Last week we heard the passage in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus defends Mary’s choice to sit listening to his words rather than assist her sister Martha with preparations for dinner. “Mary has chosen the better part.” “Better part?” we are tempted to retort, “But where would we be without the Marthas?” Today we honor a woman who seems to have chosen—or rather been chosen for—both parts.
Designated by Pope Paul VI as a Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila is renowned for her experiences in prayer and for her sublime teachings about prayer. She is the author of such classics of the spiritual life as The Way of Perfection and Interior Castle. She summoned her Carmelite family to a more retired, contemplative way of life. She aspired to quiet, well-regulated seclusion. But for much of the time that was not the kind of life she was able to live.
In pursuit of her contemplative vision, Teresa became very much a Martha. As she tells her own story, we meet a dynamic, energetic, practical, down-to-earth personality. Reformed monasteries did not assume reality without strenuous efforts. Teresa found herself immersed in difficult travel, property negotiations and disputes, financial concerns, building and maintenance projects. Teresa was a fine businesswoman as well as a fine mystic. Moreover, like Martha, she was at home in the kitchen. As we learn from an anecdote of Teresa being caught up into ecstasy while busy with a frying pan, the Lord met her there—just as the Lord accompanied her in all the other aspects of her life. Love and attentiveness to God’s call made Teresa’s career, with its diverse elements, into an integrated whole.
- Sister Mary O’Brien, C.P.