St. Teresa and Life as an “Inconvenient Hotel”

You might have read this quotation at some point:

In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.

This quote is often attributed to Mother Teresa, but elsewhere it is attributed to St. Teresa of Avila. I looked high and low for a source. I found my way to p. 47 in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith. But there, the quote is actually in the mouth of the famous Catholic author, Peter Kreeft citing “St. Teresa.” Kreeft himself alludes to the quotation on p. 139 in his book, Making Sense Out of Suffering, but he does not actually quote it. So where does that leave us?

An Alternate Version

I found an alternate version of the quotation that goes like this:

From heaven even the most miserable life will look like one bad night at an inconvenient hotel.

That one is attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, but these two quotes must have a common lineage, right?

Finding the Source of the Quotation

I think I finally tracked the thread of the quote down to chapter 40 of The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila, where she is comparing life in hell to life on earth as two alternate hotels. I will quote the larger context here:

What will become of the poor soul that, after being freed from the sufferings and trials of death, falls immediately into these hands? What terrible rest it receives! How mangled as it goes to hell! What a multitude of different kinds of serpents! What a terrifying place! What a wretched inn! If it is hard for a self-indulgent person (for such are the ones who will be more likely to go there) to spend one night in a bad inn, what do you think that sad soul will feel at being in this kind of inn forever, without end?

Let us not desire delights, daughters; we are well-off here; the bad inn lasts for only a night. Let us praise God; let us force ourselves to do penance in this life. How sweet will be the death of one who has done penance for all his sins, of one who won’t have to go to purgatory! Even from here below you can begin to enjoy glory! You will find no fear within yourself but complete peace.

(Source: Teresa of Ávila, The Way of Perfection, Meditations on the Song of Songs, and The Interior Castle, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, vol. 2 of The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila [Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2017], 195.)

So there it is, I think. Life on earth is like a bad night at a bad inn. Mother Teresa loved St. Teresa of Avila, so it is very possible that she recycled the quotation and expanded it, but I have not found any evidence of it in print yet. If you do, let me know in the comments. If I do, I guess I’ll have to post a follow-up.

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