Saint Teresa of Avila

Feast day 15 October

by  A. K., a high school student in Northern Virginia


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On March 28, 1515 Terersa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born at Avila Castle in Spain.  This girl was to become the famous Saint Teresa of Avila.  Her father was extremely strict and passed on his honesty and piety to Teresa.  Her  mother on the other hand was fun loving and a devoted fan of romance novels.  Teresa enjoyed them too, but had to hide them from her father who was very opposed to what he deemed "frivolous" literature.  As a child, Teresa was always stirring up trouble and as a teenager her favorite things were fine clothing, boys, flirting and rebelling.  She was plagued by self-doubts and convinced herself that she was a terrible sinner. 


When she was 16, her father sent her to a convent to quiet her down.  At first, Teresa was miserable but she grew to enjoy her quiet, peaceful life.  Around the age of 20, Teresa had to decide whether she wanted to marry or become a nun.  It was a very difficult decision.  She had witnessed the difficult marriage of her parents, but life as a nun did not look much better.  Finally, she decided to become a nun because it was the best alternative for someone who perceived herself as "prone to serious sin."  The Carmelite order accepted Teresa and it was there that she refined the practice of contemplative mental prayer, of which she said, "I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ within me.. My imagination is so dull I had no talent for imagining or coming up with great theological thoughts."


For the next eighteen years, she felt she made little progress on her spiritual goals.  Then she contracted the devastating disease of malaria.  She had a severe seizure and was so close to death people began digging her grave.  Her recovery took three full years.  During this time, Teresa used her sickness as an excuse to stop praying.  She later realized, "prayer is an act of love, words are not needed.   Even if sickness distracts from thought, all that is needed is the will to love."  At the age of 41, a priest convinced her to resume praying, but she was often distracted and said, "This intellect is so wild that it doesn't seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down." 


As her relationship deepened with God, he granted spiritual favors, such as a new appreciation for everyday things and levitation.  She wrote many books in which she examined her spiritual encounters.  Teresa's friends were an obstacle to an ever better relationship with God.  Finally, God told her, "No longer do I want you to converse with human beings but with angels."  He provided her with the freedom and strength to withdraw from her once absorbing social life.  From then on God came first in Teresa's life.  Sadly for Teresa, her friends did not understand what she was going through.  They maliciously mocked and ridiculed her, but Teresa grew to value her relationship with God more than with her relationship with such superficial people. 


When Teresa of Avila was 43, she decided to begin a new Carmelite order based on a simple life devoted to prayer.  When her other religious found out about this plan, they were infuriated with her.  She was denounced from pulpits, threatened with legal action, the Inquisition, and accused with being a, "restless disobedient gadabout who went about teaching as though she were a professor."  St. Teresa and nuns who followed her were even temporarily excommunicated!  Because her rule was so practical, soon there were hundreds of young women clamoring to enter her, "reformed convents."  It was difficult, but Teresa finally succeeded in building her own convent and starting a new order which soon spread from Spain throughout Europe.  Her daily rule was based on the principles of hard work, love, compassion and obedience to God. 


Shortly after meeting with such success, Teresa died on October 4, 1584.  In 1622, she was canonized and her order of nuns became known as Discalced Carmelites.  In 1970, Saint Teresa was recognized as a Doctor of the Church.


Saint Teresa is an inspiration to all of us.  She was not perfect, yet continued to strive for God's ultimate reward, Heaven.  Teresa used her remarkable intelligence to spread the world of God.  We can imitate Saint Teresa by facing life's seeming setbacks with dignity, grace, and trust in God just as she did.


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