The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 38

Describes certain great favours which the Lord bestowed upon her, both in showing her certain heavenly secrets and in granting her other great visions and revelations which His Majesty was pleased that she should experience. Speaks of the effects which these produced upon her and of the great profit which they brought to her soul.

One night, when I was so unwell that I meant to excuse myself from mental prayer, I took a rosary, so as to occupy myself in vocal prayer, trying not to be recollected in mind, though, as I was in an oratory, I was recollected to all outward appearance. But, when the Lord wills it otherwise, such efforts are of little avail. I had been in that condition only a very short time when there came to me a spiritual impulse of such vehemence that resistance to it was impossible. I thought I was being carried up to Heaven: the first persons I saw there were my father and mother, and such great things happened in so short a time -- no longer than it would take to repeat an Ave María -- that I was completely lost to myself, and thought it far too great a favour. I was afraid lest it might be an illusion, but, as it did not seem to be so, I did not know what to do, for I was very much ashamed to go to my confessor about it -- not, I think, because of any humility but for fear he might laugh at me and say: "What a Saint Paul she is, with her heavenly visions! Quite a Saint Jerome!" Because these glorious saints had had visions of this kind, I was the more afraid, and did nothing but shed copious tears, for I did not think it possible that I had been sharing their experiences. In the end, though feeling still worse about it, I went to see my confessor, for, however much it troubled me to speak of such things, I never dared to keep silence about them, so fearful was I of being deceived. When he saw how worried I was about it, he comforted me a great deal, and gave me a great many good reasons for not being troubled.

With the progress of time, the Lord continued to show me further great secrets: sometimes He does so still. The soul may wish to see more than is pictured to it, but there is no way in which it may do so, nor is it possible that it should; and so I never on any occasion saw more than the Lord was pleased to show me. What I saw was so great that the smallest part of it was sufficient to leave my soul amazed and to do it so much good that it esteemed and considered all the things of this life as of little worth. I wish I could give a description of at least the smallest part of what I learned, but, when I try to discover a way of doing so, I find it impossible; for, while the light we see here and that other light are both light, there is no comparison between the two and the brightness of the sun seems quite dull if compared with the other. In short, however skilful the imagination may be, it will not succeed in picturing or describing what that light is like, nor a single one of those things which I learned from the Lord with a joy so sovereign as to be indescribable. For all the senses rejoice in a high degree, and with a sweetness impossible to describe, for which reason it is better to say no more about it.

Once, when I had been for more than an hour in this state, and the Lord had shown me wonderful things, and it seemed as if He were not going to leave me, He said to me: "See, daughter, what those who are against Me lose: do not fail to tell them of it." Ah, my Lord, how little will my words profit those who are blinded by their own actions unless Thy Majesty gives them light! Some persons to whom Thou hast given it have profited by the knowledge of Thy wonders, but they see them, my Lord, as revealed to a wicked and miserable creature like myself, so that I think it will be a great thing if there should be anyone who believes me. Blessed be Thy name and Thy mercy, for I have found that my own soul at least has notably improved. Afterwards I could have wished that my soul had remained in that state for ever and that I had not returned to this life, for I was left with a great contempt for everything earthly. It seemed to me like dung and I see how base are the occupations of those of us who are detained here below.

It happened on one occasion while I was staying with that lady whom I have mentioned,[335] and I was troubled with my heart (as I have said, I have suffered with this a great deal, though less so of late), that, being an extremely kind person, she had some very valuable golden trinkets and stones brought out for me, and in particular a set of diamonds, supposed to be of great price, thinking that they would cheer me. But I only laughed to myself, thinking what a pity it is that people esteem such things, remembering what the Lord has laid up for us and reflecting how impossible it would be for me to set any store by these things, even if I tried to make myself do so, unless the Lord were to allow me to forget those others.

The soul that feels like this has great dominion over itself -- so great that I do not know if it can be understood by anyone who does not possess it, for it is a real, natural detachment, achieved without labour of our own. It is all effected by God, for, when His Majesty reveals these truths, they are so deeply impressed upon our souls as to show us clearly that we could not in so short a time acquire them ourselves. I was also left with very little fear of death, of which previously I had been very much afraid. Now it seems to me very easy for one who serves God, for in a moment the soul finds itself freed from this prison and at rest. This experience, in which God bears away the spirit in these transports and shows it such excellent things, seems to me very much like that in which a soul leaves the body; for it finds itself in possession of all these good things in a single instant. We may leave out of account the pains of the moment of its flight, to which no great importance need be attached: to those who love God in truth and have put aside the things of this world death must come very gently.

I think, too, that this experience has been of great help to me in teaching me where our true home is and in showing me that on earth we are but pilgrims; it is a great thing to see what is awaiting us there and to know where we are going to live. For if a person has to go and settle in another country, it is a great help to him in bearing the trials of the journey if he has found out that it is a country where he will be able to live in complete comfort. It also makes it easy for us to die if we think upon heavenly things and try to have our conversation in Heaven. This is a great advantage for us: merely to look up towards the heavens makes the soul recollected, for, as the Lord has been pleased to reveal some part of what is there, the thought dwells upon it. It sometimes happens that those with whom I keep company, and whose presence comforts me, are those who I know live in Heaven: they, it seems to me, are the people who are really alive, while those who live on earth are so dead that it seems as if there is no one in the whole world who can be a companion to me, especially when those vehement impulses come upon me.

Everything I see is like a dream and what I see with my bodily eyes is a mockery. What my soul desires is what I have seen with the eyes of the soul; and, finding itself so far away from it all, it desires death. In short, this is a very great favour that the Lord grants to those on whom He bestows such visions, for by so doing He helps them greatly, yet at the same time gives them a heavy cross to carry, for all the things they have are powerless to satisfy them, but are simply impediments. If the Lord were not sometimes to allow these visions to be forgotten (though later they return to the remembrance), I do not know how one could live. Blessed be He and praised for ever and ever! May His Majesty grant, by the blood which His Son shed for me, that, seeing He has been pleased to give me some understanding of these great blessings, and I have in some degree begun to enjoy them, I may not share the fate of Lucifer, who by his own fault lost everything. For His own sake may He not allow this: sometimes I have no little fear that He will, although, as a general rule, the mercy of God gives me assurance, for, as He has delivered me from so many sins, He will not let me out of His hand and permit me to be lost. I beg Your Reverence to beg this of Him for me always.

The favours I have already mentioned are not, I think, as great as one which I shall now describe, for many reasons and because of the great blessings which it has bestowed on me, together with great fortitude of soul, although each of these favours, considered by itself, is so great that there is nothing with which it can be compared.[336]

One day -- it was the vigil of Pentecost -- I went, after Mass, to a very solitary spot,[337] where I used often to say my prayers, and began to read about this festival in the Carthusian's Life of Christ.338 As I read about the signs by which beginners, proficients and perfect may know if the Holy Spirit is with them, it seemed to me, when I had read about these three states, that by the goodness of God, and so far as I could understand, He was certainly with me then. For this I praised God and remembered a previous occasion when I had read this passage and when I lacked much that I now have; this I saw very clearly, and, as I became aware how different I am now, I realized what a great favour the Lord had granted me. So I began to meditate on the place in hell which I deserved for my sins, and I gave great praises to God, for so changed was my life that I seemed not to recognize my own soul. While I was meditating in this way a strong impulse seized me without my realizing why. It seemed as if my soul were about to leave the body, because it could no longer contain itself and was incapable of waiting for so great a blessing. The impulse was so exceedingly strong that it made me quite helpless. It was different, I think, from those which I had experienced on other occasions, and I did not know what was the matter with my soul, or what it wanted, so changed was it. I had to seek some physical support, for so completely did my natural strength fail me that I could not even remain seated.

While in this condition, I saw a dove over my head, very different from those we see on earth, for it had not feathers like theirs but its wings were made of little shells which emitted a great brilliance. It was larger than a dove; I seemed to hear the rustling of its wings. It must have been fluttering like this for the space of an Ava María. But my soul was in such a state that, as it became lost to itself, it also lost sight of the dove. My spirit was calmed by so gracious a guest, though I think it must have been disturbed and alarmed at experiencing this marvellous favour; as it began to rejoice in it, however, its fear left it, and with its joy came a return of its tranquillity, and it remained in rapture.

The glory of this rapture was surpassingly great; for most of the festal season I was so bewildered and stupid that I did not know what to do or how I could be capable of receiving so great a favour and grace. It was as if I could neither hear nor see, so great was my inward joy. From that time forward I became conscious of the greatest progress in the highest love of God and of a very great trengthening in virtue. May He be blessed and praised for ever. Amen.

On another occasion I saw the same dove over the head of a Father of the Order of Saint Dominic, though I thought the rays and the brightness of its wings extended much farther. I took this to mean that he was to draw souls to God.

On another occasion I saw Our Lady putting a pure white cope on a Presentado of this same Order of whom I have several times spoken.[339] She told me that she was giving him that vestment because of the service he had rendered her in helping in the foundation of this house, and as a sign that from that time forward his soul would remain pure and that he would not fall into mortal sin. I am sure that this came true, for a few years later he died, and both his death and the last years of his life were marked by such penitence, and his life and death were so holy, that, as far as one can understand, there is no possibility of doubt about it. A friar who had been present when he died informed me that, before passing away, he had told him that Saint Thomas was with him. He died with great joy and with a longing to depart from this exile.[340] Since then he has several times appeared to me in very great glory and told me a number of things. He was such a man of prayer that although, before he died, he was so weak that he would have liked to cease praying, he was so often in rapture that he could not do so. Shortly before his death, he wrote to me to ask what he ought to do; for no sooner had he finished saying Mass than he would go for a long time into rapture and was quite unable to prevent himself from doing so. In the end, God gave him the reward of the many services which he had rendered Him during his whole life.

With regard to the Rector of the Company of Jesus, whom I have already mentioned several times,[341] I have had a number of visions of the great favours which the Lord was bestowing upon him, but, lest I should write at too great length, I am not setting them down here. It once happened that he was in great trouble, having been sorely persecuted and finding himself in great distress. One day, when I was hearing Mass, at the elevation of the Host I saw Christ on the Cross. He spoke certain words to me, which He told me to repeat to the Rector for his comfort, and He added other things to warn him of what was to come and to remind him of what He had suffered for him and how he too must prepare to suffer. This brought him great comfort and gave him courage and everything has since happened as the Lord told me it would.

Concerning the members of the Order to which this Father belongs -- namely, the Company of Jesus[342] -- and of the entire Order itself, I have seen great things. On several occasions I saw these Fathers in Heaven with white banners in their hands, and, as I say, I have seen other things concerning them which give cause for great wonder. Thus I hold this Order in great veneration, for I have had a great deal to do with its members and I see that their lives are in conformity with what the Lord has given me to understand about them.

One night, when I was at prayer, the Lord began to talk to me. He reminded me how wicked my life had been and made me feel very much confused and distressed; for, although He did not speak severely, His words caused me to be consumed with distress and sorrow. A single word of this kind makes a person more keenly aware of his advance in self-knowledge than do many days spent in meditating upon his own wretchedness, for it bears a stamp of truth the reality of which none can deny. He pictured to me the earlier movements of my will, showed me how vain they had been, and told me that I must prize the desire that I now had to fix upon Him a will which had spent itself as foolishly as mine had done, and that He would accept this desire. On other occasions He told me to remember how I used to think it honourable to oppose His honour. On others, again, to remember what I owed Him, for even when I was dealing Him the cruellest of blows, He was bestowing favours upon me. When I am committing any faults -- and my faults are not few -- His Majesty makes me so conscious of them that I feel entirely confused with shame, and so numerous are they that this happens often. Sometimes it has chanced that my confessor has rebuked me, and, when I have tried to find comfort in prayer, I have been soundly rebuked there as well.

Let me now return to what I was saying. As the Lord began to remind me of the wickedness of my past life, and in the midst of the tears which I shed at having till then, as I thought, achieved nothing, I wondered if He was about to show me some favour. For it is quite usual for the Lord to grant me some special favour after I have been beside myself with shame, so that I may the better realize how far I am from deserving it; I think this must be the Lord's doing. Soon after this, my spirit became so completely transported that it seemed to have departed almost wholly from the body: or, at least, there was no way of telling that it was in the body. I saw the most sacred Humanity in far greater glory than I had ever seen before. I saw a most clear and wonderful representation of it in the bosom of the Father. I cannot possibly explain how this happened, but, without seeing anything, I seemed to see myself in the presence of the Godhead. I was amazed, so much so that I believe several days must have gone by before I was completely myself again. I seemed all the time to have present with me that Majesty of the Son of God, although not in the same way as in the first vision. This I was quite well able to understand, but it remained so indelibly stamped upon my imagination that for some time, quickly as it passed, I could not rid myself of it: it is a wonderful comfort to me and it also does me a great deal of good.

I have beheld this same vision on three other occasions: I think it is the sublimest vision which the Lord has granted me grace to see, and it brings with it the greatest benefits. It appears to have a wonderfully purifying effect upon the soul and almost entirely destroys the power of our sensual nature. It is a great flame, which seems to burn up and annihilate all life's desires; for, although -- glory be to God! -- I had no desires for vain things, I was clearly shown here how everything was vanity, and how vain, how completely vain, are all worldly dignities. This is a wonderful way of teaching the soul to lift up its desires in purity of truth. It impresses on it a sense of reverence which I cannot possibly describe, but which is very different from anything that we can acquire on earth. The soul becomes astounded when it remembers that it has dared to offend His exceeding great Majesty and that there is anyone else who can dare to do the same.

I must have spoken several times of these effects produced by visions and other experiences of that kind, but, as I have already said, there are greater and lesser degrees of profit to be extracted from them, and it is this kind of vision that causes the greatest profit of all. Whenever I approached the altar to communicate, and remembered that exceeding great Majesty which I had seen, and considered that it was He Who was in the Most Holy Sacrament and that the Lord was often pleased that I should see Him in the Host, my hair would stand on end and I would feel completely annihilated. O my Lord! Didst Thou not cloak Thy greatness, who would dare to come so often to the union of such foulness and wretchedness with such great Majesty? Blessed be Thou, Lord. Let the angels and all creatures praise Thee, Who measurest things by our weakness, so that, while we are rejoicing in Thy sovereign favours, we may not be so much affrighted by Thy great power as not to dare, because we are weak and miserable creatures, to rejoice in those favours.

We might have the same experience as a certain peasant -- and this is a thing which I know actually happened. He found some treasure, much more valuable than his dull mind was capable of grasping; and the mere possession of it gradually brought on a melancholy, so that eventually he died of pure distress and worry because he had no idea what to do with it. If he had not found it all at once, but had been given it by degrees, so that he could have lived upon it, he would have been happier than when he was poor and it would not have cost him his life.

O Wealth of the poor, how wonderfully canst Thou sustain souls, revealing Thy great riches to them gradually and not permitting them to see them all at once! Since the time of that vision I have never seen such great Majesty, hidden in a thing so small as the Host, without marvelling at Thy great wisdom. I cannot tell how the Lord gives me courage or strength to approach Him; I only know that it is bestowed on me by Him Who has granted me, and still grants me, such great favours. I could never possibly conceal this or refrain from proclaiming aloud such great marvels. What must be the feelings of a wretch like myself, weighed down with abominations, who has gone through life with so little fear of God, when she finds herself approaching this Lord of such Majesty, Whose will it is that my soul shall see Him? How can I open my mouth, which has uttered so many words against this same Lord, to receive that most glorious Body, full of purity and compassion? For the soul, knowing that it has not served Him, is much more grieved and afflicted by the love shining in that face of such great beauty, so kindly and so tender, than it is affrighted by the Majesty which it sees in Him.

What, then, must my feelings have been on two occasions when I saw the things that I shall now describe? Indeed, my Lord and my Glory, I am going to say that in some measure these great afflictions experienced by my soul have resembled acts performed in Thy service. Ah, I know not what I am saying, for I am writing this almost as though I were not myself speaking: I find I am troubled, and even somewhat distraught, as I recall these things to my memory. If these feelings really came from me, my Lord, I might well say that I had done something for Thee, but, as there can be no good thoughts unless Thou givest them, no thanks for them can be due to me. I, Lord, am the debtor, and it is Thou Who hast been offended.

Once, when I was about to communicate, I saw, with the eyes of the soul, more clearly than ever I could with those of the body, two devils of most hideous aspect. Their horns seemed to be around the poor priest's throat; and when I saw my Lord, with the Majesty which I have described, in the hands of such a man, in the Host which he was about to give me, I knew for a certainty that those hands had offended Him and realized that here was a soul in mortal sin. What must it be, my Lord, to see that beauty of Thine between two such hideous forms? In Thy presence they seemed so cowed and terrified that I think they would gladly have fled, hadst Thou allowed them to go. This upset me so much that I do not know how I was able to communicate, and I was sore afraid, for, I thought, had it been a vision from God, His Majesty would not have allowed me to see the evil that was in that soul. Then the Lord Himself told me to pray for him and said He had allowed me to see this so that I might realize what power there was in the words of consecration, and that, however wicked the priest who pronounces those words may be, God is always present without fail. He wanted me also to appreciate His great goodness in placing Himself in the hands of that enemy of His, and this solely for my good and for the good of all. This showed me clearly how much stricter is the obligation laid upon priests to be virtuous than upon other people, and what a terrible thing it is to take this Most Holy Sacrament unworthily, and how complete is the devil's dominion over the soul that is in mortal sin. It was of the very greatest help to me and gave me the fullest knowledge of what I owe to God. May He be blessed for ever and ever.

On another occasion something else of this kind happened to me which gave me a bad fright. I was in a place where a certain person had died after leading for many years, as I knew, a very bad life. But for two years he had been ill and in some respects seemed to have mended his ways. He died without making his confession, but in spite of all this I did not myself think he would be damned. While his body was being wrapped in its shroud, I saw a great many devils taking hold of it and apparently playing with it and treating it roughly. I was horrified at this: they were dragging it about in turn with large hooks. When I saw it being taken to burial with the same honour and ceremony that is paid to all dead persons, I kept thinking upon the goodness of God Who would not allow that soul to be dishonoured but permitted the fact of its having been His enemy to be concealed.

After what I had seen I was half crazy. During the whole of the funeral office I saw no more devils; but afterwards, when the body was laid in the grave, there was such a crowd of them waiting there to take possession of it that I was beside myself at the sight and had need of no little courage to hide the fact. If they were taking possession like this of the unfortunate body, I reflected, what would they do with the soul? Would to God that this frightful thing which I saw could be seen by everyone who is leading an evil life! I think it would be a great incentive to amendment. All this makes me realize better what I owe to God and what He has saved me from. Until I had talked to my confessor about it I was terribly frightened, wondering if it were an illusion produced by the devil to dishonour that person's soul, though he was not considered to be a very good Christian. In any case, illusion or no, the very remembrance of it always makes me afraid.

Now that I have begun to talk of visions about the dead, I will refer to some matters, in connection with certain souls, which the Lord has been pleased to reveal to me. For brevity's sake and because they are not necessary -- for our profit, I mean -- I will describe only a few of them. I was told of the death of a former Provincial of ours -- at the time of his death he was Provincial of another province -- whom I had had to do with and had reason to be grateful to for several kindnesses.[343] He had been a person of many virtues. When I heard of his death, I was greatly perturbed, for I was fearful about his salvation, as he had been a superior for twenty years -- this always causes me misgivings, for it seems to me a very dangerous thing to have the charge of souls. So, greatly distressed, I went to an oratory. There I offered on his behalf all the good I had done in my whole life, which must have been very little, and then I begged the Lord to make up the deficiency for that soul with His own merits so as to deliver it from purgatory.

While I was praying to the Lord for him to the best of my ability, he seemed to me to rise up, on my right hand, from the depths of the earth, and I saw him ascend to Heaven with the greatest joy. He had actually been very old, but, as I saw him then, he seemed to be about thirty, or even less, and his face was bright and shining. This vision passed very quickly, but I was so wonderfully comforted that I could never again grieve about his death, although I found people greatly distressed by it, for he was very much loved. So greatly was my soul comforted that nothing troubled me and I could not doubt that this was a genuine vision -- I mean, that it was no illusion. He had not been dead more than a fortnight at the time; none the less, I did not cease trying to get people to commend him to God and to do so myself, except that I could not pray with the same fervour as if I had not seen this vision; for, once the Lord had revealed him to me in that way, I could not help feeling that to want to commend him to His Majesty was like giving alms to a rich man. I heard later about the kind of death which the Lord granted him -- for he died a long way from here. It was one which caused me great edification; he was in such complete possession of his faculties when he died, and so repentant and humble, that everyone was astounded.

A nun who had been a great servant of God had died in our house,[344] and rather more than a day and a half later there occurred the following incident. The office for the departed was being said for her in choir; a nun was reading the lesson; and I was standing there to assist her with the versicle. Halfway through the lesson I saw the dead sister: her soul seemed to be rising on my right hand, as in the preceding vision, and to be going up to Heaven. This was not an imaginary vision, as the last had been, but was like the others to which I have referred already. There is no more reason for doubting it, however, than for doubting visions which are seen.

Another nun who died in this same house of mine was about eighteen to twenty years old. She had always had poor health; and she served God well and was fond of choir and very virtuous. I certainly thought she would not have to go to purgatory, for not only had she suffered much from illness but she had superabundant merits. About four hours after her death, while the Hours were being said before she was buried, I perceived her in the same place, ascending to Heaven.

Once I was in a college of the Company of Jesus, suffering severely in soul and body, as I have said I sometimes used to, and still do, to such an extent that I was hardly capable of thinking a single good thought. On that night a brother of that house of the Company had died[345]; and, while I was commending him to God as well as I was able, and hearing a Mass which was being said for him by another Father of the Company, I became deeply recollected and saw him ascending to Heaven in great glory, and the Lord ascending with him. I understood that it was by a special favour that His Majesty bore him company.

Another friar of our Order -- a very good friar -- was extremely ill[346]; and while I was at Mass I became recollected and saw that he was dead and was ascending into Heaven without passing through purgatory. He had died, as I afterwards heard, at the very hour at which I saw him. I was amazed that he had not gone to purgatory. I learned that, as he had been a friar who had faithfully observed his Rule, the Bulls of the Order had been of avail to save him from going there. I do not know why I was allowed to learn this: I think it must have been to teach me that being a friar does not consist in a habit -- I mean, in the wearing of the habit -- and that this does not in itself imply the state of greatest perfection, which is that of a friar.

I will say no more of these matters, for, as I have said, it is unnecessary for me to do so, though the Lord has granted me the favour of seeing a great many such things. But from none of the visions that I have seen have I ever gathered that any soul has escaped purgatory save the souls of this Father, of the saintly Fray Peter of Alcántara and of the Dominican Father whom I have mentioned.[347] The Lord has been pleased that I should see the degrees of glory to which some persons have been raised and has shown them to me in the places which have been assigned to them. There is a great difference between some of these places and others.

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