Reflection by Anthony Lilles and Dan Burke
Valladolid, February 19, 1569
To Alonzo Ramirez
Cause of the delay in the journey to Toledo.
Encouragement in the difficulties likely to arise.
As regards the licenses, with the help of heaven I hope to get the king’s easily. There may be a certain amount of worry about it, as I know by experience that Satan cannot endure our houses and always persecutes us, but God is all-powerful and the evil one goes off with a broken head.
We had a great deal of trouble here from the leading men of the city but it is all over now. Do not suppose that you will have to offer God no more than you have planned; you will have to give Him much more. He rewards good works by sending us an opportunity for greater ones. It is nothing to give coppers—they cost us little—but when people stone you and your son-in-law and all of us who have taken part in the matter (as they nearly did in Avila when St. Joseph’s was founded), then the project will succeed, and I believe that neither the convent, nor we who suffer in the cause, will be any the worse for it, but will gain greatly. May God direct the whole affair as He sees best! Do not feel at all anxious. . . .
Your unworthy servant,
Teresa of Jesus, Carmelite
One can almost see a smirk on the face of Teresa as she writes the last line of this paragraph, “Do not feel at all anxious.” After letting her victim know that he will have to give far more than he is prepared to give, and reflecting on the devil’s response to the advance of the kingdom, she seems to find a bit of fun in the battle.
Teresa was ever aware of the work of the enemy in and through people. But she was even more aware of the strength of God’s kingdom as it advances: “Satan cannot endure our houses.”
Many rightly quote Matthew 16:18 when speaking of the battle we face as we advance the kingdom of God:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
However, the common interpretation is often far from the meaning of Jesus’ words. He proclaims that He will build His Church on the confession and ordination of Peter, and that the gates of hell will not be able to hold back the advance of the kingdom as it breaks in and invades territory otherwise occupied by the enemy.
The mighty warrior mystic knows firsthand the proper interpretation of Jesus’ words in this passage. She rightly sees the establishment of her monasteries as an assault and occupation of enemy territory. As such, as when a beehive is disturbed, she also knows the consequences and the heavenly rewards as she reveals in The Way of Perfection chapter 38:
I feel convinced that souls which have arrived at this degree of perfection in prayer do not ask God to deliver them from trials or temptations, nor from persecutions and combats. This is another unmistakable and noteworthy effect, showing that the contemplation and favors given to such people come from the Holy Ghost and are not illusions, for, as I said just now, these souls wish for and demand such troubles and love them instead of hating them. They are like soldiers—the more they fight, the better they like it, for thus they hope for a richer booty. When there is no war they live on their pay, but they know they will not grow rich on that. Believe me, sisters, the battle never comes soon enough for the soldiers of Christ. I allude to contemplatives, and people who practice prayer. They have little fear of open enemies, knowing them well already and being aware that such foes have little power against the strength given them by God through which they always gain the victory and come forth from the fray with great spoils and riches, so that they never beat a retreat.
With this faith-filled conviction and an extraordinary strength of will, she unhesitatingly disturbs the hive knowing she will be stung, but that the suffering—rather than weaken her—will only make her stronger and further establish the work of God in her heart and in her mission.
Her comfort comes not from any human ability to endure the assault, but from knowing that God is working in and through the assault, and that by her “yes” and His grace, she will conquer all the territory that He assigns to her.
Anthony Lilles is an author and theologian who serves in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as academic dean of St. John’s Seminary and academic adviser to Juan Diego House. Dan Burke is the executive director of EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Together they compiled reflections on the letters of St. Teresa of Avila in 30 Days with Teresa of Avila.