October 14, 2016

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Ávila, Virgin and Doctor

St. Teresa of Ávila
October 15th, is the memorial of Saint Teresa of Ávila, (1515-1582) also called St. Teresa of Jesus, celebrating the heroic virtue of the 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. 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 manifestations came from God, she confided them to her confessor and immediate superiors, who viewed them skeptically. Some familiar with her divine ecstasies and the sublime spiritual knowledge they provided suggested 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 and counselor, 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 and constant difficulties. Together with Saint John of the Cross, she established 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 throughout the Church through her efforts. When dying she often repeated the words: "Lord, I am a daughter of the Church!" Her holy body rests upon the high altar of the Carmelite church in Alba, Spain; her heart with its mysterious wound is reserved in a precious reliquary on the Epistle side of the altar.

St. Teresa composed the following well-known lines:

Let nothing affright thee,
Nothing dismay thee.
All is passing,
God ever remains.
Patience obtains all.
Whoever possesses God
Cannot lack anything
God alone suffices."

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, 40 years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. Blessed Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church on September 27, 1970, along with Saint Catherine of Siena. O God, 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 that is her heavenly teaching and fired with longing for true holiness.

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