Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.
- St. Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, one of 33 recognized Doctors of the Church and of which only three are women. I have a special kinship with St. Teresa and find in her story a similar reflection of my own spiritual condition -- as well as a reason for great hope that perhaps someday I, too, can be a Saint.
St. Teresa did not start out particularly holy or devout, even as a nun in the Carmelite Order. She neglected prayer and true devotion for many years, and by self-admission often busied herself with foolish gossip and vain worldly activities. At age 41 a priest convinced her to go back to her prayer, but she found it difficult. "I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don't know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer," she said. After awhile Teresa underwent a profound conversion of heart due to what she believed was the extraordinary grace of God alone. She became filled with zealous devotion.
God began gifting her with special graces during prayer, enabling her to see visions and enter into prolonged raptures. Sometimes her whole body was raised from the ground! She would call nuns in her convent to sit on her and hold her down. Far from being happy or eager about these events, she "begged God very much not to give me any more favors in public." Priests and many of her fellow nuns suggested that her experiences were from the Devil, and in fact at one point her writings on this mystical experience of prayer was examined by the Spanish Inquisition. They determined, however, that her writings were in accordance with the faith and her name was cleared.
With the help of St. John of the Cross, a fellow mystic, she reformed most of the Carmelite convents and founded new ones. Throughout it all she was opposed and reviled by many. She had only a few who helped her. Despite the constant criticism and obstacles put in her path, Teresa put all of her faith in God and persevered, believing fully that if Jesus willed it, it would happen.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I personally have received from St. Teresa by way of reading her works is the understanding that one should not be attached to things of this world, especially friendships. Teresa herself was very attached to friends until God told her, "No longer do I want you to converse with human beings but with angels. With this understanding she learned to detach herself and realized the great pitfalls that can occur in placing too much value on natural friendships or even the desire of obtaining them.
"It may seem that for us to have too much love for each other cannot be wrong, but I do not think anyone who had not been an eye-witness of it would believe how much evil and how many imperfections can result from this. The devil sets many snares here which the consciences of those who aim only in a rough-and-ready way at pleasing God seldom observe -- indeed, they think they are acting virtuously -- but those who are aiming at perfection understand what they are very well: little by little they deprive the will of the strength which it needs if it is to employ itself wholly in the love of God."Teresa advised her nuns of the evils which can befall a person, and the entire community, when one is inordinately attached to friends and has special love and inclinations toward one person over another. "The harm which it does to community life is very serious," she warned. "One result of it is that all the nuns do not love each other equally: some injury done to a friend is resented; a nun desires to have something to give to her friend or tries to make time for talking to her, and often her object in doing this is to tell her how fond she is of her, and other irrelevant things, rather than how much she loves God. These intimate friendships are seldom calculated to make for the love of God; I am more inclined to believe that the devil initiates them so as to create factions."
St. Teresa died in the arms of Venerable Anne of St. Bartholomew, with the sight of our Lord and many Saints before her, on the feast of St. Francis on October 4, 1582. She was canonized in 1622.
Anyone who wishes to learn more about St. Teresa of Avila can find a more complete and beautiful account of her life on the EWTN website.