Editor’s note — St. Teresa of Jesus – or St. Teresa of Avila — was born in Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515. Thus, 2015 is the 500th anniversary of her birth. Celebrations throughout the world will already begin this month.
By Father Pius Sammut, OCD
For the U Matuna Si Yu’os
“Remember that you have but one soul; that you can die but once; that you have but one life, which is short; that there is but one blessedness, and that forever.”
These insightful words were penned by a Spanish saint, who when alive was a contro- versial figure, revered by many but reviled by others. A high dignitary of the Church (Nuncio Felipe Sega) even called her “a restless, roving nun, contumacious, and disobedient”. Her name? Teresa of Avila or Teresa de Jesus. She was a saint, a mystic, a reformer, a legend, a mesmerizing woman.
She was born on March 28, 1515, exactly 499 years ago in Ávila, Castile, Spain. She was born into a large family. Her father was married twice. His first wife had died early. She had three sisters and nine brothers.
When she was not yet nine years old, she briefly ran away from home in order to die a martyr’s death and to go to heaven fast. “I want to see God,” the little girl told her dis- traught parents. She found out early in life that “all things of this world will pass away” while God alone is “forever, ever, ever”. What wisdom! She was about 12 years old when her mother died and she found in the Virgin Most Holy another mother.
After a moment of typical teen crisis, 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”. A plan of life?
Three years later she fell seriously ill. All her life she battled sickness. In 1543 she lost the closeness of her relatives; her father died and all her siblings, one after another, trekked to America in search of adventure. Less than 50 years back, in 1492, Christopher Columbus, hoping to uncover a new route to the East, ended up discovering a new world that the civilized world did not even know it existed.
Following a somewhat mediocre period in her religious life, in Lent 1554 (now 39 years old) there came a decisive opening in her jour- ney. A fortuitous discovery of a statue of “a Christ most grievously wounded”, left a deep mark on her life. Parallel to her inner maturity, the Saint began in practice to realize her ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order: in 1562 she founded the first reformed Carmel in Avila. “Let us remember our Founders, those holy Fathers from whom we are sprung, for we know it was by the way of poverty and humility that they attained to the vision of God.”
Amidst appalling misunderstandings, in the years that followed, she continued her foundations of new Carmelite convents, 17 in all. Her meeting with St John of the Cross was fundamental. With him, in 1568, she set up the first convent of Discalced Carmelites Friars in Duruelo, not far from Avila.
“Anyone who truly loves God travels securely.” Her earthly life ended while she was in the middle of her founding activities. She died on Oct. 15, 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 was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622. Blessed Pope Paul VI proclaimed her a “Doctor of the Church” in 1970.
Known for her practicality and good humor, Saint Teresa combined intelligence and obedience with mysticism. “From silly devotions, and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!” Her secret was intense prayer. “If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend.”
What did she mean by prayer? Simply, a “means of being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us.”