St Teresa of Avila

                                                                                        St Teresa of Avila
          Painting by Janet McKenzie. Source

Today is the feast of
St Teresa of Avila, the first woman to be declared a Doctor Of The Church in 1970. She has many writings. Born in 1515 in Avila, Spain, she lived during the Counter Reformation in Europe and she died in 1582.

 Mirabai Starr who has written two fine books on her, says this :
"There is something universally appealing about Teresa of Avila.  I can think of no other saint of the Catholic Church, except for Francis of Assisi, who so easily transcends the boundaries of institutionalized religion and reaches directly into the heart of the human experience.  She not only offers potent teachings on spiritual growth, but also practical advice on navigating the treacherous waters of human relationships.  Her love of God is so passionate and poetic, one does not even need to be a believer in God to appreciate Teresa's stunning intimacy with her invisible Beloved."

 She founded the order of discalced (barefoot) Carmelite nuns, a reform movement of the Carmelite order. She was a woman of fiery passion and a courageous and tireless reformer of the church, who suffered illness, hardship and persecution and yet also managed to maintain a gentle soul and an unquenchable spirit.  

She was also a mentor of another great Spanish mystic, St John of The Cross, known for his writings on The Dark Night of The Soul.

It was not until she was in her forties /middle years that had mystical experiences  and began to go deeper into her spiritual life.

Good summary of her life here.

Some of the best books I have read on the lives of St Teresa of Avila and St John Of The Cross are both written by the author Mirabai Starr.

 "Teresa of Avila had that mysterious quality the Spanish call duende, which is characteristic of gypsies, flamenco guitarists, and dancers. Duende is raw, primitive, tempestuous energy, a vulnerability to inspiration burning in the blood. Fiery, wild, and utterly original, duende cannot tolerate neat, tidy categories, cramped forms; or human limitations of any kind. Duende makes us ready to be devoured in the heroic struggle for individuation and genuine freedom," writes Tessa Bielecki in her rousing introduction to Mirabai Starr's translation of Teresa of Avila's The Book of My Life.

There are more reviews, information and a transcript of an interview with Mirabai Starr here and another here.

This wonderful extract below on St Teresa of Avila is also from Mirabai - full article can be read from here.

 "Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth century mystic, was known for her unwavering patience in the face of fierce adversity. But this was not a naïve attitude. 

It was grounded in an active, passionate relationship with the Mystery. Sustained by this, she was able to engage in what Paul describes as hope for that which is invisible – the only kind of hope that really counts.
Teresa was not only a great mystic, famous for her visions and ecstasies. She was also a tireless reformer who dedicated her life to returning the attention of the Church to the original contemplative values of simplicity and stillness. She was known for being not only madly in love with God, but also sanely and refreshingly practical.
Teresa traveled all over the rugged countryside of Spain by donkey cart, in all kinds of weather, founding monastic communities. Chronic ill health hardly slowed her down. Once, in the midst of a particularly harrowing journey, the cart tipped over while they were fording a raging river and all their supplies were swept away. 
 Exasperated, Teresa removed herself from her small group and sat under a tree to do the only thing she knew to do in the face of catastrophe: pray.
Sitting very still, she reached out for God and heard him assuring her that these challenges were signs of his intimate friendship with her. Teresa’s response: “Well, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder your Majesty has so few!” 
And then the saint picked herself up, wrung out the hem of her habit, and moved on.
That’s all any of us can do. Confronted by suffering – our own, the suffering of someone we love, or the suffering of a group of strangers far away – we are called by the mystics to first be still and listen. We may not hear words, as Teresa did, but, with practice, we will find the still small voice of the One who loves us. Held in that gentle embrace, our hearts made tender by pain and love, we can shake off the dirt of the road and keep walking."
Click here for her book on St John of The Cross, which was written at a time that coincided with great personal tragedy for Mirabai.

This is a short video extract by Mirabai.


You may find  two of my previous posts of related interest to St Teresa of Avila

 This post is on "Seeing With The Third Eye "


and this one contains information related to one of her most famous works, "The Interior Castle": a revelation of ecstatic love for God—a love so powerful that it pierced her heart "like a burning sword."

 Extract below.

"I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very crystal in which there are many rooms just as in Heaven there are many mansions...Now if this is so –and it is– there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves in attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.
It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or form what he came?
Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us, that we possess souls.
As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them , or how precious they are –those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty.” Page 41-42.

One of my favourite prayers of St Teresa is this one...

Thou knowest better than I myself
that I am growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking
I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to
straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody;
helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom,
it seems a pity not to use it all;
but Thou knowest, Lord,
that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains;
they are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cock-sureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet, for a sour old person
is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talents in unexpected people;
and give, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.

prayer by St. Teresa of Avila

 The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens us to love." —St. Teresa of Avila

                                                             St Teresa's Cell at Avila

More prayers below..

 Although I have often abandoned you, O Lord, you have never abandoned me. Your hand of love is always outstretched towards me, even when I stubbornly look the other way. And your gentle voice constantly calls me, even when I obstinately refuse to listen. When the sins in my soul are increasing, I lose the taste for virtuous things. Yet, even at such moments, Lord, I know I am failing you and failing myself. You alone can restore my taste for virtue. There are so many false friends willing to encourage sin. But your friendship alone can give the strength of mind to resist and defeat sin.

What a good friend you are, Lord! You are so patient, willing to wait as long as necessary for me to turn to you. You rejoice at the times when I love you, but you do not hold against me the times when I ignore you. Your patience is beyond my understanding. Even when I pray, my mind fills with worldly concerns and vain daydreams. Yet you are happy if I give only a single second of honest prayer, turning that second into a seed of love.

Oh Lord, I enjoy your friendship so much, why is it not possible for me to think of you constantly?"

 After her death, among her papers was a bookmark with this, one of her famous sayings.

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices. 

This is the lovely Taize chant  based on her prayer above in Spanish, interspersed with video scenes from her life.

Nada te turbe, nada te espante
Quien a Dios tiene, nada te falta
Nada te turbe, nada te espante
Solo Dios basta.

 Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you
Whoever has God, will  lack nothing
Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you
God alone suffices.

Solo verses:
Todo se pasa, Dios no se muda,
La paciencia todo lo alcanza.

En Cristo mi confianza,
y de Él solo mi asimiento;
en sus cansancios mi aliento,
y en su imitación mi holganza.

Aquí estriba mi firmeza,
aquí mi seguridad,
la prueba de mi verdad,
la muestra de mi firmeza.

Ya no durmáis, no durmáis,
pues que no hay paz en la tierra.

No haya ningún cobarde,
aventuremos la vida.
No hay que temer, no durmáis,
aventuremos la vida.

Rough English translation of verses:

Everything passes, God never changes,
Patience obtains all things.

My trust is in Christ,
and He alone my grasp;
in their tiredness my breath,
imitation and my laziness.

Here lies my strength,
here my safety,
proof of my truth,
Sample of my firmness

You do not sleep, do not sleep,
because there is no peace on earth.

There is no coward,
venturing life.
Do not be afraid, do not sleep,
venturing life.
Another well known prayer of St Teresa of Avila 

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

St Therese of Avila

and below is a neat way of transferring her words into the idiom of social media.

                                          Image of St Teresa of Avila from Australian Bishops facebook site
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