It is a time of great devotion to the word of God.
Yet it is a time of great evil.
The point in time is the very beginning of the Sixteenth Century.
A girl child is born into the land of Castile. Her name is Teresa. She does not appear to be an unusual female. She is loved by her parents. They dote on her even though she is but one of many siblings.
When she is very small and in that slice of life before reason is fully seeded into her spirit, Teresa and her brother decide they will become Martyrs for their accepted true religion. They will run away to the land of the Moors and lose their heads for the glory of God.
Their adventure does not get much further than the crossroads as they are only a 5 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. Since only the truth can come from children of that age, Teresa explains her actions as being perfectly logical. She insists it is the surest way for her to be absolutely certain to reach the kingdom of heaven. After all, it is promised in the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
The One, Holy, Catholic and Apolostic Church in the early 1500s is an expanding religion of both Hope and Promise. The central power of the church is headquartered in the City of Rome, the site of the Vatican and the home of the Pope sitting on the chair of Saint Peter.
The organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church did not begin in 34 AD immediately after the Ascension of the Lord God Jesus to sit at the right hand of the Father. In retrospect, it took almost a full 8 centuries for the precepts of Christianity to blossom into a World-wide religion. Almost another 8 centuries for the centralized rule of the church to gain sizable percentages of populations formerly under the rule of the Roman Emperor. The spreading of the word of Christ into pagan regions lag far behind the layering of religious thought sprinkled liberally onto every facet of daily life in the Civilized World.
The lay faithful imbued with a sense of complete acceptance of the teachings of the church are generally unable to discern between the teachings of the church and the teachings of God. The vast majorities of the flock are illiterate and depend on the clergy to inform them of the manner in which they would be assured of a place in the kingdom of heaven.
Teresa is fortunate because her family is both prominent and wealthy. The blood of royalty flows in her veins and she is possessed of a fair face and charming personality. As she grows up in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula, she is exposed to all the influences that make religion a key element in her formative years.
Her early play often involves the fantasy of her being a nun and her brother a monk in their hideaway rock monasteries and convents. Eventually, Teresa moves onto the romantic social interactions so much in favor with her female peers. She writes of adventures and handsome shining knights. Her friends show her the intricacies of cosmetic adornment and she learns how to enhance her facial features which need no enhancement at all.
Her father notices the change in her and decides to send her to the nearest convent for both education and to be insulated from the frivolities of the outside world. The convent is one of the Augustinian Order of nuns and is very representative of the period. After a year and a half at this convent, Teresa is afflicted by a malady that causes her to be confined to her bedroom back at home for the next year. During this period of introspective suffering, Teresa comes to realize how close she had come to losing her special perspective on the truth of God's will and the teachings of holy mother church.
She returns to her old self but with a subtle change that mystifies those around her. Teresa seems to see everything about her as part of a system. She sees herself as part of that system and she knows that her future will demand great sacrifice and, above all, faith.
The new Teresa is totally devoid of any finery or feminine baubles. She spurns her father's advice to marry and her very firmness precludes any discussion. Now approaching the age of 20 she petitions her father to allow her to join a different convent. He is broken-hearted but gives her his promise to arrange it after his death which he feels is imminent.
The young girl struggles with her sense of loyalty and obedience to her father's wishes and her core belief that her way must be found inside a nunnery. After deep reflection, she runs away again. This time she goes to a Carmelite convent in Avila and not on a small child's trek to lose her head in holy land.
Her father is at first distraught but soon accepts this as the will of God.
Unfortunately, Teresa finds that life in the Carmelite convent is not quite what she had expected. In simple truth, the typical nunnery of the period was more social than most lay persons would anticipate with familial interactions on most weekends and feast days. The sounds of laughter and spirited discourse fill the convent on such times and Teresa sees that many of the nuns do not hesitate to allow themselves physical contact with amiable young males overly aroused by their private thoughts of the secrets under a pious nun's robes.
No matter how hard Teresa prays and even inflicts pain on herself to rid her mind of such distractions, she becomes sorely tempted on many an occasion. It is during this period that Teresa discovers the value of prayer to dispel any threat to her internal sense of well-being.
The Carmelite order is widespread throughout the European continent. The Carmelite nuns are renowned for possessing feminine attributes of a physical nature sought after by the more refined male members of the laity. Poor Theresa is torn between her urgings of the flesh and her devotion to God.
Only her sustained adherence to the power of prayer enables her to retain her personal purity. Sometimes the other nuns poke fun at her for her steadfast refusal to join in the social pursuits so vital to their own personal sense of well-being.
Teresa's stay at the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation in Avila was cut short after a full year because she once again succumbed to the malady that afflicted her in the Augustinian Convent. This time she returns home for a 3 year period of much suffering and mental anguish. Her near obsession with the perfection of prayer sustains her and makes her even more determined to be a servant of God.
The fully recovered Teresa returns to the Carmelite Convent and her charm and personality make her a favorite of both the nuns and the many visitors received in their social gatherings. She loses her dedication to the totality of prayer and comes under the influence of young men attracted by her piety and her physical beauty.
She excuses her actions by relying on the challenges of her malady to explain her need for companionship and social interaction. Teresa comes to see the error of her detour from devotion to the service of God and mends her ways with both prayer and spiritual introspection.
In her later writings, Teresa relates that she is guided in her journey by the writings of Saint Augustine and the example of perfect penitence offered up by Saint Mary Magdalen. She leans on them to find her way back to the beauty of "the prayer of quiet" and "the prayer of union" which she describes so well in her spiritual writings.
While still in the Carmelite Convent, the young girl began to experience repeated episodes of spiritual visions and detailed verbal instructions from God. She is much disturbed by the revelations and seeks advice from more learned members of the Clergy. Some of the advice indicates that she is simply deluded and that she is "too imperfect to receive the word of God in such a manner".
Eventually, she draws the attention of a prominent member of the newly formed Society of Jesus. This Jesuit priest is no ordinary priest. He is a Borgia. Francis Borgia is often referred to as "the greatest of the Borgia's". He sees that the young girl is a conduit of Divine Grace and advises her not to "resist" the experiences any longer, but to also not "seek" the revelations in the future.
When under the protection of the Jesuit's, Teresa is allowed to expand her interactions with God and she records everything for later examination. In the absence of a Jesuit confessor, she is told by a non-Jesuit priest to reject any revelation as a "tool of the devil" and she obeys the instruction of the priest confessor despite evidence that she is merely a conduit of God's word.
This complete sense of obedience to the will of the Church was evidence of her lack of self-promotion or any desire for personal glory.
In part 2, Teresa decides to change the direction of the Carmelite order. It is a change that will influence the workings of the Church itself.