Thursday, October 15, 2009

St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of The Church

Today is the feast of one of my very favorite saints. In all humility, I feel I probably identify more with her than any other saint because of everything she juggled. In the back of my breviary is a prayer that was found in her breviary after her death. But of the many profound writings she left behind, my favorite phrase is a simple one that I will paraphrase here: " Let the only thing you fear be separation from God."

Teresa aspired to martyrdom at an early age. However, as she grew older, she wasn't exactly on fire with love for the Lord. Shortly after entering the convent, she fell ill with a mysterious illness and was paralyzed and near death. It took nearly 3 years before she was well enough to return to the Carmel. Teresa was disturbed by the laxity that was rampant in her Carmel and many other convents in Spain. Some sisters went so far as to wear make-up and jewelry with their habits and were known to socialize with gentlemen more frequently than they prayed. Still, it wasn't until she was in her 40's that Teresa underwent her conversion. Praying before the crucifix, she observed that Our Lord "was poor and naked, and so I, too, wanted to be poor with Him". From that point onward, she reformed the Carmelite order and traveled throughout Spain to start many foundations.

St. Teresa was also a mystic who experienced ectasies and levitation. There are almost comical accounts of her gripping the Carmel grille to avoid levitating. Sometimes she fell into ectasies in meetings and other public places and she begged the Lord to spare her from them, which He did. She referred to Our Lord as "Your Majesty" and He, in turn, called her "Daugther". She wrote many spiritual books including Interior Castle, La Vida ( her autobiography) and the Way of Perfection.

St. Teresa was often not well, but she didn't let that stop her from her work to found Carmels and hermitages throughout Spain. She found herself on the wrong side of the Inquisition but managed to elude harm. She was known to wear nettles for bracelets and a hair shirt under her habit. I have a little saying of hers in my kitchen. "The Lord Walks Among the Pots and Pans". In other words, even the most mundane tasks can be offered as prayer. She once remarked "Heaven preserve us from stupid nuns" and was renowned for her ability to quickly determine whether a young woman truly had a vocation as a Carmelite. At a meeting in her Carmel, which was anticipated to be contentious because of some opposition to her and her reforms, she completely disarmed her critics by placing a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Prioress' chair. Overwhelmingly, the nuns voiced their love and support for her.

St. Teresa died of internal bleeding. Upon her death, the Carmel was filled with the perfume of flowers. She was buried at the Carmel in Avila. St. Teresa is the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

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