Saturday, October 15, 2016

An early feminist

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So today I have a woman to introduce to you. Perhaps you know her. Perhaps you don't. My little take on her here will do no justice as you can read a plethora of books/biographies based on her life. Even still you would only scratch the surface of this woman's impact on the Church [Catholic], on Christianity and for women in general. She was a woman ahead of her time. I am writing about St. Teresa of Avila also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus. Today is her feast day.

St. Teresa, was baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada. She lived between 1515 and 1582 in Avila, Spain. Avila is a town just North-West of Madrid in the region of Castilla-Leon. She was born into a pious Catholic family. Her upbringing made her into a prayerful young woman from a very early age. But it wasn't until later that we see Teresa's true colors surface; the characteristics that will shape her and her future as a reformer of the Carmelite order.

As many teenagers, Teresa also lost some of her earlier more devout ways. She began to yearn for more worldly things and this was reflected in her enjoyment of social gatherings and parties. She was naturally charming and became a kind of social butterfly within her social circles. She loved fashion and reading lots of fiction, just like any other teenage girl. This would set off concern in her father. Soon after her mother died her strict father decided to send her to an Augustinian convent school. Off she went at the age of 16. Although this experience reignited her zeal for the Lord, she soon fell ill and returned home.

Not long after Teresa entered a Carmelite convent and decided to become a Carmelite nun.

At that time the convent was not very strict. Her father had been so strict in her life that the convent seemed much more relaxed. There was so much laxity because the order was actually a veering away from the it's origin of poverty and obedience. They were accepting any candidate and mostly for financial reasons. Whosoever could pay, would enter. The order was even identified among the wealthy and the elite. Teresa fell gravely ill a second time, which would lead to her coming back to the ways of faith and prayer.

She began to experience visions and ecstasies that no one believed. This took her through an on-again, off-again relationship with the Lord in prayer. After some time she finally established a deep prayer life and from this she received the graces and courage to accomplish her life's work of reforming the almost unrecognizable Carmelite order. Her personality and character is what attracted so many to join her cause. She opened many new convents and traveled and wrote extensively. Today she is known as Doctor of the Church (a title given to theologians who have contributed extensively to the teachings of the Church).

Teresa was outspoken. Teresa did not fear men nor women. She faced many obstacles in her mission and many of them came in the form of people who tried to stop her at all cost.  She did not fear clergy, nor the papal-nuncio for that matter. Her only fear was of God and what he would think of her if she did not accomplish His will. For her time Teresa was a true feminist. She was able to constructively criticize the weaknesses of the women in the convent from a standpoint of truth and sincere hope for betterment of the order. She saw the faults of women and set out to teach them that their strength lied in God and not in their possessions or class status. She was a woman ahead of her time, with great courage and disdain for what was not of God.

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A true feminist knows that men and women are equal but different. Teresa treated everyone equally, as children of God. She was on a mission from God. In her time, women had far less rights than we do now, yet she saw the truth in that God had created women with a mission as well. The amazing saints that would come from the Carmelite order (discalced) would be one of the fruits of Teresa's labor: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Teresa of Jesus of Los Andes, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Bl. Mary of Jesus Crucified.

She is an example of true feminism. True feminism sets out to lift up the real cause of women: to protect their innate dignity without trampling on the freedom or dignity of men. True feminism compliments masculinity. True feminism protects the life of children, the dignity of families and that of faith at all costs. True feminism defends the cause of life because it is from the feminine being that life springs. True feminism recognizes the beauty and dignity of men and helps to transform them into the leaders they were created to be. This is reflected in her holy friendship with St. John of the Cross.

If you want to learn about true feminism, look to the women saints. They were heroes, ahead of their time with courage beyond human understanding. These are the examples of true femininity. There is no greater place to start, then with St. Teresa of Avila.


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