Saint Teresa of Avila
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus, was born as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada on March 28th, 1515 in Avila Spain. Her father (Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda) was an extremely wealthy wool merchant and her mother (Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas) was a very devout Christian. Her mother taught her not only of the values of Christian life but also loved reading her tales of knighthood, fashion and gardens. Saint Teresa was so fascinated by these stories and so deeply rooted in her faith that at the age of seven she and her brother ran away from home to seek martyrdom in the fight against the Moors. Her uncle spotted them just outside the city walls as they were trying to run away and promptly returned them back to their home. Her mother passed away when Saint Teresa was only eleven and it completely crushed her. She turned more and more to the Virgin Mary was her spiritual mother and guide.
When her formal education was completed, she joined the local Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at the age of 20 (1536). Here she took up strict religious readings on contemplative prayer but feel extremely ill and was left bed ridden for quite some time. She very nearly reached death due to this illness but was able to recover. She would attribute this full recovery to the intercession of Saint Joseph and soon began to experience instances of religious ecstasy during this time.
She became completely captivated by Catholic spiritualism and mysticism, and she would later write that during her illness she had risen from the lowest stage of recollection to the devotions of silence and finally to the devotions of ecstasy where she frequently experienced visions of ecstasy, gained a full awareness of the extreme awfulness of sin and the consciousness of the necessity to be completely subjected to God. She frequently inflicted mortifications of the flesh upon herself. The Jesuit Saint Francis Borgia served as her confessor and after hearing all of her thoughts and descriptions of what was happening to her assured Saint Teresa that the knowledge was divine inspiration. In 1559, Saint Teresa had a vision of a seraph driving a lance or spear through her heart:
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it...
Word spread of her knowledge, visions and other unexplained phenomenon and she soon became somewhat of a local celebrity, much to her embarrassment. During several instances of levitation, she would ask her religious sisters to hold her body down so that others wouldn't see her lift off the ground. In prayer, she frequently
"Begged God very much not to give me any more favors in public"
Beginning in 1558, Saint Teresa began pushing for the restoration of the Carmelite life back to his original observance of austerity. The 14th and 15th centuries saw the relaxation of the strict life with a constant flow of visitors disturbing the deeply religious atmosphere. This flow of visitors and guests broke the solitude so critical for contemplative prayers. She was heavily supported by Peter of Alcantara, a Franciscan Priest and spiritual advisor. At 43 she determined to found a new Convent to restore the contemplative order but as plans leaked about her first convent (Saint Joseph's) she was met with fierce opposition. Her fellow sisters believed she should raise funds for her current convent and was threatened with the inquisition. The new convent was establish in 1562 as San Jose (Saint Josephs) and Saint Teresa moved into the convent in March of 1563.
The first few years were spent in seclusion and prayer with strict rules of poverty. She received permission from the Rubeo de Ravenna, the Carmelitete Genteral to establish new houses of this new order. In the four years between 1597 and 1571, she establish reformed convents in Medina del Campo, Malagon, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca and Alba de Tormes. The permission also allowed her to set up houses for me who likewise wished to adopt the reforms. Working with Saint John of the Cross, the monastery of Discalced Carmelite brothers was opened in Duruelo in November of 1568.
She continued to face heavy resistance for her order and reforms. In 1576, a meeting of the general chapter at Piacenza forbade any further founding of convents and forced her into "voluntary" retirement. She retired to Toledo at Saint Joseph's in obedience. King Philip II of Spain intervened and many of the charges were dropped. She was further aided by an edict of Pope Gregory XIII of the appointment of a special provincial for the new branch. She fell ill in 1582, dying either before midnight of October 5th or the morning October 15th (Her death fell during the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar which required the removal of the dates of 5-14 October). Reportedly, her final 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."
In 1622, Pope Gregory XV canonized her and the Cortes exalted her to the patroness of Spain in 1627. Pope Paul VI, on September 27th 1970, named her and Saint Catherine of Siena the title of Doctor of the Church, specifically the Doctor of Prayer.
Future articles here on the Path to Sainthood will focus on her many works and writings, but just as a sample here are some of her writings:
Autobiography - before 1567 at the direction of her confessor Father Pedro Ibanez
El Camino de Perfeccion (the way of perfection) before 1567 also with Father Pedro Ibanez
Medications on Song of Songs - 1567
El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle) - 1577
A book of Poetry "Todas las Poesias" - compiled in 1854