St. Teresa of Avila on Reacting to Praise and Blame

Source used:
Dubay, T. (1989). Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross,
 and the Gospel—On Prayer (pp. 120–121). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

St. Teresa of Avila, in speaking about humility as a key component of growth in prayer…

(1) Human blame is always more secure than human praise. 

Because Jesus was hated and abused and reviled, and because the saints did not advance except through being despised, we cannot expect to advance unless we follow in their footsteps. As a matter of fact, the soul is freed and it reigns when it is persecuted. Each of us should say that he deserves to be wronged by others and to suffer from them.

“At this moment”, says the saint, “I see that I am so guilty in Thy sight that everything I might have to suffer would fall short of my deserts, though anyone not knowing, as Thou knowest, what I am, would think I was being wronged” (Way, chap. 36, p. 237).

One who entertains this view finds it far easier to forgive others and thus finds also that a number of obstacles to prayer growth are consequently removed.

(2) The only time we should explain oneself when wrongly blamed is when failing to explain will cause either offence or scandal. 

Most people would consider that excusing oneself under blame, especially unjust blame, has little to do with prayer life. A naturalistic ethic would assume that a person may without any fault defend himself as long as his defense is fair and honest and nonabusive toward the accuser. Not so St. Teresa. While there are occasions when it is right to explain oneself, they are in her view comparatively rare. Because the saint could say of herself that “I never seem unable to find a reason for thinking I am being virtuous when I make excuses for myself”, she considers that she does not have the humility to know when it is fitting to explain herself and her actions. It is better, then, usually to abstain from self-justification under accusation except when failing to explain will cause either offence or scandal.

(3) 7 reasons to be silent in false blame. 

So important does Teresa consider this advice that she devotes several pages to offering her reasons.

  1. The first is the silence of Jesus in his Passion. He was supremely guiltless and yet did not open his mouth in self-defence. Even if we understood none of the other reasons, this one would be sufficient.
  2. Connected with this fact is another: imitating the Lord in his humiliations requires neither bodily strength nor the aid of anyone but God. This penance will not harm one’s health as excessively corporal ones may do.
  3. A third reason is that silence under accusation can be practiced in small matters, and it accustoms one to “gain great victories” in other important affairs.
  4. Fourth, we are all so full of faults for which we are not blamed that “we can never be blamed unjustly”. In other words, we have criticism coming to us, and when we receive it well, we make reparation for other sins as well.
  5. A fifth benefit stems from the good example silence gives to the accuser and to others, especially when they find out eventually that we were not guilty. “Such an experience”, observes the saint, “uplifts the soul more than ten sermons.”
  6. St. Teresa finds a sixth reason in the example of Jesus, Who twice defended a woman who was unjustly accused. Often people will do the same in our behalf. “His Majesty, then, will put it into somebody’s mind to defend you; if He does not, it will be because there is no need.”
  7. Last, and directly pertinent to growth in prayer, the person who usually remains silent under criticism gains a great freedom from concern and worry about other people’s opinions. No longer living as a slave to others’ minds, such a person more easily soars into the divine mind.

Comments

  1. WOW! So helpful. Thank you Richard!

    God bless you,
    Ryan

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