Feast: 15 October
Teresa (Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada) was born on March 28, 1515, in Avila, a city of Old Castile in Spain. Her parents, Don Alfonso Sanchez de Capeda and Dona Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, his second wife, were people of position in Avila.
The first 40 years of Teresa’s life gave no clue to the rich depth and productivity of the second half of her life. She spent her early years with her family, giving herself to the duties of extended family life. At age 21, against her father’s wishes, she professed vows as a Carmelite at the Spanish Convent of the Incarnation in Avila.
Soon after taking her vows, Teresa became gravely ill, and her condition was aggravated by the inadequate medical help she received; she never fully recovered her health.
She began receiving visions, and was examined by Dominicans and Jesuits, including Saint Francis Borgia, who pronounced the visions to be holy and true.
She considered her original house, Incarnation Convent at Avila, too lax in its rule, so she founded a reformed convent of Saint John of Avila. This was the beginning of Discalced Reform in the Carmelite Order (Later this reform paved way for the founding of Discalced Carmelite Order – OCD). Teresa founded several houses, often against fierce opposition from local authorities. She died on 4 October 1582 at Alba de Tormes of natural causes in the arms of her secretary and close friend Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew.
St. Teresa of Avila, proclaimed the first woman Doctor of the Church by Paul VI in 1970, is chiefly a doctor of prayer. All her teaching centers around prayer, so much so that in the prologue to the Interior Castle she compares herself to a parrot repeating over and over the same message. But since she writes about prayer in such global and broad perspectives, she is not j like the parrot at all. Her spirited words embrace the whole of life bringing it together and unifying it in charity.
Without prayer, Teresa observed, human beings live their lives on the periphery, in superficiality. In an experience like the apostle Paul’s, this ardent lover of Jesus lives in Jesus, desires “to be found in him” (Phil 3:9), and also asserts that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). So, our soul is like a resplendent castle in which God dwells, but God, or Christ, is also in Teresa’s experience like a very large and beautiful palace, a dwelling place for us. It is in Christ that our transformation takes place.
Teresa, however, chooses more often to write of God’s pres¬ence within us. God is the Lover who attracts us into the castle and draws us through the various rooms until we reach the cen¬ter where the Holy Trinity dwells, the place of total union of the soul and Christ. All along the way, the journey that Teresa sketches symbolically is a work initiated by God gratuitously, in which he seeks to arouse the collaboration of us human beings. Although we continue to be invited to accept the gift of God, it is possible at any time, sadly, that we might refuse it—and often because of the demands of love it makes on us.
Among the many benefits that a life of prayer brings is the serenity and peace articulated so memorably in what is called St Teresa’s Bookmark:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away.
God alone remains.
Patience wins all things.
The one who has God needs nothing else.
God alone suffices.