Today we honour the memory of Saint Teresa of Ávila, the Spanish mystic, Carmelite nun and promoter of the Counter Reformation. With Saint John of the Cross she reformed the Carmelite Order and in 1970 became the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church. Saint Teresa is an outstanding example for us to follow as we persevere in our Christian vocation.
The withering criticism that Our Lord levels at the Pharisees and the lawyers may not have the shock value for us that it had for his original audience. We live in a world when virtually all authority is subject to questioning and sometimes ridicule. In our culture it’s not unheard of to mock religious and political leaders and to question their motives. But this wasn’t the case when Our Lord spoke these words of condemnation.
Our Lord was challenging the unassailable religious establishment of his day. These people made the rules, interpreted them and enforced them with numerous sanctions. Our Lord was asking his followers to go against that authority on the basis of his personal message. Our Lord knew that both he and they would be hauled before these authorities to explain themselves, and yet he told his disciples not to worry about how to defend themselves: “The Holy Spirit will teach you.” Now Our Lord wasn’t urging disrespect for the Law; rather he was encouraging discernment, and the realisation that human authority can get off track and even mislead people.
It’s not easy to go against established authority, even in a disrespectful culture like ours. But we desperately need the lonely voice of the prophet who will challenge the accepted wisdom of the day. It’s a vocation that is guaranteed to bring opposition and persecution.