If you were a goody-goody from birth, you could easily find a holy woman after whom you might model your life. But if you find romance at least as interesting as saintliness, you might choose Teresa of Avila as your model.
The Spanish Inquisition had accused her grandfather of having leanings toward Judaism; so her father, wanting to foster a reputation for orthodoxy, purchased a knighthood in a region renowned for its saints. This caused trouble for Teresa’s mother, who read romances that she hid from everyone but young Teresa. On that mother’s death, her father, observing a liking in Teresa for boys and fancy dress, paid the dowry for her to spend all her years in a Carmelite convent. Although she was unhappy with the restraints, Teresa found convent life still less severe than life with her father.
When Teresa was forty, she met with a priest who scolded her for not having a real prayer life. That caused her, with hourglass in hand, to spend an hour a day in silent contemplation of God. At times she shook the hourglass, trying to get the sand to move more quickly. But she stuck to spending that hour alone with God, and in her second or third year, she began feeling moments of deep delight with God. Our Lady of Victories church in Rome features that fine Renaissance marble of a
reclining Teresa, with an angel piercing her heart with love for God.
In time, the innocent social life that had once meant much to Teresa, came to be a nuisance, and she more and more separated herself from the socially inclined nuns. They reported her odd preoccupation with prayer to the Inquisition. However, the chief inquisitor happened to be Sir Francis Borgia, who was to follow Ignatius of Loyola as third superior of the Jesuits. His group found Teresa to be authentic.
While remaining friendly with the socially minded nuns, Teresa began yearning for more quiet time with God. When she was fifty-two she met with a twenty-six-year-old John of the Cross. They campaigned together, gaining consent for establishing convents and monasteries devoted entirely to prayer. Under obedience, Teresa wrote classical books on mental prayer, including her “Autobiography,” “The Interior Castle”, and “Meditations on the Song of Songs.”