St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

Declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970, Teresa of Avila, whose feast is celebrated on October 15, is often called the Saint of Common Sense. A mystic who experienced many visions and ecstasies, Teresa was grounded in reality. Her numerous writings attest to her deep understanding of human nature and of the necessity of following a simple path towards holiness. She taught of humility and charity, detachment, and perseverance in prayer. She experienced the ways of the world and the temptations that are common to all people of every era, so that she was equipped to understand human frailty and encourage her nuns, her followers and readers through the centuries along the path to holiness.

The celebration of the 500th anniversary of Teresa's birth will take place in 2015. Her writings are as timely today as when they were written and offer a glimpse of the woman who reformed the Carmelite Order under God's own inspiration. She lost her mother when just twelve years old, but turned to the Blessed Mother to be her mother, and devoted herself to the rosary having seen her own mother's devotion to the prayer. Teresa wrote in The Book of Her Life that parents should take care that their children observe "virtuous deeds of every kind" because she fell into bad habits as an adolescent due to some weaknesses she mimicked and some bad company which was an influence to her. She understood how easily the youth are led astray, and how necessary it is to go to whatever lengths are available to keep the youth on the right track.

About prayer, Teresa learned after years of bad practices in the convent that one need not work so hard on focusing attention upon mental prayer so much as they ought to learn to spend time loving God and being in His presence. She had spent so much time talking about prayer and fighting to bring her imagination and thoughts under control that she disliked prayer, until she came to understand prayer better. She wrote that prayer consists of taking time to be with the One Who loves us, and doing what we can to please Him in love.

Teresa's growth in prayer led to a more active presence of God. In everything, she submitted to obedience to the Church, a hallmark of her holiness. It was also a trial, however, because her increasing holiness and union with God gave rise to attacks from her sisters, as well as some confessors who claimed that her experiences were diabolical. Her writings take us along this journey she made from selfishness and childishness to self knowledge and then submission to and union with God. In her famous work, The Interior Castle, Teresa describes the growth of the soul through seven degrees of prayer, to holiness.

Biographies of Teresa of Avila describe a very down to earth woman, who could poke fun at herself, who was cheerful and witty, but also strong willed and purposeful. Teresa reminds us to give complete trust to God's providence. She said that those who give all for God will find that He gives Himself to them. The words of her bookmark are well known and worthy of remembering: "Let nothing trouble thee, let nothing make thee afraid, all things are passing. God never changes. Patience gains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices… "

Nancy Arey

October 21, 2014
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