The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 24

Continues the subject already begun. Describes how her soul profited more and more after she began to obey, how little it availed her to resist the favours of God and how His Majesty went on giving them to her in increasing measure.

After I had made this confession my soul became so amenable that I thought there could be nothing which I should not be prepared to do; and so I began to make many changes in my habits, although my confessor did not press me to do so and in fact seemed to trouble about it all very little. But this moved me the more, for he led me by the way of love for God, which brought me, not oppression, as it would if I had not done it out of love, but freedom. I remained in that state for nearly two months, doing all I could to resist the favours and graces of God. The change in me was manifest even superficially, for the Lord was already beginning to encourage me to suffer things which persons who knew me, and even the nuns in my own house,[191] considered and described as extreme. And they were right: these things were indeed extreme by comparison with what I had been doing before. But they fell short of the obligations of my habit and profession.

By resisting the consolations and favours of God I gained this -- that His Majesty Himself taught me. For previously I had thought that, if I was to receive favours in prayer, I must go apart by myself a great deal, and so I had hardly dared to stir. Then I began to see how little this had to do with it; the more I tried to think of other things, the more completely the Lord enveloped me in that sweetness and glory until I felt so completely surrounded by it that I could not flee from it in any direction; and thus matters continued. I was so much concerned about this that it caused me distress. The Lord, however, was much more concerned, during those two months, to grant me favours and to reveal Himself to me more than He had been wont to do, so that I might the better understand that resistance was no longer in my power. I began to conceive a new love for the most sacred Humanity. My prayers now began to take shape like an edifice with solid foundations, and I grew fonder of penances, which I had neglected because of my frequent indispositions.

That holy man[192] who heard my confessions told me that there were certain things which could not hurt me; and suggested that God might perhaps be giving me ill-health just because I did not perform penances -- that is, that His Majesty was being pleased to give me the penances Himself. My confessor ordered me to practise certain mortifications which I did not find very agreeable. But I performed them all, because his commands seemed to me to come from the Lord, and I thanked him for giving them to me so that I could obey Him. Any offence, however slight, which I might commit against God I would feel in my soul so deeply that if I had anything I did not need[193] I could not become recollected again until it had been taken away. I prayed earnestly that the Lord would hold me by His hand, and, now that I was in touch with His servants, would grant me grace not to turn back. For to do this, I thought, would be a great failing, since it would detract from their credit.

During this period the town was visited by Father Francis, who was Duke of Gandía but some years before had given up everything and entered the Company of Jesus.[194] My confessor and the gentleman I have spoken of arranged for him to come and see me so that I might talk to him and tell him about my experiences in prayer, as they knew him to be very proficient in this and to be receiving great favours and graces from God, as rewards in this life for all that he had given up for Him. When he had heard my story, he told me that I was being led by the Spirit of God and that he thought I should not be doing right to resist Him further. It had been right to do so, he said, until now; but he suggested that I should always begin my prayers with a meditation on one of the incidents of the Passion, and, if the Lord should then transport my spirit, I should not resist Him but should allow His Majesty to have it and make no effort to keep it back. He gave me this medicine and counsel as one who had himself made great progress: in this matter there is much potency in experience. He said that it would be a mistake for me to resist any longer. I was greatly comforted and so was this gentleman: he was delighted that the Father had said I was being led by God and he continued to help and advise me to the best of his ability, which was very great.

About this time my confessor was transferred elsewhere. I was very sorry for this, for I thought I should be bound to grow wicked again, not supposing that it would be possible to find another like him. My soul was as if in a desert; I grew most disconsolate and fearful; and I did not know what would become of me. But a relative of mine arranged for me to go and stay with her and I at once set about getting another confessor from the Company. It was the Lord's good pleasure that I should become friendly with a widowed lady of good family,[195] who was much given to prayer, and had a great deal to do with these Fathers. She arranged for me to make my confessions to her own confessor and I stayed in her house for some days; she lived quite near. I was delighted at getting into close touch with the Fathers, for the mere realization of the holiness of their way of life brought my soul great benefit.

This Father[196] began to lead me to greater perfection. He told me that I ought to leave nothing undone so as to become entirely pleasing to God, and he treated me with great skill, yet also very gently, for my soul was not at all strong, but very sensitive, especially as regards abandoning certain friendships which were not actually leading me to offend God. There was a great deal of affection beneath these and it seemed to me that if I abandoned them I should be sinning through ingratitude; so I asked him why it was necessary for me to be ungrateful if I was not offending God. He told me to commend the matter to God for a few days, and to recite the hymn Veni, Creator, and I should be enlightened as to which was the better thing to do. So I spent the greater part of one whole day in prayer; and then, beseeching the Lord that He would help me to please Him in everything, I began the hymn. While I was reciting it, there came to me a transport so sudden that it almost carried me away: I could make no mistake about this, so clear was it. This was the first time that the Lord had granted me the favour of any kind of rapture. I heard these words: "I will have thee converse now, not with men, but with angels." This simply amazed me, for my soul was greatly moved and the words were spoken to me in the depths of the spirit. For this reason they made me afraid, though on the other hand they brought me a great deal of comfort, which remained with me after the fear caused by the strangeness of the experience had vanished.

The words have come true: never since then have I been able to maintain firm friendship save with people who I believe love God and try to serve Him, nor have I derived comfort from any others or cherished any private affection for them. It has not been in my own power to do so; and it has made no difference if the people have been relatives or friends. Unless I know that a person loves God or practises prayer, it is a real cross to me to have to do with him. I really believe this is the absolute truth.

Since that day I have been courageous enough to give up everything for the sake of God, Who in that moment -- for I think it happened in no more than a moment -- was pleased to make His servant another person. So there was no need for my confessor to give me any further commands. When he had found me so much attached to these friendships, he had not ventured to tell me definitely to abandon them. He had to wait until the Lord took it in hand, as He did. I did not think at first that I could ever give them up, for I had tried it already, and it had caused me such great distress that I had put the idea aside, as the friendships did not appear unseemly. But now the Lord set me free and gave me strength to carry my resolution into practice. So I told my confessor this and gave up everything, exactly as he had instructed me to do. And when the persons with whom I had been intimate saw how determined I was it caused them great edification.

Blessed for ever be God, Who in one moment gave the freedom which, despite all the efforts I had been making for so many years, I had never been able to attain, though sometimes I had done such violence to myself that it badly affected my health. As it was the work of One Who is almighty and the true Lord of all, it caused me no distress.

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