THE STORY OF TERESA OF AVILA
During the second orange year of Seven Years of Living Art, Montano was guided by the Spanish saint, author, visionary, mystic, and Doctor of the Church Teresa of Avila. What followed is a video script. Jennie Klein
Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Spirit; Let me begin this letter to you with a prayer: Lord, you came to heal the wounded heart, the troubled heart, and the anxious heart. I beg you to come and heal all of us including our psychological self and our mental memories so that we can walk fearlessly, compassionately and wisely in your light-filled grace. Amen. Pause: Now, let me tell you how I will structure this letter: First I will relate my life story. Second: I will show you how to proceed spiritually as I have done, using the seven sacraments as a template and guide. Third, I will show you what not to do, by using my mistakes as an example. In all humility, I ask, why do you want me to write to you again since I have written so many times before? Is it my advancing age and ill health that cause you to seek my final counsel? Of course my confessor has demanded that I answer your request for a letter and in obedience to him, I send this, but believe me, all of you are already as holy, as spiritually articulate, as mystically advanced and as enamored of the divine life as am I. Your sentiments and mine are equal but I do in all humility offer this advice in my final letter that includes my personal life story. I hope that it may inspire your already blessed and Holy Journey. My life began March 28, 1515. Now 67 years later, I am about to leave this mortal coil, this worn out flesh, this tormented physical body, to be with my Divine Lover in eternal Silence and Peace. Oh this never-ending Silence will be so refreshing--but back to my story.I was born of saintly parents in Spain and had a spiritually rich and privileged beginning. Piety was our food, piety was our example, piety was our goal, so it was no surprise that I wanted to be a saint, even at 7 years of age. In fact, my younger brother and I secretly left home, praying that we would die for the Catholic faith. This is not the place to tell you about my grandfather who was Jewish and converted to Roman Catholicism as a result of the Inquisition, but I see now that my ardent need for endurance, my desire to reform the lax practice of the faith and my strict interpretation of the desert fathers' monastic rules might have originated from my rather religiously complicated roots. As a child, my main interest was always religion. Before I was 10 years old, I had already built a hermitage and hut on my parents’ property so you see the need to have a structured and strict religious life was with me always. Praying after I saw a picture of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, I said to my Lord,"Lord, give me only Living Water that I might drink.">>I knew even then that precious earthly water was inferior to spiritual water and grace that gives true life. Dear ones, you too must ask for what you want, state your spiritual desires and don’t give up until you get what you want. It's that simple, but you have to know what to ask for and persevere in your request until you and Jesus are in harmony and deep communication.
Pause Dear mystics do not make the mistakes that I made of mortifying yourself with too many penances. Instead be true to your Baptismal vows. Baptism: Baptism is the sacrament of re-birth through which Jesus Christ gives us the divine life and joins us to his mystical body.
Pause Losing my mama to an illness at age 14 deepened my need for an even more intense inner life. Soon after she died I went before an image of Our Blessed Lady and asked Mary to be my mother now that my own mother would never feed me again, would never soothe my hurts again, would never brush my hair again, would never smile her beautiful smile at me again, would never support my dreams or comfort me through my life traumas again. Please blessed ones do not force your beloved parents to be perfect. Maybe they will not be always there for you emotionally or physically. Instead, ask Our Blessed Mother to be your mother and St Joseph to be your father. Then you don’t have unreasonable expectations placed on your human parents. You have made mistakes haven't you? Let your parents be human also and forgive their shortcomings. I guess I became a little unruly after Mama died although I always had a code of honor and purity that was common to Spanish girls at that time. But flirting and dancing and gossiping and frivolity with my friends and cousins filled the gap that was in my heart. Luckily these teenage habits were cut short because Papa realized that he needed help to raise me and put me in a convent when I was 15. Although I loved being there, I got sick and as was common then, was sent home to convalesce. I went to be with my uncle and older sister at their homes. What a suffering it was to be away from the convent! And then another suffering came because Papa didn't want me to go back to the convent when I felt better so I had to secretly return and was professed a Carmelite sister when I was 21.
Pause:Dear ones: do not make the mistake that I did of mortifying yourself inappropriately with too many penances so that you can feel special. Instead live the sacramental life and use the sacrament of Communion to attain to an inner health and peace. Communion: The Holy Eucharist, Communion, is the sacrament and the sacrifice in which Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine is contained, offered and received.
Pause: Now, back to my story. Although my personality is extremely strong, I have fragile health so it is not surprising that I got sick once again in the convent and left for home to recover. Was God telling me not to be a nun? My health always bothered me and the unskilled medical treatment that I was given really impaired and weakened me my entire life. Once they thought that I had malaria, then cancer. I contracted oh so many illnesses...and even with physicians’ treatments I got sicker and sicker. What saved me? A few things actually...but one was a book by St Jerome that taught me mental prayer. Mental prayer is so wonderful because it gives interior freedom, detachment, humility and determination but dear ones you must have solitude and a specific time for prayer, fellowship with other saints, and to Holy Communion daily plus say the Rosary. The path is a disciplined one, as you can see.I began this practice of mental prayer and in three years I was well and back in the convent again although when I left my family this last time to go to the convent, I felt a pain like death itself. Why did I go, you ask? The convent offered me a place where I could practice even deeper silence, a place where I could fast, a place where I could be supported in my vocal prayers, a place where I could counsel the needy and nurse the sick. I am truly surprised that more young women and men don’t become nuns and priests and brothers. It is an extraordinarily exquisite life.
Pause: Dear ones, mortification is not the way. Do not make the mistake that I did of punishing yourself too much by performing self-centered penances. Instead follow the sacramental life and be true to your confirmation.Confirmation: Confirmation is the sacrament in which Jesus Christ confers upon us spiritual adulthood through the graces of the Holy Spirit especially those that enable us to profess and spread our faith courageously. Through Confirmation, Christ confers on us the Holy Spirit making us full-fledged and responsible members of the Mystical Body.
Pause:Back to my story. This early convent life was spiritually efficacious and wonderful but remember we needed money to feed all of us, to clothe all of the sisters, to take care of the simple essentials and that means that we had to entertain benefactors and donors and patrons and the wealthy. So little time was left for silence, prayer and meditation. Prayer is what saved me when I was sick and yet now I had no time for it. Maybe that's why I got sick over and over again for 15 years. The pattern was that I would get sick and then they would send me home, sick/home, sick/home. What saved me from the stress of illness. What saved me from a scrupulous and delicate conscience. What saved me from feelings of unworthiness and worldly distractions? Prayer! Prayer! Prayer! I admit that it was maintenance prayer but still I did pray because my confessors (there were many) advised me to hold fast to prayer and to do so with great zeal. Have you tried that my friends in Christ? How hard that is to do when we are feeling out of touch with the Divine and must proceed solely by faith and self-discipline and devotion. Like a married woman with nine children I was pulled between so many obligations: obligations to my prayer life, obligations to people, obligations to possessions, obligations to a friendship with the Divine.
Pause: Dear Readers of this letter: Do not make the mistakes I made of creating egocentric penances and mortifications. Instead be true to your Marriage vows and follow your vocation with joy and loyalty and compassion for your partner. Marriage: Marriage is the sacrament in which Christ unites a Christian man and woman in a life-long union, making them two in one flesh.
Pause: Speaking of obligations, a clear conscience makes life joyful and I can only applaud the married Catholics who are able to be disciplined, sinless, devout and loyal to their partner and to God and their families. Plus do all of the work that is necessary when you run a household. Can you imagine doing all of that with guilty consciences? Eventually all of my own endurances, good intentions, clear inner mind and devotions to God flowered and suddenly, I stopped feeling as if I was doing anything at all. Suddenly, God lived in me. Somewhat the way Paul says, "It is no longer I that live but God that lives in me." That's exactly what happened and I experienced a conversion--a conversion from petty sinfulness, a conversion from living for luxury and gifts, a conversion from dissipating my time and spiritual talents.You must be curious about how that specifically happened? Of course it happened because I performed many spiritual practices but also it happened because I was ready. The time was right. Plus things I read in two books were the final pieces of the>puzzle. The first book I read was titled The Confessions of St. Augustine; the second was the story of Mary Magdalene. St. Augustine's admission of his own sinfulness and Mary Magdalene’s turning away from prostitution to celibacy moved me toward my own holiness. And what happened to me when I gave my entire will to the Divine was overwhelming. Extremely powerful spiritual visions and inner voices became commonplace, plus levitations and locutions. Please don’t envy me these happening because your path is unique to you, in fact they happened to me because I needed big fireworks to wake me up to my Inner Lover. Can I tell you another event that happened to me? This, the most powerful, happened when an angel from God, pierced my heart and entrails with an arrow. This is called transverberation and you can see how Bernini sculpted this occasion in his majestic statue, years later. Believe me, it is only a statue and none of the intense feeling that lived within me for the rest of my life can ever be portrayed by this sculpture because art cannot approximate the depth of the spiritual life. I tried hiding these manifestations from the nuns in the convent but it is impossible to hide levitation because they would come into the chapel and I would be there alone, floating four feet in the air. Isn’t Profound Love wonderful! Many thought that I was a neurotic, or satanic worshipper, or medically compromised or insane, or a paranoid schizophrenic but others considered me a saint. You see, it is not easy to have these things happening to you and I remained at the mercy of the Divine Will and steadfastly refused to budge from this position of 24 hour a day devotion to LOVE.
Pause: My dear followers of the rule do not make the mistakes that I made and mortify your flesh with so much pride and arrogance. Instead, live the sacramental life and go to confession daily if you can, cleaning your heart and soul of all obscurations, bondages and stains from sin. Penance: Penance is the sacrament in which Jesus Christ through the absolution of the priest forgives sins committed after baptism. We must be sorry for our sins, detest them because they offend God and separate us from God, and we must make amends for our sins promising not to sin again.For a penance, we say prayers or perform good works.
Pause: I was speaking about my commitment to the Divine Will. Let me tell you more about this important process. How did I do that? I sat in silence and I listened to the silence until it spoke in Divine ways. I was present. I didn’t follow my own inclinations. That's how I knew what to do. Instructions came from the Holy Spirit. Of course I checked everything out of with my confessors unless it was an everyday kind of suggestion, like be especially kind to Sr. Rose of the Sacred Heart today even though she drives you crazy! But one day, a very powerful voice came and that day, the Spirit told me to break away from the convent that I was living in and create a new one. What a challenge! I knew it would cause trouble but in 1562, I obeyed and founded The Convent of Discalced Nuns of the Primitive Rule of St Joseph of Avila. Oh what joy! Now I could live the way that I needed to live so that my soul could blossom. And for five years a few sisters who followed me from our other convent helped me with my new dream, a dream to live simply and humbly, despite political jealousies, despite persecutions from clergy, despite all of the negatives, which come from having a vision and new way of practicing one's faith! I was so maligned but it was because we were not only strict but because we were so successful. Our rules were: perpetual silence, extreme poverty, we wore coarse robes, wore sandals instead of sturdy and warm shoes and lived in small spaces conducive to prayer, not to company. These reformed convents were more popular than the rich ones. Truly we were austere but let me assure you that we also had fun. In fact I insisted that my followers didn’t become sullen and sour by giving them each a pair of castanets so that we could dance and sing and celebrate life on feast days. I think that my sense of humor saved us from a lot of suffering because I was able to remain light hearted throughout my illnesses, throughout my arduous journeys in extremely uncomfortable bullock carts, throughout satanic attacks to me in my cell at night, throughout my battles with civil and religious authorities, and throughout my extreme spiritual manifestations. Remember I told you about the times that I was lifted up four feet high in the air while in prayer, levitating in ecstasy? This was no laughing matter but I remained humorous about it so that when my sisters would find me floating around in the chapel, all alone, I laughed it off, otherwise they would be terribly jealous of God's spiritual gifts to me. Humor does cut through the awesome sacredness of the sacred and made it more digestible .I wanted them to think less about my own specialness and more about the Divine Mystery. I guess that I would be considered a feminist in these modern days because I was strong, a diplomat, and a visionary and certainly never afraid to follow my bliss, no matter the consequences. Fearless was my name.
Pause:Dear obedient ones do not make the mistakes that I did of mortifying yourself too much with too many external penances. Instead live the sacramental life and if you are a male, discern whether you are called to Holy Orders. Don’t fret, dear sisters, the church does not allow us women to say mass or dispense the sacraments, but our inner life is rich with rewards too beautiful to compare with this other privilege. Never mind worrying about being left out! Actually we are left out so we can go IN for comfort beyond the external.Holy Orders: Holy Orders is the sacrament through which Christ gives to men the power and the grace to perform the sacred duties of bishops, priests and other ministers of the Church. After changing bread and wine into His holy body and blood, Jesus told the apostles, "Do this in memory of me." With these words he conferred the priesthood on the apostles.
Pause: After those first five years in my new convent, I was again nailed to the cross by well meaning clerics who told me to do this and that, to write this book and that one, but despite those difficulties and roadblocks, I founded and opened 17 convents for women of this strict order and with my collaborator and friend, John of the Cross, we opened some for men also. You see I was married to the church that speaks through the laws and spiritual direction of the priests. We must all be obedient and married to something or someone and must maintain that same obedience that is relegated to a man and a woman who have taken marriage vows. Obedience is the highway to freedom.
In conclusion, dear Sisters and Brothers, it is time for this letter to come to an end. For more information about me, please read all of my books. The Interior Castle will teach you how to unite with Divine Presence while encountering all of the temptations, distractions and discouragements on this spiritually dangerous path. If you desire Marriage with the Divine this book will teach you the way. If there is nothing more that you want from material life, and you wish to faint with continuous ecstasy, deep rapture and an enlightened mind, then this book will be a treasure and guide to the Interior castle, the dwelling place of LOVE. But on the other hand, if you need rules to follow, then read the book I wrote for nuns titled The Way of Perfection. It gives practical suggestions and advice about prayer, advice about attachment and the traps of familiarity, advice about food intake and fasting, advice about confession, advice about clothing, advice about maintaining the right attitude while in the convent, advice about gossiping, advice about human loneliness, advice about hysteria and generally will help clear up all questions that you might have. We all need rules until we graduate to that state of unity where it is not I that lives but Christ that lives in us. Then we need only the air we breathe and we live beyond rules. The third book you can read is my autobiography that my confessors also told me to write. You see I had so many people guiding my soul and each one wanted me to put my unique experiences on paper, that's why I wrote so many books. Do you believe that I could sound so smart on paper and was literally uneducated? That is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now you know it all, you have every piece of information and all of the secrets necessary to follow my path or create one of your own. Death will soon come to me. In fact, it will happen in October 1582, to be exact. Then my soul will be finally ripped out of my body by the force of God's love, and this body will remain uncorrupt and life-like even until this day. Come to Spain and see this soulless but still soulful-looking body for yourself.I leave you now with all of my titles and accomplishments: a doctor of the church, an author of 6 books, a foundress of 17 convents but most importantly, a Beloved Lover of the Divine. Everything I did and wrote will be forgotten. My soul in vibration with the Divine is Eternal and my only success.
Pause: Do not make the mistakes I made of designing your own penances and mortifications. God and life do very well without our input and shape us with Divine Hands. Instead, stay loyal to the sacraments and when sick or dying, ask for the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Extreme Unction: The Last Anointing is the sacrament in which Christ through the anointing and prayers of the priest, gives health and strength to the soul and sometimes to the body, when we are in danger of death through sickness.
Pause: My sisters it is so hard to leave you, so I sing this prayer for you as my final gift: Let nothing disturb you; 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. 2003 LINDA MARY MONTANO