November 28th - Anniversary of the Reform of the Friars Order - 1568

In 1567, Teresa obtained permission to found more convents of nuns and two monasteries of reformed Carmelite friars from Rossi, the Carmelite General.

While Teresa was founding Medina del Campo in 1567, she told Fr Antonio de Heredia, a Carmelite priest, that she had been given permission from Rossi to found a monastery of Discalced Friars and that she was praying to find at least one candidate for this new venture.  Antonio volunteered.  Teresa was not heartened.  ‘I took it that he was joking with me and told him so .. it didn’t seem to me he was the one for a beginning like this.’ (F.3.16)

In spite of her incredulousness, Teresa was willing to give Antonio an opportunity to prove himself.

As time passed, she saw evidence that Antonio might prove to be a suitable candidate.

‘For a year passed and during that year so many trials and persecutions from many false accusations came upon him that it seems the Lord wanted to test him.  He bore it all so well and was making such progress that I praised our Lord, and it seemed to me His Majesty was preparing him for the new foundation.’ (F.3.16)

 

Providentially, while Teresa was still in Medina, a young Carmelite friar, John of St Matthias (St John of the Cross) arrived in Medina.  He had come home to celebrate his first mass.  Teresa was introduced to John by Antonio, and she persuaded John to become a member of her new venture.  John had been considering entering a more austere order and asked Teresa only that it all be worked out quickly.  Now Teresa had two candidates, one promising, the other not so promising, for in spite of the change that Teresa had witnessed in Antonio, she still had her reservations about him.  ‘I still wasn’t so satisfied with the prior [Antonio].’ (F.3.17).

 

Nevertheless, Teresa accepted whom God had sent her and exclaimed to her nuns, ‘Daughters, I have a friar and a half!’ It has been commonly assumed that the half friar refers to John of the Cross, because of his short stature.  However, Teresa may have been referring to Antonio as the ‘half-friar.’  Even though Antonio was tall in stature, in Teresa’s eyes, he was only half the friar that John was.

Although Fray Antonio was a learned and good preacher, he tended to be touchy, quarrelsome and a bit of a gossip.  In his relations with Teresa he manifested a jealous immaturity.  Although he esteemed her highly, he thought she should prefer him to others who joined her reform after himself.  Since she was obliged to write much more to Gracian (her spiritual director) than to him, she cautioned Gracian to avoid letting him know how often she wrote.  Sometimes in his childishness he would refuse to write to her for months, nor would he answer the letters written by her to him, which presumably over flowed with warmth and love and good humour.  Teresa continued to suffer many trials from Antonio however she had the wisdom and humility to accept the imperfect instruments that God had sent her.The people that God chooses to do his work are often very wounded and sinful individuals.

After saying his first Mass in Medina, John returned to Salamanca to finish his final year of study.  During this time (1567-1568), Teresa established the foundation of Malagon, then travelled back to Avila to attend to her duties as prioress of St Joseph’s and to prepare to travel to Valladolid, where she would found her next convent.

 

While in Avila, Teresa was offered a house in the village of Duruelo by Don Rafael, for the expressed purpose of founding a monastery of Discalced Carmelite friars.  Because Duruelo was on route to Valladolid, Teresa stopped to see Don Rafael’s gift.  It was a filthy, tumbled down shack filled with vermin.  The conditions were so wretched that one of Teresa’s travelling companions exclaimed, ‘Surely, Mother, there isn’t a soul, however good, that could put up with this.  Don’t even consider it.’ (F 13.3.)  In spite of these conditions, Teresa decided to make the foundation in Duruelo.

Teresa instructed Antonio to gather objects that would be useful in making the foundation in Duruelo and then continued on to Vallodolid with John of the Cross.  Because the monastery’s cloister in Valladolid had not yet been established, John lived with the nuns from August 10th to September 30, 1568.  During this time, Teresa ‘taught him about the lifestyle of the nuns’ (F 13.5).  This on-site education has frequently been referred to as John’s ‘second noviciate.’  It was also during John’s time at Valladolid that Teresa intuited that John had a bent toward severe penitential practices.

After John’s ‘second noviciate’, Teresa sent him to Duruelo to assist Antonio with the new foundation.  Since Avila was on route to Duruelo, Teresa saw an opportunity to help correct John’s bent toward severe asceticism.  She had John personally deliver a litter to Don Francisco de Salcedo, her former spiritual director.  In the letter, Teresa implored: ‘I beg again as an alms of you that you speak to this padre and counsel him on what you think about his mode of life.’ (LE. 1.13.5).  Since Teresa knew from personal experience that Don Francisco was a wise and prudent spiritual director, she believed that he would be able to temper John’s bent toward rigorous penitential practices, and have a softening influence upon his harshness.

Five months later, in February 15 69, Teresa visited Duruelo.  On arriving Antonio was sweeping the steps of the monastery and she asked him what had become of his honour.  He replied, 'I curse the day I had any.' (F14.6) Although she was edified by John and Antonio’s zeal for mortification, she was still apprehensive about its excessiveness.  Teresa voiced her concern.  John and Antonio listened respectfully.  However, they had minds of their own.  ‘After conversing with those Fathers, I spoke of some things and begged them especially not to be so rigorous in penitential practices, for what they were doing was severe … Since they engaged in practices in which I did not, they paid little attention to my words about giving them up.’ (F.14.12)

In addition to her apprehensions about John’s asceticism, Teresa also had concerns about Antonio’s impracticality.  From the beginning, he had exhibited a lack of judgement.  This was manifested in the house that he had procured for the foundation of Medina del Campo.  ‘It was completely collapsed except for one room.’ (F.3.3).  Another example of Antonio’s impractical nature manifested itself in his procurement of what he thought was necessary for the establishment of Duruelo.  ‘Antonio came here to Valladolid to speak to me with great satisfaction, and told me what he had got together, and it was little enough; he had provided himself with nothing but clocks – he took five of them, which struck me as funny.  He told me this was so he could keep regular hours, for he did not wish to live carelessly; yet I believe he didn’t have anything to sleep on.’

Sometimes, his decisions, though well meaning, did not take into consideration the practicalities of life.  We have an example of this in his decision to move the community from Duruelo to Mancera.  It wasn’t the move per se that exhibited his poor judgement, for it became evident that Duruelo was unhealthy and uninhabitable.  Rather, it was the basis upon which Antonio chose the site for the new monastery.

Don Luis de Toledo offered Antonio a church in the town of Mancera and an adjacent building that would function as a monastery.  The church contained a beautiful altarpiece.  Antonio was so taken with the beauty of the altar piece that he decided to transfer the community to Mancera without considering that the place had neither a well nor a likelihood that water could be obtained.  This incident echoes Antonio’s choice of the house that he had purchased at Medina del Campo, a dilapidated structure that he described to Teresa as needing ‘only minor repairs.’ In charity, Teresa redeems Antonio by recording the miraculous way in which the new community at Mancera obtained water, reminiscent of Moses striking the rock in the desert with his staff.

‘I don’t want to fail to mention the way, considered miraculous, in which the Lord gave them water.  One day after supper, while the prior, Fr Fray Antonio, was talking in the cloister with his friars about the need for water, he rose and took a staff he was holding in his hands and made a sign of the cross on one part of it; but anyway he pointed with the stick and said: ‘Now, dig here.’  After they had dug only a little, so much water came out that it is now even difficult to drain the well so as to clean it.’ (F. 14.10)

Source: St Teresa of Avila - The Book of her Foundations, Marc Foley OCD