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Saint Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa of Avila is the foundress of the Discalced Carmelite life as it is know today.

Feast day: 15th October 
Patron:   Spanish Catholic writers and headache sufferers
Born: 28th March 1515
Died: 4th Octber 1582
Beatified: 24th April 1614 by Pope Paul V
Canonized: 12th March 1622 by Pope Gregory XV

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born on 28th March 1515 in Avila, Spain. Columbus opened up the Western Hemisphere to European colonization less than twenty years before her birth. Two years after her birth Luther started the Protestant Reformation. Out of all of this change came Teresa pointing the way from outer turmoil to inner peace. Teresa had a large and wealthy family of the merchant class.  Teresa’s mother died when she was about 14 years old.  Obviously, this loss affected Teresa greatly and she had a difficult adolescence. Her father became concerned and placed her in a convent boarding school run by Augustinian nuns. Teresa was happy there and began to be attracted to a life of prayer, inspired by the example of the nuns.

Teresa entered the Carmel of the Incarnation in Avila in 1536. She lived there for about 20 years until she felt that God was asking something more of her. Her vision was to return to the simplicity of the original Carmelite Rule, which was written for hermits living on Mount Carmel in Palestine. They lived in caves, spending their time in solitary prayer and work, but they would come together for Mass and the Divine Office, and for meetings where they would discuss their spiritual life.  Teresa wanted to found a smaller community, based on the original Carmelite inspiration of the hermit life within the support of a loving community of Sisters, who would live as equals regardless of their social standing.  In 1562 after overcoming many obstacles she did found a smaller monastery in Avila dedicated to St Joseph. There was a great deal of opposition to the new Carmel and it was sometime before she was able to live there in peace. Many condemned her as a woman deceived by her experiences in prayer. 

After some years she went on to found another 13 monasteries in Spain personally.  There are now over 800 discalced Carmelite monasteries throughout the world. Teresa also reformed the male branch of the Carmelite order, with the permission of the Prior General Fr John Baptist Rossi and with St John of the Cross as one of the first friars to embrace the reform.  

Following her own struggle with prayer, she was asked to write about it. At the time when she wrote it was not only unusual it was also dangerous for a woman to teach. She knew her writings would be closely examined by the Inquisition, so she used a lot of camouflage in the book. However, won over by her natural charm and obvious humility, many theologians and bishops came to accept the authenticity of her mystical experiences and to support her in her work of reform.

Teresa emphasised that God leads each person by a different path rather than teaching a single way of prayer. She pointed all who have difficulty finding their path to Christ, who will show the way.  She had a great devotion to the humanity of Christ and saw prayer as “an intimate sharing between friends.”  Teresa was very practical, and stressed that a life of prayer is meaningless if it does not flow out into action.

St Teresa wrote four major books: Her own autobiography, known as the Life.  The Way of Perfection is a book on prayer written for Teresa’s own nuns, which also sets out the purpose and spirituality of her reform. The Interior Castle which was written some ten years later is considered her masterpiece on prayer. The Book of the Foundations recounts Teresa’s work of reform.  It is probably the least read and least well known of her major writings but it gives us the best glimpse of her personality and of the day-to-day problems she faced and overcame through her great trust in God.

Through many surviving letters she wrote we get a glimpse of Teresa's great capacity for  friendship, loving concern for others,  wisdom and her wonderful sense of humour.

In 1614 Teresa was beatified by Pope Paul V and canonised in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.  In 1970, Pope St Paul VI proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church.  Along with St Catherine of Siena, Teresa was one of the first women to be given this title.

St. Teresa is the patron saint of Headache sufferers. Her symbol is a heart, an arrow, and a book.

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The short video below helps us see how St Teresa can help us today

Below is a selection of the writings and teachings of St Teresa of Avila