Saint Teresa of Avila: Virgin and Doctor of Prayer
To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love
St. Teresa's whole life is one of simple beauty and fervent purpose; it is a life contained in Christ. She shows us how to live the same way through Prayer.
GLADE PARK, Colorado (Catholic Online) - Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born on a Wednesday morning in the Castilian town of Avila, March 28, 1515. She was the third of nine children. Her mother, Dona Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, a woman of great understanding and virtue, died while St. Teresa had but reached only her thirteenth year. She describes her father as a virtuous man, always chaste, who carefully and joyfully followed the Lord's commandments.
As a youngster, St. Teresa had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and Our Lady, often finding a quiet place in the house to pray the Rosary. She had a favorite brother who was close to her own age; they enjoyed reading the lives of the saints together, and, one day, decided the quickest path to heaven was that of martyrdom. St. Teresa says of this, "I used to think that they [the martyrs] had bought their entry into God's presence very cheaply. Then I fervently longed to die like them, not out of any conscious love for Him, but in order to attain as quickly as they had those joys which, as I read, are laid up in Heaven" (The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, Penguin Classics, 1957, p. 24).
She notes that, as she grew into a teen, vanity, idle companionship, and unfruitful reading caused her harm. As for her interest in books, she comments: "I was so enthralled by it that I do not believe I was ever happy if I had not a new book" (Ibid., p. 26). St. Teresa often relates of her sorrow for those teenage years, as well as some years beyond them, when she had not yet given herself completely to her beloved Jesus; even writing of a vision of hell, in which she experienced a horrifying place that she believed had been prepared for her as her eternal residence had not our Lord Jesus rescued her.
At age sixteen, though happily acting as a boarder in the Augustinian Convent of Avila, St. Teresa had no interest in becoming a nun. Yet under the influence of Sister Maria Briceno, a holy and pious woman, St. Teresa's love for prayer and holiness grew stronger. After an illness which required her to return home, she visited with her uncle, read some spiritual books he had, and, after three months of spiritual conflict, decided to become a nun. After reading from St. Jerome, she found the courage to tell her father of her plans, though he was opposed to the idea. St. Teresa, at age twenty-one, quietly entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila in November, 1536. St. Teresa spent, chiefly, the next twenty years at this convent.
During her life in the Carmelite Convent, St. Teresa struggled with her spiritual growth, yet, through persistence and love and over the course of many years, her union with God would flourish. She would experience unfathomable spiritual graces: locutions, transports, visions, and levitations - her soul would reach spiritual maturity.From about 1562 to 1582, St. Teresa traveled Spain founding 17 convents; the last of which was at Burgos, Spain, in April, 1582. At the request of her confessors, she wrote one of the greatest works on prayer, her autobiography, best known as The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, which she completed in 1565.
According to J. M. Cohen, who wrote the introduction, her autobiography is the most widely read prose classic of Spain. This work, considered one of her most important, explained many aspects of her life in the convent: her struggles with the sins of her past life; her constant pursuit of virtue and holiness; the distress the devil caused her; suffering inflicted by inexperienced confessors; and the ways in which God granted her mercy and wondrous mystical graces.Among one of the most important aspects of St. Teresa's autobiography is her account of the four stages of prayer. St. Teresa teaches "beginners", as she refers to them, the way in which they might attain, with God's grace, higher levels of perfection, holiness, and prayer. It is a book in which the devout and properly disposed soul may achieve great profit; for its descriptive language is simple, beautiful, and readily understandable.
One thing is certain, St. Teresa never lost sight of her reliance on God, her need for Christ, and the sins of her past life. Of her sins, in her usual candid and warm style, she writes: "I wish [in the autobiography] that I had been allowed to describe also, clearly and in full detail, my grave sins and the wickedness of my life. This would have been a great comfort to me, but I may not do so. In fact, I have been put under severe restrictions in the matter" (Ibid., p. 21). Even so, St. Teresa often took the opportunity to relate in a revealing manner her view of herself. Certainly the most important element of St. Teresa's teaching is the way to perfection; that is, the method of living a life of prayer and virtue with one goal in mind: God's love. She is careful to guide "beginners" along the proper path, warning them of the ...
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