The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 35

Continues the some subject -- the foundation of this house of our glorious father Saint Joseph. Tells how the Lord brought it about that holy poverty should be observed there and why she left that lady, and describes several other things that happened to her.

While I was with this lady whom I have mentioned, and with whom I stayed for over six months,[294] the Lord brought it about that a beata[295] of our Order, living more than seventy leagues from here, heard of me, and, happening to come this way, went some leagues out of her road to talk to me.[296] The Lord had inspired her, in the same year and month as He had inspired me, to found another convent of this Order; and, as He had given her this desire, she sold all she had and walked barefoot to Rome to obtain the necessary patent.

She is a woman greatly devoted to penance and prayer and the Lord granted her many favours. Our Lady had appeared to her and ordered her to undertake this task. She had done so much more than I in the service of the Lord that I was ashamed to be in her presence. She showed me the patents which she had brought from Rome and during the fortnight she was with me we made our plans as to how these convents were to be founded. Until I spoke to her, it had not come to my notice that our Rule, before its severity became mitigated, had ordered us to possess nothing,[297] and I had had no idea of founding a convent without revenue, my intention being that we should have no anxiety about necessaries, and I did not think of all the anxieties which are entailed by the holding of possessions. Though unable to read, this blessed woman had been taught by the Lord, and so she knew quite well what I did not, despite my having so often perused the Constitutions. And when she told me this, I thought it a good idea, though I was afraid that no one would ever agree with me, but say I was being ridiculous and tell me not to do things which would cause suffering to others. If I alone were concerned, nothing whatever should hold me back: on the contrary, it would be a great joy to me to think I was keeping the counsels of Christ our Lord, for His Majesty had already given me great desires for poverty. For my own part, I had never doubted that poverty was the soundest basis for a foundation. I had been wishing for days that it were possible for a person in my state of life to go about begging for love of God and have no house or any other possession. But I was afraid that, if others were not given these desires by the Lord, they would live in a state of discontent, and also that the thing would cause some distraction. I had seen a number of poor monasteries in which there was no great degree of recollection, and it had not occurred to me that their distraction was not due to their poverty, but that their poverty was the result of their not being recollected. Distraction does not make people richer and God never fails those who serve Him. In short, my faith was weak, whereas the faith of this servant of God was not.

I sought the opinions of a great many people with regard to all this but found hardly anyone who shared my own -- neither my confessor nor the learned men whom I consulted about it. They put before me so many contrary arguments that I did not know what to do; for, now that I had learned the nature of the Rule and realized that its way was that of greater perfection, I could not persuade myself to allow the house to have any revenue. True, they sometimes convinced me; but, when I betook myself to prayer again and looked at Christ hanging poor and naked upon the Cross, I felt I could not bear to be rich. So I besought Him with tears to bring it about that I might become as poor as He.

I found that the possession of revenue entailed so many inconveniences, and was such a cause of unrest, and even of distraction, that I kept on disputing about it with learned men. I wrote to that effect to the Dominican friar who was helping us,[298] and he answered me in a letter two sheets long, full of refutations and theology; in this he told me that he had made a close study of the subject, and tried to dissuade me from my project. I replied that I had no wish to make use of theology and should not thank him for his learning in this matter if it was going to keep me from following my vocation, from being true to the vow of poverty that I had made, and from observing Christ's precepts with due perfection. If I found anyone who would help me, I was delighted. The lady with whom I was staying[299] was of great assistance to me here. Some told me at the very beginning that they approved of my plan, but afterwards, on looking into it farther, found so many disadvantages in it that they once more urged me strongly to give it up. I told them that, though they had changed their opinions so quickly, I preferred to keep mine. It was at this time that, through my entreaties, for the lady had never seen him, the Lord was pleased that the saintly Fray Peter of Alcántara should come to her house. As one who was a great lover of poverty and had practised it for so many years, he knew how much wealth there was in it, and so he was a great help to me and told me that I must carry out my plan without fail. Once I had his opinion and help, which, as he had had the advantage of a long experience, none was better able to give, I resolved to seek no further opinions.

One day, when I was earnestly commending my plan to God, the Lord told me that I must on no account fail to found the convent in poverty, for that was His Father's will, and His own will, and He would help me. I was in a deep rapture at the time, the effects of which were so marked that I could not possibly doubt that it had been of God. On another occasion He told me that money led only to confusion, and said other things in praise of poverty, and assured me that none would ever lack the necessaries of life if they served Him. For my own part, as I say, I was never afraid of being without these things. The Lord also changed the heart of the Presentado[300] -- I mean, of the Dominican friar -- who, as I have related, had written and told me not to make the foundation unless I had money. I was delighted at hearing this and at having the support of such opinions; I thought I had nothing less than all the riches in the world when I had resolved to live only on the love of God.

It was about then that my Provincial[301] revoked his order and released me from the obligation of obedience which he had laid upon me and which kept me in the place where I then was: he now left me free to do as I liked, so that I could go away for a time, if I wanted to do so, and, if I wanted to stay where I was, I could do that too. Just at that time there was to be an election in my convent, and I was warned that many of the nuns wanted to lay upon me the responsibility of being their superior. The very thought of this was such a torment to me that, though I was resolved and prepared to undergo any martyrdom for God's sake, I could not possibly persuade myself to accept this. For, apart from the great labour it would involve, on account of the large number of nuns there were, and for other reasons (such as the fact that I was never fond of such work, and had not wanted to hold any office -- indeed, I had always declined to do so), I thought it would involve my conscience in grave peril, and so I praised God that I was not there. I wrote to my friends and asked them not to vote for me.

Just as I was feeling very glad that I should not be getting mixed up in that commotion, the Lord told me that I must on no account fail to go: if I wanted a cross, there was a good one all ready for me and I was not to reject it but go on bravely, for He would help me; so I was to go at once. I was terribly worried and did nothing but weep, for I thought that this cross meant that I was to become Superior, and, as I say, I could not persuade myself that that would do the least good to my soul or see any way in which it possibly could. I told my confessor[302] about it. He ordered me to see at once about going, saying that this was clearly the way of greatest perfection; but he added that, as the weather was very hot and it would suffice if I got there for the election, I could wait for a few days lest the journey should do me any harm. But the Lord had disposed it otherwise and I had to leave then and there, so great were my inward restlessness and my inability to pray and my fear that I was being false to the Lord's command, and that I would not go and offer myself for the work because I was comfortable and at my ease where I was. I felt that I was rendering God nothing but lip-service. Why, if I had the chance of living a life of greater perfection, should I not take it? If I had to die, let me die. Together with these thoughts came an oppression of soul and the Lord took all the joy out of my prayer. In fact, I found myself in such torment that I begged the lady to be good enough to let me leave, and, when my confessor saw the state I was in, he told me to do so: God had moved him just as He had moved me.

She was very sorry that I was leaving her, and this was a further trial, for it had cost her a great deal of trouble, and she had practised all kinds of importunities, to obtain permission from the Provincial for me to come. I thought it a very great thing that she should agree to my going, considering how she felt about it, but as she was a most God-fearing woman and I told her if I went I might be doing a great service to God, as well as giving her many other reasons, and held out the hope that I might possibly come and see her again, she acquiesced in it, though with the greatest regret.

For myself, I now no longer regretted going; for, as I realized that this would be conducive to greater perfection and to the service of God, and as pleasing Him always gives me pleasure, I bore my distress at leaving this lady, at seeing how sorry she was about it, and also at leaving others to whom I was greatly indebted -- in particular, my confessor, a priest of the Society of Jesus, with whom I got on very well. The greater was the comfort which I sacrificed for the Lord's sake, the happier I was to forgo it. I could not understand how this was possible, for I realized clearly that I was being moved by two contrary feelings: that is to say, I was rejoicing and being glad and finding comfort in what was oppressing my soul, for I was calmed and comforted and had the opportunity of spending many hours in prayer. I saw that I was about to fling myself into a fire, for this the Lord had already told me, and that I was going to bear a heavy cross, though I never thought it would be as heavy as I afterwards found it to be. Yet, in spite of all this, I went off gladly, only chagrined that, since it was the Lord's will that I should enter the battle, I was not doing so immediately. Thus was His Majesty sending me strength and establishing it in my weakness.[303]

As I say, I could not understand how this was possible. But I thought of this comparison. If I possess a jewel, or something which gives me great pleasure, and if I happen to discover that some person wants it whom I love better than myself, and I am more anxious for her pleasure than for my own comfort, it will give me greater happiness to go without it than it has given me to have it, because I shall be affording that person pleasure. And as the pleasure of pleasing her transcends my pleasure in having the jewel myself, my regret at no longer having it, or anything else that I like, and at losing the pleasure it gave me, will disappear. In the same way, although I wanted to feel sorry when I found that I was leaving people who so much regretted losing me, especially as I am such a grateful person by temperament, I could not feel sorry any more, however hard I tried, though on any other occasion it would have been enough to cause me great distress.

It was so important for the affairs of this house that I should not delay for another day that I do not know how they would have been settled had I waited. Oh, the greatness of God! I am often astounded when I think about this and realize how specially anxious His Majesty was to help me carry out the business of this little corner of God's house (for such, I believe, it is) and this dwelling in which His Majesty takes His delight -- once, when I was in prayer, He told me that this house was the paradise of His delight. So it seems that His Majesty had chosen the souls whom He has drawn to Himself and in whose company I am living, feeling very, very much ashamed of myself, for I could never have expected to have souls like these for this plan of living in a state of such strict enclosure and poverty and prayer. Such is the joy and happiness of their lives that each of them thinks herself unworthy to have merited coming to such a place. This is particularly true of some, whom the Lord has called from all the vanity and parade of the world, in which, according to its own standards, they might have been happy. But here the Lord has so multiplied their happiness that they clearly recognize that in place of the one thing they have forsaken He has given them an hundredfold, and they are never tired of giving His Majesty thanks. Others He has changed from good to better. To the young He gives fortitude and knowledge so that they may desire nothing else and may learn that, even from an earthly standpoint, to live far from everything that has to do with this life is to live with the maximum of repose. To those who are older and whose health is poor He gives strength, as He has done in the past, to endure the same austerity and penance as all the rest.

O my Lord, how abundantly dost Thou manifest Thy power! There is no need to seek reasons for what Thou willest, for Thou dost transcend all natural reason and make all things possible, thus showing clearly that we have only to love Thee truly, and truly to forsake everything for Thee, and Thou, my Lord, will make everything easy. It is well said, with regard to this, that "Thou feignest labour in Thy law",[304] for I do not see, Lord, and I do not know how the road that leads to Thee can be "narrow".[305] To me it seems a royal road, not a pathway; a road along which anyone who sets out upon it in earnest travels securely. Mountain passes and rocks that might fall upon him -- I mean, occasions of sin -- are far distant. What I call a path, and a cruel path, and a really narrow road, is that which has on one side a deep gorge into which one may fall, and on the other side a precipice: hardly has a man relaxed his care than he falls over it and is dashed to pieces.

He who truly loves Thee, my God, travels by a broad and a royal road and travels securely. It is far away from any precipice, and hardly has such a man stumbled in the slightest degree when Thou, Lord, givest him Thy hand. One fall -- and even many falls, if he loves Thee and not the things of the world -- will not be enough to lead him to perdition: he will be travelling along the valley of humility. I cannot understand why it is that people are afraid to set out upon the way of perfection. May the Lord, for His name's sake, make us realize how unsafe we are amid such manifest perils as beset us when we follow the crowd, and how our true safety lies in striving to press ever forward on the way of God. Our eyes must be fixed upon Him and we must not be afraid that this Sun of Justice will set, or that He will allow us to travel by night, and so be lost, unless we first forsake Him.

People are not afraid to walk among lions, each of which seems to be trying to tear them to pieces -- I mean among honours, delights and pleasures (as the world calls them) of that kind. The devil seems to be frightening us with scarecrows here. A thousand times have I been amazed by this; fain would I weep ten thousand times, till I could weep no more, and fain would I cry aloud to tell everyone of my great blindness and wickedness, in the hope that this might be of some avail to open their eyes. May He open them Who alone of His goodness can do so, and may He never allow mine to become blind again. Amen.

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