The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 10

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 we should understand the favours which the Lord is granting us. Asks those to whom she is sending this that the remainder of what she writes may be kept secret, since she has been commanded to describe in great detail the favours granted her by the Lord.

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 used unexpectedly to experience 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 in no sense a vision: I believe it is called mystical theology. The soul is suspended in such a way that it seems to be completely outside itself. The will loves; the memory, I think, is almost lost; while the understanding, I believe, though it is not lost, does not reason -- I mean that it does not work, but is amazed at the extent of all it can understand; for God wills it to realize that it understands nothing of what His Majesty represents to it.

Previously to this, I had experienced a tenderness in devotion, some part of which, I think, can be obtained by one's own efforts. This is a favour neither wholly of sense nor wholly of spirit, but entirely the gift of God. It seems, however, that we can do a great deal towards the obtaining of it by reflecting on our lowliness and our ingratitude to God, on the great things that 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 lights upon such things as these, though he may not be going about looking for them. If to this there be added a little love, the soul is comforted, the heart melts and tears begin to flow: sometimes we seem to produce these tears by force; at other times the Lord seems to be drawing them from us and we cannot resist Him. For the trifling pains we have taken His Majesty appears to be requiting us with the great gift of the comfort which comes to a soul from seeing that it is weeping for so great a Lord; and I do not wonder at this, for it has ample reason to be comforted. For here it finds encouragement, and here it finds joy.

The comparison which now suggests itself to me is, I think, a good one. These joys which come through prayer are something like what the joys of Heaven must be. As the souls in Heaven see no more than the Lord wills them to see, and as this is in proportion to their merits, and they realize how small their merits are, each of them is content with the place given to him, and yet there is the very greatest difference in Heaven between one kind of fruition and another -- a difference much more marked than that between different kinds of spiritual joy on earth, though this is tremendous. When a soul is in its early stages of growth and God grants it this favour, it really thinks there is nothing more left for it to desire and counts itself well recompensed for all the service it has done Him. And it has ample reason for thinking so: a single one of these tears, which, as I say, we can cause to flow almost by ourselves (though nothing whatever can be done without God), cannot, I think, be purchased with all the labours in the world, so great is the gain which it brings us. And what greater gain is there than to have some evidence that we are pleasing God? Let anyone, then, who has arrived thus far give great praise to God and recognize how much he is in His debt. For it now seems that He wants him to be a member of His household and has chosen him for His kingdom, if he does not turn back.

Let him not trouble about certain kinds of humility, of which I propose to treat. We may think it humility not to realize that the Lord is bestowing gifts upon us. Let us understand very, very clearly, how this matter stands. God gives us these gifts for no merit of ours. Let us be grateful to His Majesty for them, for, unless we recognize that we are receiving them, we shall not be aroused 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. Another mistake is for the soul to be afraid, thinking itself incapable of receiving great blessings, with the result that, when the Lord begins to grant them, it grows fearful, thinking that it is sinning through vainglory. Let us believe that, when the devil begins to tempt us about this, He Who gives us the blessings will also give us grace to realize that it is a temptation, and fortitude to resist it: I know God will do this if we walk before Him in simplicity, endeavouring to please Him alone and not men.

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 all of us now living long before any of us was created, why should it not be lawful for me to understand, realize and consider again and again that, though once I was wont to speak of vanities, the Lord has now granted me the desire to speak only of Himself. Here is a jewel which, when we remember that it is given us, and that indeed we already possess it, invites and constrains us to love, and all this is the blessing that comes from prayer founded on humility. What, then, will it be when we find ourselves in possession of other and more precious jewels, which some servants of God have already received, such as contempt for the world and even for themselves? It is clear that such persons must think of themselves as still more in God's debt and under still greater obligations to serve Him. We must realize that nothing of all this comes from ourselves and acknowledge the bounteousness of the Lord, Who on a soul as poor and wretched and undeserving as mine -- for whom the first of these jewels would have been enough, and more than enough -- was pleased to bestow greater riches than I could desire.

We must seek new strength with which to serve Him, and endeavour not to be ungrateful, for that is the condition on which the Lord bestows His jewels. Unless we make good use of His treasures, and of the high estate to which He brings us, 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 can display them to advantage and to his own profit and that of others. For how can a man unaware that he is rich make good use of his riches and spend them liberally? It is impossible, I think, taking our nature into consideration, that anyone who fails to realize that he is favoured by God should have the courage necessary for doing great things. For we are so miserable and so much attracted by earthly things that only one who realizes that he holds some earnest of the joys of the next world will succeed in thoroughly abhorring and completely detaching himself from the things of this; for it is through these gifts that the Lord bestows upon us the fortitude of which our sins have deprived us. And a man is unlikely to desire the disapproval and abhorrence of all, or the other great virtues possessed by the perfect, unless he have some earnest of the love which God bears him and also a living faith. For our nature is so dead that we pursue what we see before us and so it is these very favours which awaken and strengthen faith. But it may well be that I am judging others by my wicked self, and that there may be some who need no more than the truths of the Faith to enable them to perform works of great perfection, whereas I, wretched woman, have need of everything.

Such as these must speak for themselves. I am describing my own experiences, as I have been commanded to do; if he to whom I send this does not approve of it, he will tear it up, and he will know what is wrong with it better than I. But I beseech him, for the love of the Lord, that what I have thus far said concerning my wicked life and sins be published. I give this permission, here and now, both to him and to all my confessors, of whom he who will receive this is one. If they like, they can publish it now, during my lifetime, so that I may no longer deceive the world and those who think there is some good in me. I am speaking the absolute and literal truth when I say that, as far as I understand myself at present, this will give me great comfort. But I do not make that permission applicable to what I shall say from now onwards; if this should be shown to anyone, I do not wish it to be stated to whom it refers, whose experience it recounts or who is its author; and for that reason I do not mention myself or any one else by name. I shall write it all as well as I can, in order that my authorship may not be recognized. This I beg for the love of God. The authority of persons so learned and serious as my confessors suffices for the approval of any good thing that I may say, if the Lord gives me grace to say it, in which case it will not be mine but His; for I have no learning, nor have I led a good life, nor do I get my information from a learned man or from any other person whatsoever. Only those who have commanded me to write this[105] know that I am doing so, and at the moment they are not here. I am almost stealing the time for writing, and that with great difficulty, for it hinders me from spinning and I am living in a poor house and have numerous things to do. If the Lord had given me more ability, and a better memory, I might have profited by what I have heard or read, but I have little ability or memory of my own. If, then, I say any good thing, it will be because the Lord has been pleased, for some good purpose, that I should say it, while whatever is bad is my own work and Your Reverence will delete it. In neither case is there any advantage in giving my name. During my lifetime, of course, nothing good that I may have done ought to be talked about; and after my death there will be no point in mentioning me, for to do so would bring discredit on this good, to which no one would give credence if it were to be related of one so base and wicked as I.

And as I think that Your Reverence, and others who are to see this, will do what, for love of the Lord, I am asking you, I am writing quite freely. In any other case, I should have great scruples about writing at all, except to confess my sins, about doing which I have none. For the rest, the very thought that I am a woman is enough to make my wings droop -- how much more, then, the thought that I am such a wicked one! So Your Reverence must take the responsibility for everything beyond the simple story of my life (since you have importuned me so earnestly to write some account of the favours which God grants me in prayer), if it be in accordance with the truths of our holy Catholic Faith; and if it be not, Your Reverence must burn it at once -- I am quite willing for you to do that. I will describe my experiences, so that, if what I write is in accordance with these truths, it may be of some use to Your Reverence; if it be not, my soul will be disillusioned, and, if I am not gaining anything myself, as I trust I am, there will at least be no gain for the devil. The Lord well knows that, as I shall say later, I have always tried to seek out those who will enlighten me.

However clearly I may wish to describe these matters which concern prayer, they will be very obscure to anyone who has no experience of it. I shall describe certain hindrances, which, as I understand it, prevent people from making progress on this road, and also certain other sources of danger about which the Lord has taught me by experience. More recently I have discussed these things with men of great learning and persons who have led spiritual lives for many years; and they have seen that in the twenty-seven years during which I have been practising prayer, His Majesty has given me experiences, ill as I have walked and often as I have stumbled on this road, for which others need thirty-seven, or even forty-seven, in spite of having made steady progress and practised penitence and attained virtue. May His Majesty be blessed for everything, and may He, for His name's sake, make use of me. For my Lord well knows that I have no other desire than this, that He may be praised and magnified a little when it is seen that on so foul and malodorous a dunghill He has planted a garden of sweet flowers. May His Majesty grant that I may not root them up through my faults and become what I was before. This I beseech Your Reverence, for love of the Lord, to beg Him for me, for you know what I am more clearly than you have permitted me to say here.

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