Feast Day: October 15
Patron: Headache Sufferers & Spanish Catholic Writers
St. Teresa of Avila is one of the most insufficiently discussed female saints there is, in my personal opinion! She is a triple powerhouse in that she was a beautiful woman, contemplative prayer, and passionate reformer. She was born just a couple of years before the Protestant reformation and died well after the Council of Trent ended. Her dedicated efforts to reform the Church and the Carmelite order for men and women are just one of her many honors, you can read more about that here.
Before that, Teresa lived a young person's life that might not be that far from our own: flirting with boys, going to parties, and being overly interested in clothes and materials things. Given her own self-awareness, she wanted to abandon her life of sin and distraction and become more devoted to God, so she joined the Carmelites. And she did this even against the strong discouragement of her father. While there she gave much of her energy to quiet time, mental prayer, serving others, and seeking to make her order and the Church more orthodox amidst the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation.
St. Teresa is frequently described by these terms, "beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, and enthusiastic." She was given the title Doctor of the Church along with my confirmation saint, St. Catherine of Siena. One of the reasons I have drawn myself so close to her, and I think other women of a more bold type personality can too, is because at times I have felt that I am "too loud" to be a saint or "too outgoing," and not quiet and demure enough as we often see the saints depicted. Yet her life, example of prayer, and enthusiasm for the Church have been a source of strength for me. I encourage you to look more into her life too, I think she can be a good spiritual friend for all of us women.
Through this spiritual master I have learned by means of prayer how to be close to God and live a life in service to others. If you would like to learn more about mental prayer and St. Teresa of Avila I would highly encourage you to read Interior Castle and the Way of Perfection. I would not call these "easy reads" as each line is filled with so much depth, but they are books that bear much fruit by even attempting to give them our attention. Both of these are also available on audio books for those that are juggling many things.
All of these practical ideas are taken from her writing, I don't think there is any other saint that presents prayer in the way that she does. It is said that she struggled in prayer for the better part of 18 years, looking at the clock and waiting for her "prayer time" to run up. I too can find myself sitting in prayer and not actually praying, my mind is off on other things or I'm reciting empty words. After reading more from St. Teresa, she would say that this is not actually prayer. However, she does not leave us there, she gives wisdom to lift us up so that we too can truly draw nearer to God.
To Do or Consider in Prayer
1. Focus on God when you are praying, and pay attention to what you are saying. "If a person does not think [of] Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips.” (Interior Castle)
2. To not address God while you are thinking of other things. (The Way of Perfection)
3. Talk to Jesus as if He were your husband. "A good wife knows her husband. She understands him, cares for him, and is attentive to him. Similarly, if a soul knows Jesus, understands him, cares about him, and is attentive to him, prayer can be truly meaningful. At the root of prayer is a relationship of love."
4. "St. Teresa warns against reciting the Our Father or attending Mass without thinking about the encounter with Christ. Staying focused in prayer requires effort and discipline; it’s often easier to daydream. But the soul will begin to experience the presence of Jesus in a deeper way when it engages him directly."
5. Seek some solitude in your day. “It is well to seek greater solitude,” she says, “So as to make room for the Lord and allow His Majesty to do His own work in us.” (Way, 31:7)
6. Never forget that God dwells within your little castle (your soul). “If I had understood as I do now that in this little palace of my soul dwelt so great a King, I would not have left Him alone so often.” (Way, 28:11)
7. Humility helps us to lift our hearts to God. “What I have come to understand is that this whole groundwork of prayer is based on humility and that the more a soul lowers itself in prayer the more God raises it up.” (Life 22:11)
8. Don't think so much about your prayer, just show God love. “In order to profit by this path and ascend to the dwelling places we desire, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do whatever best stirs you to love.” (IC 4:1:7)
9. Force yourself, if you have to, to make prayer a habit. “One needs no bodily strength for mental prayer,” she says, “but only love and the formation of a habit.” (Life 7:12)
10. Prayer takes courage. “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” (Way 21:2)
11. Mental prayer is spending time with your greatest friend. “Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” (Life 8:7)
12. Integrate fasting into your life beyond Lent. “Prayer and self-indulgence don’t go together.” (Way 4:2)
As a bonus, I wanted to direct you to this absolute gem, given to us by St. Teresa, called "The Four Waters of Prayer." Not many people know about it, but she likens contemplative prayer to a garden and water then gives practical explanations for helping us to grow in our prayer life.
“Christ and the Woman of Samaria” (detail) by Paolo Veronese