Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Teresa of Avila, Virgin and Doctor, 1515-1582
Teresa, sometimes known as Teresa of Jesus, was born in Avila in Castile, Spain. She was one of nine children of Don Alonzo Sanchez de Cepeda and his second wife, Doña Beatrice Davila y Ahumada. Teresa wrote of her large family that "all, through the goodness of God, were like our parents in being virtuous, except myself."
At the age of seven, Teresa was already intrigued by the lives of the saints. She and a younger brother, Rodrigo, decided that the easiest way to become a saint was to be martyred since martyrs seemed to have bought heaven very cheaply by their sufferings. With that in mind, the two young children set off from home to travel to Morocco where, they were certain, they would be martyred and, thus, become saints. An uncle found them not too far from home and returned them to their frightened mother, so their sainthood was postponed.
After attending school in an Augustinian convent, Teresa became a Carmelite nun in 1536. At that time, the convent parlor acted as the social center of the town. Many of the townspeople would come to the convent on Sunday afternoons; they and the nuns would sit in the parlor and discuss the issues of the day. Teresa participated in this and enjoyed it for some time, even to the point of giving up much of her prayer and meditation.
Teresa eventually came to believe that the Carmelite order was too relaxed and began to fight for reforms. In that regard, she founded the St. Joseph Convent in Avila and several other convents in Spain for nuns who wished to live a cloistered life. These nuns came to be known as the Discalced Carmelites for the sandals they wore (as opposed to the shoes which the other nuns wore). With St. John of the Cross, Teresa also founded a similar monastery for men.
Teresa chose her novices in a way which might seem strange to us. Before considering their piety, Teresa wanted to know about their intelligence and common sense. A person could train herself to piety, she felt, but not to good judgment. "May God preserve us from stupid nuns!" she exclaimed.
In her efforts to effect reform within the Carmelites, Teresa traveled all over Spain and wrote many letters and books which are regarded as classics of spiritual literature. Her book Way of Perfection was written for the guidance of her nuns and Foundations was written for their encouragement. But Teresa also wrote for the rest of the Church. Her book Interior Castle explains the contemplative life for the layperson.
Though a contemplative, Teresa managed to successfully blend a highly active life with spiritual meditation. She was a popular person who combined charm and wit with humility and courtesy, so that even her enemies respected her.
St. Teresa was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, the first woman so honored.
Teresa's message today: What a magnificent combination of characteristics this saint possessed: charm, wit, humility, courtesy, all combined with sanctity. Too often, we picture cloistered nuns as rather grim, but Teresa shows us that this does not have to be. We too should maintain a cheerful demeanor even as we practice penance and sacrifice.