St. Teresa was born in 1515, almost 20 years after Columbus sailed to the New World and two years after Luther started the Protestant Reformation. She entered a world of outer turmoil and showed it the way to inner peace.
She was one of the 16th century Spanish mystic-saints to whom we owe much of our western spirituality. She was canonized in 1622 and was the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She died on Oct. 4, 1582. The calendar was adjusted with days deleted making the next day Oct. 15 which was designated as her feast day.
FOCUS ON PRAYER
When she entered the Carmelite convent, hers was a rather shallow life as many of the monasteries had grown lax due to the presence of women who were accustomed to servants and an easy life. After becoming seriously ill, Teresa began to focus on prayer.
A vision of the suffering Christ changed her life. She became more aware of God's presence and prayer became more important. Her visions continued and led her to see the need to return to the primitive, more severe rule of the order.
This led to many hardships for her as not all were prepared to sacrifice their comforts. She persevered and founded many reformed Carmelite monasteries.
What we remember most is that, as a woman of prayer, she had a keen insight into prayer. St. Teresa has never been surpassed as a teacher of prayer. She wrote on prayer for her Carmelite communities. Many, including later spiritual writers, were influenced by her writings.
Her works on prayer are descriptive, practical and have many psychological insights. They come from her own experience and observation. She believed that prayer is a friendly conversation with Jesus who loves us and consists more in loving God than in thinking or saying a great deal.
St. Teresa described the stages of prayer as a progression through seven mansions or rooms in a castle. These can be pictured as a continuous circle with movement back and forth.
In the innermost room is Christ enthroned as king which the soul reaches as it progresses to the last stage in prayer. The first three stages are active or ascetical prayer while the last four are passive or mystical prayer. In the first three, human effort moves one along but God takes over more in the last four.
Those in the first mansion are in the state of grace but still attached to earthly things. They begin to practise meditation with intellectual reasoning along with reflection and purely vocal prayer.
In the second, discursive prayer uses reasoning and the intellect but should end in love. Difficulties may be experienced with temptations to give up. Teresa recommends meditation on Christ and vocal prayer or reading and reflection to help this process.
In the third, there is increased consciousness of God's presence with all the faculties attentive to God.
This can be fostered by cultivating continued awareness of God and striving to live in God's presence even when otherwise engaged.
In the fourth, the soul enjoys a vivid awareness of God's presence and an intimate union of the will with God. It is traditionally called infused prayer or prayer of quiet. One's senses and intellect become less active and the one simply remains in God.
In the fifth, there are different degrees of intensity. God floods the soul with light and consolations as all one's faculties are recollected in God.
This is mystical prayer, beginning of the sixth mansion and leading to the seventh, which is mystical union with Christ. Teresa called it mystical marriage where the soul is so united to Christ that it forgets self, is ready to suffer and experiences a great zeal to lead others to Christ.
St. Teresa reached the great heights of this mystical marriage, a total union with Christ. This was pure gift from God, but Teresa was faithful in her response to God's love and she teaches us to do the same.
Many of us may not be destined to reach such great heights but we all can take the time to begin to pray with a greater awareness of God's presence.