St. Teresa of Avila
Inspired by the Martyrs
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain on March 28, 1515. In her autobiography, she mentions some details of her childhood. Her parents were pious Catholics and to some degree inspired Teresa to take up a life of prayer. She had three sisters and nine brothers.
As a young child, Teresa showed signs of a deeply religious nature. She would often retreat into silence and spend time praying. She enjoyed giving alms to the poor. However, when she was a teenager, Teresa’s mother, who was very close to her, died and left her distraught at the void she left. The young Teresa tells of her despair and how she turned to the Virgin Mary seeking comfort.
When she was still a child, Teresa often read the lives of some martyrs. This inspired her to long for martyrdom. A few years later, she would speak of her childhood reading and stated that she had discovered in it the way of truth which she summed up in two important principles: “all things of this world will pass away” and that God alone is “for ever, ever, ever”. She was taught by the Augustinian nuns of Santa Maria de las Gracias de Avila. With their instruction and her reading of spiritual books, especially the classics of Franciscan spirituality, Teresa was introduced to recollection and prayer.
Reforming the Carmelite Order
When she was twenty years old, Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila. As a Carmelite, she took the name Teresa of Jesus. Three years later, she fell seriously ill. She was so ill that she remained in comatose for four days, looking as if she were already dead. In 1543, she lost the closeness of her relatives. Her father died and all her siblings, one after another, left for America. During Lent of 1554, when she was 39 years old, Teresa reached the apex of her struggle against her own weakness. Her fortuitous discovery of the statue of Christ most grievously wounded left a deep mark on her life.
At the age of 43, Teresa decided she wanted to found a new order recommitting to the values of poverty and simplicity. She began to realize her ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order. In 1562, she founded the first reformed Carmel in Avila with the approval and support of Don Alvaro de Mendoza, the city’s bishop. Shortly afterwards, Teresa’s reforms also received approval from the Superior General of the Order, John Baptist Rosi.
In the succeeding years, Teresa continued her work of founding new Carmelite convents. Under her guidance, seventeen new convents were established. Her encounter with John of the Cross was fundamental. In 1568, Teresa and John of the Cross set up the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo, near Avila. In 1580, she obtained the authorization from Rome for her reformed Carmels as a separate and autonomous Province. This was the beginning of the Discalced Carmelite Order.
Teresa’s earthly life came to an end while she was in the middle of her founding activities. She died on the night of October 15, 1582 in Alba de Tormes, after setting up the Carmelite Convent in Burgos, while on her way back to Avila. Her last humble words were: “After all, I die as a child of the Church”, and “O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another”. She was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622. Her feast day is October 15.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Teresa of Avila
- St. Teresa of Avila wrote Autobiography, Way of Perfection, and Interior Castle. Her works contain some of the most profound insights into the spiritual life ever written.
- Pope Paul VI proclaimed St. Teresa of Avila a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She was one of the four women Doctors of the Church (St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Hildegard of Bingen).
- St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint against headaches. On many occasions in her writings, she expressed the terrible migraines she experienced.
- St. Teresa of Avila is also the patroness of Spain and the patron saint of lacemakers.
- One of St. Teresa of Avila’s known miracles was the healing of her injured nephew. She performed a miracle after part of a building had fallen on the boy.
Prayer to St. Teresa of Avila
O God, who through your Spiritraised up Saint Teresa of Jesusto show the Church the way to seek perfection,grant that we may always be nourishedby the food of her heavenly teachingand fired with longing for true holiness.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.