The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again… They would raze His Church to the ground…. No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance. (Way of Perfection 1: 5)

These words of St. Teresa written more than four century ago sound very familiar in our own times. On the occasion of the 391 anniversary of the canonization of St. Teresa of Avila on 12 March 2013, Pope Benedict XVI hailed St. Teresa as a model in the Church’s efforts to launch the New Evangelization and said that St. Teresa of Avila is one of the highest examples of Christian spirituality of all times. The Pope said “The ultimate goal of Teresa’s reform and the creation of new monasteries in a world lacking spiritual values was to protect apostolic work with prayer.” He added that even today as in the sixteenth century, in the midst of rapid transformation, it is important that trusting prayer be the heart of the apostolate, so that the redeeming message of Jesus Christ may sound out clearly and dynamically. In promoting a “radical return” to a more austere form of Carmelite life, St. Teresa sought “to create a form of life which favored a personal encounter with the Lord”, the Pope explained.

Apostolic Fruitfulness of Contemplative Life:

Speaking of contemplative life Perfectae Caritatis states that the essential elements of contemplation are solitude, silence, constant prayer and ready penance. The Vatican II regards contemplative religious as the “glory of the Church and an overflowing foundation of heavenly grace”. The Council makes it very clear that “their withdrawal from the world and the practices of the contemplative life should be scrupulously maintained” (Perfectae Cartitatis No. 7)

The apostolic fruitfulness of purely contemplative life is not a discovery of Vatican II. St. Teresa’s great contribution to contemplative spirituality was precisely to give it an explicit apostolic dimension. She wanted her nuns to become faithful friends of Jesus by their penance, practice of virtues and prayer, and thus to acquire power over the heart of the Lord in order to get from him graces which the apostles in the active field need.

St. Teresa: A Woman of Prayer:

St. Teresa of Avila contributes her own testimony to the ‘effectiveness’ of contemplative prayer: “If you will try to live in the presence of God for one year you will see yourself at the end of it at the height of perfection without your even knowing it”.
The aim of the way of prayer mapped out by Teresa is to lead souls to transforming union with Christ. She discovered her vocation in his mystical body the Church as a teacher of prayer. Her way of prayer is a practical course based on the Word of God, and great personal experience—a way that she herself had lived. It is an encounter with Christ which will bring about an interiorization through the continual exercise of the virtues of faith, hope and charity. For her prayer is a relationship between God and the soul. She gives us ways and means of deepening this relationship into an intimate communion by assimilating his teaching and his mysteries. And she assures us that if we respond generously we shall reach the very peak of perfection.

St. Teresa’s life and writings are inseparable; what she wrote was the direct result of her own experience. The impression left by what she tells us of her life is one of constant prayer and activity. Her well known definition of prayer emphasizes that it is a loving friendship: “Mental prayer in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us” (The Life 50). Loving companionship with Christ is the heart of her prayer. She insists that even in the highest degrees of the contemplative life a person must stay close to the living Jesus (Interior Castle 172-173)

The presence of God permeates all the works of St. Teresa. She ignites and sustains our desire to know Him to find Him and experience Him. Her teaching on prayer is relevant to the modern temperament, which does not like abstract ideas. In the modern science and technological progress the teachings of St. Teresa concerning the indispensable need of prayer for all, and the identity of true prayer with true sanctification in the Cross of Christ, becomes very precious and very necessary today where so much trust is put in materialistic and consumeristic things of this world.

Teresa is very eloquent in describing in detail her experiences in prayer life. Using the parable of watering the garden in different ways she presents degrees of prayer. In The Interior Castle she compares the soul with a castle with seven sets of mansions, one inside the other and describes one’s progress in prayer as an inward journey, passing through the more and more interior sets of mansions until one meets and becomes united with the beloved in the most interior one.

What is Evangelization?

Vatican II has given a very precise and definite meaning to the Church’s ‘missionary activity’ and to ‘evangelization’ as its specific purpose.

The recent Apostolic Exhortation Evngelii Gaudium of Pope Francis enthuses the people with the genuine spirit of the Gospel. With the new exhortation, the Pope wants to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. “Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow…” (Evangelii Gaudium No. 10)

Pope Francis invites every Christian and religious to be firmly rooted in prayer, for our Evangelization will become fruitful and efficacious only when we are transformed by God’s presence.

St. Teresa: A Model of New Evangelization:

St. Teresa proclaimed the Gospel without excluding anyone. Evangelization takes place in accordance to the mandate of Jesus “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded” (Mathew 28:19-20). St. Teresa’s every foundation is a proof of proclaiming Christ and His kingdom to all. She became a powerful witness to the Risen Lord by her life of joy and commitment to Christ. The Lord constantly challenged her for greater hardships. In our own day Jesus’ command ‘to go and make disciples’ echoes in the changing scenario and even new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization and all of us are called to take part in the new missionary ‘going forth’. St. Teresa hearkened to this call of Jesus and went forth bearing the light of Christ with courage and determination to reach the different corners of Spain and through them to the world not only through prayer and asceticism but with new foundations.

Teresa founded her first convent of St. Joseph at Avila in 1562. She had learned about the havoc French Protestantism was causing and begged the Lord to let her in some way remedy this evil. Besides, after her vision of hell, she greatly desired to live in complete prayer and solitude. Teresa’s purpose to found the convent of St. Joseph was that she and her nuns would grow in intimacy with the Lord and “by busying ourselves in prayer for those who are defenders of the Church” (Way of Perfection 1:3).

Teresa discovered that her desires to work for the good of souls were growing all the time. When she learnt that the millions of souls were perishing because they never heard of the Gospel, she entreated the Lord to find her way to gain some souls for his service. And the Lord granted her prayer because before the time of her death she founded sixteen other convents. All her foundations were the fruition of prayer for evangelization.

Teresa continued to grow in holiness up to the transforming union with God (the seventh mansions) where her love for Christ reached perfection and Christ offered her completely to his Body, the Church. Teresa thus discovered and lived the union of the double commandment of love in the fullness of Christ, his Church. On her death-bed several times she thanked God for giving her the grace to die a daughter of the Church.

“Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work” (Evangelii Gaudium No. 262). This is very evident in the life of Teresa as she constantly exhorted her sisters to pray and work as she herself was a spirit-filled evangelizer who prayed and worked. St. Teresa’s prayerful encounter with Jesus and meditation on the Word of God transformed her into a powerful evangelizer of her time.

The mystical grace of St. Teresa led her to undertake the renewal of Carmel and make prayer and contemplation its total commitment in order to provide the Church with a manifold service of prayer and apostolic activity.

St. Teresa was a pioneer in ecumenism. During her lifetime she suffered tremendously on account of the division among Christians. In fact the division brought about by Protestantism was one of the determined factors that led Teresa to reform the Order of Carmel. Teresa suffered from the divisions among Christians. It is heartening to note that people of other denominations and also other faiths keep reading and making a study of her writings. Her spirituality has a universal dimension, rich in the fullness of God and open to all people without distinction of class, nationality and religions.

One of the things that strikingly stands out in Teresa’s writings is her zeal for souls. Her zeal for the advancement of her sisters in religion is admirable, at the same time it extended to those outside her convents, and she would have her spiritual children also be mindful of the salvation of all people.

It breaks my heart to see so many souls travelling to perdition. … Oh, my sisters in Christ! Help me to entreat this of the Lord, Who has brought you together here for that very purpose. This is your vocation; this must be your business; these must be your desires; these your tears; these your petitions (Way of Perfection 1:4).

Such was Teresa’s zeal. It was a zeal that germinated in love, sprouted and gathered strength in prayer, and blossomed forth in the many labours she underwent for the spread of her spirit and the salvation of souls. Something of the depth and simplicity of her zeal may be gathered from those words she wrote in the year before her death.

And if I might help, by my prayers, to make but one soul love Him more, and praise Him, and that only for a short time, I think that of more importance than to dwell in glory ( St. Teresa of Jesus: The Life, Relations 402).

New evangelization implies living what we proclaim; working in love and announcing the Word. Our evangelization should consist in enabling our fellow being to experience and respond to the reality of God’s plan manifested in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis emphasizes the role of the evangelizers. He says:
An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. (Evangelii Gaudium No.24:26)
The essential and basic way of proclaiming Christ to others is that we as individuals and as community live out the total mysteries of Christ in faith, selfless service to others as Teresa lived and served.
St. Teresa of Avail’s Work of Reformation of the cloister was indeed the introduction of the New Evangelization. St. Teresa, who had a great devotion to the humanity of Christ especially His sufferings, was moved to live a life of radical poverty, fraternal love and singleness of heart. Through her work of Reform she brought Carmel back to the utter simplicity of life.
According to St. Teresa, the renewal of religious life and life of the Church will be possible only through each individual religious’ fidelity to spiritual life and personal prayer—a type of prayer that favours person to person relationship with Christ in loyalty and fidelity. So renewal in us and among us will be possible through a revival in personal prayer.


Sister M. Jewina A.C. (1911)
St. Agnes Convent, Mangalore


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