St. Teresa of Avila
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Avila on March 28, 1515. She was educated in an Augustinian convent and, about 1535, entered the local Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation. In 1555, after many years marked by serious illness and increasingly rigorous religious exercises, she experience a profound awakening, involving visions of Jesus Christ, hell, angels, and demons; at times she felt sharp pains that she claimed were caused by the tip of an angel’s lance piercing her heart.
Long troubled by the slack discipline into which the Carmelites had relapse, she determined to devote herself to the reform of the order. Through papal intervention in her behalf, she overcame the bitter opposition of her immediate ecclesiastical superiors and in 1562 succeeded in founding at Avila the Convent of Saint Joseph, the first community of reformed, or discalced, Carmelite nuns. She enforced strict observance of the original, severe Carmelite rules at the convent. Her reforms won the approbation of the head of the order, and in 1567 she was authorized to establish similar religious houses for men. Teresa organized the new branch of the old order, with the aid of Saint John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church. Although she was harassed at every step by the powerful and hostile church officials, she helped to establish 16 foundations for women and 14 for men. Two years before her death the Discalced Carmelites received papal recognition as an independent monastic body.
Teresa died in Alba de Tormes on October 4, 1582. Teresa was a gifted organizer endowed with common sense, tact intelligence, courage, and humor as well as a mystic of extraordinary spiritual depth. She purified the religious life of Spain and, in a period when Protestantism gained ground elsewhere in Europe, strengthened the forces that reformed the Roman Catholic church from within. Teresa’s writings, all published posthumously, are valued as unique contributions to mystical and devotional literature and as masterpieces of Spanish prose. Teresa was canonized in 1622; she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, the first woman to be so named, in 1970. Her feast day is October 15.
Mystical literature is discouraged for Christians. Having visions of angelic creatures is discouraged for Christians.