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About St. Teresa of Avila

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Saint Teresa of Avila Icon of Teresa of AvilaAs a Catholic during the times of the Protestant Reformation and the Inquisition, St. Teresa of Avila’s experience of living a faith-filled life was uniquely challenging - and rewarding. Unafraid to do what she felt was God’s will for her, St. Teresa encountered much resistance from her family, friends, and even the Church. However, God graced St. Teresa with fortitude and perseverance, and as such, she became a great saint and one of the first woman Doctors of the Church.

St. Teresa of Avila, given the birth name of Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, in Avila, Spain. She was raised in a Christian family, and found the stories of the saints - particularly the martyrs - very exciting. When she was just a child, she attempted to run away with her brother Rodrigo so they could be martyred in the battles between the Christians and Moors. Her uncle found the two children on their way out of town, turned them around, and brought them back home. Looking back on this event later in St. Teresa’s life, many thought that it was an early sign of the zealous nature for which she would come to be known.

At age fourteen, St. Teresa’s mother died. As a result, she developed a great love for the Blessed Mother. In the following years, St. Teresa of Avila’s interests turned to clothes, friends, her looks, and rebelling against her father’s wishes. When she was sixteen her father decided she was out of control and sent her to live at a convent. Though she was not happy with this decision at first, she grew to love it there - due largely in part to her growing love for God.

While at the convent, St. Teresa became ill with malaria. She had a seizure that left her unconscious for days. When she awoke, she discovered that people had assumed she was dead, and her grave had already been dug. Later, she was paralyzed for three years. Her health never fully recovered. During her times of illness, she found excuses for being unable to pray, saying that she was not able to be alone enough and was not healthy enough to foster a fruitful prayer life. She became convinced she was such a great sinner that she was unworthy to pray - for surely God would rather bestow blessings on those who were deserving of them! Her spiritual director redirected her focus, encouraging her to continue with her prayer despite any anxieties. When reflecting on this time later in her life, St. Teresa said that turning away from prayer was like a baby refusing to nurse - what could be expected except death?

The Ecstasy of St. TeresaSt. Teresa’s prayer became more consistent; however, she still struggled with maintaining focus. She is quoted as having said “This intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down.” In enduring these challenges to prayer, she grew in empathy for those who share similar difficulties, as well as learned to overcome her own obstacles, deepening her relationship with Christ. As her prayer grew, she began to experience manifestations of God’s presence within her. She would levitate, go into ecstatic states of union with God, and have heavenly visions. The sculptor Bernini created a famous work which lies in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome entitled “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” depicting her in one of these mystical states.

In addition to her extraordinary prayer life, St. Teresa was also determined to help those in religious life return to the lifestyle they were called to, rather than the lifestyle they were currently living. When St. Teresa entered the convent, the nuns had grown lax in living their rule. They did not stay within the cloister, they allowed others into the cloister, they wore jewelry, they focused on their looks, they kept their worldly possessions, and in turn, their lives were concentrated more on social and political rank rather than the humility, poverty, and charity to which they were called. St. Teresa knew that God desired much more from His people, particularly those in the vowed religious life, and so set about to make changes.

Despite her desire to help the nuns to live their lives as God would want them to, she was met with great resistance by not only the nuns, but by authorities in the town of Avila, as well as the Church. She sought out to establish a new convent where she could implement the reformed rule, but again was met with opposition. They even threatened her with the Inquisition! However, she was confident that this was what God was calling her to do, and so continued forward. Aided with funding from a wealthy supporter, she was able to establish a small, self-sufficient convent. She taught that religious life was meant to be a life of selfless love, of poverty, of work, of total obedience to God. This lifestyle drew new vocations, and she began to look to establish another convent - for to St. Teresa, prayer should move one to action. God had blessed the first convent she built - so onward to another!

Saint Teresa of Avila

Soon, St. Teresa of Avila’s ideas about prayer and religious life spread not only through Spain, but through all of Europe. Over the span of twenty years of leading reform, St. Teresa of Avila founded sixteen convents, as well as many men’s cloisters. In addition to this, she penned books meant to teach the faithful. Among these, two are still widely read to this day: “The Interior Castle,” and “The Way of Perfection.” In addition, she wrote her autobiography at the request of her spiritual director.

St. Teresa of Avila grew ill while traveling in 1582. At this time, Catholic nations were switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which meant that the dates of October 5-14 would be removed that year in order to adjust the amount of days per calendar year. St. Teresa of Avila died sometime in the late night/early morning, and it is unknown if the date was actually October 4 or October 15. However, her feast day is celebrated on October 15. In 1622 she was canonized a saint by Pope Gregory XV. Additionally, on December 27, 1970, Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, along with St. Catherine of Siena (later, St. Therese of Lisieux was added to this list and they remain the only three women to hold this title).

Patronage of St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of those who suffer from headaches and migraines, those who are ill, people ridiculed for their religious faith, and Spain. It is unclear why St. Teresa was chosen as the patron saint of those with headaches, since there are no records that she herself was afflicted with them. Some believe it may be because her dedication and reform caused others so many headaches!

St. Teresa of Avila in Art

Artwork of St. Teresa of Avila usually shows her in the habit of the Discalced Carmelites - a brown habit, cream-colored cape, and black veil. Sometimes she is holding a book and quill, showing her at work on the books she wrote. In some cases, she may be holding a tambourine. It is said that St. Teresa of Avila lived her religious faith with great joy, and would dance when overcome with the love of God. She has been quoted as having said “May God protect me from gloomy faced saints.” To her, to love God was to be happy. Other depictions of St. Teresa will show a dove in them. this is comes from her autobiographical references to having a vision of the Holy Spirit, a dove with gleaming feathers.

Medal of Teresa of Avila Saint Teresa of AvilaSt. Teresa of Avila Medals and Rosaries

A medal of St. Teresa of Avila will typically show her at prayer, dressed in a religious habit. The center of a set of  Saint Teresa of Ávila Rosary Beads will generally have the same image.  

Prayers of St. 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.

~ St. Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila

 



To Redeem Lost Time

O my God! Source of all mercy!

I acknowledge Your sovereign power.

While recalling the wasted years that are past,

I believe that You, Lord,

can in an instant turn this loss to gain.

Miserable as I am,

yet I firmly believe that You can do all things.

Please restore to me the time lost,

giving me Your grace,

both now and in the future,

that I may appear before You in "wedding garments."

Amen.
~ St. Teresa of Avila

 

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

~  St. Teresa of Ávila (attributed)

 

A Love Song

Majestic sovereign, timeless wisdom,

your kindness melts my hard, cold soul.

Handsome lover, selfless giver,

your beauty fills my dull, sad eyes.

I am yours, you made me.

I am yours, you called me.

I am yours, you saved me.

I am yours, you loved me.

I will never leave your presence.

Give me death, give me life.

Give me sickness, give me health.

Give me honor, give me shame.

Give me weakness, give me strength.

I will have whatever you give.

Amen.
 ~St. Teresa of Avila