I’ve decided to end the summer (which technically doesn’t end for another month: but it’s a fact universally acknowledged that everything that comes after Labor Day is just a formality) with St. Teresa of Avila. Granted, “The Way of Perfection” isn’t exactly a beach read. But she is the saint that I named myself after—and the patron saint of Spanish Catholic writers, to boot. With the Summer of Mercy (and this column, which constitutes my first attempt at ‘religious’ writing: though what isn’t religious, if you’re a believer?) coming to a close, I wanted to spend some more time with her.
As a writer, I’ve been struggling with my choice to write about media. Sometimes, it can’t help but feel a little frivolous, especially when I compare it to everything that St. Teresa talks about. I’m attempting to follow in the footsteps of a woman who wrote lines like “Let us not allow our will to be the slave of any, sisters, save of Him who bought it with His blood” and “let any who wish to talk to you learn your language; and, if they will not, be careful never to learn theirs: it might lead you to hell.” In light of this, I find myself wondering if writing about The Fault in Our Stars and The Legend of Zelda is really the best thing that I could be doing.
There are plenty of reasons why entertaining such thoughts is a bad idea. St. Teresa wrote “The Way of Perfection” for a group of sixteenth-century nuns that were living in an especially strict convent; and I’m a twenty-something neophyte living in Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago. In the August of 2015, I wasn’t even a Catholic. The comparison isn’t exactly valid. Still: why media? When tasked with writing about mercy, why did I decide to spend fourteen weeks pointing out different examples of it in pop culture?
After some reflection, I’m left thinking that it might have something to do with being a convert. For the first twenty-five years of my life, media was effectively the God that I worshiped. I would hazard that this is true for many people, even those who try to be church-goers. Media lends itself to being worshipped, after all; it’s everywhere. And placing it at the center of our lives is much less demanding than taking the people, places, and events around us seriously. The latter entails analyzing our own place in the world, and examining how we contribute to both good and evil; the former, on the other hand, only asks that we have some intelligent things to say about the latest show we’re watching. It’s definitely possible to explore themes like giving drink to the thirty, food to the hungry, and visiting the sick through artistic expression. But it’s also possible to lose yourself in artistic expression, and to avoid engaging with reality by devoting yourself to escapism.
By writing this column, I suppose that I wanted to revisit the scenes of my youth, and maybe spot the redemptive seeds that I was too blind to see before. I wanted to learn how to be a good Catholic, and bear the wrongs of my past self patiently. I don’t know if I succeeded—but I do hope that the work I produced helped people to think twice about mercy, and the places where you might be able to find it.
Teresa de Mallorca is the pseudonym of a neophyte who just completed the RCIA program at Holy Name
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