2 LOVE FOR LOVE The Life and Works of St. Teresa of Jesus Foreword
Yesterday in our monastery church we had perpetual adoration [forty hours devotion]. On such days, the faithful who are associated with our Carmel gather around the altar singing and praying from about six o’clock in the morning until about ten o’clock at night. Then the church is closed and during the night the sisters take turns keeping watch in the choir before the Blessed Sacrament. While outside in carnival’s frantic tumult people get drunk and delirious, while political battles separate them, and great need depresses them so much that many forget to look to heaven, at such still places of prayer hearts are opened to the Lord. In place of the cold, the contempt, that he receives out there, they offer him their warm love. They want to atone for the insults that the divine heart must endure daily and hourly. By their steadfast supplications, they draw down God’s grace and mercy on a humanity submerged in sin and need. In our time, when the powerlessness of all natural means for battling the overwhelming misery everywhere has been demonstrated so obviously, an entirely new understanding of the power of prayer, of expiation, and of vicarious atonement has again awakened. This is why people of faith crowd the places of prayer, also why, everywhere, there is a blazing demand for contemplative monasteries whose entire life is devoted to prayer and expiation. Also suddenly there is talk in all corners and parts about the silent Carmel which just a few years ago was a little known country. The desire for new foundations is surfacing in the most varied places. One almost feels transported into the time when our Holy Mother Teresa, the foundress of the reformed Carmel, traveled all over Spain from north to south and from west to east to plant new vineyards of the Lord. One would like to bring into our times also something of the spirit of this great woman who built amazingly during a century of battles and disturbances. May she herself bless this little picture of her life and works, that it may capture at least some of the radiance of her spirit and convey it to the hearts of readers. Then surely will people desire to know her better from the sources, from the rich treasure of her own works. And whoever has learned to draw from these sources will never tire of gaining courage and strength from them again and again.
Carmel of Cologne-Lindenthal, Candlemas [February 2]. 1934
1. Native Land and Family Home
As a contemporary, spiritual relative, and native of the same country as that famous champion of the faith, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa’s impact unfolded in a century marked by religious strife and a great schism in the church. When she came into the world, a mere twenty years had passed since the last of the Moors were driven out of Spain and the whole peninsula united in the Catholic faith. Eight centuries of continual warfare between the Cross and Crescent lay behind the Spanish people. During these battles they blossomed into an heroic people, into a legion of Christ the King. Teresa’s more immediate homeland, the ancient kingdom of Castile, was the strong fortress from which in resolute struggle of the cross was gradually carried to the South. The Castilian knights formed the special troops of the army of faith. Teresa, the bold warrior for God, came from such a race of heroes. A town built on cliffs, the fortress of Avila (called “Avila of the Saints”) was her native town. Her parents, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and his second wife Beatriz de Ahumada, were of the old nobility.(40)According to the custom of the times and of her country, she was called by her mother’s surname, Teresa de Ahumada. Just as she saw the light of day on the morning of March 28, 1515, the bell of the newly-built Carmelite monastery invited the faithful to a great celebration, to the consecration of its chapel. This was the house that later was to be her home for decades, where the Lord intended to form this vessel of his election. Teresa was the sixth child of her father, the third of her young mother, who had taken charge of the one daughter and two sons from her husband’s first marriage. Six younger siblings were later added to these five older ones. Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda was a man of deep piety and strong virtue. He carefully watched over the upbringing of his children, sought to keep from them all harmful influences, guided them to everything good, and himself presented them with the best example of a serious Christian life. Delicate Doña Beatriz, mild and humble, ill at an early age , and dependent on the help of her step-daughter María for the upbringing of this great band of children, was fervently devout. The love of God and of prayer bloomed spontaneously in the hearts of the children who shared her life.
2. Childhood and Youth
The fiery heart of the little Teresa became attached to her noble parents in ardent love and devotion and to her siblings in affectionate trust. Her most beloved companions had to be, primarily, her brothers. Serious María, burdened with the duties of the eldest, was not regarded as a comrade, and the baby, Juana, was many years younger. Rodrigo, four years older than she, became her confidant during her childhood. Her mother’s pious tales, her first instruction, ignited in the little Spaniard a holy zeal. Despite her liveliness and joy in merry company, she liked to withdraw into a quiet corner of the garden to pray alone. It gave her pleasure to give alms to the poor. And one day the seven-year-old let her favorite brother in on a secret plan which she had thought up. She tells about it herself in her autobiography. “We were reading the lives of saints together. When I saw what torments the martyrs endured for God, I discovered that they had earned the joy of seeing God for a low price, and I burned with the desire to die a similar death.” She did not have far to go from the wish to the decision to act, and her brother was also enkindled by her enthusiasm. “We decided to travel to the land of the Moors to get our heads cut off. It seemed to me that God had given us enough strength to carry out our plans in spite of our tender years. What was the most difficult for us was parting from our parents.” But the thought of eternal joy won over the pain of separation. “Forever! Oh Rodrigo, think of it, the martyrs gaze upon God forever. We must become martyrs.” The very next morning they secretly set out on their way. But they did not get far. They slipped through the town gate happily. But soon afterwards they met an uncle who took the little fugitives back to their parents. They had already been missed and were greeted with reproach. “I left,” Teresa replied, “because I want to see God and because one must die in order to see him.” She was very hurt that her lovely plan had fallen apart. Her zeal did not abate. She built hermitages with Rodrigo in the garden, she preferred to play monastery life with her friends, and she continued her lengthy devotions.
The early death of her mother cut deeply into Teresa’s youth. She was then thirteen years old.(41) She herself says about it, “I threw myself down in despair before an image of the Mother of God. With many tears, I implored the Holy Virgin to become my mother now. Uttered with the simplicity of a child, this prayer was heard. From that hour on, I never prayed to the Virgin in vain.” The young person certainly surmised that she needed special protection, having lost her mother just when she especially needed her. Teresa had blossomed into a young beauty. Black curls framed her white forehead; luminous, dark eyes revealed the passion of her soul; her movements and posture had natural grace and dignity. The liveliness of her spirit, her charming amiability, gave her an attractiveness in her social life which almost nobody could resist. The dangers already inherent in these natural gifts were increased by an inclination that had already awakened in the young girl during her mother’s life. Doña Beatriz, who was constantly house-bound by her suffering, liked to find a little distraction in romances of chivalry and was weak enough to allow her children to read them, too, even though this was not the father’s intent. After her death, Teresa gave in to her passion without restraint and devoured one book after the other, busying herself with them day and night. Those novels are forgotten today, but we know their character from the magnificent satire, Cervantes’ Don Quixote,which exposed for all time such writings and their impact. The “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” who mistook windmills for giants and the peasant girl for a princess, is the victim of such caricatures of real life. Teresa’s active imagination was also enchanted by such entrancing portrayals of the deeds of heroic knights. The gentle attraction of the pious legends of her childhood paled against these colorful exploits. With bitter regret, she herself later looked back on these youthful mistakes.
Oh, how I suffer now when I recall how I forgot the longings of my childhood! My God, since you seem to have decided to rescue me, let it be your glorious will to do so…. Why did this soul, which you have selected for your habitation and showered with grace, become spotted like this? I feel great pain remembering it, for I know very well that I alone was guilty. You, Oh Lord, have left nothing untried to open my eyes ever since my youngest days.
It was not surprising that the young girl began to compare herself with the heroines of her beloved novels.
There came a time when I understood the natural gifts that heaven had bestowed on me…. Soon I acquired a taste for beautiful clothes; I wanted to appear well-dressed; I took many pains with my hands and my hair; I resorted to every lovely scent and beauty aid that I could lay hands on. Above all, I loved meticulous cleanliness. I really did not have any ulterior motives at all in my heart, and for all the world I did not want anyone to get an idea of offending God.
The young beauty did not lack admirers. However, her strict father would not permit her to associate with young strangers, but cousins of the same age were allowed in the house. “They liked me, and we spent time together. I let them talk as they would. I enlivened their conversation and, to please them, I took pleasure in their dreams of the future, in their childish misdeeds, and other useless things. However, the worst was that I learned about feelings and attitudes which were later to be unfortunate for me.” The influence of one young relative was particularly unhealthy.
She was so frivolous that my mother, as if guessing the bad results, tried everything to keep her away from me. But it was in vain. She always returned under this or that pretext. Soon we were close confidantes. We talked together constantly. She gave me as much pleasure as I wanted, allowed me to share in hers, and confided her secrets and conceits to me. I couldn’t get enough of listening to her. I believe I was a little over fourteen years old when our unhealthy friendship started. I believe that in this first period of my life I did not commit even one mortal sin. What saved me was the fear of God and, I must say, the even greater fear of staining my honor; for my honor was everything to me, and nothing in the world, no earthly good, could have shaken me from my decision to keep it pure.
Nevertheless, the effect was deep enough. “This friendship changed me so much that soon there was nothing left of my good nature. My relative and one of her equally frivolous girl friends seemed to have imprinted the frivolity of their characters on me.” Her father and older sister, who tended the younger siblings with motherly concern, saw the transformation with serious alarm and made a definite decision. When María left her family home to go to the house of a pious nobleman as his wife, Don Alonso sent his darling to an Augustinian monastery to be educated. Suddenly and without saying good-bye, she vanished from the merry circle of which she had been the center.
3. The Monastery Pupil
The monastery of Our Lady of Grace was highly regarded in Avila. The first families of the city entrusted it with their daughters. Teresa felt as if she were in prison during her first days behind the monastery walls, but soon the solitude aroused strong repentance for the past months. She was tormented by pangs of conscience. But this painful state of affairs did not last long. She again found her peace of mind and also quickly adjusted to boarding school life. With grateful love she attached herself to the boarding school directress, María Briceño, a devout nun and an outstanding educator.
Among the nuns I found one who was especially designated to supervise the pupils. Her bed was in our dormitory. It was she whom God designated to open my eyes. Her conversation seemed beneficial to me. She spoke so beautifully of God! I loved to listen to her. She told me how, upon reading the words of the Gospel, “Many are called but few are chosen,” she made the decision to leave the world. She also reflected for me the joy that God reserves for those who leave everything for the love of him. While listening to her, I forgot the recent past. I felt the thought, the longing for eternal things awakening in me. My great aversion to monastic life more and more disappeared….
I only stayed in this monastery for one and one-half years, though I had made great progress in goodness there. I asked the nuns for their prayers that God would show me a way of life in which I could best serve him. In my heart I was afraid that it could be a call to a monastery, just as I was afraid of marriage. Toward the end of my stay in the monastery, however, my inclinations turned more and more to the religious life. Since I believed that I was nevertheless not up to some of the practices of this monastery, I could not decide on this order. Moreover, I had a dear friend in a monastery of another convent. Uppermost in my mind was choosing a house where I could be with her. I was thinking less of the salvation of my soul than of the inclination of my nature. These good thoughts of becoming a nun arose now and then, but left again without my making a definite decision….
4. Vocational Decision
Still unclear about her future life’s path, Teresa returned to her father’s house. A serious illness occasioned her return. During her convalescence, she was sent to the farm of her sister María, who surrounded her with tender love and would have preferred to keep her permanently. But her father was unwilling to be deprived of her company any longer. He picked her up himself but left her en route with his brother Pedro Sánchez de Cepeda in Hortigosa for a few weeks, since he himself had to finish some pressing business.
Teresa’s stay with her uncle was to be of decisive importance for her. His life was devoted entirely to prayer and to being occupied with spiritual books. He asked Teresa to read to him. “Actually,” she writes, “this bored me a little. However, I gave the impression that I did so gladly anyhow, because I was overly compliant in order to give others pleasure.” This time it was not to her detriment. Soon she was very much taken by the books her uncle gave her. The Letters of St. Jerome and St. Gregory’s Morals,and the writings of St. Augustine captivated her active spirit and reawakened in her the pious enthusiasm of her childhood. The reading was often interrupted, and the pious old man and the young reader discussed the questions of eternal life in connection with it. Teresa’s resolve ripened in this environment. She took a glance at her past life. What would have become of her if the Lord had called her from life during the time of vanity and infidelity? She does not want to expose herself to this danger again. From then on, eternal salvation is to be her goal, and, in order not to lose sight of it again, she will heroically conquer her aversion to religious life, her love of freedom, and her tender attachment to her father and siblings.
After the interior battle came a difficult outer one. In spite of all his piety, Don Alonso does not want to be separated from his favorite daughter. All her pleas, and the advocacy of her uncle and siblings, are in vain. But Teresa is no less decisive than her father. Since she cannot hope for his consent, she secretly leaves home. As in her earlier childish adventure, one of her brothers accompanies her. It is not Rodrigo, for he no longer lives at home, having taken a post in the Spanish colonies in America. Antonio, who is two years younger than Teresa, takes his place. She herself says:
While I was settling on my leaving, I persuaded one of my brothers to leave the world by pointing out its frivolities to him. We agreed to set out early in the morning and that my brother himself would take me to the monastery…. But when I stepped over the threshold of my family home, such fear gripped me that I believed I could hardly be more afraid at the hour of my death. It was as if my bones were being separated from one another. The love for God was not strong enough in me to triumph over the love for my relatives. My natural feelings arose with such force that, in spite of all my deliberations, without God’s support I would not have taken one more step. But God gave me courage in spite of myself and I set out.
Antonio took his sister to the door of the Carmelite monastery. Then he himself went to the Dominican monastery of St. Thomas and asked for admission. This was on All Souls Day of the year 1535.
5.In the Monastery of the Incarnation: Novitiate
The house that in her childish reflections Teresa preferred over the Augustinians because a dear friend lived there (Juana Suárez, the blood sister of her governess María Briceño) was the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation. It also had a number of other material advantages which could prejudice a receptive disposition: its magnificent location, its beautiful, spacious buildings, its expansive garden through which flowed clear streams. But these earthly motives were no longer decisive. “In spite of my preference for the monastery where my friend lived, I felt ready to enter some other one should I have had the hope of serving God better there or should it have been my father’s wish. For I was seriously seeking the salvation of my soul and placed little value on quiet living.” So it was clearly God’s mysterious grace guiding her that gave her the inner certainty of where to direct her steps.
The Order of the Most Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel, to which Teresa now belonged, already looked back on a long and glorious past. It revered as its founder the Prophet Elijah who led a hermit’s life of prayer and fasting with his disciples in the caves of Mount Carmel. When his prayer freed the land of Israel from a drought that had lasted for years, then (according to the Order’s legend) in a little cloud that signaled the saving rain, his prophetic vision recognized the image of the Virgin who would bear God, she who would bring grace. He is said to have been the first to revere the Mother of God, and the first shrine to Mary is said to have stood on the lovely heights of Mount Carmel. During the time of the crusades, the hermits of Mount Carmel were organized as an order. At their request, Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem gave them a rule for their Order around 1200. In solitude and silence, they were to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night, to observe strict fasts as of old, and to obtain what they needed to live by the work of their own hands, as the apostle Paul exhorted. The persecution of religious by the Moslem conquerors of the Holy Land led to the transplantation of the Order to the West. Here the destiny of other orders at the beginning of the Middle Ages befell them also. The strict discipline of old gave way to a certain mitigation. Pope Eugene IV moderated the original rule; and the first women’s monasteries of the Order were founded in the fifteenth century on the basis of these moderated regulations. They also were observed at the Monastery of the Incarnation. It had only been in existence for a few decades before Teresa entered, and one could not accuse it of abuses. The existing regulations were being followed. Nuns of deep piety and of exemplary conduct lived there, but there was scarcely a trace left of the strong spirit of the original Carmel. The rich appointments of the monastery permitted a comfortable life; the old fasts and penances were for the most part abolished; there was great freedom of association with people in the world. The influx to this attractive place was so great that the monastery numbered 190 nuns in 1560. Still, the framework given it by its Constitutionscontinued to offer the full possibility of a true life of prayer. Teresa went through the school of the interior life to perfection here.
The last shadow to her happiness as a young novice vanished when Don Alonso subsequently gave his consent to her decision and, with a holy zeal, set about to challenge his young daughter in climbing the mountain of perfection, doing so in fact under her direction. She took up religious life with the same determination with which she had left her father’s house, eagerly turned to prayer, the practices of obedience, and sisterly love. The reward was superabundant. If Teresa’s resolute decision had mainly been based on the fear of God’s judgment and on concern about her eternal salvation, these original motives soon receded in the face of God’s love blazing up powerfully.
At the same time as I put on the holy habit, God showed me his preference for those who constrain themselves in his service. I also felt so happy in my new position that this blessed feeling still continues. Nothing could rob me of this delight. God changed the dryness that could bring me to doubt into love for him.
All the monastic practices were congenial to me. I often had to mop the floor in hours during which formerly I had dressed or amused myself. Just the thought of being free of all of these silly things gave me renewed joy. I did not understand the source of so much joy.
As I think about it, there is no difficulty then that I would not have the courage to overcome. I know from experience that as soon as one has firmly decided right from the beginning to pursue one’s goal for the honor of God without considering the opposition of one’s nature, one is soon also rewarded. In order to increase our merits, God wants the soul to undergo an indescribable anxiety before one sets to work. But the greater this anxiety, the greater, later, is the delight.
With holy joy the young novice participated in choral prayer. But the prescribed prayer times were not sufficient for her zeal. She also was happiest spending her free hours in silent contemplation before the tabernacle. It goes without saying that souls who did not like prayer as much accused her of exaggeration. But she let nothing stop her on her way. God’s love gave her natural amiability and readiness to serve a new incentive and higher motivation when dealing with people. She felt that a day was lost if she did not do some work of charity. She welcomed the smallest opportunity for doing so. She took particular pleasure in caring for the sick. She enveloped with tender care a nun who was dying of a terrible disease which disgusted everyone else, and tried in every way to show that she was not at all repelled. This sick person’s patience so strongly aroused her wonder that there was awakened in her a desire for similar trials.
…I asked God that, provided he were graciously to give me this patience, that he would also send me the most horrible diseases. I had the feeling of fearing none of them. I experienced such a strong desire for eternal goods that I would use any means to get them. Now I wonder at this myself, for at that time I did not yet have that love of God in me that I later found in meditative prayer. It was an inner light that let me recognize the little value of everything transitory and the immeasurable value of the eternal.
Soon her pleas were to be heard.
6. The School of Suffering: Interior Life
Not long after her profession (November 3, 1537), heart problems sent her to the infirmary. She bore the pain, the forced idleness, the inability to participate in the religious practices, with no less patience than that of the nun who had amazed her. So she won the love of all the other sisters, even those who formerly had criticized and misinterpreted her actions. Her fond father wanted everything possible to be done, and, because the doctors could not help, he decided to take his daughter to a healer who was famous for her cures. Since the Monastery of the Incarnation was not enclosed, there was no hesitation about allowing the family to care for the young sister. The long trip took them first past Hortigosa. Pedro Sánchez gave Teresa a book [i.e., the Third Spiritual Alphabet] by Fr. [Francisco de] Osuna about the prayer of recollection, which was soon to become her guide. The travelers spent the winter at the farmhouse of María de Cepeda. Even though as in earlier years she was here surrounded by her loved ones, and devoted herself wholeheartedly to them, Teresa knew how to arrange the day to give her enough time for solitary prayer; and so she remained faithful to her religious vocation outside of the monastery setting. However, her illness steadily increased so that it was a relief when spring came, the time the healer of Becedas had designated for the cure. The long journey was a torment for the patient, but the cure was even worse. Instead of healing her, it only increased her suffering. In spite of all her agonizing pain, she steadfastly continued in contemplative prayer according to the directions in her spiritual guidebook, and God rewarded this courageous fidelity by even then raising her to a high level of the interior life.
In her writings, this doctor of prayer later presented the mystical life of grace in all its stages with incomparable clarity.(42)The neophyte who was beginning to practice prayer did not yet know what was happening in her soul. But in order to make her further development intelligible, it is necessary to say a few words here about the interior life.
Prayer is the communication of the soul with God. God is love, and love is goodness giving itself away. It is a fullness of being that does not want to remain enclosed in itself, but rather to share itself with others, to give itself to them, and to make them happy. All of creation exists thanks to this divine love spending itself. However, the highest of all creatures are those endowed with spirit, able to receive God’s love with understanding and to return it freely: angels and human souls. Prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable. But it is not merely a human achievement. Prayer is a Jacob’s ladder on which the human spirit ascends to God and God’s grace descends to people. The stages of prayer are distinguished according to the measure in which the natural efforts of the soul and God’s grace participate. When the soul is no longer active by virtue of its own efforts, but is simply a receptacle for grace, one speaks of a mystical life of prayer.
So-called vocal prayer is designated as the lowest stage, prayer that remains within specifically designated spoken forms: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the rosary, the Divine Office. Of course, “vocal” prayer is not to be understood as simply saying words. If the mere words of a prayer alone are said without the soul’s raising itself to God, this is only an outward show and not real prayer. The designated words, however, support the spirit and prescribe to it a fixed path.
Meditative prayer is one stage higher. Here the spirit moves more freely without being bound to specific words. It immerses itself, for example, in the mystery of the birth of Jesus. The spirit’s imagination [Phantasie] transports it to the grotto in Bethlehem, seeing the child in the manger, the holy parents, the shepherds, and the kings. The intellect ponders the greatness of divine mercy, the emotions are seized by love and thankfulness, the will decides to make itself more worthy of divine love. This is how meditative prayer involves all the soul’s powers and, when practiced with faithful persistence, can gradually remake the whole person. However, the Lord has yet another way of rewarding fidelity in meditation: by elevation to a higher manner of praying.
St. Teresa calls the next stage the prayer of quiet or of simplicity. Various activities are replaced by a recollection of spiritual energies. The soul is no longer in the position to reflect intellectually or to make definite decisions; she is completely engaged by something that she cannot avoid, the presence of her God who is close to her and allows her to rest in him. While the lower prayer stages are accessible to every believer by human effort, albeit aided by the grace of God, we are now standing at the border of the mystical life of grace that cannot be entered by virtue of human energy, for here only God’s special favor grants admission.
If the perception of God’s presence is already something which totally captivates the soul and gives it a happiness incomparable to any earthly happiness, then this is greatly surpassed by the union with the Lord, which, at first, is usually granted to it for only a very short time.
At this stage of mystical favor many events occur that are also outwardly recognized as extraordinary: ecstasies and visions.The energy of the soul is so attracted by the supernatural influence that its lower faculties, the senses, lose their effectiveness entirely. The soul no longer sees or hears anything, the body no longer feels pain when injured, in some cases becomes rigid like someone dead. But the soul lives an intensified life as if it were outside of its body. Sometimes the Lord himself appears to it in bodily form, sometimes the Mother of God or an angel or saint. It sees these heavenly forms as if through bodily perception, or also in imagination. Or its intellect is supernaturally enlightened and gains insight into hidden truths. Such private revelations usually have the purpose of teaching souls about their own condition or that of others, of confiding God’s intentions to them, and of forming them for a specific task for which God has selected them. They are seldom absent in the lives of saints, though they by no means belong to the essence of holiness. Usually they only appear during a certain phase and later vanish again.
These souls, which have been sufficiently prepared and tested by repeated transitory union with him, by extraordinary illuminations, and at the same time through suffering and various trials, the Lord wishes to bind to himself permanently. He enters into a covenant with them that is called “spiritual betrothal.” He expects them to put themselves completely at his service; at the same time, he takes takes them into safekeeping, cares for them, and is always ready to grant their requests.
Finally, Teresa calls the highest stage of blessedness “spiritual marriage.” The extraordinary events have now stopped, but the soul is constantly united with the Lord. She enjoys his presence even in the midst of external activities without being hindered in the least.
The saint had to go through all of these stages during a development that took years before she could account for them herself and give others advice. But the beginnings were during that time of greatest bodily suffering:
It pleased the heavenly Master to deal with me with such love that he gave me the prayer of quiet. But he often also raised me up to that of union. Unfortunately, I was unfamiliar with either kind. In fact, it would have been useful to me to recognize their value. To be sure, this union did not last long, I believe, hardly as long as one Hail Mary. But it had a great influence on me. I was not yet twenty years old and already believed that I saw the world lying conquered under my feet. I pitied all who had relationships with the world, even if the ties were permitted. I tried with all of my strength to be truly present in my soul to Jesus our Lord, our highest Good, our Master. My way of praying was to think about one of the mysteries of his divine life and make a mental image of it.
The effect of her prayer life was an ever increasing love of God and of souls. If earlier her natural gifts had had an unusual influence on her human surroundings, her supernatural power to love now gave her an almost irresistible force. The first person to experience it was the priest to whom she confessed in Becedas. The insight he had into this pure soul, which blamed itself for innocent little slips with the most bitter regret, disturbed him so much that he himself confessed to his penitent the serious sin in which he had been living for years. Now she could not rest until he had freed himself from these disgraceful fetters. The power of her words and her intercession changed him into a contrite penitent.
After the return to the family home in Avila, the state of the patient got so much worse that there seemed no further hope for her life. She was unconscious for four days. The news of her death spread through the city. Her grave was dug at the Monastery of the Incarnation. The Carmelites of Avila sang a requiem for her. Only her father and siblings continued besieging heaven, and finally she opened her eyes again. At the moment of awakening she spoke some words that implied that she had seen some great things during this apparent death. During her last days she admitted that God at that time had shown her heaven and hell, besides her later work in the Order, and the saintly death of her father, her friend Juana Suárez, as well as her own.
As soon as a slight improvement began, Teresa moved back to her monastery at her urgent request. But she was confined to her bed for several more years, seemed to be crippled forever, and suffered unutterable pain. She herself describes the state of her soul during this time of trial.
I bore these sufferings with great composure, in fact with joy, except at first when the pain was too severe. What followed seemed to hurt less. I was completely surrendered to the will of God even if he intended to burden me like this forever. It appeared to me that all I wanted was to get healthy so as to withdraw into solitude as my book prescribed. This was difficult in the sick room…. The other sisters wondered at my God-given patience. Without him I truly could not have borne so much with so much joy.
Now I understood how prayer is a blessing. In the first place, it showed me what God’s true love was. Next I felt new virtues developing in me that were still very weak…. I never said anything bad about others. Instead, I excused those who were targets of negative gossip, for I reminded myself that I did not want to say nor even liked to hear anything that I would not have liked to hear said about myself. I remained true to this resolution. Sometimes but not often I failed to keep it. I advised the other sisters and people who visited me to do likewise. They assumed these practices. It was soon noticed. It was said that those absent had nothing to fear from me or from my parents and friends….
Teresa suffered for three years without asking for recovery. We do not know why she now changed her mind. She only tells us that she decided to beseech heaven to end her suffering. With this intention, she asked that a Mass be offered and turned toward the saint in whom she had always had unlimited trust, and who owes to her zeal the increased veneration shown him. “I do not know how to think about the Queen of Angels, about all of her pains and cares with the little child Jesus without thanking St. Joseph for the dedication with which he came to the help of both of them.” She ascribed her healing to him.
Soon he came to my rescue in very obvious ways. This most beloved father and lord of my soul quickly freed me of the weakness and suffering to which my body was consigned…. I don’t recall that he ever denied me anything.
St. Joseph permitted his power and goodness to me to become evident. Through him I regained my strength. I stood up, walked, and was free of the paralysis.
Teresa’s generous heart was certainly determined to dedicate the life that had been given to her anew entirely to the service of her beloved Lord. She had no idea that her recovery was to result in dangers, and that when she left the solitary sick room, there was to be an end for a long time to her excursions among the heights in fact, that she was to lose again all that she had gained. “My great misfortune was that I found myself in a monastery without an enclosure. Doubtless, the dear nuns could be pleased with the freedom and remain innocent…. But I, weakness itself, would have found it the way to hell had not God with particular grace saved me from this danger.”
It was understandable that relatives and friends joyfully welcomed her whose life had been restored, that she was often called into the speakroom, that her lovableness, her animated spirit, her exceptional conversational ability delighted these visitors and drew them to come again and again. All research has concluded that Teresa’s association with people in the world, on which she herself looked back with the most bitter repentance for her entire life, was entirely pure and in no way a relapse into worldly frivolity. She had a healthy influence on her visitors and during this time also spoke about nothing more eagerly than divine things. Nevertheless, her remorse is understandable because association with people diverted her from association with God. She lost the taste for prayer, and once she was had gone this far, she no longer even thought herself worthy of such a grace.
Under the pretext of humility, I was afraid of prayer and meditation. I said to myself that, as the most imperfect of persons, it was better for me to do what everyone else was doing and to limit myself to the prescribed verbal prayers. In my condition, which was more suited to the company of the devil, I did not want to pursue so much intimacy with God. I was also afraid of deceiving the whole world.
During this time Teresa impressed the other sisters as a thoroughly first-rate nun.
In spite of my youth and many relationships to the world, people saw how I sought solitude for reading and for prayer. I often spoke of God. I was fond of having the image of the Savior painted in various places. I had a special place to pray and carefully decorated it with all that could stimulate devotion. I never spread malicious gossip….
And all that took place “without appearing at all calculating; for I really hated pretense, empty honor, and I believe God be praised! that I never thus offended him. As soon as self-love stirred in my heart, I was so remorseful that the devil lost and I won….” But the Lord wanted more from her.
One day while I was talking with someone with whom I had recently become acquainted, God gave me to understand that such acquaintances were not suitable for me and illumined me in my darkness. Our Savior Jesus Christ appeared to me as sad and serious and declared how much I was distressing him. I saw him only with the eyes of my soul, but much more clearly than if I could have seen him with the eyes in my body. His image impressed itself into my spirit so deeply that even now, after more than twenty-six years, it is not erased. Seized by anxiety and confusion, I no longer wanted to receive this person. But to my detriment then, I did not know that the soul can see without the mediation of physical eyes. The devil used my ignorance to tell me this was impossible. He told me that the vision was a delusion, a machination of the devil…. But deep in my heart I still had a secret feeling that what I had seen came from God. But since this did not correspond to my inclinations, I tried to deceive myself. I did not dare to speak with someone about it…. People told me that it was not bad to welcome this person; associating with her would never hurt me, but would be an honor for me. Finally, I gave in.
Her father’s attitude was a serious warning. He had been allowing his child to lead him on the path of interior prayer and remained faithful to it. Teresa’s upright nature could not permit her to leave him under the delusion that she was faithful, too.
I confessed to him, even though without indicating the deeper reason, that I had stopped praying. I used only my health as a pretext. Actually, even though I had recovered from the serious illness, I still had to suffer a great deal. But this was not enough to justify myself. One does not need physical strength for prayer, but only love and steadfastness. My father, who loved me tenderly and was deceived by me, believed everything and pitied me. Since he had already progressed far toward perfection, he no longer spent as much time with me. After a short dialogue, he left me with the remark that lengthy lingering is time lost. But I who was losing time in an entirely different way did not see with as sharp an eye.
Teresa spent at least one year, possibly longer, in this way. She did not feel at all good about it, and was constantly in great spiritual unrest. Yet again and again she permitted herself to be held back by a false humility. “I do not know how I was able to stand such a state of affairs. Perhaps what kept me going was the hope of taking up praying again. For I still had in my heart the will to return to it again. I was only waiting until I got better. Oh, onto how wicked a path did this insane hope lead me!”
Teresa was to find deliverance at the deathbed of her father. Upon the news of his serious illness, she was permitted to go to him and be at his side during his last days.
With him I lost all my happiness and joy. Yet I had the strength to conceal my pain from him. I remained quiet until his death, even though I felt that someone was tearing a piece from my heart as I watched such a precious life being slowly extinguished. But God gave him such a holy death that I cannot thank him enough. It was deeply moving to see the supernatural joy of this good father, to listen to the advice that he gave us after receiving Extreme Unction. He made us promise to commend him to God and to plead for his mercy, to fulfill our duties faithfully, and always to remember how quickly the things of this world pass and perish. With tear-filled eyes, he told us about his pain at not having served God the Lord better and during his last moment rued not having entered the strictest order.
He suffered a great deal, mainly with a piercing pain in his shoulders that gave him not a moment’s peace. I remembered his devotion to the mystery of the cross-bearing Savior and told him that God surely wanted to let him feel something of the pain that he himself bore at that time of suffering. This thought gave him such comfort that there no longer came the slightest complaint from his lips. He lay unconscious for three days. However, to our great surprise, on the day of his death God returned him to consciousness and he remained conscious to the end.
In the middle of the creed, which he himself was praying with a clear voice, he gently gave up his spirit. At the same time his features became supernaturally beautiful. He seemed to be resting in the peace of the angels. It seemed to me that he indeed became their brother at the moment of his death because of the purity of his soul and conscience. His confessor (from the order of St. Dominic) told us that he believed that our father had gone straight to heaven.
This Dominican, Fr. Vicente Barrón, made a deep impression on Teresa by the way in which he assisted the dying man. She asked if she could confess to him and gave him complete insight into the state of her soul. Contrary to all others before whom she had up to then accused herself, he recognized at once what she needed and advised her to take up prayer again. “I obeyed and since then I have never given it up again.”
But what followed now was not an undisturbed peace but rather years of great spiritual struggles.
This life that I was leading was very difficult because, in the light of prayer, I saw my errors newly illuminated. On the one hand, God called me; on the other, the world flattered me. Oh, my God, how could I describe all that your compassion did for me during those years or this battle that your love waged against my ingratitude! How am I to find the words to enumerate all the graces which you showered on me? At the moment I was offending you the most you suddenly led my spirit by means of deep rest to the enjoyment of your blessings and your consolations. O my redeemer! It is really true that you knew me. You knew how to punish me in the tenderest and severest way in that you rewarded my errors with good deeds…. My character made me suffer a great deal more when I received blessings after my failures instead of punishment…. In an affliction I would at least have recognized a justified punishment. I would have seen this as a way of doing penance for my many sins. But to find myself showered by new favors after so shamefully misusing the many already received, was a much greater agony for me. I firmly believe that only those who have some knowledge of and love for God can understand this….
Most souls favored by such graces experience that the interior life usually takes this course. God first draws them to himself by letting them enjoy the supernatural happiness of his beneficent presence, but then tests their fidelity by taking all joys away from them and letting them languish in dryness.
For three years I was oh so often concerned less with God and good thoughts than with the desire for seeing the end of the hour of prayer. I listened for the bell finally to ring. I would have preferred the severest penances to the agony of being recollected at the feet of the Savior. The battle I had to endure with the devil and my wicked inclinations to make myself go to the oratory is indescribable. As soon as I entered, a deadly sadness came over me, and it took all my courage to conquer myself and give myself to prayer. Finally, God sent me help. And even if I had to force myself, I more often enjoyed consolations then than on the days when I was in a better mood.
The saint endured these struggles for fourteen years without ever wavering in her faithfulness. Holy Week of the year 1554 brought her release.
One day as I entered the oratory I saw before me an image of the Savior that someone had placed there for an upcoming feast day. This image showed our divine Master covered with wounds and with such a peaceful expression that I was moved by it. More than before I apprehended what the Savior had suffered for us. At the same time I experienced my own lack of thankfulness so bitterly that it seemed my heart would break. I fell at the feet of my divine Master and through a stream of tears pleaded with him to give me the strength not to offend him any more. I called on the presence of the holy Magdalene whom I already loved fervently and whose conversion I revered. She came to my help. Without trusting my good intentions, I put my whole trust in God. If I still remember this correctly, I said to him I would not get up until he had heard my plea and I knew for certain that he wanted to grant it. For on that day true life began for me and I never stopped improving.
Soon afterwards this operation of grace was reinforced by a second similar one.
Someone gave me the Confessions of St. Augustine. God granted this, for I never thought of requesting it nor had I ever read it. I had hardly opened this book than I thought that I saw myself in it. With all my strength I commended myself to this great saint…. I had always loved him very much, first, because the monastery in which I had been raised followed his rule and, secondly, because he was a poor sinner for a long time. I believed that, because God had forgiven him everything, I could also receive my forgiveness….
I cannot describe what happened in my heart when I read the description of his conversion and followed him into the garden where he heard the voice of heaven. It seemed to me as if God were speaking to me. Overcome by regret, I remained dissolved in my tears for a long time. The Lord be eternally praised. He led me from death to life again. My renewed strength made me recognize that he had heard my call and that my tears led him to have mercy on me.
9. God Alone
Teresa had completed the fortieth year of her life when the Lord rewarded her faithful perseverance and drew her to himself anew, this time forever. According to a comparison that she herself used in her Lifeto portray the various ways of praying, in her view she had up to now operated in her prayer life like a gardener who draws up the water for his garden from a deep well with a great deal of effort. She was most fond of conceiving of the Lord with the help of the imagination [Phantasie] she especially enjoyed seeking him out at the Mount of Olives and had tried to stay close to him. Now God came to meet her. Like the gardener who has a sufficient supply of water to let it stream forth, she could rest from her efforts. Intellect and memory could cease their activity. In this prayer of quiet, “the will alone is active and, without knowing how, it delivers itself to God like a prisoner for him to chain to himself through his love.”
The soul that surrenders to the divine attraction by this way of praying is raised above its own suffering and receives some knowledge of heavenly glory. It grows, draws near to God, and so becomes stronger. It loses its pleasure in earthly things. Why? It clearly sees that it could not for even a moment enjoy this supernatural joy on earth, that no kingdoms, no realms, no honor, no joys can offer it for even a moment this true happiness that is absolutely the only thing that can satisfy….
Since it has known nothing to surpass this joy, it cherishes no other wish. With complete justification it will say along with St. Peter, “Lord, let us make our home here.”
Soon the Lord himself takes over the role of gardener. The soul is raised from quiet (theologians usually call this contemplation) to union.
In my opinion, this way of praying is a clear union of the entire soul with God. The only leeway God leaves to the faculties is the freedom to recognize the great work he is doing in them. Their only activity is to be occupied with him without being able to do anything else. None of them dares to move. Strong measures would be required to divert them from their divine preoccupation, and, even so, such efforts would never succeed in tearing them away completely. The soul, entirely beside itself and moved by the sweetest rapture, would like its voice to intone hymns of praise, that everything in it could extol the superabundance of its happiness.
Often enough, such hymns of praise have streamed from the lips of the saint.
At the beginning of her mystical life the duration of the union was very short, Teresa says hardly as long as one Hail Mary. But its effect was astounding.
By one single visit, no matter how short, God changed the face, the appearance of the mystical garden…. Unaware [of what happened] the soul sees itself transformed. It finds I do not know what powers to do great things. At the same time it recognizes that it could not in many years acquire those virtues which the Lord has just given it, and it feels a humility beginning in itself that is much more profound than anything beforehand….
When God the Lord raises a soul to this stage of prayer, he requires nothing more from her than a simple consent to the graces he is giving her and a full surrender to the will of his divine wisdom. He intends to dispose of her as he does of his property.
Frequently the union increases to rapture.Overpowered by the force of grace and supernatural joy, the soul loses the use of its lower powers and the control of its own body.
During rapture it is almost always impossible to resist the supernatural power of attraction. The soul must have more decisiveness and courage than in the prior states. For when it is in these raptures, one feels oneself carried away without knowing where one is going or what is going to become of one, and our weak nature feels during this otherwise so delightful moment I cannot say what dread. Not only is the soul carried away, but sometimes the body also itself follows this movement, so that it no longer touches the floor. Should I want to be on solid ground again, I would feel under my feet astounding powers lifting me up against my will. It was a dreadful struggle. I remained as though annihilated and in fact I saw well that if God wills something, all resistance to his omnipotence amounts to nothing. The effects of such an extraordinary favor are great. First, it demonstrates to us God’s omnipotence and teaches us that we are the masters of neither our bodies nor our souls, but that we have a divine Master who does what he wants with them. The other effect is a rare detachment which I have no words to describe. One truly feels like a stranger to things here below. Because they are vying with each other, promises and heroic resolutions come from these things; lively desires, frank aversion to the world; a clear glimpse into its nothingness. Finally, this prayer leaves behind in the soul such great love that it could perish, not from pain, but from the tears of joy which it pours out.
…One hour’s ecstasy or even shorter is sufficient to make the soul the mistress of itself and of all things and to give it a freedom in which it no longer recognizes even itself….
What power is comparable to the power of a soul that has been raised by God to these heights, and sees beneath it the things of the world without in the least being governed by them! How confused it is about the time when it clung to them! How amazed it is by its blindness! How greatly is it concerned over those who still live in the same darkness! It would like to raise its voice to show them their error. It would like to break their chains and tear them from the prison of this life where it itself had been locked up. But then when it looks at itself, it not only sees the cobwebs or the great sins, but also the tiniest dust specks or the tiniest spots…. If on the one hand it contemplates the endless holiness of its God, it is blinded by his light. On the other hand, if it looks at itself, its eye seems to find her who is covered with the mud of her misery…. O happy, a thousand times happy, the soul whom God through ecstasy raises to the knowledge of the truth.
These recollections reveal to us the whole nature of the saint: the sensitivity of her conscience that with bitter regret accused itself when no one else could find a spot on her; the ardor of her love that made her ready to make any sacrifice for the glory of God; her concern over souls whom she wanted with all her might to rescue from ruin and to lead to the peace of the Lord. But before she was permitted to do great things as God’s chosen instrument, she still had to taste the most bitter pains.
10. New Tests
The first difficulty arose from her own ignorance of mystical theology. In her deep humility, she could not imagine how an unworthy person (as in her opinion she was) could be so richly laden with such extraordinary favors. Of course, as long as the favors during prayer lasted she could not doubt their authenticity. But in between she was plagued by fears that these mystical states were deceptions of the devil. On the basis of her experience, Teresa later said again and again how necessary it is for a soul that is going the way of the interior life to have the guidance of a learned and enlightened spiritual director. Fr. Vicente Barrón, who had so charitably stood by her after the death of her father, had been called away from Avila some time earlier. In her need, upon the advice and through the mediation of a dear friend, the pious nobleman Francisco de Salcedo, she turned to Gaspar Daza, a priest who was considered throughout the city to be as holy as he was learned. His evaluation was devastating. He interpreted all of her favors during prayer as deceptions of the devil and advised her to cease entirely what she had been doing up to now. The saint fell into the uttermost distress showered by favors from heaven while at the same time, according to the theological expert, in the gravest danger, and directed to pull back from the supernatural influences! There appeared one more way out of her distress. A short time earlier a college of the Society of Jesus had been started in Avila. Teresa, who had the greatest admiration for the new order, heard this with joy, but up to now had not dared to speak with one of the greatly renowned fathers. Now she took refuge in them, and this was her deliverance. Fr. Juan de Prádanos completely reassured her about the origin of her mystical states and advised her to continue on this path. He only found it necessary that she make herself worthy of the favors by strict mortifications. As she said, “mortification” was at that time a word virtually unknown to her. But with her characteristic decisiveness, she took up the suggestion and began to accustom herself to severe penances. Recognizing that her weak health would not be able to stand such a severe life, P. Prádanos easily helped her with this. “Without doubt, my daughter,” he said, “God sends you so many illnesses in order to make up for those mortifications that you do not practice. So do not be afraid. Your mortifications cannot hurt you.” And in fact Teresa’s health improved because of this new lifestyle.
Even though her new spiritual director had no doubt about the heavenly origin of her favors during prayer, he still thought it a good idea to impose on her some constraint in her manner of meditating and to instruct her in resisting the stream of favors. But even this restriction was soon to be lifted again. St. Francis Borgia visited the Jesuit college and to get his evaluation, Fr. Prádanos asked him to speak with Teresa. She herself writes about this:
I let him…know the state of my soul. After listening to me, he told me that everything happening in me came from the spirit of God. He called my behavior good so far. But he said that in the future I should offer no more resistance. He advised me always to begin my prayers by meditating on one of the mysteries of the passion. If then without my assistance the Lord transported my spirit into a supernatural state, I should surrender to his guidance…. He left me completely consoled.
If the saint herself was calmed by such weighty testimony, it was not so in her surroundings. In spite of the testimony of St. Francis Borgia, despite the sympathetic guidance she found, soon after the recall of Fr. Prádanos, in his very young but saintly confrere, Fr. Baltasar Alvarez, her devoted friends did not stop worrying about her. They asked others in for advice, and soon everyone in the city was talking about the unusual phenomena at the Monastery of the Incarnation and warning the young Jesuit not to let himself be deceived by his penitent. Even though he placed no credence in these voices, he did think it advisable to pose Teresa some difficult tests. He denied her solitude, and once withheld Holy Communion from her for twenty days. She submitted to all orders. But it was no wonder that unrest once more arose in her heart also, since everyone else doubted her or appeared to doubt her. Her deliverance was the goodness of the Lord who calmed her again and again, who enraptured her right in the middle of the mandatory conversations, since solitary prayer was taken from her. Above all, he strengthened her to persist faithfully in the way of obedience no matter how hard it was. Her reward was new, continually greater favors. She felt the presence of the Savior by her side often for entire days. At first he came to her invisibly, but later also in a visible form.
The Savior almost always appeared to me visibly in risen form. When I saw him in the holy Host, he was in this transfigured form. Sometimes when I was tired or sad, he showed me his wounds to encourage me. He also appeared to me hanging on the cross. I saw him in the garden; finally, I saw him carrying the cross. When he appeared to me in such a form, it was, I repeat, because of a need in my soul or for the consolation of various other persons; still his body was always glorified.
These appearances increased Teresa’s love and strengthened her in the certainty that it was none other than the Lord who was visiting her with his favors. So it must have been all the more painful to her when, in the absence of Fr. Alvarez, another confessor ordered her to send the “evil spirit” away each time it appeared by making the sign of the cross and a gesture of contempt. She also obeyed this command. But at the same time she fell at the feet of the Lord and pleaded with him for forgiveness: “Oh Savior, you know when I act like this toward you that I do it only out of love for you because I want to submit obediently to him whom you have appointed in your Church to take your place for me.” And Jesus calmed her. “Be comforted, my daughter, you do well to obey. I will reveal the truth.”
In this obedience toward the church, the saint herself had always seen the surest criterion that a soul was on the right way.
I know for certain that God would never allow the devil to delude a soul that mistrusts itself and whose faith is so strong that it was prepared to endure a thousand deaths for the sake of one single article of faith. God blesses this noble disposition of the soul by strengthening its faith and making it ever more fiery. This soul carefully tries to transform itself so that it is completely in line with the teachings of the church and for this purpose asks questions of anyone who could elucidate them. It hangs on so tightly to the church’s creeds that all conceivable revelations even if it saw heaven opened could never make it vacillate in its faith even in the minutest article taught by the church….
Should a soul not find in itself this powerful faith or its delight in devotion not contribute to increasing its dependence on the holy church, then I say that the soul is on a path filled with danger. The spirit of God only flows into things that are in agreement with the holy Scriptures. If there had been the slightest deviation, I would have been convinced that these things came from the author of lies.
That after each new favor she grew in humility and love must have pacified the saint herself, and must also have been an unmistakable sign to the enlightened men of the spirit of the disposition of her soul.
During that time of unusual demonstrations of grace and of the severest tests, Teresa also received a visible sensory image of the glowing love which pierced her heart. “I saw beside me at my left side an angel in a physical form…. Because of his flaming face, he seemed to belong to that lofty choir made up only of fire and love…. I saw a long, golden dart in his hands the end of which glowed like fire. From time to time the angel pierced my heart with it. When he pulled it out again, I was entirely inflamed with love for God.” The heart of the saint, which has been preserved in the monastery of Alba and remains intact to this day, bears a long, deep wound.
11. Works for the Lord
One who loves feels compelled to do something for the beloved. Teresa, who even as a child showed herself to be boldly decisive and ready to act, burned with the desire to show the Lord her love and thankfulness by action. As a nun in a contemplative monastery, she seemed to be cut off from all outer activity. So she at least wanted to do as much as possible to make herself holy. With the permission of her confessor (Fr. Alvarez) and her highest superior in the Order, she took a vow always to do what would be the most pleasing to God. To protect her from uncertainty and from qualms of conscience, the text was later changed to read that her confessor was to decide what would be perfect at any given time.
But a soul so full of love could not be satisfied with caring for its own salvation and making the Lord happy by its own perfection. One day she was transported into hell by a horrible vision. “I immediately understood that God wanted to show me the place that the devil had reserved for me and that I deserved for my sins. It lasted hardly a moment. But even if I live for many more years, I will never be able to forget it.” She recognizes that from which God’s goodness has preserved her. “The superscription for my life should read as ‘the mercy of God.'” But countless other people are constantly subject to the dangers that she herself had escaped. “How could I find one day of rest with such an outlook? How could I live in peace while so many souls were being lost?” It was at the time when Germany was torn by schism, France was tearing itself to pieces in wars of religion, and all of Europe was confused by false doctrines. “Brokenhearted, as though I could do something or as if I myself were someone, I embraced the feet of the Lord, shed bitter tears, and asked him to remedy such evil. I would gladly have sacrificed a thousand lives to save one of these misguided souls. But how could a poor woman like me serve the cause of her divine Master?” During such reflections, there occurred to her the thought of freeing herself from the mitigated rule of her monastery
so that she could rest entirely in God like the saints, the hermits who had preceded her. Since she could not, as she would have liked, extol God’s mercy throughout the entire world, she at least wanted to gather some selected souls around her who would dedicate themselves to poverty, withdrawal, constant prayer, and the strictness of the Primitive Rule. Already full of this thought, which was not simply fantasy but a firm decision, she conceived of how she would surround herself with a small band of noble souls who were ready to join her in doing what was most perfect. She considered how she might pray day and night to be a constant support to those destined to save souls…. It seemed to her as though she were already in the situation which appeared to her as paradise. She saw herself already living in a little house clad in sackcloth, enclosed behind the walls, only occupied with prayer, and hurrying with her companions to serve the most Beloved.(43)
It was not to be too long before this lovely dream was to be become reality.
12. Saint Joseph’s of Avila, the First Monastery of the Reform
A small group of nuns and visitors present for worship on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel on July 16, 1560 were discussing the obstacles to the life of prayer presented by the large number of nuns living in the monastery and the many visitors. María de Ocampo, a young relative of the saint and a celebrated beauty, suggested that someone should establish a monastery in which the life of the ancient hermits could be revived. In all seriousness she offered her dowry for this. The next day Teresa told her trusted friend Doña Guiomar de Ulloa (a young widow who like her led a life of prayer under the strict direction of Fr. Baltasar Alvarez) of this conversation. Doña Guiomar enthusiastically took up the idea. But what was decisive was that the Lord himself was calling for the project. “He assured me that he would be very well-served in a monastery I might found, that this house would become a star shedding the brightest light. God added that, even though they had lost some of their earlier enthusiasm, the orders were nevertheless of great service to him. What would the world be if there were no more monasteries?” According to the will of the Lord, the new house was to be consecrated to St. Joseph.
Now Teresa no longer hesitated. First she turned to her confessor. He made his consent dependent on the consent of the provincial of the Carmelites, Fr.. Angel de Salazar.(44)This consent was easier to get than expected by reason of the mediation of Doña Guiomar. Three very devout religious, whose advice Teresa sought, gave encouraging replies: Jesuit Francis Borgia, Dominican Luis Beltrán, and Franciscan Peter of Alcántara. Now the next task was to find a house. But before that could happen the public scented Teresa’s plans, and this aroused a storm of indignation against her and her friends. One can certainly understand that the nuns of the Monastery of the Incarnation would take it as malicious arrogance for one of their own to want to leave their house to live in greater perfection than the community in which she had been formed. And people in the city shared this view. The two women received their first strong support from the scholarly and highly respected Dominican, Fr. Pedro Ibáñez. When the provincial withdrew his consent under the pressure of Teresa’s sisters and compelled the saint to inaction, her friends continued with the work of preparation: Doña Guiomar, directed by Fr. Ibáñez, Don Francisco de Salcedo, and Gaspar Daza (the two who had once by their doubt caused her so much soul searching, but were now entirely won over to her). A little house was discovered. Her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, the husband of her youngest sister, Juana, who herself had been raised in the Monastery of the Incarnation and loved Teresa greatly, bought it and moved in to protect it until it could be given over to its real purpose.
It seemed like a great hindrance to her plans when the saint received the surprising order from her Fr. Provincial to go to the palace of Duchess Luisa de la Cerda in Toledo, because this influential lady sought the comfort of the saint in her grief over the death of her husband. Her friends hated to see her leave Avila. But the stay in Toledo was to be richly blessed. Doña Luisa became a powerful and faithful patroness of the reform. In the circle of women and girls that gathered around Teresa at the palace to seek her advice, there was someone soon to be one of her strongest supporters, the young María de Salazar (later María of St. Joseph, prioress of Seville). Above all, Teresa found the leisure here to write the story of her interior life, a project given to her the previous year by Fr. Ibáñez. This book was to make her name known in all Catholic lands, and down through the centuries would become a guide for countless people.
Even in regard to her foundation in Avila the time was not wasted. In the house of the Duchess de la Cerda, she was sought out by María of Jesus, a Carmelite from Granada who had reform ideas similar to Teresa’s and wanted to talk them over with her. She also found occasion for a consultation with St. Peter of Alcántara who on an earlier occasion had tested the state of her soul and consoled her greatly. Now he encouraged her to found the Monastery of St. Joseph without an income, as the Primitive Ruleprescribed.
Teresa was permitted to return to Avila only in June of 1562, after a six-month stay. Good news that came on the day of her arrival awaited her there: the papal brief that permitted Doña Guiomar and her mother to establish a Carmelite monastery according to the Primitive Rule,placing it under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, giving it the same rights as the other monasteries of the same order, and prohibiting anyone from disturbing it in any way. Teresa’s name was not mentioned in the document. By a lucky coincidence, Peter of Alcántara was just then in Avila for the last time, for he died shortly thereafter. His efforts succeeded in winning the bishop of Avila, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, for the foundation. From then on he was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the reform.
The illness of her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, resulted in her gaining the permission of her provincial to move into his house, her future monastery, to care for him. This gave her the opportunity of personally supervising the construction. When the workers left the house, the patient was also healed and the monastery could become what it was meant to be. Now the most important thing was to find suitable living stones for the new foundation. There were four postulants about whom the Holy Mother herself said, “My first daughters were four orphans without dowries, but great servants of God. I found just what I had wished for, because my most ardent desire was that the first to enter would by their example be suitable building blocks of the spiritual edifice, would fulfill our intentions and lead lives of contemplation and perfection.” On August 24, the feast of St. Bartholomew, these first four Carmelites of the reform arrived at the little monastery where the saint awaited them. The friends who had helped to make the foundation made their appearance. By commission of the Bishop of Avila, Gaspar Daza celebrated the first mass and received the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. Thereby the foundation was completed. Then Teresa clothed her daughters in the robe of the Discalced Carmelites (“discalced,” or “without shoes,” because instead of shoes they wore the footwear of the poor, sandals made of hemp). Their habit and scapular were made of coarse brown frieze; a mantle of white frieze; a toque of linen; and over it for the time being they wore the white novice’s veil. Overjoyed, the mother remained behind with her daughters in the quiet of the holy place when the visitors departed. But people did not leave her in peace for long. The rumor of the accomplished foundation quickly spread to the entire city. The opposition stirred up all the townspeople. A monastery without any income would consume the alms of the poor. The prioress of the Incarnation, pressured by the indignant sisters, sent Teresa an order to return to her monastery immediately. The Saint obeyed at once. She left the four novices behind under the protection of St. Joseph and the direction of the oldest, Ursula of the Saints. On August 26 the city’s municipal judge summoned the mayor and the cathedral chapter to a meeting in the city hall. The consensus was that the monastery was to be suppressed, and the municipal judge himself went there. But Teresa’s young daughters did not allow themselves to be intimidated. When threatened with force, they answered through the grille, “…You may use force. But…such actions are judged here on earth by his Majesty Philip II, and in heaven by another judge, whom you should fear a great deal more, the almighty God, the champion of the oppressed.” The city magistrate left without doing anything and called another, larger gathering for the next day. In an inflammatory speech he explained that this foundation was an innovation and as such suspect. The maintenance of the nuns would excessively burden the nobility of Avila. The opening of the house without the permission of the city was illegal. Therefore, one must conclude that it be suppressed. The speaker already had the majority on his side when a Dominican asked to speak. It was Fr. Domingo Báñez who had only been in Avila for a short time, but was famous for his scholarship. He did not know Teresa, but his love for justice impelled him to become a spokesman for her cause.
Is it a sufficient reason to destroy something because it is new? Were not all societies of orders innovations when they arose from the bosom of the Church? And when our Lord and God founded the Church, did his work not bear the mark of innovation? …This newly founded monastery of Carmelites is a reform of the ancient community. It picks up what has fallen. It renews a weakened Rule.It strives for the formation of people for the glory of the holy faith. For these reasons it must not only be tolerated by the powers of the state and of the city, but favored and protected.
…How can anyone believe that poor women confined in a corner who pray to God for us could become such a heavy burden and a danger to the people? …The frightening specter that is the entire cause of the disturbance in Avila is that of four humble, peace-loving Carmelites living at the outermost end of a suburb…. It seems to me of little use to Avila to call a council for such an insignificant reason.
The existence of the monastery is inviolable, since the Most Reverend Bishop Alvaro de Mendoza has taken it under his protection and the Holy See has given its approval in a brief, against which all of Avila can do nothing….
In response to his speech, the gathering broke up and the little monastery was rescued. However, it took several more months of negotiations and the sacrificial efforts of all the friends to overcome the rest of the hindrances. Finally, on December 5, 1562 the provincial Angel de Salazar gave Teresa permission to go to her daughters. She was even allowed to take along four nuns from the Monastery of the Incarnation. In overflowing thanks to the Lord, she once again consecrated herself and her little religious family to his service. Now she and those accompanying her put on the rough habit of the reform and exchanged their shoes for coarse sandals. At the same time, in order to bury all reminders of rank and status in the world, they gave up their family names and chose a noble title which came from heaven. From that day on, Teresa de Ahumada was called Teresa of Jesus.
The chaplain, Julián de Avila, the first confessor at St. Joseph’s and a faithful assistant to the saint in the work of reform, wrote a history of the founding of this house after the saint’s death. He gives us a picture of heavenly life in this solitude: “God wanted…to have a house where he could recreate, a dwelling for his consolation. He wanted a garden with flowers, not of those flowers that grow on the earth, but of those that unfold in heaven…, a flower garden with these selected souls in whose midst he could take his repose, to whom he could disclose his secrets and open his heart.” “Because our Lord and Savior has so many enemies and so few friends, at least the latter must be very good,” said the saint herself. And she educated the young souls entrusted into her hands to be such good friends of the Lord. Girls of youthful beauty, rich and sparkling with talent, rushed to St. Joseph’s in order to discard all finery, in order to consecrate themselves to the Lord in unlimited self- forgetfulness and humble submission. Postulants also came without any dowries and were just as joyfully, in fact, even more lovingly, received. For the Holy Mother was concerned with having the real spirit of the order in her house and not with external goods. Soon the number reached thirteen, which Teresa originally did not want to exceed. (Later it was raised to twenty.) She regulated life in the house with the greatest wisdom.(45)Each sister received an office in which she served the requirements of the little monastic family. The day was strictly apportioned between work and prayer. And this work, which was to contribute support, had to be simple and modest, not giving rise to pride, and thereby preserving their recollection in God. The work was carried out in solitude and silence. Only during the hour of recreation did the sisters come together in heartfelt and spontaneous conversation. Teresa made this hour into a required practice and set great store by it, to allow the spirit the relaxation that nature demands and to give sufficient opportunity for the practice of sisterly love. But even during this hour of recreation there was no idleness. During lively conversation or joyful song, the busy hands raced as fast as they could.
Her little family’s spirit was Teresa’s greatest reward for all her efforts and sacrifice. She herself stood in wonder before her daughters:
Oh how I recognize all the superiorities of my fellow sisters over me! No sooner had God given them some understanding, some love, than for his sake they disdained the lives to which they used to be attached and sacrificed themselves for him. They find their delight in solitude. All their happiness lies in thoughts of making progress in serving God. Their blessedness is to live alone with him. Many of them spent their youth in the vanity of the world. They intended to find their happiness there and to make decisions according to the world’s standards. But precisely these are the most joyful. God rewards them with true joy for the false delights which they have left for him. I cannot say how much comfort I feel in living in the company of such innocent souls who have renounced everything.
The saint also had no other desire than to live in this separation from the world with her little family, to lead them ever more deeply into the spirit of prayer, into the heroic exercise of virtues humility, obedience, complete giving of oneself, poverty, the most heartfelt love for God and for people and to consecrate with them this whole life of prayer, sacrifice, voluntary penance (on which, however, she set a wise limit and so obviated an unhealthy enthusiasm) to the glory of God and his church, for the salvation of souls and as a support for priests who were doing battle with the great errors of the time. But she was not to conclude her life in the quiet of St. Joseph’s.
13. Spread of the Reform
Again, it was the burning desire for the salvation of souls that led Teresa to new action. One day a Franciscan from the missions visited her and told her about the sad spiritual and moral condition of people in heathen lands. Shaken, she withdrew into her hermitage in the garden. “I cried to the Savior, I pleaded with him for the means of winning souls for him because the evil enemy robs him of so many. I asked him to help himself a little by my prayers, because that was all I could offer him.” After petitioning like this for many days, the Lord appeared to her and spoke the comforting words, “Wait a little while, my daughter, and you will see great things.” Six months later came the fulfillment of this promise.
In the spring of the year 1567 she received the news of an upcoming visit to Spain by the Carmelite General, Giovanni Battista Rossi (Rubeo). “This was something most unusual. The generals of our order always have been situated in Rome. None had ever come to Spain before.” The nun who had left her monastery and founded a new one had reason to be afraid of the arrival of her highest superior. He had the power to destroy her work. With the consent of the bishop of Avila who had jurisdiction of her house, Teresa invited the General to visit. He came, and Teresa gave him a completely candid account of the entire history of the foundation. What he saw convinced him of the spirit that ruled in this little monastery and he was moved to tears. It was evident that here was a perfect realization of the goal for which he had come to Spain. He was considering a reform of the entire Order, a return to the old traditions, but he had not risked proceeding as radically as Teresa. King Philip II had called him to Spain to renew discipline in the monasteries of his land. He had found little friendly reception in other places. Now he confided his concerns to Teresa. For her part, she responded with love and with a daughter’s trust. When he departed from Avila, he left Teresa with permits to found additional women’s monasteries of the reform. All of these monasteries were to be directly under the general. No provincial was to have the right to hinder their foundation or to involve himself in their affairs. When he returned to Madrid, Fr. Rubeo spoke enthusiastically to the king about Teresa and her work. Philip II asked for her prayers and those of her daughters, and was from then on the most powerful friend and protector of the reform. After returning to Rome, the Father General gave the saint even more power: to found two monasteries for men according to the Primitive Rule if she could obtain the permission of the present provincial and that of his predecessor. This permission was obtained for her by the bishop of Avila, who himself had been the first to express the wish for monasteries of friars of the reform. Teresa now found herself in an unusual position. Instead of a quiet little monastery to which she could retreat with a few selected souls, she was now to found an entire order for men and women. “And only a poor, unshod Carmelite was there to accomplish this, even though furnished with permits and the best wishes, but without any means for initiating the work and without any other support than that of the Lord….”(46) But this support sufficed. Before long, what was most important for a monastery of men appeared: the first friars. While she was making the first foundation for nuns in Medina del Campo, the prior of the Carmelite monastery of the mitigated rule there, Fr. Antonio de Heredia, energetically stood by Teresa’s side. When she told him of her plan, he declared himself ready to be the first male discalced Carmelite. Teresa was surprised and not absolutely happy, because she did not fully credit him with having the strength to sustain the Primitive Rule. However, he stayed firm in his decision. A few days later, a companion for him appeared who was most satisfactory to the saint: a young Carmelite at that time called John of St. Matthias, who from his early youth had lived a life of prayer and the strictest self-denial. He had gained the permission of his superior to follow the Primitive Rule personally. Not satisfied with this, he was thinking of becoming a Carthusian. Teresa persuaded him, instead, to become the living cornerstone of the Carmelite Order of the Primitive Rule.
Some time later a little house in Duruelo, a hamlet between Avila and Medina del Campo, was offered to her for the planned foundation. It was in miserable condition, but neither Teresa nor the two fathers were taken aback by it. Fr. Antonio still needed some time to end his priorship and put all his affairs in order. In the meantime, Fr. John joined Holy Mother to acquaint himself with the spirit and rule of life of the reform under her personal direction. On September 20, 1568 he went to Duruelo, having been clothed by Teresa in the habit of the reform, which she herself had made for him. As the Holy Mother had anticipated, he divided the single room of the pitiful little hut into two cells, an attic room into the choir, a vestibule into a chapel where he celebrated the first Mass the next morning. Soon he was considered a saint by the peasants in the neighborhood. On November 27, Fr. Antonio joined him. Together they now committed themselves to the Primitive Ruleand changed their names. From then on they were called Anthony of Jesus and John of the Cross.
A few months later the Holy Mother could visit them and get to know their way of life. She says about this:
I came there during Lent in the year 1569. It was morning. Father Antonio in his always cheerful mood was sweeping the doorway to the church. “What does this mean, my father,” I said, “and where is your self-respect?” …”Oh, cursed be the time when I paid attention to that,” he answered chuckling. I went into the chapel and was seized by the spirit of fervor and poverty with which God had filled it. I was not the only one so moved. Two merchants with whom I was friendly and who had accompanied me from Medina del Campo looked at the house with me. They could only weep. There were crosses and skulls everywhere. I will never forget a little wooden cross over a holy water font to which an image of the Savior had been glued. This image was made of simple paper; however, it flooded me with more devotion than if it had been very valuable and beautifully made. The choir, once an attic room, was raised in the middle so that the fathers could comfortably pray the Office. But one still had to bow deeply when entering. At both sides of the church, there were two little hermitages where they could only sit or lie down and even so their heads would touch the roof. The floor was so damp that they had to put straw on it. I learned that the fathers, instead of going to sleep after matins, retreated to these little hermitages and meditated there until prime. In fact, they once were praying in such recollection that when snow fell on them through the slats in the roof, they did not notice it at all, and returned to the choir without it occurring to them even to shake their robes.
Duruelo was the cradle of the male branch of the reformed Carmel. It spread vigorously from there, always directed by the Holy Mother’s prayer and illuminating suggestions, but nevertheless relatively independent. The humble little John of the Cross, the great saint of the church, inspired it with the spirit. But he was entirely a person of prayer, of penance. Others took on the external direction. Besides Fr. Antonio, there were the enthusiastic Italians, Fr. Mariano and Fr. Nicolás Doria. But, above all, the most faithful support for the Holy Mother during her last years was, as she was convinced, the choice instrument of the reform, the youthful, brilliantly gifted Fr. Jerónimo Gracián of the Mother of God.
Teresa herself had hardly any time for quiet monastic life after she left the peace of St. Joseph’s upon founding the first daughter house in Medina del Campo. She was called now here, now there, to establish new houses of the reform. Despite her always fragile health and increasing age, she indefatigably undertook the most difficult journeys as often as the Lord’s service required. Everywhere there were hard battles to endure: Sometimes there were difficulties with the spiritual and civil authorities; sometimes, the lack of a suitable house and the basic necessities of life; sometimes, disagreements with upper class founders who made impossible demands of the monasteries. When finally all obstacles had been overcome and everything organized so that the true life of Carmel could begin, she who had done it all had, without pause, to move on to new tasks. The only consolation she had was that a new garden was blooming for the Lord to enjoy.
14. Prioress at the Monastery of the Incarnation
While the spiritual gardens of Mother Teresa were spreading their lovely fragrance over all of Spain, the Monastery of the Incarnation, her former home, was in a sad state. Income had not increased in proportion to the number of nuns, and since they were used to living comfortably and not (as in the reformed Carmel) to finding their greatest joy in holy poverty, discontent and slackening of spirit spread. In the year 1570, Fr. Fernández of the Order of St. Dominic came to this house. He was the apostolic visitator entrusted by Pope Pius V with examining the disciplinary state of monasteries in Castile. Since he had already become thoroughly acquainted with some monasteries of the reform, the contrast must have shocked him. He thought of a radical remedy. By the authority of his position, he named Mother Teresa as prioress of the Monastery of the Incarnation and ordered her to return to Avila at once to assume her position. In the midst of her work for the reform, she now had to undertake the task that for all intents and purposes appeared impossible. Exhorted by the Lord himself, she declared her readiness. However, with the agreement of Fr. Fernández, she gave a written statement that she personally would continue to follow the Primitive Rule.One can imagine the vehement indignation of the nuns who were to have a prioress sent to them one not elected by them a sister of theirs who had left them eight years earlier and whom they considered as an adventuress, a mischief-maker. The storm broke as the provincial led her into the house. Fr. Angel de Salazar could not make himself heard in the noisy gathering. The “Te Deum” that he intoned was drowned out by the sounds of indignation. Teresa’s goodness and humility finally brought about enough quiet for the sisters to go to their cells and to tolerate her presence in the house.
They were saving the decisive declarations for the first chapter meeting. But how amazed they were when they entered the chapter room at the sound of the bell to see in the prioress’ seat the statue of our dear Lady, the Queen of Carmel, with the keys to the monastery in her hands and the new prioress at her feet. Their hearts were conquered even before Teresa began to speak and in her indisputably loving manner presented to them how she conceived of and intended to conduct her office. In a short time, under her wise and temperate direction, above all by the influence of her character and conduct, the spirit of the house was renewed. Her greatest support in this was Fr. John of the Cross, whom she called to Avila as confessor for the monastery.
This time of greatest expenditure of energy when Teresa, along with being prioress of the Monastery of the Incarnation, retained the spiritual direction of her eight reformed monasteries, was also a time of the greatest attestation of grace. At that time she had a vision which she herself described as a “spiritual marriage.” On November 18, 1572, the Lord appeared to her during Holy Communion. “He offered me his right hand and spoke, ‘See this nail. It is the sign of our union. From this day on you are my bride. Up to now you had not earned it. But now you will not only see me as your Creator, your King, your God, but from now on you will care for my honor as my true bride. My honor is yours; your glory is mine.'” From that moment on, she found herself united blissfully with the Lord, a union which remained with her for the entire last decade of her life, her own life mortified, “full of the inexpressible joy of having found her true rest, and of the sense that Jesus Christ was living in her.”(47)She characterized as the first result of this union “such a complete forgetfulness of self that it truly seems as if this soul had lost its own being. It no longer recognizes itself. It no longer thinks about heaven for itself, about life, about honor. The only thing she cares about any longer is the honor of God.” The second result is an inner desire for suffering, a desire, however, that no longer disturbs her soul as earlier. She desires with such fervor that God’s will be fulfilled in her that everything which pleases the divine Master seems good to her. If he wants her to suffer, she is happy; if he does not, his will be done.
But the following surprised me the most. This soul whose life has been martyrdom, because of her strong desire to enjoy the vision of God, has now become so consumed by the wish to serve him, to glorify his name, and to be useful to other souls that, far from wishing to die, she would like to live for many years in the greatest suffering….
In this soul there is no more interior pain and no more dryness, but only a sweet and constant joy. Should she for a short time be less attentive to the presence of God, he himself immediately awakens her. He works to bring her to complete perfection and imparts his doctrines in a completely hidden way in the midst of such a deep peace that it reminds me of the building of Solomon’s temple. Actually, the soul becomes the temple of God where only God alone and the soul mutually delight in each other in greatest quiet.
15. Doing Battle for Her Life’s Work
The greatest grace that can befall a soul was probably necessary to strengthen the saint for the storm that was soon to break over the reform. Even during her term as prioress, she had to resume her journeys of foundation and leave a vicaress in charge in Avila. At the end of her years as prioress it was only with some effort that she stopped the nuns from re-electing her. Those who had so struggled against her assuming the position clung to her with such great love. Her humility and goodness, her superior intelligence and wise moderation in this case had been able to bridge the rift between the “calced” and the “discalced.” Her spiritual sons were not so lucky. They had founded new monasteries in addition to the two for which the general of the Order, Fr. Rubeo, had previously given Teresa authorization. They had the permission of the apostolic visitator from Andalusia, Fr. Vargas, but no arrangement with the Order’s superiors. Their extraordinary penances (which often caused the saint herself concern) and their zeal soon aroused the admiration of the people. This, along with the evident preference for the monasteries of the reform on the part of the apostolic visitator, made those not of the reform fear they themselves would soon be pushed entirely into the background, even that the reform might be imposed on the entire Order. Their envoys turned the general in Rome completely against the discalced as disobedient and as agitators. To suppress their “revolt,” Fr. Tostado, a Portuguese Carmelite with special authority, was sent to Spain. A clash between the two branches of the Order ensued, which must have filled the heart of the humble and peace-loving Holy Mother with the greatest pain. In addition, it appeared that her entire work was threatened. She herself was called “a gadabout” by the new papal nuncio in Spain, “disobedient, ambitious, who presumes to teach others like a doctor of the church despite the prohibition of Saint Paul.” She was ordered to choose one of the reformed monasteries as her permanent residence and to make no further trips. How grateful she would have been for the quiet in the monastery of Toledo which Fr. Gracián suggested to her, had there not been such a hostile design behind the command! All the monasteries of the reform were prohibited from taking in novices, condemning them to extinction. Her beloved sons were reviled and persecuted. Fr. John of the Cross, who had always kept himself far from all conflict, was even secretly abducted and kept in humiliating confinement in the monastery of the “calced” in Toledo. He was cruelly abused until the Blessed Virgin, his protectress since childhood, miraculously freed him. In this storm that finally made everyone lose courage, the Holy Mother alone stood erect. Together with her daughters, she stormed heaven. She was indefatigable in encouraging her sons with letters and advice, in calling her friends for help, in presenting the true circumstances to the Father. General who had once been so good to her, in appealing for protection from her most powerful patron, the king. And finally she arrived at the solution that she recommended as the only possible one: the complete separation of the calced from the discalced Carmelites into two provinces. The Congregation of Religious in Rome had been occupied with the unfortunate conflict for a long time. A well- informed cardinal, whom Pope Gregory XIII questioned concerning the state of affairs, responded, “The Congregation has thoroughly investigated all the complaints of the Carmelites of the Mitigated Rule. It comes down to the following: Those with the Mitigated Rulefear that the reform will finally reform them also.” The pope then decided that the monasteries of Carmelite friars and nuns of the reform were to constitute a province of their own under a provincial chosen by them. A brief dated June 27, 1580 announced this decision. In March of 1581, the chapter of Alcalá elected Fr. Jerónimo Gracián as its first provincial in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Mother.
16. The End
Teresa greeted the end of the years of suffering with overflowing thanks. “God alone knew in full about the bitterness, and now only he alone knows of the boundless joy that fills my soul, as I see the end of these many torments. I wish the whole world would thank God with me! Now we are all at peace, calced and discalced Carmelites, and nothing is to stop us from serving God. Now then, my brothers and sisters, let us hurry to offer ourselves up for the honor of the divine Master who has heard our prayers so well.” During the short span of time still given to her, she herself sacrificed her final strength for new journeys to make foundations. The erection of the monastery in Burgos, the last one that she brought to life, cost her much effort and time. She had left Avila on January 2, 1582 to go there. It was July before she could begin the trip home, but she was not to reach the desired goal any more. After she had visited a number of other monasteries of the nuns, Fr. Antonio of Jesus brought her to Alba to comply with a wish of the Duchess María Henríquez, the great patroness of that monastery. Completely exhausted, Teresa arrived on September 20. According to a number of witnesses, she had predicted some years earlier that she would die at this place and at this time. Even though the attending physician saw her condition as hopeless, she continued to take part in all the monastic exercises until September 29. Then she had to lie down. On October 2, in accordance with her wish, Fr. Antonio heard her last confession. On the third she requested Viaticum. An eyewitness gave this report: “At the moment when the Blessed Sacrament was brought into her cell, the Holy Mother raised herself without anyone’s help and got on her knees. She would even have gotten out of her bed if she had not been prevented. Her expression was very beautiful and radiated divine love. With a lively expression of joy and piety, she spoke such exalted divine words to the Lord that we were all filled with great devotion.” During the day she repeated again and again the words from the “Miserere” (Psalm 51): “Cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, no despicies” (a broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise). In the evening she requested to be anointed. Concerning her last day, October 4, we again have an eyewitness account by Sr. María of St. Francis:
On the morning of the feast of St. Francis, at about 7 o’clock, our Holy Mother turned on her side toward the nuns, a crucifix in her hand, her expression more beautiful, more glowing, than I had ever seen it during her life. I do not know how her wrinkles disappeared, since the Holy Mother, in view of her great age and her continual suffering, had very deep ones. She remained in this position in prayer full of deep peace and great repose. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice which she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.
The wondrous events that occurred at the Saint’s burial, the incorrupt state of her body that was determined by repeated disinterments, the numerous miracles that she worked during her life and then really in earnest after her death, the enthusiastic devotion of the entire Spanish people for their saint all of this led to the initiation of the investigations preparatory to her canonization, already in the year 1595. Paul V declared her blessed in a brief on April 24, 1614. Her canonization by Gregory XV followed on March 22, 1622. Her feast day was designated as October 15, because the ten days after her death were dropped (October 5-14, 1582) due to the Gregorian calendar reform.
Luis de León(48) said of Teresa: “I neither saw nor knew the saint during her lifetime. But today, albeit she is in heaven, I know her and see her in her two living reflections, that is, in her daughters and in her writings….” Actually, there are few saints as humanly near to us as our Holy Mother. Her writings, which she penned as they came to her, in obedience to the order of her confessor, wedged between all of her burdens and work, serve as classical masterpieces of Spanish literature. In incomparably clear, simple and sincere language they tell of the wonders of grace that God worked in a chosen soul. They tell of the indefatigable efforts of a woman with the daring and strength of a man, revealing natural intelligence and heavenly wisdom, a deep knowledge of human nature and a rich spirit’s innate sense of humor, the infinite love of a heart tender as a bride’s and kind as a mother’s. The great family of religious(49) that she founded, all who have been given the enormous grace of being called her sons and daughters, look up with thankful love to their Holy Mother and have no other desire than to be filled by her spirit, to walk hand in hand with her the way of perfection to its goal.
Copyright ICS Publications used with permission