Sixteenth century Spanish mystic, and Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila is mostly known for her contemplative approach to prayer. Her key work, The Interior Castle has been a cornerstone for understanding the relevance of the interior aspect of Catholic life. What many admirers of Teresa perhaps don't know is that, in her time, her determination to reform the Carmelite order, which had become corrupt in her opinion, was met with severe scrutiny by the infamous Inquisition. Hence, Teresa had to find ways by which she could found her own monasteries by manipulating the male-dominated hierarchy.
Inspired by raptures, locutions and visions, Teresa was firm in her conviction that she should found her own monasteries. This was no easy task for a woman in her time. Founding a new religious order required feisty determination, which Teresa certainly possessed. Besides physically traveling from village to village in heat and hard travel conditions, Teresa had to face the jealousy and vindictiveness of the leaders of the established order, who were offended by her exposition of their corruptness. Teresa writes, "Oh Tremendous evil! Tremendous evil of religious...true religious life is practiced so little..." that good nuns and friars must fear being despised within the walls of their monasteries.
So, her demand for reform was met with fierce scrutiny and resistance.
One of her tactics for achieving her desired end was to find male confessors with position in the Church, whom she could convince, as she believed, that her ambitions were inspired by God. This strategy may have been aided by the fact that she was reportedly beautiful. In this way, she would claim obedience to male authority and blame was deflected on these respected, learned men, assuring that she and her sisters were shielded from the wrath of the Inquisitor.
After successfully founding several monasteries for men and women throughout Spain, Teresa eventually mastered the art of escape from the trials of the world through her inner prayer life. In this way, she remains an inspiration for women in our time who find the challenges of the male church and world to be inhibiting. By retreating to the inner sanctum where she met her loving God, she became constantly re-engerized for the worldly battles she waged.