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Posted June 2, 2011

Book: St. Teresa of Avila: The Book of Her Foundations: A Study Guide
Author: Marc Foley, O.C.D.
ICS Publications, Washington, DC. 2011. Pp. 547

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The Book of Her Foundations is the least read, the least quoted, the least known of St. Teresa’s works. Why is this so is probably because people do not think it is a spiritual book. But as you read on, you find that St. Teresa grew in holiness, not in spite of obstacles such as being entangled in lawsuits, mired down in disputes over dowries, tied up in interminable bureaucratic red-tape, and having to deal with unscrupulous businessmen, but because of these difficulties. Non of these challenges impeded her spiritual growth. This study guide will help us see how Teresa grew in holiness in the marketplace as much as in the cloister, perhaps even more so. None of us has been called to found convents, but like Teresa all of us are called to practice virtue and grow in holiness within the fray of daily life.

An Excerpt from the Book:
Beatriz De La Encarnaion
Summary and Background: Chapter 12

The underlying purpose for Teresa’s writing this chapter is to correct Sr. Juliana’s account of Sr. Beatriz’s life. Teresa writes the following to the prioress of Valladolid regarding an obituary that was to be written for a nun who recently had died. “And don’t entrust it to Juliana, for because of exaggeration, the silly and nonsensical things she said in the report about Beatriz de la Encarnacion were unbearable.”

Teresa’s account is more reflective of the truth of Beatriz’s life. Teresa focuses upon her virtues, most notably, her restraint regarding speech. Beatriz never uttered “a reprehensible word,” and “never did she complain about anything.” In addition, she had great zeal for the eternal welfare of souls. Teresa expounds upon these virtues within the context of the great physical sufferings that Beatriz endured during her brief time in Carmel.

All of Beatriz’s ailments began the night after some heretics were burned at the stake in Valladolid. Beatriz begged God for the salvation of their souls, and in exchange she promised God that she would bear with patient resignation all the trials and sufferings of her life. On the night of the execution (the condemned men gave signs of repentance before they died), Beatriz was afflicted with an internal abscess that caused her much suffering. As time went on, she suffered many other ailments.

There are two things that Teresa emphasizes in this chapter. First, she states that what God sent Beatriz was not her sufferings but rather the patience to endure them. “The patience the Lord had placed in her soul was indeed necessary in order for her to endure [her sufferings.]”

Second, Teresa does not dwell upon what she suffered but how she bore her sufferings — with great patience. “However things went, she bore them with peace. She was always composed.”

Reflection. In the prologue of The Way of Perfection, Teresa says that she is thinking of listing some remedies for certain “common, small temptations” because “since they are so common perhaps little attention is paid to them.” There is a basic truth of human nature contained in these words, namely, that ingrained habits resist reflection. When a bad habit has taken root in us, we indulge in it without thinking. And when a community participates in the same bad habit, even less attention is paid to it. One such habit that Teresa writes of in this regard is that of chronic complaining.

“It seems to me an imperfection to be always complaining (quejarnos) about light illnesses. If you can tolerate them, don’t complain about them. When the sickness is serious, it does the complaining itself; this is different and the sickness is immediately obvious. Consider that you are few, and if one has this habit of complaining, it wears (fatigadas) everyone out. . .If you do not lose the habit of speaking and complaining about everything you will never finish your lamenting.

Quejarse, the infinitive of quejarnos, can mean to complain, to lament, to murmur, to gripe, or to grumble. We are all prone to complain prone to complain and grouse about many things. And complaining can become addictive because it temporarily relieves tension. In consequence, it can become habit forming.

We all know how hard it is to break the habit of complaining. At times, nothing seems to work. Teresa doesn’t provide us with a solution; nevertheless, she offers us something to reflectupon that may provide us with an incentive to change. She points out one of the effects that complaining has upon others. “It wears (fatigadas) everyone out. Fatigar, the infinitive of fatigadas means to tire, to weary, to fatigue, to gall.

How would you feel if you accidentally overheard the following conversation about yourself? “He is so tiresome. He goes on and on and on, complaining about everything and everyone. I cringe when I see him coming. He is so draining and such a tedious bore.” Wouldn’t you be devastated, knowing that this is what people really think about you? What effect do you think this knowledge would have upon your habit of complaining? Conversely, how would you feel if you heard that someone had said of you what Teresa said of Sr. Beatriz? “Never did she complain about anything.”

Question. Is there something that you are always complaining about? Have you ever considered the impact that your complaining has upon others? What impact does chronic complaining have upon you?

Table of Contents:

Chapters one to thirty-one