“Know Thyself”: St. Teresa of Avila’s Essential Wisdom for a Holy Life & True Union With God

St. Theresa of Avila says that the first step in a life of holiness and union with God is self- knowledge.

But what does that even mean?

Reflecting on Our Lady’s Magnificat, Mary says:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on all ages will call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.”

Seems a little boastful, “from now on all ages will call me blessed.” But is it really?


In this great song of Mary, we have a perfect example of precisely what St. Teresa of Avila meant when she said, “self knowledge.”

Mary knows who God is.

In all humility, she then acknowledged what God did for her. Looking at her in her lowliness, He thus raised her to a state where all generations would rightly call her blessed! She truly is the Mother of God! Isn’t that beautiful?

The Magnificat is a lament of humility. Our Blessed Lady is pure humility. She knew herself. If we are to truly know ourselves, it takes humility.

As St. Teresa said, “True humility is being satisfied with what God has given us.”

We must look upon and really examine ourselves. The gifts, talents, and even the beauty given to us, are strictly that–gifts from God. He gives to whom He wills, as He wills. Our shortcomings and failures are our own.

When we separate ourself from God, the giver of all gifts and graces, we become dependent upon ourselves and the things of this world. We busy ourselves with passing nonsense, idle chatter, and shallow, fruitless endeavors.

Some of those fruitless endeavors can even be seemingly good. But disconnected from God, they are fruitless.

A soul seeking to be fully human and fully alive with peace and joy is a soul of prayer and reflection. A soul that looks carefully at where they are and how far they’ve advanced, fallen back, and advanced some more, through God’s grace and mercy.

They also look at themselves in the light of belonging to God, and how truly loved and forgiven they are.

My spiritual director often says, “Know thyself, Bridget. Know thyself.”

I offer the same direction to you: “Know thyself.”

Know that simply because there are those who are smarter, more talented, and even more beautiful than you, it does not mean that you are not smart, talented, or even beautiful.

Know that if every song were a sonnet, our ears would grow weary of hearing them.

Know that if spring were every season, the autumn colors would fail to be enchanting.

Know that just because you’ve fallen, doesn’t mean you can’t be made of something beautiful.  

Know that in growing of knowledge of self, we understand our utter dependence on God for everything more deeply, and most especially, sanctity.

May our Lady of Mount Carmel always go before us, praying that we better know ourselves.

St. Theresa of Avila, pray for us!

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[See also: 5 Graces Praying the Rosary Daily Gave My Family: “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together”]

[See also: “All Things Are Passing”: St. Teresa of Avila’s Powerful Prayer for Peace in Times of Distress]

Bridget Costello

Bridget Costello is a Salesian Cooperator and full-time missionary. She loves sharing the Truth and beauty of the Catholic Faith, especially to young people and families. Follow her on Instagram for one-minute reflections on faith and culture.

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