St. Teresa of Avila was the great reformer of the Carmelite Order. She spent the last years of her life traveling extensively, as she laid the foundation for seventeen discalced Carmelite convents throughout sixteenth century Spain. On one of these trips, as she was getting out of a carriage after a long, tiring journey in the rain, she slipped and fell in a large puddle of mud. Her nice clean habit was soaked and dripping with mire.
Exasperated, she prayed, “Lord, why do you do these things to me when I’m only trying to help you?”
Jesus apparently answered her prayer, saying, “This is how I treat all my close friends.”
And Teresa retorted, “Then it’s no wonder you have so few!”
There is a great truth being presented here. Christ loves us too much to let us deceive ourselves into thinking that we can have heaven on earth. He is always trying to remind us where we are supposed to head.
This is also the message of the Beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel. “Blessed are you who are poor…” Or, as we are more used to hearing from other translations: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit”. I think these words are about more than just being poor. They speak of a sense of humility first. There is a humility that can open the door to allow Christ into our life, a reminder that we need Christ’s help in every situation. One of the reasons that I liked that story about Teresa of Avila was because in it’s humorous way it shows us that she was a person—and perhaps one who did not take herself too seriously.
There’s a Jesuit spiritual writer that has been a great help to me on my spiritual journey. I’ve shared some of his wisdom from time to time with all of you in my homilies. His name is Thomas Green. In an introduction to one of his spiritual books he wrote that he loved to read the novels of P. G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse was a British writer of comic novels. He wrote tons of them! He’s the write who invented the characters Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. The reason Green liked to read these books, he said, because they always reminded him that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
There’s great wisdom in this and directly connects to being poor in spirit. When we take ourselves too seriously we tend to do so at the expense of realizing that we need Christ in our life. We stop learning from our mistakes or we allow ourselves to become too frustrated over our faults and bad habits.
In Jesus’s profound words to all those people who gathered to listen to him, he’s really saying, blessed are all those who come to the realization that they need me. Blessed are those who understand that I am with you in the good times and the bad times of life. Blessed are you who know that when life gets rough, I’m there it midst of it all, and that everything that’s happening has a purpose that someday you will understand.
There’s another beautiful image and that’s found in the first reading. It’s this: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.
That’s why it’s good to gaze on a crucifix every day. A reminder that earth is not heaven, and a reminder that Christ paved a way for us, but it’s not a path free of hardship. So, like Christ we pray for the confidence to “fear not the heat when it comes” and to not take ourselves too seriously.