OCTOBER 15 is the feast day of ST. TERESA OF AVILA (+1582).
Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Avila in 1515. She was the daughter of Alonzo Sanchez de Cepeda and his second wife, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas. The gifted child was brought up in comfort and wealth. The only problem being her pious mother dying when she was only 11. At this time, she adopted the Virgin Mary as her mother.
Entering the Discalced Carmelites at the age of 20, she turned her attention to spiritual mysticism and read everything she could, including St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, St. Augustine’s Confessions and Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet. Later, she proclaimed her admiration for Augustine because he was a sinner, too. She developed a zeal for mortification which was so huge that she was sick in bed for a year. The only reason she did not die, she felt, was St. Joseph’s protection. Shortly afterwards, she began to experience instances of religious ecstasy.
Her studying lead her to understand the horror of sin, the nature of original sin, the difference between mortal and venial sin. This lead to the understanding that saintly perfection was possible
After 20 years of building the framework of her mysticism, friends began to talk about her being influenced by the devil, not God and the Church. Her confessor, the Jesuit, Francisco Borgia reassured her that she had divine direction.
Visions of Jesus appearing bodily and a seraph inflicting pain appeared almost constantly for 2 years, after which Teresa was very aware and desirous of suffering as Jesus did, for the rest of her life.
Over time, Teresa became popular with the surrounding community, dispensing wisdom behind the grill. But she also became distraught with the poor spirituality of the convent. Any thought of separation from the village people was an idea, for there were visitors there constantly. Teresa wanted the solitude of the true cloister to continue her contemplative prayer and reading. She sought a way to find it.
Her new spiritual advisor, Peter of Alcantara, and some well-heeled supporters helped Teresa found a small convent in Avila to establish a quiet place of prayer. It opened in 1562. The following year, she received a papal sanction to support the constitution of poverty and renunciation of ownership by the sisters. They went shoeless to show their poverty, hence the term, discalced. For five years, Teresa was happy to study and write.
By 1567, Teresa had received requests by the Carmelite General to open another convent. And then more requests came in. In four years, she opened seven discalced convents. There were requests for men’s discalced monasteries. With the aid of two Carmelite brothers, John of the Cross and Father Anthony of Jesus, the first men’s monastery opened within a year. Another friend founded four more in the next eight years.
It only took nine years from the first founding for Teresa and her reformed monks and nuns to be attacked and prevented from following through with their work. She and others were subjected to numerous investigations. Teresa was forced into retirement and began a letter writing campaign to the king of Spain, begging for assistance. King Philip II came through, dropping any charges before the Inquisition and allowing the reform to continue. Pope Gregory XIII ordered a protective board for the reform group.
Besides being an organizer and one of the greatest spiritual mystics, she was a writer. Teresa wrote an autobiography, “The Way of Perfection”, “The Internal Castle” and poetry. Her works can be found online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Teresa founded a total of 17 convents and as many monasteries in the last 20 years of her life. She died in 1582 on the night when the Julian calendar gave way to the Gregorian calendar. So, she either died late in the night of October 4 or early in the morning of October 15.
St. Teresa was canonized in 1622 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
“An intelligent mind is simple and submissive; it sees its faults and allows itself to be guided. A mind that is deficient and narrow never sees its faults, even when shown them. It is always pleased with itself and never learns to do right.” St. Teresa