October is turning out to be one of my favorite months for saints. In this month, we have the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi; and today is the feast day of Saint Teresa of Jesus, also known as Teresa of Avila. She was born the city of Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515. In 1535 she joined the Carmelites, entering the convent of the Incarnation, in Avila. It was a large community of 180 nuns, and had grown lax in living their Rule. Teresa was a member of this community for 20 years, when she experienced a conversion, and desired to live a more prayerful life that adhered more closely to the Order’s primitive Rule. She was inspired to found a reform movement in the Carmelite Order, for both nuns and friars. She would eventually found 14 convents before her death in 1582.
I have one of those funny bits of coincidences; I attended an elementary school run by Polish Franciscan nuns. At school, I came across a vocation info card for the Carmelites and tested a vocation to join their Order. It was while I was in seminary that I came across a biography of Saint Teresa, written by Marcelle Auclair, and it became one of my favorite books. It leads me to read through her autobiography, which was a bit of a struggle, and also her book, “The Way of Perfection.” What impressed me about her life was that a relatively older age (for her times); Teresa was inspired by Christ to change her life, to explore new pathways of prayer. Teresa grew into a great mystic, who had a deep relationship with God. She had an understanding of the life of prayer that was both inspiring and practical. It was her writings that lead me to explore the prayer of quiet; of just being in God’s Presence; centering prayer.
Another thing that attracted me to her was her earthiness. When one reads the stories of her life, one sees a woman who could climb the heights of mystical prayer; and then do housework in her convent. Teresa was a practical woman, who could plan the logistics for opening a new convent, working with workmen and officials. In her role as foundress, she dealt with nobles and bishops. She sometimes had to covertly establish her convents over the objections of local civil and church officials.
Teresa’s writings would have great influence not only on her own Order, but also in the wider Church. She would eventually be designated as a Doctor of the Church, one of the few women to be so honored. I would eventually find my spiritual home with the Franciscans, but Teresa of Avila remains an old family friend.