La Santa Teresa de Ávila is a most interesting saint. She had many quotable sayings. Among them is, “Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.” She actually makes the same point that many of the Desert Fathers made and that many monastics made. That is, the idea that spoken prayer is not absolutely necessary for prayer to happen. I would argue that this is similar to what Saint Paul tells the Corinthians, but more on that in a bit.
I think you would all admit that mental prayer is every bit as good as spoken prayer. But, that is not what La Santa Teresa meant. She was talking about words themselves. What she was saying was that it is possible to pray without words. This is the same message as many of the mystics in the Church. Even we, if we think it through, would say that God hears the longings of our heart and answers those longings. In fact, there are several Scriptures that back up this more mystical approach. Let’s begin by reading Saint Paul.
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
This is a quite interesting Scripture, because it states that our rational minds are not able to conceive or come up with that for which we ought to pray. It calls the inability to verbalize (whether internally or out loud) our true needs and our true desires as a weakness. Saint Paul then goes on to say that what the spirit knows is our hearts, which are considered to be more accurate than our rational minds. Now, this goes against our modern rational mindset, which believes that our rational minds can figure out what is true and accurate and what is not. But, this verse agrees more with psychologists (particularly some of the Jungian variety) that say that what is happening in the inner us is more “true” than what our rational mind may paint as true.
These verses agree with La Santa Teresa said. Even if our rational mind is distracted, even if sickness distracts us, all that is needed are the inner longings of our hearts. And, that is quite a strong statement, because there is nothing like illness to distract us, to drive us to distraction, and to depress us to the point that what our rational minds are thinking is not what our heart desires or is thinking. Yes, many events in our life can almost give us multiple personalities, but God knows what our true personality is, and what we really want out of life.
I am ever so glad for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He makes it possible to say that, “… all that is needed is the will to love.”