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St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila by Br. Arturo Olivas, OFS

Artist Narrative:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
—Saint Teresa of Avila

Her feast day is October 15.

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St. Teresa (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada) was born in Avila, Spain on 28th March 1515. Her parents were both pious Catholics and in some ways inspired their daughter to take up a life of prayer. As a young child Teresa showed signs of a deeply religious nature; she would often retreat into silence for prayer and would enjoy giving alms to the poor. She was very close to her Mother, who provided a warm counterbalance, to the strictness of her father. However, in her teens, Teresa’s mother passed away, leaving the young Teresa distraught at the void she felt. The young St Teresa tells of her despair and how she turned instinctively to the Virgin Mary for comfort. 

“I threw myself down in despair before an image of the Mother of God. With many tears, I implored the Holy Virgin to become my mother now. Uttered with the simplicity of a child, this prayer was heard. From that hour on, I never prayed to the Virgin in vain.” 

During her later teen years Avila lost some of her early piety and religious zeal. She recounted how she became interested in worldly matters and enjoyed the company of a wide circle of friends. She had a natural charm and found it easy to make friends. In return she enjoyed the compliments and friendships of others. However, she was not at peace, considering herself to be a miserable sinner; later she would look back in guilt at her early life. However, this sense of being a “miserable sinner” was probably the result of a harsh self-judgement, encouraged by her father’s exacting religious standards. At the age of 16, her father decided to send Teresa to a convent school to be educated. 

This re-ignited in Avila an interest in following a spiritual life and after some deliberation resolved to become a nun of the Carmelite Order.  At the time the convent rules were not very strict; it was probably more relaxed than living with her father. At the time the convent accepted many people into the order, often for financial reasons. The convent became overcrowded and people were often judged not on the basis of spiritual intensity but on material possessions. In this climate, Teresa struggled to find time for quite reflection; although she did start teaching people on the virtues of mental prayer. 

Shortly after becoming a nun, Avila experienced a severe illness (malaria), which left her in great pain for a long period. At one point, it was feared that her illness was so severe that she would not be able to recover. However, during this period of intense physical pain, she began to increasingly experience divine visions and an inner sense of peace. These inner experiences of joy and peace seemed to transcend the intense physical pain of the body.  She describes in her own words her state of mind during these trials and tribulations. 

“I bore these sufferings with great composure, in fact with joy, except at first when the pain was too severe. What followed seemed to hurt less. I was completely surrendered to the will of God even if he intended to burden me like this forever… The other sisters wondered at my God-given patience. Without him I truly could not have borne so much with so much joy.” 

Born: March 28, 1515 as Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada at Avila, Castile, Spain 

Died: October 4, 1582

Beatified: April 24, 1614 by Pope Paul V 

Canonized: March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV