AFTER LONG LANGUISHING, at length I regained my former health. About this time my dear mother departed this life in great tranquility of mind. Beside her other good qualities, she had been particularly charitable to the poor. This virtue, so acceptable to God, He was graciously pleased to commence rewarding even in this life. Though she was but twenty-four hours sick, she was made perfectly easy about everything that was near and dear to her in this world.
I now applied myself to my duties, never failing to practice that of prayer twice a day. I watched over myself, to subdue my spirit continually. I went to visit the poor in their houses, assisting them in their distresses. I did (according to my understanding) all the good I knew.
Thou, O my God, increased both my love and my patience, in proportion to my sufferings. I regretted not the temporal advantages with which my mother distinguished my brother above me. Yet they fell on me about that, as about everything else. I also had for some time a severe ague. I did not indeed serve Thee yet with that fervor which Thou didst give me soon after. For I would still have been glad to reconcile Thy love with the love of myself and of the creature. Unhappily I always found some who loved me, and whom I could not forbear wishing to please. It was not that I loved them, but it was for the love that I bore to myself.
A lady, an exile, came to my father's house. He offered her an apartment which she accepted, and she stayed a long time. She was one of true piety and inward devotion. She had a great esteem for me, because I desired to love God. She remarked that I had the virtues of an active and bustling life; but I had not yet attained the simplicity of prayer which she experienced. Sometimes she dropped a word to me on that subject. As my time had not yet come, I did not understand her. Her example instructed me more than her words. I observed on her countenance something which marked a great enjoyment of the presence of God. By the exertion of studied reflection and thoughts I tried to attain it but to little purpose. I wanted to have, by my own efforts, what I could not acquire except by ceasing from all efforts.
My father's nephew, of whom I have made mention before, was returned from Cochin China, to take over some priests from Europe. I was exceedingly glad to see him, and remembered what good he had done me. The lady mentioned was no less rejoiced than I. They understood each other immediately and conversed in a spiritual language. The virtue of this excellent relation charmed me. I admired his continual prayer without being able to comprehend it. I endeavored to meditate, and to think on God without intermission, to utter prayers and ejaculations. I could not acquire, by all my toil, what God at length gave me Himself, and which is experienced only in simplicity. My cousin did all he could to attach me more strongly to God. He conceived great affection for me. The purity he observed in me from the corruptions of the age, the abhorrence of sin at a time of life when others are beginning to relish the pleasures of it, (I was not yet eighteen), gave him a great tenderness for me. I complained to him of my faults ingenuously. These I saw clearly. He cheered and exhorted me to support myself, and to persevere in my good endeavors. He would fain have introduced me into a more simple manner of prayer, but I was not yet ready for it. I believe his prayers were more effectual than his words.
No sooner was he gone out of my father's house, than thou, O Divine Love, manifested thy favor. The desire I had to please Thee, the tears I shed, the manifold pains I underwent, the labors I sustained, and the little fruit I reaped from them, moved Thee with compassion. This was the state of my soul when Thy goodness, surpassing all my vileness and infidelities, and abounding in proportion to my wretchedness, granted me in a moment, what all my own efforts could never procure. Beholding me rowing with laborious toil, the breath of Thy divine operations turned in my favor, and carried me full sail over this sea of affliction.
I had often spoken to my confessor about the great anxiety it gave me to find I could not meditate, nor exert my imagination in order to pray. Subjects of prayer which were too extensive were useless to me. Those which were short and pithy suited me better.
At length, God permitted a very religious person, of the order of St. Francis, to pass by my father's dwelling. He had intended going another way that was shorter, but a secret power changed his design. He saw there was something for him to do, and imagined that God had called him for the conversion of a man of some distinction in that country. His labors there proved fruitless. It was the conquest of my soul which was designed. As soon as he arrived he came to see my father who rejoiced at his coming. At this time I was about to be delivered of my second son, and my father was dangerously ill, expected to die. For some time they concealed his sickness from me. An indiscreet person abruptly told me. Instantly I arose, weak as I was, and went to see him. A dangerous illness came upon me. My father was recovered, but not entirely, enough to give me new marks of his affection. I told him of the strong desire I had to love God, and my great sorrow at not being able to do it fully. He thought he could not give me a more solid indication of his love than in procuring me an acquaintance with this worthy man. He told me what he knew of him, and urged me to go and see him.
At first I made a difficulty of doing it, being intent on observing the rules of the strictest prudence. However, my father's repeated requests had with me the weight of a positive command. I thought I could not do that amiss, which I only did in obedience to him. I took a kinswoman with me. At first he seemed a little confused; for he was reserved toward women. Being newly come out of a five years' solitude, he was surprised that I was the first to address him. He spoke not a word for some time. I knew not to what attribute his silence. I did not hesitate to speak to him, and to tell him a few words, my difficulties about prayer. Presently he replied, "It is, madame, because you seek without what you have within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and you will there find Him."
Having said these words, he left me. They were to me like the stroke of a dart, which penetrated through my heart. I felt a very deep wound, a wound so delightful that I desired not to be cured. These words brought into my heart what I had been seeking so many years. Rather they discovered to me what was there, and which I had not enjoyed for want of knowing it.
O my Lord, Thou wast in my heart, and demanded only a simple turning of my mind inward, to make me perceive Thy presence. Oh, Infinite Goodness! how was I running hither and thither to seek Thee, my life was a burden to me, although my happiness was within myself. I was poor in riches, and ready to perish with hunger, near a table plentifully spread, and a continual feast. O Beauty, ancient and new; why have I known Thee so late? Alas! I sought Thee where Thou wert not, and did not seek Thee where thou wert. It was for want of understanding these words of Thy Gospel, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation . . . The kingdom of God is within you." This I now experienced. Thou becamest my King, and my heart Thy kingdom, wherein Thou didst reign supreme, and performed all Thy sacred will.
I told this man, that I did not know what he had done to me, that my heart was quite changed, that God was there. He had given me an experience of His presence in my soul; not by thought or any application of mind, but as a thing really possessed after the sweetest manner. I experienced these words in the Canticles (Song of Solomon): "Thy name is as precious ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love thee." I felt in my soul an unction which, as a salutary balsam, healed in a moment all my wounds.
I slept not that whole night, because Thy love, O my God, flowed in me like a delicious oil, and burned as a fire which was going to devour all that was left of self. I was suddenly so altered that I was hardly to be known either by myself or others. I found no longer those troublesome faults or reluctances. They disappeared, being consumed like chaff in a great fire.
I now became desirous that the instrument hereof might become my director, preferable to any other. This good father could not readily resolve to charge himself with my conduct although he saw so surprising a change effected by the hand of God. Several reasons induced him to excuse himself. First, my person, then my youth, for I was only nineteen years. Lastly, a promise he had made to God, from a distrust of himself, never to take upon himself the direction of any of our sex, unless God, by some particular providence, should charge him therewith. However, upon my earnest and repeated request to him to become my director, he said he would pray to God and desired that I should do so. As he was at prayer, it was said to him, "Fear not that charge; she is my spouse." When I heard this, it affected me greatly. "What (said I to myself) a frightful monster of iniquity, who has done so much to offend my God, in abusing His favors, and requiting them with ingratitude, now to be declared his spouse!" After this he consented to my request.
Nothing was more easy to me than prayer. Hours passed away like moments, while I could hardly do anything else but pray. The fervency of my love allowed me no intermission. It was a prayer of rejoicing and possessing, devoid of all busy imaginations and forced reflections; it was a prayer of the will, and not of the head. The taste of God was so great, so pure, unblended and uninterrupted, that it drew and absorbed the power of my soul into a profound recollection without act or discourse. I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ alone. All else was excluded, in order to love with the greater extent, without any selfish motives or reasons for loving.
The will, absorbed the two others, the memory and understanding into itself, and concentrated them in LOVE; -- not but that they still subsisted, but their operations were in a manner imperceptible and passive. They were no longer stopped or retarded by the multiplicity, but collected and united in one. So the rising of the sun does not extinguish the stars, but overpowers and absorbs them in the luster of his incomparable glory.