I’m writing these thoughts late in the evening Thursday, October 15. For the Catholic Church, this has been the Feast Day of St. Teresa of Avila. Among those in the Discalced Carmelite order – be they priests/friars, nuns or lay seculars – the 16th-century Spanish nun is known by her name in Carmel: St. Teresa of Jesus. Or even more fondly, she is called Holy Mother, for indeed she reformed the Carmelite order and gave it the direction Carmelites enjoy pursuing today.
I have gotten to know Teresa much better, and have come to consider her a spiritual mother, since I was accepted into formation with the Secular Carmelites this spring. I have heard others in Carmel talk about her with an intimate love and admiration. And I have read about her as well as things written by her, including her classic “The Way of Perfection,” in which I am immersed right now.
This has been a special year for Carmelites. Teresa was born in 1515, making this the 500-year anniversary of her birth. I’m sure it has been a hectic year in Avila, a town of about 60,000 people in east-central Spain. I hope to visit some day in the not-too-distant future.
A celebrated mystic and Doctor of the Church, Teresa was probably first and foremost a woman of prayer – particularly contemplative prayer, which is meditative and interior rather than vocal. Along the way of my reading, I came across one of the better known of her somewhat formal prayers that surely developed from time in silent contemplation. According to Carmelite tradition, the prayer was found on a marker in her prayer book following her death in 1582. Hence its name: St. Teresa’s Bookmark.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Hmmm … God alone suffices.
A simple sentence. But there have been several books which stole that sentence as a title. There are volumes of theology books filled with the thoughts of great women and men that expound upon that sentence. And there are lives of countless saints whose purpose and meaning were defined by that sentence.
A mere three words … If we could grasp the profound depth of those, we frankly would need to know no other bit of theology.
God … Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Complete and pure and unconditional love. Creator of all things, provider of all that is good. Redeemer and savior, brother and friend. Breath and sustainer of life.
Alone … All on His own, with no need for help from anyone or anything else. “I AM WHO AM” in a personal, intimate, utterly unique and unrivaled relationship.
Suffices … Not “sufficed,” because it’s not something that happened in the past and may never happen again. Not “will suffice,” as something that is going to happen in the future but isn’t available today. No, Teresa said God alone suffices in the present tense, in the here and now, as well as in every moment of the past and every moment of the future for us. Frankly, there is no past or future with an eternal God. Every moment is now.
That word suffices means “meets one’s needs, serves one’s purposes.” So God alone meets our needs and God alone serves our purposes. God alone is enough. God alone is adequate. God alone satisfies.
I regularly communicate with people who are looking for hope. They might be suffering from mental, emotional or physical anguish from a chronic illness. They might feel alone in facing whatever life is throwing at them. They might feel overwhelmed, that the pain may never end, that the hole only seems to grow deeper and the night seems to become darker. They could look for solace in doctors or medicine, in religion or government, in family or friends. And perhaps they already have but have been disappointed.
People and man-made things and institutions always will disappoint eventually. They are not built for perfection. Perfect and true hope can come from only one source.
God alone suffices.