St. Teresa was born in Avila, in Spain, in 1515. She was born into a deeply pious family. Her family was also well educated, and encouraged the young girls’ studies, including Teresa's. When she was young, she was sent to be educated by Augustinian nuns. Illness forced her to return to her father. Teresa was determined to dedicate her life to Christ. Her father refused his consent and forbade her to become a nun. St. Teresa left her father’s home secretly and entered the Carmelite Convent in Avila.
Her father at once yielded, and Teresa took the habit. Soon after becoming a nun, Teresa fell seriously ill with malaria, and could not leave her bed for long periods of time. As she lay ill, God began to visit her. She had remarkable visions of Christ and the Virgin Mary. St. Teresa did not believe that she was worthy of these visitations and kept them secret. Eventually, she told some fellow nuns and some pious laypersons, and some told her that they could be visions sent to her by the devil. She began to mortify her body, and during this she began to experience even more visions.
Eventually, news of St. Teresa’s visions were the talk of Avila and beyond. She was briefly investigated by the Spanish Inquisition, who suspected that she was either a heretic or a witch.
St. Teresa was later to write about her visions in her autobiography, The Way to Perfection, one of the greatest works of Christian Mysticism. Her autobiography demonstrated that the soul rises to heaven in four stages. Teresa wrote several other works based upon her visions and experiences, and they have earned her a place among the greatest mystics in Christianity. In these works, she wrote in a poetic and powerful vein about her visions.
The saint was also a pioneer to develop mental prayer. This is a way of praying by focusing silently on God and his works.
When she recovered her health, Teresa was even more committed to living a life that was a perfect imitation of Christ. St. Teresa, along with some other nuns, established a convent where strict poverty and piety ruled. Before she died, she was to found three more convents, despite opposition from many in her own order. The saint inspired many to reform Spanish monasteries and convents. Today, she is regarded as one of the founders of the Discalsed Carmelite Order.
St. Teresa died in 1582. In 1622, she was canonized by the Pope, and she was later also declared a Doctor of the Church.
The saint believed that we should only concentrate on God, and this will lead to our salvation:
“Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.”