Sermon: Teresa of Ávila

The podcast is available here.

Although most of you read the autobiography of Teresa of Ávila and know much of her life for yourselves, I hope you aren’t tired of hearing the stories about her life.  One that I find particularly humorous is about establishment of the religious house in Medina.

All the arrangements had been made, but as they drew near to the town, they learned that an Augustinian monastery that was near by was objecting to the sisters establishing another house.  Reason: the Augustinians believed that Teresa and her little gang of nuns would begin to cut into the alms that the people gave in support of them.  So great were the Augustinians fears that they were prepared to file a lawsuit against Teresa.  Teresa, it would seem, was never daunted.  

The solution: say Mass in the new house before the Augustinians even knew they were in town, for once the Mass was said in a new chapel, it was very difficult to remove anyone.  So, instead of arriving in full day when everyone would see, Teresa and her nuns snuck in at midnight.  Teresa writes: “There we were in the streets, friars and nuns, laden with the sacred vessels and vestments necessary for saying the first Mass and fitting up the chapel: we looked like gypsies who had been robbing churches: if we had run into a night patrol we should have spent the rest of the night in jail.”  (Source, p. 123) How did it work out?  The town of Medina woke up that morning to the ringing of the bells, calling people to Mass, at the new convent… and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Aside from the humor of it all, what strikes me is the significance of saying the Mass.  I could go out and find some building and with the right support, claim it in the name of the church, say Mass and still no one would think twice about demolishing the building as soon as I walked out the doors (or maybe while I was still inside).  To many, nothing special would have occurred within those walls, but for Teresa and the faithful, the Mass was the way of making God truly present.  She writes: “The Lord had given this person such lively faith that, when she heard people say they wished they had lived when Christ walked on this earth, she would smile to herself, for she knew that we have Him as truly with us in the Most Holy Sacrament as people had Him then, and wonder what more they could possibly want.” (Source, p.125)  She expresses there one of the great mysteries of our faith: God chose to humble himself and be born in a manger and God chooses to continue to humble himself and be fully present to us—just as present as he was to the disciples—in the bread and the wine, the body and the blood.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  The same source of the light that shines forth from us is contained within the bread and the wine: Jesus.  When you receive communion, remember, it is not ‘what’ you are receiving, but ‘who’ you are receiving.  And then, in the words of Teresa, ask yourself, “What more could I possibly want?”

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