St. Teresa of the Andes & Chapel Rats

by Therese Ivers, JCL

One day, as I was helping out a friend in the sacristy, she mentioned something about “the chapel rats”.  My friend was not referring to rats scurrying about – for as far as I know, there were none in the building.  Rather, she was talking about those who spend practically all their time in the chapel, every day, in the mistaken notion that it is more holy to spend one’s life in the chapel or one one’s knees rather than to lead a balanced lifestyle.  This tends to be a common error in those discerning their vocations.

People who are single who are discerning their vocations should pray, yes.  Prayer is  very good thing.  But to spend 4, 5 hours a day in the church, working at a job, and then spending another hour or two on spiritual reading and research on communities or charisms each day is usually unwise.  Why?  Because the laity have a special mission in the world.  They should participate in a prudent manner in the civic, social, family, and spiritual spheres.  Volunteering, political activism (even just folding envelopes), building family and social ties, getting enough exercise, healthy meals, etc. are proper activities for those who are free from community or spousal ties. These should all have a slot on a single person’s calendar.

The role of the laity is to be beacons of light in the world.  Lay persons, especially singles, whether they are minors or whether they are working adults, should live out their state in life according to their circumstances.  In certain areas, it may be too dangerous for a young, single woman to minister directly to the homeless.  But surely she can help someone learn to read or volunteer for a day to bring meals to a family in need or do some work of corporal or spiritual work of charity.  A man might consider helping out single mothers with repairs around the house (observing all proprieties) or doing a spiritual or corporal work of mercy on a regular basis or as they are called for.

The single person should not forget that he/she is a human being.  Having appropriate hobbies, growing in knowledge, interacting with other people and families, participating in cultural enrichment activities, etc. is an integral part of developing one’s humanity.   Of course, a person might object, “I’m discerning a vocation!  I’m in a different situation than other singles.  I need to be holy and learn what God is calling me to.  It’s a waste of time to be normal and participate in all these ‘worldly’ activities!”

Again, it is extremely important that the single person pray, do a daily examination of conscience, go to Mass frequently, etc.  However, the Church reminds us that the laity have a mission in the world.  If you don’t know where you are being called whether by vow, ordination, or consecration, the holy thing and proper thing to do is to live your state in life well and fully.  Even if you know you’re being called to the ordained life or consecrated life or marriage, for now you are still single and lay!

Is it too “worldly” to be active in politics, volunteerism, etc.?   Will it make a person less “holy”?  Will it distract me from God?  The answer to this question is that if these activities are done well, prudently, and in accordance with one’s path as discerned in the concrete circumstances of life, they should help the person to grow in holiness, their humanity, and happiness.

To my mind, St. Teresa of the Andes is a perfect “modern” example of how holiness can be found in every day life.  Most of St. Teresa’s life was lived as a lay person.  She was great at sports, loved airplanes, went horseback riding, went to the opera, played the piano, took care of a poor orphan, lived a social life…  and yet, she was extremely holy!  It was only the last 11 months of her life that she became a nun.  She agonized over her discernment – like so many people do today.  She didn’t know which order she was called to.  But, while she was discerning and growing up, she lived a normal lifestyle for the people in her family situation.  Yes, she prayed, prayed intensely, but she also partied.  She was a lay woman, and she was very holy.

It is because I think St. Teresa of the Andes is an attractive, easy to relate to saint, that I spent quite a bit of time contacting people in Chile, EWTN, and other places to see how the TV series on her life could be republished on VHS or DVD a couple years ago.  This series is one of my favorite movies because it shows how a person can be normal and holy and that a holy person is surrounded by the same problems everyone else is.  To my great delight, I just discovered that Ignatius Press has released the series in DVD format. If you wish to help support the work of this website, you can order this set below by clicking on the picture:

St. Teresa of the Andes

(c) 2009 by Therese Ivers, JCL.

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