St. Teresa of Avila, also called St. Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sanchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (28 March 1515 – 4 Oct 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, who with St. John of the Cross-reformed the Carmelites (Discalced) friars and nuns. St. Teresa’s father was rather strict with her but her mother balanced the family with much tenderness and love. Teresa was fairly devout and pious growing up but as she became a teenager she fell into the usual traps of materialism, vanity and selfishness. She had a natural charm and found it easy to make friends as a young lady. In 1528 her beloved mother died and in 1531, at the age of 16, her father decided she should she enter the Augustinian convent of St. Mary of Grace, as a boarder, where she remained, for 18 months. But, by age 20 (1535) she read the letters of St. Jerome and truly decided to become a nun.
On November 2, 1536 she entered the Carmelite Convent of Incarnation as a novice and by November 3, 1537 she became professed. Shortly after her formal profession as a nun, she began to suffer greatly from serious illnesses, which was believed to possibly be malaria. This caused her severe pain and left her quite disabled for several years. She began to read the “Confessions” by St. Augustine and this inflamed in her a desire for a true relationship with her spouse Jesus Christ, through a life of serious prayer and contemplation. All this was to prepare her for the visions, ecstasies, transverberation, inner-locutions and other advanced mystical experiences she would encounter in the 1550’s – 1560’s.
Meanwhile the convent was being overrun by worldliness. Many in the convent were accepted but not because of their piety or holiness, but for financial reasons. The nuns were being judged by material possessions and not spiritual intensity. As the physical suffering prepared her for all the mystical experiences in her life, these experiences prepared her for the emotional and spiritual suffering she would endure trying to reform of the Carmelite Order with St. John of the Cross. By 1558, at age 43, she decided to found a new order recommitting to the values of poverty and simplicity. She would meet with many obstacles from without from nuns, townspeople and clergy. Her travels and work were not always greeted with enthusiasm, many resented her reforms and she suffered for it. She often met with resentment and criticism. She had to contend with difficult travel, poor living conditions and frail health. She never let them dissuade her of her task in serving God.
St. Teresa certainly lived the opening prayer of Holy Mass, by seeking perfection and longing and groaning for holiness. The Word-Christ Himself indeed fed her by His heavenly teaching and His Sacred Body and Blood. St. Teresa tried to live the “prayer over the offerings” because she tried to live a life pleasing to her God, whom she loved so dearly, since her heart was pierced with His flame of love. She had devoted service to the Lord and her nuns. As priests, can we say the same or are we more devoted to our own comfort and pleasure seeking?
In the readings proper to the saint, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:22-27, it says all “creation is groaning in labor pains” waiting the coming of Christ. Teresa certainly had a yearning to be with her Lord everyday and spent long hours in prayer and Adoration with our Eucharistic Lord, and groaned painfully over her sins. As priests, along with offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of the world and praying the Divine Office for the sanctification of the day and for others, are we yearning to be united with our Savior in Adoration of His Real Presence? Do we as priests “groan over our sins” and frequent the Sacrament of Penance like St. Teresa did so often. The Holy Spirit will indeed come to our aid when we ask Him. Otherwise, how can St. Teresa do the Father’s work so devoutly without the Spirit of the Father and Son? The Gospel of St. John 15:1-8 states that Jesus wants to prune us to bear more fruit for His vineyard and that He is the vine and we are to be attached to Him-His branches. This was the Father’s will for St. Teresa’s life and for all His chosen ones. We, my brother priests, are His chosen ones. All we have to do is “remain in Him” and He will “remain in us.” St. Teresa, the first female “Doctor of the Church” said “he who possesses God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.” May we, my dear brothers, never forget that, as ordained priests of Jesus Christ, we possess everything, because we possess Him, who loves us so deeply He called us to be His beloved priests! St. Teresa of Avila-pray for priests.
by Fr. Tom DeSimone