Introduction to the Life of St. Teresa
Our Discalced Carmelite Order is preparing to celebrate the 5th centenary of the birth of St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) on March 28th, 1515, the birth of her whom we consider to be our Holy Mother Foundress.
Our Order has begun our preparations with a personal encounter with her by studying her Writings, starting with her "Life". In it she writes in chapter 18 no. 8 "My intention is to give souls an appetite of so elevated a good". For St. Teresa this "good" is "God". As we are in the midst of an in-depth study of the Book of her Life, we would like to share with you, our friends, her life too.
In the Life St. Teresa has proposed her personal history as a path for others to gain experience....a guide for the interior adventure which brings one to full encounter with God. She states that her intention in writing was "to attract souls to so high a blessing". (Life 18:18) She is our spiritual guide.
Inside the Enclosure
"Fix your eyes on the Crucified One and everything will become small". (St. Teresa of Jesus)
The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus
St. Teresa's family: Her father was Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda (1480 - 1543). His first wife, Dona Catalina del Peso y Henao, died in 1507. In 1509, he married Dona Beatriz de Ahumada (1495 - 1529). She gave birth to St. Teresa on March 28, 1515.
There were two children from the first marriage: Maria and Juan. From the second marriage there were ten: Hernando, Rodrigo, TERESA DE AHUMADA, Lorenzo, Antonio, Pedro, Jeronimo, Agustin, Juana and another child of whom nothing is known.
Describes how the Lord began to awaken her soul in childhood to a love of virtue and what a help it is in this respect to have good parents.
Significant excerpts in this chapter:
"I had parents who were virtuous and feared God. My father was fond of reading good books and had some in Spanish so that his children might read them too. These books, together with the care which my mother took to make us say our prayers and to lead us to be devoted to Our Lady and to certain saints, began to awaken good desires in me when I was about six or seven years old. It was a help to me that I never saw my parents inclined to anything but virtue. They had many virtues. My father was a man of great charity towards the poor, was good to the sick and also to his servants - so much so that he could never be brought to keep slaves, because of his compassion for them. He was a very honest and upright man.
My mother, too, was a very virtuous woman, who endured a life of great infirmity. She was extremely modest. Though extremely beautiful, she was never known to give any reason for supposing that she made the slightest account of her beauty; She was gentle and very intelligent. Throughout her life she endured great trials and her death, at thirty-three, was a very Christian one."
"I had one brother almost of my own age. It was he whom I most loved, though I had a great affection for them all, as they had for me. We used to read the lives of saints together; and, when I read of the martyrdoms suffered by saintly women for God's sake, I also had a keen desire to die as they had done in order to attain as quickly as possible to the enjoyment of the great blessings which, as I read, were laid up in Heaven. I used to discuss with this brother of mine how we could become martyrs. I believe the Lord had given us sufficient courage for this, if we could have found a way to do it; It used to cause us great astonishment when we were told that both pain and glory would last forever. We would spend long periods talking about this and we liked to repeat again and again, "Forever...ever....ever!" Through our frequent repetition of these words, it pleased the Lord that in my earliest years I should receive a lasting impression of the way of truth."
"I remember that, when my mother died, I was fourteen years of age or a little less. When I began to realize what I had lost, I went in my distress to an image of Our Lady and with many tears entreated her to be a mother to me. though I did this in my simplicity, I believe it helped me; for whenever I have commended myself to this Sovereign Virgin, I have been conscious of her aid; and eventually she has brought me back to herself."
Statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Choir
Describes how these virtues were gradually lost and how important it is in childhood to associate with people of virtue.
What I shall now describe was, I think something which began to do me great harm. I sometimes reflect how wrong it is of parents not to contrive that their children shall always, and in every way, see things which are good. My mother, as I have said, was very good herself, but, when I came to the age of reason, I copied her goodness very little, in fact hardly at all, and evil things did me a great deal of harm. I began to make a habit of reading books of chivalry and this little fault began to cool my good desires and lead me to other kinds of wrongdoing. I thought there was nothing wrong in wasting many hours, by day and by night, in this useless occupation, even though I had to hide it from my father. So excessively was I absorbed in it that I believe, unless I had a new book, I was never happy.
I began to deck myself out and to try to attract others by my appearance, taking great troule with my hands and hair, using perfumes and all the vanities I could get - and there were a good many of them, for I was very fastidious. There was nothing wrong with my intentions, for I never wanted anyone to offend God because of me. This great and excessive fastidiousness about personal appearance, together with other practices which I thought were in no way sinful, lasted for many years: I see now how wrong they must have been. I had some cousins, the only people allowed to enter my father's house; my father was very careful about this and I wish to God that he had been careful about my cousins too for I now see the danger of friendship, at an age when the virtues should be beginning to grow, with persons who, through ignorance of worldly vanity, arouse a desire for the world in others. These cousins were almost exactly of my own age or a little older than I. We always went about together; they were very fond of me and I would keep our conversation on things that amused them and listen to the stories they told about their childish escapades and crazes, which were anything but edifying. what was worse, my soul began to incline to the thing that was the cause of all its trouble.
If I had to advise parents, I should tell them to take great care about the people with whom their children associate at such an age. Much harm may result from bad company and we are inclined by nature to follow what is worse rather than what is better. This was the case with me. I had a sister much older than myself from who, though she was very good and modest I learned nothing, whereas from a relative whom we often had in the house I learned every kind of evil. This person was so frivolous in her conversation and I became very fond of meeting this woman. I talked and gossiped with her frequently; she joined me in all my favourite pastimes and she also introduced me to other pastimes and talked to me about all her conversations and vanities. I do not think I had ever forsaken God, or lost my fear of God, though I was much more concerned about my honour.
All that I was seriously concerned about was that I should not be lost altogether. My father and sister were very sorry about this friendship of mine and often reproved me for it. But, as they could not prevent my friend from coming to the house, their efforts were of no avail, for when it came to doing anything wrong I was very clever. I am astonished at the harm which can be caused by bad company; if I had not experienced it I could not believe it. This is especially so when when is young, for it is then that the evil done is greatest. I wish parents would be warned by me and consider this very carefully. the result of all this was to change me so much that I lost nearly all my soul's natural inclination to virtue for I was greatly influenced by her and by another person who indulged in the same kind of pastime. From this I learned what great advantage comes from good companionship and I'm sure that if at that age I had been friendly with good people I should have remained sound in virtue. Yet, inspite of all this, I never felt the inclination to do much that was wrong for I had a natural detestation of everything immodest and preferred passing the time in good company. God delivered me from all that was sinful.
I could hardly have been following these vanities for three months when I was taken to a convent in the place where I lived, in which children like myself, were being educated. My father and sister had waited for an occasion to arise naturally; and now, as my sister, Maria, had married, and I had no mother, I should have been alone in the house if I had not gone there, which would not have been fitting.
Part of our Orchid Garden
Describes how good companionship helped to awaken desires in her and the way in which the Lord began to give her light concerning the delusion under which she had been suffering.
Significant excerpts in this chapter:
For the first week I suffered a great deal, though not so much from being in a convent as from the suspicion that everyone knew about my vanity for I had already become tired of the life I had been leading; and when I offended God I never ceased to be very afraid of Him and I tried to make my confessions as soon as possible after falling into sin. At first I was very restless; but within a week, perhaps even earlier, I was much happier than I had been in my father's house. All the nuns were pleased with me; for the Lord had given me grace, wherever I was, to please people, and so I became a great favourite. My soul then began to return to the good habits of my childhood and I realized what a great favour God does to those whom He places in the company of good people. There was a nun who slept with those of us who were students; It was through her that the Lord seems to have been pleased to begin to give me light. It seems that His Majesty was trying and trying agin to find a way of bringing me back to Himself. Blessed are You, Lord, Who for so long bore with me. Amen.
As I began to enjoy the good and holy conversation of this nun, I grew to delight in listening to her, for she spoke well about God and was very discreet and holy. She began to tell me how she had come to be a nun through reading those words in the Gospel: "Many are called but few chosen". She used to describe to me the reward which the Lord gives to those who leave everything for His sake. This good companionship began to bring back my thoughts to desires for eternal things and to remove some of the great dislike which I had for becoming a nun. I remained in this convent for a year and a half, and was much the better for it. By the end of my time there, I was much more reconciled to being a nun. Good thoughts about being a nun came to me from time to time but they soon left me and I could not persuade myself to become one.
At this time, though I was not careless about my own improvement, the Lord became more desirous of preparing me for the state of life which was best for me. He sent me a serious illness, which forced me to return to my father's house. When I got better, they took me to see my sister, Maria, who was living in a village. On the road leading to my sister's house, lived one of my father's brothers, Don Pedro, a widower, a very shrewd man and full of virtues. He wanted me to stay with him for some days. It was his practice to read good books and his conversation was ordinarily about God and the vanity of the world. He made me read to him, and, although I did not care much for his books, I acted as though I did. Though I stayed here for only a few days, such was the impression made on my heart by the words of God, both read and heard, and the excellence of my uncle's company, that I began to understand the truth which I had learned as a child, that all things are nothing, and that the world is vanity and will soon pass away. I began to fear that if I died of my illness I would then go to hell. Thoughts of becoming a nun returned and I saw that this was the best and safest state, and so, little by little, I determined to embrace it.
This conflict lasted for three months. The devil suggested to me that I could not endure the trials of religious life as I had been so delicately brought up. I met this suggestion by telling him about the trials suffered by Christ and saying that it would not be too much for me to suffer a few for His sake.
I had now begun to suffer from serious fainting fits, together with fever; my health has always been poor. The fact that I had now become fond of good books gave me new life. I would read the epistles of St. Jerome and these inspired me with courage that I determined to tell my father of my decision. He was so fond of me that I was never able to get his consent. The most I could obtain from him was the permission to do as I liked after his death. As I distrusted myself and thought I might turn back out of weakness, this seemed unsuitable so I achieved my aim in another way, as I shall now explain.
Yellow Orchid in the garden
Describes how the Lord helped her to force herself to take the habit and tells of the numerous infirmities which His Majesty began to send her.
Significant excerpts in this chapter:
During this time, when I was considering these resolutions, I had persuaded one of my brothers, by talking to him about the vanity of the world, to become a friar, and we agreed to set out together, very early one morning, for the convent where that friend of mine lived of whom I was so fond, for by now I was concerned chiefly with the good of my soul and cared nothing for my comfort. I remember that when I left my father's house my distress was so freat that I do not think it will be greater when I die. It seemed to me as if every bone in my body was being wrenched asunder; But the Lord gave me courage to fight against myself and so I arried out my intention.
When I took the habit, the Lord at once showed me how great are His favours to those who use force with themselves in His service. My entrance into this new life gave me a joy so great that it has never failed me even to this day, and God converted the aridity of my soul into the deepest tenderness. Everything connected with the religious life caused me delight; and it is a fact that sometimes, when I was spending time in sweeping floors which I had previously spent on my own indulgence and adornment, and realized that I was now free from all those things, there came to me a new joy, which amazed me, for I could not understand its source. Whenever I recall this, there is nothing, however hard, which I would hesitate to undertake if it were proposed to me. If I were a person who had to advise others, I would never recommend anyone, when a good inspiration comes to him again and again, to hesitate to put it into practice because of fear; for, if one lives a life of detachment for God's sake alone, there is no reason to be afraid that things will turn out amiss, since He is all powerful. May He be blessed forever. Amen.
After some time, my health began to be affected. My fainting fits began to increase in number and I suffered so much from heart trouble that everyone who saw me was alarmed. I spent my first year in a very poor state of health. My condition became so serious that my father made great efforts to find me a cure. He arranged for me to be taken to a place where they had a great reputation for curing many kinds of illness. This friend whom I have spoken of as being in the house went with me. (In the house where I was a nun, we did not have to make a vow of enclosure.)
On the way there, I stopped at the house of my uncle, Don Pedro, and he gave me a book called The Third Alphabet, which treats of the Prayer of Recollection. I did not know how to pray, or how to recollect myself, and so I was delighted with the book and determined to follow that way of prayer with all my might. I began to spend periods in solitude, to go frequently to confession and to start upon the way of prayer with this book for my guide. His Majesty began to grant me many favours this entire period of solitude, which lasted for almost nine months. He granted me the favour of leading me to the Prayer of Quiet, and occasionally even to Union, though I did not understand what either of these was, or how highly they were to be valued. Had I understood this I think it would have been a great blessing. I used to try to think of Jesus Christ, our Good and our Lord, as present within me, and it was in this way that I prayed. If I thought about any incident in His life, I would imagine it inwardly. I liked principally to read good books.
I have often reflected with amazement upon God's great goodness and my soul has delighted in the thought of His great magnificence and mercy. May he be blessed for all this, for it has become clear to me that, even in this life, He has not failed to reward me for any of my good desires.
Continues to tell of the grievous infirmities which she suffered and of the patience given to her by the Lord
When the time had come which I was awaiting in the place where I was staying with my sister before undergoing my treatment, I was taken away, with the greatest solicitude for my comfort, by my father and sister and that nun who was my friend and had accompanied me.
I remained in that place for three months, suffering the greatest trials, for the treatment was more drastic than my constitution could stand. At the end of two months, the severity of the remedies had almost ended my life, and the pain in my heart, which I had gone there to get treated was much worse; sometimes I felt as if sharp teeth had hold of me, and so severe was the pain they caused that it was feared I was going mad. My strength suffered a grave decline, for I could take nothing but liquid, and I had a great distate for food, was in a continual fever, and became so wasted away that, after they had given me purgatives daily for almost a month, I was, as it were, so curled up that my nerves began to shrink. these symptons were accompanied by intolerable pain which gave me no rest by day or by night. Altogether I was in a state of great misery.
Seeing that I had gained nothing here, my father took me away and once again called in the doctors. they all gave me up, saying that, quite apart from everything else, I was consumptive.This troubled me very little: it was the pains that distressed me, for they racked me from head to foot and never ceased. Nerve pains, as the doctors said, are intolerable. As all my nerves had shrunk, this was terrible tortue. I could not have been in this serious state for more than three months: it seemed impossible that so many ills could all be endured at the same time. I am astonished at myself now and consider the patience which His Majesty gave me to have been a great favour from the Lord, for, as could clearly be seen, it was from Him that it came. It was a great help to my patience that I had read the story of Job for the Lord seems to have used this for preparing me to suffer. It was also a help that I had begun the practice of prayer, so that I could bear everything with great resignation. All my conversation was with God. I had continually in mind these words of Job, which I used to repeat: "Since we have received good things at the hand of the Lord, why should we not suffer evil things?" This seemed to give me strength.
And now the August festival of Our Lady came round: I had been in torment ever since April, though the last three months were the worst. I hastened to go to confession, for I was always very fond of confession. They thought that this was due to fear of death, and, in order that I should not be distressed, my father forbade me to go. Though my father was so good a Catholic and so wise, he might have done me great harm. that night I had a fit, which left me unconscious for nearly four days. During that tie they gave me the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and from hour to hour, from moment to moment, they thought I was dying; they did nothing but repeat the Creed to me. There must have been times when they were sure I was dead, for afterwards I actually found wax on my eyelids.
My father was in great distress because he had not allowed me to go to confession. Many prayers were made for me to God. for a day and a half there was an open grave in my convent, where they were awaiting my body, and in one of the monastries of our Order, some distance from here, they had performed the funeral rites. But it pleased the Lord that I should return to consciousness. I wished to go to confession at once. I communicated with many tears. There is one grace, among others, which His Majesty has granted me: never since I began to communicate have I failed to confess anything which I thought to be a sin, even if only a venial one.
The fact is, when I come to this point, and realize how the Lord seems to have raised me from the dead I am so amazed that inwardly I am almost trembling. it would be well, O my soul, to look at the danger from which the Lord has delivered you, so that if you did not cease to offend Him through love you should do so through fear. He might have slain you on any of a thousand other occasions and in a more perilous state still. May He be blessed forever. And may it please His Majesty that I die rather than ever cease to love Him.
The Crucifix in the Novitiate prayer room.
Describes all that she owed to the Lord for granting her resignation in such great trials; and how she took the glorious St. Joseph for her mediator and advocate; and the great profit that this brought her.
After this fit, which lasted for four days, I was in such a state that only the Lord can know what intolerable sufferings I experienced. My tongue was bitten to pieces; nothing had passed my lips; and because of this and of my great weakness, my throat was choking me so that I could not even take water. All my bones seemed to be out of joint and there was a terrible confusion in my head. As a result of the torments I had suffered during these days, I was all doubled up, like a ball, and no more able to move arm, foot, hand or head than if I had been dead, unless others moved them for me. I could move, I think, only one finger of my right hand. It was impossible to let anyone come to see me, for I was in such a state of distress that I could not endure it. They used to move me in a sheet, one taking one end and another the other. I could hardly endure the terrible fits of fever from which I still suffered and which were very severe. I still had a dreadful distaste for food.
I was now so eager to return to the convent that they brought me there. So, instead of the dead body they had expected, the nuns received a living soul. However, the body was worse than deasd and distressing to see. My extreme weakness cannot be described, for by this time I was nothing but bones. I remained in this condition for more than eight months, and my paralysis, though it was improving, continued for nearly three years. When I began to get about on my on my hands and knees, I praised God. All this I bore with great resignation, and , except at the beginning, with great joy; for none of it could compare with the pains and torments which I had suffered at first. I was quite resigned to the will of God, even if He had left me in this condition forever. I made my confession very frequently, and talked a great deal about God, in such a way that all were edified and astonished at the patience which the Lord gave me; for if it had not come from His Majesty's hand it would have been impossible to endure such great sufferings with such great joy.
It was a wonderful thing for me to have received the grace which God had granted me through prayer, for this made me realize what it was to love Him. After a short time I found these virtues were renewed within me. I never spoke ill of anyone in the slightest degree, for my usual practice was to avoid all evil-speaking. I used to remind myself that I must not say anything about anyone which I should not like to be said of me. I was extremely particular about observing this rule on all possible occasions, although I was not so perfect as not to fail now and then when faced with difficult situations. Still, that was my usual habit; and those who were with me and had to do with me were so much struck by it that they made it a habit too.
When I found out that, while still so young, I was so seriously crippled, and that earthly doctors had been unable to cure me, I resolved to seek a cure from heavenly doctors, for, though I bore my sickness with great joy, I desired to be well again. So I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honour and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could have asked of him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the favours which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which he has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to help us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he helps us in them all, and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him), just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. I used to try to keep his feast with the greatest possible solemnity. I wish I can persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and to render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray. He was true to his own nature when he cured my paralysis and gave me the power to rise and walk.
St. Joseph and Jesus
Describes how she began to lose the favours which the Lord had granted her and how evil her life became.
Who would have said that I should fall so soon, after receiving so many favours from God, and after His Majesty had begun to grant me virtues which aroused me to serve Him; after I had seen myself at death's door and in such great peril of damnation; after He had raised me up, in soul and body, so that all who saw me were amazed to see me alive?
Gradually, I began to indulge in one pastime after another, in one vanity after another. INto so many and grave occasions of sin did I fall, and so far was my soul led astray by all these vanities, that I was ashamed to return to God and to approach Him in the intimate friendship which comes from prayer. The devil, under the guise of humility, now led me into the greatest of all possible errors. Seeing that I was so utterly lost, I began to be afraid to pray.
I began to indulge in conversations from visitors thinking that I should not be harmed by them. I was once in the company of a certain person, right at the beginning of my acquaintance with her, when the Lord was pleased to make me realize that these friendships were not good for me and to warn me and enlighten my great blindness. Christ revealed Himself to me, in an attitude of great sternness, and showed me what there was in this that displeased Him. I saw Him with the eyes of the soul more clearly than I could ever have seen Him with those of the body; and it made such an impression on me that, although it is now more than twenty-six years ago, I seem to have Him present with me still. I was greatly astonished and upset about it and I never wanted to see that person again. The devil, however, led me to believe that I had imagined it all. On my part, just because the vision did not please me, I concealed it from myself. After some time, when I was strongly urged to do so, I entered into relations with that person again. I was assured that there was no harm in my seeing such a person. On subsequent occasions I got to know other people in the same way; and I spent many years in this pestilential pastime, which, whenever I was engaged in it, never seemed to me as bad as it really was, though sometimes I saw clearly that it was not good. But no one caused me as much distraction as did the person of whom I am speaking, for I was very fond of her.
On another occasion, when I was with that same person, we saw coming towards us - and others who were there saw this too - something like a great toad, but crawling much more quickly than toads do. I cannot imagine how such a reptile could have come from that place in broad daylight; it had never happened before, and the incident made such an impression on me that I thought that it must have had a hidden meaning, and I have never forgotten this either. O greatness of God! With what care and compassion did You warn me in every way and how little did I profit by Your warnings!
There was a nun in the convent, who was a relative of mine; She, too, occasionally warned me; not only did I disbelieve her but I was also displeased with her, for I thought she was shocked without cause. I have mentioned this in order to make clear my wickedness and the great goodness of God. I also mention it in order that, if it is the Lord's will and pleasure that it shall be read at any time by a nun, she may be warned by me. I beg all nuns, for the love of Our Lord, to flee from such pastimes as these.
In those early days, during my illness, and before I knew how to take care of myself, I used to have the greatest desire to be of use to others. This is a very common temptation in beginners; in my case, however, its effects were good. I was so fond of my father that I longed for him to experience the benefit which I seemed to be deriving from the practice of prayer myself, for I thought that in this life there could be nothing greater. So by indirect methods, and to the best of my ability, I began to get him to practise it. To this end I gave him books to read. Being very virtuous he took so well to this exercise that in five or six years he had made such progress that I praised the Lord greatly. He had to bear the severest trials of many different kinds and he bore them with the greatest resignation. When he came to see me, he derived great comfort from speaking of the things of God.
But now that I had fallen away so far, and no longer practised prayer, I could not bear him to think, as I saw he did, that I was still just as I used to be; so I had to undeceive him. For I had been a year or more without praying, thinking that to refrain from prayer was a sign of greater humility. This, as I shall afterwards explain, was the greatest temptation I had; It nearly brought about my ruin. So I told my Father that I was no longer praying without telling him the reason. I made my illness an excuse; for, though I had recovered from that very serious illness, I have suffered ever since from indispositions, and sometimes from grave ones, even to this day.
My father believed me when I told him that it was because of my health that I had ceased to pray, since he never told a lie himself. He felt sorry for me. As he had now reached such a high state of prayer he stopped staying with me for so long, but after he had seen me, would go away, saying that he was wasting his time. there were other persons, as well as my Father, whom I tried to lead into the practice of prayer. I would show them how to make a meditation and help them and give them books; for ever since I began to pray, I had this desire that others should serve God. I say this in order to show how great was my blindness, which made me do such harm to myself and yet try to be of profit to others.
It was at this time that my Father was stricken by the illness of which he died. It lasted for some days. I went to look after him, more sick in soul than he was in his body, on account of my vanities.
So dearly did I love him that, when I saw that his life was ending, I felt as if my very soul was being torn from me. His confessor, who was a Dominican and a very learned man, used to say that he had not the least doubt he had gone straight to heaven; he had been his confessor for some years and spoke highly of his purity of conscience.
This Dominican father, who was a very good man and had a great fear of God, was of the very greatest help to me. I made my confessions to him and he took great pains to lead my soul aright and make me realize how near I was to perdition. Gradually, as I got to know him, I began to tell him about my prayers. He told me never to leave these off, for they could not possibly do me anything but good. So I began to take them up once more and I never again abandoned them.
Never abandon Prayer
Treats of the great benefit which she derived from not entirely giving up prayer. Describes the excellence of prayer as a help towards regaining what one has lost. She urges all to practise it. Says what great gain it brings and how great a benefit it is, even for those who may later give up, to spend some time on a thing which is so good.
I spent nearly twenty years on that stormy sea. Often falling and each time rising again, When I was in the midst of worldly pleasures, I was distressed by the remembrance of what I owed to God; when I was with God, I grew restless because of worldly affections. This is such a grievous conflict that I do not know how I managed to endure it for a month, much less for so many years. Nevertheless, I can see how great was the Lord’s mercy to me, since, while I was still having intercourse with the world, He gave me courage to practise prayer. I say courage, because l know nothing in the world that needs more of this than to be dealing treacherously with the King and to know that He is aware of it and yet never to leave His presence. For, although we are always in the presence of God, it seems to me that those who practise prayer are specially so, because they can see all the time that He is looking at them; whereas others may be in God’s presence for several days without ever remembering that He can see them.
It is true that, during these years, there were many months – once, I believe, there was as much as a whole year – in which I kept myself from offending the Lord, devoted myself earnestly to prayer and took various and very careful precautions not to offend Him. But I remember little about these good days, so there must have been few of them, whereas the bad ones must have been numerous. Yet not many days would pass without my spending long periods in prayer, unless I was very ill or very busy. When was ill, I was nearer to God; and I contrived that the persons who were around me should be near Him too and I begged the Lord that this might be so and often spoke of Him. So, not counting the year l have referred to, more than eighteen of the twenty- eight years which have gone by since I began prayer have been spent in this battle and conflict which arose from my having relations both with God and with the world.
Now the reason why I have related all this is, as l have already said, to make evident God’s mercy and my own ingratitude. Another reason is to show what great blessings God grants to a soul when He prepares it to love the practice of prayer, though it may not be as well prepared already as it should be, and how, if that soul perseveres, notwithstanding the sins, temptations and falls of a thousand kinds into which the devil leads it, the Lord, I am certain, will bring it to the harbour of salvation.
I can say what I know by experience – namely, that no one who has begun this practice of mental prayer, however many sins he may commit, should ever abandon it. It is the means by which we may amend our lives. Without it, amendment will be very much harder. If we truly repent and determine not to offend Him, He will resume His former friendship with us and grant us the favours which He granted before, and sometimes many more, if our repentance merits it; And anyone who has not begun to pray, I beg, for the love of the Lord, not to miss so great a blessing.
No one who has ever taken God for a Friend has gone without a reward. Mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary conversation with Him Who we know loves us. If love is to be true, and friendship lasting, certain conditions are necessary: on the Lord’s side we know these cannot fail, but our nature is vicious, sensual and ungrateful. You cannot therefore succeed to love Him as much as He loves you, because it is not in your nature to do so. If then you do not yet love Him, you will realize how much it means to you to have His friendship and how much He loves you and you will gladly endure the troubles which arise from being so much with One who is so different from you. I do not understand the fears of those who are afraid to begin mental prayer: I do not know what they are afraid of.
When people practise prayer, in exchange for a little labour on their part, He gives them such consolation as will enable them to bear their trials. I only want to observe that Prayer is the door to those great favours which He has bestowed upon me. Once the door is closed I do not see how He will bestow them; for, though He may wish to take His delight in a soul and to give the soul delight, there is no way for Him to do so, since He must have it alone and pure, and desirous of receiving His favours. If we place numerous hindrances in His path, and do nothing to remove them, how can He come to us? And yet we wish God to grant us great favours!
Anyone who has not begun to pray,
I beg you, for the love of the Lord,
not to miss so great a blessing.
Describes the means by which the Lord began to awaken her soul and to give her light amid such great darkness, and to strengthen the virtues in her so that she should not offend Him.
It happened that, entering the oratory one day, I saw an image which had been procured for a certain festival. It represented Christ sorely wounded. When I looked at it I was deeply moved to see Him thus, so well did it picture what He suffered for us! So great was my distress when I thought how poorly I had repaid Him for those wounds that I felt as if my heart were breaking, and I threw myself down beside Him, shedding floods of tears and begging Him to give me strength once for all so that I might not offend Him. I believe I told Him then that I would not rise from that spot until He had granted me what I was beseeching of Him. From that time onward I began to improve.
My method of prayer was this. As I could not reason with my mind, I would try to make pictures of Christ inwardly; and I used to think I felt better when I dwelt on those parts of His life when He was most often alone. It seemed to me that His being alone and afflicted, like a person in need, made it possible for me to approach Him. I had many simple thoughts of this kind. I was particularly attached to the prayer in the Garden, where I would go to keep Him company. I would think of the sweat and of the affliction He endured there. I wished that I could have wiped that copious sweat from His face, but I remember that I never dared to do so, for the gravity of my sins stood in the way. I used to remain with Him there for as long as my thoughts permitted it.
For many years, on most nights before I fell asleep, I would commend myself to God so as to sleep well, I used to think for a little of that scene- the prayer in the Garden- and I did this even before I was a nun, for I was told that many indulgences could be gained by so doing; and I feel sure that my soul gained a great deal in this way, because I began to practise prayer without knowing what it was, and the very habitualness of the custom prevented me from abandoning it, just as I never omitted making the sign of the Cross before going to sleep.
For those who become easily distracted, it is a good thing to have a book at hand, so that they may quickly recollect themselves. It also helped me to look at a field, or water, or flowers. These reminded me of the Creator - I mean, they helped me to recollect myself and thus served me as a book; they reminded me, too, of my ingratitude and sins. But when it came to heavenly things, or to any sublime subject, my mind was so stupid that I could never imagine them at all, until the Lord showed them to me in another way.. It was for this reason that I was so fond of pictures of Him.
It was at this time that I was given the 'Confessions of Saint Augustine' and I think the Lord must have permitted this, for I did not ask for the book. When I started to read, I seemed to see myself in them and I began to commend myself often to that glorious Saint. When I got as far as his conversion and read how he heard that voice in the garden, it seemed exactly as if the Lord were speaking in that way to me. I remained for a long time dissolved in tears, in great distress and affliction.
I believe my soul gained great strength from the Divine Majesty; He must have heard my cries and had compassion on all my tears. I began to long to spend more time with Him, and to drive away occasions of sin, for, once they had gone, I felt a new love for His Majesty. I knew that, so far as I could tell, I loved HIm, but I did not know what true love of God really means. I think I had not yet prepared myself to want to serve Him when His Majesty began to grant me favours again. I only asked for grace not to offend Him and for the pardon of my grievous sins. His compassion worked in me abundantly and He truly showed me great mercy in allowing me to be with Him and bringing me into His presence. I began to devote myself more to prayer and to have less to do with things that were hurtful to me; God kept on helping me to turn from them.
Begins to describe the favours which the Lord granted her in prayer. Explains what part we ourselves can play here, and how important it is that should understand the favours which the Lord is granting us.
I used sometimes, as I have said, to experience in an elementary form, and very fleetingly, what I shall now describe. When picturing Christ in the way I have mentioned, and sometimes even when reading, I often unexpectedly experienced a consciousness of the presence of God, of such a kind that I could not possibly doubt that He was within me or that I was wholly engulfed in Him. This was not a vision: I believe it is called mystical theology. This favour is entirely the gift of God. It seems, however, that we can do a great deal towards obtaining it by reflecting on our lowliness and our ingratitude to God, on the great things He has done for us, on His Passion, with its grievous pains, and on His life, which was so full of afflictions. We can also do much by rejoicing in the contemplation of His works, His greatness, His love for us, and a great deal more. Anyone really anxious to make progress often thinks about such things. If to this there is added a little love, the soul is comforted, the heart melts and tears begin to flow. For the trifling pains we have taken, His Majesty appears to be rewarding us with the great gift of the comfort which comes to a soul from seeing that it is weeping for so great a Lord; In this the soul finds its encouragement and joy. The joys that come through prayer are something like what the joys of Heaven must be.
God gives us these gifts not because we have merited them. Let us be grateful to His Majesty for them, for, unless we recognize that we are receiving them, we shall not be urged to love Him. And it is a most certain thing that, if we remember all the time that we are poor, the richer we find ourselves, the greater will be the profit that comes to us and the more genuine our humility.
It is a very evident truth that we love a person most when we have a vivid remembrance of the kind actions he has done us. If then it is lawful and indeed meritorious for us to remember that it is from God that we have our being, and that He created us from nothing, and that He preserves us, and also to remember all the other benefits of His death and of the trials which He had suffered for us now living, long before any of us was created, why should it be not lawful for me to understand, realize and consider again and again that the Lord has now granted me the desire to speak only of Himself. Here is a jewel which invites and constrains us to love. All this is the blessing that comes from prayer founded on humility.
We must seek new strength with which to serve Him and try not to be ungrateful, for that is the condition on which the Lord bestows His jewels. Unless we make good use of His treasures, He will take these treasures back from us and we shall be poorer than before and His Majesty will give the jewels to some other person who will make better use of them.
Gives the reason why we do not learn to love God perfectly in a short time. Begins, by means of comparison, to describe four degrees of prayer, concerning the first of which something is said here. This is most profitable for beginners and for those who are receiving no consolations in prayer.
I shall now begin to speak of those who are beginning to be servants of love - for this, I think, is what we become when we resolve to follow in this way of prayer Him Who so greatly loved us. If we attain to the perfect possession of this true love of God, it brings all blessings with it. But we are so stingy and so slow in giving ourselves wholly to God that we do not prepare ourselves as we should to receive that precious thing which it is His Majesty's will that we should enjoy only at a great price. Being unable to make a full surrender of ourselves, we are never given a full supply of this treasure. May His Majesty be pleased to give it to us little by little.
The Lord shows great mercy to him to whom He gives grace and courage to resolve to strive after this blessing with all his might. For God denies Himself to no one who perseveres, but He gradually increases the courage of such a person till he achieves victory. I say "courage" because of the numerous obstacles which the devil at first sets in his path to hinder him from ever setting upon it, for the devil knows what harm will come to him thereby and that he will lose not only that one soul but many more. If by the help of God the beginner strives to reach the summit of perfection, I do not believe he will go to heaven alone but will always take many others with him.
I shall say something of the early experiences of those who are determined to pursue this blessing and to succeed in this enterprise. It is in these early stages that their work is hardest, for it is they themselves who work and the Lord Who gives the increase.
The beginner must think of himself as one setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds. His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their place. Let us suppose that this is already done - that a soul has resolved to practise prayer and has already begun to do so. We have now, by God's help, like good gardeners, to make these plants grow, and to water them carefully, so that they may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that He may often come into the garden to take His pleasure and have His delight among these virtues.
Let us consider how this garden can be watered, so that we may know what we have to do, what work it will cost us, if the gain will outweigh the work, and for how long this work must be borne. It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways:
- by taking the water from a well, which costs us great labour or
- by a water-wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass; It is less laborious than the other and gives more water. or
- by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it often, so that the gardener's work is much less. or
- by heavy rain, when the Lord waters it with no work of ours; a way incomparablybetter than any of those which have been described.
The four ways of watering the garden
Chapter 11: (cont.)
I come now to my point, which is the application of these four methods of watering by which the garden is to be kept fertile, for if it has no water it will be ruined. It has seemed possible to me in this way to explain something about the four degrees of prayer to which the Lord, of His goodness, has occasionally brought my soul.
Beginners in prayer, we may say, are those who draw up the water out of the well: this, as I have said, is a very laborious proceeding, for it will fatigue them to keep their senses recollected, which is a great labour because they have been accustomed to a life of distraction. Beginners must accustom themselves to pay no heed to what they see or hear, and they must practise doing this during hours of prayer; they must be alone and in their solitude think over their past life. All of us, whether we are beginners or expert must do this. At first it causes distress, for beginners are not always sure that they have repented of their sins (though clearly they have, since they have so sincerely resolved to serve God). Then they have to try to meditate upon the life of Christ and this fatigues their minds. Thus far we can make progress by ourselves - of course with the help of God, for without that we cannot think a single good thought. This is what is meant by beginning to draw up water from the well. Our task is to draw the water up and to do what we can to water the flowers. And God is so good that when, for reasons known to His Majesty, perhaps to our great advantage, He is pleased that our well should be dry, we, like good gardeners, do all that lies in us, and He keeps the flowers alive without water and makes the virtues grow. By water here I mean tears - or, if there be none of these, tenderness and an interior feeling of devotion.
What, then, will he do here who finds that for many days he experiences nothing but aridity, dislike, distaste, and so little desire to go and draw water? It will often happen that he is unable to move his arms - unable, that is, to think a single good thought, for working with the understanding is of course the same as drawing water out of the well. What, then, as I say, will the gardener do here? He will be glad and take heart and consider it the greatest of favours to work in the garden of so great an Emperor; and, as he knows that he is pleasing Him by so working (and his purpose must be to please, not himself, but Him), let him render him great praise for having placed such confidence in him, when He has seen that, without receiving any recompense, he is taking such great care of that which He had entrusted to him; let him help Him to bear the Cross and consider how He lived with it all His life long; let him not wish to have his kingdom on earth or ever cease from prayer; and so let him resolve, even if this aridity should persist his whole life long, never to let Christ fall beneath the Cross. The time will come when he shall receive his whole reward at once; let him have no fear that his labour will be lost. He is serving a good Master, Whose eyes are upon him. Let him pay no heed to evil thoughts.
These trials bring their own reward. I endure them for many years; I know how painful such trials are and I think they need more courage than do many others in the world. I believe myself that often in the early stages, and again later, it is the Lord's will to give us these trials in order to test His lovers and discover if they can drink of the chalice and help Him to bear the Cross before He trusts them with His great treasures.
Love for God does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving Him with righteousness, fortitude of soul and humility. The other seems to me to be receiving rather than giving anything. It is of great importance that they should start with this freedom and determination. There must be many who must have begun some time back and never managed to finish their course, and I believe it is largely because they do not embrace the Cross from the beginning.
One must never be depressed or afflicted because of dryness or unrest or distracting thoughts. If a person would gain spiritual freedom and not be continually troubled, let him begin by not being afraid of the Cross and he will find that the Lord will help him to bear it; he will then advance happily and find profit in everything. It is now clear that, if no water is coming from the well, we ourselves can put none into it. But we must not be careless; water must always be drawn when there is any there, for at such a time God's will is that we should use it so that He may multiply our virtues.
Love for God does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those
consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire
and in which we find comfort,
but in serving Him
fortitude of soul