Wednesday, May 14, 2014

St. Teresa of Avila and the Problem of Nobility

In The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila addresses at length the need for her nuns to avoid all attachment to social rank and the sense of entitlement to honor and prestige that came with it. This was a very big deal to those women of that day, because thought of social position was deeply engrained in everyone's thinking. But St. Teresa understood that those devoted to Christ must not persist in being mentally formed by the world.

And at first blush, this seems completely irrelevant to me as a modern American. I don't live in a world of lords and ladies and peasants, of titled and untitled families. So the temptation is to skip over her admonition as something meant for them, not me.

Well, not quite. Human culture changes constantly, but not so human nature. We all will always have those things inherited from our generation of cultural upbringing that form the basis of our need for the "renewal of our minds."

So for me, I look at my Gen-X, divorced-family-of-an-alcoholic baggage, and see plenty that has taught me to think in worldly ways that my culture supports, but is clearly not the mind of Christ. St. Teresa of Avila, as a nun, kept a title of nobility (as was the custom) until her deeper conversion leading to the reform of the Carmelites caused her to go all counter-cultural and leave it behind. I wonder if she didn't feel it every time she signed a letter or used all the high and flowery titles in addressing others. She had to. It would have reminded her of the love of her Spouse, who called her simply to be Teresa of Jesus, and no longer Dona Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada.

It is just as dangerous to cling to the ignoble as to nobility, and perhaps easier to deceive oneself that to do so is Christian. Rather than "I deserve to be served by those of lower station," it is "If anyone is guilty of something here, it must be me." Instead of expectations of honor and consideration, it is a cringing, fawning, and servile heart. Jesus teaches one to serve, and another to receive honor because the Lord resides in the temple of one's soul. In reality, He teaches both (and far more) to all.

The key is that our being freed from worldly ways not remind us so much of those worldly ways that we get stuck in analysis. When anyone fixes his eyes on Jesus, he will see all He needs, regardless of what the need is. To be human is to be a big, gaping need for God. And blessedness is to be filled by Him who is all we need.

You shall be called by a new name,
 pronounced by the mouth of the Lord our God
Isaiah 62:2

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