Following Mary’s example, the contemplative is a person centred in God. (VDQ 10)

The Carmelite Convent of San Jose in Avila


teresa2On August 24, 1562 Saint Teresa of Jesus inaugurated the first "reformed" Carmelite convent in Avila, Spain. Each year the Carmelite Family, especially the nuns, take pleasure in the celebration and commemoration of this anniversary of living their charism more intensely.

The foundation of the first Carmelite Convent of San Jose in Avila is an endeavor that has matured through a long period of reflection, the seeking of advice, and above all through prayer.

Following the immense grace of the vision of hell (Life 32), Saint Teresa, animated by an intense apostolic spirit, continually asked: "What can I do for the Church? ".  It is in this context that the first elements of the Teresian charism take form. Very often in the context of history,   everyone is able to see the troubled world events, but only the founders ask themselves: "What can I do?”

Nevertheless, the first thought of founding a monastery did not come from Teresa; it was her cousin Maria de Ocampo who suggested the idea. Teresa took to heart this enthusiastic project of the young woman ... but Teresa did have her doubts. It proved to be necessary that the impulse would come from the Lord himself:  “One day after Communion, His Majesty gave me the most explicit command to work for this aim with all my might,  making me wonderful promises to the effect that the convent would not fail to be established; that great service would be done to Him in it; that it should be called Saint Joseph's; that He would watch over us at one door and Our Lady at the other; that Christ would go with us, and that the convent would be a star giving out the most brilliant light .(Life 32)

We see that the Lord's words are an apologia (defense) of religious life, not a criticism of the convent of the Incarnation where Teresa was living. Guided by the Spirit and answering the needs of the Church of her time, St. Teresa, with her undoubtedly original charism has brought about both: A return to the original sources of Carmel and the founding of a new religious family. All of this sprung forth from the deepening of her spiritual life. In the words of Bishop Ancel: "In order to adapt oneself, it is necessary to be fervent."

When we re-read the chapters from The Life where St. Teresa relates the events of the foundation, as well as the first chapter of The Foundations, we contemplate St. Teresa as she marvels at this small, fraternal community whose life is based on solitude, prayer and strict poverty. “It is the greatest consolation to me to find myself among those who are so detached. Their occupation is to learn how they may advance in the service of God. Solitude is their delight; and the thought of being visited by any one, even of their nearest kindred, is a trial, unless it helps them to kindle more and more their love of the Bridegroom. Accordingly, let none come to this house who does not aim at this. Otherwise they neither give nor receive any pleasure from their visits. Their conversation is of God only; and so he whose conversation is different does not understand them, and they do not understand him.” (Life 36, 26)

Thus, it is the presence of Christ in the heart of the community, and the commitment of each one of the sisters to "live in His company" in contemplation, that creates their joy. Living alone with only Him, in community, the sisters live a solitude that is filled with His presence; the entire community enjoys this presence of the Bridegroom.

St. Teresa was to later say that the five years she lived in this "little cell of God" were the most peaceful and happiest of her life. We can also say that they were fruitful years, since her apostolic zeal continued to grow: “My desires to be of some help to some soul as time went on had grown much greater.  And I often felt like one who has a great treasure stored up and desires that all enjoy it” (Foundations 1.6)

Following the foundation of San Jose of Avila, the foundations continued to multiply to the present day!  Thus in Carmel, we will always desire to counted “among those who begin."

"Their beginning was praiseworthy – and we are beginning now- but let them strive to go on from good to better” (Foundations 29.32)

(Carmel of  Pater Noster)

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