Santa Teresa is without doubt one of the greatest and admirable woman in history. Many came to believe she was a mystic with an extraordinary life, a sublime teacher and Doctor of the Church, together with St Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus. After receiving an apparition from the Lord, she gave herself completely to the spiritual life and to the reform of Carmel. Father Claret took her as a model of evangelical and apostolic life and chose her as co-patron of our Congregation.
Teresa de Ahumada was born in the Castillian city of Avila, on March 28, 1515. When she was 7 years old, she already had a great love for reading the lives of the saints. Her brother Rodrigo and she were very impressed by the thought of eternity and tirelessly would say: “Always joyful with God forever…,” both had resolved to leave for the country of the Moors in the hope of dying for the faith and ran away from home, praying that God would enable them to give their lives for Christ; but they ran into one of their uncles, who returned then to the arms of their afflicted Mother.
At the age of 12, she lost her mother: “As I began to become aware of the loss that I had suffered, I began experiencing great sadness; then I went before an image of Our Lady and begged her with many tears for her to take me for her own daughter.” This extreme sorrow caused her to decide on a religious vocation.
During that time, Teresa and Rodrigo began reading novels of chivalry and even tried to write a novel. The Saint confesses in her Autobiography “that such books chilled her passions.” This change, which impacted Teresa, did not hinder her concern for her father, who sent her at the age of 15 to be educated in the convent of the Augustinian of Avila.
On November 3, 1534, at the age of 19 in spite of her father’s opposition, she entered the Carmelite community. She made her profession in the convent of the Incarnation in Avila. Shortly after, being stricken by an illness which started before her profession, she was placed under a doctors’ care. Only after three years, Teresa was able to regain her health.
Her disposition and wittiness along with a great personal charm, won her the esteem of everyone around her, and sought her company. But this led her to the neglect time for personal prayer. The Saint was justified by saying that there was no danger in doing the same as so many other faithful religious but that their diseases prevented her from meditation. However, the Saint recognized that this pretext of her weakness was not enough of an excuse to abandon time for prayer.
Increasingly convinced of her unworthiness, Teresa frequently invoked St. Augustine and St. Maria Magdalene, whom are associated with two facts which were decisive in her life. The first was the reading of the Confessions of Saint Augustine. The second was an appeal for penance that the Saint experienced before an image of the Passion of the Lord: “I felt that St Mary Magdalene came to my aid … and since then, I have made much progress in the spiritual life.”
On one occasion, when pausing before a crucifix of the bleeding Christ, she asked him: “Lord, who put you like this?” It seemed to her that a voice said: “Your gossip in the visiting room, these were the ones that put me here, Teresa.” She cried and was terribly impacted. Since that day she no longer returned to waste time in useless talks and in vain friendships.
Since then God began to favor her frequently with the prayer of tranquility. Her prayer time turned into long periods and God began to visit her with visions and internal communications. This seemed to disturb her and led her to share these matters with several people; unfortunately not everyone is discrete and the news of the Teresa visions began to be disclosed with great confusion.
After several attempts, Teresa went to one of the priests of the newly founded Company of Jesus, who exposed the favors received from God. The Jesuit confirmed its authenticity, but urged her not to neglect the true foundation of the interior life. Another Jesuit priest, Father Baltasar Alvarez, advised her to ask God for help and recite daily the Veni Creator Spiritus. So Teresa did. One day, when repeating the hymn, she was snatched in ecstasy. She would later say: “The Holy Spirit was like a strong hurricane overtaking in one hour the small ship of my soul toward holiness, that which we had achieved in months and years covering our own strength”.
St. Teresa of Jesus suffered very serious allegations and in addition, went through periods of intense spiritual desolation, relieved by moments of light and extraordinary comfort. In 1557, St. Peter de Alcantara went through Avila and visited the famous Carmelite. He again confirmed that it was the Spirit of God who had guided her, but predicted that she would encounter persecution and suffering.
She had many mystical experiences. After one of them, she wrote the beautiful poem that goes: So high a life I hope that I may die because I do not die. These trances were demonstrating the greatness and goodness of God, the excess of His love and the sweetness of His service in a sensitive form, and Teresa who understood with clarity was unable to express it. “Since then, she says on one occasion, I stopped fearing death, something that had tormented me.” Her experiences led her to the summits of a spiritual betrothal, a mystical marriage and the transverberation.
Her role was decisive for the reform of the Carmelite Order. In the beginning of the 16th century, the Carmelites had faltered much in fervor. A niece of St. Teresa, a Carmelite like her, suggested the idea and the Saint decided to put it into practice by founding a reformed convent. With the initial support of many, among them San Pedro de Alcantara and the same Provincial Superior of the Carmelites, she began the work of reform, despite multiple commotions and misunderstandings.
The Saint established a more stringent cloister and almost perpetual silence: The convent lacked income and had a lifestyle of great poverty; the religious wore coarse habits, wearing sandals instead of shoes (which is why it was called them descaled) and obliged to perpetual abstinence from meat. In the beginning only thirteen religious were accepted, and later there was an increase of membership to twenty-one.
In 1567, the Superior General of the Carmelites visited the convent of Avila and was delighted with the reform and granted St. Teresa full powers to establish other convents of the same type and even authorized the founding of two convents of reformed friars in Castile.
She was a profound and fruitful writer. Her main works are in prose and while recognizing her lack of writing skills, she was a great stylist. She composed poems in moments of the most mystical feelings. The story of her Autobiography, written by mandate of her confessor, shows an extraordinary simplicity of style and a constant concern not to exaggerate the facts. She always reveals the darkest corners of her soul and explains with a clarity incredible experiences which are more ineffable. It should be noted that Teresa was a woman who was relatively uneducated, which wrote about her experiences in the common Spanish language of the inhabitants of Avila, which she had learned on the lap of her mother. She wrote without recourse to other books, without having previously studied the mystical works and without having any desire to write, because it prevented her from devoting time to spinning. She presented without reservations her writings to the judgment in her confessor and the judgment of the Church. The famous writing, Way of Perfection was to lead the religious and the book of the foundations was for encouraging them. In regard to the Interior Castle, she wrote instructions for Christians and in this work displayed herself as a true Doctor of spiritual life.
Saint Teresa of Jesus died after her work of reforms was accepted, on October 4, 1582, at the age of sixty-seven. Precisely the following day she was included in the Gregorian Reform calendar, so that the feast of the Saint was posted later, on October 15. She was buried in Alba de Tormes, where her relics still rest. Her canonization took place in 1622. On September 27, 1970, Pope Paul VI granted her the title of Doctor of the Church.
St. Anthony Claret was fascinated by St. Teresa, and writes in his Autobiography a long series of texts of the great mystic of Avila through the numbers 242 to 258. He collected the Teresian pages where the Apostolic Saint from Avila expresses her ardent compassion for sinners (cf. Aut 243). This particularly impacted Father Claret through the pains and agonies of the Saint in his experience of hell (cf. Aut 246-249), as well as other details among which draws attention to his habit of giving away good books (cf. Aut 242).
The same Claret noted that in addition in one of his preferred books, Flos sanctorum of Pedro de Ribadeneira, is the following paragraphs of an apostolic nature on Saint Teresa: “The night was almost spent in praying: moaning, sighing and crying out to God to impart mercy and illuminate those souls that so unfortunately were deceived. A thousand lives given to remedy a soul, and of any joy, even though it was very spiritual, is deprived of goodness for the use of neighbor. The fruit that was made in the souls and admirable conversions which by the prayers and means of Saint Teresa was made, requesting a long history, because there were many and all of her life because for everything she embraced with zeal for the house and honor of God. The works which she gave for her neighbors were many; but very few seemed to be excessive in charity, wishing to suffer more and more for Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, and they who are redeemed… As she lived not to suffer, so only this gave happiness and satisfaction to her soul and she would say that nothing was good in this life but to suffer; for nothing was short and brief but to work” (4, p. 263).
In 1864, the Lord blessed this reading with great gifts of knowledge of the Saint (cf. Aut 797). In 1869, when reading the Fifth Mansion, he also experienced a great illustration as he himself collects in Luces y Gracias of 1869. The final propositions of his life are the basis in the Avisos. It also cited a paragraph on the discourse he made on May 31, 1870, in the hall of the First Vatican Council. Among his manuscripts are preserved some notes taken from the works of the Saint. Enrique Pla y Deniel wrote about Fr. Claret and Santa Teresa, concerning the Mother of spirituality, in a pastoral letter dated August 1934, on the occasion of the canonization of Blessed Maria Micaela of the Blessed. Sacrament and the beatification of the venerable Fr Anthony Mary Claret.
- HERRAIZ, M., Santa Teresa, teacher of spirituality, Salamanca 1984.
- JAVIERRE, J. M., Teresa of Jesus: human adventure and sacredness of a woman, Salamanca 1982.
- PLA AND DENIEL, E., Pastoral Letter “The Mother of spirituality”, Salamanca 1934.
- RIBADENEYRA, P., Flos sanctorum, t. III, Barcelona 1790.
- TERESA OF JESUS. Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Madrid 2003.