Saint Teresa of Jesus

teresa.jpgSaint Teresa of Jesus

Saint Teresa of Ávila who is known by her religious name, Saint Teresa of Jesus, was baptized as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada. Teresa is the co-founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order and within the Order she is known as "Holy Mother"

When Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 siblings of which her brother Rodrigo was a special favorite. In her youth Teresa had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years (Maria de S. Jose, Libro de recreaciones, 8). Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, an early example of which trait occurred when at the age of 7 she left home with her brother Rodrigo with the intention of going to Moorish territory to be beheaded for Christ, but they were frustrated by their uncle, who met the children as they were leaving the city and brought them home (Ephrem de la Madre de Dios, Tiempo y Vida de Sta. Teresa--hereafter abbrev. TV--142-143).

Her great work of reform began with herself. She made a vow always to follow the more perfect course, and resolved to keep the rule as perfectly as she could (V 32.9). However, the atmosphere prevailing at the Incarnation monastery was less than favorable to the more perfect type of life to which Teresa aspired. A group assembled in her cell one September evening in 1560, taking their inspiration from the primitive tradition of Carmel and the discalced reform of St. Peter of Alcantara, proposed the foundation of a monastery of an eremitical type.

On August 24, but after much hardship, trial, prayer and determination a new monastery dedicated to Saint Joseph was founded. Four novices received the habit of the Discalced Carmelites however, there was still to be plenty of opposition to the formation of this new "reformed" Carmelilte Order.

When Teresa met John of the Cross the two were to become a united force for reform. The spiritual conversations and understanding of prayer and mysticism bound them together as they faced many fierce trials together for love of their Lord. On Nov. 18, 1572, while receiving Communion from the hands of John of the Cross, she received the favor of the "spiritual marriage." Together Saints Teresa and John made many foundations of both Convents for Nuns and Houses for Friars.

Teresa's autobiography, the Way of Perfection, and the Interior Castle. Readers must exercise some caution, however, and resist the temptation to hastily synthesize the doctrine in these books, because St. Teresa wrote from her personal experience at different stages of the spiritual life. For example, the doctrine of prayer found in the autobiography is not identical with that in the Interior Castle; more than a decade had elapsed between their composition, and Teresa had meanwhile attained a higher degree of spiritual maturity with its simultaneous expansion of experience. The autobiography, written primarily as a manifestation of her spiritual state for her directors, was later enlarged in scope and in audience. Chapters 11 to 22 inclusive--a later addition--are devoted exclusively to the discussion of prayer, although additional comments and examples are scattered throughout the remaining 28 chapters. Teresa depicts different stages of the life of prayer in metaphorical terms taken from the manner of securing water to irrigate a garden. The "first water" is laboriously obtained from a well and carried in a bucket to the garden; this is in reference to beginners who, liberated from the more flagrant mortal sins, apply themselves to discursive prayer of meditation, although they experience fatigue and aridity from time to time. After speaking at length of meditation in its stricter meaning, Teresa made a brief reference to "acquired" contemplation before beginning her discussion of the "second water." In this second stage, the gardener secures water through use of a windlass and bucket; here Teresa refers to the "prayef of quiet, a gift of God through which the individual begins to have a passive experience of prayer. The third method of irrigation is the employment of water from a stream or river; the application made by Teresa is to the "sleep of the faculties." Although Teresa considered this an important stage in the evolution of prayer when she wrote her autobiography, she later relegated it to a simple intensification of the "prayer of quiet" in the Interior Castle. The fourth method of irrigation is God given: the rain; Teresa employs this metaphor to describe a state of union in prayer in which the soul is apparently passive.

Her Way of Perfection Teresa addressed to her nuns, teaching them therein the major virtues that demand their solicitude, casting further light on the practice of prayer, and using the Pater Noster as a vehicle for teaching prayer at greater depth. This book is sometimes referred to as the apex of Teresa's ascetical doctrine. The Interior Castle is the principal source of mature Teresian thought on the spiritual life in its integrity. Chief emphasis is laid on the life of prayer, but other elements (the apostolate, for example) are also treated. The interior castle is the soul, in the center of which dwells the Trinity. Growth in prayer enables the individual to enter into deeper intimacy with God--signified by a progressive journey through the apartments (or mansions) of the castle from the outermost to the luminous center. When a man has attained union with God in the degree permitted to him in this world, he is "at the center" of himself; in other words, he has integrity as a child of God and as a human being. Each of the apartments of the castle is distinguished by a different stage in the evolution of prayer, with its consequent effects upon every other phase of the life of the individual.

Teresa is one of only 3 Women Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church and she holds the title "Doctor of Prayer".

Reference Notes:
Much of this article has come through the Province of the Teresian Carmel in Austria, Europe