Today is the Feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, the 16th Century Carmelite Saint and Doctor of the Church. Though she was known for her personal holiness and spiritual insight, it wasn’t until the 20th Century that Pope Paul VI included her and the Dominican Catherine of Siena among the ranks of the “Doctors of the Church.” Teresa and Catherine were the first women so recognized. And it took four hundred years.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 11:42-46) we continue to hear Jesus’s rebuking of the religious leaders in his time for their inexcusable treatment of the people entrusted to their spiritual and social care. Yesterday we heard the Lord lambaste the Pharisees for being concerned with external matters while their internal worldview, thought processes, and attitude was what was truly rotting — like a dish or drinking glass shining on the outside, but dirty within.
Today we hear the “Woes!” leveled against these and other religious leaders who place burdens on the backs of ordinary people without any effort, even the slightest, to assist them with this imposed struggle. Jesus also points out that the very same people enjoy the status, attention, recognition, titles, and places of honor afforded them by their position as religious leaders.
How appropriate are both the story of the saint we memorialize and the Gospel passage we proclaim today during this time of the Synod on the Family!
The woes of Christ transcend the limits of time and space to reach the 21st Century and indict many of the religious leaders of our time who place heavy burdens on the lives of so many women and men who look to them for guidance and direction, but receive in return only judgment, exclusion, and shame.
Pope Francis, whose whole pontificate to date has captured the attention of the world because of its transparent leadership in the style of the Gospel, has continually called us to remember that in considering how God first relates to us the word on our lips and in our minds and in our hearts should be mercy.
Yet, woe to those bishops, priests, and other ministers who shirk divine mercy for the human burdens of judgment and exclusion!
The Gospel is on the side of Pope Francis, just as it was on the side of Teresa of Ávila, whose contributions to theology and spirituality were not fully recognized for centuries. The reason this was the case centers on whom church leaders chose to recognize and whose voices they did or did not allow to be heard. For centuries it was inconceivable for those who had the authority to recognize such people that women could offer theological and spiritual insight worthy of such recognition! It’s not that Teresa’s teaching changed in the 1970s — no, it was the hearts and minds of those in ecclesiastical leadership that changed to recognize that which was always already true!
How much more so is that the case today with the voices that are not heard, the experiences that are not recognized, the love that is shamed, and the people that are excluded? The Holy Spirit is at work in Rome these days, though some religious leaders like the pharisees and scholars of the law in today’s Gospel are slow to hear Her inspiration and quick to place heavy burdens on the shoulders of others. Seriously, what would Jesus do?
My prayer today is for the continued openness to the inspiration of the Spirit of God in the hearts and minds of both the bishops meeting in Rome, but also in those of women and men around the globe that are seeking to make sense of these meetings. May we greet each other with charity online and in person, and may we harken to the “Woes!” that Jesus levels against us today!
St. Teresa of Ávila, Doctor of the Church, Ora Pro Nobis!