In her work The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila highlights three important virtues for the interior life. She lists love for each other, detachment from all created things, and finally, true humility. She notes that although she put humility last it “is the most important of three and it embraces all the rest.” For Teresa humility is simply being honest about yourself.
I would like to focus on the idea of detachment. Some people today might think the ideas of penance, self-denial and mortification are old fashioned. Is mortification out of keeping with the Church after Vatican II? Clearly this is not the case. Even in the documents of the Council we read about penance and self-denial in Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (LG 8, 10, 36; cf. SC 9). In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity we read:
The laity should vivify their life with charity and express it as best they can in their works. They should all remember that they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation of the whole world by public worship and prayer as well as by penance and voluntary acceptance of the labors and hardships of life whereby they become like the suffering Christ (Apostolicam actuositatem, 16).
Detachment can be both exterior or interior. We can give up the exterior world by fasting, or through observing silence. St. Teresa warns that we should not “feel secure or fall asleep” because we have engaged in exterior detachment. It is actually our interior detachment that renounces the self-will “which is the most important business of all.” She counsels us to keep in mind the “vanity of all things and the rapidity with which they pass away.” She warns that even with regard to small things, “we must be very careful, as soon as we grow fond of them, to withdraw our thoughts from them and turn them to God.” It is only through this inner detachment to self that true humility can enter because humility and detachment always go together.
Holy Mary, Our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us,
Learn more about St. Teresa this Fall in our upcoming Bishop Helmsing Institute course Writings of the Saints, which will be a book study of her work, The Interior Castle.