By Dorothy Davis Ashley, OCDS
March 28 marked St. Teresa of Avila’s 500th birthday. Members of the Carmelite order she founded will celebrate the milestone for an entire year beginning on her feast day, Oct. 16. The Diocese of Jackson has a Carmelite Monastery in South Jackson as well as a group of Secular Carmelites who embrace St. Teresa’s spiritual teachings and support the nuns.
“Let nothing disturb you; nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to Him who possesses God. God alone suffices.”
What type of advice can a 16th century Spanish nun who lived in with a few other cloistered nuns possibly give to me and you? She was born March 28, 1515, in Avila, Spain, and baptized, “Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada.” We know her as Saint Teresa of Avila. She practiced in her life the tenants of the saying above as she faced seemingly insurmountable physical, emotional, financial and spiritual challenges.
Teresa of Avila, also known as “Teresa of Jesus” was a courageous, outspoken woman of God who lived in an era dominated by power-driven men who gave very little importance to the ideas and opinions of women. “Let nothing disturb you; nothing frighten you…”
Teresa knew that she alone could not effect change, but, with God, who was her friend and master, and with Jesus, her beloved, she could show others how to love one another and have a true friendship with him through prayer. “… All things are passing. God never changes…”
Through Teresa’s influence, small numbers of women and men banded together in 17 Carmelite monasteries and convents. She was their spiritual mother. The Carmelite friars received the benefit of her assistance in their reform as well. These were the beginnings of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. She endured many trials with the help of her beloved, Jesus, while growing in the virtues chastity, poverty, and, obedience, and of the Beatitudes. “… Patience obtains all things…”
Teresa was ordered by her spiritual directors and confessors to write. She produced books about her mystical experiences, the prayer of recollection – a particular type of contemplative prayer – founding the Carmelite communities and her vision for the spiritual life. “The Interior Castle” is perhaps her most famous book.
Her writings convey that she was a very empathetic, prayerful prioress who had a great sense of humor and wanted others to love Jesus as much as she did. Once when the horse-drawn cart she was riding in overturned and she fell off she commented: “Dear Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!”
Teresa’s treasury of writings are still relevant for us today, particularly for anyone seeking to learn more about prayer – the Prayer of Recollection, a type of mental prayer called ‘recollection’ because in it “the soul collects its faculties together and enters within itself to be with its God.” Teresa died in 1582. In 1972, Pope Paul VI named her, along with St. Catherine of Siena, the first female Doctors of the Church, primarily because of her writings, especially on prayer.
(“… Nothing is wanting to Him who possesses God. God alone suffices.”) The Discalced Carmelite nuns and Carmelite Seculars of the Diocese of Jackson have planned a Mass to celebrate the 5th Centenary of her birth at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on Saturday, June 6, at 10:30 a.m. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will be the principal celebrant and Rev. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD, Provincial Delegate, will concelebrate. A reception will follow. All are welcome.
Prayers and donations toward the celebration and reception are welcomed and appreciated. Send them to the Carmelite Monastery, with “500th Birthday” on the memo line, 2155 Terry Road; Jackson, MS 39204. Carmelite Gift Shop: 601-373-3412. To learn more about the 5th Centenary in the U.S. visit, http://www.teresa-5th-centenary.org/index.html
(Dorothy Ashley leads the Secular Carmelites in Jackson.)