“What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!”–St. Teresa of Avila
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born on this day in Gotarrendura, Ávila, Spain in 1515. Today is the 498th anniversary of her birth.
Teresa’s grandfather converted to Christianity to avoid persecution from the Spanish Inquisitors. It didn’t quite work. Although his son, Teresa’s father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, became a prominent member of Catholic Avila society, her grandfather was later condemned for allegedly returning to his Jewish roots. Alonso was a strict and pious man and Teresa grew up fascinated with the mysteries of the faith and the lives of the Saints.
At seven she tried to run away with her brother. The plan was to find some Moors and convince the “barbarians” to chop of their heads so they could become martyrs. Fortunately their uncle found the children before they could get too far.
She was 15 when her mother, Beatriz, died, and Teresa was sent to live with the Augustinian nuns. She soon decided to enter religious life
In 1535, she joined the Carmelite Order. She spent a number of relatively average years in the convent, punctuated by a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, but then experienced a vision of “the sorely wounded Christ” that changed her life forever. [CCEL.org]
When she was ill she claimed to have experienced a number of religious ecstasies and visions. At about age 41 some of her friends thought these visions might be the work of the devil, but her confessor assured her that they were of Christ’s doing.
From this point forward, Teresa moved into a period of increasingly ecstatic experiences in which she came to focus more and more sharply on Christ’s passion. With these visions as her impetus, she set herself to the reformation of her order, beginning with her attempt to master herself and her adherence to the rule. Gathering a group of supporters, Teresa endeavored to create a more primitive type of Carmelite. [CCEL.org]
She had opposition from her original order, the local church and the town. At some point she was threatened with the Inquisition, but she pushed on.
In 1567, she met St. John of the Cross, who she enlisted to extend her reform into the male side of the Carmelite Order. [CCEL.org]
She died while on a journey from Alba de Tormes in 1582. Forty years later she was canonized a saint by Pope Gregory XV.
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