It can get a little intense around here some days. Like when the baby’s crying and bites through my jeans just as the three-year-old suddenly cries out, “I hafta go to the baffroom!” just as it’s time for my husband to leave for work with the preschooler and first grader who are wandering around trying to look for school socks…or was it a backpack?...ummm...oh, look! Our missing toys! Yes! Hey, do you want to make a fort?...
Moms’ days are intense no matter what your situation. No one can combat that kind of crazy alone. Thankfully Gina Loehr has carefully prepared a guidebook to help you enlist some spiritual giants as friends for the good fight: the four Teresas. She’s distilled the rich lives and lessons of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Liseux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta into a beautifully written, thought-provoking, easy-to-read yet carefully researched reference guide.
Just like Real Women, Real Saints Gina Loehr has presented these beloved saints in a fresh, thoroughly human and inspiring way. Almost every page in my book is highlighted, either by a saint’s direct quote that I’d never heard of before or by Loehr’s own insightful, encouraging commentary.
The four chapters are divided into detailed biographies of the saints, lessons the saints have given to us, and ways that we ourselves can model their good example in our own lives. Loehr encourages to learn from the Teresas how to “ask, prepare, open, and encounter” Jesus in our lives.
Therese of Liseux
Loehr shows us that St. Therese was the queen of asking Jesus for things. The youngest daughter of blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin who would eventually join the Carmelites became universally loved after her death for her “Little Way” of loving Jesus with every action. Loehr writes, “As she said, ‘[T]here’s only one thing to do here below—strew before Jesus the flowers of little sacrifices, and win Him with caresses.’” (19)
However, Therese knew that if she wanted to love Jesus with all her heart, she needed to ask Him for His to do it. While praying to Jesus St. Therese said, “To love You and You love me, I would have to borrow Your own Love, and then only would I be at rest.” (16)
St. Therese has given me the courage to ask for Jesus’s heart throughout my own crazy days. It’s a bold request, but motherhood, too, is a bold request of us from God. Only His Heart could contain the love that my family members so very much need.
Loehr encourages us to ask for His Love so that we can give it to others, especially those to whom the giving can be difficult. Loehr offers this for our consideration, “She approached her relationships, especially the trying ones, as opportunities to express her love for God…what difficult relationships in my life give me opportunities to offer loving sacrifices to God?” (23)
Teresa of Avila
Gina Loehr looks to Teresa of Avila, the “big Teresa,” for guidance on loving God with our whole soul, something Teresa was given the grace to do as she matured in the spiritual life. It should be reassuring to us that the author of the spiritual masterpiece Interior Castle had humble beginnings in the spiritual life, even well into her life with the Carmelites. It wasn’t until a special statue of Jesus depicting the wounds from His Passion arrived at their convent when Teresa’s heart was forever changed. From then on she would grow in the spiritual life until arriving at perfect union with Christ in prayer.
Loehr encourages the reader by pointing out, “Anyone can be a recipient of this grace in the soul. Teresa knew this because she knew the tremendous dignity of every human soul.” (34) And lest we despair of reaching this type of sanctity Loehr tells us, “Saint Teresa once told her sisters, ‘God deliver us, sisters, from saying ‘We are not angels,’ or ‘We are not saints,’ whenever we commit some imperfection. We may not be; be what a good thing it is for us to reflect that we can be if we will only try and if God gives us His hand!’” (43)
I was enchanted by Loehr’s beautiful but simple explanation of the St. Teresa’s Interior Castle. I had read it myself years ago but was really moved by Loehr’s notes on the work. I felt a pang of envy at Teresa’s experiences in prayer but was again encouraged by Loehr’ s point that we are all called to be saints. Anyone who wants to can grow closer to God in prayer!
Loehr concludes, “Loving God was more than religious rhetoric for Saint Teresa. She backed her words with her actions. When she wrote about the importance of the virtues of humility and detachment, she knew from her own experience that developing these virtues helped her love God with her whole soul. Consider: How can I consciously try to cultivate humility and detachment?” (45)
Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Gina Loehr naturally chooses Teresa Benedicta of the Cross as our model of how to love God with one’s whole mind. Teresa was born into Jewish family at the end of the nineteenth century. Gifted with an exquisite intellect, she flourished in school and naturally gravitated toward intellectual pursuits. In her mid-teens, however, Teresa made the decision to stop praying and thus began a period of atheism in her life. She did, however, remain committed to seeking the truth and became very interested in psychology, which led her to the study of phenomenology and to a community that assisted her in her eventual conversion to the faith. She would later enter the Carmelite order.
A crucial event in Teresa’s conversion was an encounter with her friend’s widow who had such a calm about her that she had helped Teresa in her sorrow. Teresa then saw clearly the power of faith. “It was my first encounter with the cross and the divine strength it gives those who bear it…It was the moment in which my atheism collapsed…and Christ shone brightly: Christ is the mystery of the cross.” (53) Loehr writes, “It was the mysterious power of the cross, not an intellectual theory, that brought this philosopher to her knees.” (63)
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross encourages us to see the contradiction in our earthly life as proper to our call as Christians. She writes, “To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels—this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.” (67)
Loehr encourages us to consider: “How do I respond to Christ’s call to take up the cross in my life?” And “how much does belief in heaven console me during times of trial?” (71)
Teresa of Calcutta
In Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Loehr finds the ideal model of how to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The little nun who became world renowned for her great acts of charity knew that the only way she could see each encounter with another, especially the poor, as an encounter with Christ was through prayer. Blessed Mother Teresa said, “My secret is very simple: I pray.” (84) She knew that do try to do anything on her own would be folly. “Recognizing our dependence on prayer is liberating,” she said. “It frees us from the futile pressure to do difficult things on our own.” (85)
Once Mother Teresa had encountered Jesus in prayer, she was ready to encounter and love Him in the other. “He satisfied her deepest longings,” writes Loehr, “and then she did her best to satisfy his.” (91) This made a deep impression on me. Motherhood is simply exhausting in every sense of the word. I was grateful for the reminder that Mother Teresa wasn’t super-human. But she was able to give of herself supernaturally because she had filled up on Him first. And I would be wise to do the same.
Blessed Mother Teresa was also known for her smile. The spiritual darkness she’d experienced for so much of her life, however, remained a secret to all. “My smile is a great mantle which covers a multitude of sufferings,” she once said. (94) Loehr writes, “She shows us that even in the midst of our miseries and struggles we can act with love.” (93) This, too, struck a nerve. I didn’t need to wait for everything to be perfect to start smiling. And what courage that would take.
“What would our life be if the Sisters were unhappy?” Mother Teresa once asked. “Slavery and nothing else. We would do the work but we would attract nobody. This moodiness, heaviness, sadness, is a very easy way to tepidity, the mother of all evil.” (95)
Game on, Mother Teresa. It’ll take your intercession, but I’m going to start smiling more. Starting now.
The Teresas are a loyal and ever-so-helpful group of friends to have at the ready when the day’s work feels overwhelming and the call to love too heavy to bear. For so much more wisdom, insight, and beautiful quotes from these tremendous ladies, read Gina Loehr’s The Four Teresas.
“The more united I am to Him, the more also do I love my Sisters.” –St. Therese (114)