. 

2nd dwelling: Our souls begin to tune out the world and tune into the voice of God. We persevere in our prayer life even though we are frustrated by our inability to instantly do what God wants. In this phase, we try to practice our surrender to God’s will. We can practice prayer for longer periods of time. 

3rd dwelling: Our prayer time feels dry and empty. We have no consolation from the Lord. We count on one truth that we rely on God’s mercy. We continue to detach from this world. We are being tested in our humility and must completely surrender to the will of God. We cling to the virtues, delighting in any gifts God gives us. 

4th dwelling: Balance of the first three dwellings. Our spiritual delight exceeds our desire for worldly gratification. Self-mastery is gained as the soul no longer worries about trials, understanding that God will grant grace to get through them. The soul evolves through conscious effort. We honor the quiet of prayer and a turn inward to be with God. 

5th dwelling: This is a “silkworm to butterfly” transformation dwelling. This is a prayer of union in which a “dream-like” state is created where the soul transcends both sense and reason. The Lord places us in the center of our own soul and enters himself. The soul never doubts that God is with her. The union transcends all earthly joys, and delights. She is willing to do anything for the Lord. 

6th dwelling: The feelings of love intensify. We are more deeply in love and experience love as this searing wound. We have an “unbearable longing” to be with Christ. Suffering is infused with happiness. The Lord allows the Beloved to be tested. Truth becomes very clear, and we have a deep awareness of our “littleness” before the Lord. This is a stage of purification for the 7th dwelling.

7th dwelling: Our soul is in the innermost chamber where the Beloved dwells. True revelation of the Trinity. The soul must “return to the world to be of service to other souls on the path, knowing the Beloved dwells in her.” 

My heart has so many questions. Will I ever get through any of the dwellings? Do I understand what total abandonment to the Will of God really means? Can I embrace the humility and charity that a life of the Lord requires? What does my interior castle look like? After reading this book, I found myself in adoration praying for the Lord to help this simple daughter of His to understand. This meditation came pouring out of me and brought me so much consolation:

“Under Construction”

Our God is in the demolition business. He looks to tear down, restore and rebuild. He likes to expose those areas in our interior homes that need His touch. He is the grand architect, the perfect contractor, and the skilled laborer. His work is perfection, every detail thought out, no expense spared at little cost to us. 

He gently refurbishes rooms. Some areas he has to break through, which can be painful, but only to rebuild it with quality workmanship. He sees the beauty of a finished home while we see the “mess,” His work “under construction.” We want to rush His work but this job requires all of Him. He pours His grace, His Spirit, His love into this project. 

You are one of a kind. Your interior house must be like no other. Each dimension and specification to match your desires, your needs, and your gifts. 

Along this journey, He will finish room by room, as you stand in awe of His goodness. He will create details that your mind couldn’t create. Provide specifications for joys that you forget were stored away. Let Him build your interior home. Let us pray, “Lord, put me Under Construction!”

You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.”

St. Teresa of Avila

As I continued to grow in my spiritual walk, I began to embrace this concept of suffering for the Lord. As my hip pain increased, I remember praying to the Lord about whether I was to accept this suffering or pray for a miracle. Several people had asked me if I had prayed for a miracle with my hip pain. No…I hadn’t. Not because I didn’t believe God could heal me, but I believed, through prayer, that He wanted to use my suffering to draw others to Him.

After much prayer, I decided to get a second opinion, pushing past my Orthopedic doctor’s suggestion to postpone my hip replacement for another eight years. After getting a referral for a renowned surgeon in the city, I prayed right before I made that call to set up a consultation. “Lord, give me peace about this.” You can imagine my peace when the first available consultation they had was Oct. 15th, the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila. 

St. Teresa of Avila, my companion saint, “my girl,” always looking out for me. 

St. Teresa, the Patroness of those who suffer from physical pain, headaches, and oddly, chess players.

God save us from gloomy saints!”

St. Teresa of Avila

Thank you, Lord, for sending this beautiful saint into my life. 

About Author

Tammi has spent the past few years blogging about parenting, homeschooling, marriage, and family. As a 42-year-old homeschooling mom of five, she sprinkles humor and sarcasm into many of her Instagram posts and blogs. She lives with her Irish husband of 18 years in a rural area outside Philadelphia. This past year, she has shifted the focus of her blog to be authentically Catholic as she strives to “fill the banquet table of the Lord.” Check out her blog, ChasingTimeandDrinkingWine.com

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