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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saint Teresa of Avila

October 15
Saint Teresa of Jesus
Mystic, Virgin
Doctor of the Church
Doctor of Prayer

"Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world."
Born in Avila, Spain in 1515, Saint Teresa at seven years of age ran away from home to Africa in the hope of being martyred by the Moors, but thankfully was brought back by her uncle. She had much more to accomplish for her Heavenly Groom, Jesus. At the age of eighteen she joined the Carmelite Order.
Saint Teresa’s life revolved around prayer thus she was given the title Doctor of the Church as Doctor of Prayer.
“Anyone who has not begun to pray, I beg, for the love of the Lord, not to miss so great a blessing. There is no place here for fear, but only desire…..I hope in the mercy of God, whom no one has ever taken for a Friend without being rewarded; and mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but a friendly way of dealing, in which we often find ourselves talking in private with Him whom we know loves us.”
(Vol. I of Life of the Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus)

Saint Teresa’s prayer life became so deep, that in 1559 she experienced the mystical grace of Transverberation, or a piercing of her heart by a “dart of love”. In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII appointed a festival and office for Transverberation.

Gianlorenzo Bernini depicts the Ecstasy of St. Teresa in marble (shown to the left) in the Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome.

This statue illustrates the remarkable mystic experience related by St. Teresa herself in Chapter XXIX, part 13 of her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus.

"Beside me on the left appeared an angel in bodily form…He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, who seem to be all on fire…In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, through the body has some share in it."

After the Transverberation, Teresa’s raptures became more and more frequent and she would see Christ in the Eucharist during Mass. After she was given many more spiritual gifts she was also given a vision of Hell.

“I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some as I said, caused by the devil, these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing. This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn’t see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and I repeat the worst was that interior fire and despair."

"Being in such an unwholesome place, so unable to hope for any consolation, I found it impossible either to sit down or to lie down, nor was there any room, even though they put me in this kind of hole made in the wall. Those walls, which were terrifying to see, closed in on themselves and suffocated everything. There was not light, but all was enveloped in the blackest darkness. I don’t understand how this could be, that everything painful to see was visible, but I understood it to be a great favor, and that the Lord wanted me to see with my own eyes the place from which His Mercy had saved me…And so I don’t remember any times since that I have had trouble or pain, without thinking that everything that can be suffered here is nothing…From then on I had the greatest sorrow for the many souls that condemn themselves to hell.” (The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 1, Chapter 32: paragraphs: 1,2,3. Published by Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications, Washington, D.C)

Though she had no ambitions on being a great writer, nor did she ever write during her lifetime for publication, St. Theresa has major written works -some are The Life of Teresa of Jesus, The Relations, The Way of Perfection, The Interior Castle and The Foundations. Since her death, there have been over 2,015 editions of her books written in over 22 languages.

Saint Teresa’s work of reforming the Carmelites began relatively late in her life; she made 21 foundations in her last 20 years, from the time she was 47 to her death at the age of 67.

Though St. Teresa suffered from heart trouble and upset stomach for decades and in her twenties she was paralyzed for three years, in her fifties she traversed across Spain by foot or mule forming 17 convents for nuns and along with Saint John of the Cross four monasteries for the Reformed or Discalced Friars.

After founding her last convent at age 67 she set back out for Avila the place of her birth and where she was still Prioress. On September 29, 1582, St. Theresa went to bed never to rise again. She would often repeat the words: “Lord, I am a daughter of the Church. My Lord, it is time to be going. Very well, Your will be done.”

Her body was buried in a wooden coffin. After nine months it was exhumed and to everyone’s amazement, though her clothes were decaying, her body was incorrupt.

While the Carmelite nuns placed her in new clothes a delightful perfume spread throughout the monastery. Later, her heart was removed to be enclosed in a reliquary. When this was being done they saw the wound from the angel’s dart. This is still visible today at the Carmelite Monastery of Alba de Tormes in Spain.

A bookmark found in one of St. Theresa’s books after her death read.

Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.

In 1970 Pope Paul VI named Teresa the first woman Doctor of the Church.

Quotes of Saint Teresa of Avila
"It is love alone that gives worth to all things."

“Accustom yourself continually
to make many acts of love,
for they enkindle and melt the soul.”

"We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for, beholding His greatness, we realize our own littleness; His purity shows us our foulness; and by meditating upon His humility we find how very far we are from being humble."

"There are more tears shed over
answered prayers than over unanswered prayers."

"I would never want any prayer that
would not make the virtues grow within me."

"You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him."

"One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer. "

"Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end . . . and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal."

"Pain is never permanent."

"Truth suffers, but never dies."

"I am afraid that if we begin to put our trust
in human help, some of our Divine help will fail us."

"We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can - namely, surrender our will and fulfill God's will in us."

"Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one Glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing. "
Saint Teresa of Jesus
Pray for Us

1 comment:

  1. Beatiful and filled with peace are moments when we sink into God's presence, even if they last only but a second.
    Our goal in life is to seek and extend these moments until life's daily struggle is filled with these treasured moments.
    Truly God is with us ... if we so desire.