Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, one of the three female Doctors of the Church together with Saints Catherine of Siena and Theresa of the Child Jesus.
When I was in college, I minored in Spanish and because of her numerous writings, I encountered Teresa of Avila, one of the most influential figures in early (16th century) Spanish literature and surely one of the greatest of our saints. I had to read her, not from a spiritual motive but from a literary one. She is to Spanish literature what Chaucer or Milton is in English literature. Then, in the navy in California, I became acquainted with some Carmelite nuns in Berkeley, San Francisco, Carmel, and San Diego and came to know the tremendous charm of those wonderful women in their fervent communities of prayer. Later still, on my travels in Europe and the Holy Land after ordination, I had the great joy of visiting Mount Carmel in the Holy Land where all Carmelite spirituality began with the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the convents of Carmelite nuns in Avila where the great Teresa lived and initiated her reform of Carmel; the monastery in Lisieux where Saint Therese of the Child Jesus lived and died, and then the monastery in the small town of Echt in the Netherlands from which the Carmelite nun, Edith Stein, or Sister Teresa Benedicta as she was known in religion, was taken by the Gestapo in 1942 and sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz because she was Jewish. These holy women, and many others besides, regard Saint Teresa as their mother, the foundress of their reformed Carmelite life, their ideal, and their guide in the contemplative life.
The Carmelite reform spread throughout the entire Church and has had enormous effect during these four and a half centuries since the life and times of Saint Teresa. In our own times, the German Jewish philosopher named Edith Stein was converted to Catholicism by reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila, and that in turn led to her redemptive death in one of the Nazi death camps.
The people of Spain commonly referred to the King as “His Majesty” back in the 16th century, and Saint Teresa transferred that respect and esteem to God, to whom she often referred as “His Majesty.” Another of her favorite devotions was to Saint Joseph, the husband of Our Lady and the guardian of the young Christ. She says in her writings that she never asked Saint Joseph for anything that she did not receive. We ask Teresa of Avila today to intercede for us with His Majesty, the King of Heaven, and Jesus, His only-begotten Son, the Prince of Peace. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.