Saint of the Day – 15 October – St Teresa of Jesus/of Avila (1515-1582) Virgin, Mystic, Ecstatic, Reformer, Apostle of Prayer, Writer, Doctor of the Church. Born Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada at Avila, Old Castile, 28 March 1515 – died at Alba de Tormes, 4 October 1582 of natural causes in the arms of her secretary and close friend Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew. Her relics are preserved at Alba – her heart shows signs of Transverberation (piercing of the heart), and is displayed, too. Her Body is incorrupt. Patronages: • sick people; against bodily ills or sickness • against headaches • against the death of parents • lace makers or lace workers • people in need of grace • people in religious orders • people ridiculed for their piety • World Youth Day 2011 • Amos, Canada, diocese of • Avellaneda-Lanús, Argentina, diocese of • Berzano di Tortona, Italy • Pozega, Croatia • Spain. Attributes – Habit of the Discalced Carmelites, Book and Quill, arrow-pierced heart. St Teresa was Beatified on 24 April 1614 by Pope Paul V and Canonised on 12 March 1622, only forty years after her death, by Pope Gregory XV. Tradition associate Saint Teresa with the Infant Jesus of Prague with claims of former ownership and devotion. On 27 September 1970 St Teresa, was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Her books, which include her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) and her seminal work El Castillo Interior (trans.: The Interior Castle), are an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literature as well as Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practices. She also wrote Camino de Perfección (trans.: The Way of Perfection).
The third child of Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda by his second wife, Doña Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, who died when the Teresa was in her fourteenth year, Teresa was brought up by her saintly father, a lover of serious books and a tender and pious mother. After her death and the marriage of her eldest sister, Teresa was sent for her to the Augustinian nuns at Avila but owing to illness she left at the end of eighteen months and for some years remained with her father and occasionally with other relatives, notably an uncle who made her acquainted with the Letters of St Jerome, which determined her to adopt the religious life, not so much through any attraction towards it, as through a desire of choosing the safest course. Unable to obtain her father’s consent she left his house unknown to him to enter the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila, which then counted 140 nuns. The wrench from her family caused her a pain which she ever afterwards compared to that of death. However, her father at once yielded and Teresa took the habit.
Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.
The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: she was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.
As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man’s world of her time. She was “her own woman,” entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer; a holy woman, a womanly woman.
On St Peter’s Day in 1559, Teresa became firmly convinced that Jesus Christ presented Himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. These visions lasted almost uninterrupted for more than two years. In another vision, a seraph drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing an ineffable spiritual-bodily pain.
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…
This vision was the inspiration for one of Bernini’s most famous works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
The memory of this episode served as an inspiration throughout the rest of her life and motivated her lifelong imitation of the life and suffering of Jesus, epitomised in the motto usually associated with her: Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.
Teresa was a woman “for God,” a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged and opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. She was a woman of prayer; a woman for God.
Teresa was a woman “for others.” Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.
Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic nations were making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the removal of 5–14 October from the calendar. She died either before midnight of 4 October or early in the morning of 15 October which is celebrated as her feast day. Her last 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.”
Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers. She and St Catherine of Siena were the first women so honoured as Doctors of the Church.
Interesting fact – her Spiritual Director was St Francis Borgia whose Feast Day we celebrated on 10 October.