St. Teresa of Ávila

St. Teresa of Ávila is one of three female Doctors of the Church and a prominent 16th century Spanish mystic. 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. As well, she described contemplative prayer as ascending through stages, culminating with total union with God.

Teresa has inspired generations of artists and writers. Her appeal could arise 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, which is a meaningful example for us today. Her feast day is October 15. 

“Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” — St. Teresa of Ávila

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 this kind of solitude?