Friends and Saints: St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross
A friend once told me that saints come in pairs, and there are many examples of friends that we can look to who encouraged and upheld each other on their journey to sainthood. For example, St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola who were roommates in college before going on to becoming priests and establishing the Jesuit order, or St. Francis and St. Clare who started religious orders together. Another such pair of friends was St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Despite an age gap of 27 years, different personalities, and different societal backgrounds, they were united by a common desire to live out their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the fullest and to inspire others to do the same.
St. Teresa of Avila was born in Avila, Spain in March 1515. After whirlwind adolescent years, she joined the Carmelite Order. To her great dismay this rule of life was not as she expected. She struggled immensely with the lack of amount of time for personal, silent prayer. Enter fellow Carmelite St. John of the Cross, her confessor and spiritual director, who was also troubled by the order’s laxity. This pair of friends encouraged each other in the spiritual life and grew to be great friends. Both were mystics and authored impactful Catholic works: St. Teresa’s The Interior Castle and St. John’s The Dark Night of the Soul.What mostly bound them together in friendship, though, was a shared desire to transform the Carmelite order by recovering the original austere rule of life that had been abandoned. At any time, but most especially during those times, reforming a religious order came with a great deal of difficulty, and both saints suffered immensely as a result. St. John of the Cross was even imprisoned for nine months and regularly beaten! But they did not despair, but rather, in confiding in each other and in their radical faith they created a new branch of the Carmelite order, the Order of the Discalced Carmelites (O.C.D.) And together they were successful in establishing more than 20 O.C.D. convents and monasteries! As St. Teresa of Avila once described their friendship, “What a wonderful thing it is for two souls to understand each other, for they neither lack something to say, nor grow tired.”
I hope this example of friendship inspires you as it does me. These two friends became saints, but don’t forget that they were human, too. They prayed and struggled together, and they also joked around (St. Teresa of Avila would teasingly call St. John of the Cross “half-a-friar” because he stood barely five feet tall.) They relied on each other and, of course, relied on God.
We should look to the saints and see ourselves. No two saints have the same story, but each pursued God above all else. In their run to the eternal, they saw that they were not alone: they had a community, and so do we. We turn to our friends, those God has given to us, and see where they are our equal, where they carry us, where they inspire us, and how we complement each other. And we should be the kind of friend who helps others know and love God even more. It is friendships such as these that change the world.
Di Camillo, Kevin. “St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Martin Family.”
National Catholic Register, EWTN News, 19 Apr. 2016, www.ncregister.com/blog/dicamillo/st.-teresa-of-avila-st.-john-of-the-cross-and-the-martin-family.
“St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.” Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, carmelitesistersocd.com/2015/stteresaandstjohnofthecross/