St. Teresa of Avila (also known as St. Teresa of Jesus) was a Spanish Carmelite nun who lived from 1515-1582. She is well known for her work to bring about needed reforms in the Carmelite Order. St. Teresa has much to teach us about the spiritual life. Her written works include her autobiography, The Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle.
This great saint has had a profound influence on the Carmelite Order and on the Church as a whole. In a General Audience address on St. Teresa of Avila, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us:
“It is far from easy to sum up in a few words Teresa’s profound and articulate spirituality. I would like to mention a few essential points. In the first place St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water. Then we should not forget the human virtues: affability, truthfulness, modesty, courtesy, cheerfulness, culture.
“Secondly, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist.
“The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, ‘means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us’ (Vida 8, 5). St .Teresa’s idea coincides with Thomas Aquinas’ definition of theological charity as ‘amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum,’ a type of human friendship with God, who offered humanity his friendship first; it is from God that the initiative comes (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).
“Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.
“Rather than a pedagogy, Teresa’s is a true ‘mystagogy’ of prayer: she teaches those who read her works how to pray by praying with them….”
As were all the saints, St. Teresa was a human saint. She is well known for her pithy sayings which were right to the point. Here are a sampling of them:
“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.”
“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
“The closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes.”
“Thank God for the things that I do not own.”
“How is it, Lord, that we are cowards in everything save in opposing Thee?”
“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”
“Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.”
“Praised be the Lord, who has redeemed me from myself.”
Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one.”
“There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.”
“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can; namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.”
“You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.”
One of St. Teresa’s contemporaries was St. John of the Cross, with whom she worked to bring about needed reforms in the male branch of the Carmelites.
The brief poem-prayer commonly known today as the Bookmark of St. Teresa or St. Teresa’s Bookmark, was found on a prayer card in her breviary (Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office book). It is a beautiful meditation on trust in God. With God, we can have true peace in the midst of a storm, no matter how violent
We present the Bookmark here in both English and Spanish.
Bookmark of St. Teresa of Avila
Let nothing disturb you;
Let 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.
Nada te turbe;
nada te espente;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia Todo lo alcanxa.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo dios basta.