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Friday, November 30, 2012

Part 1 Life of St. Teresa of Avila by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The Life and Works of St. Teresa of Jesus
The Collected Works of Edith Stein, The Hidden Life, Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Texts, ed. L. Gelber, M. Linssen, tr. W. Stein, available at:

Yesterday in our monastery church we had perpetual adoration [forty hours devotion]. On such days, the faithful who are associated with our Carmel gather around the altar singing and praying from about six o’clock in the morning until about ten o’clock at night. Then the church is closed and during the night the sisters take turns keeping watch in the choir before the Blessed Sacrament. While outside in carnival’s frantic tumult people get drunk and delirious, while political battles separate them, and great need depresses them so much that many forget to look to heaven, at such still places of prayer hearts are opened to the Lord. In place of the cold, the contempt, that he receives out there, they offer him their warm love. They want to atone for the insults that the divine heart must endure daily and hourly. By their steadfast supplications, they draw down God’s grace and mercy on a humanity submerged in sin and need. In our time, when the powerlessness of all natural means for battling the overwhelming misery everywhere has been demonstrated so obviously, an entirely new understanding of the power of prayer, of expiation, and of vicarious atonement has again awakened. This is why people of faith crowd the places of prayer, also why, everywhere, there is a blazing demand for contemplative monasteries whose entire life is devoted to prayer and expiation. Also suddenly there is talk in all corners and parts about the silent Carmel which just a few years ago was a little known country. The desire for new foundations is surfacing in the most varied places. One almost feels transported into the time when our Holy Mother Teresa, the foundress of the reformed Carmel, traveled all over Spain from north to south and from west to east to plant new vineyards of the Lord. One would like to bring into our times also something of the spirit of this great woman who built amazingly during a century of battles and disturbances. May she herself bless this little picture of her life and works, that it may capture at least some of the radiance of her spirit and convey it to the hearts of readers. Then surely will people desire to know her better from the sources, from the rich treasure of her own works. And whoever has learned to draw from these sources will never tire of gaining courage and strength from them again and again. 

Carmel of Cologne-Lindenthal, Candlemas [February 2]. 1934 

1. Native Land and Family Home 

As a contemporary, spiritual relative, and native of the same country as that famous champion of the faith, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa’s impact unfolded in a century marked by religious strife and a great schism in the church. When she came into the world, a mere twenty years had passed since the last of the Moors were driven out of Spain and the whole peninsula united in the Catholic faith. Eight centuries of continual warfare between the Cross and Crescent lay behind the Spanish people. During these battles they blossomed into an heroic people, into a legion of Christ the King. Teresa’s more immediate homeland, the ancient kingdom of Castile, was the strong fortress from which in resolute struggle of the cross was gradually carried to the South. The Castilian knights formed the special troops of the army of faith. Teresa, the bold warrior for God, came from such a race of heroes. A town built on cliffs, the fortress of Avila (called “Avila of the Saints”) was her native town. Her parents, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and his second wife Beatriz de Ahumada, were of the old nobility.(40) According to the custom of the times and of her country, she was called by her mother’s surname, Teresa de Ahumada. Just as she saw the light of day on the morning of March 28, 1515, the bell of the newly-built Carmelite monastery invited the faithful to a great celebration, to the consecration of its chapel. This was the house that later was to be her home for decades, where the Lord intended to form this vessel of his election. Teresa was the sixth child of her father, the third of her young mother, who had taken charge of the one daughter and two sons from her husband’s first marriage. Six younger siblings were later added to these five older ones. Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda was a man of deep piety and strong virtue. He carefully watched over the upbringing of his children, sought to keep from them all harmful influences, guided them to everything good, and himself presented them with the best example of a serious Christian life. Delicate Doña Beatriz, mild and humble, ill at an early age , and dependent on the help of her step-daughter María for the upbringing of this great band of children, was fervently devout. The love of God and of prayer bloomed spontaneously in the hearts of the children who shared her life. 
2. Childhood and Youth 

The fiery heart of the little Teresa became attached to her noble parents in ardent love and devotion and to her siblings in affectionate trust. Her most beloved companions had to be, primarily, her brothers. Serious María, burdened with the duties of the eldest, was not regarded as a comrade, and the baby, Juana, was many years younger. Rodrigo, four years older than she, became her confidant during her childhood. Her mother’s pious tales, her first instruction, ignited in the little Spaniard a holy zeal. Despite her liveliness and joy in merry company, she liked to withdraw into a quiet corner of the garden to pray alone. It gave her pleasure to give alms to the poor. And one day the seven-year-old let her favorite brother in on a secret plan which she had thought up. She tells about it herself in her autobiography. “We were reading the lives of saints together. When I saw what torments the martyrs endured for God, I discovered that they had earned the joy of seeing God for a low price, and I burned with the desire to die a similar death.” She did not have far to go from the wish to the decision to act, and her brother was also enkindled by her enthusiasm. “We decided to travel to the land of the Moors to get our heads cut off. It seemed to me that God had given us enough strength to carry out our plans in spite of our tender years. What was the most difficult for us was parting from our parents.” But the thought of eternal joy won over the pain of separation. “Forever! Oh Rodrigo, think of it, the martyrs gaze upon God forever. We must become martyrs.” The very next morning they secretly set out on their way. But they did not get far. They slipped through the town gate happily. But soon afterwards they met an uncle who took the little fugitives back to their parents. They had already been missed and were greeted with reproach. “I left,” Teresa replied, “because I want to see God and because one must die in order to see him.” She was very hurt that her lovely plan had fallen apart. Her zeal did not abate. She built hermitages with Rodrigo in the garden, she preferred to play monastery life with her friends, and she continued her lengthy devotions. 

The early death of her mother cut deeply into Teresa’s youth. She was then thirteen years old.(41) She herself says about it, “I threw myself down in despair before an image of the Mother of God. With many tears, I implored the Holy Virgin to become my mother now. Uttered with the simplicity of a child, this prayer was heard. From that hour on, I never prayed to the Virgin in vain.” The young person certainly surmised that she needed special protection, having lost her mother just when she especially needed her. Teresa had blossomed into a young beauty. Black curls framed her white forehead; luminous, dark eyes revealed the passion of her soul; her movements and posture had natural grace and dignity. The liveliness of her spirit, her charming amiability, gave her an attractiveness in her social life which almost nobody could resist. The dangers already inherent in these natural gifts were increased by an inclination that had already awakened in the young girl during her mother’s life. Doña Beatriz, who was constantly house-bound by her suffering, liked to find a little distraction in romances of chivalry and was weak enough to allow her children to read them, too, even though this was not the father’s intent. After her death, Teresa gave in to her passion without restraint and devoured one book after the other, busying herself with them day and night. Those novels are forgotten today, but we know their character from the magnificent satire, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which exposed for all time such writings and their impact. The “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” who mistook windmills for giants and the peasant girl for a princess, is the victim of such caricatures of real life. Teresa’s active imagination was also enchanted by such entrancing portrayals of the deeds of heroic knights. The gentle attraction of the pious legends of her childhood paled against these colorful exploits. With bitter regret, she herself later looked back on these youthful mistakes. 

Oh, how I suffer now when I recall how I forgot the longings of my childhood! My God, since you seem to have decided to rescue me, let it be your glorious will to do so.... Why did this soul, which you have selected for your habitation and showered with grace, become spotted like this? I feel great pain remembering it, for I know very well that I alone was guilty. You, Oh Lord, have left nothing untried to open my eyes ever since my youngest days.  It was not surprising that the young girl began to compare herself with the heroines of her beloved novels. 

There came a time when I understood the natural gifts that heaven had bestowed on me.... Soon I acquired a taste for beautiful clothes; I wanted to appear well-dressed; I took many pains with my hands and my hair; I resorted to every lovely scent and beauty aid that I could lay hands on. Above all, I loved meticulous cleanliness. I really did not have any ulterior motives at all in my heart, and for all the world I did not want anyone to get an idea of offending God. 

The young beauty did not lack admirers. However, her strict father would not permit her to associate with young strangers, but cousins of the same age were allowed in the house. “They liked me, and we spent time together. I let them talk as they would. I enlivened their conversation and, to please them, I took pleasure in their dreams of the future, in their childish misdeeds, and other useless things. However, the worst was that I learned about feelings and attitudes which were later to be unfortunate for me.” The influence of one young relative was particularly unhealthy. 

She was so frivolous that my mother, as if guessing the bad results, tried everything to keep her away from me. But it was in vain. She always returned under this or that pretext. Soon we were close confidantes. We talked together constantly. She gave me as much pleasure as I wanted, allowed me to share in hers, and confided her secrets and conceits to me. I couldn’t get enough of listening to her. I believe I was a little over fourteen years old when our unhealthy friendship started. I believe that in this first period of my life I did not commit even one mortal sin. What saved me was the fear of God and, I must say, the even greater fear of staining my honor; for my honor was everything to me, and nothing in the world, no earthly good, could have shaken me from my decision to keep it pure. 

Nevertheless, the effect was deep enough. “This friendship changed me so much that soon there was nothing left of my good nature. My relative and one of her equally frivolous girl friends seemed to have imprinted the frivolity of their characters on me.” Her father and older sister, who tended the younger siblings with motherly concern, saw the transformation with serious alarm and made a definite decision. When María left her family home to go to the house of a pious nobleman as his wife, Don Alonso sent his darling to an Augustinian monastery to be educated. Suddenly and without saying good-bye, she vanished from the merry circle of which she had been the center.

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