a note from the author: I am a mother of five and have been a member of the OCDS group in Santa Clara, CA since 1991. This comes from a short talk on St. Teresa that illustrates how similar we are to her in our own struggles and temptations. I hope and pray you may find some value in it. Please pray with me: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, was so much like us with similar struggles and temptations; she is a witness in our lives today of prayer and of God’s mercy. In the light of this Year of Mercy, given to the Church by Pope Francis, in his Papal Bull, The Face of Mercy, this understanding is crucial.
As a quick reference, I have used several resources for my talk which include: audio presentations by Carmelite Fr. Gregory Ross, the book A Better Wine, by Carmelite Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, and Pope Francis’ Papal Bull on the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Teresa of Avila was born in the year 1515. She had one sister and nine brothers. Her father was an upright man who always made it a point to have good books, such as The Lives of the Saints, around the house; her mother taught them to pray and to be devoted to the Blessed Mother. Teresa was awakened at a young age, to a love for God. She writes, “The Lord was pleased to impress upon me in childhood the Way of Truth.” It was a harmonious life filled with intense religious fervor. She and one of her brothers shared this ardent desire for truth and they both enjoyed talking about heaven. When Teresa was twelve years old, her mother died. She says, “When I realized the great good that I had lost, I went to an image of the Blessed Virgin. It was a statue in a little hermitage just outside the city walls. And I begged her to be my mother.” She writes that our Lady seemed to have heard her prayer and responded.
I too was drawn into the Carmelites by our Lady. For quite a long time, I passed by the Santa Clara Carmelite Monastery during my many hours of daily jogging at the park nearby. I felt drawn to the enclosed walls each time, but I never entered. Then one day, during a very painful time of personal crisis, I felt as if a magnetic force had pulled me to walk inside, and suddenly, I felt at home in this unknown place.
I remember stopping in front of the statue of our Lady with the Christ Child and praying to her for help. After that, I felt drawn to walk over to the cloister door and to my surprise, a kind, elderly nun opened it and let me in after I introduced myself. Without any reservation, I found myself asking if I could help cook or sweep their floors since I had a whole lunch hour free from work and could easily come by to help. Then I told her about myself and my painful personal struggles. At the very end of our time together, she invited me to look into the Secular Carmelite Meetings. This was the beginning of my being awakened to really want to see God.
Although Teresa’s ardor for God was awakened when she was a young girl, her youthful, earnest search for God began to wane around the age of twelve. Around the age of fourteen, Teresa came under some bad influences from relatives. She talks about being misled from walking along the path of truth to walking along a path of lies, with vain conversations and frivolous pastimes, and she became overly concerned about her looks, clothes, and how she pleased others. She writes, “I sometimes reflect on the great damage parents do by not striving that their children might always see virtuous deeds of every kind. If I should have to give advice, I would tell parents that when their children are this age they ought to be very careful about whom their children associate with.”
I too remember struggling with my own attachments to particular relatives and friends as an adolescent. Every time certain relatives visited our home, my parents worried about the self-centered conversations and bad habits I developed from them. This experience caused me to walk along a difficult and confusing path.
However, our Lord, who is shepherd of His flock never lets us wander without leading us back if our hearts are open. By the time she was sixteen, Teresa was entrusted under the care of Augustinian Nuns where she had a prompt spiritual recovery because she was around good influences. One nun, whom Teresa became very fond of, awakened within her the desire of “Eternal things” through her devout conversations on the Word of God.
While she was in the monastery of the Augustinians, Teresa began to think about a religious vocation. But even as she seriously considered a life devoted to God, at the age of seventeen and a half, Teresa suffered a health crisis. Because she was too weak to recover in the convent, she spent some time with her uncle, who was a very spiritual man and another good influence on her.
Her tastes and appetite for romantic notions evaporated. Teresa tells us that her mother liked to read novels of adventure and chivalric romance, and they would read them together in their pastimes, although her father didn’t like that. She says, “I began to get into the habit of reading these books and by that little fault, which I saw in my mother, I started to grow cold in my desires and to fail in everything else.” In her uncle’s home, however, Teresa admits “I became a friend of good books.”
In my own life, I remember how my mother enjoyed reading Spanish romance novels. They influenced me and my sister in our early teen years. My mom, with her many household duties, did not put as much attention to them as we did. However, St. Sebastian high school, which was the Catholic school I attended for only one year, was a saving grace, and provided me with the opportunity to be away from the public schools in the city of Chicago at a turbulent time of violent riots that rose throughout the country in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.
St. Teresa talks about having a prompt spiritual recovery; similarly, the good influence from this year of Catholic education influenced me to the love of good books like, Don Quixote, and the Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I also heard inspiring stories of American Indians by a nun who had been a missionary. These influences were key and critical for my early desire to continue with school and pursue a college education; but more than that, I experienced a spiritual awakening. The nuns at St. Sebastian high school were a solid influence and their teachings of our Catholic faith helped to stir in me a desire to know God.
Teresa entered religious life at the age of twenty-one. Once she was there, she loved it and found great contentment in everything. She said she saw how our Lord repays everything even in this life to those who abandon everything for Him. But a period of real struggle began in her life and it would go on for almost twenty years. After a second health crisis, Teresa was introduced to a book called The Third Spiritual Alphabet by a Franciscan Friar who really wanted to foster prayer in the spiritual life, a method that St. Teresa responded to very positively. While she dedicated herself to this, she began to experience some advanced states of prayer.
At one point, she wound up in a coma for four days and appeared to be dead. They were celebrating her funeral Mass when she was awakened and revived; the first thing she asked was to see a priest. She was brought back to the monastery paralyzed, bedridden, and in great pain, and yet was strengthened in virtue. She was given the patience to bear this trial and began to pray especially to St. Joseph for a cure.
Teresa says that at this point, “I felt the deepest repentance after having offended God,” after which she began including an Examination of Conscience in her prayer. Later, Teresa describes a struggle within her. She says, “I was living an extremely burdensome life because in prayer, I understood more clearly my faults. On the one hand God was calling me, on the other hand, I was following the world.” There came a point when she actually gave up praying and later said that this was the greatest trick, the devil played on her; out of a false humility, he convinced her that she should not pray.
At the age of twenty-eight, her father became gravely ill and Teresa, went to care for him. She says, “I went to him more infirm in soul than he was in body.” That was the lowest point in her life. After that, Teresa took up prayer again with great determination even though she still couldn’t give herself completely to the Lord and detach herself from the world. Yet she understood that in prayer, she was drawing nearer to the Lord, to the one she was offending; this understanding gave her the courage to remain in His presence (to be continued).
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.
(SOURCE: Santa Clara OCDS Conference, 2016)
Copyright 2016, Mary L. Diaz. All Rights Reserved
‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth. Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’