I love St. Theresa of Avila! Far from one of those head in the clouds saints, she's so human. She's so real. I read her luminous writings and it's just like my dearest girl friend is gabbing to me over the phone about our big mutual brother Jesus. If I make it to heaven, it's because this saint, who actually floated during prayer, left some firm steps to follow from flightiness to holiness.
One of the incidents that captured her personality happened as she went to found an early reform Carmel Convent. A friendly priest rides up with an urgent message for St. Theresa. The Augustine nuns in the town are "stirring up trouble." The entire town is in an uproar. No one thinks its a good idea to found a convent at this time and place. The priests are trembling. The new nuns are fearful. "Should we turn back for home, Mother?" they ask.
St. Theresa just smiles. "The Devil is Afoot! That's a good sign!"
So St. Theresa walks calmly into trouble, more determined than ever that her work will bear good fruit for God.
I've replayed St. Theresa's words a lot these past three months. It seems that the moment I got pregnant, the Devil has been on the prowl. Some of the events are just funny.
During this pregnancy my two worries were that a) the baby is going to die or b) I'm going to die on the operating table in my 4th c-section. Neither of these fears are based on medical facts, and in fact, are mutually exclusive. Still, pregnancy seems to be a time of great fears based on little actual facts. These thoughts will intrude during the day and make it difficult to complete my daily work.
One day I was praying during my prayer of the quiet, and I felt true peace. I was in complete dread of attending my early pregnancy sonogram. My appointment was at the same office where I found out my son had unexpectedly died three years before. While I prayed, I felt Jesus' presence in a tangible way. I felt that there were painful places where no one could ever pay you enough money to revisit. But if you took along Jesus, the real, physical older brother that I never had- I could have the courage to go back to that sad place.
I went to bed that night and I was so happy. I'd had terrible insomnia for the past week. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and dread going to this appointment and hearing bad news. This night I lay my head on the pillow, so happy. "Finally, I get a good night's sleep!" I thought.
At 12:30 AM that night, the phone rings. I pick it up in a panic, thinking it is going to wake up my sleeping toddler. This grouchy voice says "Are you SLEEPING?" It's my neighbor; the one who's been under the help of the Archdiocese Exorcist for six weeks.
I take the phone off my ear and stare at it. I know it's my neighbor's voice, but my immediate thought is "Satan is calling me on the telephone!"
I said "I can't talk right now" and hung up.
I was so mad, I couldn't go back to sleep for two hours. "I finally kicked the devil out of my head, and then he called me up on the telephone!"
Since I got pregnant the attack have become more intense. I'm still tempted the in "normal way". I still yell at my kids, sulk with my husband and go on "I hate prayer" tirades.
Yet as soon as I get those outbursts of sin under control, really weird things will pop up.
I had a RN at my ob clinic describe with hatred the "ugly flap on the neck of Down Syndrome babies" and I got a cold shutter thinking "this is a clinic that encourages parents to kill Down Syndrome babies. This is why 90% percent of all babies with Down Syndrome are being aborted, because you're targeting us older Mama's with scare tactics."
As soon as I recognized that evil, our conversation got really wacky. It ended with the nurse chasing me down outside the elevators as I left the appointment. She accused me of stealing her confidential HIPA forms from other clients and furiously searched my backpack.
My old way of coping with these attack was to replay them a million times in my head and try to figure out the perfect appeasement language.
"If only I could have explained that we'd already researched the risks associated with amniocentesis with our first baby, then the nurse would have accepted my refuse to do pre-natal testing with more grace."
To me, all unpleasant social contact was due to a simple misunderstanding. (If it was me in St. Theresa's shoes, I would have lost days trying to "reason" with the untrusting nuns and furious townsmen.) Yet, the clarity I got from a recent confession showed me that my efforts to "always stay on people's good graces is actually the sin of vanity."
The Devil is never going to shake my heads politely after a fencing match and say "Good show, Abby." "You've really grown in fortitude. I had you quaking in fear with that CF scare for your first born, but by baby number 5 you've really begin to trust in God."
That scenario is totally ridiculous. In the same way, someone who advocates mortal sin as a solution to a problem is not going to suddenly think my Catholic position is "reasonable." St. Paul's conversion was miraculous for a reason.
On nights that I still can't sleep, I pray. I pray for my littlest child. I pray for doctors and nurses and Senators who still think abortion is a valid "choice." I pray for all of the scared Moms who are post-35 like me, who have creaky bones and old ova.
On my brave days, I resolved to more closely resemble Our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Theresa of Avila. King Herod is still out to crush the Baby Jesus. The Devil might be trying to crush your actual baby, or simply divert you from the task Holy Spirit has directed from your life. Spiritual mothers and actual mothers are the same. We all have to fight spiritual battles.
May this Lent find you better trained for battle. Remember St. Theresa's confident saying "If the Devil's Afoot, it's a Good Sign your doing God's will!"