St. Teresa of Avila Continues to Teach Us Today, 500 Years Later

Pope Francis described her as 'primarily a teacher of prayer' and said that 'the discovery of Christ’s humanity was central to her experience.'

Carmelite sisters in Birmingham, England
Carmelite sisters in Birmingham, England (photo: CNA/ via Flickr)

VATICAN CITY — On the 500th anniversary of St. Teresa of Avila’s birth, Pope Francis praised the Spanish mystic and reformer for her witness of self-gift to God, as well as her particular relevance during this Year for Consecrated Life.

The worldwide Year for Consecrated life began Nov. 30, 2014, and will continue until the World Day of Consecrated Life on Feb. 2, 2016.

“How much goodness does the testimony of her consecration — born directly from the encounter with Christ, her experience of prayer as continuous dialogue with God and her community life, rooted in the motherhood of the Church — do for us!” the Pope said, according to Vatican Radio’s translation.

In a March 28 letter addressed to Father Xavier Cannistrà, superior general of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, the Holy Father wrote that it is providential that the anniversary of the saint’s birth should coincide with the Year for Consecrated Life.

St. Teresa of Avila, the Holy Father said, “shines as a sure and attractive model of total self-giving to God.”

Born March 28, 1515, in Avila, Spain, St. Teresa is known as a mystic and reformer. Entering the Carmelite order in 1535, she became disillusioned by the laxity of monastic life within the cloister and committed herself to reforming the order. She is considered one of the founders of the Discalced Carmelites.

During her lifetime, St. Teresa wrote several important works on the spiritual life, such as Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection. Canonized 40 years after her death, in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, she was declared as one of the first female doctors of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.

St. Teresa of Avila remains relevant for consecrated men and women, Pope Francis wrote, as demonstrated by her prayer life, her proclamation of the Gospel and her understanding of the importance of community life.

Describing her as “primarily a teacher of prayer,” the Holy Father said that “the discovery of Christ’s humanity was central to her experience.”

For St. Teresa, prayer arose in all occasions, not simply in times and places of seclusion, the Pope said. Moreover, she believed that “continuous prayer” — even when it was imperfect — had value.

“The saint asks us to be steadfast, faithful, even in times of dryness, personal difficulties or urgent needs that call us.”

The “concrete proposals” and methods of prayer left by St. Teresa offer “us a great treasure to renew consecrated life today,” the Pope said.

“Far from closing us in on ourselves or leading us only to inner balance, (they) always make us start again from Jesus and constitute a genuine school to grow in love for God and neighbor.”

Pope Francis went on to describe St. Teresa as a “tireless communicator of the Gospel” at a time when the Church was in the midst of difficulties. Instigator of the “Teresian reform” of the laxities demonstrated by the Carmelite cloister in which she lived, she demonstrated a “missionary and ecclesial dimension has always marked the Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites,” he said.

“Even today, the saint opens new horizons for us, she calls us to a great undertaking, to see the world with the eyes of Christ, to seek what he seeks and to love what he loves.”

Finally, St. Teresa recognized the importance of “authentic community life” in sustaining both prayer and the evangelical mission, the Pope said.

Warning against “the danger of individualism in fraternal life,” he added, the saint commends those living in community to place themselves “at the service of others,” with a humility consisting “of self-acceptance, awareness of one’s own dignity, missionary courage, gratitude and trust in God.”

“Teresian communities are called to become houses of communion, capable of witnessing to fraternal love and to the motherhood of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of the world, torn by divisions and wars.”

Pope Francis concluded by imparting his apostolic blessing, praying that the Carmelite community’s “witness to life” would allow “the joy and beauty of living the Gospel to shine and attract many young people to follow Christ closely.”

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