About St. Theresa

Life of St. Teresa of Avila – Reformer of the Carmelite Order – Patroness and Wonder – Worker of Mahe

Saint Teresa of Avila, the Patroness and wonder-worker of Mahe, was born at Avila, Spain on 28th March, 1515.  Her parents Don Alphonso Sanchez of Cepeda and Dona Beatrix de Ahumada belonged to that ancient Castilian nobility with whom faith and honour were hereditary.  It was in a chivalrous and Christian home, in the midst of eleven children, that this Saint destined to battle for the Church with the arms of faith, love and prayers, passed her happy childhood.

She was scarcely seven when burning with desire for martyrdom, she secretly left home with her little brother Rodrigo for Africa to offer her life in sacrifice for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls.  However, she was persuaded to return home by her uncle where she compensated this desire by various works of charity.  At sixteen she became a boarder in the Augustinian Convent and at twenty, on 2nd November 1536, she entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila.

There, her health soon broke down.  She got attacks of catalepsy and till 1540 she suffered from it severely.  Besides the pains of illness, she suffered also from dryness of spirit, various temptations and many other trials for nearly eighteen years.  Her soul being purified with these sufferings she began to experience heavenly consolations, raptures, visions of Christ, etc., from the year 1558.  She was so much inflamed with divine love that in 1559 she experienced that her heart was transverberated by the fire of divine love.  Henceforth her life was quite a different one.  It was all a life of ardently burning love for Jesus who had become the sole Master of the soul created for Him alone.

Inspired by God, she undertook to bring back the illustrious Carmelite Order to the most severe and strict rule of the Primitive Observance and established the first convent of her reform at Avila on August 24, 1562.  Not only did she enforce this Primitive Observance on her nuns, but also with the help of St. John of the Cross and Father Antonio, she valiantly began the reform of the friars until she erected seventeen monasteries for her nuns and fifteen for the friars.  Her one desire was to champion the cause of the Church and it was for this intention above all, that her prayers, discipline and fast and those of her nuns were to be directed.  Her exhortation to her spiritual daughters was to win from God, by the austerity of their lives and persevering prayers, an abundant supply of holy priests to labour for God’s glory.

While burning with divine love, she had also insatiable desire for sufferings and corporal penances.  With this longing for sufferings, she afflicted her body with chains, flagellations, fastings, ashes and on certain occasions she would roll herself on thorns exclaiming to our Lord.  “Lord, either to suffer or to die for Thee”  To add to all these she had the pain of sickness, innumerable persecutions throughout her life specially in carrying on the work of the reform of the Carmelite Order entrusted to her by God.  She bore all these trials and sufferings with invincible courage, patience and confidence in God.

At the voice of obedience, St. Teresa recorded her marvelous spiritual experiences and wrote those immortal works which are considered by all as an authority on mystical theology:  a science which deals with direct communication of God with man, and man’s spiritual, sensible experiences of God.  Favoured by the most intimate communication with Our Lord and raised to the highest union with Him, she spoke and write of the things of God with heavenly love and wisdom.  We refer the reader to the “Autobiography of St. Teresa”  “Way of Perfection”,”Interior Castle”,Conceptions of the love of God” “Foundations”, “Minor Works and Letters of St. Teresa”.  One can hardly read with simplicity of heart these works of the Saint, without at the same time feeling a deep desire for higher perfection.

She was frequently rapt in ecstasy and experienced that Our Lord Jesus Christ was at her side as her protector and guide, speaking to her and revealing to her mysteries and most secret things.  Not only did she experience that  Seraph transpierced her heart with a fiery dart, but also that Our Lady, Mother of God, clothed her in a robe of dazzling whiteness and adorned her with a necklace of rare jewels, while Our Lord Jesus Christ, her heavenly spouse, wedded her with a nail from His Cross as the pledge of the espousal.  He contracted with her.  From his divine lips she often heard such ineffable words as these:  “My Father is pleased with thee and the Holy Spirit loves thee”.  “What is there my daughter that you could ask me, that I would not give thee”.  “Have no fear, no one will be able to separate thee from me”; and again:  “Thou knowest of the betrothal between thee and myself and therefore all I have is thine”.

Her death caused by a violent impulse of Divine Love occurred at Alba, on 4th October 1582.  When the Holy Viaticum was carried into her cell, although for weeks she had been too weak to move unaided, she rose up in ecstasy of joy to greet her Lord, exclaiming: “O my Lord and my well beloved spouse! The long -wished -for hour has then arrived. It is time we should see each other.” After her thanksgiving the words oftenest upon her lips were the verses of MISERERE “Contritum et humiliatum Deus non despicies” (A humble and contrite heart O Lord, Thou wilt not despise). The hours preceding her blessed death were passed in ecstasy; she lay on her side clasping her side clasping her crucifix  while her face shone forth with a light so dazzling and beautiful that the nuns where scarcely able to look upon her. Towards nine O’clock in the evening three gentle sighs escaped her and Teresa, the seraph of divine love had given her soul to God. At the moment of her death, a dead tree outside her window burst into bloom, and three of her daughters saw her soul rising to heaven one under the form of a white dove, the other under the appearance of a white globe of crystal, a third beheld a procession of virgins clothed in white joyfully conducting the saint to heaven.

 The fragrance which had pervaded her cell before her death, became all the more marked after it, and her flesh her clothes, everything that touched her was penetrated with it. Nine months after her burial her body was exhumed for the first time and was found intact, her flesh soft and white and still emitting the same delicious perfume, while fragrant oil flowed from it. It is over three hundred years since her blessed death, and her virginal body is preserved incorrupt still, in a magnificent urn of marble and jasper at alba de Tonnes, where her heart, bearing the wound of the Seraph’s dart is also venerated.

Whenever her precious relics are to be found, God glorifies his faithful spouse by numerous and wonderful miracles.

Saint Teresa was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622 and her feast is kept on October 15. On October 15, 1967, St.Teresa of Avila was declared as Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, by Pope Paul VI. It is recorded by unimpeachable testimony that everyone intimately connected with Saint Teresa, be they eminent bishops, learned professors, doctors or simple priests, made extraordinary progress in spirituality and became men of prayer. The reason is found in the Saint’s own words: “I never saw anyone who pleased me much without wishing at once to be wholly given to God. Though I long to see everyone serve God, yet my desire for those who please me is very vehement and so I implore Our Lord in their behalf.”

Indeed St.Teresa of Avila is a very great Saint the Roman Catholic Church has nurtured and one of the greatest mystics the world has ever seen through the ages. She passed away centuries ago, but she lives in our midst by the force of the spirit of burning love she has left behind. The first Order of the Carmelite nuns spread throughout the world even to our land. Following to the last letter, the rules and constitutions laid down by this great Saint, they are living monuments of that spirit of burning love and sacrifice she has bequeathed to them. Besides, there are armies of religious men and women in the various Third Order of the Discalced Carmel – priests, brothers and sisters -engaged in diverse works of charity in the spirit of love and sacrifice taught by this Saint and follows the regulations laid down by her. There are also great many laymen and laywomen who living in the midst of the world, try as Carmelite tertiaries to imitate the spirit and virtues of this great reformer. This whole multitude of men and women whether religious or secular claim this Saint as their beloved mother and guide.  The spirit and ardour of love left by her has produced many great saints – men and women of great sanctity and height of prayer.  Not long ago the Cloistered Carmelite Order founded by St. Teresa of Avila produced that lilly of sanctity, the Little St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, popularly known as the Little Flower.  This spiritual daughter of St. Teresa of Avila imbibed to a very high degree the spirit of her spiritual mother and through it reached the heights of sanctity.  Will it not do something for us?  Let us honour, love and initiate these two great lights of sanctity:  St Teresa of Avila, the spiritual mother of the Carmelite Order and her spiritual daughter the Little St. Therese of the Infant Jesus.

How truly happy shall we be if we find favour in her eyes in the “Light Above” where she feasts her soul on the Divine.  Ask her in prayer to look upon us here in mortal exile, and she will turn to her spouse and say:  “O Lord, Thou must not refuse me this grace; behold, he or she is a fit person to be our friend”.