Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
"No one is tempted more than he is able to bear."
The purpose of the newest book in the Navigating the Interior Life book series, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, is to reveal the unique personality, wisdom, and insight that often emerges out of the letters of the saints. These letters are a window into Saint Teresa’s genuine humanity, witness, and pragmatic advice for pursuing an intimate friendship with God.
I’ll be sharing some of the letters here, in the hope that you’ll be inspired to spend time prayerfully reflecting on them. This is Day 29 from the book.
To a Carmelite Nun
How to bear persecution.
. . . In order to profit and advance by means of persecutions and injuries it is well to reflect that God has been offended by them before I have. When the blow strikes me, He has already been offended by the sin. The soul that loves its Bridegroom ought already to have pledged itself to be entirely His and to have no will of its own, and if He bears with the injury, why should we resent it? Our only sorrow should be that God has been offended, for the soul itself is not directly affected but is only reached by the sensitiveness of the body which richly deserves to suffer in this world.
To die or suffer—this should be our wish.
No one is tempted more than he is able to bear.
Nothing happens except by the will of God.
“My father,” said Eliseus to Elias: “you are the chariot of Israel and the driver thereof.”
Patience and Perspective in Suffering: Carmelites root their heritage in the biblical experiences of Elijah. This solidarity finds in prayer the strength to confound the oppressive cultural, political, and religious forces of his day. Pure of heart, Elijah identified with the poor and lowly. Just as he unmasked the false devotion of his day and became a living symbol of true devotion to the Lord, St. Teresa directs one of her nuns to his secret. Teresa wants those who have dedicated themselves to the path of Carmel to choose this persecuted prophet as their spiritual father. They can be chariot and driver in the Church, they can be caught up out of the sight of this world, if they learn, as he did, to hear and live by the voice of God when they are under fire.
This letter was written during a time in which St. Teresa and many of those who were her closest friends were being dealt with in a very unjust manner. Ridicule, calumny, imprisonment, and torture were doled out to thwart not infidelity or sin, but the effort to return to a more disciplined life and a more fervent pursuit of mental prayer. The temptation to indulge in righteous indignation and resentment would have been very tangible, and the mother of the reform understood the importance of offering a word of truth that might help in this difficult battle.
Her words remind all of us that any endeavor we take for the Lord must be pursued in a manner that is in relation to who the Lord is and how He acts. Only faith makes such freedom possible, but such grace also needs to be chosen and acted upon, or it remains a nice wish that does not cost us anything. Love that does not cost is not love. If God loves patiently when He is offended, we must try to love in the same way.
Her message is not reducible to moralism or pious drivel, but instead stands on a powerful insight into the very nature of God. It sides with God’s decision to patiently endure evil, to show that evil does not ultimately define the situations we confront in life. This is true even when the circumstances are offensive and oppressive. When we are patient with God’s patience, we avail ourselves of a profound contemplation, a beholding of the victory of good over evil. This vision that divine patience knows is what the mother of the Carmelite reform wants us to share.
Evil, even that which others inflict on us unjustly, is not limitless. Its painful extent is limited, but, in contrast, a love that endures is a love that is unlimited and a love that triumphs over death. The fact that friendship with God and mental prayer open up a participation in this victory is the basis from which Teresa counsels patient faith in the love of God as the better pathway when we are under fire.
We do not know the designee of this letter. It is providential that this person remains anonymous, for it invites us to also be the recipient of this beautiful wisdom. Bearing injury is not merely for the great heroes of our faith, but is for the everyday followers of the Lord. Teresa does not excuse any of her nuns or spiritual children from this difficult contest.
She requires them to stand firm, not in a sense of resigned obligation, but with the joy of choosing to behold the glory of God. For St. Teresa, this divine standard does not admit of resentment: Just as God bears injury not grudges, so too should we renounce anything that is not worthy of the Lord festering in our hearts.
The divine standard points to the mystery of beatitude. A beatitude is a moment in which we act in pure human freedom, unimpeded by anything that is not worthy of human nobility. This kind of blessing always involves a decision, a movement of grace-filled freedom, a defining choice for God, for love, for the truly human.
This kind of choice implies renunciation: we cannot be patient if we torment ourselves with resentment. We must say no, we must disavow our propensity to brood over injuries, to replay painful scenarios over and over again. To choose to stand with God implies a refusal to stand in self-righteous indignation.
Such a simple loving movement of heart bears fruit beyond anything that any other action can produce. The fruit of a single moment of beatitude lasts forever, rippling through one’s whole existence and extends to all others who are connected to that moment and that person. “Blessed are the Persecuted”—the very apex of Christian beatitudes—is what Teresa holds out to us through the vision of God she invites us to see in her words: “He bears with injury.”
Profound and fruitful happiness awaits those who love the Lord and make the decisions to be like the Lord. Resentment and bitterness destroy the beatitude that might otherwise be ours in the midst of persecution. These preoccupations of heart dissipate our spiritual strength.
Note: If you would like to read all of these letters and reflections, please click here and purchase 30 Days with Teresa of Avila through the EWTN Religious Catalogue and support the worldwide efforts of EWTN.