SAINT TERESA OF AVILA (1515-1582), virgin and Doctor of the Church – Patron saint of lace workers, people in Religious Orders, those suffering from illnesses, and patroness of Spain
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Teresa of Avila, also know as Saint Teresa of Jesus. She is remembered as the reformer of the Carmelite Order and a mystic, whose life of prayer enriched the Church during its counter-reformation in the 16th century. In addition, Saint Teresa ranks first among women for wisdom and learning.
Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born in the Castilian city of Avila, Spain in 1515. She was the third child in a family descended from Jewish merchants who had converted to Christianity during the reign of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Teresa’s father had become an ardent Catholic, with a collection of spiritual books of the type his daughter would later study.
As a child, Teresa felt captivated by the thought of eternity and the vision of God granted to the saints in Heaven. She and her younger brother Rodrigo once attempted to run away from home for the sake of dying as martyrs in a Muslim country, though they soon ran into a relative who sent them back to their family.
When Teresa was fourteen, her mother died, causing her to experience profound grief, which prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her Spiritual Mother. Her father decided to send her to be educated in a convent of Augustinian nuns. However, illness forced her to leave during her second year.
Through the influence of studying the writings of the Church Father, Saint Jerome, Teresa became convinced that the surest road to salvation lay in forsaking marriage, property, and worldly pleasures completely. Against the will of her father, who wanted her to postpone the decision, she joined the Carmelite Order, and became a professed member of the Order at the age of twenty.
Sister Teresa soon developed a serious illness that forced her to return home. She experienced severe pain and physical paralysis for two years, and was expected to die when she went into a coma for four days. As she began to recover, she insisted on returning to the Carmelite monastery as soon as she was able, even though she remained in a painful and debilitated state.
For the next three years, the young nun made remarkable progress in her spiritual life, developing the practice of self-meditation – dwelling upon the Holy Presence of God through quiet contemplation. However, as the years progressed, her spiritual life began to suffer, as it became a routine rather than a joy.
It was not until Sister Teresa was almost forty years old when she found herself dramatically called back to the practice of contemplative mental prayer. She experienced profound changes within her own soul, and remarkable visions that seemed to come from God.
Under the direction of her confessors, Teresa wrote about some of these experiences in an autobiography which she completed in 1565. She wrote about personal reflections which taught the reader of mystical theology (which can be found under the title “Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila”).
This profound change in her spiritual life enabled Sister Teresa to play a significant role in the renewal of the Church that followed the Council of Trent. As a consequence of this renewed spirituality, she proposed a return of the Carmelites to their original Rule of life
Together with her close collaborator, a priest and writer who later became known as Saint John of the Cross, she founded what is known today as the Order of Discalced Carmelites – discalced meaning barefoot, symbolizing the simplicity to which they chose to return the Order to a simple and austere form of monasticism founded on silence and solitude. This reform at first met with fierce opposition, but resulted in the founding of over thirty new monasteries and convents during her lifetime.
Sister Teresa’s health failed her for the last time while she was traveling through Salamanca, Spain in 1582. She accepted her dramatic final illness as God’s chosen means of calling her into His Presence forever.
Sister Teresa of Avila died on October 15, 1582. She was canonized a saint in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. And in 1970, Pope St. Paul VI proclaimed Saint Teresa a Doctor of the Church. Her remains are interred in the Convent of Saint Teresa in Avila, Spain.
“Let nothing disturb you; Let nothing dismay you; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices” (Saint Teresa of Avila).
We commemorate her feastday on October 15.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Teresa of Avila)
“Father, by Your Spirit, You raised up Saint Teresa of Avila to show Your Church the way to perfection. May her inspired teaching awaken in us a longing for true holiness.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”