Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) was a Spanish nun who was instrumental in opening St. Joseph's convent, as well as other convents throughout her lifetime. She recorded the extraordinary events of her disconcerted life in her book, The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself.
What I took away from this story is that Teresa of Ávila was literally tormented by her inability to reach perfection. She mentally and emotionally battered herself over her weaknesses, faults, and fallibilities, including her insatiable appetite for reading and knowledge, which she considered woefully sinful. (Yikes! I'm in trouble.)
|The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini|
She worked anxiously - without satisfaction - to "repay the Lord" for His sacrifice. And she immersed herself in deep ritualistic prayer, sometimes for hours or days, in which one state of prayer often brought her to a condition of rapture or ecstasy and caused her to lose control of herself. (That explains the sculpture by Bernini.)
Most of the book focused on the different levels of intense prayer and soul separation (is that possible?), but it also included numerous occasions in which she had visions of and communications with Jesus and Mary, saw heaven, communicated with dead people - including her deceased parents and sister - and experienced what she believed to be a union with God. (I didn't really get this.) She also recounted visions of and experiences in hell and being tormented by devil(s).
Frankly, I am not a friend of mysticism. It is not that I believe she is lying, but rather I think she and those who believed her were deceived, although some called her possessed. In other words, God did not direct these events.
If they were - and if she were saved - she would have had the Light of God in her; and Scripture tells us that Darkness cannot reside with Light. While Satan may try to discourage a Christian, he cannot terrorize Christians with demons. Evil spirits tormented Teresa and caused her fear and suffering, such as only an unsaved person would experience.
I also have a problem with people who claim they see and talk to the dead. Scripture tells us that the dead cannot see or hear or talk. If you are seeing dead people, it may be demons (who are capable of taking the form of loved ones in order to deceive and lead astray those who are not covered by God).
She claimed that God "took her soul to heaven," which she believed to be necessary in order for her to know where her true home was and what it was like. But God does not take people to heaven to see what it is like so that they may understand what they must long for. She had a similar opinion for why she went to hell: to see what God had saved her from. (But all she had to do was read her Bible.)
|St. Teresa's Transverberation - Josef de Obidos|
Once she said that Jesus purposefully reminded her of her sin and caused her great shame, and I know this to be false because while we may always remember our sins, Jesus does not want us to be burdened by our past sinfulness; if we still live with shame for our sins which have been forgiven, then His sacrifice on the cross was worthless.
Often she spoke of doing penance for all of her evil deeds in order to "win this great blessing," but she did not need to continue doing penance for her sins. Again, Christ already did it for her.
Early on I began asking, "If these experiences are from God, as she believed them to be, then why did she go through this? What was the purpose?" She referred to herself as "favored" to suffer in this way. A chapter near the end proposed to explain why, but my questions were not answered to my satisfaction. She was in a miserable state constantly, and I do not see how her misery helps anyone, except that it underscores how much more we must suffer in hope of our salvation, which is not biblical.
In the end, only God knew her heart, but I imagine by this account that she needlessly suffered over herself, and it made me sad for her and to some degree angry that she was (I think) deceived in this way.
Although I have nothing but skepticism and opposition for my review, my final opinion overall is that it was not a waste of time, and I really did look forward to reading it. I just did not agree with her.