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The Spiritual Path of Teresa

In truth, all human beings who experience exterior events and circumstances, which mark out the years used to measure their existence, also walk along an interior path, with no visible traces of their passing, but with which they complete their circle of life. At times, it is so interior and so invisible, even for the person in question, that they often die without recognising it or knowing what they have done.

This is not the case of Teresa, who was not only perfectly aware of the different stages of her spiritual life, but also passed on the story in which they are documented. As a result, we know not only the important dates and exterior events of her life but also her own spiritual path.

Her path starts at her home, guided by the examples and simple, sincere piety of her parents, who laid down the foundations for her entire life and what she referred to as the 'truth of when she was a girl', which is simply the discovery of how elusive and relative life is in comparison with the transcendence and eternity of God.

This took her, in her naiveté, to search for martyrdom, run away from home and build shrines in the family garden, constantly repeating with her brother the phrase, 'Forever and ever and ever'. The stage culminated with her appeal to the Virgin Mary, asking her to be her mother when Beatriz, her actual mother, died.

Then came a time of spiritual cooling, absorbed by the desire to please and even dazzle her cousins with her attributes as a woman, a desire she left behind unwillingly and without a choice, thanks to her father, who sent her to the Convent of the Augustinian Sisters.

There, at the age of 17, she underwent the rebirth of 'the truth of when she was a girl' and found her first interest in following a vocation through her contacts with the nuns. Her interest grew with her readings of religious books, including the letters of St Jerome, and ended with her decision to enter the Carmelite Order at the Convent of La Encarnación in Ávila, where she lived happily for 27 years. Her first years in the Order were laden with fervour, having just joined and professed her faith, and with the suffering that led to her first serious illness, which affected her for three years.

And, although she recovered her health in the end thanks to her prayers to St Joseph, she entered a period of spiritual weakness, in which she sought to combine her dedication to prayer and friendship with the Lord, whom she abandoned, with her relations with her friends and contacts.

The reading of the Confessions of St Augustine and the unexpected encounter with a statue of Christ during Lent in 1554 brought about what we know as her conversion and unerring devotion to an intense spiritual life, motivated by various mystic graces, imaginary and intellectual visions and expressions given to her by the Lord as she turned to the spiritual and scholarly advisers that helped clarify her doubts.

One of those visions came in autumn 1560: the vision of Hell, in which she experienced the sufferings of the place that would have awaited her for her sins had she not decided to convert. This grace made her want to be more faithful to the 'calling' to religious life, starting with the creation of a convent involving a new way of serving God and living in fraternity: the Convent of San José.

The spirituality in which she lived those five years of serenity, devoted to contemplation, increased her desire to help the Church and save souls to unheard-of levels. She also realised that prayer had to lead to work and she started founding new monasteries based on the convent style of Ávila.

An interval during this work, imposed by obedience to the Priory of La Encarnación, under the guidance of Fray Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross), led to the high point of her spiritual life, when she received the supreme grace of spiritual matrimony, which always crowns the spiritual path of those who devote themselves truly and entirely to God, as explained by the saint herself in her most important work: Las Moradas, or Castillo Interior.