St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila is one of three female Doctors of the Church and a prominent 16th century Spanish mystic. Born in 1515, she lived during the time of the Protestant Reformation and is one of the primary figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. While known for her mysticism, Teresa was also an energetic administrator and an active reformer, restoring a more vigorous rule to the Carmelite order. She was good friends with St. John of the Cross, who helped organize the Discalced Carmelite brothers. Her writings, especially her autobiography and her major work “The Interior Castle,” demonstrate a deeply contemplative spirituality. She experienced prolonged visions and periods of religious ecstasy, and she described contemplative prayer as ascending through stages, culminating with total union with God. Teresa has inspired generations of artists and writers. Perhaps her appeal arises from her ability to reach inward toward the divine while also reaching outward to make a lasting difference in the world. The mystic in Teresa retreated from the world in prayer, while the reformer in her engaged creatively with the world and its problems. Teresa models a holiness that embraced both contemplation and action and is a meaningful example for us today.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What does it mean to be a mystic as a young adult in today’s world? You might not experience visions or levitate during prayer, but how DO you feel God’s presence most deeply?
  • Are you taking time to be alone with God frequently enough in your ordinary life right now? How can you make more time for God in your daily life?
  • How can you reach out into the world as Teresa did? What are some changes that you can make, even on a small scale?