Teresa was born on 1515 while Luther was still Catholic, and she died eight years after the conclusion of the Council of Trent. The Inquisition had suspected her grandfather of being Jewish, and that had her father, after buying a knighthood, striving to be seen as a model of strict Catholicism. That strict life was hard on her mother who was a closet reader of romances, and that good woman, finding Teresa to be the most sympathetic of her ten children, brought her into the conspiracy of hiding the romances from her stern husband. That mother died when Teresa was fifteen, and her father, unhappy over Teresa’s liking for boys and fine clothes, put her in a Carmelite convent.
While she was at first unhappy with convent life, she came to realize it was less confining than life with her father. But in time she found herself locked in a struggle with inclinations toward sinfulness. That ended with her deciding that staying in the convent was the best protection from her wayward nature. With that decision made, she took up the task of learning how to meditate on God. Writing about those years, Teresa said, “I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ present within me, but my imagination was dull, and I had no talent for coming up with Theological thoughts.”
She had a bout of malaria in her twenties, and it led to a paralysis and a coma that had her out of her senses for three days. When she came to, she heard the nuns talking about how they had dug a grave for her. With her health back, she joined in the aimlessness of young women who were making the best of having been put away in convents.
Teresa was forty before she met up with a priest who gave her a scolding for her laxity, and that forced her to determine to make the best of praying. Forcing herself to spend a full hour at mental prayer, she would spend that hour holding up an hourglass, shaking it to get the sand to run through quickly.
But, having stuck with her determination, she began having what she called “spiritual delights.” They were experiences of God’s presence. Our Lady of Victories Church in Rome houses a great Bernini statue of Teresa, laid low with an angel driving an arrow of love into her heart.
The unusual favors God granted Teresa became so obvious that people turned her over to the Inquisition, but its learned fathers found no hint of heresy in Teresa. Emperor Charles V, wanting to put the matter to rest, sent St. Francis Borgia to question her closely; and that future General of the Jesuits, came away with his own spiritual life lifted to a higher plane.
Teresa spent her last twenty years founding convents where silence and poverty were strictly enforced. Teresa so much delighted in being with God that she wanted to be away from the chatter that interfered with it.