Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Saint Teresa of Avila

(Image: Saint Teresa of Avila, courtesy SaintPeterList.com)

Although I'm not a Roman Catholic, I consider myself a high-church Anglican, or an Anglo-Catholic. In the Anglican tradition, our Book of Common Prayer recognizes only Biblical saints from the New Testament such as Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint James, Saint Andrew, Saint Elizabeth, etc.

But today's Saint of the Day e-mail from AmericanCatholic.org touched my mind and my soul. I've read a little about Saint Teresa of Avila in the past, and I definitely have a great interest in the women saints of the century preceding her time period, namely in the British friends Saint Julian of Norwich and Saint Margery of Kempe. But I ask you to read Teresa's tale as distributed in the Saint of the Day e-mail and ponder the three-fold gifts that the Holy Spirit, working through a willing Saint Teresa, provided to the Church and to us, especially to us women as we seek to follow Christ with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man's world of her time. She was "her own woman," entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman.

Teresa was a woman "for God," a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful. A woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman "for others." Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers.

In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena (April 29) were the first women so honored.

Ours is a time of turmoil, a time of reform and a time of liberation. Modern women have in Teresa a challenging example. Promoters of renewal, promoters of prayer, all have in Teresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.

Teresa knew well the continued presence and value of suffering (physical illness, opposition to reform, difficulties in prayer), but she grew to be able to embrace suffering, even desire it: "Lord, either to suffer or to die." Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value."

Saint Teresa is indeed a woman we can model our lives on. In her approach to prayer, her philosophy of suffering, her service of others, we find a life balanced in service to God and others while remaining deeply in tune spiritually and actively committed to much-needed reforms. As one of the first female Doctors of the Church, Saint Teresa is formally recognized as a Christian philosopher, theologian, and teacher, one from whom we can learn much.

Quotation for the Week:

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

~Saint Teresa of Avila

May God grant us all a blessed remembrance of Saint Teresa of Avila, and may He bless us this week as we seek to love Him and all others He places in our path.

Soli Deo Gloria,

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