St Teresa on prayer

May 1, 2009

St Teresa

Teresa has a nice realist take on prayer. Perfection, or a high motivation thereto, is not a prerequisite for prayer. The love of God is not even a prerequisite for prayer. Prayer can achieve these ends, but prayer is first and foremost undertaken as an ignorant sinner.

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And anyone who has not begun to pray, I beg, for love of the Lord, not to miss so great a blessing. There is no place here for fear, but only for desire. For, even if a person fails to make progress, or to strive after perfection, so that he may merit the consolations and favours given to the perfect by God, yet he will gradually gain [through prayer] a knowledge of the road to Heaven. And if he perseveres, I hope in the mercy of God, Whom no one has ever taken for a Friend without being rewarded; and mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us. If love is to be true and friendship lasting, certain conditions are necessary: on the Lord’s side we know these cannot fail, but our nature is vicious, sensual and ungrateful. You cannot therefore succeed in loving Him as much as He loves you, because it is not in your nature to do so. If, then, you do not yet love Him, you will realize [through prayer] how much it means to you to have His friendship and how much He loves you, and you will gladly endure the troubles which arise from being so much with One Who is so different from you.

St Teresa of Avila, The Life of the Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus, The Complete Works, vol. 1 (Burns & Oates, 2002), trans. E. Allison Peers, p. 50.