St. Teresa of Avila, our patroness, is also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, was a prominent Spanish mystic, a reformer of the Carmelite Order and the foundress, with St. John of the Cross, of the Discalced Carmelites. She was born at Avila in Spain in 1515. When Teresa was 14, her mother died, causing the girl a profound grief that prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Teresa was a very talented young woman, and, at eighteen, a striking Spanish beauty. She decided to become a nun but was unable to obtain her father’s consent. When she was twenty she left his house, unbeknownst to him, to join the Carmelite Convent of Avila. Her father relented and she was professed the following year.
God called her to be a saint early in her religious life, but she did not respond fully to this first call. During many years of trials and suffering, her perseverance in prayer and meditation on the Holy Bible prepared her soul for loving, eager response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In 1562, at the age of forty-seven, she began her reform of the Carmelite Order with the founding of the first convent of strict observance in Avila. Some dozen foundations followed in rapid succession, all over Spain.
In a period of spiritual growth and deep meditation, Teresa received the gift of visions and distinct commands from Our Lord, and her heart was pierced with divine love. The memory of this episode served as an inspiration throughout the rest of her life, and motivated her lifelong imitation of the life and suffering of Jesus, epitomized in the motto usually associated with her: “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.”St. Teresa’s friends suggested that either she was having diabolical visions or that perhaps she had lost her mind, and so she acted only under obedience to her confessors, which made her strong and safe.
Teresa is one of the foremost writers on mental prayer, and her position among writers on mystical theology is unique. Her books, written largely for the guidance of her new religious sisters, are full of deep spiritual insight and a rare degree of practical common sense. In all her writings on this subject she deals with her personal experiences, which a deep insight and analytical gifts enabled her to explain clearly. Her definition 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.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
Some of the best loved prayers and thoughts were written by St. Teresa of Avila:
“I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water.”
“Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.”
The poem “Christ Has No Body:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.