Teresa of Avila, a Discalced Carmelite and Doctor of the Church, is one of my favourite saints. I first came across her through studying Spanish literature in school and university. I was struck by her astonishing spirituality. joined to a well-earthed humanity. Indeed, I see her as one of the main influences in my becoming a priest. Next March sees the 500th anniversary of her birth, and the church in many places is observing a Year of St Teresa from her feast last Tuesday to the same date next year.
To mark this special year, Pope Francis has sent a message to the Bishop of Avila, an ancient city northwest of Madrid in the stark landscape of Castile in central Spain. He writes that St Teresa teaches us that the path to God is the path towards love for one another. He underlines that this great Saint, who was born on the 28th of March 1515 and died on the 4th of October 1582, was a woman of immense spirituality. He focuses on four gifts in particular that she possessed, those being joy, prayer, fellowship and being in touch with the realities of her own time. Not a bad list, and such a accurate description!
The Pope writes that St Teresa emphasizes the joy in discovering God, resulting in the love for one another that is nourished by prayer. This, he says, “overcomes pessimism and generates good deeds.” Focusing on the Carmelite nun’s mystical experience, the Pope says that it did not separate her from the world or from the concerns of the people. On the contrary, he adds that she has given “a new impetus and courage for action.”
Pope Francis notes that what St Teresa has to say through her writings has “perennial relevance” and he adds that it applies to individuals in their journey towards God and men. I’ll share some more from the great St Teresa, perhaps, as the Year goes on.