The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 33

Proceeds with the same subject -- the foundation of the convent of the glorious Saint Joseph. Tells how she was commanded not to continue it, how for a time she gave it up, how she suffered various trials and how in all of them she was comforted by the Lord.

It was when matters had reached this position and were so near completion that the deeds were to be signed on the following day that the attitude of our Father Provincial suddenly changed. I believe, and it has since become apparent, that this change was by Divine appointment; for, while all these prayers were being offered for us, the Lord was perfecting His work and arranging for it to be accomplished in another way. As the Provincial would not now sanction the foundation, my confessor at once forbade me to go on with it, though the Lord knows what sore trials and afflictions it had cost me to bring it to its present state. When the project was given up, and remained unaccomplished, people became still more certain that it was all some ridiculous women's idea, and the evil-speaking against me increased, though until then I had been acting on my Provincial's orders.

I was now very unpopular throughout my convent for having wanted to found a convent more strictly enclosed. The nuns said that I was insulting them; that there were others there who were better than myself, and so I could serve God quite well where I was; that I had no love for my own convent; and that I should have done better to get money for that than for founding another. Some said I ought to be thrown into the prison-cell;[263] others came out on my side, though of these there were very few. I saw quite well that in many respects they were right and I could sometimes make allowances for them; although, as I could not tell them the principal thing -- namely, that I had been obeying the Lord's command -- I did not know what to do and so was silent. At other times God was so gracious to me that none of this worried me in the slightest; I gave up the project as easily and happily as though it had cost me nothing. This nobody could believe, not even the very persons, given to prayer as they were, with whom I had to do: they supposed I must be very much distressed and ashamed -- even my confessor could not really believe that I was not. It seemed to me that I had done all I possibly could to fulfil the Lord's command and that therefore I had no further obligation. So I remained in my own house, quite content and happy. I could not, however give up my belief that the task would be duly accomplished and, though I was unable to forecast the means and knew neither how nor when the work would be done, I was quite sure that it would be done in time.

What troubled me a great deal was that on one occasion my confessor[264] wrote me a letter of a kind which suggested that I had in some way been acting against his wishes. It must have been the Lord's will that I should not be immune from trials coming from the source which would cause me the greatest pain. For, amid this multitude of persecutions, my confessor, whom I had expected to console me, wrote that I must now have realized that all that had happened was just a dream and that henceforth I must lead a better life and not try to do anything more of the kind or talk about it any further, since I now saw what scandal it had occasioned. He said other things, too, all of them very distressing. This troubled me more than everything else put together, for I wondered if I had myself been an occasion of sin to others, if it had been my fault that offence had been given to God, if these visions were illusory, if all my prayer had been a deception and if I was sorely deluded and lost. These thoughts oppressed me to such an extent that I was quite upset by them and plunged into the deepest affliction. But the Lord, Who never failed me, and in all these trials which I have enumerated often comforted and strengthened me, in a way that need not here be described, told me at once not to distress myself and said that I had not offended Him in the matter at all but had rendered Him great service. He told me to do what my confessor ordered me and to keep silence for the present and until the time came for the project to be resumed. This brought me such comfort and satisfaction that all the persecution which I was undergoing seemed nothing at all.

The Lord now showed me what a signal blessing it is to suffer trials and persecutions for His sake, for so great was the growth in my soul of love for God and of many other graces that I was astounded, and this made me incapable of ceasing to desire trials. The other people thought I was very much ashamed -- as indeed I should have been had the Lord not helped me in these straits by granting me such great favours. It was now that I began to experience the increasingly strong impulses of the love of God which I have described, and also deeper raptures, although I was silent on this subject and never spoke to anyone of what I had gained. The saintly Dominican[265] did not cease to share my certainty that the project would be accomplished; and, as I myself would take no further part in it, lest I should run contrary to the obedience which I owed my confessor, he discussed it with my companion and they wrote to Rome and sought a way out.

And now the devil began to contrive that one person after another should hear that I had received some kind of revelation about this matter, and people came to me in great concern to say that these were bad times and that it might be that something would be alleged against me and I should have to go before the Inquisitors. But they only amused me and made me laugh, because I never had any fear about this. I knew quite well that in matters of faith no one would ever find me transgressing even the smallest ceremony of the Church, and that for the Church or for any truth of Holy Scripture I would undertake to die a thousand deaths. So I told them not to be afraid, for my soul would be in a very bad way if there were anything about it which could make me fear the Inquisition. If ever I thought there might be, I would go and pay it a visit of my own accord; and if anything were alleged against me the Lord would deliver me and I should be very much the gainer. I discussed this with my Dominican Father, who, as I say, was a very learned man, so that I knew I could rely on anything he might say to me. I told him, as clearly as I could, all about my visions, my way of prayer and the great favours which the Lord was granting me, and I begged him to think it all over very carefully, to let me know if there was anything in them contrary to Holy Scripture and to tell me his feelings about the whole matter. He reassured me a great deal and I think it was a help to him too; for, although he was very good, from that time onward he devoted himself much more to prayer, and retired to a monastery of his Order where there is great scope for solitude, so that he might the better practise prayer; and here he stayed for over two years.[266] He was then commanded under obedience to leave, which caused him great regret, but he was such an able man that they needed him.

In one way, I was very sorry when he went, because I too needed him badly. But I did nothing to unsettle him, for I realized that the gain was his; and, when I was feeling very much grieved at his departure, the Lord told me to take comfort and not be distressed, because he was being led in the right way. When he came back, his soul had made such progress and his spiritual growth had been so great that he told me after his return that he would not have missed going for anything. And I too could say the same thing; for previously he had been reassuring and comforting me only by his learning, whereas now he did so as well by the ample spiritual experience which he had acquired of things supernatural. And God brought him back just at the right time, for His Majesty saw that he would be needed to help with this convent, the foundation of which was His Majesty's will.

For five or six months I remained silent, taking no further steps with regard to the plan and never even speaking about it, and the Lord gave me not a single command. I had no idea what was the reason for this, but I could not get rid of my belief that the foundation would be duly made. At the end of that time, the priest who had been Rector of the Company of Jesus having left, His Majesty brought a successor to him here who was a very spiritual man, of great courage, intelligence and learning, at a time when I was in dire need.[267] For the priest who at that time was hearing my confessions had a superior over him, and in the Company they are extremely particular about the virtue of never doing the slightest thing save in conformity with the will of those who are over them. So, although he thoroughly understood my spirit and desired its progress, there were certain matters about which, for very good reasons, he dared not be at all definite. My spirit, which was now experiencing the most vehement impulses, was greatly troubled at being constrained in this way; I did not, however, depart from his orders.

One day, when I was in great affliction, thinking that my confessor did not believe me, the Lord told me not to be worried, for my distress would soon be over. I was very glad, supposing His meaning to be that I was soon going to die, and whenever I thought of this I was very happy. Later I realized that He was referring to the arrival of this Rector whom I have mentioned; for I never had any reason to feel so distressed again, because the new Rector placed no restrictions upon the minister who was my confessor, but told him that, as there was no cause for fear, he should comfort me and not lead me by so strait a path, but allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in me, for sometimes it seemed as if these strong spiritual impulses prevented my soul even from breathing.

This Rector came to see me and my confessor told me to consult him with the utmost frankness and freedom. I used to dislike very much speaking about the matter, and yet, when I went into the confessional, I felt something in my spirit which I do not recall having felt in the presence of anyone else, either before or since. I cannot possibly describe its nature or compare it with anything whatsoever. For it was a spiritual joy: my soul knew that here was a soul that would understand and be in harmony with mine, although, as I say, I do not know how this happened. If I had ever spoken to him or had been told great things about him, it would not have been strange that I should have felt happy and been sure that he would understand me; but I had never spoken a word to him before, nor had he to me, nor was he a person about whom I had ever previously heard anything. Later I discovered that my instinct had not been wrong, and my contact with him has in every way been of great benefit to me and to my soul; for he knows how to treat persons whom the Lord seems to have brought to an advanced state: he makes them run, not walk a step at a time. His method is to train them in complete detachment and mortification, and for this, as for many other things, the Lord has given him the greatest aptitude.

When I began to have dealings with him, I realized at once what type of director he was, and saw that he had a pure and holy soul and a special gift from the Lord for the discernment of spirits. From this I derived much comfort. Soon after I came under his direction, the Lord began to lay it upon me again that I must take up the matter of the convent and put all my reasons and aims before my confessor and this Rector so that they should not hinder me. Some of the things I said made them afraid, but this Father Rector never doubted that I was being led by the Spirit of God, having studied and thought very carefully about the effects which would be produced by the foundation. In short, after hearing these numerous reasons, they did not dare to risk hindering me.

My confessor now gave me leave once more to take up the work again with all my might. I saw clearly with what a task I was burdening myself, since I was quite alone and there was so very little that I could do. We agreed that the work should be done in all secrecy, and so I arranged that a sister of mine,[268] who lived outside the town, should buy the house and furnish it, as if it were to be for herself, the Lord having given us money, from various sources, for its purchase. It would take a long time to tell how the Lord continued to provide for us. I thought it of great importance to do nothing against obedience, but I knew that, if I told my superiors about it, everything would be ruined, just as it was on the last occasion, and this time things might be even worse. Getting the money, finding a convent, arranging for its purchase and having it furnished cost me many trials, some of which I had to suffer quite alone; my companion did what she could, but that was little -- so little as to be hardly anything beyond allowing the work to be done in her name and with her approval. All the most difficult part of the work was mine and there were so many different things to do that I wonder now how I was able to go through with it. Sometimes in my distress I would say: "My Lord, how is it that Thou commandest me to do things which seem impossible? If only I were free, woman though I am -- ! But being bound in so many ways, without money or means of procuring it, either for the Brief or for anything else, what can I do, Lord?"

Once, when I was in a difficulty and could not think what to do, or how I was going to pay some workmen, Saint Joseph, my true father and lord, appeared to me and gave me to understand that money would not be lacking and I must make all the necessary arrangements. I did so, though I had not a farthing, and the Lord, in ways which amazed people when they heard of them, provided the money.[269] I thought the house very small, so small that it seemed impossible to turn it into a convent.[270] I wanted to buy another, but had not the wherewithal, so there was no way of buying it, and I could not think what to do. There was a house near our own, but it was also too small to make into a church. One day, after I had communicated, the Lord said to me: "I have already told you to go in as best you can," and then added a kind of exclamation: "Oh, the greed of mankind! So you really think there will not be enough ground for you![271] How often did I sleep all night in the open air because I had not where to lay My head!" This amazed me, but I saw that He was right. So I went to look at the little house, and worked things out, and found that it would just make a convent, though a very small one. I thought no more then about buying another site but arranged to have this house furnished so that we could live in it. Everything was very rough and it had only enough done to it not to make it injurious to the health. And that is the principle that should be followed everywhere.

On Saint Clare's day, as I was going to Communion, that Saint appeared to me in great beauty and told me to put forth all my efforts and proceed with what I had begun and she would help me. I conceived a great devotion for her and her words turned out to be the exact truth, for a convent of her Order, which is near our own, is helping to maintain us. What is more, she has gradually brought this desire of mine to such perfection that the poverty observed by the blessed Saint in her own house is being observed in this and we live upon alms. It has cost me no little trouble to get this principle quite definitely and authoritatively approved by the Holy Father -- this, of course, being essential -- so that we shall never have any income.[272] And -- at the request, it may be, of this blessed Saint -- the Lord is doing still more for us. Without any demand on our part His Majesty is providing amply for all our needs. May He be blessed for it all. Amen.

At this same period, on the festival of the Assumption of Our Lady, I was in a monastery of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic, thinking of the many sins which in times past I had confessed in that house and of other things concerning my wicked life, when there came upon me a rapture so vehement that it nearly drew me forth out of myself altogether.[273] I sat down and I remember even now that I could neither see the Elevation nor hear Mass being said, and later this caused me a certain amount of scruple. While in this state, I thought I saw myself being clothed in a garment of great whiteness and brightness. At first I could not see who was clothing me, but later I saw Our Lady on my right hand and my father Saint Joseph on my left, and it was they who were putting that garment upon me. I was given to understand that I was now cleansed of my sins. When the clothing was ended, and I was experiencing the greatest joy and bliss, I thought that Our Lady suddenly took me by the hands and told me that I was giving her great pleasure by serving the glorious Saint Joseph and that I might be sure that all I was trying to do about the convent would be accomplished and that both the Lord and they two would be greatly served in it. I was not to fear that there would be any failure whatever about this, although the nature of the obedience which it would have to render might not be to my liking. They would keep us safe and her Son had already promised to go with us: as a sign that that was true, she said, she would give me this jewel. Then she seemed to throw round my neck a very beautiful gold collar, to which was fastened a most valuable cross. The gold and stones were so different from earthly things of the kind that no comparison between them is possible: their beauty is quite unlike anything that we can imagine and the understanding cannot soar high enough to comprehend the nature of the garment or to imagine the brightness of the vision which it was the Lord's will to send me, and by comparison with which everything on earth looks, as one might say, like a smudge of soot.

The beauty which I saw in Our Lady was wonderful, though I could discern in her no particularly beautiful detail of form: it was her face as a whole that was so lovely and the whiteness and the amazing splendour of her vestments, though the light was not dazzling, but quite soft. The glorious Saint Joseph I did not see so clearly, though I could see plainly that he was there, as in the visions to which I have already referred and in which nothing is seen. Our Lady looked to me quite like a child. When they had been with me for a short time and caused me the greatest bliss and happiness -- more, I believe, than I had ever before experienced, so that I wished I need never lose it -- I seemed to see them ascending to Heaven with a great multitude of angels. I remained quite alone, but so greatly comforted and exalted and recollected in prayer, and so full of tender devotion, that I stayed for some time where I was, without moving, and unable to speak, quite beside myself. I was left with a vehement impulse to melt away in love for God, and with other feelings of a like kind, for everything happened in such a way that I could never doubt that this was of God, however hard I tried. It left me greatly comforted and full of peace.

As to what the Queen of the Angels said about obedience the point of it is that it was a grief to me not to make over the convent to the Order, but the Lord had told me that it would not be wise for me to do so. He gave me reasons for which it would be extremely unwise and told me to send to Rome, and to follow a certain procedure, which He also described to me. He would see to it that that procedure should bring security. And so it came about. I sent as the Lord had told me -- had I not, we should never have concluded the negotiations -- and it turned out very well. As to the things which have happened since, it proved a very wise arrangement that we should be under the Bishop's obedience, but at the time I did not know this, nor did I even know who that prelate would be. But the Lord was pleased that he should be good and helpful to this house, as has been necessary, in view of all the opposition it has met with, which I shall recount later, and in order to bring it to the state it is now in.[274] Blessed be He Who has brought all this to pass! Amen.

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