I recently went on a grand and life-changing adventure/pilgrimage/trip to Spain. I set out with the intention to read and reflect on St. Teresa of Avila, but by the end of the trip I was overwhelmed by not only a closeness to her, but to so many other Saints who have walked that path before me. I felt their prayers in a profound way.
The Cathedrals of Spain
The Salamanca Cathedral
The first cathedral we visited was the Salamanca Cathedral. It carries within its stone walls 1000+ years of people’s prayers. It’s cold, slightly cracked and broken, the stained glass fading and warping. But I like it that way. It adds to the reality that this place has been lived in and is bound by time but God is not. I’m in awe of the ancient, deteriorated purity and un-whole holiness of the cathedral. Proof of 1,000 years of stories and lives lived.
Spain’s history seeps and crumbles from its walls. I touched time, I became a tiny part of the history that Salamanca captures. The flying buttresses spearing the delicate blue sky. The green ancient trees extending their branches as if imitating the flying buttresses. The cobblestone, the marble, the brick so perfectly chiseled. And just outside the city, the Spanish countryside yawns in all of its soft, silky wilderness. The slower pace of Salamanca, a small city with a past.
The Toledo Cathedral
Toledo was another favorite of mine. The Cathedral held the real deal handwritten manuscripts of St. Teresa of Avila’s books, including Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection. It was moving to see the messy handwriting and recognizable passion. The dark ink and fervent scratches reflect the desire in her heart for holiness, both hers and her fellow Christians’.
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St. Teresa of Avila and Her Time
St. Teresa was living in an age of great change and turmoil, which is reflected in her writing. She was born in 1515 Spain—the century in which Spain becomes one of the greatest powers on Earth. She grew up during a time when Columbus discovered the new world, the Reformation/Counter-Reformation took place, and at the tail end of the Spanish Inquisition.
I can only imagine the questions running through her mind. What does it mean to be a Christian? What is the true Body of Christ? Who is Christ? Is God a violent God? What does He think of His people right now?
We too live in an age of contradiction and calamity, of violence and vanity, of hatred and homelessness (physically and spiritually). We take refuge in God, knowing that we are not called to fix every problem, but that we are called to love and allow the Holy Spirit to work and breathe in us. And for Him to do that, we must surrender the parts of us that are still clinging to worliness, to false comfort.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
-St. Teresa of Avila
La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona was the last Spanish city we visited. The life and rapture of soul and sight I felt at La Sagrada Familia was uncapturable, really. The way the light poured in out of every crevice, the way the music held me, and the love and passion poured into that basilica gave me such peace and pleasure and joy. This massive work of art that people come from all over the world to encounter—the Spirit is waiting and longing for them there.
All the colors of the rainbow danced and played with my tired body—the ethereal light spilling onto the floor, color blanketing me. The simplicity of an artist with a vision became this beautiful basilica where hearts are continuously moved.
I admire Gaudi and his architecture, and I can’t help but feel joyful knowing that the same Spirit who moved Gaudi to envision and create and dream up this marvelous place is the same Spirit that moves in me to create and dream as well. The same Spirit that inspires in us a love of color and life.
Dear artists, you well know that there are many impulses which, either from within or from without, can inspire your talent. Every genuine inspiration, however, contains some tremor of that ‘breath’ with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. -Pope John Paul II in his letter to artists, 1999
Traveling to Holy Sites Inspires Our Own Holiness
How incredible to have the Saints and angels on our side and to be recipients of their prayers without us knowing or asking for it! The unseen is the most real. The mystery and miracles of our Faith call us into a contemplative way of life and to accept the uncertain.
This trip has shown me the reality of grace. It is laced into the fabric of my days. It is growing with me and in me. The prayers of the Saints and those we love weave grace deeper into our hearts and beings. Grace is who I am, what defines me and leads me on. It is what allows me to love, to sing praises, to travel, to write, to pray, to heal, to breathe, to be.
Let us never stop longing for wonder. Life is calling us by name.
The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too. -St. Teresa of Avila
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Written by Cassidy K. Find out more about her here.