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St Teresa on Difficulties in Life – Day 3, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila

What does St. Teresa of Avila have to say about difficulties in life? Find out in today's excerpt and reflection from 30 Days with Teresa of Avila.

30 Days with Teresa of Avila 600x334 life is short


Toledo, March 1569*
To Doña María de Mendoza
Letter of condolence. The foundation at Toledo.


May the Holy Spirit be with you!

I have made this journey with a very heavy heart, for I deeply regretted leaving Valladolid after receiving a letter from his Lordship the Bishop stating that you were undergoing a severe trial, although not explaining what it was. Had it not come on the eve of my departure, I would not have left you in such trouble; however, it has had the great advantage of leading me to pray much to our Lord for you. I do not know why I fancy that your trial may be connected with the Administrator’s opposition to the Lady Abbess. The idea consoled me, for although it would be a cross, God might permit it for the benefit of her soul. May it please His Majesty to dispose of matters as I beg of Him!

I was very glad to hear that your health is excellent. Oh, if only your self-control equaled your control over others, how little would you care for the world and all its troubles! . . .

Thank God you set them so good an example. And how do you think you must do so now? By bearing the many crosses by which our Lord begins to fan the love for Him which He has lit in your soul in order that it may enkindle others. So that I entreat you to take courage: think of what our Lord suffered at this time. Life is short; our trials last but a moment. . . .

Your Ladyship’s unworthy servant and subject,


Teresa de Jesus, Carmelite


“Life is short, our troubles last but a moment”: These words reflect a great spiritual principle that is important to meditate on often in our service to the Lord. Without knowing the details of the circumstances surrounding this letter, we know that St. Teresa had already faced many trials and hardships. It had been a little more than ten years since she fell on her knees before a statue of the humiliated Christ “Ecce Homo,” begging Him to give her the grace not to backslide.

She had already begun to realize the power of God at work in mental prayer to make all things new. The renewal of the Carmelite charism and the renewal of the Church required a re-dedication to contemplative prayer. One would not think that something as beautiful and simple as deepening one’s devotion to prayer would upset anyone or that pursuing this would meet with any objection. The Lord, however, allows His work as well as those He loves to be purified and strengthened by all kinds of testing and trials.

When, at that time, she felt the Lord call her to the particular vocation of starting a reform of contemplative life, St. Teresa could never have imagined the trials she would face. Even less could she have guessed the trials that those who collaborated with her would have to endure. She stood in solidarity with them: she was distressed by anything that caused them distress. At the same time, she bore these trials with a contagious hope because she bore them all with love.

By the hope she had in God, she knew that such distress was not really an obstacle to the work of reform or even a threat to contemplative prayer. Instead, hardship, trials, setbacks, disappointments, betrayals, and all kinds of other necessary sacrifices were the pathway forward. She knew this because she had already grasped that the success of the reform would not be realized by clever tactics and strategies, but instead by love alone.

Mental prayer and the contemplative vocation are all about love at the center of the Church, and the only love that is really worth anything is that which is disciplined by trials and spent in sacrifice.

Love has its own law of gravity: hardships born in love and for love only fan love’s flames, drawing others to its warmth and light. Love patiently rises above hardship and all kinds of persecution, even in what seem to be insurmountable circumstances and crushing setbacks. Love does not need to force circumstances or control situations, but makes use of everything, even failures and inadequacies. Even the open hostility of others furthers love’s hidden purpose, implicating everyone in a deeper solidarity of misery and mercy, of prayer and penance, and, most of all, of holiness and hope.

When we go to serve the Lord, there are bound to be all kinds of trials. If we want our marriages to work, or we want to put the Lord in the center of our family life, or if we desire to renew the devotion of our communities, we must expect great trials as we turn to the Lord in prayer.

How can our love be great if there is no trial, no testing, if everything comes too easy? How important it is to remind ourselves that the secret of serving the Lord has so little to do with the success of the programs we are involved in!

It has even less to do with the personal agendas we bring into our households and communities, no matter how pious our intentions. The secret of witnessing to the presence of the Lord instead is love. In our own day, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta observed, we cannot love except at our own expense.

*Teresa of Avila, Letters, vol. 1, excerpts.


If you would like to read all of these letters and reflections, please click here and purchase 30 Days with Teresa of Avila from Emmaus Publishing.

Listen to the conversation on Divine Intimacy Radio. The conversation about Day 3 begins at 13:04.

Teresa of Avila's signature courtesy of Carmelite Monastery, Terre Haute, Indiana.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Ioannes

    Wow great stuff helps me carry forth with some voluntary sacrifice, Sancta Teresia Ora Pro Nobis

  • Estefania

    I cannot say enough how much I love these excerpts and reflections. The quote from St Teresa of Calcutta really sums it up, “We cannot love but at our own expense.” I realize this is true more and more each day, I ask Jesus to give me strentgh when I am right in the midst of the trial to endure and to do so with as much courage and joy as I can knowing that all things work for the good… I can truly say there is nothing that has brought me more peace than accepting God’s will in difficult circumstances.

  • Judy Silhan

    This reflection leads me back to a prior post. Because I felt that I was doing everything I could to please my pastor by serving with him daily as a Sacristan and giving my time at the parish office, I often felt my efforts rejected when he would walk right past me and not even acknowledge my presence. As Mother Teresa observed, it is at our own expense that we can love and as was pointed out to me, I serve my pastor and my parish out of love for God, not for acknowledgement by others. I am learning, thanks to reflections like this, that serving the church does have its problems, trials, disappointments, etc.; but when serving is done with love and humility, the grace and blessings of our Lord are limitless.

  • marybernadette

    ‘Reading this reflection has given me more insight into the ‘way of holiness’ and how I need the virtue of ‘humility.’

  • Dove – RFaulkner

    Thank you.

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