Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila who championed spending time alone with God in quiet, wordless prayer. She was in her mid forties before she got that way.
Avila was a central town in Spain where Teresa was born in 1515. That was eleven years after the death of Queen Isabella, and one year before the death of her husband Ferdinand. Those Catholic Majesties, to rid their two kingdoms of Castile and Aragon of opposing elements. had secured from Pope Alexander VI the authority to institute the Inquisition which punished Muslims and Jews.
Teresa’s grandfather, to remove his taint of Jewish blood, had bought a Catholic title, and her father based their family life on rigid Catholic principles. That brought trouble to Teresa and her mother, since they secretly delighted in reading romantic stories.
Teresa was fifteen when her mother died, and her father, seeing her keen interest in clothing and boys, paid the dowry to have her spend her life in the local Carmelite Convent. That was distasteful for Teresa at first, but on joining up with other girls unwillingly packed away in the convent, she found life less severe than what it had been under her father.
Teresa made honest efforts at applying herself in the periods of mental prayer, but she found her imagination too active to settle down to the thoughts of Jesus. In her thirties she had a serious period when a strange illness left her so near death that she heard the other sisters debating over where to dig her grave.
Teresa was in her forties when a sincere priest demanded that she abandon hrself to her vocation of pursuing mental prayer. After setting aside whole hours for praying without distraction, she found herself shaking her hourglass to make the sand flow through quicker. But her perseverance bore fruit with her coming to experience ecstasies of God’s strong loving presence.
As she progressed through years of wonderful mental prayer, Teresa became impatient of the convent small talk that had meant so much to her when she was a girl. When she was fifty-two she met with John of the Cross, a twenty-six-year-old Carmelite priest who was locked into the deep mental prayer that had become dear to Teresa. Together, they secured permission to found Carmelite Convents and Monasteries of strict observance, where men and women learned to give all their time to being alone with God.
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