St. Teresa of Ávila icon
September 2nd 2013
4.5 x 6 inches
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”- St. Teresa of Jesus
Happy Feast of St. Teresa of Ávila! I finished this one way back in early September, but I decided to wait a little while before posting it since her feast day is today. “I will sing to you, O Lord; I will learn from you the way of perfection.” :+: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE SAINT :+:Saint Teresa of Ávila (March 28th 1515 – October 15th 1582)
, or Teresa of Jesus
, was born near Ávila, Spain, and baptized Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada. Her father’s name was Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and her mother was Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas. She had many siblings (as she herself said, “We were three sisters and nine brothers”), and her family was fairly well-to-do. Her mother was very devout and brought up her many children to be pious and devout as well. Teresa herself was a bright child, witty, naturally beautiful, charismatic, good-humored, funny, and always able to get along with everyone. She recounts in her Autobiography
that she and her brother Rodrigo “used to read the lives of the Saints together, and when I read of the martyrdoms which they suffered for the love of God, I used to think that they had bought their entry into God’s presence very cheaply. Then I fervently longed to die like them, not out of any conscious love for Him, but in order to attain as quickly as they had those joys which, as I read, are laid up in Heaven.”
So, at the age of seven, she convinced her brother (Rodrigo, who was eleven) to run away to get martyred by the Moors. However, their plan was foiled when their uncle found them outside the city walls, and he promptly brought them back home. When she realized that she couldn’t get away to get martyred, she decided to play at being a hermit.
Teresa says that when she was about twelve, her mother died. This loss plunged her into a profound grief, and she went before an image of the Blessed Virgin and begged her to be her Mother. However, soon afterwards she recounts how, when she was about fourteen, she began to waste her time in idle fancies, in obtaining clothing and cosmetics to keep up her appearance and in reading the romances of the day, as well as in beginning to keep bad company. Soon after that, her father sent her to an Augustinian convent outside of Ávila to be educated. She liked the nuns there, but was averse to taking the habit herself. She recounted as well that she was “afraid of marriage also.” She stayed in the convent for a year and half, and there met a holy nun who inspired her to earnestly seek after God.
At about this time, she left the convent and returned to her father’s house due to a serious illness she had. She had fainting fits and was often feverish and in general suffered from very poor health. These illnesses brought her face to face with her own mortality with vivid clarity. She spent some time with her uncle and sister that did her a lot of good, and it was during that time that she decided she would become a nun. However, her father was so fond of her that he didn’t want her to take the habit, and the most she got out of him was that she could do as she liked once he was dead. However, with the help of her brother Antonio (who later became a Dominican) she contrived to enter the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation outside of Ávila when she was twenty-one. Once again, however, she suffered from poor health, coupled with severe heart pains that left her unconscious or semi-conscious for much of the time. Her father tried to find a cure, but the doctors only made her worse. She endured these pains for a long time, and several times she was thought to have died, and her convent even had dug a grave for her in their cemetery. She revived after several days, but her legs remained paralyzed for three years. Eventually, she commended herself to the intercession of St. Joseph and was cured. During this time, she read many books about contemplation and Christian mysticism that helped her greatly in prayer.
Once she had regained her health, she found herself in a period of spiritual mediocrity which lasted until she was about forty. She famously wrote: “How is it, Lord, that we are cowards in everything except in opposing You?”
She had a great conversion experience and decided more firmly to reorient herself to God and applied herself to the pursuit of spiritual perfection. She said of prayer: “[Mental prayer] in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
The convent where she lived had a very lax prayer life and often served more as a place for nuns with high connections to socialize with their friends. Many women often went to join the convent, not because they felt a call to contemplative life, but because they (or their parents) didn’t prefer marriage but still wanted to maintain a fairly comfortable lifestyle as well as enjoy a good education. St. Teresa soon found herself butting heads with other nuns and with her superiors. St. Peter of Alcantara became her spiritual guide and encouraged her to found a new reformed order of Carmelites. A wealthy female friend of hers’ supplied the funds to begin work on a new cloister near Ávila. The convent was finished in 1562, and St. Teresa named it after her special patron, St. Joseph. She faced much opposition and outrage from the town, but a few notable figures stepped up to defend her, and the founding of the new order proceeded. She moved into the new cloister the next year, wrote the Constitution
of the reformed Discalced (shoe-less) Carmelites and busied herself with spiritual writings and helping her younger nuns. In 1567, she received permission to establish new monasteries and convents, and made many arduous journeys throughout Spain for that purpose. It was during this time that she wrote her Autobiography
and The Way of Perfection
. While in Medina del Campo in September of 1567, she met St. John of the Cross and the two spoke enthusiastically of the reformation of the Carmelite Order. The two became fast friends, and they decided to establish a monastery for the Discalced Friars at Duruelo. He went on to establish more monasteries, and became the spiritual director and confessor for St. Teresa, many of her nuns and some of the lay people in the area.
However, tensions between the Discalced and the unreformed Carmelites grew heated. One ecclesiastical authority named Francisco Vargas was enthusiastic about the Discalced Carmelites. However, the Carmelite Prior General was against it, and in 1576, called for the total suppression of the Discalced Order. King Philip II of Spain was sympathetic to St. Teresa’s pleas, and the Papal Nuncio also sided with them. Despite that, a group of friars opposing the reform kidnapped St. John of the Cross and imprisoned him in a monastery in Toledo. There, he wrote his beautiful Spiritual Canticle
about the soul’s love for God, despite the harsh conditions which he was subjected to. He managed to escape nine months later on August 15th, 1578. Teresa’s nuns nursed him back to health and he carried on the reforms. In the meantime, St. Teresa had been forced to voluntary retirement and a case was brought against her before the inquisition, but was dropped. The Pope and the King showed their support for the Order, and the reforms continued. In 1577, she wrote her great masterpiece The Interior Castle
about the levels of spiritual life. During her many travels throughout the country, one famous incident illustrates her character and good humor. One day while she was traveling along a dismal, rainy, muddy patch of road, she was crossing a stream, slipped off her mount (or was bucked off) and fell into the water. Annoyed, she complained about the incident to the Lord and heard Him say: “This is how I treat all of my friends.” She replied, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder You have so few of them.”
As she was traveling to Alba de Tormes in 1582, she fell ill, and on October 15th, she died at the age of sixty-seven. Her last words were: “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your Will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”
She was a great Spanish mystic, a great proponent of the Catholic Counter Reformation, and the co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites along with her friend St. John of the Cross. She was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, and on September 27th, 1970, she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Her three chief writings are her Autobiography
, The Way of Perfection
, and The Interior Castle
“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.O blessed doctor, St. Teresa of Ávila, light of holy Church and lover of God’s law, pray to the Son of God for us. The Feast of St. Teresa of Ávila is celebrated on October 15th. St. Teresa of Ávila is the patroness of those who suffer from headaches and other bodily illnesses; Carmelites and the Carmelite Order; of people who have lost their parents; and of people who suffer ridicule for their faith. She is also one of the chief patron saints of Spain.O God,
Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. 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. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.
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.
- From her Autobiography by Saint Teresa of Avila
who through your Spirit
raised up Saint Teresa of Jesus
to show the Church the way to seek perfection,
grant that we may always be nourished
by the food of her heavenly teaching
and fired with longing for true holiness.
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.