Tuesday, November 1, 2022

St. Teresa had Chutzpah

A story is told about St. Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582). One night she was walking back to her convent in a driving rain storm. On the way, she slipped down an embankment and landed in a huge mud puddle. Covered in mud from head to toe, she looked up to Heaven and shouted at God: “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

I love this story for many reasons. First, it’s just flat-out funny. I mean, you would never expect a nun to talk to God like that. What St. Teresa exclaimed is so startling, you just have to laugh.
Second, this is a great example of how to react during a very frustrating event: you should acknowledge the reality and frustration of the moment, but you don’t get so consumed with anger or pity that it ruins your frame-of-mind for the next three weeks.

Next, this story brings a smile to my face because it is such a great example of chutzpah. Since a large percentage of our Catholic faith is based on God’s relationship with His Chosen People, our Jewish brethren, we should employ one of their best words more often: chutzpah, which means “self-confident audacity.” Only someone who was really confident in her close relationship with God could speak such audacious words to Him.

Finally, I love this story for what it says about God more than what it says about St. Teresa. As we all know, God is God, and we are not. God is all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing, and perfect. We, on the other hand, aren’t even close. It’s only natural for puny humans to bow down in humble awe and fear before the Almighty Creator of the Universe. (Or as Pastor Steve Brown often says, “If you’ve never stood before God and trembled, then you’ve never stood before God.”)

The difference between God and humanity is so vast, that we really have no right to be flippant or sarcastic when interacting with God. But here is the heart of the Good News: God loves us. His love for us is so intense, we can’t even begin to comprehend it. God loves us in the same way a parent loves his or her precious child – times a billion. But unlike some of the parent-child relationships we may have experienced growing up, God is a perfect parent. He is not so frustrated and stressed-out that He demands silence and obedience from His children. God does not slap us across the mouth if we “talk back” to Him.

God is so loving and forgiving, I’m fairly certain when St. Teresa shook her muddy fist at the sky and yelled her snarky comment, God laughed out loud. Then, just for fun, He probably made it rain a little harder. 

I know this is difficult for some people to understand, but God is playful. How can I say such a sacrilegious thing, you ask? Easy. Because love is playful. People who are in love want to be with each other, and laugh and frolic together. St. Teresa knew this. She loved God so much, and knew He loved her back, that she could freely say exactly what was on her mind at that moment.
At this point, some folks might ask: “If God loves us, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” That’s a very good question. We don’t have time now to dig into that issue (maybe in a future essay), but please keep in mind that our entire life on earth is just a pre-season scrimmage, as we get ready for the real game: eternal life in Heaven. In Heaven, all the injustices and heartaches of this fallen world will be made right.

For the time being, let’s just remember that despite all the trials of life, God loves us and He wants us to be in a close relationship with Him. If we understand that He is the perfect, forgiving parent, and that He really wants to laugh and frolic with us, we can tell Him exactly what’s on our mind. And in the process, we can even display a little chutzpah. 

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