Reflecting on the Writings of St. Teresa of Avila on Obedience and Humility

Books by Bishop Callahan

What is a Christian
Faith of Our Fathers
Deathly Silence
Pray Without Ceasing

St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and reformer of the Carmelite Order, placed significant emphasis on the virtues of obedience and humility. In the context of the Carmelite tradition, the vow of obedience isn’t just a monastic rule but a profound expression of one’s surrender to God’s will. St. Teresa’s writings provide deep insights into the nature and importance of this vow.

1. Obedience as Union with God’s Will

For St. Teresa, obedience was not about mere compliance with superiors or rules but was about aligning oneself entirely with God’s will. In her various writings, especially “The Way of Perfection,” she repeatedly stressed that true obedience springs from a heart that seeks nothing but God’s will.

2. Humility as the Foundation

Obedience, in the Carmelite tradition, is closely linked to humility. St. Teresa often mentioned that genuine obedience can only stem from a heart that recognizes its own limitations and the infinite wisdom of God. “To be humble is to walk in truth,” she wrote, highlighting that recognizing our own frailty paves the way for true obedience.

3. Freedom in Obedience

Contrary to the world’s view that sees obedience as a form of bondage, St. Teresa saw it as a path to true freedom. For her, obedience to God’s will liberated the soul from its own disordered desires and attachments. In this freedom, one finds true peace and fulfillment.

4. Obedience in Community

While the essence of obedience is in submitting to God’s will, St. Teresa emphasized the practical dimension of obedience within the Carmelite community. For her, obeying superiors and the rules of the order was a concrete expression of one’s obedience to God. It was also a means of fostering unity and harmony within the community.

5. Tests of True Obedience

St. Teresa was realistic in her approach, acknowledging that the vow of obedience would be tested. She emphasized that true obedience is revealed not when it’s easy but when it’s challenging. In those moments of difficulty, one’s depth of surrender to God becomes evident.

6. The Fruit of Obedience

In her reflections, St. Teresa often pointed to the fruits that flow from a life of obedience: peace, joy, and a closer union with God. She believed that a soul rooted in obedience would naturally be drawn deeper into the mysteries of God’s love and grace.

7. Conclusion

For St. Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite vow of obedience was a profound spiritual commitment, one that transcended mere external compliance. Rooted in humility and a deep love for God, this vow became a path to union with the Divine. In an age that often prizes individualism and autonomy, St. Teresa’s insights on obedience and humility offer a counter-cultural yet deeply freeing perspective on surrendering to God’s will.

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