Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, who lived from 1515-82. Here's more from the OSV Encyclopedia of Saints:
In 1555, however, she
underwent a conversion while praying before a statue of the scourged
Christ. Thereafter she progressed as a mystic, being visited by
“intellectual visions [of Christ] and locutions,” meaning images that
were impressed or communicated upon her mind rather than her senses. At
first she received very poor counsel from her spiritual advisers, but
gradually sound advice and guidance were given to her by St. Peter of
Alcántara, St. Francis Borgia, and especially one of the most remarkable
Dominicans, Dominic Báñez.
In 1558, Teresa was convinced of the
need to bring reform to the Carmelite Order and return it to its
original austerity. She proposed to adopt a religious life of prayer,
penance, and work, securing permission from Pope Pius IV (r. 1559-1565)
to open a convent for Carmelite reform. The foundation of St. Joseph’s
Convent in Ávila in 1563 was not well-received because of the severity
of opposition from local secular and religious leaders, who disapproved
of her innovations and the fact that the house was not to be endowed but
would exist entirely through charitable donations.
In 1567, Teresa
sought permission from the prior general of the Carmelite Order, John
Baptist Rossi, to found more convents. Granted permission, she continued
her labors, founded sixteen other convents, and earned the nickname
“the roving nun,” because of her travels.Teresa met St. John of the
Cross, another Carmelite seeking reform, at Medino del Campo, the site
of her second convent. She founded a monastery for men at Duruelo in
1568, turning over the task of future reformed monasteries to St. John
of the Cross. Opposition developed among the Calced Carmelites, the
members of the original order, and a council at Piacenza in 1575 greatly
restricted her activities. The struggle continued until 1580 when Pope
Gregory XIII (r. 1572-1585), at the request of King Philip II of Spain
(r. 1556-1598), recognized the Discalced Reformed Carmelites as a
separate province of the order.
Teresa’s spiritual maturity was
evident at the time and was recognized as her books and letters became
known. Now regarded as classics of spiritual literature, they include
her Autobiography (1565), The Way of Perfection (1573), and the Interior
Castle (1577). Teresa was revered as one of the great mystics, having
remarkable common sense and humor, and combining a life of mystical
contemplation with dazzling activity. She fell ill at Alba de Tormes and
died there on October 4, 1582 (October 14 by the Gregorian calendar,
which went into effect the next day and advanced the calendar ten days).
1572, her spiritual development led to her “spiritual marriage,”
considered the highest level of mystical attainment. She was also the
recipient of the extraordinary piercing of her heart; the fact of this
occurrence was proven after her death, when her heart was found to have
been pierced. Her writings on her experiences are full of deep insights
and Thomistic influence, but they remain intensely personal; she did not
adhere to any school of mysticism, and she never intended to be the
founder of a new one.
She was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV (r.
1621-1623) and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul
VI (r. 1963-1978). Feast day: October 15.
Also read: 'Water your garden: St. Teresa of Ávila’s water images of prayer' on the OSV Daily Take blog.