(Doctor of the Church)
Ω Born in Spain.
Ω When she was a child, she would play with her brother. They would pretend that they were martyrs and hermits. One time they left to become martyrs (she was 7), and scared their mother half to death. Teresa was very fond of “the woman at the well” story and other stories of the saints.
Ω When she was 14 (12?), her mother died, which changed Teresa noticeably.
Ω When she was 15, she was to a convent to receive a good education, but she became seriously ill after a year and a half.
Ω She was sent back home to recover but often visited other monasteries to talk with religious women. Her father allowed her to become a Carmelite nun when she was 20, but she contracted another illness which made her sick for another 3 years.
Ω During this time, she learned mental prayer from a visiting priest. However, when she recovered, she did not feel worthy to think on Jesus so intimately, so she stopped meditating and fell into what we now call acedia thanks to her works on the spiritual life.
Ω Her father died, at which time a conversation was begun with his spiritual director. He told her that she needed to start meditating on Jesus’ life immediately because she was causing her own depression by not doing so.
Ω She began to read again about the Saints, like Saint Augustineand Saint Mary Magdalene, and to excel in her meditations. During this time, she began to receive intellectual visions and interior communications. However, she had the hardest time finding a good spiritual director. Some would say she was delusional, others would give her backwards advice, some couldn’t understand what she was talking about, and others would scare her into rejecting all of her illuminations. Finally, she found a director who told her to listen to God and to pray Veni Creator Spiritus. Shortly thereafter, she experienced her first rapture—an intense spiritual experience with Jesus. She even experienced levitation when she communicated with Him.
Ω But, she still underwent many persecutions for suggesting that she talked to God so intimately. It wasn’t until she was 42, when she met Peter of Alcantara, someone who is now considered a Saint, that she was affirmed in her spiritual life, but he warned her that even though he accepted her illuminations and experiences as authentic, she would still have persecutions.
Ω A few years later, she was inspired by her niece to reform the Carmelite order—they had become lax, more like secular women, and just wanted to be in the convent for comfort, protection, and the easy life. They even had set up a class system within the convent so that the wealthy nuns could do pretty much whatever they wanted. Discouraged by their lack of commitment to the vows that they had taken—poverty, obedience, and chastity—Teresa took four promising nuns with her, after receiving permission, and began the Discalced Carmelite order, in which the nuns practiced their vows in poverty, austerity, and contemplative prayer. By the time of her death she had founded 17 convents for women and 15 monasteries for men, but each had to undergo its own persecution because people were afraid of the novelty.
Ω When she was 52, she became good friends with St. Johnof the Cross (27 years her junior), the first person who really understood her raptures and experiences with Jesus. He wrote Dark Night of the Soul, Ascent to Mount Carmel, and Spiritual Canticle and is also a Doctor of the Church. He is the “Love is repaid by Love alone” person who inspired St. Therese 300 years later and Mother Teresa—a vowed contemplative in action–consequently, 400 years later.
Ω Teresa was asked to write all of her experiences down to help her nuns. One such work is called Interior Castles where she explains how the interior life works: i.e., that good works will accompany true spiritual consolations from God, that not all spiritual directors have good advice, and that being with Jesus is the most delightful thing on earth.
*see “Authentic Femininity, Lived” for references