To King Don Philip II, Madrid
Seville, 19 July 1575
The grace of the Holy Spirit be always with your majesty. While much afflicted and praying to our Lord about the affairs of this holy order of our Lady and considering the great need there is that these initiatives God has taken in its regard not crumble, it occurred to me that the best safeguard for us would be that you realize what giving a solid foundation to this edifice entails; even the calced friars would benefit from the increase in numbers.
I have lived among them for 40 years
and, considering everything, I know clearly that if a separate province is not made for the discalced friars—and soon—great harm will be done, and I think it will be impossible for them to move ahead. Since this lies in your hands and I see that the Blessed Virgin, our Lady, has chosen you to support and protect her order, I have dared to write and beg you that for the love of our Lord and his glorious Mother you give orders that this separate province be formed…
Your majesty’s unworthy servant and subject,
Teresa of Jesus, Carmelite
On the 2nd of November 1535, Saint Teresa entered the Carmelite monastery of the Incarnation at Avila when she was twenty years old. The Lord had been preparing her for that moment by a long and circuitous route; even after she said “yes” to Him, there was no straight path to her goal:
My fondness for good books was my salvation. Reading the Letters of St. Jerome so encouraged me that I decided to tell my father about my decision to take the habit, for I was so persistent in points of honor that I don’t think I would have turned back for anything once I told him. So great was his love for me that in no way was I able to obtain his permission or achieve anything through persons I asked to intercede for me. The most we could get from him was that after his death I could do whatever I wanted. I was afraid of myself and my frailty and of backing down; and since I could not wait so long, I tried to do it by another way… (Book of Her Life, 3)
Her “other way” was so secretive, one would think that St. John of the Cross had her story in mind when he wrote the first stanza of his poem, ‘The Dark Night’:
One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
Indeed, Teresa went out unseen from her house, or rather, from her father’s house:
I remember, clearly and truly, that when I left my father’s house I felt that separation so keenly that the feeling will not be greater, I think, when I die. For it seemed that every bone in my body was being sundered. Since there was no love of God to take away my love for my father and relatives, everything so constrained me that if the Lord hadn’t helped me, my reflections would not have been enough for me to continue on. In this situation, He gave me such courage against myself that I carried out the task. (Book of Her Life, 4)
Teresian scholar Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. notes that her father did, in fact, come to “accept it all with resignation, gave her a dowry that was more than substantial, and acquired for his daughter a private room of her own in the monastery.” (Book of Her Life, Introduction)
Exactly one year later, on the 2nd of November 1536, Saint Teresa received the habit of our Lady of Mount Carmel. Father Kavanaugh notes that the prioress was Doña Mencía Cimbrón, “a distant relative of Teresa’s”.
The lessons that Saint Teresa learned on November 2 can serve us well:
As soon as I took the habit, the Lord gave me an understanding of how He favors those who use force with themselves to serve Him (…) When I recall this, there is no task that could be presented to me, no matter how hard, that I would hesitate to undertake. For I have already experienced in many ways that if I strive at the outset with determination to do it, even in this life His Majesty pays the soul in such ways that only one who has this joy understands it. (Book of Her Life, 4)
Saint Teresa of Jesus, pray for us.
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.