Saint Teresa of Avila
by Matthew Betts
Happy Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila - nun & doctor of the Church. Today, let us reflect on this remarkable saint via a small introduction and video below.
Teresa was born in Avila in Spain in 1515. In her autobiography she says she was born into a large family, her “father and mother, who were devout and feared God”. She had three sisters and nine brothers. While she was still a child and not yet nine years old she read about the lives of several martyrs, which inspired such a longing for martyrdom that she briefly ran away from home in order to die a martyr’s death and to go to Heaven (cf. Vida, [Life], 1, 4); “I want to see God”, the little girl told her parents.
When she was 20 she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation, also in Avila. In her religious life she took the name “Teresa of Jesus”. She made great progress in the way of perfection and was granted mystical revelations.
Wishing to share in the spiritual renewal of the Church of her time, she began to live her religious life more ardently and soon attracted many companions, to whom she was like a mother. She started to reform Carmel and in 1562 she founded the first reformed Carmel in Avila, with the support of the city’s Bishop. Soon afterwards, she received the approval of the Order’s Superior General. She also helped in the reform of the friars, and in this she had to endure great trials.
In the years that followed, she continued her foundations of new Carmelite convents: which eventually reached seventeen in all. In 1580 she obtained the authorization for her reformed Carmels to be a separate and autonomous Province, which was the starting point for the Discalced Carmelite Order.
Teresa died on the night of 15 October 1582 in Alba de Tormes, after setting up the Carmelite Convent in Burgos, while on her way back to Avila. Her last 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 wrote books which are renowned for their depth of doctrine, and which showed her own spiritual experiences (four well-known books are The Life, The Way of Perfection, The Mansions and The Foundations).
Teresa spent her entire life for the whole Church although she spent it in Spain. She was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622. Saint Pope Paul VI proclaimed her a “Doctor of the Church” in 1970 - she was the first woman to be declared as such. Here is part of Pope Saint Paul V's homily on Saint Teresa:
"We see Teresa appear before us, an exceptional woman and a religious. Veiled with humility, penitence and simplicity, she radiates around her the flame of her human vitality and of her spiritual vivacity. Then we see her as the reformer and founder of an historic and eminent religious order, a prolific writer of great genius, a teacher of the spiritual life, an incomparable contemplative who was tirelessly active. How great she is, how unique! How human, how attractive is this personality!”
As part of today’s reflection, I have created a video with words written and said by Saint Teresa. Please relax, reflect and pray whilst you contemplate her words...
Let us pray...
by your Spirit you raised up Saint Teresa of Jesus
to show your Church the way of perfection.
May her inspired teaching
awaken in us a longing for true holiness.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us.
Find out more about this amazing saint, here:
- A Portrait of Teresa of Avila from Her Letters
- Carmel: School of Prayer
- Celebrating the Saints of Carmel
- Glimpses of the Carmelite Way
- Autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila
- A New Hope/God in the Time of Covid-19 bundle
The image above is a prayer card of Saint Teresa printed here at the Shrine in the 1950s.