St. Teresa of Ávila’s Lesson of Resolve in the Face of Attacks on the Church

The great Doctor of the Church reminds us that, in times when ‘God has so many enemies and so few friends,’ we must strive to become holier and ensure ‘that these few friends be good ones.’

François Gérard, “Teresa of Ávila” (detail), 1827
François Gérard, “Teresa of Ávila” (detail), 1827 (photo: Public Domain)

Throughout human history, in times of confusion, upheaval, and seemingly revolutionary change in society and within the Church, the human condition always remains the same — which is why the writings of great saints, clergy and laity of the past can be helpful and relatable to our own contemporary struggles.

As part of a series highlighting these pertinent texts, below is a passage from The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Ávila in which the 16th-century saint recounts how she resolved to do all she could to protect the Church and save souls in the face of internal attacks during the Protestant revolt.

This realization led her to restore Carmelite life to its original observance of austerity, and to introduce a prayerful life of penance at the Carmelite convents she founded — what she termed “our vocation of reparation” for the sins of humankind.

When I began to take the first steps toward founding this monastery, it was not my intention that there be so much external austerity. At that time news reached me of the harm being done in France and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused and how much this miserable sect was growing. The news distressed me greatly, and, as though I could do something or were something, I cried to the Lord and begged him that I might remedy so much evil. It seemed to me that I would have given a thousand lives to save one soul out of the many that were being lost there.
I realized I was a woman and wretched and incapable of doing any of the useful things I desired to do in the service of the Lord. All my longing was and still is that since he has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones. As a result, I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same. I did this trusting in the great goodness of God, who never fails to help anyone who is determined to give up everything for him.
My trust was that if these sisters matched the ideal my desires had set for them, my faults would not have much strength in the midst of so many virtues; and I could thereby please the Lord in some way. Since we would all be occupied in prayer for those who are the defenders of the Church and for preachers and for learned men who protect her from attack, we could help as much as possible this Lord of mine who is roughly treated by those for whom he has done so much good; it seems these traitors would want him to be crucified again and that he have no place to lay his head.
Still, my heart breaks to see how many souls are lost. Though I can’t grieve so much over the evil already done — that is irreparable — I would not want to see more of them lost each day.
O my Sisters in Christ, help me beg these things of the Lord. This is why he has gathered you together here. This is your vocation. These must be the things you desire, the things you weep about; these must be the objects of your petitions. The world is all in flames; they want to sentence Christ again, so to speak, since they raise a thousand false witnesses against him; they want to ravage his Church.
So, then, I beg you for the love of the Lord to ask His Majesty to hear us in this matter. Miserable though I am, I ask His Majesty this, since it is for his glory and the good of the Church; this glory and good is the object of my desires.”

From The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Ávila; “The Apostolic Aim of the Teresian Carmel,” from the Office of Readings, April 18, 2023.