Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, the mystic rock star and doctor of the church. Not gonna lie, I have gotten the different saints named St. Teresa mixed up in the past, and I really enjoyed getting to know this saint as I was writing this post.
This post is part of a series of posts on the life of saints. Check out an earlier post if you are interested in more information about what a saint is. Basically, saints are holy men and women whose lives demonstrate the glory of God and are now in heaven in his presence.
So lets jump right in with a cliff notes history of St. Teresa of Avila.
Teresa was born in 1515 in the Spanish province of Ávila to a 3rd generation Christian family. She is described, as finding a love and devotion for the stories of the saints as a young girl. Since she was born in the middle of the Italian Renaissance, I imagine the saints acting as her bedtime stories and her Disney substitute.
At the early age of 14 our teenage Teresa lost her mama. This time of despair ignited her devotion to her spiritual mother, Mary. Even as she too these small spiritual baby steps, she was for all intents and purposes rebellious as a teenage and sent to a monastery to continue her education. Although she initially disliked the ordered lifestyle, it was while she was studying in the convent that she began her life long study of Christian mystical writings.
It was in this time that she began to ponder God’s immense love through developing a prayer life. In her diaries, she wrote about beginning to understand the necessity of absolute subjection to God. Despite eventually being known for her deep prayer life, there were times in her life where she mentioned having difficulty sitting through prayers.
Isn’t that encouraging? One of the great doctors of the church, had both times of rebellion and seasons where prayer wasn’t easy. She was totally human like me.
Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation near her home in Ávila. She was committed to the values of her monastic life, but her order was not always living up to their calling and St. Teresa was often distracted by the easy way out. Many times throughout her life, St. Teresa fell to serious illness. Once in particular as a young nun Teresa was not responding to treatment, fell in to comas, and become paralyzed for several years. In this time of physical weakness, she become convinced, through prayer, of reforming the weakness she saw in her order. She was willing to stir up the water a little to keep her order and its leadership accountable to their calling.
Eventually she created a reformed order for Carmelite sisters with a focus on absolute poverty and the renunciation of property, in order to offer undivided prayer.
After several years she was asked to establish more monasteries in her order in Italy. She traveled to many places facing adventures and trials along the way, but was able to spread her reformed and dedicated style to many. Its very clear that this woman was anything but weak. She also eventually worked with St. John of the Cross and St. Anthony of Jesus to establish the first convent of Discalced Carmelite Brethren.
St. Teresa faced many struggles in life, but consistently clung to God in life and in prayer. She was known for being a magnanimous leader, solid friend, and hard worker.
St. Teresa was also a wonderful and prolific writer. Much of her mystical writings surrounds the idea of the four stages of prayer she used to closer unite with Christ. In 1559, she had one of jet most impactful experiences of prayer in which she experienced the intensity of God’s love in the image of an arrow piercing her heart. She described that it left… “me [her] all on fire with a great love of God.”
Her definition for prayer was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”
After founding 17 convents and 20 years of reform Teresa died in October of 1582 at the age of 67. Her last words are recorded as, “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”
She was canonized 40 years after her death and is revered as the Doctor of Prayer. Two of her most read works include the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. St. Teresa understood physical illness, opposition to reform, difficulties in prayer, loss of a parent, and poverty. She found safety in prayers and sisterhood. She is a woman to look up to and emulate. With her firm determination, bold willingness, and deep intimacy in prayer, she is definitely a saint that today’s world benefits from knowing.
The Saint in Art:
St. Teresa of Ávila is typically depicted as a nun in habit of a Discalced Carmelite. Her role as the Doctor of Prayer is often symbolized by an arrow piercing through her heart or her hands clasped in prayer. Frequently, she is seen holding a pierced heart, quill, book, or crucifix or receiving a message from a dove.
1.Saint Teresa of Ávila by Peter Paul Rubens 2.Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila by Gian Lorenzo Bernini 3. St. Teresa of Avila as a Young Woman by François Gerard
Patron Saint Of
One of the things I love most about the saints, is to see how a saint’s patroness is associated with pieces of their life. It is through our life experiences that we can relate to one another and the saints’ prayers for us can be formed from their life.
So from St. Teresa’s experiences with illness, she has become a patroness of sickness and against headaches. As she was typically pictured with an arrow through her heart she has also become a prayer warrior against heart disease.
She was dubbed the patron of several other familiar situations, such as for those who have lost their parents, those who may oppose Church authorities, those in need of grace, those in the religious life, and those ridiculed for their piety.
As a Spaniard she is the patron for the country of Spain. She is also the patron saint for those, like herself, are Catholic writers, and of course she proudly prays for those with her namesake and their derivatives, Teresa, Theresa, Teresita, Terry, Tessa, Teresina, and Tracy.
As a writer St. Teresa is full of bold and inspiring quotes. Here are some of my favorite quotes from St. Teresa of Avila in graphic form. Feel free to use the images for personal use. Credit back where possible.
Ways to Celebrate:
Feast Day: October 15
There are also some recipes that are named after Teresa herself, such as
St. Teresa’s Egg Yolks or Yemas
The Book Drinking with the Saints suggests two different cocktails to celebrate with
Time Warp. This fruity liquor drink is a nod to the fact that St. Teresa of Avila died on the very day that the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar meaning that the morning she died was both October 4th and October 15th at the same time. Simple version.
Butterfly. St. Teresa named the 5th level of interior life the butterfly as a symbol of transformation. So cheers with this orange dubonnet drink.
1.) Create your on St. Terese of Ávila bookmark. After her death the below prayer was found in her bible. Make your own bookmark as you meditate on her words.
Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.
2.) St Teresa of Ávila founded the Discalced Carmelites. Discalced means shoeless as a description of their intentional poverty. Take some time to be purposefully shoeless in honor of St. Teresa.
3.) The favorite prayer of St. Teresa of Ávila was the Our Father. You can break down what the Our Father prayer means as a family or craft it up with several Our father themed crafts and experiments that will help your kids remember the parts of St. Teresa’s favorite prayer.
4.) Create a St. Teresa of Avila lap book (Shower of Roses)
2. God of Love, help us to love you with all our hearts like St. Teresa of Ávila did. Give us the strength to do what is right, even when doing what is right is very difficult. May we be people of prayer, like St. Teresa was. Amen. (Patricia Mathson)
So hopefully now you are prepared to celebrate St. Teresa of Avila on her feast day tomorrow and hopefully you have gained a new friend in heaven. I know I have.