St. Teresa of Avila's spirituality inspires women after 500 years

Actress and playwright Coco Blignaut as St. Teresa of Avila in "God's Gypsy," based on Barbara Mujica's novel (Silvia Spross)

Though she had been a well-known partier in her own times, St. Teresa of Avila would likely raise her dark eyebrows in surprise. This year, all over the world, people have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of her birth on March 28, 1515.

Birthday festivities for her certainly make Catholic sense. Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada was a profoundly influential Spanish mystic, a Carmelite reformer, the first woman doctor of the church, and the author of best-selling spiritual classics, including her masterpiece, The Interior Castle (1577).

Nonetheless, some wonder what a 16th-century mystic can say to 21st-century people of faith.

Theologians, Carmelite historians, and women who teach or act as spiritual directors insist that Teresa of Avila is a marvel. In talking about her impact, they seem to run out of superlatives.

"Teresa revolutionized spirituality by teaching that God deeply wants relationship with us," said Gillian Ahlgren, professor of theology and director of the Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice at Xavier University in Cincinnati. 

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A version of this story appeared in the July 3-16, 2015 print issue under the headline: Still a beloved friend .

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