St Teresa of Jesus – 15 October

By Catherine Sheehan

When she was just seven years of age, St Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582), also known as Teresa of Avila, convinced her brother that together they should run away to the land of the Moors to seek martyrdom for Christ.

Thankfully, an uncle found the two little children as they were making their way along the road out of their village, and made sure they returned safely home to their parents.

This endearing little episode from the life of the Spanish saint speaks of a deep desire for greatness and heroism in the young Teresa, as well as a passionate nature attracted to God.

However, as is often the case with fallen human beings, Teresa soon forgot her desire for martyrdom and fell into living in a manner encouraged by the culture around her. It is said Teresa lived a worldly lifestyle until her concerned and somewhat strict father sent her to a convent when she was 16 years old.

In 1535 at the age of 20 she entered the Carmelite monastery in Avila.

Even though she was no longer in the world, Teresa was still very much of the world. The religious community she lived in was not strict and the nuns enjoyed a comfortable and privileged lifestyle.

After her health failed however, and she was forced to live as an invalid for several years, Teresa developed a love for mental prayer.

When she was around 40 years old she had a major spiritual conversion after a revelation of the depth of God’s love for her, demonstrated by Christ’s suffering and death. She was profoundly moved by the realisation of what Christ had suffered for her sake.

It was at this point that she began to take her religious vocation seriously and sought to live a more austere life focussed solely on God.

Spurred on by her new found love for God, Teresa set about reforming the Carmelite order and establishing convents throughout Spain.

In her autobiography, Teresa describes a recurring mystical experience of God’s love, referred to as the ‘Transverberation’, during which an angel would appear to her and pierce her heart with a spear made of gold.

Teresa wrote: “The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God…”

Interestingly, when Teresa’s body was exhumed in 1582, nine months after her death, her body was found to be incorrupt. Her heart was removed and placed in a reliquary which today can be viewed at the Carmelite Monastery of Alba de Tormes in Spain. It is said that the wounds caused by the angel’s dart are still visible in her heart!

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