October 11, 1992
Brother John Raymond
St. Teresa of Avila was born on March 28, 1515, near Avila in
Castile, Spain. From her childhood Teresa enjoyed reading about the lives
of the saints. At the age of seven Teresa talked her brother Rodrigo into
imitating the martyrs by giving their lives for the Faith. She wished to
do this primarily because martyrdom seemed like a quick way to get to
Heaven. They set out on foot to the country of the Moors in the hope of
dying there and going to Heaven. Their hopes were shortlived when their
uncle caught up to them in nearby Adaja and brought them back home. Not
to be defeated by this setback the two started to build for themselves
houses out of stones so that they could live as hermits. Again they never
got very far as the stone piles they made kept falling over.
Teresa's mother died when she was seven. Her father placed her in
the care of the Augustinian nuns in Avila. A year and a half later she
became so sick that she had to return home. After her short exposure to
religious life Teresa claims that she had no interest in it__she even felt
an aversion to it. When she recovered somewhat from her illness Teresa
went to visit her uncle who gave her some ascetical books on the Faith.
She did not like the books but they did inspire in her a fear of going to
Hell. Upon reflecting on this she reasoned that the surest way to avoid
going to Hell was to become a religious. When she told her father he was
not in support of her doing this.
Teresa secretly left home and joined the Carmelite Convent of the
Incarnation. After making her first vows she became so ill that her father
had her removed from the convent. Doctors attended to her but only made
her condition worse. She was sent back to the convent. At one point her
illness was so bad that she seemed to be dead. The nuns had even dug the
grave for her. She was only able to move one finger of her right hand but
this saved her from being buried alive. For three years she was paralyzed
from this illness, probably malignant malaria. Her health slowly improved
but she did not fully recover for almost fifteen years.
Teresa was able to see her uncle again. Once again he gave her a
book to read, this time one on prayer. She was very much affected by this
book and resolved to follow the way of meditation with all her might.
Teresa made some progress in prayer. The convent she had joined was not
very strict. They could go out of the convent, receive visitors and accept
presents. Her attraction to these seemingly harmless things pulled her
spiritual life back down. Eventually she gave up meditation. A Dominican
friar, who was attending her dying father, told Teresa to return to the
practice of meditation. She obeyed, but for the next ten years she was
torn between an attraction for God and the vanities of the world.
One day when Teresa was walking through the oratory she noticed a
statue of the Ecce Homo which had been placed there temporarily. Teresa
really was moved by what she saw and began to consider the sufferings of
Our Lord and her own ingratitude toward Him. This realization was the
beginning of the conversion of her life. Reading the Confessions of St.
Augustine completed the conversion so much so that the other nuns commented
, "Teresa is not like herself."
Once Teresa set her will to striving after religious perfection she
made rapid progress. She was rewarded by Our Lord with many extraordinary
favors, especially during prayer. Sometimes she would experience raptures
in prayer which lifted her body off the ground. She suffered some
opposition from those who thought these favors were from the devil. By
1560 her love for God had grown so much that she made a vow to always do
whatever seemed the most perfect and pleasing to God.
One day Teresa's young cousin, at that time a boarding student
staying with the Sisters, asked Teresa why she didn't initiate a reform
among the Carmelites by starting a new convent. Our Lord told Teresa that
this was what He wanted her to do. So in 1562 she obtained permission to
open another convent.
Her new community kept a strict enclosure with almost continual
silence. They were extremely poor and wore sandals instead of shoes (from
where they got the name `discalced'__without shoes).
In 1567 the prior general of the Carmelite Order gave Teresa
permission to establish other convents. He even gave her permission to
establish houses of reformed Discalced Carmelite Friars. One year later
she found two friars who wished to embrace her reform, Anthony of Jesus
and St. John of the Cross. They started the first Reform house for the
Teresa founded seventeen Reformed houses in all. In 1580, when St.
Teresa was sixty-five years old, the Church allowed the Carmelites to
split into two groups, the Calced and Discalced. Two years later, her
health broken, Teresa died on October 4th. She was canonized in 1622 and
declared a Doctor of the Church (on prayer) in 1970. St. Teresa's Feast
day is October 15.
The following prayer was found after St. Teresa's death, written
on a card in her breviary. It is commonly referred to as "The Bookmark."
"Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices."