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St. Teresa of Avila: Mystic & Reformer

teresa of avila feast day

A mystic and reformer. St. Teresa of Avila’s heart, mind, and soul were absorbed in all that is Divine and she longed to be with her Spouse, Christ, in Heaven. This deep desire to be in union with her Spouse fueled her passion to be a living witness in the world and to urge others to live a life of greater perfection. In her words:

I am bursting and cannot burst because of my desire for the renewal of holy Church, for God’s honour, and for everyone’s salvation.

St. Teresa of Avila and Reformation

Born in Avila, Spain in 1515, she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation in Avila when she was twenty years old. She noticed that her community was failing to zealously live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

With her zealous heart, she, along with her good friend St. John of the Cross, initiated a reform. Despite the many oppositions she faced, her efforts bore fruit. Within her lifetime she founded seventeen convents which more faithfully lived out these counsels . She was canonized a Saint just forty years after her death. In 1970, she was proclaimed one of the first woman doctors of the Church.

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The Interior Castle

St. Teresa’s most famous work is The Interior Castle. Her writings in this book give us a glimpse into her spiritual life. In it she uses the example of a castle with seven rooms to reflect seven stages of the spiritual journey. These stages bring us, at the end, to union with God. She writes:

I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal and containing many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.

Some of us might consider ourselves perfectionists. But how are we doing in our call to the perfection of our Christian life? Long ago, many people believed that not all Christians were called to a life of perfection. They were under the impression that if one was not a consecrated religious, then one could not expect to have the life of prayer or perfection that St. Teresa of Avila spoke of. This kind of thinking can be dangerous, and it is this idea that tempts us to sell ourselves short as Christians. In the words of the famous football coach, Vince Lombardi, “…if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

The Way of Perfection

St. Thomas Aquinas says that the perfection of the Christian life lies in charity. St. Teresa’s path to perfection focuses on the different levels of prayer. God wants to enlarge our heart so that he can more fully enter in to it. As we stay with God in prayer, and continue increasing our desire for Him, He cannot help but purge our heart and cleanse it in order to make room for Him to fill it to an even greater capacity.

St. Teresa said:

A beginner must look on himself as one setting out to make a garden for his Lord’s pleasure, on most unfruitful soil which abounds in weeds. His Majesty roots up the weeds and will put in good plants instead. Let us reckon that this is already done when the soul decides to practice prayer and has begun to do so.

The Universal Call to Holiness

All Christians are to orient their lives in such a way that it leads to perfection. As Jesus said  in Matthew 5:48, “You, therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus would not call us to something that he did not intend for us to attain.

When we participate in the fullness of Christian life and learn to grow in perfect charity, we will better be able to be a leaven in the world. Lumen Gentium reads, “it is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love…the forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one”.

What form of life are you in? What task is God calling you to in your current state in life?

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Susanna Parent is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can find out more about her here.

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