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Penance and Partridge: Why Saints *Must* Smile

Penance and Partridge: Why Saints *Must* Smile

Born in 1515, St. Teresa of Avila was recognized as the first female Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Teresa not only lived a life of exemplary holiness, but contributed a wealth of writings to the Church: The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection, and other works. She helped strengthen the Carmelite order and is known as one of the greatest saints in Church history.

The story is told that one day, a friend of Teresa’s came to visit her at her convent and gave her the gift of a partridge, which was apparently considered a delicacy at the time.

Upon receiving the gift, Teresa went into the kitchen and prepared the fine dish. As she began to eat, someone asked her whether it was proper that someone who had taken a vow of poverty should indulge in such a delicious treat. Teresa responded:

“There is a time for penance, and a time for partridge.”

St. Teresa’s response is not only indicative of her wonderful sense of humor, but also of her recognition that God loves us and created a wonderful world for us to enjoy. God wants us to be happy.

As Catholics, not every moment of our lives is meant to be penitential. This is a lesson that we can sometimes forget.

As Pope Francis explained in Evangelii Gaudium,

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress…(EG, 6.)

Though, as Pope Francis reminds us, we all must endure difficult times at various stages of our lives, the direct response to the infinite love of God should be happiness. I was reminded of this many years ago when I went to visit a Catholic hospital for the terminally ill. As I walked through the hospital, and mingled with the patients, I was struck by the fact that they all looked so happy. When I met them and smiled, the joy of their smiles dwarfed mine. The love of God, and the peace and joy that accompanies that love, was evident in their faces.

One of St. Teresa’s other famous quotes was this: “May God protect me from gloomy saints.” Her point was that while some may have the faith, they fail to translate that into joy and happiness. That day, God not only protected me from gloomy saints, but showed me happy saints.

I think that most of us would have to admit that, at times, we have fallen into the category of gloomy saints. It’s easy to do so—it’s often a gloomy world. But our lives as Christians must be a light to others. Whether it is the time for penance or the time for partridge, God wants us to be joyful, and to be a break in the gloom..

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About John Clark

John Clark is a homeschooling father, a speechwriter, an online course developer for Seton Home Study School, and a weekly blogger for The National Catholic Register. His latest book is “How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape.”
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