To the Most Illustrious Lord Don Alonso Valasquez, Bishop of Osma.1
The Saint teaches this great prelate a method of prayer. Palafox says, “that he considers this letter to be the most spiritual of all the Saint’s letters, as well as the most important for every one, especially for bishops.” Date, 1581. Carta VIII. Spanish ed. vol. i.
JESUS. Most Reverend Father of my Soul.
One of the greatest favours for which I feel myself indebted to our Lord is, that His Majesty has given me a desire to be obedient, for in this virtue I experience great pleasure and consolation, being a duty which our Lord has recommended to us more than any other.
Your Lordship commanded me the other day, to recommend you to God: I am careful in doing so, and your Lordship’s command has increased this solicitude. I have done so, not considering my own littleness, but because it is a matter imposed on me by you; and with this belief I trust in the goodness of your Lordship, that you will receive with a willing mind what I may think proper to represent to your Lordship: accept my will, since it proceeds from obedience.
Representing, then, to our Lord the favours which He has shown you (which I know), in having bestowed upon you humility, charity, and a seal for souls, and for the Divine honour; and being aware also of this your desire, I asked our Lord for an increase of all virtues and perfections, that so you might become as perfect as the dignity requires, in which our Lord has placed you. It was made known to me, that your Lordship failed in what was principally required for these virtues; and being wanting in the most important, which is the foundation, the building soon falls, because it is not firm. You are deficient in prayer, with a burning lamp, which is the light of faith, and in perseverance in prayer with courage: thus you break the bond of union which is the unction of the Holy Spirit, and through want of this arises all that dryness and disunion which the soul experiences.
It is necessary to bear patiently the importunity of a multitude of thoughts and imaginations, and the violence of natural motions, both as well in the soul by the dryness and disunion she feels, as in the body, for want of that subjection which it ought to yield to the spirit. And though we may think these are no imperfections in us, yet when God opens the eyes of the soul, as He is accustomed to do in prayer, these imperfections then clearly appear.
That which was shown me respecting the order your Lordship is to observe in prayer, is this. First, make the sign of the cross; accuse yourself of all the faults committed since your last confession; strip yourself of all things, as if you were to die that hour; have a true sorrow for your sins, and recite the psalm “Miserere,” as a penance for them. After this you may say, “I come to Thee, O Lord! to learn in Thy school, and not to teach. I will speak with thy Majesty, though I am dust and ashes, and a miserable worm of the earth.” Offer yourself at the same time to God, as a perpetual sacrifice and holocaust, representing before the eyes of your understanding Jesus Christ crucified, on whom with tranquillity and affection of soul, ponder and consider part by part.
Consider, in the first place, the divine nature of the Eternal Word, of the Father united with the human nature, which of itself had no being till God gave it one. Consider also the ineffable love and profound humility with which God annihilated Himself, man becoming God, and God becoming man. Consider that magnificence and bounty with which He exercised His power, by manifesting Himself to men, and making them partakers of His glory, His power, and His greatness.
And if this consideration shall excite in your soul the admiration it is accustomed to produce, dwell upon it, and contemplate a sublimity so low, and a lowliness so sublime.
Behold His head crowned with thorns, and then consider the dulness and blindness of our understanding. Beg of our Lord that He would be pleased to open the eyes of the soul, and enlighten our understanding with the light of faith, that so we may with humility learn who God is, and what we are; and that by this humble knowledge, we may be able to observe His commandments and counsels, and do in all things His will. Behold also His hands nailed, and consider His liberality and our poverty, by comparing His gifts with ours.
View His feet nailed, considering the diligence with which He seeks us, and the sloth with which we endeavour to seek Him. Cast your eyes on that side opened with a lance, which shows us His heart, and the intense love wherewith He hath loved us, when He was pleased to become our harbour and refuge, that so by this gate we might enter the ark, when the deluge of our temptations and tribulations shall come. Beg of Him, that as He was pleased to have His side opened in testimony of the love He bore us, so He would command ours also to be opened, that we might make our necessities known, and obtain a remedy for them.
Your Lordship should approach to prayer with submission and humility, and a readiness to walk along the path by which God may conduct you, relying with security on His Majesty. Listen attentively to the lessons He shall read to you. Sometimes He turns away from you, and at other times He comes before you, either by shutting the gate and leaving you outside, or taking you by the hand, and leading you into His chamber. Everything should be received with an equality of mind: and when He shall reprove you, you must acknowledge His right and just judgment by humbling yourself.
When again He shall console you, you should consider yourself unworthy of consolation, and rather esteem His bounty whose nature it is to manifest itself to men, and to make them partakers of His power and goodness. A great injury is done to God by doubting of His liberality in conferring favours, since He is desirous it should shine forth more brightly in manifesting His omnipotence, than in showing the power of His justice. And if to deny His power in revenging the injuries committed against Him, would be a great blasphemy, it would be worse to deny it in that wherein He is most desirous of manifesting it–viz., in bestowing favours. But if we are not willing to subject our understanding, it is certain that we wish to teach God in prayer, rather than be taught by Him, which is the object and design of prayer; whereas to do the former, would be to go against this object. In acknowledging yourself to be dust and ashes, your Lordship should notice the qualities of dust and ashes, which of their own nature incline to the earth. But when the wind raises the dust, it would be against its own nature not to rise: and when raised, it ascends as high as the wind carries and sustains it; but when the wind ceases, the dust falls to its place. Just so is it with the soul, which being like the dust and ashes, necessarily has the qualities of that to which it is compared. Hence in prayer, the soul must rest in the knowledge of herself; and when the sweet breathing of the Holy Spirit shall lift her up, and place her in the heart of God, and there sustain her, discovering to her His goodness, and manifesting His power, then let her learn with thanksgiving to enjoy such a favour, since He admits her to His very interior, and presses her to His breast as a favoured spouse, in whom He Himself, as her spouse, takes delight.
It would be great rudeness and incivility for the spouse of a King (who chose her from a mean family), not to make her appearance in His palace on the day he wished her to do so, as Queen Vashti did: this made the King angry, as the Scripture mentions. Now our Lord is accustomed to be angry with those souls who shun His presence, His Majesty having declared, “that His delight is to be with the children of men.” (Proverbs viii. 31.) Hence if all men shunned Him, they would deprive God of His delight, according to the words above,–even though this should be done under the plea of humility, which however, would be an indiscretion, and bad manners and a kind of contempt, in not receiving from His hand what He gives us. It would also be a want of judgment in one who, standing in need of something for the support of his life, refuses to have it when it is given him.
I said likewise, that we must be like a worm of the earth. Its nature is, to have its breast low on the ground, subject to its Creator and to all men, so that though people tread on it, or the birds peck at it, it does not lift itself up. By treading on it is meant, when at the time of prayer the flesh rebels against the spirit, and with a thousand kind of delusions and deceits represents–that it will do more good in other employments, such as relieving the necessities of our neighbour, studying in order to preach, and to govern those who are intrusted to us. To these suggestions I may answer, that one’s own necessity is the first and the greatest obligation, and that perfect charity begins from oneself. Remember also, that a pastor, in order to discharge his office well, ought to take his standing in the highest place–whence he may view all his flock, and see if any wild beasts attack it: now this high place is prayer.
I spoke moreover of a worm of the earth, because though the fowls of heaven peck at it, it does not stir from the earth, nor lose the obedience and subjection it owes to its Creator–of remaining in the same place He put it. A man must also firmly keep the post God has given him, which is that of prayer, though the fowls–that is, the devils–may peck at him, and molest him with vain thoughts and imaginations, which at that moment the devil brings in, carrying away our thoughts, and scattering them here and there, while the heart goes after them. To bear patiently these troubles and temptations, is no small advantage of prayer. This is to offer oneself as a holocaust, by consuming the whole sacrifice in the fire of temptation, without allowing anything to escape.
To remain in prayer without obtaining any advantage is not lost time, but a season of great gain, because then we labour without interest, and only for the glory of God. And though at first it may seem as if we laboured in vain, it is not so; but it is like what happens to sons who work on their father’s estate, and who, though at night they receive not wages for the day’s work, yet at the end of the year they receive everything.
This is very like the prayer in the Garden, in which our Lord Jesus Christ requested–that the bitterness and difficulty He experienced in overcoming His human nature might be removed. He did not ask that His pains might be removed, but only the dislike with which He suffered them; and what He asked for the inferior part of man was, that the strength of the Spirit might be given to the flesh, that so its weakness might be strengthened. He was told that it was not expedient, but that He must drink the chalice–that is, overcome the cowardice and weakness of the flesh. And so we may understand that as He was truly God, so He was truly man, since even He felt those pains which other men did.
He that approaches to prayer, must needs be a man of labour, and must never grow weary during all the summer and fine weather, in providing provisions (like the ant) for the winter and the floods, that so he may not perish with hunger as other animals do, who are unprovided: he must look forward to the dreadful deluge of death and judgment.
In going to prayer, we should put on a wedding garment–that is, of rest, not of labour; and for such festal days, every one endeavours to procure costly garments; and to honour the feast, every one is accustomed to incur great expense; and they think all well bestowed when the feast goes off as well as they wished. One cannot be a learned man nor a courtier, without great expense and labour. Now to become a courtier of heaven, and to possess spiritual knowledge, cannot be effected without spending some time, and enduring some affliction of spirit.
I cannot now say any more to your Lordship; and I beg your pardon for the presumption I have used, in representing these truths to you. But however full this letter may be of defects and indiscretions, I am not wanting in the zeal I owe to you, as a loving servant of your Lordship, to whose holy prayers I commend myself. May our Lord preserve your Lordship, and enrich you with a manifold increase of His Grace. Amen.
Your Lordship’s unworthy Servant and Subject,
TERESA DE JESUS.
1 The Saint bestows the highest commendations on this holy prelate, who was her confessor when she was residing in Toledo. See “Foundation of Soria.”