The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 40

Continues the same subject and tells of the great favours which the Lord has granted her. From some of these may be obtained most excellent teaching, and, next to obedience, her principal motive in writing has been, as she has said, to convey this instruction and to describe such favours as are for the profit of souls. With this chapter the narrative of her life which she has written comes to an end. May it be to the glory of the Lord. Amen.

Once, when I was in prayer, I felt within myself such great joy that, being unworthy of such a blessing, I began to think how much more I deserved to be in the place which I had seen prepared for me in hell; for, as I have said, I never forget the vision which I once had of myself there. As I meditated in this way, my soul began to be more vehemently enkindled and there came to me a spiritual transport of a kind which I cannot describe. My spirit seemed to be plunged into that Majesty of which I have been conscious on other occasions, and to be filled with It. In this Majesty I was given to understand a truth which is the fulfilment of all truths, yet I cannot tell how, for I saw nothing. Someone said to me -- I could not see who, but I was quite clear that it was the Truth Itself: "This that I am doing for thee is no small thing, but one of the things for which thou art greatly indebted to Me; for all the harm which comes to the world is due to a failure to know the truths of Scripture in the clarity of their truth, of which not a tittle shall fail."[357] I thought that I had always believed this and that all the faithful believed it. Then He said to me: "Ah, daughter, how few are they who love Me in truth! If people loved Me, I should not hide my secrets from them. Knowest thou what it is to love Me in truth? It is to realize that everything which is not pleasing to Me is a lie. Thou dost not yet realize this, but thou shalt come to see it clearly in the profit it will bring to thy soul."

And, praised be the Lord, I have indeed come to see it: since that time I have looked upon all that I do not see being directed to the service of God as vanity and lies. I could not explain how it is that I realize this or say how much I pity those whom I see living in darkness with respect to this truth. From this, too, I have derived other advantages which I shall here describe and many others which I cannot. On the occasion referred to, the Lord said one special thing which has been of the greatest help to me. I do not know how this happened, for I saw nothing, but, in a way which I cannot explain, I acquired an extreme fortitude so that I became most firmly resolved to carry out with all my might the very smallest thing contained in the Divine Scripture. I believe that there is no obstacle that could present itself to me which I could not overcome.

From this Divine Truth,[358] which was presented to me with out my knowing what it was or how it came, there remained imprinted upon me one truth in particular. It gives me a fresh reverence for God, by granting me a knowledge of His Majesty and Power in a way which it is impossible to describe; but I can at least understand that it is a great thing. It gave me a very great desire to speak only of things which are very true and which go far beyond any that are treated of in the world, and thus living in the world began to cause me deep distress.[359] It left me filled with a great tenderness, consoled and humbled. I thought, without understanding how, that the Lord had now given me a great deal; I had not the least misgiving lest it should be an illusion. I saw nothing, but I understood what a great blessing it is to set no store by anything that will not bring us nearer to God. Thus I understood what it is for a soul to be walking in truth in the presence of Truth Itself. And what I understood comes to this: the Lord showed me that He is Truth Itself.

All that I have been saying I learned, sometimes by means of locutions, and sometimes without their instrumentality -- and yet I grasped these latter things more clearly than others which were told me in words. About this Truth I learned the profoundest truths and more of them than if I had been taught them by many learned men. I do not think learned men could ever have impressed upon me so strongly or have shown me so clearly the vanity of this world. This truth which I am referring to and which was taught me is truth in itself, and is without beginning or end, and upon this truth all other truths depend, just as all other loves depend upon this love and all other greatnesses upon this greatness. This is an obscure way of putting the clear truth which the Lord was pleased should be revealed to me. And what the might of this Majesty must be when in so short a time it brings the soul such great gain and leaves such things as this imprinted upon it! Oh, my Majesty and Greatness! What art Thou doing, my Lord Almighty? Consider to whom Thou art granting such sovereign mercies. Dost Thou not remember that this soul has been an abyss of lies and an ocean of vanities and all through my own fault? Thou hadst given me a nature which abhorred lying, yet in many things I allowed myself to deal in lies. How, my God, can it be thought fitting or tolerable for such great favours to be granted to one who has deserved so ill of Thee?

On one occasion, when I was reciting the Hours with the community, my soul suddenly became recollected and seemed to me to become bright all over like a mirror: no part of it -- back, sides, top or bottom -- but was completely bright, and in the centre of it was a picture of Christ Our Lord as I generally see Him. I seemed to see Him in every part of my soul as clearly as in a mirror, and this mirror -- I cannot explain how -- was wholly sculptured in the same Lord by a most loving communication which I shall never be able to describe. This, I know, was a vision which, whenever I recall it, and especially after Communion, is always of great profit to me. It was explained to me that, when a soul is in mortal sin, this mirror is covered with a thick mist and remains darkened so that the Lord cannot be pictured or seen in it, though He is always present with us and gives us our being; with heretics it is as if the mirror were broken, which is much worse than being dimmed. Seeing this is very different from describing it, for it cannot be properly explained. But it has helped me a great deal and has also caused me deep regrets at the many occasions when, through my faults, my soul has become darkened and so I have been unable to see the Lord.

This vision seems to me a very beneficial one for recollected persons, for it teaches them to think of the Lord as being in the very innermost part of their soul. This is a meditation which has a lasting effect, and, as I have said on other occasions, is much more fruitful than thinking of Him as outside us, as certain books do which treat of prayer, telling us where we are to seek God. This is particularly well put by the glorious Saint Augustine, who says that neither in market places[360] nor in pleasures nor wheresoever else he sought Him did he find Him as he did within himself.[361] It is quite clear that this is the best way: we need not go to Heaven, nor any farther than to our own selves, for to do that is to trouble the spirit and distract the soul, without producing any great fruit.

There is one thing which happens in a deep rapture and of which I want to give warning here: when the period has passed during which the soul is in union and its faculties are wholly absorbed -- and this period, as I have said, is short -- the soul will still be recollected, and be unable, even in outward things, to return to itself; two of the faculties -- memory and understanding -- will be quite bewildered, and almost in a state of frenzy. This, as I say, sometimes happens, especially at the beginning. It may, I imagine, be a result of the inability of our natural weakness to endure such spiritual vehemence, and of the weakening of the imagination. I know this happens to some people. I should think it a good idea for them to force themselves to give up prayer and to take it up again later, at some time when they have leisure, for if they try to pray while in that state they may come to great harm. And I have experience of this and of the wisdom of considering what our health can bear.

In all this we need experience and a director; for, when the soul has reached this stage, many things will occur which it will need to discuss with someone. Yet, if it seeks such a person unsuccessfully, the Lord will not fail it, for, even though I am what I am, He has not failed me. I believe there are few who have acquired experience of all these things, and without experience it is useless to attempt to bring a soul relief -- one will bring it only disquiet and distress. This the Lord will also take into account, for which reason it is better, as I have said on other occasions, to discuss the matter with one's confessor. All that I am saying now I have said already, but I do not remember it very well, and I am sure the relations of penitent and confessor, and the type of confessor to be chosen, are very important matters, especially to women. The Lord gives these favours far more to women than to men: I have heard the saintly Fray Peter of Alcántara say that, and I have also observed it myself. He would say that women made much more progress on this road than men, and gave excellent reasons for this, which there is no point in my repeating here, all in favour of women.

Once, when I was in prayer, I saw, for a very brief time and without any distinctness of form, but with perfect clarity, how all things are seen in God and how within Himself He contains them all. Describe this I cannot, but the vision remained firmly imprinted upon my soul and is one of those great favours which the Lord has granted me and which, when I remember the sins I have committed, cause me the greatest confusion and shame. I believe, if it had been the Lord's will for me to have seen this vision earlier, and if it had been seen by those who offend Him, they would have neither the heart nor the presumption to do so. I cannot say with certainty that I saw nothing, for, as I am able to make this comparison, something must have been visible to me; but the vision comes in so subtle and delicate a way that the understanding cannot grasp it. Or it may be that I cannot understand these visions, which do not seem to be imaginary, though there must be an imaginary element in some of them; but, as they take place during raptures, the faculties are unable, after the rapture is over, to form the picture which the Lord has revealed to them and in which it is His will that they should rejoice.

Let us say that the Godhead is like a very clear diamond, much larger than the whole world, or a mirror, like that which symbolized the soul in my account of an earlier vision, except that it is of a far sublimer kind, to which I cannot do justice. Let us suppose, furthermore, that all we do is seen in this diamond, which is of such a kind that it contains everything within itself, because there is nothing capable of falling outside such greatness. It was a terrifying experience for me, in so short a space of time, to see so many things at once in the clear depths of that diamond, and whenever I think of it, it is a most piteous reflection, that so many foul things, like my sins, should have been pictured in that clearness and purity. So, whenever I remember this, I do not know how to bear it and at that time I felt so ashamed that I did not seem to know where to hide myself. Oh, that someone could reveal this to those who commit the most foul and dishonourable sins and could make them realize that their sins are not hidden; that, committed as they are in His Majesty's own presence, God justly grieves for them; and that we are behaving in His sight with the greatest irreverence! I saw how truly one single mortal sin merits hell; it is impossible to understand how grave an offence it is to commit such a sin in the sight of such great Majesty and how alienated such things are from His nature. And thus His mercy becomes ever the more clearly seen, for, though He knows that we are doing all this, He none the less bears with us.

This has also made me wonder, if one such experience as this leaves the soul so terrified, what the Judgment Day will be like, when His Majesty will reveal Himself to us clearly and we shall see the offences we have committed. Oh, God help me, how blind I have been! I have often been amazed at what I have written, but Your Reverence must not be amazed except at my being still alive when I see these things and consider what I am. May He Who has borne with me for so long be blessed for ever.

Once when I was in prayer, and deep in recollection, sweetness and quiet, I thought I was surrounded by angels and very near to God. I began to entreat His Majesty for the Church. I was shown what a great benefit would be conferred upon it in the latter days by one of the Orders and by the fortitude with which its members would uphold the Faith.[362]

Once when I was praying before the Most Holy Sacrament there appeared to me a holy man whose Order had been to some extent in a state of decline. In his hands he was holding a large book; he opened this and told me to read a few words which were in large and very legible print. "In the times to come," they said, "this Order will flourish; it will have many martyrs."[363]

On another occasion when I was at Matins in choir, I saw in front of me the figures of six or seven members of this same Order, with swords in their hands. I take this to mean that they are to defend the Faith. For at another time, when I was in prayer, my spirit was carried away and I thought I was in a great field where many people were fighting and the members of this Order were doing battle with great fervour. They had lovely faces, quite lit up with zeal; many were vanquished and laid low by them; others were killed. This, I thought, was a battle against the heretics.

I have seen this glorious Saint several times and he has told me various things and thanked me for praying for his Order and promised to commend me to the Lord. I do not name these Orders. If the Lord wishes it to be known which they are, He will make it clear, and in that case the rest will not be offended. Each Order, and every individual member of an Order should strive that the Lord may use it and him to bless it so that it may serve Him in the Church's present great necessity. Blessed are the lives which are spent in doing this.

I was once asked by someone to beg God to tell him if he would be serving Him by accepting a bishopric.[364] And after Communion the Lord said to me: When he has quite clearly and truly realized that true dominion consists in possessing nothing, then he may take it." By this He meant that anyone who is to hold a position of authority should be very far from desiring or wishing for one, or at least from trying to obtain one.

These and many other favours the Lord has granted this sinner and still grants her continually. But there is no need, I think, for me to describe any more of them, for from what I have said can be gathered what progress my soul is making and how much spirituality the Lord has given me. Blessed be He for ever, Who has had so much care for me!

Once He told me, by way of consolation, not to worry -- and He said this very lovingly -- for in this life we could not always be in the same condition. Sometimes I should be fervent and at other times not; sometimes I should be restless and at other times, in spite of temptations, I should be tranquil. But I was to hope in Him and not to be afraid.

One day I was wondering if I was too much attached to the world because I was happy when I was with the people to whom I speak about my soul and had an affection for them, and because, when I see that anyone is a great servant of God, I always find comfort in his company. And the Lord told me that if a sick man had been at death's door, and attributed his recovery to a physician, it would be no virtue in him to fail to thank him and not to love him. What would have become of me, He continued, but for these people? The conversation of good people never did any harm, and provided my conversation was always carefully considered and virtuous I should not cease mixing with them, and I should find that they would do me good rather than harm. This comforted me a great deal, for I used sometimes to think myself over-attached to them and would want to have nothing to do with them at all. The Lord would always give me counsel about everything, even to the point of telling me how I must deal with people who were weak and with certain others. He never fails to look after me; sometimes I am distressed when I see of how little use I am in His service and how I am obliged to spend so much more time than I should like in a body as weak and miserable as mine is.

Once, when the time came for me to go to bed, I was in prayer, and I was suffering very great pain and beginning to experience my usual sickness. Seeing how tied I was to my body, yet how, on the other hand, my spirit craved time for itself, I became so depressed that I started to shed floods of tears and to be in great distress. This happened not only once but, as I say, often: it seemed to make me exasperated with myself, and whenever that happens I regard myself with abhorrence. But as a general rule I do not think I regard myself so, nor do I fail to do anything I see to be necessary for me. Please God I do not often do more than is essential, though sometimes I am bound to. On this occasion, as I say, when I was so distressed, the Lord appeared to me and comforted me a great deal and said I was to do these things for love of Him and to put up with everything, for my life was necessary now. I think I have never found myself distressed since I resolved to serve this Lord and Comforter of mine with all my might; for, though He would let me suffer a little, He would comfort me in such a way that it is nothing to me to desire trials. So there seems to me now to be no other reason for living than this, and it is for this that I pray to God most earnestly. I sometimes say to Him with my whole will: "To die, Lord, or to suffer! I ask nothing else of Thee for myself but this." It comforts me to hear a clock strike, for when I find that another hour of life has passed away, I seem to be getting a little nearer to the vision of God.

At other times I am in a state in which I do not feel I am alive and yet I do not seem to want to die[365]: as I have said is frequently the case, I experience a kind of lukewarmness and everything is dark as a result of the great trials I am suffering. When the Lord was pleased that these favours which His Majesty is granting me should become publicly known (which He told me some years ago would happen), I was greatly troubled, and, as Your Reverence knows, it has caused me no little suffering down to this very day, for everyone interprets them as he likes. It has been a comfort to me that they have become known through no fault of mine, for I have been very careful, and at great pains, never to talk about them except to my confessors and to people to whom I have known that my confessors have spoken about them: this I have done, not from humility, but because it has distressed me to speak of them even to my confessors. Now, however, though, out of a zeal for righteousness, people may speak very ill of me, and others are afraid to have anything to do with me or to hear my confessions, while still others say all kinds of things to my face, I care about it -- glory be to God! -- very little; for I believe the Lord has chosen this means of helping many souls, and I know quite well how much the Lord Himself would suffer for the sake of just one soul: I often call that to mind. I do not know if it is for that reason that His Majesty has put me in this little corner,[366] where I live in such strict enclosure, and where I am so much like a dead thing that I once thought nobody would ever remember me again. But this has not been so to the extent that I should like, as there are certain people to whom I am obliged to speak. Still, I am not in a place where I can be seen, so the Lord seems to have been pleased at last to bring me to a haven, which I hope in His Majesty will be a safe one.

As I am now out of the world, and my companions are few and saintly, I look down upon the world as from above and care very little what people say or what is known about me. I care more about the smallest degree of progress achieved by one single soul than for all the things that people may say about me; for, since I have been here, it has been the Lord's will that this should become the aim of all my desires. He has given me a life which is a kind of sleep: when I see things, I nearly always seem to be dreaming them. In myself I find no great propensity either to joy or to sorrow. If anything produces either of these conditions in me, it passes so quickly that I marvel, and the feeling it leaves is like the feeling left by a dream. And it is really true that, if later I should want to be glad about that occasion of joy or to feel sad about that cause for sorrow, I am no more capable of doing so than is a sensible person of either grieving or glorying over anything he may have dreamed. My soul has been awakened by the Lord from a condition in which I used to feel as I did because I was neither mortified nor dead to the things of the world; and His Majesty will not let me become blind again.

It is thus, dear Sir and Father,[367] that I live now. Your Reverence must beseech God either to take me to be with Him or to give me the means of serving Him. May it please His Majesty that what is written here may be of some profit to Your Reverence, for the little opportunity I have of writing has made it a laborious task for me. But the task will be a happy one if I have managed to say anything for which one single act of praise will be made to the Lord. This alone would make me feel rewarded, even were Your Reverence then to burn what I have written immediately.

I should prefer it not to be burned, however, before it has been seen by the three persons, known to Your Reverence, who are or have been my confessors;[368] for, if it is bad, it would be well that they should lose the good opinion they have of me, and, if it is good, they are virtuous and learned men and I know they will recognize whence it comes and praise Him Who said it through me. May His Majesty ever keep Your Reverence in His hand and make you so great a saint that your spirituality and light may enlighten this miserable creature, so lacking in humility and so presumptuous as to have dared to resolve to write upon subjects so sublime. May it please the Lord that I may not have erred in this, for my intention and desire have been to be accurate and obedient and I have hoped that through me some praise might be given to the Lord, a thing for which I have prayed for many years. And as no works which I have performed can accomplish this, I have ventured to put together this story of my unruly life, though I have wasted no more time or trouble on it than has been necessary for the writing of it, but have merely set down what has happened to me with all the simplicity and truth at my command.

May it please the Lord, since He is powerful and can do what He will, that I may succeed in doing His will in all things, and may He not allow this soul to be lost which so often, by so many methods and devices, His Majesty has rescued from hell and drawn to Himself. Amen.

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