St. Teresa of Avila

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By Catholic Digest Staff

St. Teresa of Avila

Feast Day: October 15


Despite her father being wealthy and respected in Spain, he was excluded from many state offices and religious orders on account of his own father having been a Jewish convert to Christianity. At that time, society looked down on converts, not considering them “true” Christians and believing that many of them had only converted to escape the Spanish Inquisition that had taken place less than 40 years earlier. This situation may have caused Teresa’s awareness of the unimportance of family titles, and fueled her desire to treat everyone as equals. Despite their background her family was extremely devout. Influenced by dramatic saint stories, when Teresa was a little girl she attempted to run off with her brother, both determined to become martyrs. An alert uncle intercepted them and brought them back home, where the siblings promptly built hermit cells for themselves in the family garden. Years later when she was a teenager, Teresa had grown into a charming girl who enjoyed dressing up with friends, wearing jewelry, and secretly reading romances. Her mother died when she was thirteen and her father sent her to an Augustinian convent that functioned as a finishing school for high society ladies. Given the choice between marriage and religious life, she chose the latter. Within a year she became dangerously ill, and at one point was so sick she was thought to have died. When she had finally recovered she returned to the convent and discovered that she had difficulty praying, but her determination paid off as she gradually became aware of God’s presence. She also realized that the convent she resided in, the Incarnation, in which outside family rank was retained and the women could come and go as they pleased with their servants, was in need of serious reform. “When I fell to prayer again and looked at Christ hanging poor and naked upon the Cross,” she wrote, “I felt I could not bear to be rich. So I besought him with tears that I might be as poor as he.” Despite tremendous opposition she founded the convent of St. Joseph, and later when anti-reformists tried to stop her progress, she enlisted the help of King Philip II in defense of what would become her Order of the Discalced Carmelites. She was canonized on the same day as Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Philip Neri.

Catholic Digest Staff