Discover more from The Prodigal Parishioner
St. Teresa of Avila Was Addicted to Social Media
That's kinda weird, isn't it?
St. Teresa of Avila was a social media junkie.
This may seem like an odd statement to make about a sixteenth-century Spanish nun, a woman who wrote in such mystical profusion and with such deep Catholic insight that she was later named a Doctor of the Church.
But it’s true.
Obviously St. Teresa didn’t have access to a medieval internet, but still the essence is the same: early in her career as a Carmelite, she craved frivolous conversation and the approval of others more than the consolation and gifts the Holy Spirit.
“I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
These incredible yet simple words, spoken in agony as Jesus endured the torture of crucifixion, tell us something amazing: God longs for us far more than we long for Him. However, before we can be open to this powerful flow of Spirit, we need to stop being so addicted to the world.
Teresa of Avila spent decades in mediocrity, enduring an agonizing internal tug-of-war because she knew there was more she could spiritually attain, but she didn’t know how open the door to let more enter. Even though she was a professed Carmelite, she still hadn’t reached what would later become her deepest spiritual awareness.
Most people have heard of Teresa’s profound mystical experiences, and may even be familiar with of her classic work, The Interior Castle, which speaks of the dwelling places within us and the levels we go through to attain union with the Divine One. What most people don’t realize is that her spiritual outpouring began later in life, after she got over herself.
Teresa’s driving need for social diversion became a block to her spiritual advancement. Living in an enclosed convent, she couldn’t get enough of “the grille.” This was a simple barred window connecting the sisters with the secular world; people from the outside come to the grille to bring personal updates, questions, or simply to gossip. Teresa would sit on the other side, safe in her convent yet still able to maintain an overactive social life. Although people did come to her for spiritual advice, she mainly enjoyed a good chat. A bit of gossip about what was happening in the world beyond the convent walls, snippets of news and time-consuming babble … Teresa allowed all those things to feed her, rather than allowing God to feed her.
Teresa’s driving need for social diversion became a block to her spiritual advancement.
It wasn’t the grille itself that was the problem, just as it’s not today’s social media that stands in our spiritual way. In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with such things. What was acting as the block in Teresa’s life was her dependence on her frivolous social relationships, and the top priority she gave them. These interactions defined who she was, casting a dark veil over her prayer life and spiritual progress, directly interfering with her relationship with Christ.
“I am she who is not,” St. Catherine of Siena realized in a mystical revelation. “Only God is.”
In other words, our entire being derives from the Holy One. If we fail to recognize that truth, we’ll alway be spiritually weary and searching, knowing there’s more but not allowing ourselves to stretch far enough to grasp everything God is thirsting to give us.
St. Teresa learned this the hard way, through years of self-blocking, struggle and inner conflict. Ultimately she discovered how to chase away the “reptiles” inside the rooms of her Inner Castle, clearing and cleansing, surrendering the chaotic needs of her surface-self so she could tumble fully into God. Only then was she able to develop a true relationship with Christ, to become the person the Holy Spirit intended her to become.
When we remember the internal battles St. Teresa fought to attain union with her Beloved, and the map she left the rest of us as we struggle along that same path, we can look to her for guidance on how to clear our own room of “reptiles”—those intrusive and unwanted thoughts, compulsions, and urges in our lives. St. Teresa shows us how to progress through our Inner Castle, and how to touch the hem of God’s robe.