St. Teresa speaks in her autobiography entitled “Her Life” about the main obstacles that stifled her growth during the first years of her cloistered life. The first obstacle was “carelessness about sin”, that is, Teresa in the beginning paid little attention to the harmful effects even of venial sins, this was partly due to the liberal and permissive advice of priests of her time. Teresa makes a distinction between deliberate freely chosen venial sins those venial sins that are not freely chosen. We should desire to avoid deliberate venial sins, and if necessary to die before committing even a venial sin. This is what St. Ignatius would refer to as the second degree of humility. As for those venial sins not freely chosen they will probably stay with us in some degree throughout the rest of our life but they do not impede spiritual growth in the same manner that deliberate venial sins do.
The second obstacle to growth is “not avoiding occasions of sin.” In fact many people fall into this trap, they can never overcome certain sins because they are not willing to avoid people, places, objects, circumstances, or situations, that may lead them into sin. They are not prudent in their behavior and in their associations and they keep falling. It is very difficult for them to make any progress as long as they are not willing to avoid anything or anyone who becomes an obstacle in their relationship with God. Teresa says that this is one of the most dominant mistakes beginners make and unless they are willing to cut off these occasions of sin, they will never grow spiritually.
The third obstacle is “self-reliance.” Many people get wearied and discouraged in the spiritual life because they do not see much progress, and this due in great part in the fact that they rely primarily in their own strength and not in God’s grace and power. People must learn to distrust themselves and to trust completely in God. We must certainly cooperate with God’s grace, and it is necessary that we cooperate, but we must always remember that our efforts although NECESSARY are not SUFFICIENT. Holiness comes from God and it is primarily His gift, therefore we have to be humble about it and beg constantly for God to transform us and make us holy.
The fourth obstacle is “not valuing the graces of God.” This happens when we do not respond with readiness, promptness to those interior inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The saints were prompt to respond to whatever inspirations they received without postponing the action to be carried out. We tend to postpone things, if we feel inspired by the Holy Spirit to pray now or perform some act of charity towards someone in need, but instead we say later, or tomorrow, then not only we fail to disobey, but in fact most likely we end up not doing it after all. If we cannot be found to be trustworthy in small matters how can we expect to be entrusted with greater matters?
Fr. Fernando Cuenca, OMV