The fiery heart of the little Teresa became attached to her noble parents in ardent love and devotion and to her siblings in affectionate trust. Her most beloved companions had to be, primarily, her brothers. Serious María, burdened with the duties of the eldest, was not regarded as a comrade, and the baby, Juana, was many years younger.
Rodrigo, four years older than she, became her confidant during her childhood. Her mother’s pious tales, her first instruction, ignited in the little Spaniard a holy zeal. Despite her liveliness and joy in merry company, she liked to withdraw into a quiet corner of the garden to pray alone. It gave her pleasure to give alms to the poor.
And one day the seven-year-old let her favorite brother in on a secret plan that she had thought up. She tells about it herself in her autobiography.
“We were reading the lives of saints together. When I saw what torments the martyrs endured for God, I discovered that they had earned the joy of seeing God for a low price, and I burned with the desire to die a similar death.”The Book of Her Life, chap. 1, no. 4
She did not have far to go from the wish to the decision to act, and her brother was also enkindled by her enthusiasm. “We decided to travel to the land of the Moors to get our heads cut off. It seemed to me that God had given us enough strength to carry out our plans in spite of our tender years. What was the most difficult for us was parting from our parents.”
But the thought of eternal joy won over the pain of separation.
“Forever! Oh Rodrigo, think of it, the martyrs gaze upon God forever. We must become martyrs.”
The very next morning they secretly set out on their way. But they did not get far. They slipped through the town gate happily. But soon afterward they met an uncle who took the little fugitives back to their parents. They had already been missed and were greeted with reproach.
“I left,” Teresa replied, “because I want to see God and because one must die in order to see him.”
Saint Edith Stein
Love for love: The life and works of St. Teresa of Jesus
Stein, E. 2014, The Hidden Life: hagiographic essays, meditations, spiritual texts, translated from the German by Stein, W, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: In the Museo de Arte Religioso Juan de Tejeda located in Córdoba, Argentina, you will find this oil on canvas painting of Saint Teresa and her brother Rodrigo being intercepted by their uncle as they were running away to “go off to the land of the Moors and beg them, out of love of God, to cut off our heads there” (Kavanaugh/Rodriguez translation). This is the work of an unidentified Cuzco artist from the 17th century. (Image credit: PESSCA / Public domain)