St. Teresa of Ávila, Whom God Treated as a Friend

After finding inspiration reading the lives of the saints, Teresa resolved to become a saint herself.

Unknown, “St. Teresa of Avila,” Musée d’art et d’histoire, Saint-Denis, France
Unknown, “St. Teresa of Avila,” Musée d’art et d’histoire, Saint-Denis, France (photo: Public Domain)

The feast day of St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) is Oct. 15. She is a Spanish Carmelite nun, reformer and Doctor of the Church. She is also the patron of Spain, the sick, religious and lacemakers.

Teresa was born in Spain. By age 7, she already had a great devotion to Mary and loved to read the lives of the saints. She built her own hermitage in her backyard where she could pretend to be a nun. Whenever she felt poorly, she visited a small church near her home to pray. After Teresa’s own mother died when Teresa was 13, she asked Mary to be her mother.

As a teen, Teresa’s fervor cooled, and she developed an interest in reading romance novels. She loved to chat with her friends, and took a great interest in her appearance. She called this period of her life a time of lukewarmness. But, like St. Ignatius Loyola, she loved to read the lives of the saints and came to believe they were the world’s true heroes. She resolved to become a saint herself.

She entered a Carmelite convent, but found the discipline lax. The nuns spent too much time entertaining visitors, she believed, rather than devoting themselves to prayer, penance and good works. She also thought there were too many visitors to the convent, which distracted the nuns from their true purpose. Despite the resistance of some, she began a reform of the Carmelite order, and founded new convents.

At one point in religious life, she got seriously ill, and her fellow nuns feared she had died. A grave was dug and she was laid in a coffin, but she suddenly sat up and asked, “Why have you called me back?” She developed a great devotion to St. Joseph, who she believed interceded before God on her behalf, and he cured her of her illness. She named the first convent she founded in his honor.

In her youth, Teresa sometimes found it difficult to pray, but over time developed good techniques that helped her prayer life improve. She wrote extensively about prayer and spirituality, and her techniques are used by many who wish to develop a habit of mental prayer. She was a mystic blessed with visions and visits by Jesus, who taught her much about the Faith. She saw souls entering both heaven and hell. Some told her that her visions were an artifice of the devil, but her confessor assured her they were from God.

She had the gift of levitation, which she found so embarrassing that she’d ask the other nuns to hold her down. She begged God not to let her levitate in public again.

When she tried to reform her Carmelite order, many in the community who preferred a more lax lifestyle resisted her. They complained about her, and Teresa, in turn, complained to God about her difficult situation. The Lord famously responded to her in prayer, “That’s how I treat my friends.” In the good humor of a close friend she responded, “That’s why you have so few friends.”