October 14, 2017

St. Teresa of Ávila, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

St. Teresa of Avila

(In 2017, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.)

Memorial - October 15th

Saint Teresa of Ávila, (1515-1582) also called St. Teresa of Jesus, is a 16th century Spanish mystic, foundress, and Doctor of the Church. Baptized Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, she was born into a wealthy family at Ávila, Spain, the third of nine children. In her youth she was described as beautiful, precocious and marked by a spiritual acuity beyond her years. Of her initial formation and temperament, she observed: "The possession of virtuous parents who lived in the fear of God, together with those favors which I received from his Divine Majesty, might have made me good, if I had not been so very wicked."

Teresa was 14 when her mother died. Overcome with grief, she asked the Virgin Mary to be her spiritual mother and help. Despite her pious upbringing and Godly inclination; Teresa’s interest was briefly given to superficial pursuits. Enamored with tales of chivalry, the future saint deigned to write the same, and, for a short time, concerned herself with her own (aesthetic) beauty. At this, Teresa's father placed her in a convent of Augustinian nuns in Avila. There, Teresa realized how dangerously close she had come to submitting to the vanities of the world.

In 1533, against her father’s wishes, she entered the Carmelite Order. For the next 18 years, she endured both physical pain and spiritual dryness. Depressed by her own unworthiness, Teresa sought the aid of two great penitents, Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Augustine. She credited them with experiences that helped steady her resolve. One was reading St. Augustine's Confessions; another was the compulsion to pray penitently before an image of the suffering Christ. Regarding this, she wrote: "I felt Mary Magdalen come to my assistance.... From that day I have gone on improving in my spiritual life." Teresa's mystical visions intensified. She began experiencing intellectual insights into divine things and to hear inner voices. Convinced these came from God, she confided them to her confessor and immediate superiors, who viewed them skeptically. Some familiar with her divine ecstasies thought they were diabolical in nature, and not divine.

Additionally, Teresa was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the laissez-faire atmosphere at her convent. With encouragement from Saint Peter of Alcantara, the Franciscan priest who was her spiritual guide, she resolved to establish a reformed Carmelite convent, dedicated to prayer, contemplation and absolute poverty. Under divine inspiration, having obtained the sanction of Pope Pius IV, she founded thirty-two reformed convents, often amid heavy opposition. With Saint John of the Cross, she formed a Discalced Carmelite community for men.

St. Teresa of Ávila, whose intercession is widely sought for help in deepening one's prayer life, struggled with prayer herself before achieving a special union with God. Father Pius Parsch describes that union thusly: "Truly wonderful were the exterior and interior manifestations of her mystical union with God, especially during the last decade of her life. These graces reached a climax when her heart was transfixed (transverberatio cordis), an event that is commemorated in the Carmelite Order by a special feast on August 27. She practiced great devotion to the foster-father of Jesus, whose cult was greatly furthered by her efforts."

While traveling to visit a friend, Teresa became ill and would never recover. She died on October 4, 1582, after receiving Extreme Unction. Her last words were: "O my Lord, now is the time that we shall see each other!" She was a prodigious author whose writings are seminal works on mysticism. They include: Camino de Perfeccion, (Way of Perfection) El Castillo Interior, (The Interior Castle), and Las Fundaciones (Foundations). On March 12, 1622, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. Blessed Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

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