While the spiritual gardens of Mother Teresa were spreading their lovely fragrance over all of Spain, the Monastery of the Incarnation, her former home, was in a sad state. Income had not increased in proportion to the number of nuns, and since they were used to living comfortably and not (as in the reformed Carmel) to finding their greatest joy in holy poverty, discontent and slackening of spirit spread.
In the year 1570, Fr. Fernández of the Order of St. Dominic came to this house. He was the apostolic visitator entrusted by Pope Pius V with examining the disciplinary state of monasteries in Castile. Since he had already become thoroughly acquainted with some monasteries of the reform, the contrast must have shocked him.
He thought of a radical remedy. By the authority of his position, he named Mother Teresa as prioress of the Monastery of the Incarnation and ordered her to return to Avila at once to assume her position. In the midst of her work for the reform, she now had to undertake a task that for all intents and purposes appeared impossible.
Oh, daughter, daughter! These Sisters in the Incarnation are My Sisters, and you delay? Well, take courage; behold I want it, and it isn’t as difficult as it seems to you. And whereas you think some harm will come to your houses, both they and the Incarnation will benefit. Do not resist, for My power is great.
Our Lord to St. Teresa, 10 July 1571
Spiritual Testimonies, 16
Exhorted by the Lord himself, she declared her readiness. However, with the agreement of Fr. Fernández, she gave a written statement that she personally would continue to follow the primitive Rule. One can imagine the vehement indignation of the nuns who were to have a prioress sent to them — one not elected by them — a sister of theirs who had left them eight years earlier and whom they considered an adventuress, a mischief-maker.
The storm broke as the provincial led her into the house. The provincial, Fr. Angel de Salazar, could not make himself heard in the noisy gathering. The “Te Deum” that he intoned was drowned out by the sounds of indignation. Teresa’s goodness and humility finally brought about enough quiet for the sisters to go to their cells and to tolerate her presence in the house.
They were saving the decisive declarations for the first chapter meeting. But how amazed they were when they entered the chapter room at the sound of the bell to see in the prioress’ seat the statue of our dear Lady, the Queen of Carmel, with the keys to the monastery in her hands and the new prioress at her feet. Their hearts were conquered even before Teresa began to speak and in her indisputable loving manner presented to them how she conceived and intended to conduct her office.
In a short time, under her wise and temperate direction, above all by the influence of her character and conduct, the spirit of the house was renewed. Her greatest support in this was Fr. John of the Cross, whom she called to Avila as confessor for the monastery.
Saint Edith Stein
Love for Love: The Life and works of St. Teresa of Jesus
14. Prioress at the Monastery of the Incarnation
#StTeresaOfAvila leaves Medina del Campo to take up her office as prioress at the Monastery of the Incarnation in #Avila 450 years ago #OnThisDay 6 October 1571Tweet
Stein, E. 2014, The Hidden Life: hagiographic essays, meditations, spiritual texts, translated from the German by Stein, W, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
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.
Featured image: This detail of a photographic artwork created by Elías Rodríguez Picón comes to us thanks to the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Alba de Tormes. The artist’s sister is the model for this scene, which is intended to show the beginning moment of the Transverberation. You can see and read more about his photographic technique in this article from La Hornacina (in Spanish).