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Teresa of Avila

Teacher 1582

Exciting Holiness

Little girl climbing over barrierTeresa is from the Carmelite stable of great mystic saints. This site also has links to her writings in the public domain. How to do justice to Teresa of Avila? The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has written a book “Teresa of Avila”. At the age of seven she decided to run away from home to convert the Moors and achieve martyrdom by being beheaded. Her mother set up a search party. An uncle found her at the gates of her garden and returned her to home. Pretty teenage girlAt seventeen she was “pretty, lively, fond of clothes and jewellery, was involved in a flirtation serious enough to cause mild scandal to the town and much anxiety to her father.” Rowan Williams. Her father sent her to a convent where she stayed for about eighteen months. Then after a period of illness she convalesced at the home of a devout uncle. (These uncles were very formative it seems!) She decided on her vocation and without her father’s knowledge or consent she “left home secretly and entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation in Avila. She took the habit in 1536.” RW.

Nun praying in cell

Are we starting to see a pattern emerging here with these saints, especially the female ones?

Distracted womanFrom an early age she suffered from debilitating physical illnesses. Although famous for her supernatural mystical experiences, and her writings on mystical prayer and the spiritual, she spent nearly twenty years struggling to pray. She writes:  “Over a period of several years, I was more occupied in wishing my hour of prayer were over, and in listening whenever the clock struck, than in thinking of things that were good. Again and again I would rather have done any severe penance that might have been given me than practice recollection as a preliminary to prayer. Whenever I entered the oratory I used to feel so depressed that I had to summon up all my courage to make myself pray at all.” She gave up her habit of mental prayer, using as a pretext the poor state of her health. "This excuse of bodily weakness," she wrote afterwards, "was not a sufficient reason why I should abandon so good a thing, which required no physical strength, but only love and habit. In the midst of sickness the best prayer may be offered, and it is a mistake to think it can only be offered in solitude." from a biographical article

Woman with headacheDespite her experiences of extraordinary ecstatic states she never saw these as the objective of the spiritual life. They were by products, not something to be sought after. “the pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it.” She was greatly troubled by them at first and sought advice from her spiritual directors. Some acknowledged the experiences to be of the Holy Spirit. Others didn’t, and one ordered her to repel them as if from the devil. She obeyed. She was subjected to much ridicule. She was ordered to destroy one of her books and obeyed. Eventually both she and her superiors accepted the experiences as being of God. ‘She was wont to say that she might be deceived in discerning visions and revelations, but could not be in obeying superiors.’ Said Pope Gregory XV, in his bull of canonization. She writes: "It seems very easy to say that we will surrender our will to someone, until we try it and realise that it is the hardest thing we can do if we carry it out as we should."

She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 27 September 1970 by Pope Paul VI. One of only 3 women Doctors of the Roman Catholic church. This article states ' "Doctor of the Church" is a title given to those whose writings deem to be in accord with the doctrine of the church and which the church believes can be used as teachings. There's some irony in this title for three women, as the church has used words of Paul as an argument against ordination of women: Paul's words are usually interpreted to forbid women from teaching in the church.' She wrote: “About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don't go by one text only.....ask them if they can by any chance tie my hands”

Woman with Bible speaking at Speakers' Corner

Woman working in fieldShe was an immensely practical down to earth person. Advising hard physical labour and household chores as a remedy for spiritual blight and spiritual pretentiousness. She had no time for spiritual pretensions. “God deliver us from anybody who wishes to serve Him and thinks about her own dignity and fears to be disgraced.... No poison in the world so slays perfection as these things do....” She was deeply aware of her own sin and character defects. It was not until her fifties that she began to found a reformed order of Carmelite nuns, finding the Order she was in too lax in its disciplines. Despite much controversy and opposition she founded sixteen convents before she died. She met St John of the Cross and formed a close spiritual bond and personal friendship with him. They worked together on the reform of the Order and the running of the new convents. Her most famous books are ‘The Way of Perfection’ and ‘The Interior Castle’ her spiritual biographies, and are still studied and written about today.

About her life rainbowFounding her reformed convents involved much travel in very difficult conditions. She said, “There is no such thing as bad weather. All weather is good because it is God's.” When her coach overturned into a ditch during a thunderstorm she said ‘It is no wonder Lord that you have so few friends when this is how you treat them’

Woman standing beside crashed car

More quotes

“It is true that we cannot be free from sin, but at least let our sins not be always the same.”

“For my own part, I believe that love is the measure of our ability to bear crosses, whether great or small.”

“Be gentle to all, and stern with yourself.” (This too is a recurring theme amongst the saints).”

“To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquired experience.”

Images representing the things of which Teresa is patron

She is patron of: bodily ills; headaches; lacemakers; laceworkers; loss of parents; people in need of grace; people in religious orders; people ridiculed for their piety; Pozega, Croatia; sick people; sickness; Spain

There is a lay Catholic Teresian Association. The UK link is here.

“We are Christians, men and women that commit themselves to witnessing the Gospel values in ordinary life. We are young and old. We are men and women from different nations and cultures, called together to make Jesus present in today’s world.

We live the life of ordinary lay people. We care for friends and family and we make our profession the means of our apostolate –citizens of both this world and another.”

Let nothing disturb thee;

Let nothing dismay thee:

All things pass;

God never changes.

Patience attains

All that it strives for.

He who has God

Finds he lacks nothing:

God alone suffices.

"Poem IX", in Complete Works St. Teresa of Avila (1963) edited by E. Allison Peers, Vol. 3, p. 288

Woman with rose


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