Saint Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Also referred to as St Teresa of Jesus
Feast Day: October 15
Patron Saint of: illnesses of the body, headaches, chess, lace makers, loss of parents, people in need of grace, people in religious orders. People ridiculed of their piety, sick people, sickness, Spain, Talisay City, Cebu, Požega and Croatia.
Author of: Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection
There are 36 Canonized Saints known to hold the added title of Doctor of the Church, a title given to those who have written something that is worthy for all to read in reference to theology or doctrine of the church. Although women have been a part of religious communities and called Saint since the first century, no woman was named a Doctor of the Church until 1970.
Even to this day, there are only four women who have received this title. In addition to St Teresa of Avila, are also Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Thérèsa of Lisieux and Saint Hildegard of Bingen.
There is much to find guidance from in the words Saint Teresa of Avila left us in her books. He books, which are mostly written for teaching other nuns. These writings were seen as a tool to help connect other nuns to Jesus, in a way not open to nuns at the time, because they did not receive the same formal theological education as men in the monasteries.
For myself, in addition to being aware that divine interactions can occur even when someone has not received formal theological training, I found guidance from Saint Teresa of Avila. To find connection of family and community, from God and within the Communion of Saints. Though I was much older than the fourteen that Saint Teresa was when she lost her mother and parents, I experienced a loss of identity and of family. Saint Teresa returned that to me, within finding myself among our ancestors of spirit. We pray to Saints who walked the Earth before us, because they too understand the way of man life.
The human life of Saint Teresa had many mystical experiences, from which she was berated, but she continued writing and speaking her truth. This ridicule can be seen within the pages of Interior Castle where she makes more than one reference to not understanding why she is to be the source of such divine guidance. Saint Teresa speaks of not having the same educational opportunities of men, still she references or writes of things that they say she should not have knowledge of. Which is possibly what has her open to receive such divine messages. It is after all Jesus who in the Bible went to those who might be seen as the least likely to be worthy of his company. It is said, that God prepares the called and not that God calls the prepared.
It is perhaps that Saint Teresa is aware how easy it is to not be fully present with Jesus in prayer. That through her own earlier faults, she is knows how easy it is to be distracted. Encouraging an inner awareness of divinity in both Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection. Saint Teresa begins early in writing when her view is shared as a Christian Mystic, with the connections of spiritualities in chapter two, by first crossing over into Jewish Mysticism, “this tree of life, which is planted among living waters”.(6) This connects us as Christians to our Baptism to a different tree of life, from the blood line familial tree. This tree grows not on its own, but by the water that quenches our thirst (John 4:4-26).
The divine experiences of Saint Teresa is what leads her to the other sisters to look inwardly at their life and devotion to Jesus. Saint Teresa expresses what we may identify as not living within dualistic thinking, that we cannot live a life and the Bible says, of serving two masters (Matthew 6:24) Saint Teresa expresses the importance in the humble process of relinquishing control to God of having faith. That without going the full process there is the potential for not progressing into the interior castle or as we may understand stepping out of awareness of God. Though possibly worse than before, because as she says that once a soul has the awareness of God, it cannot be removed.
Saint Teresa was a strong female figure during a time that women were not encouraged to be strong or to express their divine knowledge. She can certainly be a Saint that outcasts can connect to, through her divinely shared messages and moving forward despite expressing thoughts expected to come from those with the theological knowledge. She found a connection to a devotion to Mother Mary and of service to Jesus, which enabled her to live inwardly. This enabled her to grow in faith during a time when many did not see value in women with divine knowledge as men. As with many Saints and spiritual leaders, her contributions were not recognized as much during her living life, as she is now as a Saint and Doctor of the Church.