The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 37

Describes the effects produced upon her after the Lord had granted her any favour. Adds much sound teaching. Says how we must strive in order to attain one degree more of glory and esteem it highly and how for no trial must we renounce blessings which are everlasting.

It is painful to me to say more of the favours which the Lord has bestowed on me than I have said already; even these are so numerous that it is hard for anyone to believe they can have been granted to one as wicked as I. But in obedience to the Lord, Who has commanded me to do so, and to Your Reverences,[330] I shall speak of some of these things to His glory. May it please His Majesty that some soul shall be profited by seeing that the Lord has thus been pleased to help so wretched a creature -- how much more will He help one who has served Him truly! Let us all strive to please His Majesty, since even in this life He gives such pledges as these.

First, it must be understood that, in these favours which God grants the soul, there are greater and lesser degrees of glory. For so far do the glory and pleasure and happiness of some visions exceed those of others that I am amazed at the diversity in fruition which is possible, even in this life. There can be so much difference between the consolations and favours given by God in a vision or in a rapture that it seems impossible there can be anything more in this life to be desired,[331] and so the soul does not desire, and would never ask for, any greater happiness. At the same time, now that the Lord has explained to me that there is a difference in Heaven between the fruition that can be experienced by one soul and by another, and shown me how great that difference is, I see clearly that here too, when the Lord is pleased so to give, there is no measure in His giving. I wish that the same were true of the service I render His Majesty, and that I employed my whole life and strength and health in this; I would have no fault of mine deprive me of the smallest degree of fruition. I can say, then, that if I were asked whether I should prefer to endure all the trials in the world until the world itself ends, and afterwards to gain a little more glory, or to have no trials and attain to one degree less of glory, I should answer that I would most gladly accept all the trials in exchange for a little more fruition in the understanding of the wonders of God, for I see that he who understands Him best loves and praises Him best.

I do not mean that I should not be pleased and think myself very happy to be in Heaven, even if I were in the lowest place there; for, as one who had merited such a place in hell, I should be receiving a great favour from the Lord if He were to grant me a place in Heaven at all: may it please His Majesty to bring me there and not to regard my grievous sins. What I mean is that, if the choice were mine, and the Lord gave me grace to endure great trials, even were it at the greatest cost to myself, I should not like to lose anything whatever through my own fault. Wretch that I am, who through my many faults had lost everything!

It should also be observed that, after every favour in the shape of a vision or a revelation which the Lord granted me, my soul was left with some great gain -- after certain visions, with very many. After a vision of Christ there remained with me an impression of His exceeding great beauty, which I have preserved to this very day. And if one single vision sufficed to effect this, how much greater would be the power of all those which of His favour the Lord has granted me! One very great benefit which I received was this. I had a very serious fault, which led me into great trouble. It was that, if I began to realize that a person liked me, and I took to him myself, I would grow so fond of him that my memory would feel compelled to revert to him and I would always be thinking of him; without intentionally giving any offence to God, I would delight in seeing him and think about him and his good qualities. This was such a harmful thing that it was ruining my soul. But when once I had seen the great beauty of the Lord, I saw no one who by comparison with Him seemed acceptable to me or on whom my thoughts wished to dwell. For if I merely turn the eyes of my mind to the image of Him which I have within my soul, I find I have such freedom that from that time forward everything I see appears nauseating to me by comparison with the excellences and glories which I have seen in this Lord. Nor is there any knowledge or any kind of consolation to which I can attach the slightest esteem by comparison with that which it causes me to hear a single word coming from that Divine mouth -- and more wonderful still is it when I hear many. And, unless for my sins the Lord allows this memory to fade, I consider it impossible for me to be so deeply absorbed in anything that I do not regain my freedom when I turn once more in thought, even for a moment, to this Lord.

This has happened to me with some of my confessors, for I always have a great affection for those who direct my soul, looking upon them as so truly in the place of God that I always like to follow their advice more than anything else. As I was feeling perfectly safe, therefore, I would show myself pleasant to them. But they, being God-fearing and God-serving men, were afraid that I might in some way become attached to them and drawn towards them -- in a spiritual sense, of course -- by the bonds of affection; so they would treat me quite unpleasantly. This happened after I became accustomed to obeying them; before that I had had no such affection for them. I used to laugh to myself when I saw how mistaken they were. I was not always telling them, in so many words, how little attachment I had to anybody, though secretly I knew this to be the case, but I would reassure them, and, when they got to know me better, they learned how much I owed to the Lord -- for these suspicions which they had of me always came at the beginning. Once I had seen this Lord, I was so continually in converse with Him that my love for Him and trust in Him began to increase greatly. I saw that, although God, He was also Man, and is not dismayed at the weaknesses of men, for He understands our miserable nature, liable as it is to frequent falls, because of man's first sin for which He had come to make reparation. Although He is my Lord, I can talk to Him as to a friend, because He is not, I believe, like those whom we call lords on earth, all of whose power[332] rests upon an authority conferred on them by others. Such lords have fixed hours for audiences and persons whom they appoint for the purpose of speaking with them. If some poor man has business with them, he can only get it attended to by employing roundabout methods and currying favours and taking a great deal of trouble. If his business is with a king, and he is poor and not well-born, he cannot approach him directly, but has to find out who are his favourites. And you may be sure they will not be people who trample the world underfoot; for people who do that speak the truth, fear nothing and need fear nothing; they are not meant for palaces, for there they cannot do as they are wont, but must keep silence about anything they dislike and must not dare even to think about it or they will fall from favour.

O King of glory and Lord of all kings! Thy kingdom is not fenced in by trifles, but is infinite. No third party is required to obtain us an audience of Thee. We have only to look at Thy person to see at once that Thou alone deservest to be called Lord. Thou revealest Thy majesty; we need no sight of a retinue or guard to convince us that Thou art a King. An earthly king can scarcely be recognized as such in his own person; for, however much he may wish to be so recognized, no one will believe he is a king if there is nothing about him to distinguish him from others; his majesty must be seen to be believed. So it is reasonable that kings should maintain this artificial authority, for, if they had none, nobody would respect them, as their appearance of power does not come from themselves and their authority must of necessity come from others. O my Lord! O my King! If one could but picture Thy majesty! It is impossible not to see that in Thyself Thou art a great Emperor, for to behold Thy majesty strikes terror. But my terror is greater, my Lord, when together with Thy majesty I behold Thy humility and the love that Thou bestowest on such a creature as I.

We can converse and speak with Thee about anything, just as we wish, when we have lost our initial fear and terror at seeing Thy majesty and acquired a deeper fear of offending Thee -- but not a fear of punishment, my Lord, for that is of no account by comparison with loss of Thee! Here, then, are the benefits of this vision, setting aside other important ones which it leaves behind in the soul. If the vision is of God, its source will be recognizable by its effects, when the soul receives light -- for, as I have often said, the Lord may be pleased for the soul to be in darkness and not to see this light, so it is not surprising if one who knows herself to be as wicked as I should be afraid.

Only quite recently it chanced that for a full week I was in such a condition that I seemed to have lost all sense of my debt to God and was unable to recapture it. I could not remember His favours; and my soul had become so stupid and so much occupied (I know not with what, or how: it was not that I had bad thoughts but that I was incapable of thinking any good ones) that I would laugh at myself and find it pleasant to realize how low a soul can sink when God is not forever working within it. In such a state, the soul sees clearly that it is not without God: this is not like the severe trials which I have said I sometimes experience. The soul collects wood and does all it can by itself, but finds no way of kindling the fire of the love of God. It is only by His great mercy that the smoke can be seen, which shows that the fire is not altogether dead. Then the Lord comes back and kindles it, for the soul is driving itself crazy with blowing on the fire and rearranging the wood, yet all its efforts only put out the fire more and more. I believe the best thing is for the soul to be completely resigned to the fact that of itself it can do nothing, and busy itself, as I have already suggested, in other meritorious activities, for the Lord may perhaps be depriving it of the power to pray, precisely so that it may engage in these other activities and learn by experience how little it can do of itself.

It is true that, while in converse with the Lord to-day, I have dared to complain of His Majesty. "How is it, my God," I have said to Him, "that it is not enough for Thee to keep me in this miserable life, which I endure for love of Thee, willing to live where on every hand there are obstacles to my having fruition of Thee? I have to eat, sleep, attend to my business and mix with people of every kind -- and all this I endure for love of Thee. Well knowest Thou, my Lord, that this is the sorest torment to me. How few are the moments which remain to me for enjoying communion with Thee, and even during these moments Thou hidest Thyself! How does this agree with Thy mercy? How can Thy love for me endure it? Verily, Lord, I believe that, if it were possible for me to hide myself from Thee as Thou hidest Thyself from me, the love that Thou bearest me is such that Thou wouldst not endure it. But Thou art with me and seest me always. My Lord, this is not to be borne; consider, I beseech Thee, what a wrong is being done to one who so much loves Thee."

This and other things, as it chanced, I was saying, while realizing all the time how merciful was the place in hell assigned to me by comparison with the place I deserved. But sometimes love makes me foolish, so that I do not know what I am saying, and I use all the sense I have and make these complaints and the Lord bears with it all. Praised be so good a King! Should we be as bold as this in our approach to earthly kings? I am not surprised that we should not dare to speak to a king, for it is right that he and the lords who act as his representatives should be feared, but the world is now in such a condition that our lives will have to be longer than they are if we are to learn the new customs and details and methods of correct behaviour and yet spend any time in the service of God. When I see all that goes on, I can only cross myself in dismay. The fact is, when I came here[333] I did not know how I was going to live; for when we are careless and omit to treat people much better than they deserve it is not made light of, but considered as a real affront; if, as I said, we have been careless, we have to satisfy people that our intentions were good -- and please God they may believe us!

Really, I repeat, I did not know how I was going to live: you could have seen that my poor soul was worn out. It hears itself being told always to occupy its thoughts with God and to be sure to keep them fixed on Him so that it may escape from all kinds of danger. On the other hand, it discovers that it must not fail to observe a single point of worldly etiquette, lest it should give offence to those who think this etiquette essential to their honour. I used to be simply worn out by all this: my attempts to satisfy people were never-ending, for, study to please them as I would, I was always making mistakes, and, as I say, these are never overlooked as being unimportant. And is it the case that in religious Orders excuses are made for all such things? It might be thought only reasonable that we should be excused from these observances. But no; they say that convents should be courts and schools of good breeding. Personally, I simply cannot understand this. It has occurred to me that some saint may have said that they ought to be courts to teach those who want to be courtiers of Heaven and that this saying may have been wrongly interpreted. But if we are careful, as it is right we should be, always to please God and to hate the world, I do not see how at the same time we can be so very careful to please those who are living in the world, in matters which are so often changing. If these things could be learned once and for all, it might be tolerable. But even for a matter like the addressing of letters we need a University professorship, and lectures would have to be given in that art, or whatever it is to be called. For in one case one part of the paper has to be left blank, and in another case, another part, and the title "Illustrious" has to be given to a man who formerly was not even described as "Magnificent".

I cannot think what we are coming to -- for I am not yet fifty,[334] and even in my own short life I have seen so many changes that I have no idea how to live. What, then, will it be with those who are now being born and whose lives are still before them? I am really sorry for spiritual people who for certain pious reasons are obliged to live in the world: the cross they have to bear is a dreadful one. If they could all come to an agreement to remain ignorant of these sciences and be willing to be considered so, they would escape a great deal of trouble.

But what nonsense I have begun to write! I was discussing the wonders of God and I have descended so far that I am now talking about the pettinesses of the world. So, as the Lord has granted me the favour of allowing me to renounce the world, I will bring this to a close. Let those who toil over the adjustment of such trifles settle them to their own satisfaction. And pray God that in the life to come, where there are no changes, we may not have to pay dearly for them. Amen.

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