Panel explores Saint Teresa of Avila’s relevance to young Catholics
Martha Reilly | Friday, March 20, 2015
Four speakers gathered Thursday night at Saint Mary’s to discuss St. Teresa of Ávila’s relevance to young Catholics as part of a spring lecture series in honor of the 500th anniversary of her birth.
Teresa’s selflessness and love for others were common themes in each speaker’s presentation, but Julia Feder, a postdoctoral fellow in Notre Dame’s theology department, focused especially on false humility, which she said can produce fear and a lack of confidence in believers.
“There are many opportunities to misinterpret humility,” Feder said. “False humility can produce fear and overzealous penitential practices. True humility will lead one to accept God’s blessings and courageously take up love of one’s neighbor. It will lead to activity, rather than to paralysis.”
Additionally, Feder emphasized the importance of honoring God through prayer. She said conversation with God can lead to greater understanding of oneself.
“Prayer is for those seeking purification,” Feder said. “It is the door to the healing works of God. The journey toward union with God and prayer is also a journey toward knowledge of the self.”
Maria Surat, a master of divinity student at Notre Dame, discussed Teresa’s desire for people to follow in the example of the Carmelites and meditate each day.
“Teresa taught that prayer is nothing but a conversation between friends,” Surat said. “She tells us to seek God with determination and to never give up in prayer. Prayer is not thinking much but loving much.”
Surat said Teresa’s followers should consider God a close friend, for this perspective can help them to grow in faith.
“Teresa teaches us to seek God’s face in the person of Christ and to cultivate intimate friendship with him,” Surat said. “We are called to friendship with God so that we might encourage others to seek him.”
Surat related her own life to Teresa’s life 500 years ago and said Teresa faced challenges much like her own.
“In contemporary society, we are faced with many challenges to the gospel,” Surat said. “Teresa encourages us to be strong friends of God. She too was living in a time of painful division of the Church.”
Katie Bugyis, a Ph.D. candidate in Medieval Studies at Notre Dame, said Teresa’s experiences connect with those of her modern-day followers.
“Teresa had to overcome opposition,” she said. ““he was even forced to abandon her efforts to retire to a monastery in Castille for four years. She quickly learned from the many difficulties that plagued her foundations and developed strategies for circumventing any obstacles.”
Despite Teresa’s struggles, Bugyis said she witnessed the establishment of 17 Carmelite houses for nuns throughout Spain, where she enforced her own guidelines and principles.
“Teresa’s reforming ideals were inspired by nearly 30 years of experience as a Carmelite nun at La Encarnación in Ávila,” Bugyis said. “Teresa was convinced that preferential treatment would destroy monastic communities. She insisted ‘All must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.’”
Saint Mary’s sophomore Kaleigh Ellis shared photos of her time in Ávila, where she walked in Teresa’s footsteps.
“Ávila has a real devotion to Teresa,” Ellis said. “It puts history in perspective when you can walk around areas where people like St. Teresa walked around.”
Although her 500th birthday will be celebrated March 28, Teresa’s legacy is ongoing, Surat said.
“Teresa is a woman who has truly experienced God in her life, and she speaks to us from that experience,” Surat said. “We are encouraged to make Teresa’s dying words our own: ‘I want to see God. I am a daughter of the church.’”