We need a saint who was known to dance while playing castanets. And to levitate in prayer, so intense was her communion with God. That this holy rising sometimes took place while she was doing housework makes it all the better. Add to that a gift for writing about life in Christ that has made her one of the most important Catholic authors, and we have today’s remarkable saint, Teresa of Avila, or Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church.
Teresa was wealthy and beautiful, and, in truth, she never lost her vanity, though she tried mightily to tame it. When she joined the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at 21, it was like she had joined a college sorority. There was a big, comfortable house with lots of good food, and good gossip. The women were freed from the dangers of childbearing, free to live lives of leisure and recreation, hemmed round with just enough prayer (think “Rocks for Jocks” as the college course equivalent) to make it all acceptable to the rich parents footing the bill. The women kept their own property and so were able to buy whatever they wanted or needed, and they had easy access to family and friends outside the convent.
But Teresa became a woman of deep and constant prayer. She wanted more and more of God, and she desired the same for her Carmelite sisters. In 1562, when Teresa was in her late 40’s, she opened her first convent under the original, and much stricter form, of the Carmelite rule. These reformed Carmelites are called “discalced,” or “barefoot,” because they went without shoes. Over the next two decades she travelled all over Spain, opening new convents (there were seventeen in all), teaching and leading and writing and praying.
We need a saint who was known to dance while playing castanets.
She did all this work in the face of fierce opposition: from church authorities and other Carmelites, from people who threatened, again and again, to report her to the Inquisition, from her own ill health and from the harsh land and weather through which she travelled. Woven through this history is the thread of Teresa’s vibrant faith and wit. It is said that she poured out her grief and anger over ill treatment to Christ, who replied in prayer, “Teresa, that is how I treat all my friends.”
She replied, “No wonder you have so few.”
In 1582, an archbishop summoned her to start a new Carmelite convent in his diocese. She arrived in a torrential downpour, only to be told by the archbishop that her services were no longer needed. As she turned to leave, Teresa remarked, “And the weather so delightful, too.”
Teresa said, “May God protect me from gloomy saints.” May we not be among the gloomy saints, but among those who, like Teresa, find joy and gladness in Christ.
Celebrate her day with a Spanish flan for dessert. Here’s an easy recipe for Coconut Flan:
First, make the caramel. It’s the hardest part of the recipe. Bring 1 cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water to boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Keep scraping the sugar accumulating on the sides of the pan down into the mixture. Once the mixture has reached a boil, stop stirring. (You may swirl the pan occasionally.) Stop stirring, but don’t stop watching. You want to sugar/water mix to turn a nice golden brown, but you don’t want it to harden or burn. As soon as the mixture is toasty brown, pour in into 12 ramekins. Swirl each ramekin so that the caramel covers and coats the bottom of the dish. Put the ramekins in a large roasting pan.
Now, the easy part: Pour 2 cups of whole milk, 1 (13.5 or 14 oz.) can of coconut milk, 3 large eggs and ½ – 1 Tb. of dark rum (optional – you can substitute vanilla) together in a blender. Blend about 1 minute. Once the mixture is smooth, pour it into a bowl and stir in 1 ½ cups additional whole milk. (That’s 3 ½ cups of whole milk, total.) Divide this mixture among the 12 ramekins. Pour water into the roasting pan (about ¼ way up the sides of the ramekins) so that the flan bakes in this water bath.
Put the roasting pan in a preheated 350-degree oven on the center rack. Bake until set around the edges and still wobbly in the center, probably 1 – 1 ¼ hours. (The center will continue to set once it is removed from the oven and be just right when you serve it.) Cool on a rack.
Just before serving, run a thin knife around each flan and turn the ramekin upside down on the serving plate. You’ll have a creamy flan with a caramel top.
You can make these up to two days ahead of time.