Saint Teresa of Avila, lovingly referred to as Teresa la
Grande, is a radical sign in our Church. She is so grand, yet so simple
in her walk toward the Lord. We believe the reason we shied away from
her for so many years is that we were intimidated by her biographers. We
were afraid she was high above us, intellectually and spiritually.
We tried to bypass her Shrines at Avila and Alba de
Tormes. But the more we attempted to go round her, the more she drew us
to her. We planned a pilgrimage to the Shrines of Europe. A beautiful
lady, Sister Jane, was celebrating her 25th anniversary as a Religious.
She and another Sister also celebrating her 25th anniversary, were given
the money to go with us. When we met Sister Jane, she bowled us over
with her excitement. We were going to the Holy Land, Rome, Assisi,
Siena, Lourdes, Fatima, and as an aside, Avila. When she heard Avila,
she almost went into ecstasy. This was her greatest dream, to walk where
Teresa, had walked. Because of her, we too became excited.
Saint Teresa of Avila touched us again on that pilgrimage, in
Lourdes. We were honored to meet up with our Archbishop, the late
Timothy Cardinal Manning. He was on a private pilgrimage of Lourdes and
the Holy Land (Ireland), with another Priest. He asked us our itinerary.
When we neglected to mention Alba de Tormes, he looked us in the eye,
and suggested, no, commanded, "If you don’t visit any other Shrine, you
must go to Alba de Tormes." Cardinal Manning had the ability to burrow
through to your soul with his eyes and his voice.
The Shrines were beautiful. The tribute given to
Saint Teresa of Avila by the Church was awe-inspiring. But we got to know Teresa
through her Carmelite Priests, at the Shrines. At her birthplace in
Avila, a young Priest explained who Teresa was and is. In Alba de Tormes,
Fray Hernandez, spoke of her with such simplicity and love, we hungered
to learn more.
Teresa, is that when you became a part of our lives?
Was it the day we discovered you were reachable, so touchable, when the
Priest spoke of you so lovingly that tears came to his and our eyes? We
never knew. When our daughter had spoken of castles; when we started to
realize what castle she meant, the Interior Castle1,
we became intimidated. We tried to read about the different mansions in
the Castle; we felt we would never be able to go beyond the first
mansion (room), if we had the courage to enter it, in the first place.
But after sharing you with those beautiful Carmelites, we
fell in love with you. We knew you were reaching out to us; we gulped a
few times, and said Yes!
We knew it couldn’t be our design, to write about
of a Saint we judged easier. As we
studied her life and her spirituality, we discovered a woman for all
seasons. Rather than a Saint, too spiritual and too deep to understand,
we found a woman, with practical, good common sense, someone not
superior to the simple mind nor too simple for the superior mind. We
found a warm, loving mother with an ear and a heart always open to her
Teresa, model, and heart of the Church
Although Teresa was and is truly Catholic, we found
her to be a model for non-Catholics as well. Crashaw, the English
Protestant poet, who converted to Catholicism and later became a Priest,
was just one of the many whose lives were changed as a result of her
Blessed Edith Stein, went from being born a Jewess,
to a life of science with the exclusion of God, to conversion to the
Roman Catholic Church after
reading Saint Teresa’s autobiography. She died a Carmelite Nun and Martyr in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Macauley, a historian, said Teresa did more to block
the spread of Protestantism, by her life and writings, than even Saint
Ignatius Loyola. "If Saint Ignatius Loyola is the brain of the Catholic
reaction, Teresa is its heart; if Ignatius is the head of a great band,
Teresa of Jesus belongs to its humanity."
Saints like Francis de Sales and Alphonsus Liguori,
both Doctors of the Church, not only greatly admired her, but turned to
her works for enlightenment and inspiration. Her autobiography, written
reluctantly out of obedience to her Spiritual Director, has become known
as one of the most important books on the Christian Way of Life.
Popes, over the centuries, have extolled Saint Teresa
and her writings. Pope Saint Pius X said one need go no farther than her
books to discover how to live a truly holy life; that in her works she
very clearly directs one, from the very ordinary, everyday living of the
Christian life, to the highest peaks of holiness. Very simply, she
teaches that true progress in prayer is achieved by the faithful fulfilling
of our daily duties with Christ as the center, and
the living out of our belief in a holy and obedient manner.