Friday, October 15, 2010

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

Saint Teresa in Ecstacy by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The original Italian title of this famed work is also translated as "The Transverberation of Saint Teresa". While the word is a strange one, it suggests the pulsation of energy between God and Teresa which must have been present in the mystical relationship between this strong-willed and dynamic woman and the God who so desires to be in intimate relationship with us. This was a woman of her time and place. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was born in Renaissance Spain, a country reeling like the rest of Europe from the consequences of the Protestant Reformation. She began a reform of her Carmelite Order at the same time that the Council of Trent ws shoring up the frayed edges of the Roman Catholic Church. She embodied paradox. After a mid-life conversion experience she was drawn to a more contemplative and solitary expression of contemplative life within community than was the usual Carmelite practice of her experience. Yet, she could not escape the natural responses of her extroverted, expressive, and highly personable way of being. In spite of great physical pain and illness she went from place to place in the crudest and most uncomfortable of conveyances to establish monastery after monastery. And in a time when women did not think of writing books she wrote many. Eagerly read today, her words (Autobiography, The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection) continue to resonate with truth as she describes the spiritual journey of the soul searching for God and what that journey demands. These works earned her the title "Doctor of the Church". She is a doctor of souls who knows human weakness and human nature and counsels in favor of the necessity of self knowledge and interior honesty. She is funny, self-deprecating, intensely female and much in love with God. She lived in the "freedom of the children of God".

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