32. Lorenzo


To Lorenzo de Cepeda, Brother of the Saint.

Letter 5th. In this letter the Saint gives her brother an account of her health, and also some spiritual advice. Several other matters are likewise mentioned. Date, 1577. Carta. XXXIII. Spanish ed. vol. i.

JESUS be with you.

I have recovered from the weakness which I felt the other day; but since then, as I thought I had the bile, and I was afraid lest this might prevent me from fasting during Lent, I took some physic. The same day there came so many letters, and I had so much business on hand, that I was obliged to be writing till after midnight. This gave me the headache; however, I may gain by it, for the doctor has ordered me never to write beyond midnight, and sometimes to get others to write for me. Indeed, the trouble which I have had in this way during the winter has been very great, and I am much to blame; for, in order not to be disturbed in the morning, my sleep paid for it;1 and then, as I had to write after my vomiting, everything helped to do me harm. But though on that day I took the physic my sickness was very violent, yet I think I am now getting better. Do not then trouble yourself, for I take great care of myself. I mention this circumstance, in order that if you should receive some of my letters not in my handwriting, and much shorter than usual, you may know what is the reason.

I treat myself as well as I can, and I am displeased with the present you sent me: I had much rather you had eaten it yourself, as sweet things are not good for me; still, I eat some of them. Do so no more, for I shall be angry: is it not sufficient that I send you no sweets?

I don’t know what “Pater Nosters” those are which you say you recite in taking the discipline, for I never mentioned any such thing. Read my letter over again, and you will see what I said. On no account use it oftener than I prescribed, viz. twice a week. In Lent you may wear the hair-shirt once in a week; but upon this condition, that in case you perceive it does you harm, you leave it off; for, as you are of a sanguine temperament, I fear it might injure you. I cannot allow you to use it oftener, for it will, when thus limited to a certain degree, be a greater penance for you after you have begun to use it, because it will teach you to subdue your will. Let me know, after you have worn it, whether you find it does you any harm.

The prayer of repose which you mention is the prayer of Quiet, which I spoke of in the little book. As to those emotions caused by the senses, I have told you all that is necessary to be done respecting them; I see plainly they are of no consequence, and that it is best not to heed them. A learned man once told me that a person came to him in the greatest affliction, because every time he communicated he fell into a certain desponding state–a much greater affliction than yours–and that on this account he was allowed to communicate only once a year, merely to fulfil the command of the Church. But this learned man, though not very spiritual, perceived it arose from weakness, and he accordingly told him not to pay any attention to it, and to communicate every eight days. When he lost his fear, this complaint went away: therefore, make no account of your case.

You may speak to Juan de Avila about anything, for he is a very good man. You tell me he often talks to you: I am glad of it. Visit him sometimes, and when you wish to do him a kindness, do it by way of alms, for he is very poor, and exceedingly disengaged from riches; he is, in my opinion, one of the best priests you have at Avila: it is good to have such conversations, for one cannot always be engaged in prayer.

With regard to sleep, I tell you, and even command you, not to take less than six hours. Consider how necessary it is, that we who are advanced in years should take care of our body, lest the spirit should grow weak, for this would be a terrible affliction. You cannot imagine what a misery it is to me now, when I can neither pray nor read, though (as I have said) I am certainly better: but I shall learn wisdom by experience. I advise you to be more careful of your health, and to do what you are commanded, for hereby you will be fulfilling the will of God. How simple you are to think, it was such prayer as mine that would not let me sleep! There is no resemblance, for I would have done much more to have been able to sleep, than to have kept awake.

Truly do the favours which our Lord bestows upon you excite me to praise Him exceedingly as well as the effects which you find come from them. Hereby you may see how great He is, since He gives you such virtues which you could never attain by any diligence of your own. Remember that the weakness in your head does not arise from eating or drinking: do what I told you. Our Lord does me a great favour in giving you such good health. May His Majesty preserve it for many years, that so you may spend it in His service.

The fear you mention must, I think, certainly arise from your soul perceiving the presence of an evil spirit; and though the eyes of the body see it not, yet the soul must see it, or feel it is near. Keep holy water by you, for nothing sooner drives the devil away.2 This has often helped me. Sometimes he has not only terrified me, but tormented me greatly: this, however, I mention in confidence between ourselves. But if the holy water should not touch him, he will not depart; therefore sprinkle it all about the place.

Think not that God bestows a small favour upon you, by giving you such good nights’ rest: know that this is a very great favour. I say again, you must not try to prevent sleep, for at your age you require it.

It seems to me great charity to desire troubles for oneself, and to give others pleasure: it is a high favour from God, even to think of doing so. But, on the other hand, it is great stupidity and little humility, to think of arriving at this degree without prayer, even with the virtues possessed by Francisco de Salcedo, or with those which God gives to yourself. Believe my words, and leave the matter to the Lord of the Vineyard, who knows well what every one stands in need of. I never asked Him for interior trials, though He has given me many during my life, and these were very great. Our natural disposition and constitution contribute much to increase these afflictions. I am glad that you are pleased with the company of that holy man, and earnestly do I hope you may imitate him.

I wish you to know that I foresaw what would happen from the judgment I gave: I knew you would not be satisfied; but I could not treat the matter seriously. On consideration, you will see I have given you some praise; though without telling an untruth to you. I cannot give a different answer, and I am still of the same opinion.3 I have had such a violent headache, that I really know not how I could have said so much, for on that day I had so much business to transact, and so many letters to answer, that sometimes it seems as if the devil brought all these upon me, in order to trouble me: this was particularly the case the night I took my physic, which made me very ill. It was quite a miracle I did not send to the bishop of Carthegena, a letter which I had written for Father Gracian’s mother, for I had it directed to his lordship and had even put it in the packet (before I found out my mistake).4 Thanks be to God, I discovered my error. I had however written to that bishop (whom I never saw), because his vicar-general had interfered with our nuns of Caravaca, and had forbidden their confessor to say mass for them. The matter, however, is now settled, and the rest will soon be arranged; I mean, the bishop will agree to the foundation of the monastery. His lordship cannot do otherwise, for my letter was recommended by several others. But only fancy what confusion for me, if I had sent the letter to the bishop which I had intended for the lady! Did I not do well to stop there?

We are in dread of Father Tostado, who has now returned to court: recommend the matter to God, and read this letter from the prioress of Seville. I was much pleased with the one you wrote to her, and which she sent to me. I was also amused with the one you wrote to our sisters, for it is very interesting. They were all delighted with it, and now send you a thousand thanks and regards, especially my companion, who is the nun that came with us from Malagon: she is fifty years old, and is extremely good, and has an excellent understanding. I speak from experience, for she is exceedingly kind to me and takes great care of me.

The prioress of Valladolid informs me, that they do all in their power with regard to the business you speak of, and that Padre de Ahumada was in the city to attend to it. You may rest assured, that the merchant who has undertaken it will acquit himself well of the charge. Do not trouble yourself about it. Remember me to the children, but particularly to Francisco; I should much like to see them. You did right to send that person away, though you may have had no reason to be dissatisfied. When there are so many, they are only in each other’s way. Give my very kind regards to Doña Juana, Pedro Alvarez, and to all the rest of the family. I assure you, my head is now much better than when I began this letter. I think it must proceed from the pleasure I feel in writing to you.

My confessor, Doctor Velasquez, has been here to-day. I mentioned to him what you said about the plate and tapestry; for, through want of my assistance, I should not wish you to grow negligent in the service of God, and hence in some things I do not rely on my own judgment, though in this matter mine agreed with his. He says “that it will neither do good nor harm, provided you know how little it signifies, and that you be not attached to it.” This is good advice, for you must marry your children and furnish your house in a proper way. For the present, then, you must have patience, for God is always accustomed to provide times and seasons for the accomplishment of good desires: and so He will act with you. May God preserve you, and make you a great saint. Amen.

Your Servant,


February 25th.

1 That is, she did not take sufficient repose.

2 In her “Life” the Saint says still more: “I have often found by experience, that there is nothing from which the devils fly more quickly than from holy water. Certainly, the power of holy water must be very great: for my part, my soul feels a particular comfort in taking it, and very generally a refreshment and interior delight which I cannot express.” (Chapter xxxi. p. 275.)

3 The Saint seems to allude to her brother’s explanation of the words, “Seek thyself in me,” which were made a subject of discussion. The saint did not approve of that explanation. (See Letter XII.)

4 These words I have added.

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