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St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist Narrative:

St. Teresa of Avila is one of the greatest teachers of the spiritual life in the history of the church. She wrote four major books about prayer and left three volumes of letters.

In her time and culture, women were expected to be quiet and obey men, the Inquisition held Spain in its grip, and the Roman Church was reacting to the Protestant movement by entrenching itself in rigid orthodoxy. Into this darkness Christ brought light through this woman who loved him passionately. Christ answered her love with gifts of leadership and great insight.

Teresa’s gifts were also Spanish gifts. She was a daughter of a stark windswept land, textured by the mix of many cultures. Christians, Muslims and Jews had lived there together for centuries. The blue Moorish tiles forming stars of David in the background of this icon bear witness to Teresa’s Jewish blood and the rich spiritual heritage of the east.

St. Teresa reformed her Carmelite Order, founding seventeen convents throughout Spain. Her foundations were small, poor and strictly disciplined, with emphasis on contemplative prayer. Yet the nuns danced in their times of recreation, and Teresa herself played drums and the tambourine. "It is not a matter of thinking much," she told her nuns, "but of loving much. So do whatever most kindles love in you."

Her feast day is October 15.

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Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman.

Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers.

In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: Doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honored.

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

Died: October 4, 1582 at Alba de Tormes in the arms of her secretary and close friend Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew; body incorrupt; relics preserved at Alba; her heart shows signs of Transverberation (piercing of the heart), and is displayed, too

Beatified: April 24, 1614 by Pope Paul V

Canonized: March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV

Readings:

God, deliver me from sullen saints.
—Saint Teresa of Avila

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.
—Saint Teresa of Avila