They say that you don’t choose the saints you are close to, instead, they choose you. Sometimes we feel we are chosen by saints who answer our prayers for their intercession, or help us practically (in case you’re wondering, St. Anthony lives at MY house, and although he is very busy we are happy to let you borrow him occasionally….).
To me, this idea of being chosen is shown most deeply through a resonance, like the saint is holding a mirror up to your heart, soul and life, inspiring you to get closer to God by a route that is in some way similar to their own path.
I met St. Teresa of Avila at a moment in my life where God was gently pushing me to see myself in a different way. Like many women in their 30s, I was striving to make myself the woman I wanted to be, accomplished in my works, a good wife and mother, active in apostolate and obedient to God.
I began to realize that I had built my persona and many of the things I esteemed about myself as a way of defining who I was based on my accomplishments.
I came to see that I had been trying to prove my worth to myself, to others and to God through the woman I had created, but I was exhausted by always striving to forge this life and identity that was in truth a mask which hid my more real but less sure, less strong, self.
I didn’t want to look behind this carefully constructed mask, afraid of what I would see, what others would see, what God would see. Afraid it wasn’t enough.
But in his quiet, insistent way, God had been asking me in prayer to put the mask down and allow myself to be seen by him. It was slightly terrifying. I had spent years working hard on this best version of myself in my skillset, my prayer life, my apostolate- doing everything I could to become who I wanted to be.
My carefully built identity was my security blanket, my worth was in my accomplishments and in what I could offer others. The quiet voice in my soul told me, insistently, that those things were not the sum of who I was, and that I had to stop clinging to them to become who I truly am.
Feeling called to spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament while wrestling with this, my spiritual director encouraged me just to go there and be quiet, to look at Christ and let him show me what he wanted me to see. And he suggested I read The Life of St. Teresa of Avila, her autobiography.
Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography
I had a habit of approaching the saints with skepticism, not expecting to find any resonance in their perfect and glorious lives. I guess I didn’t really know the saints well enough.
Opening The Life, I found a woman who mirrored many of the things I saw in myself. As a young woman she was deeply attached to friendships, she was intelligent and her accomplishments were important to her. She was passionate, but vain. She was capable, but inconsistent. She loved goodness, but didn’t always choose it. In her own words,
“I began to discover the natural gifts which our Lord had given me–they were said to be many; and, when I should have given Him thanks for them, I made use of every one of them, as I shall now explain, to offend Him.” (Ch.1)
“I looked more to the pleasure of sense and vanity than to the good of my soul.” (Ch.3)
I saw many of the strengths and weaknesses I knew to be my own. What was different about this young nun who would become La Madre was that Christ drew her to himself, showing her that none of these qualities and deficiencies defined her. And she let him draw her. She found that her identity was in being His.
“He drew me into His presence; for I saw that, if He had not drawn me, I should not have come at all.” (Ch.9)
During the months I read The Life, I prayed. Sitting alone for hours over days and months in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I felt Christ draw me too. But I was afraid to be drawn. Walking with St Teresa, as I started to come to know her, I found her giving me the courage to follow her example and let Christ bring me on a new path of discovery, not knowing where it would lead. I didn’t know what I would find in myself, whether it would be enough for Him, or whether we both would be disappointed when the masks were truly down. I had real trust issues.
“Thou didst chastise my sins with great consolations.” ( Ch.7)
What I learned was that the masks which I clung to as my protection were really prison walls that stood between me and my God. As I let them crumble, I was exposed, but exposed to a light and a love that I had never felt before. My weaknesses and flaws, like those of young Teresa, were obvious and painful, but inconsequential in the face of overwhelming love. I didn’t need to create a best version of myself. God had already done that, and my true goal was to return to the identity he has had in mind for me from the very beginning of my existence.
Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you (Jer 1:5)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Is 43: 1)
You are precious and honored in my sight,
and I love you. (Is 43:4)
I didn’t understand why Christ loved me as he does, seeing all my flaws, but in prayer his eyes were so magnetic that I couldn’t look at myself and my weaknesses anymore, only at Him.
Walking with Teresa I discovered that Christ didn’t just love me from the outside. He lives in the deepest part of who I am. While I had hidden my flaws from my own sight, he had always seen them, and had never ceased to love me. At the core of my identity wasn’t the unworthiness and weakness I expected to find, covered up by accomplishment, it was a woman who was loved into existence and belongs to Him.
I didn’t understand this love, but Teresa taught me through her own experience that I don’t need to understand, I just need to let him love me, and let this love be unlike anything I had experienced before, without fear.
I found myself by finding Christ within my heart, and he continues to draw me closer and deeper into himself. St Teresa still walks with me on this path, instructing & encouraging me, reminding me that God alone suffices and that Christ always shows me where to find Him and where to find myself.
Seeking God by Teresa of Avila
Soul, you must seek yourself in Me
And in yourself seek Me
With Such skill, soul,
Love could portray you in Me
That a painter well gifted
Could never show
So finely that image.
For love you were fashioned
Deep within me
Painted so beautiful, so fair;
If, my beloved, I should lose you,
Soul, in yourself seek Me.
Well I know that you will discover
Yourself portrayed in my heart
So lifelike drawn
It will be delight to behold
Yourself so well painted.
And should by chance you do not know
Where to find Me,
Do not go here and there;
But if you wish to find Me,
In yourself seek Me.
Soul, since you are My room,
My house and dwelling,
If at any time,
Though your distracted ways
I find the door tightly closed,
Outside Yourself seek Me not,
To find Me it will be
Enough only to call Me,
Then quickly will I come,
And in yourself seek Me.