By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, OCT. 20, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A call to rise above spiritual mediocrity resounded in Rome in the past week. On Saturday, Benedict XVI exhorted 100,000 first-time communicants to cherish the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist that they were receiving this year. The meeting coincided with the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila whose conversion took place 450 years ago.
"Conversion" in Teresa’s case didn’t mean simply embracing the faith, for as a child in Catholic Spain she had dreamed of running away to become a martyr. But the fire of her youthful devotion waned over the years and Teresa found herself a Carmelite nun who in her own words, lived "a life so beneath perfection that I paid almost no attention to venial sins."
This state of mediocrity left her in a state where she did not "enjoy God nor did I find happiness in the world."
At age 30 she underwent a transformation through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Augustine. Reigniting her ardor for holiness, she spread this burning zeal throughout her order. Even in our times, the life and words of St. Teresa have spurred people to conversion and spiritual excellence — most famously Edith Stein, who was canonized in 1998.
The all-consuming love of Teresa for God caught the imagination of Gianlorenzo Bernini, and in 1652, he chose to represent the saint in one of her renowned ecstasies, when she was granted divine visions.
The sculpture group, "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa" in the Roman church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, is often misunderstood by tourists who are taken aback by its sensuality, but it shows the Baroque expression of Divine love.
Teresa reclines on a cloud, her relaxed features indicating that she has yielded herself to the will of God. An angel stands before her and, as Teresa described in her autobiography, with a flaming spear pierced her heart. She says that when he withdrew it, "the pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it."
The entire scene is bathed in golden light from a window placed above the sculptures — the fire of the Holy Spirit ready to ignite the world.
Bernini used this saint’s extraordinary example to incite 17th-century viewers to turn away from worldly things which, being temporal, are mediocre, and to convert or "turn toward" excellence, holiness and God.