Saint Teresa of Ávila

The great mystic.

Saint Teresa of Ávila

One day, it is said, the Buddha was sitting in the woods with 30 or 40 monks, enjoying each other’s company, when a farmer approached. “Have you seen any cows passing by?” the distraught farmer asked. “I don’t know why, but my cows all ran away. If I can’t find them, I think I’m going to kill myself.”

The Buddha told him, “My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might look for them in the other direction.” So the farmer thanked him and ran away. The Buddha turned to his monks and said, “My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don’t have any cows to lose.”

A thousand years later, Teresa of Ávila wrote in her diary, “Thank God for the things that I do not own.”

Saint Teresa, who lived for 67 years in the 16th century, was always saying interesting things. In 1970, in honor of her exceptional writing — particularly concerning prayer as a mystical union with God — she was named the first female Doctor of the Church.

Her theology is rich, and her descriptions of religious ecstasy are thrilling, but I think part of her enduring fame comes from just how likable she is, with a surprisingly wry humor. She called life a “night spent at an uncomfortable inn.” Once, while traveling to found a convent, she was thrown from her donkey. God said to her, “That is how I treat my friends,” to which she replied, “And that is why You have so few of them.”