Continuing my reflections on Saint Teresa of Avila … Finally, after all kinds of questioning, resistance, and prayer, Teresa happens to read the Epistles of Saint Jerome which must have truly edified her for she says she was filled with much courage. Courage was exactly what she needed for she knew that telling her father about her desire to enter the Carmelite monastery would be really, really tough. Teresa writes:

My father’s love for me was so great, that I could never obtain his consent; nor could the prayers of others, whom I persuaded to speak to him, be of any avail. The utmost I could get from him was that I might do as I pleased after his death. I now began to be afraid of myself, and of my own weakness—for I might go back. So, considering that such waiting was not safe for me, I obtained my end in another way, as I shall now relate. (Life 3.9)

In those days, when I was thus resolved, I had persuaded one of my brothers, by speaking to him of the vanity of the world, to become a friar; and we agreed together to set out one day very early in the morning for the monastery where that friend of mine lived for whom I had so great an affection: though I would have gone to any other monastery, if I thought I should serve God better in it, or to any one my father liked, so strong was my resolution now to become a nun—for I thought more of the salvation of my soul now, and made no account whatever of mine own ease. I remember perfectly well, and it is quite true, that the pain I felt when I left my father’s house was so great, that I do not believe the pain of dying will be greater—for it seemed to me as if every bone in my body were wrenched asunder; for, as I had no love of God to destroy my love of father and of kindred, this latter love came upon me with a violence so great that, if our Lord had not been my keeper, my own resolution to go on would have failed me. But He gave me courage to fight against myself, so that I executed my purpose. (Footnote:  The nuns sent word to the father of his child’s escape, and of her desire to become a nun, but without any expectation of obtaining his consent. He came to the monastery forthwith, and “offered up his Isaac on Mount Carmel” (Reforma, lib. i. ch. viii. § 5). (Life 4.1)

Teresa was determined to remain true to this call from God even though she was painfully aware of her father’s feelings on the matter. She knew herself well enough to know that if she didn’t pursue God’s call now, she just might let it fade away from her. As she writes, “waiting was not safe for me.”I’ve met other religious who have had similar experiences in that their family just couldn’t bear to be separated from them. In Teresa’s time, this separation was very clear as she was entering a monastery that observed enclosure. Certainly she would not be able to interact with her family as she had in the past. That is probably true for most religious, especially those who observe enclosure.

It’s as if all our relationships are reordered … not cut off, but changed. It’s not unlike when someone gets married or has a baby. Your relationship with them naturally changes and shifts around a bit. Somehow we learn to give one another the space to grow and change while at the same time hanging on to that core of a relationship (love). With religious life, things are a little different, a little more mysterious perhaps because it’s not a choice that is widely made or understood especially in our society today. Understandably family and friends might have apprehensions. But it can be tough to explain how you feel when you’re still in the process of figuring it out yourself, let alone articulating to anyone!

Thoughts, reflections, questions?