St. Teresa of Avila
“At last, at last, a daughter of the Church”
Teresa of Avila, lovingly referred to as Teresa la Grande, is a radical sign in our Church. She is so grand, yet so simple in her walk toward the Lord. We believe the reason we shied away from her for so many years is that we were intimidated by her biographers. We were afraid she was high above us, intellectually and spiritually.
We tried to bypass her Shrines at Avila and Alba de Tormes. But the more we attempted to go round her, the more she drew us to her. We planned a pilgrimage to the Shrines of Europe. A beautiful lady, Sister Jane, was celebrating her 25th anniversary as a Religious. She and another Sister also celebrating her 25th anniversary, were given the money to go with us. When we met Sister Jane, she bowled us over with her excitement. We were going to the Holy Land, Rome, Assisi, Siena, Lourdes, Fatima, and as an aside, Avila. When she heard Avila, she almost went into ecstasy. This was her greatest dream, to walk where Teresa, had walked. Because of her, we too became excited.
Teresa touched us again on that pilgrimage, in Lourdes. We were honored to meet up with our Archbishop, the late Timothy Cardinal Manning. He was on a private pilgrimage of Lourdes and the Holy Land (Ireland), with another Priest. He asked us our itinerary. When we neglected to mention Alba de Tormes, he looked us in the eye, and suggested, no, commanded, “If you don’t visit any other Shrine, you must go to Alba de Tormes.” Cardinal Manning had the ability to burrow through to your soul with his eyes and his voice.
The Shrines were beautiful. The tribute given this great Saint by the Church was awe-inspiring. But we got to know Teresa through her Carmelite Priests, at the Shrines. At her birthplace in Avila, a young Priest explained who Teresa was and is. In Alba de Tormes, Fray Hernandez, spoke of her with such simplicity and love, we hungered to learn more.
Teresa, is that when you became a part of our lives? Was it the day we discovered you were reachable, so touchable, when the Priest spoke of you so lovingly that tears came to his and our eyes? We never knew. When our daughter had spoken of castles; when we started to realize what castle she meant, the Interior Castle1, we became intimidated. We tried to read about the different mansions in the Castle; we felt we would never be able to go beyond the first mansion (room), if we had the courage to enter it, in the first place. But after sharing you with those beautiful Carmelites, we fell in love with you. We knew you were reaching out to us; we gulped a few times, and said Yes!
We knew it couldn’t be our design, to write about Teresa, instead of a Saint we judged easier. As we studied her life and her spirituality, we discovered a woman for all seasons. Rather than a Saint, too spiritual and too deep to understand, we found a woman, with practical, good common sense, someone not superior to the simple mind nor too simple for the superior mind. We found a warm, loving mother with an ear and a heart always open to her sisters.
Teresa, model, and heart of the Church
Although Teresa was and is truly Catholic, we found her to be a model for non-Catholics as well. Crashaw, the English Protestant poet, who converted to Catholicism and later became a Priest, was just one of the many whose lives were changed as a result of her writings.
Blessed Edith Stein, went from being born a Jewess, to a life of science with the exclusion of God, to conversion to the Roman Catholic Church after reading Saint Teresa’s autobiography. She died a Carmelite Nun and Martyr in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Macauley, a historian, said Teresa did more to block the spread of Protestantism, by her life and writings, than even St. Ignatius Loyola. “If St. Ignatius Loyola is the brain of the Catholic reaction, Teresa is its heart; if Ignatius is the head of a great band, Teresa of Jesus belongs to its humanity.”
Saints like Francis de Sales and Alphonsus Liguori, both Doctors of the Church, not only greatly admired her, but turned to her works for enlightenment and inspiration. Her autobiography, written reluctantly out of obedience to her Spiritual Director, has become known as one of the most important books on the Christian Way of Life.
Popes, over the centuries, have extolled St. Teresa and her writings. Pope St. Pius X said one need go no farther than her books to discover how to live a truly holy life; that in her works she very clearly directs one, from the very ordinary, everyday living of the Christian life, to the highest peaks of holiness. Very simply, she teaches that true progress in prayer is achieved by the faithful fulfilling of our daily duties with Christ as the center, and the living out of our belief in a holy and obedient manner.
Teresa was born into a time of upheaval, with protesters ( Protestants) calling rebellion “Reformation.” The fight to restore Christianity had not ended with the expulsion of the Moors. Not even the thick walls of Avila, raised between 1090 and 1097, forty feet high and thirteen feet thick, could keep out the conflict and confusion. Only now, it was between Christians and Jews, as well as with conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity in name only. Some of these conversos were Priests, Bishops, and Cardinals and they were teaching heresy to the unsuspecting faithful. Much of this was to lead to the Inquisition1, which would affect Teresa later on in life.
Teresa’s family claimed they were of pure blood, that is, no mixture of Moorish or Jewish blood (reflecting the prejudice of the time instilled by the hundreds of years of Moor domination); but there are those authors who say that Teresa’s grandfather was a converso. He was brought before the Inquisition, forced to accuse himself of judaizing1 and, as punishment, had to process in the streets, seven Fridays in a row, wearing the humiliating sanbenito3. Reconciling with the Inquisition, out of expediency, Teresa’s grandfather moved, with his family, to Avila.
In 1514, the year before Teresa was born, Pope Leo X granted an indulgence to those donating money toward the building of a new Basilica in Rome, St. Peter’s. Although the indulgence called for the usual conditions of penance and contrition, it became highly controversial.
The year Teresa was born, 1515, Martin Luther was to attack the very Foundations of the Catholic Church using the selling of indulgences as a tool. As a result of this act, not only would the Catholic world never be the same, but the very essence of Christianity would change for all time. Opening the door to more conflicts to this very day, this one act of disobedience was to lead to the scandal of over 3000 splinters of the Cross of Jesus. What with disobedience building on disobedience, and dissension building on dissension, the unity Jesus commanded, “as I am one with the Father,” has instead become Christian against Christian, brother against brother. And how our Beloved Lord weeps.
Again, we come to Christ and how He defends His Church. We would be foolish to believe it was merely a coincidence that Teresa was born the very year Martin Luther came out with his dogma of salvation through grace alone. Whereas Luther, troubled by the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, addressed his dilemma by embracing the good things of the world, Teresa was to live a radical life of obedience, often under the worst of conditions, choosing the Lord of all, rather than the all. Teresa, always calling herself a sinner, was to do penance throughout her life in reparation for what she considered this evil brought about by Luther. Read More
The above is an excerpt from Bob and Penny Lord’s book about Saint Teresa of Avila
We encourage you to join us on our Pilgrimage to Fatima Spain and Lourdes
on the 100th Anniversary of the Fatima Apparitions. Click the image on the right and read the details about this Pilgrimage.