A Catholic Monthly Magazine

St Teresa of Ávila Doctor of Prayer

By Fr Carl Telford SM

St Teresa [1515-1582] answers the question How do I grow deeper in prayer? In fact, there is a well-founded case to be made that she is the best teacher the Church has on prayer, the Doctor of Prayer. As I write this I am aware of the many Discalced Carmelite experts who have written explaining her teaching and I would refer you to them to go deeper than these brief articles. For example, Fr Eugene McCaffrey OCD; Fr Tomas Alvarez OCD, in St Teresa of Avila 100 Themes on her Life and Work. As well, the late Fr Thomas Dubay SM introduced many to St Teresa!

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa
by Giancarlo Bernini,
Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

My more modest task as a non-expert is to help my fellow pilgrims to meet her in her life and writing, and in a particular way I would also like to thank the Carmelite nuns in Christchurch and Auckland and the Secular Carmelites in Christchurch and Wellington who introduced me to the Carmelite way of prayer.

It is worth saying that the quest for prayer is an important one. St Teresa, Holy Mother, as Carmelites refer to her, lived in similar times to ours, times of great disturbance in the Church. Her response: pray, pray. This quest for prayer is being heard by many in the Church today and she is such an inspiring holy teacher. So, this desire for deeper prayer, beyond the beginnings, is not about some spiritual joy ride, but rather the truth that prayer is the very essence of any true lasting renewal in the Church. Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton is putting this truth at the heart of his pastoral plan.

Also, it is true that there is a flood of books on prayer, but not one of them will be as helpful as St Teresa’s writings -- a bold statement. Centuries separate us from her writings, so if I can help you to gain access to her writings, my aim is achieved.

Teresa de Ahumada was born in 1515 in Ávila, Spain, a beautiful walled city not very far from Madrid. She died aged 67 in 1582 at Alba de Tormes, not far from Ávila. She is often referred to as St Teresa of Ávila but her religious name is St Teresa of Jesus, to distinguish her from her French daughter, St Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, who died 1897. She founded the first Discalced Carmelite Monastery at Ávila in 1562, St Joseph’s. Now there are hundreds of similar monasteries world-wide and thousands of her daughters, and also sons, as, working with St John of Cross, she founded a male branch of friars. A number of her daughters have been canonized, showing the power of her teaching and example. Many saints, such as St Alphonsus Ligiouri, have found her an exemplary teacher. That is why the Church proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

A portrait of St Teresa that is probably the most true to her appearance,
a copy of an original painting of her when she was sixty-one, in 1576

In St Teresa, life and teaching are inseparably bound. Her life is the story of her own quest to be a person of prayer, or, more accurately, to take seriously the Lord’s own desire to have her as his faithful disciple, which, of course, means to be a person of prayer. That meant ups and downs, as on any journey. It might be helpful to get her biography from the library. She is a greatly inspiring, interesting and passionate woman.

St Teresa not only desired and received the grace of being a true prayerful friend of Jesus, but also received another ecclesial grace -- of being able to write vibrantly about her experience. The Church assures us that she is the dinkum oil when it comes to inspiring us to pray and to teach us how to pray and what the journey of prayer is likely to be.

Ask St Teresa, a living member of the Mystical Body of the Church, to inspire you with the desire to be a person of prayer. St Teresa of Jesus, pray for us.

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