[first published October 15, 2014]
"Lord you have told us that you live forever in the hearts of the chaste. By the prayers of the virgin, Teresa, help us to live by your grace and remain a temple of your Holy Spirit."
(Morning prayer from the Common of Virgins)
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was born in the same Spanish era that sent Columbus across an ocean to plant the Christian cross in the Americas. Praying the Church's office of this day prepares our minds to understand the feminine and the sacral character of that other land to explore: the interior life. The Church's teaching on the romance of monogamy is always set against the deeper truths of interiority and virginal fruitfulness which are lived out in the lives of virgin saints and the present practices of religious sisters.
An excerpt from the writings of Saint Teresa:
If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.
Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.
What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart...
From a 1948 column by Dorothy Day in the Catholic Worker paper:
St. Teresa of Avila has a great deal to say of women's ailments. "The first thing we have to do," she writes firmly in The Way of Perfection, "and that at once, is to rid ourselves of love for this body of ours -- and some of us pamper our natures so much that this will cause us no little labor, while others are so concerned about their health that the trouble these things give us (this is especially so of poor nuns, but it applies to others as well), is amazing. Some of us, however, seem to think that we embraced the religious life for no other reason than to keep ourselves alive and each nun does all she can to that end. In this house, as a matter of fact, there is very little chance for us to act on such a principle, but I should be sorry if we even wanted to. Resolve, sisters, that it is to die for Christ, and not to practice self indulgence for Christ, that you have come here. The devil tells us that self indulgence is necessary if we are to carry out and keep the Rule of our Order, and so many of us, forsooth, try to keep our Rule by looking after our health, that we die without having kept it for as long as a month -- perhaps even for a day . . ."
Newman writes that the greatest tragedy is that so few of us have even begun to live, when we die. Not even to make a beginning!
St. Teresa goes on, "No one need be afraid of our committing excesses here, by any chance -- for as soon as we do any penances our confessors begin to fear that we shall kill ourselves with them . . ."
"Virgins show forth the beauty of God’s grace. They are the image of God that reflects the holiness of the Lord; they are the more illustrious members of Christ’s flock. They are the glory of mother church and manifest her fruitfulness. The more numerous her virgins are, the greater is her joy."
(From a sermon by St Cyprian, bishop and martyr)
UPDATE: On the celebration of her 500th birthday.