The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 9

Describes the means by which the Lord began to awaken her soul and to give her light amid such great darkness, and to strengthen the virtues in her so that she should not offend Him.

By this time my soul was growing weary, and, though it desired to rest the miserable habits which now enslaved it would not allow it to do so. It happened that, entering the oratory one day, I saw an image which had been procured for a certain festival that was observed in the house and had been taken there to be kept for that purpose. It represented Christ sorely wounded;[101] and so conducive was it to devotion that when I looked at it I was deeply moved to see Him thus, so well did it picture what He suffered for us. So great was my distress when I thought how ill I had repaid Him for those wounds that I felt as if my heart were breaking, and I threw myself down beside Him, shedding floods of tears and begging Him to give me strength once for all so that I might not offend Him.

I had a great devotion to the glorious Magdalen and often thought of her conversion, especially when I communicated, for, knowing that the Lord was certainly within me then, I would place myself at His feet, thinking that my tears would not be rejected. I did not know what I was saying; but in allowing me to shed those tears He was very gracious to me, since I so soon forgot my grief; and I used to commend myself to that glorious Saint so that she might obtain pardon for me.

But on this last occasion when I saw that image of which I am speaking, I think I must have made greater progress, because I had quite lost trust in myself and was placing all my confidence in God. I believe I told Him then that I would not rise from that spot until He had granted me what I was beseeching of Him. And I feel sure that this did me good, for from that time onward I began to improve. My method of prayer was this. As I could not reason with my mind, I would try to make pictures of Christ inwardly; and I used to think I felt better when I dwelt on those parts of His life when He was most often alone. It seemed to me that His being alone and afflicted, like a person in need, made it possible for me to approach Him. I had many simple thoughts of this kind. I was particularly attached to the prayer in the Garden, where I would go to keep Him company. I would think of the sweat and of the affliction He endured there. I wished I could have wiped that grievous sweat from His face, but I remember that I never dared to resolve to do so, for the gravity of my sins stood in the way. I used to remain with Him there for as long as my thoughts permitted it: I had many thoughts which tormented me.

For many years, on most nights before I fell asleep, when I would commend myself to God so as to sleep well, I used to think for a little of that scene -- the prayer in the Garden -- and this even before I was a nun, for I was told that many indulgences could be gained by so doing; and I feel sure that my soul gained a great deal in this way, because I began to practise prayer without knowing what it was, and the very habitualness of the custom prevented me from abandoning it, just as I never omitted making the sign of the Cross before going to sleep.

To return now to what I was saying about the torture caused me by my thoughts: this method of praying in which the mind makes no reflections means that the soul must either gain a great deal or lose itself -- I mean by its attention going astray.[102] If it advances, it goes a long way, because it is moved by love. But those who arrive thus far will do so only at great cost to themselves, save when the Lord is pleased to call them very speedily to the Prayer of Quiet, as He has called a few people whom I know. It is a good thing for those who follow this method to have a book at hand, so that they may quickly recollect themselves. It used also to help me to look at a field, or water, or flowers. These reminded me of the Creator -- I mean, they awakened me, helped me to recollect myself and thus served me as a book; they reminded me, too, of my ingratitude and sins. But when it came to heavenly things, or to any sublime subject, my mind was so stupid that I could never imagine them at all, until the Lord showed them to me in another way.

I had so little ability for picturing things in my mind that if I did not actually see a thing I could not use my imagination, as other people do, who can make pictures to themselves and so become recollected. Of Christ as Man I could only think: however much I read about His beauty and however often I looked at pictures of Him, I could never form any picture of Him myself. I was like a person who is blind, or in the dark: he may be talking to someone, and know that he is with him, because he is quite sure he is there -- I mean, he understands and believes he is there -- but he cannot see him. Thus it was with me when I thought of Our Lord. It was for this reason that I was so fond of pictures. Unhappy are those who through their own fault lose this blessing! It really looks as if they do not love the Lord, for if they loved Him they would delight in looking at pictures of Him, just as they take pleasure in seeing pictures of anyone else whom they love.

It was at this time that I was given the Confessions of Saint Augustine,103 and I think the Lord must have ordained this, for I did not ask for the book nor had I ever seen it. I have a great affection for Saint Augustine, because the convent in which I had lived before becoming a nun belonged to his Order, and also because he had been a sinner. I used to find a great deal of comfort in reading about the lives of saints who had been sinners before the Lord brought them back to Himself. As He had forgiven them I thought that He might do the same for me. There was only one thing that troubled me, and this I have already mentioned: namely that, after the Lord had once called them, they did not fall again, whereas I had fallen so often that I was distressed by it. But when I thought of His love for me, I would take heart once more, for I never doubted His mercy, though I often doubted myself.

Oh, God help me! How amazed I am when I think how hard my heart was despite all the help I had received from Him! It really frightens me to remember how little I could do by myself and how I was so tied and bound that I could not resolve to give myself wholly to God. When I started to read the Confessions, I seemed to see myself in them and I began to commend myself often to that glorious Saint. When I got as far as his conversion and read how he heard that voice in the garden,[104] it seemed exactly as if the Lord were speaking in that way to me, or so my heart felt. I remained for a long time dissolved in tears, in great distress and affliction. Dear God, what a soul suffers and what torments it endures when it loses its freedom to be its own master! I am astonished now that I was able to live in such a state of torment. God be praised, Who gave me life to forsake such utter death!

I believe my soul gained great strength from the Divine Majesty: He must have heard my cries and had compassion on all my tears. I began to long to spend more time with Him, and to drive away occasions of sin, for, once they had gone, I would feel a new love for His Majesty. I knew that, so far as I could tell, I loved Him, but I did not know, as I should have done, what true love of God really means. I think I had not yet quite prepared myself to want to serve Him when His Majesty began to grant me favours again. It really seems that the Lord found a way to make me desire to receive what others strive to acquire with great labour -- that is to say, during these latter years, He gave me consolations and favours. I never presumed to beg Him to give me either these things or tenderness in devotion: I only asked for grace not to offend Him and for the pardon of my grievous sins. Knowing how grievous they were, I never dared consciously to desire favours or consolations. His compassion, I think, worked in me abundantly, and in truth He showed me great mercy in allowing me to be with Him and bringing me into His presence, which I knew I should not have entered had He not so disposed it. Only once in my life -- at a time when I was suffering from great aridity -- do I remember having asked Him for consolations, and when I realized what I was doing I became so distressed that my very shame at finding myself so lacking in humility gave me what I had presumed to ask. I knew quite well that it was lawful to ask for it, but I thought it was only so for those who have done all in their power to obtain true devotion by not offending God and by being ready and determined to do all that is good. Those tears of mine, as they did not obtain for me what I desired, seemed to me effeminate and weak. But all the same I think they were of some benefit to me; for, as I say, especially after those two occasions when they caused me such compunction and such distress of heart, I began to devote myself more to prayer and to have less to do with things that were hurtful for me: these last I did not wholly abandon, but, as I say, God kept on helping me to turn from them. As His Majesty was only awaiting some preparedness on my part, His spiritual favours continually increased, in the way I shall describe. It is not usual for the Lord to give them save to those who have a greater purity of conscience.

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