Way of Perfection
Although St. Teresa of Avila lived and wrote almost four centuries ago,
her superbly inspiring classic on the practice of prayer is as fresh and
meaningful today as it was when she first wrote it. The Way of Perfection is a practical guide to prayer setting
forth the Saint's counsels and directives for the attainment of spiritual
Through the entire work there runs the author's desire to teach a deep
and lasting love of prayer beginning with a treatment of the three essentials of
the prayer-filled life -- fraternal love, detachment from created things, and
true humility. St. Teresa's counsels on these are not only the fruit of lofty
mental speculation, but of mature practical experience. The next section
develops these ideas and brings the reader directly to the subjects of prayer
and contemplation. St. Teresa then gives various maxims for the practice of
prayer and leads up to the topic which occupies the balance of the book -- a
detailed and inspiring commentary on the Lord's Prayer.
Of all St. Teresa's writings, The
Way of Perfection is the most easily understood. Although it is a work of
sublime mystical beauty, its outstanding hallmark is its simplicity which
instructs, exhorts, and inspires all those who are seeking a more perfect way of
"I shall speak of nothing of which I have
no experience, either in my own life or in observation of others, or which the
Lord has not taught me in prayer." -- Prologue
Almost four centuries have passed since St.
Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and reformer, committed to writing the
experiences which brought her to the highest degree of sanctity. Her search for,
and eventual union with, God have been recorded in her own world-renowned
writings -- the autobiographical Life, the celebrated masterpiece Interior
Castle and The Way of Perfection -- as well as in the other numerous
works which flowed from her pen while she lived.
Way of Perfection
was written during the height of controversy which raged over the reforms St.
Teresa enacted within the Carmelite Order. Its specific purpose was to serve as
a guide in the practice of prayer and it sets forth her counsels and directives
for the attainment of spiritual perfection through prayer. It was composed by
St. Teresa at the express command of her superiors, and was written during the
late hours in order not to interfere with the day's already crowded schedule.
Without doubt it fulfills the tribute given
all St. Teresa's works by E. Allison Peers, the outstanding authority on her
writings: "Work of a sublime beauty bearing the ineffaceable hallmark of
Scanned by Harry Plantinga, 1995
From the Image Books edition, 1964, ISBN
This etext is in the public domain
Only a few of the nearly 1200 footnotes of the
image book edition have been reproduced. Most of those that were not reproduced
concern differences between the manuscripts. The student is referred to the
-- Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such strict observance
-- Treats of how the necessities of the body should be disregarded and of the
good that comes from poverty
-- Continues the subject begun in the first chapter and persuades the sisters to
busy themselves constantly in beseeching God to help those who work for the
Church. Ends with an exclamatory prayer
-- Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names three things which are
important for the spiritual life. Describes the first of these three things,
which is love of one's neighbour, and speaks of the harm which can be done by
Appendix To Chapter 4
-- Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is important that they
should be learned men
-- Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun
-- Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives certain counsels for
-- Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both interior and exterior,
from all things created
-- Treats of the great blessing that shunning their relatives brings to those
who have left the world and shows how by doing so they will find truer friends
-- Teaches that detachment from the things aforementioned is insufficient if we
are not detached from our own selves and that this virtue and humility go
-- Continues to treat of mortification and describes how it may be attained in
times of sickness
-- Teaches that the true lover of God must care little for life and honour
-- Continues to treat of mortification and explains how one must renounce the
world's standards of wisdom in order to attain to true wisdom
-- Treats of the great importance of not professing anyone whose spirit is
contrary to the things aforementioned
-- Treats of the great advantage which comes from our not excusing ourselves,
even though we find we are unjustly condemned
-- Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of contemplatives
and in the lives of those who are content with mental prayer. Explains how it is
sometimes possible for God to raise a distracted soul to perfect contemplation
and the reason for this. This chapter and that which comes next are to be noted
-- How not all souls are fitted for contemplation and how some take long to
attain it. True humility will walk happily along the road by which the Lord
-- Continues the same subject and shows how much greater are the trials of
contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter offers great consolation to
-- Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot reason with the
-- Describes how, in one way or another, we never lack consolation on the road
of prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this subject continually in their
-- Describes the great importance of setting out upon the practice of prayer
with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties put in the way by the devil
-- Explains the meaning of mental prayer
-- Describes the importance of not turning back when one has set out upon the
way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be resolute
-- Describes how vocal prayer may be practised with perfection and how closely
allied it is to mental prayer
-- Describes the great gain which comes to a soul when it practises vocal prayer
perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to things supernatural
-- Continues the description of a method for recollecting the thoughts.
Describes means of doing this. This chapter is very profitable for those who are
-- Describes the great love shown us by the Lord in the first words of the
Paternoster and the great importance of our making no account of good birth if
we truly desire to be the daughters of God
-- Describes the nature of the Prayer of Recollection and sets down some of the
means by which we can make it a habit
- Continues to describe methods for achieving this Prayer of Recollection. Says
what little account we should make of being favoured by our superiors
-- Describes the importance of understanding what we ask for in prayer. Treats
of these words in the Paternoster: "Sanctificetur nomen tuum, adveniat
regnum tuum". Applies them to the Prayer of Quiet, and begins the
explanation of them
-- Continues the same subject. Explains what is meant by the Prayer of Quiet.
Gives several counsels to those who experience it. This chapter is very
-- Expounds these words of the Paternoster: "Fiat voluntas tua sicut in
coelo et in terra." Describes how much is accomplished by those who repeat
these words with full resolution and how well the Lord rewards them for it
-- Treats of our great need that the Lord should give us what we ask in these
words of the Paternoster: "Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie."
-- Continues the same subject. This is very suitable for reading after the
reception of the Most Holy Sacrament
-- Describes the recollection which should be practised after Communion.
Concludes this subject with an exclamatory prayer to the Eternal Father
-- Treats of these words in the Paternoster: "Dimitte nobis debita
-- Describes the excellence of this prayer called the Paternoster, and the many
ways in which we shall find consolation in it
-- Treats of the great need which we have to beseech the Eternal Father to grant
us what we ask in these words: "Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed
libera nos a malo." Explains certain temptations. This chapter is
-- Continues the same subject and gives counsels concerning different kinds of
temptation. Suggests two remedies by which we may be freed from temptations
-- Describes how, by striving always to walk in the love and fear of God, we
shall travel safely amid all these temptations
-- Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must keep ourselves from venial sins
-- Treats of these last words of the Paternoster: "Sed libera nos a malo.
Amen." "But deliver us from evil. Amen."
A.V. -- Authorized Version of the Bible
D.V. -- Douai Version of the Bible (1609) .
-- Letters of St. Teresa. Unless otherwise stated, the numbering of the
Letters follows Vols. VII-IX of P. Silverio. Letters (St.) indicates the
translation of the Benedictines of Stanbrook (London, 1919-24, 4 vols.).
Lewis -- The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus,
etc., translated by David Lewis, 5th ed., with notes and introductions by
the Very Rev. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D., London, 1916.
P. Silverio -- Obras de Santa Teresa de Jesús,
editadas y anotadas por el P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., Durgos, 1915-24, 9
Ribera -- Francisco de Ribera, Vida de
Santa Teresa de Jesús, Nueva ed. aumentada, con introduction, etc., por el
P. Jaime Pons, Barcelona, 1908.
S.S.M. -- E. Allison Peers, Studies of the
Spanish Mystics, London, 1927-30, 2 vols.
John of the Cross
-- The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church,
translated from the critical edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., and
edited by E. Allison Peers, London, 1934-35, 3 vols.
Yepes -- Diego de Yepes, Vida de Santa
Teresa, Madrid, 1615.
THE GRACIOUS MEMORY OF
PRIOR OF THE CARTHUSIAN MONASTERY
MAN OF GOD
We owe this book, first and foremost, to the
affectionate importunities of the Carmelite nuns of the Primitive Observance at
Ávila, and, in the second place, to that outstanding Dominican who was also St.
Teresa's confessor, Fray Domingo BáĖez. The nuns of St. Joseph's knew
something of their Mother Foundress' autobiography, and, though in all
probability none of them had actually read it, they would have been aware that
it contained valuable counsels to aspirants after religious perfection, of
which, had the book been accessible to them, they would have been glad to avail
themselves. Such intimate details did it contain, however, about St. Teresa's
spiritual life that her superiors thought it should not be put into their hands;
so the only way in which she could grant their persistent requests was to write
another book dealing expressly with the life of prayer. This P. BáĖez was
very anxious that she should do.
Through the entire Way of Perfection
there runs the author's desire to teach her daughters to love prayer, the most
effective means of attaining virtue. This principle is responsible for the
book's construction. St. Teresa begins by describing the reason which led her to
found the first Reformed Carmelite convent -- viz., the desire to minimize the
ravages being wrought, in France and elsewhere, by Protestantism, and, within
the limits of her capacity, to check the passion for a so-called
"freedom", which at that time was exceeding all measure. Knowing how
effectively such inordinate desires can be restrained by a life of humility and
poverty, St. Teresa extols the virtues of poverty and exhorts her daughters to
practise it in their own lives. Even the buildings in which they live should be
poor: on the Day of Judgment both majestic palaces and humble cottages will fall
and she has no desire that the convents of her nuns should do so with a
In this preamble to her book, which comprises
Chapters 1-3, the author also charges her daughters very earnestly to commend to
God those who have to defend the Church of Christ -- particularly theologians
The next part of the book (Chaps. 4-15)
stresses the importance of a strict observance of the Rule and Constitutions,
and before going on to its main subject -- prayer -- treats of three essentials
of the prayer-filled life -- mutual love, detachment from created things and
true humility, the last of these being the most important and including all the
rest. With the mutual love which nuns should have for one another she deals most
minutely, giving what might be termed homely prescriptions for the domestic
disorders of convents with the skill which we should expect of a writer with so
perfect a knowledge of the psychology of the cloister. Her counsels are the
fruit, not of lofty mental speculation, but of mature practical expedience. No
less aptly does she speak of the relations between nuns and their confessors, so
frequently a source of danger.
Since excess is possible even in mutual love,
she next turns to detachment. Her nuns must be detached from relatives and
friends, from the world, from worldly honour, and -- the last and hardest
achievement -- from themselves. To a large extent their efforts in this
direction will involve humility, for, so long as we have an exaggerated opinion
of our own merits, detachment is impossible. Humility, to St. Teresa, is nothing
more nor less than truth, which will give us the precise estimate of our own
worth that we need. Fraternal love, detachment and humility: these three
virtues, if they are sought in the way these chapters direct, will make the soul
mistress and sovereign over all created things -- a "royal soul", in
the Saint's happy phrase, the slave of none save of Him Who bought it with His
The next section (Chaps. 16-26) develops these
ideas, and leads the reader directly to the themes of prayer and contemplation.
It begins with St. Teresa's famous extended simile of the game of chess, in
which the soul gives check and mate to the King of love, Jesus. Many people are
greatly attracted by the life of contemplation because they have acquired
imperfect and misleading notions of the ineffable mystical joys which they
believe almost synonymous with contemplation. The Saint protests against such
ideas as these and lays it down clearly that, as a general rule, there is no way
of attaining to union with the Beloved save by the practice of the "great
virtues", which can be acquired only at the cost of continual
self-sacrifice and self-conquest. The favours which God grants to contemplatives
are only exceptional and of a transitory kind and they are intended to incline
them more closely to virtue and to inspire their lives with greater fervour.
And here the Saint propounds a difficult
question which has occasioned no little debate among writers on mystical
theology. Can a soul in grave sin enjoy supernatural contemplation? At first
sight, and judging from what the author says in Chapter 16, the answer would
seem to be that, though but rarely and for brief periods, it can. In the
original (or Escorial) autograph, however, she expressly denies this, and states
that contemplation is not possible for souls in mortal sin, though it may be
experienced by those who are so lukewarm, or lacking in fervour, that they fall
into venial sins with ease. It would seem that in this respect the Escorial
manuscript reflects the Saint's ideas, as we know them, more clearly than the
later one of Valladolid; if this be so, her opinions in no way differ from those
of mystical theologians as a whole, who refuse to allow that souls in mortal sin
can experience contemplation at all.
St. Teresa then examines a number of other
questions, on which opinion has also been divided and even now is by no means
unanimous. Can all souls attain to contemplation? Is it possible, without
experiencing contemplation, to reach the summit of Christian perfection? Have
all the servants of God who have been canonized by the Church necessarily been
contemplatives? Does the Church ever grant non-contemplatives beatification? On
these questions and others often discussed by the mystics much light is shed in
the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters.
Then the author crosses swords once more with
those who suppose that contemplatives know nothing of suffering and that their
lives are one continuous series of favours. On the contrary, she asserts, they
suffer more than actives: to imagine that God admits to this closest friendship
people whose lives are all favours and no trials is ridiculous. Recalling the
doctrine expounded in the nineteenth chapter of her Life she gives
various counsels for the practice of prayer, using once more the figures of
water which she had employed in her first description of the Mystic Way. She
consoles those who cannot reason with the understanding, shows how vocal prayer
may be combined with mental, and ends by advising those who suffer from aridity
in prayer to picture Jesus as within their hearts and thus always beside them --
one of her favourite themes.
This leads up to the subject which occupies
her for the rest of the book (Chaps. 27-42) -- the Lord's Prayer. These
chapters, in fact, comprise a commentary on the Paternoster, taken petition by
petition, touching incidentally upon the themes of Recollection, Quiet and
Union. Though nowhere expounding them as fully as in the Life or the Interior
Castle, she treats them with equal sublimity, profundity and fervour and in
language of no less beauty. Consider, for example, the apt and striking simile
of the mother and the child (Chap. 31), used to describe the state of the soul
in the Prayer of Quiet, which forms one of the most beautiful and expressive
expositions of this degree of contemplation to be found in any book on the
interior life whatsoever.
In Chapter 38, towards the end of the
commentary on the Paternoster, St. Teresa gives a striking synthetic description
of the excellences of that Prayer and of its spiritual value. She enters at some
length into the temptations to which spiritual people are exposed when they lack
humility and discretion. Some of these are due to presumption: they believe they
possess virtues which in fact they do not -- or, at least, not in sufficient
degree to enable them to resist the snares of the enemy. Others come from a
mistaken scrupulousness and timidity inspired by a sense of the heinousness of
their sins, and may lead them into doubt and despair. There are souls, too,
which make overmuch account of spiritual favours: these she counsels to see to
it that, however sublime their contemplation may be, they begin and end every
period of prayer with self-examination. While others whose mistrust of
themselves makes them restless, are exhorted to trust in the Divine mercy, which
never forsakes those who possess true humility.
Finally, St. Teresa writes of the love and
fear of God -- two mighty castles which the fiercest of the soul's enemies will
storm in vain -- and begs Him, in the last words of the Prayer to preserve her
daughters, and all other souls who practise the interior life, from the ills and
perils which will ever surround them, until they reach the next world, where all
will be peace and joy in Jesus Christ.
Such, in briefest outline, is the argument of
this book. Of all St. Teresa's writings it is the most easily comprehensible and
it can be read with profit by a greater number of people than any of the rest.
It is also (if we use the word in its strictest and truest sense) the most
ascetic of her treatises; only a few chapters and passages in it, here and
there, can be called definitely mystical. It takes up numerous ideas already
adumbrated in the Life and treats them in a practical and familiar way --
objectively, too, with an eye not so much to herself as to her daughters of the
Discalced Reform. This last fact necessitates her descending to details which
may seem to us trivial but were not in the least so to the religious to whom
they were addressed and with whose virtues and failing she was so familiar.
Skilfully, then, and in a way profitable to all, she intermingles her teaching
on the most rudimentary principles of the religious life, which has all the
clarity of any classical treatise, with instruction on the most sublime and
elusive tenets of mystical theology.
AUTOGRAPH -- The Way of perfection -- or Paternoster, as its author calls it, from the latter part
of its content -- was written twice. Both autographs have been preserved in
excellent condition, the older of them in the monastery of San Lorenzo el Real,
El Escorial, and the other in the convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns at
Valladolid. We have already seen how Philip II acquired a number of Teresan
autographs for his new Escorial library, among them that of the Way of
perfection. The Escorial manuscript bears the title "Treatise of the
Way of Perfection", but this is not in St. Teresa's hand. It plunges
straight into the prologue: both the title and the brief account of the
contents, which are found in most of the editions, are taken from the autograph
of Valladolid, and the humble protestation of faith and submission to the Holy
Roman Church was dictated by the Saint for the edition of the book made in Évora
by Don Teutonio de Braganza - it is found in the Toledo codex, which will be
referred to again shortly.
The text, divided into seventy-three short
chapters, has no chapter-divisions in the ordinary sense of the phrase, though
the author has left interlinear indications showing where each chapter should
begin. The chapter-headings form a table of contents at the end of the
manuscript and only two of them (55 and 56) are in St. Teresa's own writing. As
the remainder, however, are in a feminine hand of the sixteenth century, they
may have been dictated by her to one of her nuns: they are almost identical with
those which she herself wrote at a later date in the autograph of Valladolid.
There are a considerable number of emendations
in this text, most of them made by the Saint herself, whose practice was to
obliterate any unwanted word so completely as to make it almost illegible. None
of such words or phrases was restored in the autograph of Valladolid -- a sure
indication that it was she who erased them, or at least that she approved of
their having been erased. There are fewer annotations and additions in other
hands than in the autographs of any of her remaining works, and those few are of
little importance. This may be due to the fact that a later redaction of the
work was made for the use of her convents and for publication: the Escorial
manuscript would have circulated very little and would never have been subjected
to a minute critical examination. Most of what annotations and corrections of
this kind there are were made by the Saint's confessor, P. García de Toledo,
whom, among others, she asked to examine the manuscript.
There is no direct indication in the
manuscript of the date of its composition. We know that it was written at St.
Joseph's, Ávila, for the edification and instruction of the first nuns of the
Reform, and the prologue tells us that only "a few days" had elapsed
between the completion of the Life and the beginning of the Way of
perfection. If, therefore, the Life was finished at the end of 1565 [or in
the early weeks of 1566]
we can date the commencement of the Way of perfection with some precision. [But
even then there is no indication as to how long the composition took and when it
A complication occurs in the existence, at the
end of a copy of the Way of perfection which belongs to the Discalced Carmelite
nuns of Salamanca, and contains corrections in St. Teresa's hand, of a note, in
the writing of the copyist, which says: This book was written in the year
sixty-two -- I mean fifteen hundred and sixty-two." There follow some lines
in the writing of St. Teresa, which make no allusion to this date; her silence
might be taken as confirming it (though she displays no great interest in
chronological exactness) were it not absolutely impossible to reconcile such a
date with the early chapters of the book, which make it quite clear that the
community of thirteen nuns was fully established when they were written (Chap.
4, below). There could not possibly have been so many nuns at St. Joseph's
before late in the year 1563, in which Mar de San Jerónimo and Isabel de Santo
Domingo took the habit, and it is doubtful if St. Teresa could conceivably have
begun the book before the end of that year. Even, therefore, if the reference in
the preface to the Way of perfection were to the first draft of the Life (1562),
and not to that book as we know it, there would still be the insuperable
difficulty raised by this piece of internal evidence.
We are forced, then, to assume an error in the Salamanca copy and to assign to
the beginning of the Way of perfection the date 1565-6.
In writing for her Ávila nuns, St. Teresa used language much more simple,
familiar and homely than in any of her other works. But when she began to
establish more foundations and her circle of readers widened, this language must
have seemed to her too affectionately intimate, and some of her figures and
images may have struck her as too domestic and trivial, for a more general and
scattered public. So she conceived the idea of rewriting the book in a more
formal style; it is the autograph of this redaction which is in the possession
of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Valladolid.
The additions, omissions and modifications in
this new autograph are more considerable than is generally realized. From the
preface onwards, there is no chapter without its emendations and in many there
are additions of whole paragraphs. The Valladolid autograph, therefore, is in no
sense a copy, or even a recast, of the first draft, but a free and bold
treatment of it. As a general rule, a second draft, though often more correctly
written and logically arranged than its original, is less flexible, fluent and
spontaneous. It is hard to say how far this is the case here. Undoubtedly some
of the charm of the author's natural simplicity vanishes, but the corresponding
gain in clarity and precision is generally considered greater than the loss.
Nearly every change she makes is an improvement; and this not only in stylistic
matters, for one of the greatest of her improvements is the lengthening of the
chapters and their reduction in number from 73 to 42, to the great advantage of
the book's symmetry and unity.
It is clear that St. Teresa intended the
Valladolid redaction to be the definitive form of her book since she had so
large a number of copies of it made for her friends and spiritual daughters:
among these were the copy which she sent for publication to Don Teutonio de
Braganza and that used for the first collected edition of her works by Fray Luis
de León. For the same reason this redaction has always been given preference
over its predecessor by the Discalced Carmelites.
In the text of each of the chapters, of the
Valladolid autograph there are omissions -- some merely verbal, often
illustrating the author's aim in making the new redaction, others more
fundamental. If the Valladolid manuscript represents the Way of perfection
as St. Teresa wrote it in the period of her fullest powers, the greater
freshness and individuality of the Escorial manuscript are engaging qualities,
and there are many passages in it, omitted from the later version, which one
would be sorry to sacrifice.
In what form, then, should the book be
presented to English readers? It is not surprising if this question is difficult
to answer, since varying procedures have been adopted for the presentation of it
in Spain. Most of them amount briefly to a re-editing of the Valladolid
manuscript. The first edition of the book, published at Évora in the year 1583,
follows this manuscript, apparently using a copy (the so-called
"Toledo" copy) made by Ana de San Pedro and corrected by St. Teresa;
it contains a considerable number of errors, however, and omits one entire
chapter -- the thirty-first, which deals with the Prayer of Quiet, a subject
that was arousing some controversy at the time when the edition was being
prepared. In 1585, a second edition, edited by Fray Jerónimo Gracián, was
published at Salamanca: the text of this follows that of the Évora edition very
closely, as apparently does the text of a rare edition published at Valencia in
1586. When Fray Luis de Leon used the Valladolid manuscript as the foundation of
his text (1588) he inserted for the first time paragraphs and phrases from that
of El Escorial, as well as admitting variants from the copies corrected by the
author: he is not careful however, to indicate how and where his edition differs
from the manuscript.
Since 1588, most of the Spanish editions have
followed Fray Luis de León with greater or less exactness. The principal
exception is the well-known "Biblioteca de Autores EspaĖoles"
edition, in which La Fuente followed a copy of the then almost forgotten
Escorial manuscript, indicating in footnotes some of the variant readings in the
codex of Valladolid. In the edition of 1883, the work of a Canon of Valladolid
Cathedral, Francisco Herrero Bayona, the texts of the two manuscripts are
reproduced in parallel columns. P. Silverio de Santa Teresa gives the place of
honour to the Valladolid codex, on which he bases his text, showing only the
principal variants of the Escorial manuscript but printing the Escorial text in
full in an appendix as well as the text of the Toledo copy referred to above.
The first translations of this book into
English, by Woodhead (1675: reprinted 1901) and Dalton (1852), were based, very
naturally, on the text of Luis de León, which in less critical ages than our
own enjoyed great prestige and was considered quite authoritative. The edition
published in 1911 by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, described on its title-page
as "including all the variants" from both the Escorial and the
Valladolid manuscript, uses Herrero Bayona and gives an eclectic text based on
the two originals but with no indications as to which is which. The editors'
original idea of using one text only, and showing variants in footnotes, was
rejected in the belief that "such an arrangement would prove bewildering
for the generality of readers" and that anyone who could claim the title of
"student" would be able to read the original Spanish and would have
access to the Herrero Bayona edition. Father Zimmerman, in his introduction,
claimed that while the divergences between the manuscripts are sometimes
"so great that the [Stanbrook] translation resembles a mosaic composed of a
large number of small bits, skilfully combined", "the work has been
done most conscientiously, and while nothing has been added to the text of the
Saint, nothing has been omitted, except, of course, what would have been mere
This first edition of the Benedictines'
translation furnished the general reader with an attractive version of what many
consider St. Teresa's most attractive book, but soon after it was published a
much more intelligent and scholarly interest began to be taken in the Spanish
mystics and that not only by students with ready access to the Spanish original
and ability to read it. So, when a new edition of the Stanbrook translation was
called for, the editors decided to indicate the passages from the Escorial
edition which had been embodied in the text by enclosing these in square
brackets. In 1911, Father Zimmerman, suspecting that the procedure then adopted
by the translators would not "meet with the approval of scholars", had
justified it by their desire "to benefit the souls of the faithful rather
than the intellect of the student"; but now, apparently, he thought it
practicable to achieve both these aims at once. This resolution would certainly
have had the support of St. Teresa, who in this very book describes intelligence
as a useful staff to carry on the way of perfection. The careful comparison of
two separate versions of such a work of genius may benefit the soul of an
intelligent reader even more than the careful reading of a version compounded of
both by someone else.
When I began to consider the preparation of
the present translation it seemed to me that an attempt might be made to do a
little more for the reader who combined intelligence with devoutness than had
been done already. I had no hesitation about basing my version on the Valladolid
MS., which is far the better of the two, whether we consider the aptness of its
illustrations, the clarity of its expression, the logical development of its
argument or its greater suitability for general reading. At the same time, no
Teresan who has studied the Escorial text can fail to have an affection for it:
its greater intimacy and spontaneity and its appeal to personal experience make
it one of the most characteristic of all the Saint's writings -- indeed,
excepting the Letters and a few chapters of the Foundations, it
reveals her better than any. Passages from the Escorial MS. must therefore be
given: thus far I followed the reasoning of the Stanbrook nuns.
Where this translation diverges from theirs is
in the method of presentation. On the one hand I desired, as St. Teresa must
have desired, that it should be essentially her mature revision of the book that
should be read. For this reason I have been extremely conservative as to the
interpolations admitted into the text itself: I have rejected, for example, the
innumerable phrases which St. Teresa seems to have cut out in making her new
redaction because they were trivial or repetitive, because they weaken rather
than reinforce her argument, because they say what is better said elsewhere,
because they summarize needlessly
or because they are mere personal observations which interrupt the author's flow
of thought, and sometimes, indeed, are irrelevant to it. I hope it is not
impertinent to add that, in the close study which the adoption of this procedure
has involved, I have acquired a respect and admiration for St. Teresa as a
reviser, to whom, as far as I know, no one who has written upon her has done
full justice. Her shrewdness, realism and complete lack of vanity make her an
admirable editor of her own work, and, in debating whether or no to incorporate
some phrase or passage in my text I have often asked myself: Would St. Teresa
have included or omitted this if she had been making a fresh revision for a
world-wide public over a period of centuries?"
At the same time, though admitting only a
minimum of interpolations into my text, I have given the reader all the other
important variants in footnotes. I cannot think, as Father Zimmerman apparently
thought, that anyone can find the presence of a few notes at the foot of each
page "bewildering". Those for whom they have no interest may ignore
them; others, in studying them, may rest assured that the only variants not
included (and this applies to the variants from the Toledo copy as well as from
the Escorial MS.) are such as have no significance in a translation. I have been
rather less meticulous here than in my edition of St. John of the Cross, where
textual problems assumed greater importance. Thus, except where there has been
some special reason for doing so, I have not recorded alterations in the order
of clauses or words; the almost regular use by E. of the second person of the
plural where V. has the first; the frequent and often apparently purposeless
changes of tense; such substitutions, in the Valladolid redaction, as those of
"Dios" or "SeĖior mío" for "SeĖior"; or
merely verbal paraphrases as (to take an example at random) "Todo esto que
he dicho es para . . ." for "En todo esto que he dicho no trato . .
." Where I have given variants which may seem trivial (such as "hermanas"
for "hijas", or the insertion of an explanatory word, like "digo")
the reason is generally that there seems to me a possibility that some
difference in tone is intended, or that the alternative phrase gives some slight
turn to the thought which the phrase in the text does not.
The passages from the Escorial version which I
have allowed into my text are printed in italics. Thus, without their being
given undue prominence (and readers of the Authorized Version of the Bible will
know how seldom they can recall what words are italicized even in the passages
they know best) it is clear at a glance how much of the book was intended by its
author to be read by a wider public than the nuns of St. Joseph's. The
interpolations may be as brief as a single expressive word, or as long as a
paragraph, or even a chapter: the original Chapter 17 of the Valladolid MS., for
example, which contains the famous similitude of the Game of Chess, was torn out
of the codex by its author (presumably with the idea that so secular an
illustration was out of place) and has been restored from the Escorial MS. as
part of Chapter 16 of this translation. No doubt the striking bullfight metaphor
at the end of Chapter 39 was suppressed in the Valladolid codex for the same
reason. With these omissions may be classed a number of minor ones -- of words
or phrases which to the author may have seemed too intimate or colloquial but do
not seem so to us. Other words and phrases have apparently been suppressed
because St. Teresa thought them redundant, whereas a later reader finds that
they make a definite contribution to the sense or give explicitness and detail
to what would otherwise be vague, or even obscure.
A few suppressions seem to have been due to pure oversight. For the omission of
other passages it is difficult to find any reason, so good are they: the
conclusion of Chapter 38 and the opening of Chapter 41 are cases in point.
The numbering of the chapters, it should be
noted, follows neither of the two texts, but is that traditionally employed in
the printed editions. The chapter headings are also drawn up on an eclectic
basis, though here the Valladolid text is generally followed.
The system I have adopted not only assures the
reader that he will be reading everything that St. Teresa wrote and nothing that
she did not write, but that he can discern almost at a glance, what she meant to
be read by her little group of nuns at St. Joseph's and also how she intended
her work to appear in its more definitive form. Thus we can see her both as the
companion and Mother and as the writer and Foundress. In both roles she is
equally the Saint.
But it should be made clear that, while
incorporating in my text all important passages from the Escorial draft omitted
in that of Valladolid, I have thought it no part of my task to provide a
complete translation of the Escorial draft alone, and that, therefore, in order
to avoid the multiplication of footnotes, I have indicated only the principal
places where some expression in the later draft is not to be found in the
earlier. In other words, although, by omitting the italicized portions of my
text, one will be able to have as exact a translation of the Valladolid version
as it is possible to get, the translation of the Escorial draft will be only
approximate. This is the sole concession I have made to the ordinary reader as
opposed to the student, and it is hardly conceivable, I think, that any student
to whom this could matter would be unable to read the original Spanish.
One final note is necessary on the important
Toledo copy, the text of which P. Silverio also prints in full. This text I have
collated with that of the Valladolid autograph, from which it derives. In it
both St. Teresa herself and others have made corrections and additions -- more,
in fact, than in any of the other copies extant. No attempt has been made here
either to show what the Toledo copy omits or to include those of its corrections
and additions -- by far the largest number of them -- which are merely verbal
and unimportant, and many of which, indeed, could not be embodied in a
translation at all. But the few additions which are really worth noting have
been incorporated in the text (in square brackets so as to distinguish them from
the Escorial additions) and all corrections which have seemed to me of any
significance will be found in footnotes.
CALLED WAY OF PERFECTION.
by TERESA OF JESUS, Nun of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel, addressed to the
Discalced Nuns of Or Lady of Carmel of the First Rule.
Argument of this Book
This book treats of maxims and counsels which
Teresa of Jesus gives to her daughters and sisters in religion, belonging to the
Convents which, with the favour of Our Lord and of the glorious Virgin, Mother
of God, Our Lady, she has founded according to the First Rule of Our Lady of
Carmel. In particular she addresses it to the sisters of the Convent of Saint
Joseph of Ávila, which was the first Convent, and of which she was Prioress
when she wrote it.
In all that I shall say in this Book, I submit
to what is taught by Our Mother, the Holy Roman Church; if there is anything in
it contrary to this, it will be without my knowledge. Therefore, for the love of
Our Lord, I beg the learned men who are to revise it to look at it very
carefully and to amend any faults of this nature which there may be in it and
the many others which it will have of other kinds. If there is anything good in
it, let this be to the glory and honour of God and in the service of His most
sacred Mother, our Patroness and Lady, whose habit, though all unworthily, I
The sisters of this Convent of Saint Joseph,
knowing that I had had leave from Father Presentado Fray Domingo BaĖes,
of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic, who at present is my confessor, to
write certain things about prayer, which it seems I may be able to succeed in
doing since I have had to do with many holy and spiritual persons, have, out of
their great love for me, so earnestly begged me to say something to them about
this that I have resolved to obey them. I realize that the great love which they
have for me may render the imperfection and the poverty of my style in what I
shall say to them more acceptable than other books which are very ably written
by those who
have known what they are writing about. I rely upon their prayers, by means of
which the Lord may be pleased to enable me to say something concerning the way
and method of life which it is fitting should be practised in this house. If I
do not succeed in doing this, Father Presentado, who will first read what I have
written, will either put it right or burn it, so that I shall have lost nothing
by obeying these servants of God, and they will see how useless I am when His
Majesty does not help me.
My intent is to suggest a few remedies for a
number of small temptations which come from the devil, and which, because they
are so slight, are apt to pass unnoticed. I shall also write of other things,
according as the Lord reveals them to me and as they come to my mind; since I do
not know what I am going to say I cannot set it down in suitable order; and I
think it is better for me not to do so, for it is quite unsuitable that I should
be writing in this way at all. May the Lord lay His hand on all that I do so
that it may be in accordance with His holy will; this is always my desire,
although my actions may be as imperfect as I myself am.
I know that I am lacking neither in love nor
in desire to do all I can to help the souls of my sisters to make great progress
in the service of the Lord. It may be that this love, together with my years and
the experience which I have of a number of convents, will make me more
successful in writing about small matters than learned men can be. For these,
being themselves strong and handing other and more important occupations, do not
always pay such heed to things which in themselves seem of no importance but
which may do great harm to persons as weak as we women are. For the snares laid
by the devil for strictly cloistered nuns are numerous and he finds that he
needs new weapons if he is to do them harm. I, being a wicked woman, have
defended myself but ill, and so I should like my sisters to take warning by me.
I shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience, either in my own life or
in the observation of others, or which the Lord has not taught me in prayer.
A few days ago I was commanded to write an
account of my life in which I also dealt with certain matters concerning prayer.
It may be that my confessor will not wish you to see this, for which reason I
shall set down here some of the things which I said in that book and others
which may also seem to me necessary. May the Lord direct this, as I have begged
Him to do, and order it for His greater glory. Amen.
Of the reason which moved me to found this
convent in such strict observance.
When this convent was originally founded, for
the reasons set down in the book which, as I say, I have already written, and
also because of certain wonderful revelations by which the Lord showed me how
well He would be served in this house, it was not my intention that there should
be so much austerity in external matters, nor that it should have no regular
income: on the contrary, I should have liked there to be no possibility of want.
I acted, in short, like the weak and wretched woman that I am, although I did so
with good intentions and not out of consideration for my own comfort.
At about this time there came to my notice the
harm and havoc that were being wrought in France by these Lutherans and the way
in which their unhappy sect was increasing.
This troubled me very much, and, as though I could do anything, or be of any
help in the matter, I wept before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this
great evil. I felt that I would have laid down a thousand lives to save a single
one of all the souls that were being lost there. And, seeing that I was a woman,
and a sinner,
and incapable of doing all I should like in the Lord's service, and as my whole
yearning was, and still is, that, as He has so many enemies and so few friends,
these last should be trusty ones, I determined to do the little that was in me
-- namely, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could, and to
see that these few nuns who are here should do the same, confiding in the great
goodness of God, Who never fails to help those who resolve to forsake everything
for His sake. As they are all that I have ever painted them as being in my
desires, I hoped that their virtues would more than counteract my defects, and I
should thus be able to give the Lord some pleasure, and all of us, by busying
ourselves in prayer for those who are defenders of the Church, and for the
preachers and learned men who defend her, should do everything we could to aid
this Lord of mine Who is so much oppressed by those to whom He has shown so much
good that it seems as though these traitors would send Him to the Cross again
and that He would have nowhere to lay His head.
Oh, my Redeemer, my heart cannot conceive this
without being sorely distressed! What has become of Christians now? Must those
who owe Thee most always be those who distress Thee? Those to whom Thou doest
the greatest kindnesses, whom Thou dost choose for Thy friends, among whom Thou
dost move, communicating Thyself to them through the Sacraments? Do they not
think, Lord of my soul, that they have made Thee endure more than
It is certain, my Lord, that in these days
withdrawal from the world means no sacrifice at all. Since worldly people have
so little respect for Thee, what can we expect them to have for us? Can it be
that we deserve that they should treat us any better than they have treated
Thee? Have we done more for them than Thou hast done that they should be
friendly to us? What then? What can we expect -- we who, through the goodness of
the Lord, are free from that pestilential infection, and do not, like those
others, belong to the devil? They have won severe punishment at his hands and
their pleasures have richly earned them eternal fire. So to eternal fire they
will have to go,
though none the less it breaks my heart to see so many souls travelling to
perdition. I would the evil were not so great and I did not see more being lost
Oh, my sisters in Christ! Help me to entreat
this of the Lord, Who has brought you together here for that very purpose. This
is your vocation; this must be your business; these must be your desires; these
your tears; these your petitions. Let us not pray for worldly things, my
sisters. It makes me laugh, and yet it makes me sad, when I hear of the things
which people come here to beg us to pray to God for; we are to ask His Majesty
to give them money and to provide them with incomes -- I wish that some of these
people would entreat God to enable them to trample all such things beneath their
feet. Their intentions are quite good, and I do as they ask because I see that
they are really devout people, though I do not myself believe that God ever
hears me when I pray for such things. The world is on fire. Men try to condemn
Christ once again, as it were, for they bring a thousand false witnesses against
Him. They would raze His Church to the ground -- and are we to waste our time
upon things which, if God were to grant them, would perhaps bring one soul less
to Heaven? No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of
Were it not necessary to consider human
frailty, which finds satisfaction in every kind of help -- and it is always a
good thing if we can be of any help to people -- I should like it to be
understood that it is not for things like these that God should be importuned
with such anxiety.
Treats of how the necessities of the body
should be disregarded and of the good that comes from poverty.
Do not think, my sisters, that because you do
not go about trying to please people in the world you will lack food. You will
not, I assure you: never try to sustain yourselves by human artifices, or you
will die of hunger, and rightly so. Keep your eyes fixed upon your Spouse: it is
for Him to sustain you; and, if He is pleased with you, even those who like you
least will give you food, if unwillingly, as you have found by experience. If
you should do as I say and yet die of hunger, then happy are the nuns of Saint
Joseph's! For the love of the Lord, let us not forget this: you have forgone a
regular income; forgo worry about food as well, or thou will lose everything.
Let those whom the Lord wishes to live on an income do so: if that is their
vocation, they are perfectly justified; but for us to do so, sisters, would be
Worrying about getting money from other people
seems to me like thinking about what other people enjoy. However much you worry,
you will not make them change their minds nor will they become desirous of
giving you alms. Leave these anxieties to Him Who can move everyone, Who is the
Lord of all money and of all who possess money. It is by His command that we
have come here and His words are true -- they cannot fail: Heaven and earth will
Let us not fail Him, and let us have no fear that He will fail us; if He should
ever do so it will be for our greater good, just as the saints failed to keep
their lives when they were slain for the Lord's sake, and their bliss was
increased through their martyrdom. We should be making a good exchange if we
could have done with this life quickly and enjoy everlasting satiety.
Remember, sisters, that this will be important
when I am dead; and that is why I am leaving it to you in writing. For, with
God's help, as long as I live, I will remind you of it myself, as I know by
experience what a great help it will be to you. It is when I possess least that
I have the fewest worries and the Lord knows that, as far as I can tell, I am
more afflicted when there is excess of anything than when there is lack of it; I
am not sure if that is the Lord's doing, but I have noticed that He provides for
us immediately. To act otherwise would be to deceive the world by pretending to
be poor when we are not poor in spirit but only outwardly. My conscience would
give me a bad time. It seems to me it would be like stealing what was being
given us, as one might say; for I should feel as if we were rich people asking
alms: please God this may never be so. Those who worry too much about the alms
that they are likely to be given will find that sooner or later this bad habit
will lead them to go and ask for something which they do not need, and perhaps
from someone who needs it more than they do. Such a person would gain rather
than lose by giving it us but we should certainly be the worse off for having
it. God forbid this should ever happen, my daughters; if it were likely to do
so, I should prefer you to have a regular income.
I beg you, for the love of God, just as if I
were begging alms for you, never to allow this to occupy your thoughts. If the
very least of you ever hears of such a thing happening in this house, cry out
about it to His Majesty and speak to your Superior. Tell her humbly that she is
doing wrong; this is so serious a matter that it may cause true poverty
gradually to disappear. I hope in the Lord that this will not be so and that He
will not forsake His servants; and for that reason, if for no other, what you
have told me to write may be useful to you as a reminder.
My daughters must believe that it is for their
own good that the Lord has enabled me to realize in some small degree what
blessings are to be found in holy poverty. Those of them who practise it will
also realize this, though perhaps not as clearly as I do; for, although I had
professed poverty, I was not only without poverty of spirit, but my spirit was
devoid of all restraint. Poverty is good and contains within itself all the good
things in the world. It is a great domain -- I mean that he who cares nothing
for the good things of the world has dominion over them all. What do kings and
lords matter to me if I have no desire to possess their money, or to please
them, if by so doing I should cause the least displeasure to God? And what do
their honours mean to me if I have realized that the chief honour of a poor man
consists in his being truly poor?
For my own part, I believe that honour and
money nearly always go together, and that he who desires honour never hates
money, while he who hates money cares little for honour. Understand this
clearly, for I think this concern about honour always implies some slight
regard for endowments or money: seldom or never is a poor man honoured by
the world; however worthy of honour he may be, he is apt rather to be despised
by it. With true poverty there goes a different kind of honour to which nobody
can take objection. I mean that, if poverty is embraced for God's sake alone, no
one has to be pleased save God. It is certain that a man who has no need of
anyone has many friends: in my own experience I have found this to be very true.
A great deal has been written about this
virtue which I cannot understand, still less express, and I should only be
making things worse if I were to eulogize it, so I will say no more about it
now. I have only spoken of what I have myself experienced and I confess that I
have been so much absorbed that until now I have hardly realized what I have
been writing. However, it has been said now. Our arms are holy poverty, which
was so greatly esteemed and so strictly observed by our holy Fathers at the
beginning of the foundation of our Order. (Someone who knows about this tells me
that they never kept anything from one day to the next.) For the love of the
Lord, then, [I beg you] now that the rule of poverty is less perfectly observed
as regards outward things, let us strive to observe it inwardly. Our life lasts
only for a couple of hours; our reward is boundless; and, if there were no
reward but to follow the counsels given us by the Lord, to imitate His Majesty
in any degree would bring us a great recompense.
These arms must appear on our banners and at
all costs we must keep this rule -- as regards our house, our clothes, our
speech, and (which is much more important) our thoughts. So long as this is
done, there need be no fear, with the help of God, that religious observances in
this house will decline, for, as Saint Clare said, the walls of poverty are very
strong. It was with these walls, she said, and with those of humility, that she
wished to surround her convents; and assuredly, if the rule of poverty is truly
kept, both chastity and all the other virtues are fortified much better than by
the most sumptuous edifices. Have a care to this, for the love of God; and this
I beg of you by His blood. If I may say what my conscience bids me, I should
wish that, on the day when you build such edifices, they
may fall down and kill you all.
It seems very wrong, my daughters, that great
houses should be built with the money of the poor; may God forbid that this
should be done; let our houses be small and poor in every way. Let us to some
extent resemble our King, Who had no house save the porch in Bethlehem where He
was born and the Cross on which He died. These were houses where little comfort
could be found. Those who erect large houses will no doubt have good reasons for
doing so. I do not utterly condemn them: they are moved by various holy
intentions. But any corner is sufficient for thirteen poor women. If grounds
should be thought necessary on account of the strictness of the enclosure, and
also as an aid to prayer and devotion, and because our miserable nature needs
such things, well and good; and let there be a few hermitages
in them in which the sisters may go to pray. But as for a large ornate convent,
with a lot of buildings -- God preserve us from that! Always remember that these
things will all fall down on the Day of Judgment, and who knows how soon that
It would hardly look well if the house of
thirteen poor women made a great noise when it fell, for those who are really
poor must make no noise: unless they live a noiseless life people will never
take pity on them. And how happy my sisters will be if they see someone freed
from hell by means of the alms which he has given them; and this is quite
possible, since they are strictly bound to offer continual prayer for persons
who give them food. It is also God's will that, although the food comes from
Him, we should thank the persons by whose means He gives it to us: let there be
no neglect of this.
I do not remember what I had begun to say, for
I have strayed from my subject. But I think this must have been the Lord's will,
for I never intended to write what I have said here. May His Majesty always keep
us in His hand so that we may never fall. Amen.
Continues the subject begun in the first
chapter and persuades the sisters to busy themselves constantly in beseeching
God to help those who work for the Church. Ends with an exclamatory prayer.
Let us now return to the principal reason for
which the Lord has brought us together in this house, for which reason I am most
desirous that we may be able to please His Majesty. Seeing how great are the
evils of the present day and how no human strength will suffice to quench the
fire kindled by these heretics (though attempts have been made to organize
opposition to them, as though such a great and rapidly spreading evil could be
remedied by force of arms), it seems to me that it is like a war in which the
enemy has overrun the whole country, and the Lord of the country, hard pressed,
retires into a city, which he causes to be well fortified, and whence from time
to time he is able to attack. Those who are in the city are picked men who can
do more by themselves than they could do with the aid of many soldiers if they
were cowards. Often this method gains the victory; or, if the garrison does not
conquer, it is at least not conquered; for, as it contains no traitors, but
picked men, it can be reduced only by hunger. In our own conflict, however,
we cannot be forced to surrender by hunger; we can die but we cannot be
Now why have I said this? So that you may
understand, my sisters, that what we have to ask of God is that, in this little
castle of ours, inhabited as it is by good Christians, none of us may go over to
the enemy. We must ask God, too, to make the captains in this castle or city --
that is, the preachers and theologians -- highly proficient in the way of the
Lord. And as most of these are religious, we must pray that they may advance in
perfection, and in the fulfilment of their vocation, for this is very needful.
For, as I have already said, it is the ecclesiastical and not the secular arm
which must defend us. And as we can do nothing by either of these means to help
our King, let us strive to live in such a way that our prayers may be of avail
to help these servants of God, who, at the cost of so much toil, have fortified
themselves with learning and virtuous living and have laboured to help the Lord.
You may ask why I emphasize this so much and
why I say we must help people who are better than ourselves. I will tell you,
for I am not sure if you properly understand as yet how much we owe to the Lord
for bringing us to a place where we are so free from business matters, occasions
of sin and the society of worldly people. This is a very great favour and one
which is not granted to the persons of whom I have been speaking, nor is it
fitting that it should be granted to them; it would be less so now, indeed, than
at any other time, for it is they who must strengthen the weak and give courage
to God's little ones. A fine thing it would be for soldiers if they lost their
captains! These preachers and theologians have to live among men and associate
with men and stay in palaces and sometimes even behave as people in palaces do
in outward matters. Do you think, my daughters, that it is an easy matter to
have to do business with the world, to live in the world, to engage in the
affairs of the world, and, as I have said, to live as worldly men do, and yet
inwardly to be strangers to the world, and enemies of the world, like persons
who are in exile -- to be, in short, not men but angels? Yet unless these
persons act thus, they neither deserve to bear the title of captain nor to be
allowed by the Lord to leave their cells, for they would do more harm than good.
This is no time for imperfections in those whose duty it is to teach.
And if these teachers are not inwardly
fortified by realizing the great importance of spurning everything beneath their
feet and by being detached from things which come to an end on earth, and
attached to things eternal, they will betray this defect in themselves, however
much they may try to hide it. For with whom are they dealing but with the world?
They need not fear: the world will not pardon them or fail to observe their
imperfections. Of the good things they do many will pass unnoticed, or will even
not be considered good at all; but they need not fear that any evil or imperfect
thing they do will be overlooked. I am amazed when I wonder from whom they
learned about perfection, when, instead of practising it themselves (for they
think they have no obligation to do that and have done quite enough by a
reasonable observance of the Commandments), they condemn others, and at times
mistake virtue for indulgence. Do not think, then, that they need but little
Divine favour in this great battle upon which they have entered; on the
contrary, they need a great deal.
I beg you to try to live in such a way as to
be worthy to obtain two things from God. First, that there may be many of these
very learned and religious men who have the qualifications for their task which
I have described, and that the Lord may prepare those who are not completely
prepared already and who lack anything, for a single one who is perfect
will do more than many who are not. Secondly, that after they have entered upon
this struggle, which, as I say, is not light, but a very heavy one, the
Lord may have them in His hand so that they may be delivered from all the
dangers that are in the world, and, while sailing on this perilous sea, may shut
their ears to the song of the sirens. If we can prevail with God in the smallest
degree about this, we shall be fighting His battle even while living a
cloistered life and I shall consider as well spent all the trouble to which I
have gone in founding this retreat,
where I have also tried to ensure that this Rule of Our Lady and Empress shall
be kept in its original perfection.
Do not think that offering this petition
continually is useless. Some people think it a hardship not to be praying all
the time for their own souls. Yet what better prayer could there be than this?
You may be worried because you think it will do nothing to lessen your pains in
Purgatory, but actually praying in this way will relieve you of some of them and
anything else that is left -- well, let it remain. After all, what does it
matter if I am in Purgatory until the Day of Judgment provided a single soul
should be saved through my prayer? And how much less does it matter if many
souls profit by it and the Lord is honoured! Make no account of any pain which
has an end if by means of it any greater service can be rendered to Him Who bore
such pains for us. Always try to find out wherein lies the greatest perfection.
And for the love of the Lord I beg you to beseech His Majesty to hear us in
this; I, miserable creature though I am, beseech this of His Majesty, since it
is for His glory and the good of His Church, which are my only wishes.
It seems over-bold of me to think that I can
do anything towards obtaining this. But I have confidence, my Lord, in these
servants of Thine who are here, knowing that they neither desire nor strive
after anything but to please Thee. For Thy sake they have left the little they
possessed, wishing they had more so that they might serve Thee with it. Since
Thou, my Creator, art not ungrateful, I do not think Thou wilt fail to do what
they beseech of Thee, for when Thou wert in the world, Lord, Thou didst not
despise women, but didst always help them and show them great compassion.
Thou didst find more faith and no less love in them than in men, and one of
them was Thy most sacred Mother, from whose merits we derive merit, and whose
habit we wear, though our sins make us unworthy to do so.
We can do nothing in public that is of any use to Thee, nor dare we speak of
some of the truths over which we weep in secret lest Thou shouldst not hear this
our just petition. Yet, Lord I cannot believe this of Thy goodness and
righteousness, for Thou art a righteous Judge, not like judges in the world,
who, being, after all, men and sons of Adam, refuse to consider any woman's
virtue as above suspicion. Yes, my King, but the day will come when all will be
known. I am not speaking on my own account, for the whole world is already aware
of my wickedness, and I am glad that it should become known; but, when I see
what the times are like, I feel it is not right to repel spirits which are virtuous and brave, even though they be the
spirits of women.
Hear us not when we ask Thee for honours,
endowments, money, or anything that has to do with the world; but why shouldst
Thou not hear us, Eternal Father, when we ask only for the honour of Thy Son,
when we would forfeit a thousand honours and a thousand lives for Thy sake? Not
for ourselves, Lord, for we do not deserve to be heard, but for the blood of Thy
Son and for His merits.
Oh, Eternal Father! Surely all these
scourgings and insults and grievous tortures will not be forgotten. How, then,
my Creator, can a heart so [merciful and] loving as Thine endure that an act
which was performed by Thy Son in order to please Thee the more (for He loved
Thee most deeply and Thou didst command Him to love us) should be treated as
lightly as those heretics treat the Most Holy Sacrament today, in taking it from
its resting-place when they destroy the churches? Could it be that [Thy Son and
our Redeemer] had failed to do something to please Thee? No: He fulfilled
everything. Was it not enough, Eternal Father, that while He lived He had no
place to lay His head and had always to endure so many trials? Must they now
deprive Him of the places
to which He can invite His friends, seeing how weak we are and knowing that
those who have to labour need such food to sustain them? Had He not already more
than sufficiently paid for the sin of Adam? Has this most loving Lamb to pay
once more whenever we relapse into sin? Permit it not, my Emperor; let Thy
Majesty be appeased; look not upon our sins but upon our redemption by Thy Most
Sacred Son, upon His merits and upon those of His glorious Mother and of all the
saints and martyrs who have died for Thee.
Alas, Lord, who is it that has dared to make
this petition in the name of all? What a poor mediator am I, my daughters, to
gain a hearing for you and to present your petition! When this Sovereign Judge
sees how bold I am it may well move Him to anger, as would be both right and
just. But behold, Lord, Thou art a God of mercy; have mercy upon this poor
sinner, this miserable worm who is so bold with Thee. Behold my desires, my God,
and the tears with which I beg this of Thee; forget my deeds, for Thy name's
sake, and have pity upon all these souls who are being lost, and help Thy
Church. Do not permit more harm to be wrought to Christendom, Lord; give light
to this darkness.
For the love of the Lord, my sisters, I beg
you to commend this poor sinner
to His Majesty and to beseech Him to give her humility, as you are bound to do.
I do not charge you to pray particularly for kings and prelates of the Church,
especially for our Bishop, for I know that those of you now here are very
careful about this and so I think it is needless for me to say more. Let those
who are to come remember that, if they have a prelate who is holy, those under
him will be holy too, and let them realize how important it is to bring him
continually before the Lord. If your prayers and desires and disciplines and
fasts are not performed for the intentions of which I have spoken, reflect [and
believe] that you are not carrying out the work or fulfilling the object for
which the Lord has brought you here.
Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names
three things which are important for the spiritual life. Describes the first of
these three things, which is love of one's neighbour, and speaks of the harm
which can be done by individual friendships.
Now, daughters, you have looked at the great
enterprise which we are trying to carry out. What kind of persons shall we have
to be if we are not to be considered over-bold in the eyes of God and of the
world? It is clear that we need to labour hard and it will be a great help to us
if we have sublime thoughts so that we may strive to make our actions sublime
also. If we endeavour to observe our Rule and Constitutions in the fullest
sense, and with great care, I hope in the Lord that He will grant our requests.
I am not asking anything new of you, my daughters -- only that we should hold to
our profession, which, as it is our vocation, we are bound to do, although there
are many ways of holding to it.
Our Primitive Rules tells us to pray without
ceasing. Provided we do this with all possible care (and it is the most
important thing of all) we shall not fail to observe the fasts, disciplines and
periods of silence which the Order commands; for, as you know, if prayer is to
be genuine it must be reinforced with these things -- prayer cannot be
accompanied by self-indulgence.
It is about prayer that you have asked me to
say something to you. As an acknowledgment of what I shall say, I beg you to
read frequently and with a good will what I have said about it thus far, and to
put this into practice. Before speaking of the interior life -- that is, of
prayer -- I shall speak of certain things which those who attempt to walk along
the way of prayer must of necessity practise. So necessary are these that, even
though not greatly given to contemplation, people who have them can advance a
long way in the Lord's service, while, unless they have them, they cannot
possibly be great contemplatives, and, if they think they are, they are much
mistaken. May the Lord help me in this task and teach me what I must say, so
that it may be to His glory. Amen.
Do not suppose, my friends and sisters, that I
am going to charge you to do a great many things; may it please the Lord that we
do the things which our holy Fathers ordained and practised and by doing which
they merited that name. It would be wrong of us to look for any other way or to
learn from anyone else. There are only three things which I will explain at some
length and which are taken from our Constitution itself. It is essential that we
should understand how very important they are to us in helping us to preserve
that peace, both inward and outward, which the Lord so earnestly recommended to
us. One of these is love for each other; the second, detachment from all created
things; the third, true humility, which, although I put it last, is the most
important of the three and embraces all the rest.
With regard to the first -- namely, love for
each other -- this is of very great importance; for there is nothing, however
annoying, that cannot easily be borne by those who love each other, and anything
which causes annoyance must be quite exceptional. If this commandment were kept
in the world, as it should be, I believe it would take us a long way towards the
keeping of the rest; but, what with having too much love for each other or too
little, we never manage to keep it perfectly. It may seem that for us to have
too much love for each other cannot be wrong, but I do not think anyone who had
not been an eye-witness of it would believe how much evil and how many
imperfections can result from this. The devil sets many snares here which the
consciences of those who aim only in a rough-and-ready way at pleasing God
seldom observe -- indeed, they think they are acting virtuously -- but those who
are aiming at perfection understand what they are very well: little by little
they deprive the will of the strength which it needs if it is to employ itself
wholly in the love of God.
This is even more applicable to women than to
men and the harm which it does to community life is very serious. One result of
it is that all the nuns do not love each other equally: some injury done to a
friend is resented; a nun desires to have something to give to her friend or
tries to make time for talking to her, and often her object in doing this is to
tell her how fond she is of her, and other irrelevant things, rather than how
much she loves God. These intimate friendships are seldom calculated
to make for the love of God; I am more inclined to believe that the devil
initiates them so as to create factions within religious Orders. When a
friendship has for its object the service of His Majesty, it at once becomes
clear that the will is devoid of passion and indeed is helping to conquer other
Where a convent is large I should like to see
many friendships of that type; but in this house, where there are not, and can
never be, more than thirteen nuns, all must be friends with each other, love
each other, be fond of each other and help each other. For the love of the Lord,
refrain from making individual friendships, however holy, for even among
brothers and sisters such things are apt to be poisonous and I can see no
advantage in them; when they are between other relatives,
they are much more dangerous and become a pest. Believe me, sisters, though I
may seem to you extreme in this, great perfection and great peace come of doing
what I say and many occasions of sin may be avoided by those who are not very
strong. If our will becomes inclined more to one person than to another (this
cannot be helped, because it is natural -- it often leads us to love the person
who has the most faults if she is the most richly endowed by nature), we must
exercise a firm restraint on ourselves and not allow ourselves to be conquered
by our affection. Let us love the virtues and inward goodness, and let us always
apply ourselves and take care to avoid attaching importance to externals.
Let us not allow our will to be the slave of
any, sisters, save of Him Who bought it with His blood. Otherwise, before we
know where we are, we shall find ourselves trapped, and unable to move. God help
me! The puerilities which result from this are innumerable. And, because they
are so trivial that only those who see how bad they are will realize and believe
it, there is no point in speaking of them here except to say that they are wrong
in anyone, and, in a prioress, pestilential.
In checking these preferences we must be
strictly on the alert from the moment that such a friendship begins and we must
proceed diligently and lovingly rather than severely. One effective precaution
against this is that the sisters should not be together except at the prescribed
hours, and that they should follow our present custom in not talking with one
another, or being alone together, as is laid down in the Rule: each one should
be alone in her cell. There must be no workroom at Saint Joseph's; for, although
it is a praiseworthy custom to have one, it is easier to keep silence if one is
alone, and getting used to solitude is a great help to prayer. Since prayer must
be the foundation on which this house is built, it is necessary for us to learn
to like whatever gives us the greatest help in it.
Returning to the question of our love for one
another, it seems quite unnecessary to commend this to you, for where are there
people so brutish as not to love one another when they live together, are
continually in one another's company, indulge in no conversation, association or
recreation with any outside their house and believe that God loves us and that
they themselves love God since they are leaving everything for His Majesty? More
especially is this so as virtue always attracts love, and I hope in God that,
with the help of His Majesty, there will always be love in the sisters of this
house. It seems to me, therefore, that there is no reason for me to commend this
to you any further.
With regard to the nature of this mutual love
and what is meant by the virtuous love which I wish you to have here, and how we
shall know when we have this virtue, which is a very great one, since Our Lord
has so strongly commended it to us and so straitly enjoined it upon His Apostles
-- about all this I should like to say a little now as well as my lack of skill
will allow me; if you find this explained in great detail in other books, take
no notice of what I am saying here, for it may be that I do not understand what
I am talking about.
There are two kinds of love which I am
describing. The one is purely spiritual, and apparently has nothing to do
with sensuality or the tenderness of our nature, either of which might stain its
purity. The other is also spiritual, but mingled with it are our sensuality and
yet it is a worthy love, which, as between relatives and friends, seems lawful.
Of this I have already said sufficient.
It is of the first kind of spiritual love that
I would now speak. It is untainted by any sort of passion, for such a thing
would completely spoil its harmony. If it leads us to treat virtuous people,
especially confessors, with moderation and discretion, it is profitable; but, if
the confessor is seen to be tending in any way towards vanity, he should be
regarded with grave suspicion, and, in such a case, conversation with him,
however edifying, should be avoided, and the sister should make her confession
briefly and say nothing more. It would be best for her, indeed, to tell the
superior that she does not get on with him and go elsewhere; this is the safest
way, providing it can be done without injuring his reputation.
In such cases, and in other difficulties with
which the devil might ensnare us, so that we have no idea where to turn, the
safest thing will be for the sister to try to speak with some learned person; if
necessary, permission to do this can be given her, and she can make her
confession to him and act in the matter as he directs her. For he cannot fail to
give her some good advice about it, without which she might go very far astray.
How often people stray through not taking advice, especially when there is a
risk of doing someone harm! The course that must on no account be followed is to
do nothing at all; for, when the devil begins to make trouble in this way, he
will do a great deal of harm if he is not stopped quickly; the plan I have
suggested, then, of trying to consult another confessor is the safest one if it
is practicable, and I hope in the Lord that it will be so.
Reflect upon the great importance of this, for
it is a dangerous matter, and can be a veritable hell, and a source of harm to
everyone. I advise you not to wait until a great deal of harm has been done but
to take every possible step that you can think of and stop the trouble at the
outset; this you may do with a good conscience. But I hope in the Lord that He
will not allow persons who are to spend their lives in prayer to have any
attachment save to one who is a great servant of God; and I am quite certain He
will not, unless they have no love for prayer and for striving after perfection
in the way we try to do here. For, unless they see that he understands their
language and likes to speak to them of God, they cannot possibly love him, as he
is not like them. If he is such a person, he will have very few opportunities of
doing any harm, and, unless he is very simple, he will not seek to disturb his
own peace of mind and that of the servants of God.
As I have begun to speak about this, I will
repeat that the devil can do a great deal of harm here, which will long remain
undiscovered, and thus the soul that is striving after perfection can be
gradually ruined without knowing how. For, if a confessor gives occasion for
vanity through being vain himself, he will be very tolerant with it in [the
consciences of] others. May God, for His Majesty's own sake, deliver us from
things of this kind. It would be enough to unsettle all the nuns if their
consciences and their confessor should give them exactly opposite advice, and,
if it is insisted that they must have one confessor only, they will not know
what to do, nor how to pacify their minds, since the very person who should be
calming them and helping them is the source of the harm. In some places there
must be a great deal of trouble of this kind: I always feel very sorry about it
and so you must not be surprised if I attach great importance to your
understanding this danger.
The following variant reading of the Escorial
Manuscript seems too important to be relegated to a footnote. It occurs the
twelfth paragraph of ch. 4 (cf. n. 24) , and deals, as will be seen, with the
qualifications and character of the confessor. Many editors substitute it in
their text for the corresponding passage in V. As will be seen, however, it is
not a pure addition; we therefore reproduce it separately.
The important thing is that these two kinds of
mutual love should be untainted by any sort of passion, for such a thing would
completely spoil this harmony. If we exercise this love, of which I have spoken,
with moderation and discretion, it is wholly meritorious, because what seems to
us sensuality is turned into virtue. But the two may be so closely intertwined
with one another that it is sometimes impossible to distinguish them, especially
where a confessor is concerned. For if persons who are practising prayer find
that their confessor is a holy man and understands the way they behave, they
become greatly attached to him. And then forthwith the devil lets loose upon
them a whole battery of scruples which produce a terrible disturbance within the
soul, this being what he is aiming at. In particular, if the confessor is
guiding such persons to greater perfection, they become so depressed that they
will go so far as to leave him for another and yet another, only to be tormented
by the same temptation every time.
What you can do here is not to let your minds
dwell upon whether you like your confessor or not, but just to like him if you
feel so inclined. For, if we grow fond of people who are kind to our bodies, why
should we not love those who are always striving and toiling to help our souls?
Actually, if my confessor is a holy and spiritual man and I see that he is
taking great pains for the benefit of my soul, I think it will be a real help to
my progress for me to like him. For so weak are we that such affection sometimes
helps us a great deal to undertake very great things in God's service.
But, if your confessor is not such a person as
I have described, there is a possibility of danger, and for him to know that you
like him may do the greatest harm, most of all in houses where the nuns are very
strictly enclosed. And as it is a difficult thing to get to know which
confessors are good, great care and caution are necessary. The best advice to
give would be that you should see he has no idea of your affection for him and
is not told about it. But the devil is so active that this is not practicable:
you feel as if this is the only thing you have to confess and imagine you are
obliged to confess it. For this reason I should like you to think that your
affection for him is of no importance and to take no more notice of it.
Follow this advice if you find that everything
your confessor says to you profits your soul; if you neither see nor hear him
indulge in any vanity (and such things are always noticed except by one who is
wilfully dull) and if you know him to be a God-fearing man, do not be distressed
over any temptation about being too fond of him, and the devil will then grow
tired and stop tempting you. But if you notice that the confessor is tending in
any way towards vanity in what he says to you, you should regard him with grave
suspicion; in such a case conversation with him, even about prayer and about
God, should be avoided -- the sister should make her confession briefly and say
nothing more. It would be best for her to tell the Mother (Superior) that she
does not get on with him and go elsewhere. This is the safest way if it is
practicable, and I hope in God that it will be, and that you will do all you
possibly can to have no relations with him, though this may be very painful for
Reflect upon the great importance of this,
etc. (pp. 58-9).
Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why
it is important that they should be learned men.
May the Lord grant, for His Majesty's own
sake, that no one in this house shall experience the trials that have been
described, or find herself oppressed in this way in soul and body. I hope the
superior will never be so intimate with the confessor that no one will dare to
say anything about him to her or about her to him. For this will tempt unfortunate
penitents to leave very grave sins unconfessed because they will feel
uncomfortable about confessing them. God help me! What trouble the devil can
make here and how dearly people have to pay for their miserable worries
and concern about honour! If they consult only one confessor, they think they
are acting in the interests of their Order and for the greater honour of
their convent: and that is the way the devil lays his snares for souls when he
can find no other. If the poor sisters ask for another confessor, they
are told that this would mean the complete end of all discipline in the
convent; and, if he is not a priest of their Order, even though he be a saint,
they are led to believe that they would be disgracing their entire Order by
great praise to God, Daughters, for this liberty that you have, for, though
there are not a great many priests whom you can consult, there are a few, other
than your ordinary confessors, who can give you light upon everything.
I beg every superior,
for the love of the Lord, to allow a holy liberty here: let the Bishop or
Provincial be approached for leave for the sisters to go from time to time
beyond their ordinary confessors and talk about their souls with persons of
learning, especially if the confessors, though good men, have no learning; for
learning is a great help in giving light upon everything. It should be possible
to find a number of people who combine both learning and spirituality, and the
more favours the Lord grants you in prayer, the more needful is it that your
good works and your prayers should have a sure foundation.
You already know that the first stone of this
foundation must be a good conscience and that you must make every effort to free
yourselves from even venial sins and follow the greatest possible perfection.
You might suppose that any confessor would know this, but you would be wrong: it
happened that I had to go about matters of consciences to a man who had taken a
complete course in theology; and he did me a great deal of mischief by telling
me that certain things were of no importance. I know that he had no intention of
deceiving me, or any reason for doing so: it was simply that he knew no better.
And in addition to this instance I have met with two or three similar ones.
Everything depends on our having true light to
keep the law of God perfectly. This is a firm basis for prayer; but without this
strong foundation the whole building will go awry. In making their confessions,
then, the nuns must be free to discuss spiritual matters with such persons as I
have described. I will even go farther and say that they should sometimes do as
I have said even if their confessor has all these good qualities, for he may
quite easily make mistakes and it is a pity that he should be the cause of their
going astray. They must try, however, never to act in any way against obedience,
for they will find ways of getting all the help they need: it is of great
importance to them that they should, and so they must make every possible effort
to do so.
All this that I have said has to do with the
superior. Since there are no consolations but spiritual ones to be had here, I
would beg her once again to see that the sisters get these consolations, for God
leads [His handmaidens] by different ways and it is impossible that one
confessor should be acquainted with them all. I assure you that, if your souls
are as they ought to be, there is no lack of holy persons who will be glad to
advise and console you, even though you are poor. For He Who sustains our bodies
will awaken and encourage someone to give light to our souls, and thus this evil
of which I am so much afraid will be remedied. For if the devil should tempt the
confessor, with the result that he leads you astray on any point of doctrine he
will go slowly and be more careful about all he is doing when he knows that the
penitent is also consulting others.
If the devil is prevented from entering
convents in this way, I hope in God that he will never get into this house at
all; so, for love of the Lord, I beg whoever is Bishop to allow the sisters this
liberty and not to withdraw it so long as the confessors are persons both of
learning and of good lives, a fact which will soon come to be known in a little
place like this.
In what I have said here, I am speaking from
experience of things that I have seen and heard in many convents and
gathered from conversation with learned and holy people who have considered what
is most fitting for this house, so that it may advance in perfection. Among the
perils which exist everywhere, for as long as life lasts, we shall find that
this is the least. No vicar should be free to go in and out of the convent, and
no confessor should have this freedom either. They are there to watch over the
recollectedness and good living of the house and its progress in both interior
and exterior matters, so that they may report to the superior whenever needful,
but they are never to be superiors themselves. As I say, excellent reasons
have been found why, everything considered, this is the best course, and why, if
any priest hears confessions frequently, it should be the chaplain; but, if the
nuns think it necessary, they can make their confessions to such persons as have
been described, provided the superior is informed of it, and the prioress is
such that the Bishop can trust her discretion. As there are very few nuns here,
this will not take up much time.
This is our present practice; and it is not
followed merely on my advice. Our present Bishop, Don Álvaro de Mendoza, under
whose obedience we live (since for many reasons we have not been placed under
the jurisdiction of the Order), is greatly attached to holiness and the
religious life, and, besides being of most noble extraction, is a great servant
of God. He is always very glad to help this house in every way, and to this very
end he brought together persons of learning, spirituality and experience, and
this decision was then come to. It will be only right that future superiors
should conform to his opinion, since it has been decided on by such good men,
and after so many prayers to the Lord that He would enlighten them in every
possible way, which, so far as we can at present see, He has certainly done. May
the Lord be pleased to promote the advancement of this to His greater glory.
to the subject of perfect love, already begun.
I have digressed a great deal but no one will
blame me who understands the importance of what has been said. Let us now return
to the love which it is good [and lawful] for us to feel. This I have described
as purely spiritual; I am not sure if I know what I am talking about, but it
seems to me that there is no need to speak much of it, since so few, I fear,
possess it; let any one of you to whom the Lord has given it praise Him
fervently, for she must be a person of the greatest perfection. It is about this
that I now wish to write. Perhaps what I say may be of some profit, for if you
look at a virtue you desire it and try to gain it, and so become attached to it.
God grant that I may be able to understand
this, and even more that I may be able to describe it, for I am not sure that I
know when love is spiritual and when there is sensuality mingled with it, or how
to begin speaking about it. I am like one who hears a person speaking in the
distance and, though he can hear that he is speaking, cannot distinguish
what he is saying. It is just like that with me: sometimes I cannot understand
what I am saying, yet the Lord is pleased to enable me to say it well. If at
other times what I say is [ridiculous and] nonsensical, it is only natural for
me to go completely astray.
Now it seems to me that, when God has brought
someone to a clear knowledge of the world, and of its nature, and of the fact
that another world (or, let us say, another kingdom) exists, and that
there is a great difference between the one and the other, the one being eternal
and the other only a dream; and of what it is to love the Creator and what to
love the creature (this must be discovered by experience, for it is a very
different matter from merely thinking about it and believing it); when one
understands by sight and experience what can be gained by the one practice and
lost by the other, and what the Creator is and what the creature, and many other
things which the Lord teaches to those who are willing to devote themselves to
being taught by Him in prayer, or whom His Majesty wishes to teach -- then one
loves very differently from those of us who have not advanced thus far.
It may be, sisters, that you think it
irrelevant for me to treat of this, and you may say that you already know
everything that I have said. God grant that this may be so, and that you may
indeed know it in the only way which has any meaning, and that it may be graven
upon your inmost being, and that you may never for a moment depart from it,
for, if you know it, you will see that I am telling nothing but the truth when I
say that he whom the Lord brings thus far possesses this love. Those whom God
brings to this state are, I think, generous and royal souls; they are not
content with loving anything so miserable as these bodies, however beautiful
they be and however numerous the graces they possess. If the sight of the body
gives them pleasure they praise the Creator, but as for dwelling upon it for
more than just a moment -- no! When I use that phrase "dwelling upon
it", I refer to having love for such things. If they had such love, they
would think they were loving something insubstantial and were conceiving
fondness for a shadow, they would feel shame for themselves and would not have
the effrontery to tell God that they love Him, without feeling great confusion.
You will answer me that such persons cannot
love or repay the affection shown to them by others. Certainly they care little
about having this affection. They may from time to time experience a natural and
momentary pleasure at being loved; yet, as soon as they return to their normal
condition, they realize that such pleasure is folly save when the persons
concerned can benefit their souls, either by instruction or by prayer. Any other
kind of affection wearies them, for they know it can bring them no profit and
may well do them harm; none the less they are grateful for it and recompense it
by commending those who love them to God. They take this affection as something
for which those who love them lay the responsibility upon the Lord, from Whom,
since they can see nothing lovable in themselves, they suppose the love comes,
and think that others love them because God loves them; and so they leave His
Majesty to recompense them for this and beg Him to do so, thus freeing
themselves and feeling they have no more responsibility. When I ponder it
carefully, I sometimes think this desire for affection is sheer blindness,
except when, as I say, it relates to persons who can lead us to do good so that
we may gain blessings in perfection.
It should be noted here that, when we desire
anyone's affection, we always seek it because of some interest, profit or
pleasure of our own. Those who are perfect, however, have trodden all these
things beneath their feet -- [and have despised] the blessings which may come to
them in this world, and its pleasures and delights -- in such a way that, even
if they wanted to, so to say, they could not love anything outside God, or
unless it had to do with God. What profit, then, can come to them from being
When this truth is put to them, they laugh at
the distress which had been assailing them in the past as to whether their
affection was being returned or no. Of course, however pure our affection may
be, it is quite natural for us to wish it to be returned. But, when we come to
evaluate the return of affection, we realize that it is insubstantial, like a
thing of straw, as light as air and easily carried away by the wind. For,
however dearly we have been loved, what is there that remains to us? Such
persons, then, except for the advantage that the affection may bring to their
souls (because they realize that our nature is such that we soon tire of life
without love), care nothing whether they are loved or not. Do you think that
such persons will love none and delight in none save God? No; they will love
others much more than they did, with a more genuine love, with greater passion
and with a love which brings more profit; that, in a word, is what love really
is. And such souls are always much fonder of giving than of receiving, even in
their relations with the Creator Himself. This [holy affection], I say, merits
the name of love, which name has been usurped from it by those other base
Do you ask, again, by what they are attracted
if they do not love things they see? They do love what they see and they are
greatly attracted by what they hear; but the things which they see are
everlasting. If they love anyone they immediately look right beyond the body (on
which, as I say, they cannot dwell), fix their eyes on the soul and see what
there is to be loved in that. If there is nothing, but they see any suggestion
or inclination which shows them that, if they dig deep, they will find gold
within this mine, they think nothing of the labour of digging, since they have
love. There is nothing that suggests itself to them which they will not
willingly do for the good of that soul since they desire their love for it to be
lasting, and they know quite well that that is impossible unless the loved one
has certain good qualities and a great love for God. I really mean that it is
impossible, however great their obligations and even if that soul were to die
for love of them and do them all the kind actions in its power; even had it all
the natural graces joined in one, their wills would not have strength enough to
love it nor would they remain fixed upon it. They know and have learned and
experienced the worth of all this; no false dice can deceive them. They see that
they are not in unison with that soul and that their love for it cannot possibly
last; for, unless that soul keeps the law of God, their love will end with life
-- they know that unless it loves Him they will go to different places.
Those into whose souls the Lord has already
infused true wisdom do not esteem this love, which lasts only on earth, at more
than its true worth -- if, indeed, at so much. Those who like to take pleasure
in worldly things, delights, honours and riches, will account it of some worth
if their friend is rich and able to afford them pastime and pleasure and
recreation; but those who already hate all this will care little or nothing for
such things. If they have any love for such a person, then, it will be a passion
that he may love God so as to be loved by Him; for, as I say, they know that no
other kind of affection but this can last, and that this kind will cost them
dear, for which reason they do all they possibly can for their friend's profit;
they would lose a thousand lives to bring him a small blessing. Oh, precious
love, forever imitating the Captain of Love, Jesus, our Good!
Treats of the same subject of spiritual love
and gives certain counsels for gaining it.
It is strange to see how impassioned this love
is; how many tears, penances and prayers it costs; how careful is the loving
soul to commend the object of its affection to all who it thinks may prevail
with God and to ask them to intercede with Him for it; and how constant is its
longing, so that it cannot be happy unless it sees that its loved one is making
progress. If that soul seems to have advanced, and is then seen to fall some way
back, her friend seems to have no more pleasure in life: she neither eats nor
sleeps, is never free from this fear and is always afraid that the soul whom she
loves so much may be lost, and that the two may be parted for ever. She cares
nothing for physical death, but she will not suffer herself to be attached to
something which a puff of wind may carry away so that she is unable to retain
her hold upon it. This, as I have said, is love without any degree whatsoever of
self-interest; all that this soul wishes and desires is to see the soul [it
loves] enriched with blessings from Heaven. This is love, quite unlike our
ill-starred earthly affections -- to say nothing of illicit affections, from
which may God keep us free.
These last affections are a very hell, and it
is needless for us to weary ourselves by saying how evil they are, for the least
of the evils which they bring are terrible beyond exaggeration. There is no need
for us ever to take such things upon our lips, sisters, or even to think of
them, or to remember that they exist anywhere in the world; you must never
listen to anyone speaking of such affections, either in jest or in earnest, nor
allow them to be mentioned or discussed in your presence. No good can come from
our doing this and it might do us harm even to hear them mentioned. But with
regard to the lawful affections which, as I have said, we may have for each
other, or for relatives and friends, it is different. Our whole desire is that
they should not die: if their heads ache, our souls seem to ache too; if we see
them in distress, we are unable (as people say) to sit still under it;
and so on.
This is not so with spiritual affection.
Although the weakness of our nature may at first allow us to feel something of
all this, our reason soon begins to reflect whether our friend's trials are not
good for her, and to wonder if they are making her richer in virtue and how she
is bearing them, and then we shall ask God to give her patience so that they may
win her merit. If we see that she is being patient, we feel no distress --
indeed, we are gladdened and consoled. If all the merit and gain which suffering
is capable of producing could be made over to her, we should still prefer
suffering her trial ourselves to seeing her suffer it, but we are not worried or
I repeat once more that this love is a
similitude and copy of that which was borne for us by the good Lover, Jesus. It
is for that reason that it brings us such immense benefits, for it makes us
embrace every kind of suffering, so that others, without having to endure the
suffering, may gain its advantages. The recipients of this friendship, then,
profit greatly, but their friends should realize that either this intercourse --
I mean, this exclusive friendship -- must come to an end or that they must
prevail upon Our Lord that their friend may walk in the same way as themselves,
as Saint Monica prevailed with Him for Saint Augustine. Their heart does not
allow them to practise duplicity: if they see their friend straying from the
road, or committing any faults, they will speak to her about it; they cannot
allow themselves to do anything else. And if after this the loved one does not
amend, they will not flatter her or hide anything from her. Either, then, she
will amend or their friendship will cease; for otherwise they would be unable to
endure it, nor is it in fact endurable. It would mean continual war for both
parties. A person may be indifferent to all other people in the world and not
worry whether they are serving God or not, since the person she has to worry
about is herself. But she cannot take this attitude with her friends: nothing
they do can be hidden from her; she sees the smallest mote in them. This, I
repeat, is a very heavy cross for her to bear.
the souls that are loved by such as these! Happy the day on which they came to
know them! O my Lord, wilt Thou not grant me the favour of giving me many who
have such love for me? Truly, Lord, I would rather have this than be loved by
all the kings and lords of the world -- and rightly so, for such friends use
every means in their power to make us lords of the whole world and to have all
that is in it subject to us. When you make the acquaintance of any such persons,
sisters, the Mother Prioress should employ every possible effort to keep you in
touch with them. Love such persons as much as you like. There can be very few of
them, but none the less it is the Lord's will that their goodness should be
known. When one of you is striving after perfection, she will at once be told
that she has no need to know such people -- that it is enough for her to have
God. But to get to know God's friends is a very good way of "having"
Him; as I have discovered by experience, it is most helpful. For, under the
Lord, I owe it to such persons that I am not in hell; I was always very fond of
asking them to commend me to God, and so I prevailed upon them to do so.
us now return to what we were saying.
It is this kind of love which I should like us to have; at first it may not be
perfect but the Lord will make it increasingly so. Let us begin with the methods
of obtaining it. At first it may be mingled with emotion,
but this, as a rule, will do no harm. It is sometimes good and necessary for us
to show emotion in our love, and also to feel it, and to be distressed by some
of our sisters, trials and weaknesses, however trivial they may be. For on one
occasion as much distress may be caused by quite a small matter as would be
caused on another by some great trial, and there are people whose nature it is
to be very much cast down by small things. If you are not like this, do not
neglect to have compassion on others; it may be that Our Lord wishes to spare us
these sufferings and will give us sufferings of another kind which will seem
heavy to us, though to the person already mentioned they may seem light. In
these matters, then, we must not judge others by ourselves, nor think of
ourselves as we have been at some time when, perhaps without any effort on our
part, the Lord has made us stronger than they; let us think of what we were like
at the times when we have been weakest.
Note the importance of this advice for those
of us who would learn to sympathize with our neighbours' trials, however trivial
these may be. It is especially important for such souls as have been described,
for, desiring trials as they do, they make light of them all. They must
therefore try hard to recall what they were like when they were weak, and
reflect that, if they are no longer so, it is not due to themselves. For
otherwise, little by little, the devil could easily cool our charity toward our
neighbours and make us think that what is really a failing on our part is
perfection. In every respect we must be careful and alert, for the devil never
slumbers. And the nearer we are to perfection, the more careful we must be,
since his temptations are then much more cunning because there are no others
that he dare send us; and if, as I say, we are not cautious, the harm is done
before we realize it. In short, we must always watch and pray, for there is no
better way than prayer of revealing these hidden wiles of the devil and making
him declare his presence.
Contrive always, even if you do not care for
it, to take part in your sisters' necessary recreation and to do so for the
whole of the allotted time, for all considerate treatment of them is a part of
perfect love. It is a very good thing for us to take compassion on each others'
needs. See that you show no lack of discretion about things which are contrary
to obedience. Though privately you may think the prioress' orders harsh ones, do
not allow this to be noticed or tell anyone about it (except that you may speak
of it, with all humility, to the prioress herself), for if you did so you would
be doing a great deal of harm. Get to know what are the things in your sisters
which you should be sorry to see and those about which you should sympathize
with them; and always show your grief at any notorious fault which you may see
in one of them. It is a good proof and test of our love if we can bear with such
faults and not be shocked by them. Others, in their turn, will bear with your
faults, which, if you include those of which you are not aware, must be much
more numerous. Often commend to God any sister who is at fault and strive for
your own part to practise the virtue which is the opposite of her fault with
great perfection. Make determined efforts to do this so that you may teach your
sister by your deeds what perhaps she could never learn by words nor gain by
The habit of performing some conspicuously
virtuous action through seeing it performed by another is one which very easily
takes root. This is good advice: do not forget it. Oh, how true and genuine will
be the love of a sister who can bring profit to everyone by sacrificing her own
profit to that of the rest! She will make a great advance in each of the virtues
and keep her Rule with great perfection. This will be a much truer kind of
friendship than one which uses every possible loving expression (such as are not
used, and must not be used, in this house): "My life!" "My
love!" "My darling!"
and suchlike things, one or another of which people are always saying. Let such
endearing words be kept for your Spouse, for you will be so often and so much
alone With Him that you will want to make use of them all, and this His Majesty
permits you. If you use them among yourselves they will not move the Lord so
much; and, quite apart from that, there is no reason why you should do so. They
are very effeminate; and I should not like you to be that, or even to appear to
be that, in any way, my daughters; I want you to be strong men. If you do all
that is in you, the Lord will make you so manly that men themselves will be
amazed at you. And how easy is this for His Majesty, Who made us out of nothing
It is also a very clear sign of love to try to
spare others household work by taking it upon oneself and also to rejoice and
give great praise to the Lord if you see any increase in their virtues. All such
things, quite apart from the intrinsic good they bring, add greatly to the peace
and concord which we have among ourselves, as, through the goodness of God, We
can now see by experience. May His Majesty be pleased ever to increase it, for
it would be terrible if it did not exist, and very awkward if, when there are so
few of us, we got on badly together. May God forbid that.
If one of you should be cross with another
because of some hasty word, the matter must at once be put right and you must
betake yourselves to earnest prayer. The same applies to the harbouring of any
grudge, or to party strife, or to the desire to be greatest, or to any nice
point concerning your honour. (My blood seems to run cold, as I write this, at
the very idea that this can ever happen, but I know it is the chief trouble in
convents.) If it should happen to you, consider yourselves lost. Just reflect
and realize that you have driven your Spouse from His home: He will have to go
and seek another abode, since you are driving Him from His own house. Cry aloud
to His Majesty and try to put things right; and if frequent confessions and
communions do not mend them, you may well fear that there is some Judas among
For the love of God, let the prioress be most
careful not to allow this to occur. She must put a stop to it from the very
outset, and, if love will not suffice, she must use heavy punishments,
for here we have the whole of the mischief and the remedy. If you gather that
any of the nuns is making trouble, see that she is sent to some other convent
and God will provide them with a dowry for her. Drive away this plague; cut off
the branches as well as you can; and, if that is not sufficient, pull up the
roots. If you cannot do this, shut up anyone who is guilty of such things and
forbid her to leave her cell; far better this than that all the nuns should
catch so incurable a plague. Oh, what a great evil is this! God deliver us from
a convent into which it enters: I would rather our convent caught fire and we
were all burned alive. As this is so important I think I shall say a little more
about it elsewhere, so I will not write at greater length here, except to say
that, provided they treat each other equally, I would rather that the nuns
showed a tender and affectionate love and regard for each other, even though
there is less perfection in this than in the love I have described, than that
there were a single note of discord to be heard among them. May the Lord forbid
this, for His own sake. Amen.
Treats of the great benefit of
self-detachment, both interior and exterior, from all things created.
Let us now come to the detachment which we
must practise, for if this is carried out perfectly it includes everything else.
I say "it includes everything else" because, if we care nothing for
any created things, but embrace the Creator alone, His Majesty will infuse the
virtues into us in such a way that, provided we labour to the best of our
abilities day by day, we shall not have to wage war much longer, for the Lord
will take our defence in hand against the devils and against the whole world. Do
you suppose, daughters, that it is a small benefit to obtain for ourselves this
blessing of giving ourselves wholly to Him,
and keeping nothing for ourselves? Since, as I say, all blessings are in Him,
let us give Him hearty praise, sisters, for having brought us together here,
where we are occupied in this alone. I do not know why I am saying this, when
all of you here are capable of teaching me, for I confess that, in this
important respect, I am not as perfect as I should like to be and as I know I
ought to be; and I must say the same about all the virtues and about all that I
am dealing with here, for it is easier to write of such things than to practise
them. I may not even be able to write of them effectively, for sometimes ability
to do this comes only from experience -- [that is to say, if I have any success,
it must be because] I explain the nature of these virtues by describing the
contraries of the qualities I myself possess.
As far as exterior matters are concerned, you
know how completely cut off we are from everything. Oh, my Creator and Lord!
When have I merited so great an honour? Thou seemest to have searched everywhere
for means of drawing nearer to us. May it please Thy goodness that we lose not
this through our own fault. Oh, sisters, for the love of God, try to realize
what a great favour the Lord has bestowed on those of us whom He has brought
here. Let each of you apply this to herself, since there are only twelve of us
and His Majesty has been pleased for you to be one. How many people -- what a
multitude of people! -- do I know who are better than myself and would
gladly take this place of mine, yet the Lord has granted it to me who so ill
deserve it! Blessed be Thou, my God, and let the angels and all created
things praise Thee, for I can no more repay this favour than all the others Thou
hast shown me. It was a wonderful thing to give me the vocation to be a nun; but
I have been so wicked, Lord, that Thou couldst not trust me. In a place where
there were many good women living together my wickedness would not perhaps
have been noticed right down to the end of my life: I should have concealed
it, as I did for so many years. So Thou didst bring me here, where, as there
are so few of us that it would seem impossible for it to remain unnoticed, Thou
dost remove occasions of sin from me so that I may walk the more carefully.
There is no excuse for me, then, O Lord, I confess it, and so I have need of Thy
mercy, that Thou mayest pardon me.
my sisters, that if we are not good we are much more to blame than others.
What I earnestly beg of you is that anyone who knows she will be unable to
follow our customs will say so [before she is professed]: there are other
convents in which the Lord is also well served and she should not remain here
and disturb these few of us whom His Majesty has brought together for His
service. In other convents nuns are free to have the pleasure of seeing
their relatives, whereas here, if relatives are ever admitted, it is only for
their own pleasure. A nun who [very much] wishes to see her relatives in order
to please herself, and does not get tired of them after the second visit,
must, unless they are spiritual persons and do her soul some good,
consider herself imperfect and realize that she is neither detached nor healthy,
and will have no freedom of spirit or perfect peace. She needs a physician --
and I consider that if this desire does not leave her, and she is not cured, she
is not intended for this house.
The best remedy, I think, is that she should
not see her relatives again until she feels free in spirit and has obtained this
freedom from God by many prayers. When she looks upon such visits as crosses,
let her receive them by all means, for then they will do the visitors good and
herself no harm. But if she is fond of the visitors, if their troubles are a
great distress to her and if she delights in listening to the stories which they
tell her about the world, she may be sure that she will do herself harm and do
them no good.
Treats of the great blessing that shunning
their relatives brings to those who have left the world and shows how by doing
so they will find truer friends.
Oh, if we religious understood what harm we
get from having so much to do with our relatives, how we should shun them! do
not see what pleasure they can give us, or how, quite apart from the harm
they do us as touching our obligations to God, they can bring us any peace
or tranquillity. For we cannot take part in their recreations, as it is not
lawful for us to do so; and, though we can certainly share their troubles, we
can never help weeping for them, sometimes more than they do themselves. If they
bring us any bodily comforts, there is no doubt that our spiritual life and
our poor souls will pay for it. From this you are [quite] free here; for, as
you have everything in common and none of you may accept any private gift, all
the alms given us being held by the community, you are under no obligation to
entertain your relatives in return for what they give you, since, as you know,
the Lord will provide for us all in common.
I am astounded at the harm which intercourse
with our relatives does us: I do not think anyone who had not experience of it
would believe it. And how our religious Orders nowadays, or most of them, at
any rate, seem to be forgetting about perfection, though all, or most, of
the saints wrote about it! I do not know how much of the world we really
leave when we say that we are leaving everything for God's sake, if we do not
withdraw ourselves from the chief thing of all -- namely, our kinsfolk. The
matter has reached such a pitch that some people think, when religious are not
fond of their relatives and do not see much of them, it shows a want of virtue
in them. And they not only assert this but allege reasons for it.
In this house, daughters, we must be most
careful to commend our relatives to God, for that is only right. For the rest,
we must keep them out of our minds as much as we can, as it is natural that our
desires should be attached to them more than to other people. My own relatives
were very fond of me, or so they used to say, and I was so fond of them that I
would not let them forget me. But I have learned, by my own experience and by
that of others, that it is God's servants who have helped me in trouble; my
relatives, apart from my parents, have helped me very little. Parents are
different, for they very rarely fail to help their children, and it is right
that when they need our comfort we should not refuse it them: if we find our
main purpose is not harmed by our so doing we can give it them and yet be
completely detached; and this also applies to brothers and sisters.
Believe me, sisters, if you serve God as you
should, you will find no better relatives than those [of His servants] whom His
Majesty sends you. I know this is so, and, if you keep on as you are doing here,
and realize that by doing otherwise you will be failing your true Friend and
Spouse, you may be sure that you will very soon gain this freedom. Then you will
be able to trust those who love you for His sake alone more than all your
relatives, and they will not fail you, so that you will find parents and
brothers and sisters where you had never expected to find them. For these help
us and look for their reward only from God; those who look for rewards from us
soon grow tired of helping us when they see that we are poor and can do nothing
for them. This cannot be taken as a generalization, but it is the most usual
thing to happen in the world, for it is the world all over! If anyone tells you
otherwise, and says it is a virtue to do such things, do not believe him. I
should have to write at great length, in view of my lack of skill and my
imperfection, if I were to tell you of all the harm that comes from it; as
others have written about it who know what they are talking about better than I,
what I have said will suffice. If, imperfect as I am, I have been able to grasp
as much as this, how much better will those who are perfect do so!
All the advice which the saints give us about
fleeing from the world is, of course, good. Believe me, then, attachment to our
relatives is, as I have said, the thing which sticks to us most closely and is
hardest to get rid of. People are right, therefore, when they flee from their
own part of the country
-- if it helps them, I mean, for I do not think we are helped so much by fleeing
from any place in a physical sense as by resolutely embracing the good Jesus,
Our Lord, with the soul. Just as we find everything in Him, so for His sake we
forget everything. Still, it is a great help, until we have learned this truth,
to keep apart from our kinsfolk; later on, it may be that the Lord will wish us
to see them again, so that what used to give us pleasure may be a cross to us.
Teaches that detachment from the things
aforementioned is insufficient if we are not detached from our own selves and
that this virtue and humility go together.
Once we have detached ourselves from the
world, and from our kinsfolk, and are cloistered here, in the conditions already
described, it must look as if we have done everything and there is nothing left
with which we have to contend. But, oh, my sisters, do not feel secure and fall
asleep, or you will be like a man who goes to bed quite peacefully, after
bolting all his doors for fear of thieves, when the thieves are already in the
house. And you know there is no worse thief than one who lives in the house.
We ourselves are always the same;
unless we take great care and each of us looks well to it that she renounces her
self-will, which is the most important business of all, there will be many
things to deprive us of the holy freedom of spirit which our souls seek
in order to soar to their Maker unburdened by the leaden weight of the earth.
It will be a great help towards this if we
keep constantly in our thoughts the vanity of all things and the rapidity with
which they pass away, so that we may withdraw our affections from things which
are so trivial and fix them upon what will never come to an end. This may seem a
poor kind of help but it will have the effect of greatly fortifying the soul.
With regard to small things, we must be very careful, as soon as we begin to
grow fond of them, to withdraw our thoughts from them and turn them to God. His
Majesty will help us to do this. He has granted us the great favour of providing
that, in this house, most of it is done already; but it remains for us to
become detached from our own selves and it is a hard thing to withdraw from
ourselves and oppose ourselves, because we are very close to ourselves and love
ourselves very dearly.
It is here that true humility can enter,
for this virtue and that of detachment from self, I think, always go together.
They are two sisters, who are inseparable. These are not the kinsfolk whom I
counsel you to avoid: no, you must embrace them, and love them, and never be
seen without them. Oh, how sovereign are these virtues, mistresses of all
created things, empresses of the world, our deliverers from all the snares and
entanglements laid by the devil so dearly loved by our Teacher, Christ, Who was
never for a moment without them! He that possesses them can safely go out and
fight all the united forces of hell and the whole world and its temptations. Let
him fear none, for his is the kingdom of the Heavens. There is none whom he need
fear, for he cares nothing if he loses everything, nor does he count this as
loss: his sole fear is that he may displease his God and he begs Him to nourish
these virtues within him lest he lose them through any fault of his own.
These virtues, it is true, have the property
of hiding themselves from one who possesses them, in such a way that he never
sees them nor can believe that he has any of them, even if he be told so. But he
esteems them so much that he is for ever trying to obtain them, and thus he
perfects them in himself more and more. And those who possess them soon make the
fact clear, even against their will, to any with whom they have intercourse. But
how inappropriate it is for a person like myself to begin to praise humility and
mortification, when these virtues are so highly praised by the King of Glory --
a praise exemplified in all the trials He suffered. It is to possess these
virtues, then, my daughters, that you must labour if you would leave the land of
Egypt, for, when you have obtained them, you will also obtain the manna; all
things will taste well to you; and, however much the world may dislike their
savour, to you they will be sweet.
The first thing, then, that we have to do, and
that at once, is to rid ourselves of love for this body of ours -- and some
of us pamper our natures so much that this will cause us no little labour, while
others are so concerned about their health that the trouble these things
give us (this is especially so of poor nuns, but it applies to others as
well) is amazing. Some of us, however, seem to think that we embraced the
religious life for no other reason than to keep ourselves alive
and each nun does all she can to that end. In this house, as a matter of fact,
there is very little chance for us to act on such a principle, but I should be
sorry if we even wanted to. Resolve, sisters, that it is to die for Christ, and
not to practise self-indulgence for Christ, that you have come here. The devil
tells us that self-indulgence is necessary if we are to carry out and keep the
Rule of our Order, and so many of us, forsooth, try to keep our Rule by looking
after our health that we die without having kept it for as long as a month --
perhaps even for a day. I really do not know what we are coming to.
No one need be afraid of our committing
excesses here, by any chance -- for as soon as we do any penances our confessors
begin to fear that we shall kill ourselves with them. We are so horrified at our
own possible excesses -- if only we were as conscientious about everything else!
Those who tend to the opposite extreme will I know, not mind my saying this, nor
shall I mind if they say I am judging others by myself, for they will be quite
right. I believe -- indeed, I am sure -- that more nuns are of my way of
thinking than are offended by me because they do just the opposite. My own
belief is that it is for this reason that the Lord is pleased to make us such
weakly creatures; at least He has shown me great mercy in making me so; for, as
I was sure to be self-indulgent in any case, He was pleased to provide me with
an excuse for this. It is really amusing to see how some people torture
themselves about it, when the real reason lies in themselves; sometimes they get
a desire to do penances, as one might say, without rhyme or reason; they go on
doing them for a couple of days; and then the devil puts it into their heads
that they have been doing themselves harm and so he makes them afraid of
penances, after which they dare not do even those that the Order requires --
they have tried them once! They do not keep the smallest points in the Rule,
such as silence, which is quite incapable of harming us. Hardly have we begun to
imagine that our heads are aching than we stay away from choir, though that
would not kill us either. One day we are absent because we had a headache
some time ago; another day, because our head has just been aching again; and on
the next three days in case it should ache once more. Then we want to invent
penances of our own, with the result that we do neither the one thing nor the
other. Sometimes there is very little the matter with us, yet we think that it
should dispense us from all our obligations and that if we ask to be excused
from them we are doing all we need.
But why, you will say, does the Prioress
excuse us? Perhaps she would not if she knew what was going on inside us; but she
sees one of you wailing about a mere nothing as if your heart were breaking, and
you come and ask her to excuse you from keeping the whole of your Rule, saying
it is a matter of great necessity, and, when there is any substance in what you
say, there is always a physician at hand to confirm it or some friend or
relative weeping at your side. Sometimes the poor Prioress sees that your
request is excessive, but what can she do? She feels a scruple if she thinks
she has been lacking in charity and she would rather the fault were yours than
hers: she thinks, too, that it would be unjust of her to judge you harshly.
God help me! That there should be complaining like this among nuns! May He
forgive me for saying so, but I am afraid it has become quite a habit. I
happened to observe this incident once myself: a nun began complaining about her
headaches and she went on complaining to me for a long time. In the end I made
enquiries and found she had no headache whatever, but was suffering from some
pain or other elsewhere.
These are things which may sometimes happen
and I put them down here so that you may guard against them; for if once the
devil begins to frighten us about losing our health, we shall never get
anywhere. The Lord give us light so that we may act rightly in everything! Amen.
Continues to treat of mortification and
describes how it may be attained in times of sickness.
These continual moanings which we make about
trifling ailments, my sisters, seem to me a sign of imperfection: if you can
bear a thing, say nothing about it. When the ailment is serious, it proclaims
itself; that is quite another kind of moaning, which draws attention to itself
immediately. Remember, there are only a few of you, and if one of you gets into
this habit she will worry all the rest -- that is, assuming you love each other
and there is charity among you. On the other hand, if one of you is really ill,
she should say so and take the necessary remedies; and, if you have got rid of
your self-love, you will so much regret having to indulge yourselves in any way
that there will be no fear of your doing so unnecessarily or of your making a
moan without proper cause. When such a reason exists, it would be much worse to
say nothing about it than to allow yourselves unnecessary indulgence, and it
would be very wrong if everybody were not sorry for you.
However, I am quite sure that where there is prayer
and charity among you, and your numbers are so small that you will be
aware of each other's needs, there will never be any lack of care in your
being looked after. Do not think of complaining about the weaknesses and minor
ailments from which women suffer, for the devil sometimes makes you imagine
them. They come and go; and unless you get rid of the habit of talking about
them and complaining of everything (except to God) you will never come to the
end of them. I lay great stress on this, for I believe myself it is
important, and it is one of the reasons for the relaxation of discipline in
religious houses. For this body of ours has one fault: the more you indulge
it, the more things it discovers to be essential to it. It is extraordinary how
it likes being indulged; and, if there is any reasonable pretext for indulgence,
however little necessity for it there may be, the poor soul is taken in and
prevented from making progress. Think how many poor people there must be who are
ill and have no one to complain to, for poverty and self-indulgence make bad
company. Think, too, how many married women -- people of position, as I know --
have serious complaints and sore trials and yet dare not complain to their
husbands about them for fear of annoying them. Sinner that I am! Surely we have
not come here to indulge ourselves more than they! Oh, how free you are from the
great trials of the world! Learn to suffer a little for the love of God without
telling everyone about it. When a woman has made an unhappy marriage she does
not talk about it or complain of it, lest it should come to her husband's
knowledge, she has to endure a great deal of misery and yet has no one to whom
she may relieve her mind. Cannot we, then, keep secret between God and ourselves
some of the ailments which He sends us because of our sins? The more so since
talking about them does nothing whatever to alleviate them.
In nothing that I have said am I referring to
serious illnesses, accompanied by high fever, though as to these, too, I beg you
to observe moderation and to have patience: I am thinking rather of those minor
indispositions which you may have and still keep going
without worrying everybody else to death over them. What would happen if
these lines should be seen outside this house? What would all the nuns say of
me! And how willingly would I bear what they said if it helped anyone to live a
better life! For when there is one person of this kind, the thing generally
comes to such a pass that some suffer on account of others, and nobody
who says she is ill will be believed, however serious her ailment. As this
book is meant only for my daughters, they will put up with everything I say.
Let us remember our holy Fathers of past days, the hermits whose lives we
attempt to imitate. What sufferings they bore, what solitude, cold, [thirst] and
hunger, what burning sun and heat! And yet they had no one to complain to except
God. Do you suppose they were made of iron? No: they were as frail as we are.
Believe me, daughters, once we begin to subdue these miserable bodies of ours,
they give us much less trouble. There will be quite sufficient people to see to
what you really need,
so take no thought for yourselves except when you know it to be necessary.
Unless we resolve to put up with death and ill-health once and for all, we shall
never accomplish anything.
Try not to fear these and commit yourselves
wholly to God, come what may. What does it matter if we die? How many times have
our bodies not mocked us? Should we not occasionally mock them in our turn? And,
believe me, slight as it may seem by comparison with other things, this
resolution is much more important than we may think; for, if we continually make
it, day by day, by the grace of the Lord, we shall gain dominion over the body.
To conquer such an enemy is a great achievement in the battle of life. May the
Lord grant, as He is able, that we may do this. I am quite sure that no one who
does not enjoy such a victory, which I believe is a great one, will understand
what advantage it brings, and no one will regret having gone through trials in
order to attain this tranquillity and self-mastery.
that the true lover of God must care little for life and honour.
We now come to some other little things
which are also of very great importance, though they will appear trifling. All
this seems a great task, and so it is, for it means warring against ourselves.
But once we begin to work, God, too, works in our souls and bestows such favours
on them that the most we can do in this life seems to us very little. And we
nuns are doing everything we can, by giving up our freedom for the love of God
and entrusting it to another, and in putting up with so many trials -- fasts,
silence, enclosure, service in choir -- that however much we may want to indulge
ourselves we can do so only occasionally: perhaps, in all the convents I have
seen, I am the only nun guilty of self-indulgence. Why, then, do we shrink from
interior mortification, since this is the means by which every other kind of
mortification may become much more meritorious and perfect, so that it can then
be practised with greater tranquillity and ease? This, as I have said, is
acquired by gradual progress and by never indulging our own will and desire,
even in small things, until we have succeeded in subduing the body to the
I repeat that this consists mainly or entirely
in our ceasing to care about ourselves and our own pleasures, for the least that
anyone who is beginning to serve the Lord truly can offer Him is his life. Once
he has surrendered his will to Him, what has he to fear? It is evident that if
he is a true religious and a real man of prayer and aspires to the enjoyment of
Divine consolations, he must not [turn back or] shrink from desiring to die and
suffer martyrdom for His sake. And do you not know, sisters, that the life of a
good religious, who wishes to be among the closest friends of God, is one long
martyrdom? I say "long", for, by comparison with decapitation, which
is over very quickly, it may well be termed so, though life itself is short and
some lives are short in the extreme. How do we know but that ours will be so
short that it may end only one hour or one moment after the time of our
resolving to render our entire service to God? This would be quite possible; and
so we must not set store by anything that comes to an end, least of all by
life, since not a day of it is secure. Who, if he thought that each hour
might be his last, would not spend it in labour?
Believe me, it is safest to think that this is
so; by so doing we shall learn to subdue our wills in everything; for if, as I
have said, you are very careful about your prayer, you will soon find
yourselves gradually reaching the summit of the mountain without knowing how.
But how harsh it sounds to say that we must take pleasure in nothing, unless we
also say what consolations and delights this renunciation brings in its train,
and what a great gain it is, even in this life! What security it gives us! Here,
as you all practise this, you have done the principal part; each of you
and helps the rest; and each of you must try to outstrip her sisters.
Be very careful about your interior thoughts,
especially if they have to do with precedence. May God, by His Passion, keep us
from expressing, or dwelling upon, such thoughts as these: "But I am her
senior [in the Order]"; "But I am older"; "But I have worked
harder"; "But that other sister is being better treated than I
am". If these thoughts come, you must quickly check them; if you allow
yourselves to dwell on them, or introduce them into your conversation, they will
spread like the plague and in religious houses they may give rise to
great abuses. Remember, I know a great deal about this. If you have a
prioress who allows such things, however trifling, you must believe that God has
permitted her to be given to you because of your sins and that she will be the
beginning of your ruin. Cry to Him, and let your whole prayer be that He may
come to your aid by sending you either a religious or a person given to prayer;
for, if anyone prays with the resolve to enjoy the favours and consolations
which God bestows in prayer, it is always well that he should have this
You may ask why I lay such stress on this, and
think that I am being too severe about it, and say that God grants consolations
to persons less completely detached than that. I quite believe He does; for, in
His infinite wisdom, He sees that this will enable Him to lead them to leave
everything for His sake. I do not mean, by "leaving" everything,
entering the religious life, for there may be obstacles to this, and the soul
that is perfect can be detached and humble anywhere. It will find detachment
harder in the world, however, for worldly trappings will be a great impediment
to it. Still, believe me in this: questions of honour and desires for
property can arise within convents as well as outside them, and the more
temptations of this kind are removed from us, the more we are to blame if we
yield to them. Though persons who do so may have spent years in prayer, or
rather in meditation (for perfect prayer eventually destroys [all] these
attachments), they will never make great progress or come to enjoy the real
fruit of prayer.
Ask yourselves, sisters, if these things, which
seem so insignificant, mean anything to you, for the only reason you are
here is that you may detach yourselves from them. Nobody honours you any the
more for having them and they lose you advantages which might have gained you
more honour; the result is that you get both dishonour and loss at the same
time. Let each of you ask herself how much humility she has and she will see
what progress she has made. If she is really humble, I do not think the devil
will dare to tempt her to take even the slightest interest in matters of
precedence, for he is so shrewd that he is afraid of the blow she would strike
him. If a humble soul is tempted in this way by the devil, that virtue cannot
fail to bring her more fortitude and greater profit. For clearly the temptation
will cause her to look into her life, to compare the services she has rendered
the Lord with what she owes Him and with the marvellous way in which He abased
Himself to give us an example of humility, and to think over her sins and
remember where she deserves to be on account of them. Exercises like this bring
the soul such profit that on the following day Satan will not dare to come back
again lest he should get his head broken.
Take this advice from me and do not forget it:
you should see to it that your sisters profit by your temptations, not only
interiorly (where it would be very wrong if they did not), but exteriorly as
well. If you want to avenge yourself on the devil and free yourselves more
quickly from temptation, ask the superior, as soon as a temptation comes to you,
to give you some lowly office to do, or do some such thing, as best you can, on
our own initiative, studying as you do it how to bend your will to perform tasks
you dislike. The Lord will show you ways of doing so and this will soon rid you
of the temptation.
God deliver us from people who wish to serve
Him yet who are mindful of their own honour. Reflect how little they gain from
this; for, as I have said, the very act of desiring honour robs us of it,
especially in matters of precedence: there is no poison in the world which is so
fatal to perfection. You will say that these are little things which have to do
with human nature and are not worth troubling about; do not trifle with them,
for in religious houses they spread like foam on water, and there is no
small matter so extremely dangerous as are punctiliousness about honour and
sensitiveness to insult. Do you know one reason, apart from many others, why
this is so?
It may have its root, perhaps, in some trivial slight -- hardly anything, in
fact -- and the devil will then induce someone else to consider it important, so
that she will think it a real charity to tell you about it and to ask how you
can allow yourself to be insulted so; and she will pray that God may give you
patience and that you may offer it to Him, for even a saint could not bear more.
The devil is simply putting his deceitfulness into this other person's mouth;
and, though you yourself are quite ready to bear the slight, you are tempted to
vainglory because you have not resisted something else as perfectly as you
This human nature of ours is so wretchedly
weak that, even while we are telling ourselves that there is nothing for us to
make a fuss about, we imagine we are doing something virtuous, and begin to feel
sorry for ourselves, particularly when we see that other people are sorry for us
too. In this way the soul begins to lose the occasions of merit which it had
gained; it becomes weaker; and thus a door is opened to the devil by which he
can enter on some other occasion with a temptation worse than the last. It may
even happen that, when you yourself are prepared to suffer an insult, your
sisters come and ask you if you are a beast of burden, and say you ought to be
more sensitive about things. Oh, my sisters, for the love of God, never let
charity move you to show pity for another in anything to do with these fancied
insults, for that is like the pity shown to holy Job by his wife and friends.
Continues to treat of mortification and
explains how one must renounce the world's standards of wisdom in order to
attain to true wisdom.
I often tell you, sisters, and now I want it
to be set down in writing, not to forget that we in this house, and for that
matter anyone who would be perfect, must flee a thousand leagues from such
phrases as: "I had right on my side"; "They had no right to do
this to me"; "The person who treated me like this was not right".
God deliver us from such a false idea of right as that! Do you think that it was
right for our good Jesus to have to suffer so many insults, and that those who
heaped them on Him
were right, and that they had any right to do Him those wrongs? I do not know
why anyone is in a convent who is willing to bear only the crosses that she has
a perfect right to expect: such a person should return to the world, though even
there such rights will not be safeguarded. Do you think you can ever possibly
have to bear so much that you ought not to have to bear any more? How does right
enter into the matter at all? I really do not know.
Before we begin talking about not having our
rights, let us wait until we receive some honour or gratification, or are
treated kindly, for it is certainly not right that we should have anything in
this life like that. When, on the other hand, some offence is done to us (and we
do not feel it an offence to us that it should be so described), I do not see
what we can find to complain of. Either we are the brides of this great King or
we are not. If we are, what wife is there with a sense of honour who does not
accept her share in any dishonour done to her spouse, even though she may do so
against her will? Each partner, in fact, shares in the honour and dishonour of
the other. To desire to share in the kingdom [of our Spouse Jesus Christ], and
to enjoy it, and yet not to be willing to have any part in His dishonours and
trials, is ridiculous.
God keep us from being like that! Let the
sister who thinks that she is accounted the least among all consider herself the
[happiest and] most fortunate, as indeed she really is, if she lives her
life as she should, for in that case she will, as a rule, have no lack of
honour either in this life or in the next. Believe me when I say this -- what an
absurdity, though, it is for me to say "Believe me" when the words
come from Him Who is true Wisdom, Who is Truth Itself, and from the Queen of
the angels! Let us, my daughters, in some small degree, imitate the great
humility of the most sacred Virgin, whose habit we wear and whose nuns we are
ashamed to call ourselves. Let us at least imitate this humility of hers in
some degree -- I say "in some degree" because, however much we may
seem to humble ourselves, we fall far short of being the daughters of such a
Mother, and the brides of such a Spouse. If, then, the habits I have described
are not sternly checked, what seems nothing to-day will perhaps be a venial sin
to-morrow, and that is so infectious a tendency that, if you leave it alone, the
sin will not be the only one for long; and that is a very bad thing for
We who live in a community should consider
this very carefully, so as not to harm those who labour to benefit us and to set
us a good example. If we realize what great harm is done by the formation of a
bad habit of over-punctiliousness about our honour, we should rather die a
thousand deaths than be the cause of such a thing. For only the body would
die, whereas the loss of a soul is a great loss which is apparently without end;
some of us will die, but others will take our places and perhaps they may all be
harmed more by the one bad habit which we started than they are benefited by
many virtues. For the devil does not allow a single bad habit to disappear and
the very weakness of our mortal nature destroys the virtues in us.
Oh, what a real charity it would be, and what
a service would be rendered to God, if any nun who sees that she cannot [endure
and] conform to the customs of this house would recognize the fact and go away
[before being professed, as I have said elsewhere], and leave the other
sisters in peace! And no convent (at least, if it follows my advice) will take
her or allow her to make her profession until they have given her many years'
probation to see if she improves. I am not referring to shortcomings affecting
penances and fasts, for, although these are wrong, they are not things which do
so much harm. I am thinking of nuns who are of such a temperament that they like
to be esteemed and made much of; who see the faults of others but never
recognize their own; and who are deficient in other ways like these, the true
source of which is want of humility. If God does not help such a person by
bestowing great spirituality upon her, until after many years she becomes
greatly improved, may God preserve you from keeping her in your community. For
you must realize that she will neither have peace there herself nor allow you to
you do not take dowries, God is very gracious to you in this respect. It grieves
me that religious houses should often harbour one who is a thief and robs them
of their treasure, either because they are unwilling to return a dowry or out of
regard for the relatives. In this house you have risked losing worldly honour
and forgone it (for no such honour is paid to those who are poor); do not
desire, then, that others should be honoured at such a cost to yourselves. Our
honour, sisters, must lie in the service of God, and, if anyone thinks to hinder
you in this, she had better keep her honour and stay at home. It was with this
in mind that our Fathers ordered a year's probation (which in our Order we are
free to extend to four years): personally, I should like it to be prolonged to
ten years. A humble nun will mind very little if she is not professed: for she
knows that if she is good she will not be sent away, and if she is not, why
should she wish to do harm to one of Christ's communities?
not being good, I do not mean being fond of vanities, which, I believe, with the
help of God, will be a fault far removed from the nuns in this house. I am
referring to a want of mortification and an attachment to worldly things and to
self-interest in the matter which I have described. Let anyone who knows that
she is not greatly mortified take my advice and not make her profession if she does not wish to suffer a hell on earth, and
God grant there may not be another hell awaiting such a nun in the world to
come! There are many reasons why she should fear there may belt and possibly
neither she nor her sisters may realize this as well as I do.
Believe what I say here; if you will not, I
must leave it to time to prove the truth of my words. For the whole manner of
life we are trying to live is making us, not only nuns, but hermits [like the
holy Fathers our predecessors] and leading us to detachment from all things
created. I have observed that anyone whom the Lord has specially chosen for this
life is granted that favour. She may not have it in full perfection, but that
she has it will be evident from the great joy and gladness that such detachment
gives her, and she will never have any more to do with worldly things, for her
delight will be in all the practices of the religious life. I say once more that
anyone who is inclined to things of the world should leave the convent
if she sees she is not making progress. If she still wishes to be a nun she
should go to another convent; if she does not, she will see what happens to her.
She must not complain of me as the foundress of this convent and say I have not
This house is another Heaven, if it be
possible to have Heaven upon earth. Anyone whose sole pleasure lies in pleasing
God and who cares nothing for her own pleasure will find our life a very good
one; if she wants anything more, she will lose everything, for there is nothing
more that she can have. A discontented soul is like a person suffering from
severe nausea, who rejects all food, however nice it may be; things which
persons in good health delight in eating only cause her the greater
loathing. Such a person will save her soul better elsewhere than here; she may
even gradually reach a degree of perfection which she could not have attained
here because we expected too much of her all at once. For although we allow time
for the attainment of complete detachment and mortification in interior matters,
in externals this has to be practised immediately, because of the harm which
may otherwise befall the rest; and anyone who sees this being done, and
spends all her time in such good company, and yet, at the end of six months
or a year, has made no progress, will, I fear, make none over a great many
years, and will even go backward. I do not say that such a nun must be as
perfect as the rest, but she must be sure that her soul is gradually growing
healthier -- and it will soon become clear if her disease is mortal.
Treats of the great importance of not
professing anyone whose spirit is contrary to the things aforementioned.
I feel sure that the Lord bestows great help
on anyone who makes good resolutions, and for that reason it is necessary to
enquire into the intentions of anyone who enters [the life of religion]. She
must not come, as many nuns [now] do, simply to further her own interests,
although the Lord can perfect even this intention if she is a person of
intelligence. If not intelligent, a person of this kind should on no account be
admitted; for she will not understand her own reasons for coming, nor will she
understand others who attempt subsequently to improve her. For, in general, a
person who has this fault always thinks she knows better than the wisest what is
good for her; and I believe this evil is incurable, for it is rarely
unaccompanied by malice. In a convent where there are a great many nuns
it may be tolerated, but it cannot be suffered among a few.
When an intelligent person begins to grow fond
of what is good, she clings to it manfully, for she sees that it is the best
thing for her; this course may not bring her great spirituality but it will help
her to give profitable advice, and to make herself useful in many ways, without
being a trouble to anybody. But I do not see how a person lacking in
intelligence can be of any use in community life, and she may do a great deal of
harm. This defect, like others, will not become obvious immediately; for
many people are good at talking and bad at understanding, while others speak in
a sharp and none too refined a tone,
and yet they have intelligence and can do a great deal of good. There are also
simple, holy people who are quite unversed in business matters and
worldly conventions but have great skill in converse with God. Many enquiries,
therefore, must be made before novices are admitted, and the period of probation
before profession should be a long one. The world must understand once and for
an that you are free to send them away again, as it is often necessary to
do in a convent where the life is one of austerity; and then if you use this
right no one will take offence.
I say this because these times are so unhappy,
and our weakness is so great, that we are not content to follow the instructions
of our predecessors and disregard the current ideas about honour, lest we should
give offence to the novices' relatives. God grant that those of us who admit
unsuitable persons may not pay for it in the world to come! Such persons are
never without a pretext for persuading us to accept them, though in a matter
of such importance no pretext is valid. If the superior is unaffected by her
personal likings and prejudices, and considers what is for the good of the
house, I do not believe God will ever allow her to go astray. But if she
considers other people's feelings and trivial points of detail, I feel sure she
will be bound to err.
This is something which everyone must think
out for herself; she must commend it to God and encourage her superior when
her courage fails her, of such great importance is it. So I beg God to give
you light about it. You do very well not to accept dowries; for, if you were to
accept them, it might happen that, in order not to have to give back money which
you no longer possess, you would keep a thief in the house who was robbing you
of your treasure; and that would be no small pity. So you must not receive
dowries from anyone, for to do so may be to harm the very person to whom you
desire to bring profit.
Treats of the great advantage which comes from
our not excusing ourselves, even though we find we are unjustly condemned.
But how disconnectedly I am writing! I am just
like a person who does not know what she is doing. It is your fault, sisters,
for I am doing this at your command. Read it as best you can, for I am writing
it as best I can, and, if it is too bad, burn it. I really need leisure, and, as
you see, I have so little opportunity for writing that a week passes without my
putting down a word, and so I forget what I have said and what I am going to say
next. Now what I have just been doing -- namely, excusing myself -- is very bad
for me, and I beg you not to copy it, for to suffer without making excuses is a
habit of great perfection, and very edifying and meritorious; and, though I
often teach you this, and by God's goodness you practise it, His Majesty has
never granted this favour to me. May He be pleased to bestow it on me before I
I am greatly confused as I begin to urge this
virtue upon you, for I ought myself to have practised at least something of what
I am recommending you with regard to it: but actually I must confess I have made
very little progress. I never seem unable to find a reason for thinking I am
being virtuous when I make excuses for myself. There are times when this is
lawful, and when not to do it would be wrong, but I have not the discretion (or,
better, the humility) to do it only when fitting. For, indeed, it takes great
humility to find oneself unjustly condemned and be silent, and to do this is to
imitate the Lord Who set us free from all our sins. I beg you, then, to study
earnestly to do so, for it brings great gain; whereas I can see no gain in our
trying to free ourselves from blame: none whatever -- save, as I say, in a few
cases where hiding the truth might cause offence or scandal. Anyone will
understand this who has more discretion than I.
I think it is very important to accustom
oneself to practise this virtue and to endeavour to obtain from the Lord the
true humility which must result from it. The truly humble person will have a
genuine desire to be thought little of, and persecuted, and condemned unjustly,
even in serious matters. For, if she desires to imitate the Lord, how can she do
so better than in this? And no bodily strength is necessary here, nor the aid of
anyone save God.
These are great virtues, my sisters, and I
should like us to study them closely, and to make them our penance. As you know,
I deprecate [other severe and] excessive penances, which, if practised
indiscreetly, may injure the health. Here, however, there is no cause for fear;
for, however great the interior virtues may be, they do not weaken the body so
that it cannot serve the Order, while at the same time they strengthen the soul;
and, furthermore, they can be applied to very little things, and thus, as I have
said on other occasions, they accustom one to gain great victories in very
important matters. I have not, however, been able to test this particular thing
myself, for I never heard anything bad said of me which I did not clearly
realize fell short of the truth. If I had not sometimes -- often, indeed
-- offended God in the ways they referred to, I had done so in many others, and
I felt they had treated me far too indulgently in saying nothing about these: I
much preferred people to blame me for what was not true than to tell the truth
about me. For I disliked hearing things that were true said about me, whereas
these other things, however serious they were, I did not mind at all. In small
matters I followed my own inclinations, and I still do so, without paying any
affection to what is most perfect. So I should like you to begin to realize this
at an early stage, and I want each of you to ponder how much there is to be
gained in every way by this virtue, and how, so far as I can see, there is
nothing to be lost by it. The chief thing we gain is being able, in some degree,
to follow the Lord.
It is a great help to meditate upon the great
gain which in any case this is bound to bring us, and to realize how, properly
speaking, we can never be blamed unjustly, since we are always full of faults,
and a just man falls seven times a day,
so that it would be a falsehood for us to say we have no sin. If, then, we are
not to blame for the thing that we are accused of, we are never wholly without
blame in the way that our good Jesus was.
Oh, my Lord! When I think in how many ways
Thou didst suffer, and in all of them undeservedly, I know not what to say for
myself, or what I can have been thinking about when I desired not to suffer, or
what I am doing when I make excuses for myself. Thou knowest, my Good, that if
there is anything good in me it comes from no other hands than Thine own. For
what is it to Thee, Lord, to give much instead of little? True, I do not deserve
it, but neither have I deserved the favours which Thou hast shown me already.
Can it be that I should wish a thing so evil as myself to be thought well of by
anyone, when they have said such wicked things of Thee, Who art good above all
other good? It is intolerable, my God, it is intolerable; nor would I that Thou
shouldst have to tolerate anything displeasing in Thine eyes being found in Thy
handmaiden. For see, Lord, mine eyes are blind and very little pleases them. Do
Thou give me light and make me truly to desire that all should hate me, since I
have so often left Thee, Who hast loved me with such faithfulness.
What is this, my God? What advantage do we
think to gain from giving pleasure to creatures? What does it matter to us if we
are blamed by them all, provided we are without blame in the sight of the Lord?
Oh, my sisters we shall never succeed in understanding this truth and we shall
never attain perfection unless we think and meditate upon what is real and upon
what is not. If there were no other gain than the confusion which will be felt
by the person who has blamed you when she sees that you have allowed yourselves
to be condemned unjustly, that would be a very great thing. Such an experience
uplifts the soul more than ten sermons. And we must all try to be preachers by
our deeds, since both the Apostle and our own lack of ability forbid us to be
preachers in word.
Never suppose that either the evil or the good
that you do will remain secret, however strict may be your enclosure. Do you
suppose, daughter, that, if you do not make excuses for yourself, there will not
be someone else who will defend you? Remember how the Lord took the Magdalen's
part in the Pharisee's house and also when her sister blamed her. He will not
treat you as rigorously as He treated Himself: it was not until He was on the
Cross that He had even a thief to defend Him. His Majesty, then, will put it
into somebody's mind to defend you; if He does not, it will be because there is
no need. This I have myself seen, and it is a fact, although I should not like
you to think too much of it, but rather to be glad when you are blamed, and in
due time you will see what profit you experience in your souls. For it is in
this way that you will begin to gain freedom; soon you will not care if they
speak ill or well of you; it will seem like someone else's business. It will be
as if two persons are talking in your presence and you are quite
uninterested in what they are saying because you are not actually being
addressed by them. So here: it becomes such a habit with us not to reply that it
seems as if they are not addressing us at all. This may seem impossible to those
of us who are very sensitive and not capable of great mortification. It is
indeed difficult at first, but I know that, with the Lord's help, the gradual
attainment of this freedom, and of renunciation and self-detachment, is quite
Describes the difference between perfection in
the lives of contemplatives and in the lives of those who are content with
mental prayer. Explains how it is sometimes possible for God to raise a
distracted soul to perfect contemplation and the reason for this. This chapter
and that which comes next are to be noted carefully.
I hope you do not think I have written too
much about this already; for I have only been placing the board, as they say.
You have asked me to tell you about the first steps in prayer; although God did
not lead me by them, my daughters I know no others, and even now I can hardly
have acquired these elementary virtues. But you may be sure that anyone who
cannot set out the pieces in a game of chess will never be able to play well,
and, if he does not know how to give check, he will not be able to bring about a
Now you will reprove me for talking about games, as we do not play them in this
house and are forbidden to do so. That will show you what kind of a mother God
has given you -- she even knows about vanities like this! However, they say that
the game is sometimes legitimate. How legitimate it will be for us to play it in
this way, and, if we play it frequently, how quickly we shall give checkmate to
this Divine King! He will not be able to move out of our check nor will He
desire to do so.
is the queen which gives the king most trouble in this game and all the other
pieces support her. There is no queen who can beat this King as well as humility
can; for humility brought Him down from Heaven into the Virgin's womb and with
humility we can draw Him into our souls by a single hair. Be sure that He will
give most humility to him who has most already and least to him who has least. I
cannot understand how humility exists, or can exist, without love, or love
without humility, and it is impossible for these two virtues to exist save where
there is great detachment from all created things.
will ask, my daughters, why I am talking to you about virtues when you have more
than enough books to teach you about them and when you want me to tell you only
about contemplation. My reply is that, if you had asked me about meditation, I
could have talked to you about it, and advised you all to practise it, even if
you do not possess the virtues. For this is the first step to be taken towards
the acquisition of the virtues and the very life of all Christians depends upon
their beginning it. No one, however lost a soul he may be, should neglect so
great a blessing if God inspires him to make use of it. All this I have already
written elsewhere, and so have many others who know what they are writing about,
which I certainly do not: God knows that.
contemplation, daughters, is another matter. This is an error which we all make:
if a person gets so far as to spend a short time each day in thinking about his
sins, as he is bound to do if he is a Christian in anything more than name,
people at once call him a great contemplative; and then they expect him to have
the rare virtues which a great contemplative is bound to possess; he may even
think he has them himself, but he will be quite wrong. In his early stages he
did not even know how to set out the chess-board, and thought that, in order to
give checkmate, it would be enough to be able to recognize the pieces. But that
is impossible, for this King does not allow Himself to be taken except by one
who surrenders wholly to Him.
Therefore, daughters, if you want me to tell
you the way to attain to contemplation, do allow me to speak at some length
about these things, even if at the time they do not seem to you very important,
for I think myself that they are. If you have no wish either to hear about them
or to practise them, continue your mental prayer all your life; but in that case
I assure you, and all persons who desire this blessing, that in my opinion
you will not attain true contemplation. I may, of course, be wrong about this,
as I am judging by my own experience, but I have been striving after
contemplation for twenty years.
I will now explain what mental prayer is, as
some of you will not understand this. God grant that we may practise it as we
should! I am afraid, however, that, if we do not achieve the virtues, this can
only be done with great labour, although the virtues are not necessary here in
such a high degree as they are for contemplation. I mean that the King of glory
will not come to our souls -- that is, so as to be united with them -- unless we
strive to gain the greatest virtues.
I will explain this, for if you once catch me out in something which is not the
truth, you will believe nothing I say -- and if I were to say something untrue
intentionally, from which may God preserve me, you would be right; but, if I
did, it would be because I knew no better or did not understand what I said. I
will tell you, then, that God is sometimes pleased to show great favour to
persons who are in an evil state [and to raise them to perfect contemplation],
so that by this means He may snatch them out of the hands of the devil. It
must be understood, I think, that such persons will not be in mortal sin at the
time. They may be in an evil state, and yet the Lord will allow them to see a
vision, even a very good one, in order to draw them back to Himself. But I
cannot believe that He would grant them contemplation. For that is a Divine
union, in which the Lord takes His delight in the soul and the soul takes its
delight in Him; and there is no way in which the Purity of the Heavens can take
pleasure in a soul that is unclean, nor can the Delight of the angels have
delight in that which is not His own. And we know that, by committing mortal
sin, a soul becomes the property of the devil, and must take its delight in him,
since it has given him pleasure; and, as we know, his delights, even in this
life, are continuous torture. My Lord will have no lack of children of His own
in whom He may rejoice without going and taking the children of others. Yet His
Majesty will do what He often does -- namely, snatch them out of the devil's
Oh, my Lord! How often do we cause Thee to
wrestle with the devil! Was it not enough that Thou shouldst have allowed him to
bear Thee in his arms when he took Thee to the pinnacle of the Temple in order
to teach us how to vanquish him? What a sight it would have been, daughters, to
see this Sun by the side of the darkness, and what fear that wretched creature
must have felt, though he would not have known why, since God did not allow Him
Blessed be such great pity and mercy; we
Christians ought to feel great shame at making Him wrestle daily, in the way I
have described, with such an unclean beast. Indeed, Lord, Thine arms had need to
be strong, but how was it that they were not weakened by the many [trials and]
tortures which Thou didst endure upon the Cross? Oh, how quickly all that is
borne for love's sake heals again! I really believe that, if Thou hadst lived
longer, the very love which Thou hast for us would have healed Thy wounds again
and Thou wouldst have needed no other medicine. Oh, my God, who will give me
such medicine for all the things which grieve and try me? How eagerly should I
desire them if it were certain that I could be cured by such a health-giving
Returning to what I was saying, there are
souls whom God knows He may gain for Himself by this means; seeing that they are
completely lost, His Majesty wants to leave no stone unturned to help them; and
therefore, though they are in a sad way and lacking in virtues, He gives them
consolations, favours and emotions
which begin to move their desires, and occasionally even brings them to a state
of contemplation, though rarely and not for long at a time. And this, as I say,
He does because He is testing them to see if that favour will not make them
anxious to prepare themselves to enjoy it often; if it does not, may they be
pardoned; pardon Thou us, Lord, for it is a dreadful thing that a soul whom Thou
hast brought near to Thyself should approach any earthly thing and become
attached to it.
For my own part I believe there are many souls
whom God our Lord tests in this way, and few who prepare themselves to enjoy
this favour. When the Lord does this and we ourselves leave nothing undone
either, I think it is certain that He never ceases from giving until He has
brought us to a very high degree of prayer. If we do not give ourselves to His
Majesty as resolutely as He gives Himself to us, He will be doing more than
enough for us if He leaves us in mental prayer and from time to time visits us
as He would visit servants in His vineyard. But these others are His beloved
children, whom He would never want to banish from His side; and, as they have no
desire to leave Him, He never does so. He seats them at His table, and feeds
them with His own food, almost taking the food from His mouth in order to give
Oh, what blessed care of us is this, my
daughters! How happy shall we be if by leaving these few, petty
things we can arrive at so high an estate! Even if the whole world should blame
you, and deafen you with its cries, what matter so long as you are in the
arms of God? He is powerful enough to free you from everything; for only once
did He command the world to be made and it was done; with Him, to will is to do.
Do not be afraid, then, if He is pleased to speak with you, for He does this for
the greater good of those who love Him. His love for those to whom He is dear is
by no means so weak: He shows it in every way possible. Why, then, my
sisters, do we not show Him love in so far as we can? Consider what a wonderful
exchange it is if we give Him our love and receive His. Consider that He can do
all things, and we can do nothing here below save as He enables us. And what is
it that we do for Thee, O Lord, our Maker? We do hardly anything [at all] --
just make some poor weak resolution. And, if His Majesty is pleased that by
doing a mere nothing we should win everything, let us not be so foolish as to
fail to do it.
O Lord! All our trouble comes to us from not
having our eyes fixed upon Thee. If we only looked at the way along which we are
walking, we should soon arrive; but we stumble and fall a thousand times and
stray from the way because, as I say, we do not set our eyes on the true Way.
One would think that no one had ever trodden it before, so new is it to us. It
is indeed a pity that this should sometimes happen. I mean, it hardly seems
that we are Christians at all or that we have ever in our lives read about the
Passion. Lord help us -- that we should be hurt about some small point of
honour! And then, when someone tells us not to worry about it, we think he is no
Christian. I used to laugh -- or sometimes I used to be distressed -- at the
things I heard in the world, and sometimes, for my sins, in religious Orders.
We refuse to be thwarted over the very smallest matter of precedence: apparently
such a thing is quite intolerable. We cry out at once: "Well, I'm no
saint"; I used to say that myself.
God deliver us, sisters, from saying "We
are not angels", or "We are not saints", whenever we commit some
imperfection. We may not be; but what a good thing it is for us to reflect that
we can be if we will only try and if God gives us His hand! Do not be afraid
that He will fail to do His part if we do not fail to do ours. And since we come
here for no other reason, let us put our hands to the plough, as they say. Let
there be nothing we know of which it would be a service to the Lord for us to
do, and which, with His help, we would not venture to take in hand. I should
like that kind of venturesomeness to be found in this house, as it always
increases humility. We must have a holy boldness, for God helps the strong,
being no respecter of persons;
and He will give courage to you and to me.
I have strayed far from the point. I want to
return to what I was saying -- that is, to explain the nature of mental prayer
and contemplation. It may seem irrelevant, but it is all done for your sakes;
you may understand it better as expressed in my rough style than in other books
which put it more elegantly. May the Lord grant me His favour, so that this may
be so. Amen.
How not all souls are fitted for contemplation
and how some take long to attain it. True humility will walk happily along the
road by which the Lord leads it.
I seem now to be beginning my treatment of
prayer, but there still remains a little for me to say, which is of great
importance because it has to do with humility, and in this house that is
necessary. For humility is the principal virtue which must be practised by those
who pray, and, as I have said, it is very fitting that you should try to learn
how to practise it often: that is one of the chief things to remember about it
and it is very necessary that it should be known by all who practise prayer. How
can anyone who is truly humble think herself as good as those who become
contemplatives? God, it is true, by His goodness and mercy, can make her so; but
my advice is that she should always sit down in the lowest place, for that is
what the Lord instructed us to do and taught us by His own example.
Let such a one make herself ready for God to lead her by this road if He so
wills; if He does not, the whole point of true humility is that she
should consider herself happy in serving the servants of the Lord and in
praising Him. For she deserves to be a slave of the devils in hell; yet His
Majesty has brought her here to live among His servants.
I do not say this without good reason, for, as
I have said, it is very important for us to realize that God does not lead us
all by the same road, and perhaps she who believes herself to be going along the
lowest of roads is the highest in the Lord's eyes. So it does not follow that,
because all of us in this house practise prayer, we are all perforce to
be contemplatives. That is impossible; and those of us who are not would be
greatly discouraged if we did not grasp the truth that contemplation is
something given by God, and, as it is not necessary for salvation and God does
not ask it of us before He gives us our reward, we must not suppose that anyone
else will require it of us. We shall not fail to attain perfection if we do what
has been said here; we may, in fact, gain much more merit, because what we do
will cost us more labour; the Lord will be treating us like those who are strong
and will be laying up for us all that we cannot enjoy in this life. Let us not
be discouraged, then, and give up prayer or cease doing what the rest do; for
the Lord sometimes tarries long, and gives us as great rewards all at once as He
has been giving to others over many years.
I myself spent over fourteen years without
ever being able to meditate except while reading. There must be many people like
this, and others who cannot meditate even after reading, but can only recite
vocal prayers, in which they chiefly occupy themselves and take a certain
pleasure. Some find their thoughts wandering so much that they cannot
concentrate upon the same thing, but are always restless, to such an extent
that, if they try to fix their thoughts upon God, they are attacked by a
thousand foolish ideas and scruples and doubts concerning the Faith. I
know a very old woman, leading a most excellent life -- I wish mine were like
hers -- a penitent and a great servant of God, who for many years has been
spending hours and hours in vocal prayer, but from mental prayer can get no help
at all; the most she can do is to dwell upon each of her vocal prayers as she
says them. There are a great many other people just like this; if they
are humble, they will not, I think, be any the worse off in the end, but very
much in the same state as those who enjoy numerous consolations. In one way they
may feel safer, for we cannot tell if consolations come from God or are sent by
the devil. If they are not of God, they are the more dangerous; for the chief
object of the devil's work on earth is to fill us with pride. If they are of
God, there is no reason for fear, for they bring humility with them, as I
explained in my other book at great length.
walk in humility, and always suspect that if they fail to receive consolations
the fault is theirs, and are always most anxious to make progress. They never
see a person shedding a tear without thinking themselves very backward in God's
service unless they are doing the same, whereas they may perhaps be much more
advanced. For tears, though good, are not invariably signs of perfection; there
is always greater safety in humility, mortification, detachment and other
virtues. There is no reason for fear, and you must not be afraid that you will
fail to attain the perfection of the greatest contemplatives.
Saint Martha was holy, but we are not told
that she was a contemplative. What more do you want than to be able to grow to
be like that blessed woman, who was worthy to receive Christ our Lord so often
in her house, and to prepare meals for Him, and to serve Him and perhaps to eat
at table with Him? If she had been absorbed in devotion [all the time], as the
Magdalen was, there would have been no one to prepare a meal for this Divine
Guest. Now remember that this little community is Saint Martha's house and that
there must be people of all kinds here. Nuns who are called to the active life
must not murmur at others who are very much absorbed in contemplation, for
contemplatives know that, though they themselves may be silent, the Lord will
speak for them, and this, as a rule, makes them forget themselves and everything
Remember that there must be someone to cook
the meals and count yourselves happy in being able to serve like Martha. Reflect
that true humility consists to a great extent in being ready for what the Lord
desires to do with you and happy that He should do it, and in always considering
yourselves unworthy to be called His servants. If contemplation and mental and
vocal prayer and tending the sick and serving in the house and working at even
the lowliest tasks are of service to the Guest who comes to stay with us and to
eat and take His recreation with us, what should it matter to us if we do one of
these things rather than another?
I do not mean that it is for us to say what we
shall do, but that we must do our best in everything, for the choice is not ours
but the Lord's. If after many years He is pleased to give each of us her office,
it will be a curious kind of humility for you to wish to choose; let the Lord of
the house do that, for He is wise and powerful and knows what is fitting for you
and for Himself as well. Be sure that, if you do what lies in your power and
prepare yourself for high contemplation with the perfection
aforementioned, then, if He does not grant it you (and I think He will not fail
to do so if you have true detachment and humility), it will be because He has
laid up this joy for you so as to give it you in Heaven, and because, as I have
said elsewhere, He is pleased to treat you like people who are strong and give
you a cross to bear on earth like that which His Majesty Himself always bore.
What better sign of friendship is there than
for Him to give you what He gave Himself? It might well be that you would not
have had so great a reward from contemplation. His judgments are His own; we
must not meddle in them. It is indeed a good thing that the choice is not ours;
for, if it were, we should think it the more restful life and all become great
contemplatives. Oh, how much we gain if we have no desire to gain what seems to
us best and so have no fear of losing, since God never permits a truly mortified
person to lose anything except when such loss will bring him greater gain!
Continues the same subject and shows how much
greater are the trials of contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter
offers great consolation to actives.
I tell you, then, daughters -- those of you
whom God is not leading by this road [of contemplation] -- that, as I know from
what I have seen and been told by those who are following this road, they are
not bearing a lighter cross than you; you would be amazed at all the ways and
manners in which God sends them crosses. I know about both types of life and I
am well aware that the trials given by God to contemplatives are intolerable;
and they are of such a kind that, were He not to feed them with consolations,
they could not be borne. It is clear that, since God leads those whom He most
loves by the way of trials, the more He loves them, the greater will be their
trials; and there is no reason to suppose that He hates contemplatives, since
with His own mouth He praises them and calls them friends.
To suppose that He would admit to His close
friendship pleasure-loving people who are free from all trials is ridiculous. I
feel quite sure that God gives them much greater trials; and that He leads them
by a hard and rugged road, so that they sometimes think they are lost and will
have to go back and begin again. Then His Majesty is obliged to give them
sustenance -- not water, but wine, so that they may become inebriated by it and
not realize what they are going through and what they are capable of bearing.
Thus I find few true contemplatives who are not courageous and resolute in
suffering; for, if they are weak, the first thing the Lord does is to give them
courage so that they may fear no trials that may come to them.
I think, when those who lead an active life
occasionally see contemplatives receiving consolations, they suppose that they
never experience anything else. But I can assure you that you might not be able
to endure their sufferings for as long as a day. The point is that the Lord
knows everyone as he really is and gives each his work to do -- according to
what He sees to be most fitting for his soul, and for His own Self, and for the
good of his neighbour. Unless you have omitted to prepare yourselves for your
work you need have no fear that it will be lost. Note that I say we must all
strive to do this, for we are here for no other purpose; and we must not strive
merely for a year, or for two years or ten years, or it will look as if we are
abandoning our work like cowards. It is well that the Lord should see we are not
leaving anything undone. We are like soldiers who, however long they have
served, must always be ready for their captain to send them away on any duty
which he wants to entrust to them, since it is he who is paying them. And how
much better is the payment given by our King than by people on this earth! For
the unfortunate soldiers die, and God knows who pays them after that!
When their captain sees they are all present,
and anxious for service, he assigns duties to them according to their fitness, though
not so well as our Heavenly Captain. But if they were not present, He would
give them neither pay
nor service orders. So practise mental prayer, sisters; or, if any of you cannot
do that, vocal prayer, reading and colloquies with God, as I shall explain to
you later. Do not neglect the hours of prayer which are observed by all the
nuns; you never know when the Spouse will call you (do not let what happened to
the foolish virgins happen to you) and if He will give you fresh trials under
the disguise of consolations. If He does not, you may be sure that you are not
fit for them and that what you are doing is suitable for you. That is where both
merit and humility come in, when you really think that you are not fit for what
you are doing.
Go cheerfully about whatever services you are
ordered to do, as I have said; if such a servant is truly humble she will be
blessed in her active life and will never make any complaint save of herself. I
would much rather be like her than like some contemplatives. Leave others to
wage their own conflicts, which are not light ones. The standard-bearer is not a
combatant, yet none the less he is exposed to great danger, and, inwardly, must
suffer more than anyone, for he cannot defend himself, as he is carrying the
standard, which he must not allow to leave his hands, even if he is cut to
pieces. Just so contemplatives have to bear aloft the standard of humility and
must suffer all the blows which are aimed at them without striking any
themselves. Their duty is to suffer as Christ did, to raise the Cross on high,
not to allow it to leave their hands, whatever the perils in which they find
themselves, and not to let themselves be found backward in suffering. It is for
this reason that they are given such an honourable duty. Let the contemplative
consider what he is doing; for, if he lets the standard fall, the battle will be
lost. Great harm, I think, is done to those who are not so far advanced if those
whom they consider as captains and friends of God let them see them acting in a
way unbefitting to their office.
The other soldiers do as best they can; at
times they will withdraw from some position of extreme danger, and, as no one
observes them, they suffer no loss of honour. But these others have all eyes
fixed on them and cannot move. Their office, then, is a noble one, and the King
confers great honour and favour upon anyone to whom He gives it, and who, in
receiving it, accepts no light obligation. So, sisters, as we do not
understand ourselves and know not what we ask, let us leave everything to
the Lord, Who knows us better than we know ourselves. True humility consists
in our being satisfied with what is given us. There are some people who seem
to want to ask favours from God as a right. A pretty kind of humility that is!
He Who knows us all does well in seldom giving things to such persons, He sees
clearly that they are unable to drink of His chalice.
If you want to know whether you have made
progress or not, sisters, you may be sure that you have if each of you thinks
herself the worst of all and shows that she thinks this by acting for the profit
and benefit of the rest. Progress has nothing to do with enjoying the greatest
number of consolations in prayer, or with raptures, visions or favours [often]
given by the Lord, the value of which we cannot estimate until we reach the
world to come. The other things I have been describing are current coin, an
unfailing source of revenue and a perpetual inheritance -- not payments liable
at any time to cease, like those favours which are given us and then come to an
end. I am referring to the great virtues of humility, mortification and an
obedience so extremely strict that we never go an inch beyond the
superior's orders, knowing that these orders come from God since she is in His
place. It is to this duty of obedience that you must attach the greatest
importance. It seems to me that anyone who does not have it is not a nun at all,
and so I am saying no more about it, as I am speaking to nuns whom I believe to
be good, or, at least, desirous of being so. So well known is the matter, and so
important, that a single word will suffice to prevent you from forgetting it.
I mean that, if anyone is under a vow of
obedience and goes astray through not taking the greatest care to observe these
vows with the highest degree of perfection, I do not know why she is in the
convent. I can assure her, in any case, that, for so long as she fails in this
respect, she will never succeed in leading the contemplative life, or even in
leading a good active life: of that I am absolutely certain.
And even a person who has not this obligation, but who wishes or tries to
achieve contemplation, must, if she would walk safely, be fully resolved to
surrender her will to a confessor who is himself a contemplative
and will understand her. It is a well-known fact that she will make more
progress in this way in a year than in a great many years if she acts otherwise.
As this does not affect you, however, I will say no more about it.
I conclude, my daughters, [by saying] that
these are the virtues which I desire you to possess and to strive to obtain and
of which you should cherish a holy envy. Do not be troubled because you have no
experience of those other kinds of devotion: they are very unreliable. It may be
that to some people they come from God, and yet that if they came to you it
might be because His Majesty had permitted you to be deceived and deluded by the
devil, as He has permitted others: there is danger in this for women. Why
do you want to serve the Lord in so doubtful a way when there are so many ways
of [serving Him in] safety? Who wants to plunge you into these perils? I have
said a great deal about this, because I am sure it will be useful, for this
nature of ours is weak, though His Majesty will strengthen those on whom He
wishes to bestow contemplation. With regard to the rest, I am glad to have given
them this advice, which will teach contemplatives humility also. If you say
you have no need of it, daughters, some of you may perhaps find it pleasant
reading. May the Lord, for His own sake, give us light to follow His will in
all things and we shall have no cause for fear.
Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who
cannot reason with the understanding.
It is a long time
since I wrote the last chapter and I have had no chance of returning to my
writing, so that, without reading through what I have written, I cannot remember
what I said. However, I must not spend too much time at this, so it will be best
if I go right on
without troubling about the connection. For those with orderly minds, and for
souls who practise prayer and can be a great deal in their own company, many
books have been written, and these are so good and are the work of such
competent people that you would be making a mistake if you paid heed to anything
about prayer that you learned from me. There are books, as I say, in which the
mysteries of the life of the Lord and of His sacred Passion are described
in short passages, one for each day of the week; there are also meditations on
the Judgment, on hell, on our own nothingness and on all that we owe to God, and
these books are excellent both as to their teaching and as to the way in which
they plan the beginning and the end of the time of prayer.
There is no need to tell anyone who is capable of practising prayer in this way,
and has already formed the habit of doing so, that by this good road the Lord
will bring her to the harbour of light. If she begins so well, her end will be
good also; and all who can walk along this road will walk restfully and
securely, for one always walks restfully when the understanding is kept in
restraint. It is something else that I wish to treat of and help you about if
the Lord is pleased to enable me to do so; if not, you will at least realize
that there are many souls who suffer this trial, and you will not be so much
distressed at undergoing it yourselves at first, but will find some comfort
There are some souls, and some minds, as
unruly as horses not yet broken in. No one can stop them: now they go this way,
now that way; they are never still. Although a skilled rider mounted on such
a horse may not always be in danger, he will be so sometimes; and, even if he is
not concerned about his life, there will always be the risk of his stumbling,
so that he has to ride with great care.
Some people are either like this by nature or God permits them to become so. I
am very sorry for them; they seem to me like people who are very thirsty and see
water a long way off, yet, when they try to go to it, find someone who all the
time is barring their path -- at the beginning of their journey, in the middle
and at the end. And when, after all their labour -- and the labour is tremendous
-- they have conquered the first of their enemies, they allow themselves to be
conquered by the second, and they prefer to die of thirst rather than drink
water which is going to cost them so much trouble. Their strength has come to an
end; their courage has failed them; and, though some of them are strong enough
to conquer their second enemies as well as their first, when they meet the third
group their strength comes to an end, though perhaps they are only a couple of
steps from the fountain of living water, of which the Lord said to the Samaritan
woman that whosoever drinks of it shall not thirst again.
How right and how very true is that which comes from the lips of Truth
Himself! In this life the soul will never thirst for anything more, although its
thirst for things in the life to come will exceed any natural thirst that we can
imagine here below. How the soul thirsts to experience this thirst! For it knows
how very precious it is, and, grievous though it be and exhausting, it creates
the very satisfaction by which this thirst is allayed. It is therefore a thirst
which quenches nothing but desire for earthly things, and, when God slakes it,
satisfies in such a way that one of the greatest favours He can bestow on the
soul is to leave it with this longing, so that it has an even greater desire to
drink of this water again.
Water has three properties -- three relevant
properties which I can remember, that is to say, for it must have many more. One
of them is that of cooling things; however hot we are, water tempers the heat,
and it will even put out a large fire, except when there is tar in the fire, in
which case, they say, it only burns the more. God help me! What a
marvellous thing it is that, when this fire is strong and fierce and subject to
none of the elements, water should make it grow fiercer, and, though its
contrary element, should not quench it but only cause it to burn the more! It
would be very useful to be able to discuss this with someone who understands
philosophy; if I knew the properties of things I could explain it myself; but,
though I love thinking about it, I cannot explain it -- perhaps I do not even
You will be glad, sisters, if God grants you
to drink of this water, as are those who drink of it now, and you will
understand how a genuine love of God, if it is really strong, and completely
free from earthly things, and able to rise above them, is master of all the
elements and of the whole world. And, as water proceeds from the earth, there is
no fear of its quenching this fire, which is the love of God; though the two
elements are contraries, it has no power over it. The fire is absolute master,
and subject to nothing. You will not be surprised, then, sisters, at the way I
have insisted in this book that you should strive to obtain this freedom. Is it
not a funny thing that a poor little nun of Saint Joseph's should attain
mastery over the whole earth and all the elements? What wonder that the saints
did as they pleased with them by the help of God? Fire and water obeyed Saint
Martin; even birds and fishes were obedient to Saint Francis; and similarly with
many other saints. Helped as they were by God, and themselves doing all that
was in their power, they could almost have claimed this as a right. It was
clear that they were masters over everything in the world, because they had
striven so hard to despise it and subjected themselves to the Lord of the world
with all their might. So, as I say, the water, which springs from the earth, has
no power over this fire. Its flames rise high and its source is in nothing so
base as the earth. There are other fires of love for God -- small ones, which
may be quenched by the least little thing. But this fire will most certainly not
be so quenched.
Even should a whole sea of temptations assail it, they will not keep it from
burning or prevent it from gaining the mastery over them.
Water which comes down as rain from Heaven
will quench the flames even less, for in that case the fire and the water are
not contraries, but have the same origin. Do not fear that the one element may
harm the other; each helps the other and they produce the same effect. For the
water of genuine tears -- that is, tears which come from true prayer -- is a
good gift from the King of Heaven; it fans the flames and keeps them alight,
while the fire helps to cool the water. God bless me! What a beautiful and
wonderful thing it is that fire should cool water! But it does; and it even
freezes all worldly affections, when it is combined with the living water which
comes from Heaven, the source of the above-mentioned tears, which are given us,
and not acquired by our diligence. Certainly, then, nothing worldly has warmth
enough left in it to induce us to cling to it unless it is something which
increases this fire, the nature of which is not to be easily satisfied, but, if
possible, to enkindle the entire world.
The second property of water is that it
cleanses things that are not clean already. What would become of the world if
there were no water for washing? Do you know what cleansing properties there are
in this living water, this heavenly water, this clear water, when it is
unclouded, and free from mud, and comes down from Heaven? Once the soul has
drunk of it I am convinced that it makes it pure and clean of all its sins; for,
as I have written, God does not allow us to drink of this water of perfect
contemplation whenever we like: the choice is not ours; this Divine union is
something quite supernatural, given that it may cleanse the soul and leave it
pure and free from the mud and misery in which it has been plunged because of
its sins. Other consolations, excellent as they may be, which come through the
intermediacy of the understanding, are like water running all over the ground.
This cannot be drunk directly from the source; and its course is never free from
clogging impurities, so that it is neither so pure nor so clean as the other. I
should not say that this prayer I have been describing, which comes from
reasoning with the intellect, is living water -- I mean so far as my
understanding of it goes. For, despite our efforts, there is always something
clinging to the soul, through the influence of the body and of the baseness of
our nature, which we should prefer not to be there.
I will explain myself further. We are
meditating on the nature of the world, and on the way in which everything will
come to an end, so that we may learn to despise it, when, almost without
noticing it, we find ourselves ruminating on things in the world that we love.
We try to banish these thoughts, but we cannot help being slightly distracted by
thinking of things that have happened, or will happen, of things we have done
and of things we are going to do. Then we begin to think of how we can get rid
of these thoughts; and that sometimes plunges us once again into the same
danger. It is not that we ought to omit such meditations; but we need to retain
our misgivings about them and not to grow careless. In contemplation the Lord
Himself relieves us of this care, for He will not trust us to look after
ourselves. So dearly does He love our souls that He prevents them from rushing
into things which may do them harm just at this time when He is anxious to help
them. So He calls them to His side at once, and in a single moment reveals more
truths to them and gives them a clearer insight into the nature of everything
than they could otherwise gain in many years. For our sight is poor and the dust
which we meet on the road blinds us; but in contemplation the Lord brings us to
the end of the day's journey without our understanding how.
The third property of water is that it
satisfies and quenches thirst. Thirst, I think, means the desire for something
which is very necessary for us -- so necessary that if we have none of it we
shall die. It is a strange thing that if we have no water we die, and that we
can also lose our lives through having too much of it, as happens to many people
who get drowned. Oh, my Lord, if only one could be plunged so deeply into this
living water that one's life would end! Can that be? Yes: this love and desire
for God can increase so much that human nature is unable to bear it, and so
there have been persons who have died of it. I knew one person
who had this living water in such great abundance that she would almost have
been drawn out of herself by raptures if God had not quickly succoured her. She
had such a thirst, and her desire grew so greatly, that she realized clearly
that she might quite possibly die of thirst if something were not done for her.
I say that she would almost have been drawn out of herself because in this state
the soul is in repose. So intolerable does such a soul find the world that it
seems to be overwhelmed,
but it comes to life again in God; and in this way His Majesty enables it to
enjoy experiences which, if it had remained within itself, would perforce have
cost it its life.
Let it be understood from this that, as there
can be nothing in our supreme Good which is not perfect, all that He gives is
for our welfare; and, however abundant this water which He gives may be, in
nothing that He gives can there be superfluity. For, if His gift is abundant, He
also bestows on the soul, as I have said, an abundant capacity for drinking;
just as a glassmaker moulds his vessels to the size he thinks necessary, so that
there is room for what he wishes to pour into them. As our desires for this
water come from ourselves, they are never free from fault; any good that there
may be in them comes from the help of the Lord. But we are so indiscreet that,
as the pain is sweet and pleasant, we think we can never have too much of it. We
have an immeasurable longing for it,
and, so far as is possible on earth, we stimulate this longing: sometimes this
goes so far as to cause death. How happy is such a death! And yet by living one
might perhaps have helped others to die of the desire for it. I believe the
devil has something to do with this: knowing how much harm we can do him by
living, he tempts us to be indiscreet in our penances and so to ruin our health,
which is a matter of no small moment to him.
I advise anyone who attains to an experience
of this fierce thirst to watch herself carefully, for I think she will have to
contend with this temptation. She may not die of her thirst, but her health will
be ruined, and she will involuntarily give her feelings outward expression,
which ought at all costs to be avoided. Sometimes, however, all our diligence in
this respect is unavailing and we are unable to hide our emotions as much as we
should like. Whenever we are assailed by these strong impulses stimulating the
increase of our desire, let us take great care not to add to them ourselves but
to check them gently
by thinking of something else. For our own nature may be playing as great a part
in producing these feelings as our love. There are some people of this type
who have keen desires for all kinds of things, even for bad things, but I do not
think such people can have achieved great mortification, for mortification is
always profitable. It seems foolish to check so good a thing as this desire, but
it is not. I am not saying that the desire should be uprooted -- only checked;
one may be able to do this by stimulating some other desire which is equally
In order to explain myself better I will give
an illustration. A man has a great desire to be with God, as Saint Paul had, and
to be loosed from this prison.
This causes him pain which yet is in itself a great joy, and no small degree of
mortification will be needed if he is to check it -- in fact, he will not always
be able to do so. But when he finds it oppressing him so much he may almost lose
his reason. I saw this happen to someone not long ago; she was of an impetuous
nature, but so accustomed to curbing her own will that, from what I had seen at
other times, I thought her will was completely annihilated; yet, when I saw her
for a moment, the great stress and strain caused by her efforts to hide her
feelings had all but destroyed her reason.
In such an extreme case, I think, even did the desire come from the Spirit of
God, it would be true humility to be afraid; for we must not imagine that we
have sufficient charity to bring us to such a state of oppression.
I shall not think it at all wrong (if it be
possible, I mean, for it may not always be so) for us to change our desire by
reflecting that, if we live, we have more chance of serving God, and that we
might do this by giving light to some soul which otherwise would be lost; as
well as that, if we serve Him more, we shall deserve to enjoy Him more, and
grieve that we have served Him so little. These are consolations appropriate to
such great trials: they will allay our pain and we shall gain a great deal by
them if in order to serve the Lord Himself we are willing to spend a long time
here below and to live with our grief. It is as if a person were suffering a
great trial or a grievous affliction and we consoled him by telling him to have
patience and leave himself in God's hands so that His will might be fulfilled in
him: it is always best to leave ourselves in God's hands.
And what if the devil had anything to do with
these strong desires? This might be possible, as I think is suggested in
Cassian's story of a hermit, leading the austerest of lives, who was persuaded
by the devil to throw himself down a well so that he might see God the sooner.
I do not think this hermit can have served God either humbly or efficiently, for
the Lord is faithful and His Majesty would never allow a servant of His to be
blinded in a matter in which the truth was so clear. But, of course, if the
desire had come from God, it would have done the hermit no harm; for such
desires bring with them illumination, moderation and discretion. This is
fitting, but our enemy and adversary seeks to harm us wherever he can; and, as
he is not unwatchful, we must not be so either. This is an important matter in
many respects: for example, we must shorten our time of prayer, however much joy
it gives us, if we see our bodily strength waning or find that our head aches:
discretion is most necessary in everything.
Why do you suppose, daughters, that I have
tried, as people say, to describe the end of the battle before it has begun and
to point to its reward by telling you about the blessing which comes from
drinking of the heavenly source of this living water? I have done this so that
you may not be distressed at the trials and annoyances of the road, and may
tread it with courage and not grow weary; for, as I have said, it may be that,
when you have arrived, and have only to stoop and drink of the spring, you may
fail to do so and lose this blessing, thinking that you have not the strength to
attain it and that it is not for you.
Remember, the Lord invites us all; and, since
He is Truth Itself, we cannot doubt Him. If His invitation were not a general
one, He would not have said: "I will give you to drink." He might have
said: "Come, all of you, for after all you will lose nothing by coming; and
I will give drink to those whom I think fit for it." But, as He said we
were all to come, without making this condition, I feel sure that none will fail
to receive this living water unless they cannot keep to the path.
May the Lord, Who promises it, give us grace, for His Majesty's own sake, to
seek it as it must be sought.
Describes how, in one way or another, we never
lack consolation on the road of prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this
subject continually in their conversation.
In this last chapter I seem to have been
contradicting what I had previously said, as, in consoling those who had not
reached the contemplative state, I told them that the Lord had different roads
by which they might come to Him, just as He also had many mansions.
I now repeat this: His Majesty, being Who He is and understanding our weakness,
has provided for us. But He did not say: "Some must come by this way and
others by that." His mercy is so great that He has forbidden none to strive
to come and drink of this fountain of life. Blessed be He for ever! What good
reasons there would have been for His forbidding me!
But as He did not order me to cease from
drinking when I had begun to do so, but caused me to be plunged into the depths
of the water, it is certain that He will forbid no one to come: indeed, He calls
us publicly, and in a loud voice, to do so.
Yet, as He is so good, He does not force us to drink, but enable those who wish
to follow Him to drink in many ways so that none may lack comfort or die of
thirst. For from this rich spring flow many streams -- some large, others small,
and also little pools for children, which they find quite large enough, for the
sight of a great deal of water would frighten them: by children, I mean those
who are in the early stages.
Therefore, sisters, have no fear that you will die of thirst on this road; you
will never lack so much of the water of comfort that your thirst will be
intolerable; so take my advice and do not tarry on the way, but strive like
strong men until you die in the attempt, for you are here for nothing else than
to strive. If you always pursue this determination to die rather than fail to
reach the end of the road, the Lord may bring you through this life with a
certain degree of thirst, but in the life which never ends He will give you
great abundance to drink and you will have no fear of its failing you. May the
Lord grant us never to fail Him. Amen.
Now, in order to set out upon this
aforementioned road so that we do not go astray at the very start, let us
consider for a moment how the first stage of our journey is to be begun, for
that is the most important thing -- or rather, every part of the journey is of
importance to the whole. I do not mean to say that no one who has not the
resolution that I am going to describe should set out upon the road, for the
Lord will gradually bring her nearer to perfection. And even if she did no more
than take one step, this alone has such virtue that there is no fear of her
losing it or of failing to be very well rewarded. We might compare her to
someone who has a rosary with a bead specially indulgenced:
one prayer in itself will bring her something, and the more she uses the bead
the more she will gain; but if she left it in a box and never took it out it
would be better for her not to have it. So, although she may never go any
farther along the same road, the short distance she has progressed will give her
light and thus help her to go along other roads, and the farther she goes the
more light she will gain. In fact, she may be sure that she will do herself no
kind of harm through having started on the road, even if she leaves it, for good
never leads to evil. So, daughters, whenever you meet people and find them
well-disposed and even attracted to the life of prayer, try to remove from them
all fear of beginning a course which may bring them such great blessings.
For the love of God, I beg you always to see to it that your conversation is
benefiting those with whom you speak. For your prayers must be for the profit of
their souls; and, since you must always pray to the Lord for them, sisters, you
would seem to be doing ill if you did not strive to benefit them in every
If you would be a good kinswoman, this is true
friendship; if you would be a good friend, you may be sure that this is the only
possible way. Let the truth be in your hearts, as it will be if you practise
meditation, and you will see clearly what love we are bound to have for our
neighbours. This is no time for child's play, sisters, and these worldly
friendships, good though they may be, seem no more than that. Neither with your
relatives nor with anyone else must you use such phrases as "If you love
me", or "Don't you love me?" unless you have in view some noble
end and the profit of the person to whom you are speaking. It may be necessary,
in order to get a relative -- a brother or some such person -- to listen to the
truth and accept it, to prepare him for it by using such phrases and showing him
signs of love, which are always pleasing to sense. He may possibly be more
affected, and influenced, by one kind word, as such phrases are called, than by
a great deal which you might say about God, and then there would be plenty of
opportunities for you to talk to him about God afterwards. I do not forbid such
phrases, therefore, provided you use them in order to bring someone profit. But
for no other reason can there be any good in them and they may even do harm
without your being aware of it. Everybody knows that you are nuns and that your
business is prayer. Do not say to yourselves: "I have no wish to be
considered good," for what people see in you is bound to bring them either
profit or harm. People like nuns, on whom is laid the obligation to speak of
nothing save in the spirit of God,
act very wrongly if they dissemble in this way, except occasionally for the
purpose of doing greater good. Your intercourse and conversation must be like
this: let any who wish to talk to you learn your language; and, if they will
not, be careful never to learn theirs: it might lead you to hell.
It matters little if you are considered
ill-bred and still less if you are taken for hypocrites: indeed, you will gain
by this, because only those who understand your language will come to see you.
If one knows no Arabic, one has no desire to talk a great deal with a person who
knows no other language. So worldly people will neither weary you nor do you
harm -- and it would do you no small harm to have to begin to learn and
talk a new language; you would spend all your time learning it. You cannot know
as well as I do, for I have found it out by experience, how very bad this is for
the soul; no sooner does it learn one thing than it has to forget another and it
never has any rest. This you must at all costs avoid; for peace and quiet in the
soul are of great importance on the road which we are about to tread.
If those with whom you converse wish to learn
your language, it is not for you to teach it to them, but you can tell them what
wealth they will gain by learning it. Never grow tried of this, but do it
piously, lovingly and prayerfully, with a view to helping them; they will then
realize what great gain it brings, and will go and seek a master to teach
it them. Our Lord would be doing you no light favour if through your agency He
were to arouse some soul to obtain this blessing. When once one begins to
describe this road, what a large number of things there are to be said about it,
even by those who have trodden it as unsuccessfully as I have! I only wish I
could write with both hands, so as not to forget one thing while I am saying
another. May it please the Lord, sisters, that you may be enabled to speak
of it better than I have done.
Describes the great importance of setting out
upon the practice of prayer with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties
put in the way by the devil.
Do not be dismayed, daughters, at the number
of things which you have to consider before setting out on this Divine journey,
which is the royal road to Heaven.
By taking this road we gain such precious treasures that it is no wonder if the
cost seems to us a high one. The time will come when we shall realize that all
we have paid has been nothing at all by comparison with the greatness of our
Let us now return to those who wish to travel
on this road, and will not halt until they reach their goal, which is the place
where they can drink of this water of life. Although in some book or other --
in several, in fact -- I have read what a good thing it is to begin in this way,
I do not think anything will be lost if I speak of it here. As I say, it is
most important -- all-important, indeed -- that they should begin well by making
an earnest and most determined resolve
not to halt until they reach their goal, whatever may come, whatever may happen
to them, however hard they may have to labour, whoever may complain of them,
whether they reach their goal or die on the road or have no heart to confront
the trials which they meet, whether the very world dissolves before them. Yet
again and again people will say to us: "It is dangerous",
"So-and-so was lost through doing this", "Someone else got into
wrong ways", "Some other person, who was always praying, fell just the
same", "It is bad for virtue", "It is not meant for women;
it may lead them into delusions", "They would do better to stick to
their spinning", "These subtleties are of no use to them",
"It is quite enough for them to say their Paternoster and Ave Maria."
With this last remark, sisters, I quite agree.
Of course it is enough! It is always a great thing to base your prayer on
prayers which were uttered by the very lips of the Lord. People are quite right
to say this, and, were it not for our great weakness and the lukewarmness of our
devotion, there would be no need for any other systems of prayer or for any
other books at all. I am speaking to souls who are unable to recollect
themselves by meditating upon other mysteries, and who think they need special
methods of prayer; some people have such ingenious minds
that nothing is good enough for them! So I think I will start to lay down some
rules for each part of our prayer -- beginning, middle and end -- although I
shall not spend long on the higher stages. They cannot take books from you, and,
if you are studious and humble, you need nothing more.
I have always been fond of the words of the
Gospels and have found more recollection in them than in the most carefully
planned books -- especially books of which the authors were not fully approved,
and which I never wanted to read. If I keep close to this Master of wisdom, He
may perhaps give me some thoughts
which will help you. I do not say that I will explain these Divine prayers, for
that I should not presume to do, and there are a great many explanations of them
already. Even were there none, it would be ridiculous for me to attempt any. But
I will write down a few thoughts on the words of the Paternoster; for sometimes,
when we are most anxious to nurture our devotion, consulting a great many books
will kill it. When a master is himself giving a lesson, he treats his pupil
kindly and likes him to enjoy being taught and does his utmost to help him
learn. Just so will this heavenly Master do with us.
Pay no heed, then, to anyone who tries to
frighten you or depicts to you the perils of the way. What a strange idea that
one could ever expect to travel on a road infested by thieves, for the purpose
of gaining some great treasure, without running into danger! Worldly people like
to take life peaceably; but they will deny themselves sleep, perhaps for nights
on end, in order to gain a farthing's profit, and they will leave you no peace
either of body or of soul. If, when you are on the way to gaining this treasure,
or to taking it by force (as the Lord says the violent do) and are travelling by
this royal road -- this safe road trodden by our King and by His elect and His
saints -- if even then they tell you it is full of danger and make you so
afraid, what will be the dangers encountered by those who think they will be
able to gain this treasure and yet are not on the road to it?
Oh, my daughters, how incomparably greater
must be the risks they run! And yet they have no idea of this until they fall
headlong into some real danger. Having perhaps no one to help them, they lose
this water altogether, and drink neither much nor little of it, either from a
pool or from a stream. How do you suppose they can do without a drop of this
water and yet travel along a road on which there are so many adversaries to
fight? Of course, sooner or later, they will die of thirst; for we must all
journey to this fountain, my daughters, whether we will or no, though we may not
all do so in the same way. Take my advice, then, and let none mislead you by
showing you any other road than that of prayer.
I am not now discussing whether or no everyone
must practise mental or vocal prayer; but I do say that you yourselves require
both. For prayer is the duty of religious. If anyone tells you it is dangerous,
look upon that person himself as your principal danger and flee from his
company. Do not forget this, for it is advice that you may possibly need. It
will be dangerous for you if you do not possess humility and the other virtues;
but God forbid that the way of prayer should be a way of danger! This fear seems
to have been invented by the devil, who has apparently been very clever in
bringing about the fall of some who practise prayer.
See how blind the world is! It never thinks of
all the thousands who have fallen into heresies and other great evils through
yielding to distractions and not practising prayer. As against these multitudes
there are a few who did practise prayer and whom the devil has been successful
enough at his own trade to cause to fall: in doing this he has also caused some
to be very much afraid of virtuous practices. Let those who make use of this
pretext to absolve themselves from such practices take heed, for in order to
save themselves from evil they are fleeing from good. I have never heard of such
a wicked invention; it must indeed come from the devil. Oh, my Lord, defend
Thyself. See how Thy words are being misunderstood. Permit no such weakness in
There is one great blessing -- you will always
find a few people ready to help you. For it is a characteristic of the true
servant of God, to whom His Majesty has given light to follow the true path,
that, when beset by these fears, his desire not to stop only increases. He sees
clearly whence the devil's blows are coming, but he parries each blow and breaks
his adversary's head. The anger which this arouses in the devil is greater than
all the satisfaction which he receives from the pleasures given him by others.
When, in troublous times, he has sown his tares, and seems to be leading men
everywhere in his train, half-blinded, and [deceiving them into] believing
themselves to be zealous for the right, God raises up someone to open their eyes
and bid them look at the fog with which the devil has obscured their path. (How
great God is! To think that just one man, or perhaps two, can do more by telling
the truth than can a great many men all together!) And then they gradually begin
to see the path again and God gives them courage. If people say there is danger
in prayer, this servant of God, by his deeds if not by his words, tries to make
them realize what a good thing it is. If they say that frequent communion is
inadvisable, he only practises it the more. So, because just one or two are
fearlessly following the better path, the Lord gradually regains what He had
Cease troubling about these fears, then,
sisters; and never pay heed to such matters of popular opinion. This is no time
for believing everyone; believe only those whom you see modelling their lives on
the life of Christ. Endeavour always to have a good conscience; practise
humility; despise all worldly things; and believe firmly in the teaching of our
Holy Mother [the Roman] Church. You may then be quite sure that you are on a
[very] good road. Cease, as I have said, to have fear where no fear is; if any
one attempts to frighten you, point out the road to him in all humility. Tell
him that you have a Rule which commands you, as it does, to pray without
ceasing, and that that rule you must keep. If they tell you that you should
practise only vocal prayer, ask whether your mind and heart ought not to be in
what you say. If they answer "Yes" -- and they cannot do otherwise --
you see they are admitting that you are bound to practise mental prayer, and
even contemplation, if God should grant it you. [Blessed be He for ever.]
the meaning of mental prayer.
You must know, daughters, that whether or no
you are practising mental prayer has nothing to do with keeping the lips closed.
If, while I am speaking with God, I have a clear realization and full
consciousness that I am doing so, and if this is more real to me than the words
I am uttering, then I am combining mental and vocal prayer. When people tell you
that you are speaking with God by reciting the Paternoster and thinking of
worldly things -- well, words fail me. When you speak, as it is right for you to
do, with so great a Lord, it is well that you should think of Who it is that you
are addressing, and what you yourself are, if only that you may speak to Him
with proper respect. How can you address a king with the deference due to him,
or how can you know what ceremonies have to be used when speaking to a grandee,
unless you are clearly conscious of the nature of his position and of yours? It
is because of this, and because it is the custom to do so, that you must behave
respectfully to him, and must learn what the custom is, and not be careless
about such things, or you will be dismissed as a simpleton and obtain
none of the things you desire. And furthermore, unless you are quite conversant
with it, you must get all necessary information, and have what you are going to
say written down for you. It once happened to me, when I was not accustomed to
addressing aristocrats, that I had to go on a matter of urgent business to see a
lady who had to be addressed as "Your Ladyship".
I was shown that word in writing; but I am stupid, and had never used such a
term before; so when I arrived I got it wrong. So I decided to tell her about it
and she laughed heartily and told me to be good enough to use the ordinary form
of polite address,
which I did.
How is it, my Lord, how is it, my Emperor,
that Thou canst suffer this, Prince of all Creation? For Thou, my God,
art a King without end, and Thine is no borrowed Kingdom, but Thine own, and
it will never pass away. When the Creed says "Whose Kingdom shall have
no end" the phrase nearly always makes me feel particularly happy. I praise
Thee, Lord, and bless Thee, and all things praise Thee for ever -- for
Thy Kingdom will endure for ever. Do Thou never allow it to be thought right,
Lord, for those who praise Thee and come to speak with Thee to do so with
their lips alone. What do you mean, Christians, when you say that mental prayer
is unnecessary? Do you understand what you are saying? I really do not think you
can. And so you want us all to go wrong: you cannot know what mental prayer is,
or how vocal prayers should be said, or what is meant by contemplation. For, if
you knew this, you would not condemn on the one hand what you praise on the
Whenever I remember to do so, I shall always
speak of mental and vocal prayer together, daughters, so that you may not be
alarmed. I know what such fears lead to,
for I have suffered a certain number of trials in this respect, and so I should
be sorry if anyone were to unsettle you, for it is very bad for you to have
misgivings while you are walking on this path. It is most important that you
should realize you are making progress; for if a traveller is told that he has
taken the wrong road, and has lost his way, he begins to wander to and fro and
the constant search for the right road tires him, wastes his time and delays his
arrival. Who can say that it is wrong if, before we begin reciting the Hours or
the Rosary, we think Whom we are going to address, and who we are that are
addressing Him, so that we may do so in the way we should? I assure you,
sisters, that if you gave all due attention to a consideration of these two
points before beginning the vocal prayers which you are about to say you would
be engaging in mental prayer for a very long time. For we cannot approach a
prince and address him in the same careless way that we should adopt in speaking
to a peasant or to some poor woman like ourselves, whom we may address however
The reason we sometimes do so is to be found
in the humility of this King, Who, unskilled though I am in speaking with Him,
does not refuse to hear me or forbid me to approach Him, or command His guards
to throw me out. For the angels in His presence know well that their King is
such that He prefers the unskilled language of a humble peasant boy, knowing
that he would say more if he had more to say, to the speech of the wisest and
most learned men, however elegant may be their arguments, if these are not
accompanied by humility. But we must not be unmannerly because He is good. If
only to show our gratitude to Him for enduring our foul odour and allowing such
a one as myself to come near Him, it is well that we should try to realize His
purity and His nature. It is true that we recognize this at once when we
approach Him, just as we do when we visit the lords of the earth. Once we are
told about their fathers' names and their incomes and dignities, there is no
more for us to know about them; for on earth one makes account of persons, and
honours them, not because of their merits but because of their possessions.
O miserable world! Give hearty praise to God,
daughters, that you have left so wretched a place,
where people are honoured, not for their own selves, but for what they get from
their tenants and vassals: if these fail them, they have no honour left. It is a
curious thing, and when you go out to recreation together you should laugh about
it, for it is a good way of spending your time to reflect how blindly people in
the world spend theirs.
O Thou our Emperor! Supreme Power, Supreme
Goodness, Wisdom Itself, without beginning, without end and without measure in
Thy works: infinite are these and incomprehensible, a fathomless ocean of
wonders, O Beauty
containing within Thyself all beauties. O Very Strength! God help me! Would that
I could command all the eloquence of mortals and all wisdom, so as to
understand, as far as is possible here below, that to know nothing is
everything, and thus to describe some of the many things on which we may
meditate in order to learn something of the nature of this our Lord and Good.
When you approach God, then, try
to think and realize Whom you are about to address and continue to do so while
you are addressing Him. If we had a thousand lives, we should never fully
understand how this Lord merits that we behave toward Him, before Whom even the
angels tremble. He orders all things and He can do all things: with Him to will
is to perform. It will be right, then, daughters, for us to endeavour to rejoice
in these wondrous qualities of our Spouse and to know Whom we have wedded and
what our lives should be. Why, God save us, when a woman in this world is about
to marry, she knows beforehand whom she is to marry, what sort of a person he is
and what property he possesses. Shall not we, then, who are already betrothed,
think about our Spouse,
before we are wedded to Him and He takes us home to be with Him? If these
thoughts are not forbidden to those who are betrothed to men on earth, how can
we be forbidden to discover Who this Man is, Who is His Father, what is the
country to which He will take me, what are the riches with which He promises to
endow me, what is His rank, how I can best make Him happy, what I can do that
will give Him pleasure, and how I can bring my rank into line with His. If a
woman is to be happy in her marriage, it is just those things that she is
advised to see about, even though her husband be a man of very low station.
Shall less respect be paid to Thee, then, my
Spouse, than to men? If they think it unfitting to do Thee honour, let them at
least leave Thee Thy brides, who are to spend their lives with Thee. A woman is
indeed fortunate in her life if her husband is so jealous that he will allow her
to speak with no one but himself; it would be a pretty pass if she could not
resolve to give him this pleasure, for it is reasonable enough that she should
put up with this and not wish to converse with anyone else, since in him she has
all that she can desire. To understand these truths, my daughters, is to
practise mental prayer. If you wish to learn to understand them, and at the same
time to practise vocal prayer, well and good. But do not, I beg you, address God
while you are thinking of other things, for to do that is the result of not
understanding what mental prayer is. I think I have made this clear. May the
Lord grant us to learn how to put it into practice. Amen.
Describes the importance of not turning back
when one has set out upon the way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be
Now, as I have said, it is most important that
from the first we should be very resolute, and for this there are so many
reasons that if I were to give them all I should have to write at great length. Some
of them are given in other books. I will tell you just two or three of them,
sisters. One is that when we decide to give anything -- such as this slight
effort of recollection
-- to Him Who has given us so much, and Who is continually giving, it would be
wrong for us not to be entirely resolute in doing so and to act like a person
who lends something and expects to get it back again. (Not that we do not
receive interest: on the contrary, we gain a great deal.) I do not call this
"giving". Anyone who has been lent something always feels slightly
displeased when the lender wants it back again, especially if he is using it
himself and has come to look upon it as his own. If the two are friends and the
lender is indebted to the recipient for many things of which he has made him
free gifts, he will think it meanness and a great lack of affection if he will
leave not even the smallest thing in his possession, merely as a sign of love.
What wife is there who, after receiving many
valuable jewels from her husband, will not give him so much as a ring -- which
he wants, not because of its value, for all she has is his, but as a sign of
love and a token that she will be his until she dies? Does the Lord deserve
less than this that we should mock Him by taking away the worthless gift
which we have given Him? Since we have resolved to devote to Him this very brief
period of time -- only a small part of what we spend upon ourselves and upon
people who are not particularly grateful to us for it -- let us give it Him
freely, with our minds unoccupied by other things and entirely resolved never to
take it back again, whatever we may suffer through trials, annoyances or
aridities. Let me realize that this time is being lent me and is not my own, and
feel that I can rightly be called to account for it if I am not prepared to
devote it wholly to God.
I say "wholly", but we must not be
considered as taking it back if we should fail to give it Him for a day, or for
a few days, because of legitimate occupations or through some indisposition.
Provided the intention remains firm, my God is not in the least meticulous;
He does not look at trivial details; and, if you are trying to please Him in any
way, He will assuredly accept that as your gift. The other way is suitable for
ungenerous souls, so mean that they are not large-hearted enough to give but
find it as much as they can do to lend. Still, let them make some effort, for
this Lord of ours will reckon everything we do to our credit and accept
everything we want to give Him. In drawing up our reckoning, He is not in the
least exacting, but generous; however large the amount we may owe Him, it is a
small thing for Him to forgive us. And, as to paying us, He is so careful about
this that you need have no fear He will leave us without our reward if only we
raise our eyes to Heaven and remember Him.
A second reason why we should be resolute is
that this will give the devil less opportunity to tempt us. He is very much
afraid of resolute souls, knowing by experience that they inflict great injury
upon him, and, when he plans to do them harm, he only profits them and others
and is himself the loser. We must not become unwatchful, or count upon this, for
we have to do with treacherous folk, who are great cowards and dare not attack
the wary, but, if they see we are careless, will work us great harm. And if they
know anyone to be changeable, and not resolute in doing what is good and
firmly determined to persevere, they will not leave him alone either by night or
by day and will suggest to him endless misgivings and difficulties. This I know
very well by experience and so I have been able to tell you about it: I am sure
that none of us realize its great importance.
Another reason, very much to the point, is
that a resolute person fights more courageously. He knows that, come what may,
he must not retreat. He is like a soldier in battle who is aware that if he is
vanquished his life will not be spared and that if he escapes death in battle he
must die afterwards. It has been proved, I think, that such a man will
fight more resolutely and will try, as they say, to sell his life dearly,
fearing the enemy's blows the less because he understands the importance of
victory and knows that his very life depends upon his gaining it. We must also
be firmly convinced from the start that, if we fight courageously and
do not allow ourselves to be beaten, we shall get what we want, and there is no
doubt that, however small our gains may be, they will make us very rich. Do not
be afraid that the Lord Who has called us to drink of this spring will allow you
to die of thirst. This I have already said and I should like to repeat it; for
people are often timid when they have not learned by experience of the Lord's
goodness, even though they know of it by faith. It is a great thing to have
experienced what friendship and joy He gives to those who walk on this road and
how He takes almost the whole cost of it upon Himself.
I am not surprised that those who have never
made this test should want to be sure that they will receive some interest on
their outlay. But you already know that even in this life we shall receive a
hundredfold, and that the Lord says: "Ask and it shall be given you."
If you do not believe His Majesty in those passages of His Gospel where He gives
us this assurance, it will be of little help to you, sisters, for me to weary my
brains by telling you of it. Still, I will say to anyone who is in doubt that
she will lose little by putting the matter to the test; for this journey has the
of giving us very much more than we ask or shall even get so far as to
desire. This is a never-failing truth: I know it; though, if you do not find
it so, do not believe any of the things I tell you. I can call as witnesses
those of you who, by God's goodness, know it from experience.
Describes how vocal prayer may be practised
with perfection and how closely allied it is to mental prayer.
Let us now return to speak of those souls I
have mentioned who cannot practise recollection or tie down their minds to
mental prayer or make a meditation. We must not talk to them of either of those
two things -- they will not hear of them; as a matter of fact, there are a great
many people who seem terrified at the very name of contemplation or mental
In case any such person should come to this
house (for, as I have said, not all are led by the same path), I want to advise
you, or, I might even say, to teach you (for, as your mother, and by the office
of prioress which I hold, I have the right to do so) how you must practise vocal
prayer, for it is right that you should understand what you are saying. Anyone
unable to think of God may find herself wearied by long prayers, and so I will
not begin to discuss these, but will speak simply of prayers which, as
Christians, we must perforce recite -- namely, the Paternoster and the Ave Maria
-- and then no one will be able to say of us that we are repeating words without
understanding what we are saying. We may, of course, consider it enough to say
our prayers as a mere habit, repeating the words and thinking that this will
suffice. Whether it suffices or no I will not now discuss.
Learned men must decide: they will instruct people to whom God gives light to
consult them, and I will not discuss the position of those who have not made a
profession like our own. But what I should like, daughters, is for us not to
be satisfied with that alone: when I say the Creed, it seems to me right, and
indeed obligatory, that I should understand and know what it is that I
believe; and, when I repeat the "Our Father", my love should make me
want to understand Who this Father of ours is and Who the Master is that taught
us this prayer.
If you assert that you know Who He is already,
and so there is no need for you to think about Him, you are not right; there is
a great deal of difference between one master and another, and it would be very
wrong of us not to think about those who teach us, even on earth; if they are
holy men and spiritual masters, and we are good pupils, it is impossible for us not
to have great love for them, and indeed to hold them in honour and often to talk
about them. And when it comes to the Master Who taught us this prayer, and
Who loves us so much and is so anxious for us to profit by it, may God forbid
that we should fail to think of Him often when we repeat it, although our own
weakness may prevent us from doing so every time.
Now, in the first place, you know that His
Majesty teaches that this prayer must be made when we are alone, just as He was
often alone when He prayed, not because this was necessary for Him, but for our
edification. It has already been said that it is impossible to speak to God and
to the world at the same time; yet this is just what we are trying to do when we
are saying our prayers and at the same time listening to the conversation of
others or letting our thoughts wander on any matter that occurs to us, without
making an effort to control them. There are occasions when one cannot help doing
this: times of ill-health (especially in persons who suffer from melancholia);
or times when our heads are tired, and, however hard we try, we cannot
concentrate; or times when, for their own good, God allows His servants for days
on end to go through great storms. And, although they are distressed and strive
to calm themselves, they are unable to do so and incapable of attending to what
they are saying, however hard they try, nor can they fix their understanding on
anything: they seem to be in a frenzy, so distraught are they.
The very suffering of anyone in this state
will show her that she is not to blame, and she must not worry, for that only
makes matters worse, nor must she weary herself by trying to put sense into
something -- namely, her mind -- which for the moment is without any. She should
pray as best she can: indeed, she need not pray at all, but may try to rest her
spirit as though she were ill and busy herself with some other virtuous action.
These directions are meant for persons who keep careful guard over themselves
and know that they must not speak to God and to the world at the same time. What
we can do ourselves is to try to be alone -- and God grant that this may
suffice, as I say, to make us realize in Whose presence we are and how the Lord
answers our petitions. Do you suppose that, because we cannot hear Him, He is
silent? He speaks clearly to the heart when we beg Him from our hearts to do so.
It would be a good idea for us to imagine
that He has taught this prayer to each one of us individually, and that He is
continually expounding it to us. The Master is never so far away that the
disciple needs to raise his voice in order to be heard: He is always right at
his side. I want you to understand that, if you are to recite the Paternoster
well, one thing is needful: you must not leave the side of the Master Who has
taught it you.
You will say at once that this is meditation,
and that you are not capable of it, and do not even wish to practise it, but are
content with vocal prayer. For there are impatient people who dislike giving
themselves trouble, and it is troublesome at first to practise recollection of
the mind when one has not made it a habit. So, in order not to make themselves
the least bit tired, they say they are incapable of anything but vocal prayer
and do not know how to do anything further. You are right to say that what we
have described is mental prayer; but I assure you that I cannot distinguish it
from vocal prayer faithfully recited with a realization of Who it is that we are
addressing. Further, we are under the obligation of trying to pray attentively:
may God grant that, by using these means, we may learn to say the Paternoster
well and not find ourselves thinking of something irrelevant. I have sometimes
experienced this myself, and the best remedy I have found for it is to try to
fix my mind on the Person by Whom the words were first spoken. Have patience,
then, and try to make this necessary practice into a habit, for necessary it
is, in my opinion, for those who would be nuns, and indeed for all who would
pray like good Christians.
Describes the great gain which comes to a soul
when it practises vocal prayer perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to
In case you should think there is little gain
to be derived from practising vocal prayer perfectly, I must tell you that,
while you are repeating the Paternoster or some other vocal prayer, it is quite
possible for the Lord to grant you perfect contemplation. In this way His
Majesty shows that He is listening to the person who is addressing Him, and
that, in His greatness, He is addressing her,
by suspending the understanding, putting a stop to all thought, and, as we say,
taking the words out of her mouth, so that even if she wishes to speak she
cannot do so, or at any rate not without great difficulty.
Such a person understands that, without any
sound of words, she is being taught by this Divine Master, Who is suspending her
faculties, which, if they were to work, would be causing her harm rather than
profit. The faculties rejoice without knowing how they rejoice; the soul is
enkindled in love without understanding how it loves; it knows that it is
rejoicing in the object of its love, yet it does not know how it is rejoicing in
it. It is well aware that this is not a joy which can be attained by the
understanding; the will embraces it, without understanding how; but, in so far
as it can understand anything, it perceives that this is a blessing which could
not be gained by the merits of all the trials suffered on earth put together. It
is a gift of the Lord of earth and Heaven, Who gives it like the God He is.
This, daughters, is perfect contemplation.
You will now understand how different it is
from mental prayer, which I have already described, and which consists in
thinking of what we are saying, understanding it, and realizing Whom we are
addressing, and who we are that are daring to address so great a Lord. To think
of this and other similar things, such as how little we have served Him and how
great is our obligation to serve Him, is mental prayer. Do not think of it as
one more thing with an outlandish name
and do not let the name frighten you. To recite the Paternoster and the Ave
Maria, or any other petition you like, is vocal prayer. But think how harsh your
music will be without what must come first; sometimes even the words will get
into the wrong order. In these two kinds of prayer, with God's help, we may
accomplish something ourselves. In the contemplation which I have just described
we can do nothing. It is His Majesty Who does everything; the work is His alone
and far transcends human nature.
I described this as well as I was able in the
relation which I made of it, as I have said, so that my confessors should see it
when they read the account of my life which they had ordered me to write. As I
have explained all this about contemplation at such length, therefore, I shall
not repeat myself here and I am doing no more than touch upon it. If those of
you who have experienced the happiness of being called by the Lord to this state
of contemplation can get this book, you will find in it points and counsels
which the Lord was pleased to enable me to set down. These should bring you
great comfort and profit -- in my opinion, at least, and in the opinion of
several people who have seen it and who keep it at hand in order to make
frequent use of it. I am ashamed to tell you that anything of mine is made such
use of and the Lord knows with what confusion I write a great deal that I do.
Blessed be He for thus bearing with me. Those of you who, as I say, have
experience of supernatural prayer should procure the book after my death; those
who have not have no need to do so but they should try to carry out what has
been said in this one. Let them leave everything to the Lord, to Whom it belongs
to grant this gift, and He will not deny it you if you do not tarry on the road
but press forward so as to reach the end of your journey.
Continues the description of a method for
recollecting the thoughts. Describes means of doing this. This chapter is very
profitable for those who are beginning prayer.
Let us now return to our vocal prayer, so that
we may learn to pray in such a way that, without our understanding how, God may
give us everything at once: if we do this, as I have said, we shall pray as we
ought. As you know, the first things must be examination of conscience,
confession of sin and the signing of yourself with the Cross. Then, daughter, as
you are alone, you must look for a companion -- and who could be a better
Companion than the very Master Who taught you the prayer that you are about to
say? Imagine that this Lord Himself is at your side and see how lovingly and how
humbly He is teaching you -- and, believe me, you should stay with so good a
Friend for as long as you can before you leave Him. If you become accustomed to
having Him at your side, and if He sees that you love Him to be there and are
always trying to please Him, you will never be able, as we put it, to send Him
away, nor will He ever fail you. He will help you in all your trials and you
will have Him everywhere. Do you think it is a small thing to have such a Friend
as that beside you?
O sisters, those of you whose minds cannot
reason for long or whose thoughts cannot dwell upon God but are constantly
wandering must at all costs form this habit. I know quite well that you are
capable of it -- for many years I endured this trial of being unable to
concentrate on one subject, and a very sore trial it is. But I know the Lord
does not leave us so devoid of help that if we approach Him humbly and ask Him
to be with us He will not grant our request. If a whole year passes without our
obtaining what we ask, let us be prepared to try for longer. Let us never grudge
time so well spent. Who, after all, is hurrying us? I am sure we can form this
habit and strive to walk at the side of this true Master.
I am not asking you now to think of Him, or to
form numerous conceptions of Him, or to make long and subtle meditations with
your understanding. I am asking you only to look at Him. For who can prevent you
from turning the eyes of your soul (just for a moment, if you can do no more)
upon this Lord? You are capable of looking at very ugly and loathsome
things: can you not, then, look at the most beautiful thing imaginable? Your
Spouse never takes His eyes off you, daughters. He has borne with thousands of
foul and abominable sins which you have committed against Him, yet even they
have not been enough to make Him cease looking upon you. Is it such a great
matter, then, for you to avert the eyes of your soul from outward things
and sometimes to look at Him? See, He is only waiting for us to look at Him, as
He says to the Bride.
If you want Him
you will find Him. He longs so much for us to look at Him once more that it will
not be for lack of effort on His part if we fail to do so.
A wife, they say, must be like this if she is
to have a happy married life with her husband. If he is sad, she must show signs
of sadness; if he is merry, even though she may not in fact be so, she must
appear merry too. See what slavery you have escaped from, sisters! Yet this,
without any pretence, is really how we are treated by the Lord. He becomes
subject to us and is pleased to let you be the mistress and to conform to your
will. If you are happy, look upon your risen Lord, and the very thought of how
He rose from the sepulchre will gladden you. How bright and how beautiful was He
then! How majestic!
How victorious! How joyful! He was like one emerging from a battle in which He
had gained a great kingdom, all of which He desires you to have -- and with it
Himself. Is it such a great thing that you should turn your eyes but once and
look upon Him Who has made you such great gifts?
If you are suffering trials, or are sad, look
upon Him on His way to the Garden. What sore distress He must have borne in His
soul, to describe His own suffering as He did and to complain of it! Or look
upon Him bound to the Column, full of pain, His flesh all torn to pieces by His
great love for you. How much He suffered, persecuted by some, spat upon by
others, denied by His friends, and even deserted by them, with none to take His
part, frozen with the cold and left so completely alone that you may well
comfort each other! Or look upon Him bending under the weight of the Cross and
not even allowed to take breath: He will look upon you with His lovely and
compassionate eyes, full of tears, and in comforting your grief will forget His
own because you are bearing Him company in order to comfort Him and turning your
head to look upon Him.
"O Lord of the world, my true
Spouse!" you may say to Him, if seeing Him in such a plight has filled your
heart with such tenderness that you not only desire to look upon Him but love to
speak to Him, not using forms of prayer, but words issuing from the compassion
of your heart, which means so much to Him: "Art Thou so needy, my Lord and
my Good, that Thou wilt accept poor companionship like mine? Do I read in Thy
face that Thou hast found comfort, even in me? How can it be possible, Lord,
that the angels are leaving Thee alone and that Thy Father is not comforting
"If Thou, Lord, art willing to suffer all
this for me, what am I suffering for Thee? What have I to complain of? I am
ashamed, Lord, when I see Thee in such a plight, and if in any way I can imitate
Thee I will suffer all trials that come to me and count them as a great
blessing. Let us go both together, Lord: whither Thou goest, I must go; through
whatsoever Thou passest, I must pass." Take up this cross, sisters: never
mind if the Jews trample upon you provided you can save Him some of His trials.
Take no heed of what they say to you; be deaf to all detraction; stumble and
fall with your Spouse, but do not draw back from your cross or give it up. Think
often of the weariness of His journey and of how much harder His trials were
than those which you have to suffer. However hard you may imagine yours to be,
and however much affliction they may cause you, they will be a source of comfort
to you, for you will see that they are matters for scorn compared with the
trials endured by the Lord.
You will ask me, sisters, how you can possibly
do all this, and say that, if you had seen His Majesty with your bodily eyes at
the time when He lived in the world, you would have done it willingly and gazed
at Him for ever. Do not believe it: anyone who will not make the slight effort
necessary for recollection in order to gaze upon this Lord present within her,
which she can do without danger and with only the minimum of trouble, would have
been far less likely to stand at the foot of the Cross with the Magdalen, who
looked death (as they say) straight in the face. What the glorious Virgin
and this blessed saint must have suffered! What threats, what malicious words,
what shocks, what insults! For the people they were dealing with were not
exactly polite to them. No, indeed; theirs was the kind of courtesy you might
meet in hell, for they were the ministers of the devil himself. Yet, terrible as
the sufferings of these women must have been, they would not have noticed them
in the presence of pain so much greater.
So do not suppose, sisters, that you would
have been prepared to endure such great trials then, if you are not ready for
such trifling ones now. Practise enduring these and you may be given others
which are greater. Believe that I am telling the truth when I say that you
can do this, for I am speaking from experience. You will find it very
helpful if you can get an image or a picture of this Lord -- one that you like
-- not to wear round your neck and never look at but to use regularly whenever
you talk to Him, and He will tell you what to say. If words do not fail you when
you talk to people on earth, why should they do so when you talk to God?
Do not imagine that they will -- I shall certainly not believe that they have
done so if you once form the habit. For when you never have intercourse with a
person he soon becomes a stranger to you, and you forget how to talk to him; and
before long, even if he is a kinsman, you feel as if you do not know him, for
both kinship and friendship lose their influence when communication ceases.
It is also a great help to have a good book,
written in the vernacular, simply as an aid to recollection. With this aid you
will learn to say your vocal prayers well, I mean, as they ought to be said
-- and little by little, persuasively and methodically, you will get your soul
used to this, so that it will no longer be afraid of it. Remember that many
years have passed since it went away from its Spouse, and it needs very careful
handling before it will return home. We sinners are like that: we have
accustomed our souls and minds to go after their own pleasures (or pains, it
would be more correct to say) until the unfortunate soul no longer knows what it
is doing. When that has happened, a good deal of skill is necessary before it
can be inspired with enough love to make it stay at home; but unless we can
gradually do that we shall accomplish nothing. Once again I assure you that, if
you are careful to form habits of the kind I have mentioned, you will derive
such great profit from them that I could not describe it even if I wished. Keep
at the side of this good Master, then, and be most firmly resolved to learn what
He teaches you; His Majesty will then ensure your not failing to be good
disciples, and He will never leave you unless you leave Him. Consider the words
uttered by those Divine lips: the very first of them will show you at once what
love He has for you, and it is no small blessing and joy for the pupil to see
that his Master loves Him.
Describes the great love shown us by the Lord
in the first words of the Paternoster and the great importance of our making no
account of good birth if we truly desire to be the daughters of God.
"Our Father, which art in the
Heavens." O my Lord, how Thou dost reveal Thyself as the Father of such a
Son, while Thy Son reveals Himself as the Son of such a Father! Blessed be Thou
for ever and ever. Ought not so great a favour as this, Lord, to have come at
the end of the prayer? Here, at the very beginning, Thou dost fill our hands and
grant us so great a favour that it would be a very great blessing if our
understanding could be filled with it so that the will would be occupied and we
should be unable to say another word. Oh, how appropriate, daughters, would
perfect contemplation be here! Oh, how right would the soul be to enter within
itself, so as to be the better able to rise above itself, that this holy Son
might show it the nature of the place where He says His Father dwells -- namely,
the Heavens! Let us leave earth, my daughters, for it is not right that a favour
like this should be prized so little, and that, after we have realized how great
this favour is, we should remain on earth any more.
O Son of God and my Lord! How is it that Thou
canst give us so much with Thy first word? It is so wonderful that Thou shouldst
descend to such a degree of humility as to join with us when we pray and make
Thyself the Brother of creatures so miserable and lowly! How can it be that, in
the name of Thy Father, Thou shouldst give us all that there is to be given, by
willing Him to have us as His children -- and Thy word cannot fail? [It seems
that] Thou dost oblige Him to fulfil Thy word, a charge by no means light,
since, being our Father, He must bear with us, however great our offences. If we
return to Him, He must pardon us, as He pardoned the prodigal son, must comfort
us in our trials, and must sustain us, as such a Father is bound to do, for He
must needs be better than any earthly father, since nothing good can fail to
have its perfection in Him. He must cherish us; He must sustain us; and
at the last He must make us participants and fellow-heirs with Thee.
Behold, my Lord, with the love that Thou hast
for us and with Thy humility, nothing can be an obstacle to Thee. And then,
Lord, Thou hast been upon earth and by taking our nature upon Thee hast clothed
Thyself with humanity: Thou hast therefore some reason to care for our
advantage. But behold, Thy Father is in Heaven, as Thou hast told us, and it is
right that Thou shouldst consider His honour. Since Thou hast offered Thyself to
be dishonoured by us, leave Thy Father free. Oblige Him not to do so much for
people as wicked as I, who will make Him such poor acknowledgment.
O good Jesus! How clearly hast Thou shown that
Thou art One with Him and that Thy will is His and His is Thine! How open a
confession is this, my Lord! What is this love that Thou hast for us? Thou didst
deceive the devil, and conceal from him that Thou art the Son of God, but Thy
great desire for our welfare overcomes all obstacles to Thy granting us this
greatest of favours. Who but Thou could do this, Lord? I cannot think how the
devil failed to understand from that word of Thine Who Thou wert, beyond any
doubt. I, at least, my Jesus, see clearly that Thou didst speak as a dearly
beloved son both for Thyself and for us, and Thou hast such power that what Thou
sayest in Heaven shall be done on earth. Blessed be Thou for ever, my Lord, Who
lovest so much to give that no obstacle can stay Thee.
Do you not think, daughters, that this is a
good Master, since He begins by granting us this great favour so as to make us
love to learn what He teaches us? Do you think it would be right for us, while
we are repeating this prayer with our lips, to stop trying to think of what we
are saying, lest picturing such love should tear our hearts to pieces? No one
who realized His greatness could possibly say it would be. What son is there in
the world who would not try to learn who his father was if he had one as good,
and of as great majesty and dominion, as ours? Were God not all this, it would
not surprise me if we had no desire to be known as His children; for the world
is such that, if the father is of lower rank than his son, the son feels no
honour in recognizing him as his father. This does not apply here: God forbid
that such a thing should ever happen in this house -- it would turn the place
into hell. Let the sister who is of the highest birth speak of her father least;
we must all be equals.
O College of Christ, in which the Lord was
pleased that Saint Peter, who was a fisherman, should have more authority than
Saint Bartholomew, who was the son of a king! His Majesty knew what a fuss would
be made in the world about who was fashioned from the finer clay -- which is
like discussing whether clay is better for bricks or for walls. Dear Lord, what
a trouble we make about it! God deliver you, sisters, from such contentions,
even if they be carried on only in jest; I hope that His Majesty will indeed
deliver you. If anything like this should be going on among you, apply the
remedy immediately, and let the sister concerned fear lest she be a Judas among
the Apostles. Do what you can to get rid of such a bad companion. If you
cannot, give her penances heavier than for anything else until she
realizes that she has not deserved to be even the basest clay. You have a good
Father, given you by the good Jesus: let no other father be known or referred to
here. Strive, my daughters, to be such that you deserve to find comfort in Him
and to throw yourselves into His arms. You know that, if you are good children,
He will never send you away. And who would not do anything rather than lose such
Oh, thank God, what cause for comfort there is
here! Rather than write more about it I will leave it for you to think about;
for, however much your thoughts may wander, between such a Son and such a Father
there must needs be the Holy Spirit. May He enkindle your will and bind you to
Himself with the most fervent love, since even the great advantage you gain will
not suffice to do so.
Describes the nature of the Prayer of
Recollection and sets down some of the means by which we can make it a habit.
Consider now what your Master says next:
"Who art in the Heavens." Do you suppose it matters little what Heaven
is and where you must seek your most holy Father? I assure you that for minds
which wander it is of great importance not only to have a right belief about
this but to try to learn it by experience, for it is one of the best ways of
concentrating the mind and effecting recollection in the soul.
You know that God is everywhere; and this
is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the
court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven. No doubt you can
believe that, in any place where His Majesty is, there is fulness of glory.
Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and
eventually finding Him within himself. Do you suppose it is of little importance
that a soul which is often distracted should come to understand this truth and
to find that, in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in
Him, it has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice? However quietly
we speak, He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search
of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him
present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest;
we must talk to Him very humbly, as we should to our father, ask Him for things
as we should ask a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and
yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His children.
Avoid being bashful with God, as some people
are, in the belief that they are being humble. It would not be humility on your
part if the King were to do you a favour and you refused to accept it; but you
would be showing humility by taking it, and being pleased with it, yet realizing
how far you are from deserving it. A fine humility it would be if I had the
Emperor of Heaven and earth in my house, coming to it to do me a favour and to
delight in my company, and I were so humble that I would not answer His
questions, nor remain with Him, nor accept what He gave me, but left Him alone.
Or if He were to speak to me and beg me to ask for what I wanted, and I were so
humble that I preferred to remain poor and even let Him go away, so that He
would see I had not sufficient resolution.
Have nothing to do with that kind of humility,
daughters, but speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord and a Spouse
-- and, sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, He will teach you what
you must do to please Him. Do not be foolish; ask Him to let you speak to Him,
and, as He is your Spouse, to treat you as His brides. Remember how important
it is for you to have understood this truth -- that the Lord is within us and
that we should be there with Him.
If one prays in this way, the prayer may be
only vocal, but the mind will be recollected much sooner; and this is a prayer
which brings with it many blessings. It is called recollection because the soul
collects together all the faculties and enters within itself to be with its God.
Its Divine Master comes more speedily to teach it, and to grant it the Prayer of
Quiet, than in any other way. For, hidden there within itself, it can think
about the Passion, and picture the Son, and offer Him to the Father, without
wearying the mind by going to seek Him on Mount Calvary, or in the Garden, or at
Those who are able to shut themselves up in
this way within this little Heaven of the soul, wherein dwells the Maker of
Heaven and earth, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and
staying in no place which will distract these outward senses, may be sure that
they are walking on an excellent road, and will come without fail to drink of
the water of the fountain, for they will journey a long way in a short time.
They are like one who travels in a ship, and, if he has a little good wind,
reaches the end of his voyage in a few days, while those who go by land take much
These souls have already, as we may say, put
out to sea; though they have not sailed quite out of sight of land, they do what
they can to get away from it, in the time at their disposal, by recollecting
their senses. If their recollection is genuine, the fact becomes very evident,
for it produces certain effects which I do not know how to explain but which
anyone will recognize who has experience of them. It is as if the soul were
rising from play, for it sees that worldly things are nothing but toys; so in
due course it rises above them, like a person entering a strong castle, in order
that it may have nothing more to fear from its enemies. It withdraws the senses
from all outward things and spurns them so completely that, without its
understanding how, its eyes close and it cannot see them and the soul's
spiritual sight becomes clear. Those who walk along this path almost invariably
close their eyes when they say their prayers; this, for many reasons, is an
admirable custom, since it means that they are making an effort not to look at
things of the world. The effort has to be made only at the beginning; later it
becomes unnecessary: eventually, in fact, it would cost a greater effort to open
the eyes during prayer than to close them. The soul seems to gather up its
strength and to master itself at the expense of the body, which it leaves
weakened and alone: in this way it becomes stronger for the fight against it.
This may not be evident at first, if the
recollection is not very profound -- for at this stage it is sometimes more so
and sometimes less. At first it may cause a good deal of trouble, for the body
insists on its rights, not understanding that if it refuses to admit defeat it
is, as it were, cutting off its own head. But if we cultivate the habit, make
the necessary effort and practise the exercises for several days, the benefits
will reveal themselves, and when we begin to pray we shall realize that the bees
are coming to the hive and entering it to make the honey, and all without any
effort of ours. For it is the Lord's will that, in return for the time which
their efforts have cost them, the soul and the will should be given this power
over the senses. They will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to
enter into recollection and the senses will obey and allow themselves to be
recollected. Later they may come out again, but it is a great thing that they
should ever have surrendered, for if they come out it is as captives and slaves
and they do none of the harm that they might have done before. When the will
calls them afresh they respond more quickly, until, after they have entered the
soul many times, the Lord is pleased that they should remain there altogether in
What has been said should be noted with great
care, for, though it seems obscure, it will be understood by anyone desirous of
putting it into practice. The sea-voyage, then, can be made; and, as it is very
important that we should not travel too slowly, let us just consider how we can
get accustomed to these good habits. Souls who do so are more secure from many
occasions of sin, and the fire of Divine love is the more readily enkindled in
them; for they are so near that fire that, however little the blaze has been
fanned with the understanding, any small spark that flies out at them will cause
them to burst into flame. When no hindrance comes to it from outside, the soul
remains alone with its God and is thoroughly prepared to become enkindled.
And now let us imagine that we have within us
a palace of priceless worth, built entirely of gold and precious stones -- a
palace, in short, fit for so great a Lord. Imagine that it is partly your doing
that this palace should be what it is -- and this is really true, for there is
no building so beautiful as a soul that is pure and full of virtues, and, the
greater these virtues are, the more brilliantly do the stones shine. Imagine
that within the palace dwells this great King, Who has vouchsafed to become your
Father and Who is seated upon a throne of supreme price -- namely, your heart.
At first you will think this irrelevant -- I
mean the use of this figure to explain my point -- but it may prove very useful,
especially to persons like yourselves. For, as we women are not learned or
fine-witted, we need all these things to help us realize that we actually
have something within us incomparably more precious than anything we see
outside. Do not let us suppose that the interior of the soul is empty; God grant
that only women may be so thoughtless as to suppose that. If we took care always
to remember what a Guest we have within us, I think it would be impossible for
us to abandon ourselves to vanities and things of the world, for we
should see how worthless they are by comparison with those which we have within
us. What does an animal do beyond satisfying his hunger by seizing whatever
attracts him when he sees it? There should surely be a great difference between
the brute beasts and ourselves, as we have such a Father.
Perhaps you will laugh at me and say that this
is obvious enough; and you will be right, though it was some time before I came
to see it. I knew perfectly well that I had a soul, but I did not understand
what that soul merited, or Who dwelt within it, until I closed my eyes to the
vanities of this world in order to see it. I think, if I had understood then, as
I do now, how this great King really dwells within this little palace of
my soul, I should not have left Him alone so often, but should have stayed with
Him and never have allowed His dwelling-place to get so dirty. How wonderful it
is that He Whose greatness could fill a thousand worlds, and very many more,
should confine Himself within so small a space, just as He was pleased to
dwell within the womb of His most holy Mother! Being the Lord, He has, of
course, perfect freedom, and, as He loves us, He fashions Himself to our
When a soul sets out upon this path, He does
not reveal Himself to it, lest it should feel dismayed at seeing that its
littleness can contain such greatness; but gradually He enlarges it to the
extent requisite for what He has to set within it. It is for this reason that I
say He has perfect freedom, since He has power to make the whole of this palace
great. The important point is that we should be absolutely resolved to give it
to Him for His own and should empty it so that He may take out and put in just
what He likes, as He would with something of His own. His Majesty is right in
demanding this; let us not deny it to Him. And, as He refuses to force our will,
He takes what we give Him but does not give Himself wholly until He sees that
we are giving ourselves wholly to Him. This is certain, and, as it is of such
importance, I often remind you of it. Nor does He work within the soul as He
does when it is wholly His and keeps nothing back. I do not see how He can do
so, since He likes everything to be done in order. If we fill the palace with
vulgar people and all kinds of junk, how can the Lord and His Court occupy it?
When such a crowd is there it would be a great thing if He were to remain for
even a short time.
Do you suppose, daughters, that He is alone
when He comes to us? Do you not see that His most holy Son says:
"Who art in the Heavens"? Surely such a King would not be abandoned by
His courtiers. They stay with Him and pray to Him on our behalf and for our
welfare, for they are full of charity. Do not imagine that Heaven is like this
earth, where, if a lord or prelate shows anyone favours, whether for some
particular reason or simply because he likes him, people at once become envious,
and, though the poor man has done nothing to them, he is maliciously treated, so
that his favours cost him dear.
Continues to describe methods for achieving
this Prayer of Recollection. Says what little account we should make of being
favoured by our superiors.
For the love of God, daughters, avoid making
any account of these favours. You should each do your duty; and, if this is not
appreciated by your superior, you may be sure that it will be appreciated and
rewarded by the Lord. We did not come here to seek rewards in this life, but
only in the life to come. Let our thoughts always be fixed upon what
endures, and not trouble themselves with earthly things which do not endure even
for a lifetime. For to-day some other sister will be in your superior's good
books; whereas to-morrow, if she sees you exhibiting some additional virtue, it
is with you that she will be better pleased -- and if she is not it is of little
consequence. Never give way to these thoughts, which sometimes begin in a small
way but may cost you a great deal of unrest. Check them by remembering that your
kingdom is not of this world, and that everything comes quickly to an end, and
that there is nothing in this life that goes on unchangingly.
But even that is a poor remedy and anything
but a perfect one; it is best that this state of things should continue, and
that you should be humbled and out of favour, and should wish to be so for the
sake of the Lord Who dwells in you. Turn your eyes upon yourself and look at
yourself inwardly, as I have said. You will find your Master; He will not fail
you: indeed, the less outward comfort you have, the [much] greater the joy He
will give you. He is full of compassion and never fails those who are afflicted
and out of favour if they trust in Him alone. Thus David tells us that he
never saw the just forsaken,
and again, that the Lord is with the afflicted.
Either you believe this or you do not: if you do, as you should, why do you wear
yourselves to death with worry?
O my Lord, if we had a real knowledge of Thee,
we should make not the slightest account of anything, since Thou givest so much
to those who will set their whole trust on Thee. Believe me, friends, it is a
great thing to realize the truth of this so that we may see how deceptive are
earthly things and favours when they deflect the soul in any way from its
course and hinder it from entering within itself.
God help me! If only someone could make you realize this! I myself, Lord,
certainly cannot; I know that [in truth] I owe Thee more than anyone else
but I cannot realize this myself as well as I should.
Returning to what I was saying, I should like
to be able to explain the nature of this holy companionship with our great
Companion, the Holiest of the holy, in which there is nothing to hinder the soul
and her Spouse from remaining alone together, when the soul desires to enter
within herself, to shut the door behind her so as to keep out all that is
worldly and to dwell in that Paradise with her God. I say "desires",
because you must understand that this is not a supernatural state but depends
upon our volition, and that, by God's favour, we can enter it of our own accord:
this condition must be understood of everything that we say in this book can
be done, for without it nothing can be accomplished and we have not the
power to think a single good thought. For this is not a silence of the
faculties: it is a shutting-up of the faculties within itself by the soul.
There are many ways in which we can gradually
acquire this habit, as various books tell us. We must cast aside everything
else, they say, in order to approach God inwardly and we must retire within
ourselves even during our ordinary occupations. If I can recall the
companionship which I have within my soul for as much as a moment, that is of
great utility. But as I am speaking only about the way to recite vocal
prayers well, there is no need for me to say as much as this. All I want is that
we should know
and abide with the Person with Whom we are speaking, and not turn our backs upon
Him; for that, it seems to me, is what we are doing when we talk to God and yet
think of all kinds of vanity. The whole mischief comes from our not really
grasping the fact that He is near us, and imagining Him far away -- so far, that
we shall have to go to Heaven in order to find Him. How is it, Lord, that we do
not look at Thy face, when it is so near us? We do not think people are
listening to us when we are speaking to them unless we see them looking at us.
And do we close our eyes so as not to see that Thou art looking at us? How can
we know if Thou hast heard what we say to Thee?
great thing I should like to teach you is that, in order to accustom ourselves
gradually to giving our minds confidence, so that we may readily understand what
we are saying, and with Whom we are speaking, we must recollect our outward
senses, take charge of them ourselves and give them something which will occupy
them. It is in this way that we have Heaven within ourselves since the Lord of
Heaven is there.
If once we accustom ourselves to being glad
that there is no need to raise our voices in order to speak to Him, since His
Majesty will make us conscious that He is there, we shall be able to say the
Paternoster and whatever other prayers we like with great peace of mind, and the
Lord Himself will help us not to grow tired. Soon after we have begun to force
ourselves to remain near the Lord, He will give us indications by which we may
understand that, though we have had to say the Paternoster many times, He heard
us the first time. For He loves to save us worry; and, even though we may take a
whole hour over saying it once, if we can realize that we are with Him, and what
it is we are asking Him, and how willing He is, like any father, to grant
it to us, and how He loves to be with us, and comfort us, He has no wish
for us to tire our brains by a great deal of talking.
love of the Lord, then, sisters, accustom yourselves to saying the Paternoster
in this recollected way, and before long you will see how you gain by doing so.
It is a method of prayer which establishes habits that prevent the soul from
going astray and the faculties from becoming restless. This you will find out in
time: I only beg you to test it, even at the cost of a little trouble, which
always results when we try to form a new habit. I assure you, however, that
before long you will have the great comfort of finding it unnecessary to tire
yourselves with seeking this holy Father to Whom you pray, for you will discover
Him within you.
May the Lord teach this to those of you who do
not know it: for my own part I must confess that, until the Lord taught me this
method, I never knew what it was to get satisfaction and comfort out of prayer,
and it is because I have always gained such great benefits from this custom of
that I have written about it at such length. Perhaps you all know this, but
some sister may come to you who will not know it, so you must not be vexed at my
having spoken about it here.
I conclude by advising anyone who wishes to
acquire it (since, as I say, it is in our power to do so) not to grow weary of
trying to get used to the method which has been described, for it is equivalent
to a gradual gaining of the mastery over herself and is not vain labour. To
conquer oneself for one's own good is to make use of the senses in the service
of the interior life. If she is speaking she must try to remember that there is
One within her to Whom she can speak; if she is listening, let her remember that
she can listen to Him Who is nearer to her than anyone else. Briefly, let her
realize that, if she likes, she need never withdraw from this good
companionship, and let her grieve when she has left her Father alone for so long
though her need of Him is so sore.
If she can, let her practise recollection many
times daily; if not, let her do so occasionally. As she grows accustomed to it,
she will feel its benefits, either sooner or later. Once the Lord has granted it
to her, she would not exchange it for any treasure.
Nothing, sisters, can be learned without a
little trouble, so do, for the love of God, look upon any care which you take
about this as well spent. I know that, with God's help, if you practise it for a
year, or perhaps for only six months, you will be successful in attaining it.
Think what a short time that is for acquiring so great a benefit, for you will
be laying a good foundation, so that, if the Lord desires to raise you up to
achieve great things, He will find you ready, because you will be close to
Himself. May His Majesty never allow us to withdraw ourselves from His presence.
Describes the importance of understanding what
we ask for in prayer. Treats of these words in the Paternoster:
"Sanctificetur nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuum."
Applies them to the Prayer of Quiet, and begins the explanation of them.
We must now come to consider the next petition
in our good Master's prayer, in which He begins to entreat His holy Father on
our behalf, and see what it is that He entreats, as it is well that we should
What person, however careless, who had to
address someone of importance, would not spend time in thinking how to approach
him so as to please him and not be considered tedious? He would also think what
he was going to ask for and what use he would make of it, especially if his
petition were for some particular thing, as our good Jesus tells us our
petitions must be. This point seems to me very important. Couldst Thou
not, my Lord, have ended this prayer in a single sentence, by saying: "Give
us, Father, whatever is good for us"? For, in addressing One Who knows
everything, there would seem to be no need to say any more.
This would have sufficed, O Eternal Wisdom, as
between Thee and Thy Father. It was thus that Thou didst address Him in the
Garden, telling Him of Thy will and Thy fear, but leaving Thyself in His hands.
But Thou knowest us, my Lord, and Thou knowest that we are not as resigned as
wert Thou to the will of Thy Father; we needed, therefore, to be taught to ask
for particular things so that we should stop for a moment to think if
what we ask of Thee is good for us, and if it is not, should not ask for it.
For, being what we are and having our free will, if we do not receive what we
ask for, we shall not accept what the Lord gives us. The gift might be the best
one possible -- but we never think we are rich unless we actually see money in
Oh, God help me! What is it that sends our
faith to sleep, so that we cannot realize how certain we are, on the one hand,
to be punished, and, on the other, to be rewarded? It is for this reason,
daughters, that it is good for you to know what you are asking for in the
Paternoster, so that, if the Eternal Father gives it you, you shall not cast it
back in His face. You must think carefully if what you are about to ask for will
be good for you; if it will not, do not ask for it, but ask His Majesty to give
you light. For we are blind and often we have such a loathing for life-giving
food that we cannot eat it but prefer what will cause us death -- and what a
death: so terrible and eternal!
Now the good Jesus bids us say these words, in
which we pray that this Kingdom may come in us: "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy
Kingdom come in us." Consider now, daughters, how great is our Master's
wisdom. I am thinking here of what we are asking in praying for this kingdom,
and it is well that we should realize this. His Majesty, knowing of how little
we are capable, saw that, unless He provided for us by giving us His Kingdom
here on earth, we could neither hallow nor praise nor magnify nor glorify nor
exalt this holy name of the Eternal Father in a way befitting it. The good
Jesus, therefore, places these two petitions next to each other. Let us
understand this thing that we are asking for, daughters, and how important it is
that we should pray for it without ceasing and do all we can to please Him Who
will give it us: it is for that reason that I want to tell you what I know about
the matter now. If you do not like the subject, think out some other meditations
for yourselves, for our Master will allow us to do this, provided we submit in
all things to the teaching of the [Holy Roman] Church, as I do here. In any
case I shall not give you this book to read until persons who understand these
matters have seen it: so, if there is anything wrong with it, the reason will
be, not wickedness, but my imperfect knowledge.
To me, then, it seems that, of the many joys
to be found in the kingdom of Heaven, the chief is that we shall have no more to
do with the things of earth; for in Heaven we shall have an intrinsic
tranquillity and glory, a joy in the rejoicings of all, a perpetual peace, and a
great interior satisfaction which will come to us when we see that all are
hallowing and praising the Lord, and are blessing His name, and that none is
offending Him. For all love Him there and the soul's one concern is loving Him,
nor can it cease from loving Him because it knows Him. And this is how we should
love Him on earth, though we cannot do so with the same perfection nor yet all
the time; still, if we knew Him, we should love Him very differently from the
way we do now.
It looks as though I were going to say that we
must be angels to make this petition and to say our vocal prayers well. This
would indeed be our Divine Master's wish, since He bids us make so sublime a
petition. You may be quite sure that He never tells us to ask for
impossibilities, so it must be possible, with God's help, for a soul living in
that state of exile to reach such a point, though not as perfectly as those who
have been freed from this prison, for we are making a sea-voyage and are still
on the journey. But there are times when we are wearied with travelling and the
Lord grants our faculties tranquillity and our soul quiet, and while they are in
that state He gives us a clear understanding of the nature of the gifts He
bestows upon those whom He brings to His Kingdom. Those to whom, while they are
still on earth, He grants what we are asking Him for receive pledges which will
give them a great hope of eventually attaining to a perpetual enjoyment of what
on earth He only allows them to taste.
If it were not that you would tell me I am
treating of contemplation, it would be appropriate, in writing of this petition,
to say a little about the beginning of pure contemplation, which those who
experience it call the Prayer of Quiet; but, as I have said, I am discussing
vocal prayer here, and anyone ignorant of the subject might think that the two
had nothing to do with one another, though I know this is certainly not true.
Forgive my wanting to speak of it, for I know there are many people who practise
vocal prayer in the manner already described and are raised by God to the higher
kind of contemplation without having had any hand in this themselves or even
knowing how it has happened. For this reason, daughters, I attach great
importance to your saying your vocal prayers well. I know a nun who could
never practise anything but vocal prayer but who kept to this and found she had
everything else; yet if she omitted saying her prayers her mind wandered so much
that she could not endure it. May we all practise such mental prayer as that.
She would say a number of Paternosters, corresponding to the number of times Our
Lord shed His blood, and on nothing more than these and a few other prayers she
would spend two or three hours. She came to me once in great distress, saying
that she did not know how to practise mental prayer, and that she could not
contemplate but could only say vocal prayers. She was quite an old woman and
had lived an extremely good and religious life. I asked her what prayers she
said, and from her reply I saw that, though keeping to the Paternoster,
she was experiencing pure contemplation, and the Lord was raising her to be with
Him in union. She spent her life so well, too, that her actions made it clear
she was receiving great favours. So I praised the Lord and envied her her vocal
prayer. If this story is true -- and it is -- none of you who have had a bad
opinion of contemplatives can suppose that you will be free from the risk of
becoming like them if you say your vocal prayers as they should be said and keep
a pure conscience. I shall have to say still more about this. Anyone not
wishing to hear it may pass it over.
Continues the same subject. Explains what is
meant by the Prayer of Quiet. Gives several counsels to those who experience it.
This chapter is very noteworthy.
Now, daughters, I still want to describe this
Prayer of Quiet to you, in the way I have heard it talked about, and as the Lord
has been pleased to teach it to me, perhaps in order that I might describe it to
you. It is in this kind of prayer, as I have said, that the Lord seems to me to
begin to show us that He is hearing our petition: He begins to give us His
Kingdom on earth so that we may truly praise Him and hallow His name and strive
to make others do so likewise.
This is a supernatural state, and, however
hard we try, we cannot reach it for ourselves; for it is a state in which the
soul enters into peace, or rather in which the Lord gives it peace through His
presence, as He did to that just man Simeon.
In this state all the faculties are stilled. The soul, in a way which has
nothing to do with the outward senses, realizes that it is now very close to its
God, and that, if it were but a little closer, it would become one with Him
through union. This is not because it sees Him either with its bodily or with
its spiritual eyes. The just man Simeon saw no more than the glorious Infant --
a poor little Child, Who, to judge from the swaddling-clothes in which He was
wrapped and from the small number of the people whom He had as a retinue
to take Him up to the Temple, might well have been the son of these poor people
rather than the Son of his Heavenly Father. But the Child Himself revealed to
him Who He was. Just so, though less clearly, does the soul know Who He is. It
cannot understand how it knows Him, yet it sees that it is in the Kingdom (or at
least is near to the King Who will give it the Kingdom), and it feels such
reverence that it dares to ask nothing. It is, as it were, in a swoon, both
inwardly and outwardly, so that the outward man (let me call it the
"body", and then you will understand me better) does not wish to move,
but rests, like one who has almost reached the end of his journey, so that it
may the better start again upon its way, with redoubled strength for its task.
The body experiences the greatest delight and
the soul is conscious of a deep satisfaction. So glad is it merely to find
itself near the fountain that, even before it has begun to drink, it has had its
fill. There seems nothing left for it to desire. The faculties are stilled and
have no wish to move, for any movement they may make appears to hinder the soul
from loving God. They are not completely lost, however, since, two of them being
free, they can realize in Whose Presence they are. It is the will that is in
captivity now; and, if while in this state it is capable of experiencing any
pain, the pain comes when it realizes that it will have to resume its liberty.
The mind tries to occupy itself with only one thing, and the memory has no
desire to busy itself with more: they both see that this is the one thing
needful and that anything else will unsettle them. Persons in this state prefer
the body to remain motionless, for otherwise their peace would be destroyed: for
this reason they dare not stir. Speaking is a distress to them: they will spend
a whole hour on a single repetition of the Paternoster. They are so close to God
that they know they can make themselves understood by signs. They are in the
palace, near to their King, and they see that He is already beginning to give
them His Kingdom on earth. Sometimes tears come to their eyes, but they weep
very gently and quite without distress: their whole desire is the hallowing of
this name. They seem not to be in the world, and have no wish to see or hear
anything but their God; nothing distresses them, nor does it seem that anything
can possibly do so. In short, for as long as this state lasts, they are so
overwhelmed and absorbed by the joy and delight which they experience that they
can think of nothing else to wish for, and will gladly say with Saint Peter:
"Lord, let us make here three mansions."
Occasionally, during this Prayer of Quiet, God
grants the soul another favour which is hard to understand if one has not had
long experience of it. But any of you who have had this will at once recognize
it and it will give you great comfort to know what it is. I believe God often
grants this favour together with the other. When this quiet is felt in a high
degree and lasts for a long time, I do not think that, if the will were not made
fast to something, the peace could be of such long duration. Sometimes it goes
on for a day, or for two days, and we find ourselves -- I mean those who
experience this state -- full of this joy without understanding the reason. They
see clearly that their whole self is not in what they are doing, but that the
most important faculty is absent -- namely, the will, which I think is united
with its God -- and that the other faculties are left free to busy themselves
with His service. For this they have much more capacity at such a time, though
when attending to worldly affairs they are dull and sometimes stupid.
It is a great favour which the Lord grants to
these souls, for it unites the active life with the contemplative. At such times
they serve the Lord in both these ways at once; the will, while in
contemplation, is working without knowing how it does so; the other two
faculties are serving Him as Martha did. Thus Martha and Mary work together. I
know someone to whom the Lord often granted this favour; she could not
understand it and asked a great contemplative
about it, he told her that what she described was quite possible and had
happened to himself. I think, therefore, that as the soul experiences such
satisfaction in this Prayer of Quiet the will must be almost continuously united
with Him Who alone can give it happiness.
I think it will be well, sisters, if I give
some advice here to any of you whom the Lord, out of His goodness alone, has
brought to this state, as I know that this has happened to some of you. First of
all, when such persons experience this joy, without knowing whence it has come
to them, but knowing at least that they could not have achieved it of
themselves, they are tempted to imagine that they can prolong it and they may
even try not to breathe. This is ridiculous: we can no more control this prayer
than we can make the day break, or stop night from falling; it is supernatural
and something we cannot acquire. The most we can do to prolong this favour is to
realize that we can neither diminish nor add to it, but, being most unworthy and
undeserving of it, can only receive it with thanksgiving. And we can best give
thanks, not with many words, but by lifting up our eyes, like the publican.
It is well to seek greater solitude so as to
make room for the Lord and allow His Majesty to do His own work in us. The most
we should do is occasionally, and quite gently, to utter a single word, like a
person giving a little puff to a candle, when he sees it has almost gone out, so
as to make it burn again; though, if it were fully alight, I suppose the only
result of blowing it would be to put it out. I think the puff should be a gentle
one because, if we begin to tax our brains by making up long speeches, the will
may become active again.
Note carefully, friends, this piece of advice
which I want to give you now. You will often find that these other two faculties
are of no help to you. It may come about that the soul is enjoying the highest
degree of quiet, and that the understanding has soared so far aloft that what is
happening to it seems not to be going on in its own house at all; it really
seems to be a guest in somebody else's house, looking for other lodgings, since
its own lodging no longer satisfies it and it cannot remain there for long
together. Perhaps this is only my own experience and other people do not find it
so. But, speaking for myself, I sometimes long to die because I cannot cure this
wandering of the mind. At other times the mind seems to be settled in its own
abode and to be remaining there with the will as its companion. When all three
faculties work together it is wonderful. The harmony is like that between
husband and wife: if they are happy and love each other, both desire the same
thing; but if the husband is unhappy in his marriage he soon begins to make the
wife restless. Just so, when the will finds itself in this state of quiet, it
must take no more notice of the understanding than it would of a madman, for, if
it tries to draw the understanding along with it, it is bound to grow
preoccupied and restless, with the result that this state of prayer will be all
effort and no gain and the soul will lose what God has been giving it without
any effort of its own.
Pay great attention to the following
comparison, which the Lord suggested to me when I was in this state of
prayer, and which seems to me very appropriate. The soul is like an infant
still at its mother's breast: such is the mother's care for it that she gives it
its milk without its having to ask for it so much as by moving its lips. That is
what happens here. The will simply loves, and no effort needs to be made by the
understanding, for it is the Lord's pleasure that, without exercising its
thought, the soul should realize that it is in His company, and should merely
drink the milk which His Majesty puts into its mouth and enjoy its sweetness.
The Lord desires it to know that it is He Who is granting it that favour and
that in its enjoyment of it He too rejoices. But it is not His will that the
soul should try to understand how it is enjoying it, or what it is enjoying; it
should lose all thought of itself, and He Who is at its side will not fail to
see what is best for it. If it begins to strive with its mind so that the mind
may be apprised of what is happening and thus induced to share in it,
it will be quite unable to do so, and the soul will perforce lose the milk
and forgo that Divine sustenance.
This state of prayer is different from that in
which the soul is wholly united with God, for in the latter state it does not
even swallow its nourishment: the Lord places this within it, and it has no idea
how. But in this state it even seems to be His will that the soul should work a
little, though so quietly that it is hardly conscious of doing so. What disturbs
it is the understanding and this is not the case when there is union of all the
three faculties, since He Who created them suspends them: He keeps them occupied
with the enjoyment that He has given them, without their knowing, or being able
to understand, the reason. Anyone who has had experience of this kind of
prayer will understand quite well what I am saying if, after reading this, she
considers it carefully, and thinks out its meaning: otherwise it will be Greek
Well, as I say, the soul is conscious of
having reached this state of prayer, which is a quiet, deep and Peaceful
happiness of the will, without being able to decide precisely what it is,
although it can clearly see how it differs from the happiness of the world. To
have dominion over the whole world, with all its happiness, would not suffice to
bring the soul such inward satisfaction as it enjoys now in the depths of its
will. For other kinds of happiness in life, it seems to me, touch only the
outward part of the will, which we might describe as its rind.
When one of you finds herself in this sublime
state of prayer, which, as I have already said, is most markedly supernatural,
and the understanding (or, to put it more clearly, the thought) wanders off
after the most ridiculous things in the world, she should laugh at it and treat
it as the silly thing it is, and remain in her state of quiet. For thoughts will
come and go, but the will is mistress and all-powerful, and will recall them
without your having to trouble about it. But if you try to drag the
understanding back by force, you lose your power over it, which comes from your
taking and receiving that Divine sustenance, and neither will nor understanding
but both will be losers. There is a saying that, if we try very hard to grasp
all, we lose all; and so I think it is here. Experience will show you the truth
of this; and I shall not be surprised if those of you who have none think this
very obscure and unnecessary. But, as I have said, if you have only a little
experience of it you will understand it and be able to profit by it, and you
will praise the Lord for being pleased to enable me to explain it.
Let us now conclude by saying that, when the
soul is brought to this state of prayer, it would seem that the Eternal Father
has already granted its petition that He will give it His Kingdom on earth. O
blessed request, in which we ask for so great a good without knowing what we do!
Blessed manner of asking! It is for this reason, sisters, that I want us to be
careful how we say this prayer, the Paternoster, and all other vocal prayers, and
what we ask for in them. For clearly, when God has shown us this
favour, we shall have to forget worldly things, all of which the Lord of the
world has come and cast out. I do not mean that everyone who experiences the
Prayer of Quiet must perforce be detached from everything in the world; but at
least I should like all such persons to know what they lack and to humble
themselves and not to make so great a petition as though they were asking for
nothing, and, if the Lord gives them what they ask for, to throw it back in His
face. They must try to become more and more detached from everything, for
otherwise they will only remain where they are. If God gives a soul such
pledges, it is a sign that He has great things in store for it. It will be its
own fault if it does not make great progress. But if He sees that, after He has
brought the Kingdom of Heaven into its abode, it returns to earth, not only will
He refrain from showing it the secrets of His Kingdom but He will grant it this
other favour only for short periods and rarely.
I may be mistaken about this, but I have seen
it and know that it happens, and, for my own part, I believe this is why
spiritual people are not much more numerous. They do not respond to so great a
favour in a practical way: instead of preparing themselves to receive this
favour again, they take back from the Lord's hands the will which He considered
His own and centre it upon base things. So He seeks out others who love Him in
order to grant them His greater gifts, although He will not take away all that
He has given from those who live in purity of conscience. But there are persons
-- and I have been one of them -- to whom the Lord gives tenderness of devotion
and holy inspirations and light on everything. He bestows this Kingdom on them
and brings them to this Prayer of Quiet, and yet they deafen their ears to His
voice. For they are so fond of talking and of repeating a large number of vocal
prayers in a great hurry, as though they were anxious to finish their task of
repeating them daily, that when the Lord, as I say, puts His Kingdom into their
very hands, by giving them this Prayer of Quiet and this inward peace,
they do not accept it, but think that they will do better to go on reciting
their prayers, which only distract them from their purpose.
Do not be like that, sisters, but be watchful
when the Lord grants you this favour. Think what a great treasure you may be
losing and realize that you are doing much more by occasionally repeating a
single petition of the Paternoster than by repeating the whole of it many times
in a hurry and not thinking what you are saying. He to Whom you are
praying is very near to you and will not fail to hear you; and you may be sure
that you are truly praising Him and hallowing His name, since you are glorifying
the Lord as a member of His household and praising Him with increasing affection
and desire so that it seems you can never forsake His service. So I advise
you to be very cautious about this, for it is of the greatest importance.
Expounds these words of the Paternoster:
"Fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo et in terra."
Describes how much is accomplished by those who repeat these words with full
resolution and how well the Lord rewards them for it.
Now that our good Master has asked on our
behalf, and has taught us ourselves to ask, for a thing so precious that it
includes all we can desire on earth, and has granted us the great favour of
making us His brethren, let us see what He desires us to give to His Father, and
what He offers Him on our behalf, and what He asks of us, for it is right that
we should render Him some service in return for such great favours. O good
Jesus! Since Thou givest so little (little, that is to say, on our behalf) how
canst Thou ask [so much] for us? What we give is in itself nothing at all by
comparison with all that has been given us and with the greatness of Our Lord.
But in truth, my Lord, Thou dost not leave us with nothing to give and we give
all that we can -- I mean if we give in the spirit of these words: "Thy
will be done; as in Heaven, so on earth."
Thou didst well, O our good Master, to make
this last petition, so that we may be able to accomplish what Thou dost promise
in our name. For truly, Lord, hadst Thou not done this, I do not think it would
have been possible for us to accomplish it. But, since Thy Father does
what Thou askest Him in granting us His Kingdom on earth, I know that we can
truly fulfil Thy word by giving what Thou dost promise in our name. For since my
earth has now become Heaven, it will be possible for Thy will to be done in me.
Otherwise, on an earth so wretched as mine, and so barren of fruit, I know not,
Lord, how it could be possible. It is a great thing that Thou dost offer.
When I think of this, it amuses me that there
should be people who dare not ask the Lord for trials, thinking that His sending
them to them depends upon their asking for them! I am not referring to those who
omit to ask for them out of humility because they think themselves to be
incapable of bearing them, though for my own part I believe that He who gives
them love enough to ask for such a stern method of proving it will give them
love enough to endure it. I should like to ask those who are afraid to pray for
trials lest they should at once be given them what they mean when they beg the
Lord to fulfil His will in them. Do they say this because everyone else says it
and not because they want it to be done? That would not be right, sisters.
Remember that the good Jesus is our Ambassador here, and that His desire has
been to mediate between us and His Father at no small cost to Himself: it would
not be right for us to refuse to give what He promises and offers on our
behalf or to say nothing about it. Let me put it in another way. Consider,
daughters, that, whether we wish it or no, God's will must be done, and must be
done both in Heaven and on earth. Believe me, then, do as I suggest and make a
virtue of necessity.
O my Lord, what a great comfort it is to me
that Thou didst not entrust the fulfilment of Thy will to one so wretched as I!
Blessed be Thou for ever and let all things praise Thee. May Thy name be for
ever glorified. I should indeed have had to be good, Lord, if the fulfilment or
non-fulfilment of Thy will [in Heaven and on earth] were in my hands. But as it
is, though my will is not yet free from self-interest, I give it to Thee freely.
For I have proved, by long experience, how much I gain by leaving it freely in
Thy hands. O friends, what a great gain is this -- and how much we lose through
not fulfilling our promises to the Lord in the Paternoster, and giving Him what
we offer Him!
Before I tell you in what this gain consists,
I will explain to you how much you are offering, lest later you should exclaim
that you had been deceived and had not understood what you were saying. Do not
behave like some religious among us, who do nothing but promise, and then excuse
ourselves for not fulfilling our promises by saying that we had not understood
what we were promising. That may well be true, for it is easy to say things
and hard to put them into practice, and anyone who thought that there was no
more in the one than in the other certainly did not understand. It seems
very easy to say that we will surrender our will to someone, until we try it and
realize that it is the hardest thing we can do if we carry it out as we should.
Our superiors do not always treat us strictly when they see we are weak; and
sometimes they treat both weak and strong in the same way. That is not so with
the Lord; He knows what each of us can bear, and, when He sees that one of us is
strong, He does not hesitate to fulfil His will in him.
I want you to realize with Whom (as they say) you are dealing and what the good
Jesus offers on your behalf to the Father, and what you are giving Him when you
pray that His will may be done in you: it is nothing else than this that you are
Do not fear that He will give you riches or pleasures or great honours or
any such earthly things; His love for you is not so poor as that. And He sets a
very high value on what you give Him and desires to recompense you for it since
He gives you His Kingdom while you are still alive. Would you like to see how He
treats those who make this prayer from their hearts? Ask His glorious Son, Who
made it thus in the Garden. Think with what resolution and fullness of desire He
prayed; and consider if the will of God was not perfectly fulfilled in Him
through the trials, sufferings, insults and persecutions which He gave Him,
until at last His life ended with death on a Cross.
So you see, daughters, what God gave to His
best Beloved, and from that you can understand what His will is. These, then,
are His gifts in this world. He gives them in proportion to the love which He
bears us. He gives more to those whom He loves most, and less to those He loves
least; and He gives in accordance with the courage which He sees that each of us
has and the love we bear to His Majesty. When He sees a soul who loves Him
greatly, He knows that soul can suffer much for Him, whereas one who loves Him
little will suffer little. For my own part, I believe that love is the measure
of our ability to bear crosses, whether great or small. So if you have this
love, sisters, try not to let the prayers you make to so great a Lord be words
of mere politeness but brace yourselves to suffer what His Majesty desires. For
if you give Him your will in any other way, you are just showing Him a jewel,
making as if to give it to Him and begging Him to take it, and then, when He
puts out His hand to do so, taking it back and holding on to it tightly.
Such mockery is no fit treatment for One who
endured so much for us. If for no other reason than this, it would not be right
to mock Him so often -- and it is by no means seldom that we say these words to
Him in the Paternoster. Let us give Him once and for all the jewel which we have
so often undertaken to give Him. For the truth is that He gives it to us first
so that we may give it back to Him. Ah, my God! How well Jesus knows us and
how much He thinks of our good! He did not say we must surrender our wills to
the Lord until we had been well paid for this small service. It will be realized
from this how much the Lord intends us to gain by rendering it to Him: even in
this life He begins to reward us for this, as I shall presently explain.
Worldly people will do a great deal if they sincerely resolve to fulfil the will
of God. But you, daughters, must both say and act, and give Him both words and
deeds, as I really think we religious do. Yet sometimes not only do we undertake
to give God the jewel but we even put it into His hand and then take it back
again. We are so generous all of a sudden, and then we become so mean, that it
would have been better if we had stopped to think before giving.
The aim of all my advice to you in this book
is that we should surrender ourselves wholly to the Creator, place our will in
His hands and detach ourselves from the creatures. As you will already have
understood how important this is, I will say no more about it, but I will tell
you why our good Master puts these words here. He knows how much we shall gain
by rendering this service to His Eternal Father. We are preparing ourselves for
the time, which will come very soon, when we shall find ourselves at the end of
our journey and shall be drinking of living water from the fountain I have
described. Unless we make a total surrender of our will to the Lord, and put
ourselves in His hands so that He may do in all things what is best for us
in accordance with His will, He will never allow us to drink of it. This is the
perfect contemplation of which you asked me to write to you.
In this matter, as I have already said, we can
do nothing of ourselves, either by working hard or by making plans, nor is it
needful that we should. For everything else hinders and prevents us from saying
[with real resolution], "Fiat voluntas tua": that is, may the Lord
fulfil His will in me, in every way and manner which Thou, my Lord, desirest. If
Thou wilt do this by means of trials, give me strength and let them come. If by
means of persecutions and sickness and dishonour and need, here I am, my Father,
I will not turn my face away from Thee nor have I the right to turn my back upon
them. For Thy Son gave Thee this will of mine in the name of us all and it is
not right that I for my part should fail. Do Thou grant me the grace of
bestowing on me Thy Kingdom so that I may do Thy will, since He has asked this
of me. Dispose of me as of that which is Thine own, in accordance with Thy will.
Oh, my sisters, what power this gift has! If
it be made with due resolution, it cannot fail to draw the Almighty to become
one with our lowliness and to transform us into Himself and to effect a union
between the Creator and the creature. Ask yourselves if that will not be a rich
reward for you, and if you have not a good Master. For, knowing how the good
will of His Father is to be gained, He teaches us how and by what means we must
The more resolute we are in soul and the
more we show Him by our actions that the words we use to Him are not words
of mere politeness, the more and more does Our Lord draw us to Himself and raise
us above all petty earthly things, and above ourselves, in order to
prepare us to receive great favours from Him, for His rewards for our
service will not end with this life. So much does He value this service of ours
that we do not know for what more we can ask, while His Majesty never wearies of
giving. Not content with having made this soul one with Himself, through uniting
it to Himself, He begins to cherish it, to reveal secrets to it, to rejoice in
its understanding of what it has gained and in the knowledge which it has of all
He has yet to give it. He causes it gradually to lose its exterior senses so
that nothing may occupy it. This we call rapture. He begins to make such a
friend of the soul that not only does He restore its will to it but He gives it
His own also. For, now that He is making a friend of it, He is glad to allow it
to rule with Him, as we say, turn and turn about. So He does what the soul asks
of Him, just as the soul does what He commands, only in a much better way, since
He is all-powerful and can do whatever He desires, and His desire never comes to
But the poor soul, despite its desires, is often
unable to do all it would like, nor can it do anything at all unless it is given
And so it grows richer and richer; and the more it serves, the greater becomes
its debt; and often, growing weary of finding itself subjected to all the
inconveniences and impediments and bonds which it has to endure while it is in
the prison of this body, it would gladly pay something of what it owes, for it
is quite worn out. But even if we do all that is in us, how can we repay God,
since, as I say, we have nothing to give save what we have first received? We
can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can -- namely, surrender our
will and fulfil God's will in us. Anything else must be a hindrance to the soul
which the Lord has brought to this state. It causes it, not profit, but harm,
for nothing but humility is of any use here, and this is not acquired by the
understanding but by a clear perception of the truth, which comprehends in one
moment what could not be attained over a long period by the labour of the
imagination -- namely, that we are nothing and that God is infinitely great.
I will give you one piece of advice: do not
suppose that you can reach this state by your own effort or diligence; that
would be too much to expect. On the contrary, you would turn what devotion you
had quite cold. You must practise simplicity and humility, for those are the
virtues which achieve everything. You must say: "Fiat voluntas tua."
Treats of our great need that the Lord should
give us what we ask in these words of the Paternoster: "Panem nostrum
quotidianum da nobis hodie."
The good Jesus understands, as I have said,
how difficult a thing He is offering on our behalf, for He knows our weakness,
and how often we show that we do not understand what the will of the Lord is,
since we are weak while He is so merciful. He knows that some means must be
found by which we shall not omit to give what He has given on our behalf, for if
we did that it would be anything but good for us, since everything we gain comes
from what we give. Yet He knows that it will be difficult for us to carry this
out; for if anyone were to tell some wealthy, pampered person that it is God's
will for him to moderate his eating so that others, who are dying of hunger,
shall have at least bread to eat, he will discover a thousand reasons for not
understanding this but interpreting it in his own way. If one tells a person who
speaks ill of others that it is God's will that he should love his neighbour as
he will lose patience and no amount of reasoning will convince him. If one tells
a religious who is accustomed to liberty and indulgence that he must be careful
to set a good example and to remember that when he makes this petition it is his
duty to keep what he has sworn and promised, and that not in word alone; that it
is the will of God that he should fulfil his vows and see that he gives no
occasion for scandal by acting contrarily to them, even though he may not
actually break them; that he has taken the vow of poverty and must keep it
without evasions, because that is the Lord's will -- it would be impossible, in
spite of all this, that some religious should not still want their own way. What
would be the case, then, if the Lord had not done most of what was necessary by
means of the remedy He has given us? There would have been very few who could
have fulfilled this petition, which the Lord made to the Father on our behalf:
"Fiat voluntas tua." Seeing our need, therefore, the good Jesus has
sought the admirable means whereby He has shown us the extreme love which He has
for us, and in His own name and in that of His brethren He has made this
petition: "Give us, Lord, this day our daily bread."
For the love of God, sisters, let us realize
the meaning of our good Master's petition, for our very life depends on our not
disregarding it. Set very little store by what you have given, since there is so
much that you will receive. It seems to me, in the absence of a better opinion,
that the good Jesus knew what He had given for us and how important it was for
us to give this to God, and yet how difficult it would be for us to do so, as
has been said, because of our natural inclination to base things and our want of
love and courage. He saw that, before we could be aroused, we needed His aid,
not once but every day, and it must have been for this reason that He resolved
to remain with us. As this was so weighty and important a matter, He wished it
to come from the hand of the Eternal Father. Though both Father and Son are one
and the same, and He knew that whatever He did on earth God would do in Heaven,
and would consider it good, since His will and the Father's will were one, yet
the humility of the good Jesus was such that He wanted, as it were, to ask leave
of His Father, for He knew that He was His beloved Son and that He was well
pleased with Him. He knew quite well that in this petition He was asking for
more than He had asked for in the others, but He already knew what death He was
to suffer and what dishonours and affronts He would have to bear.
What father could there be, Lord, who, after
giving us his son, and such a Son, would allow Him to remain among us day by day
to suffer as He had done already? None, Lord, in truth, but Thine: well dost
Thou know of Whom Thou art asking this. God help me! What a great love is that
of the Son and what a great love is that of the Father! I am not so much amazed
at the good Jesus, because, as He had already said "Fiat voluntas
tua", He was bound, being Who He is, to put what He had said into practice.
Yes, for He is not like us; knowing that He was carrying out His words by loving
us as He loves Himself, He went about seeking how He could carry out this
commandment more perfectly, even at His own cost. But how, Eternal Father,
couldst Thou consent to this? How canst Thou see Thy Son every day in such
wicked hands? Since first Thou didst permit it and consent to it, Thou seest how
He has been treated. How can Thy Mercy, day by day and every day,
see Him affronted? And how many affronts are being offered to-day to this Most
Holy Sacrament? How often must the Father see Him in the hands of His enemies?
What desecrations these heretics commit!
O Eternal Lord! How canst Thou grant such a
petition? How canst Thou consent to it? Consider not His love, which, for the
sake of fulfilling Thy will and of helping us, would allow Him to submit day by
day to being cut to pieces. It is for Thee to see to this, my Lord, since Thy
Son allows no obstacle to stand in His way. Why must all the blessings that we
receive be at His cost? How is it that He is silent in face of all, and cannot
speak for Himself, but only for us? Is there none who will speak for this most
loving Lamb? Give me permission to speak for Him, Lord, since Thou hast been
pleased to leave Him in our power, and let me beseech Thee on His behalf, since
He gave Thee such full obedience and surrendered Himself to us with such great
I have been reflecting how in this petition
alone the same words are repeated: first of all the Lord speaks of "our
daily bread" and asks Thee to give it, and then He says: "Give it us
He lays the matter before His Father in this way: the Father gave us His Son
once and for all to die for us, and thus He is our own; yet He does not want the
gift to be taken from us until the end of the world but would have it left to be
a help to us every day. Let this melt your hearts, my daughters, and make you
love your Spouse, for there is no slave who would willingly call himself by that
name, yet the good Jesus seems to think it an honour.
O Eternal Father, how great is the merit of
this humility! With what a treasure are we purchasing Thy Son! How to sell Him
we already know, for He was sold for thirty pieces of silver; but, if we would
purchase Him, no price is sufficient. Being made one with us through the portion
of our nature which is His, and being Lord of His own will, He reminds His
Father that, as our nature is His, He is able to give it to us, and thus He says
"our bread". He makes no difference between Himself and us, though we
make one between ourselves and Him through not giving ourselves daily for His
Continues the same subject. This is very
suitable for reading after the reception of the Most Holy Sacrament.
We have now reached the conclusion that the
good Jesus, being ours, asks His Father to let us have Him daily -- which
appears to mean "for ever". While writing this I have been
wondering why, after saying "our 'daily' bread", the Lord repeated the
idea in the words "Give us this day, Lord." I will tell you my own
foolish idea: if it really is foolish, well and good -- in any case, it is quite
bad enough that I should interfere in such a matter at all. Still, as we are
trying to understand what we are praying for, let us think carefully what this
means, so that we may pray rightly, and thank Him Who is taking such care about
teaching us. This bread, then, is ours daily, it seems to me, because we
have Him here on earth, since He has remained with us here and we receive
Him; and, if we profit by His company, we shall also have Him in Heaven, for
the only reason He remains with us is to help and encourage and sustain us so
that we shall do that will, which, as we have said, is to be fulfilled in us.
In using the words "this day" He
seems to me to be thinking of a day of the length of this life. And a day
indeed it is! As for the unfortunate souls who will bring damnation upon
themselves and will not have fruition of Him in the world to come, they are
His own creatures, and He did everything to help them on, and was with them, to
strengthen them, throughout the "to-day" of this life, so it is
not His fault if they are vanquished. They will have no excuse to make nor will
they be able to complain of the Father for taking this bread from them at the
time when they most needed it. Therefore the Son prays the Father that, since
this life lasts no more than a day, He will allow Him to spend it in our
As His Majesty has already given His Son to us, by sending Him, of His will
alone, into the world, so now, of that same will, He is pleased not to abandon
us, but to remain here with us for the greater glory of His friends and the
discomfiture of His enemies. He prays for nothing more than this
"to-day" since He has given us this most holy Bread. He has given it
to us for ever, as I have said, as the sustenance and manna of humanity. We can
have it whenever we please and we shall not die of hunger save through our own
fault, for, in whatever way the soul desires to partake of food, it will find
joy and comfort in the Most Holy Sacrament. There is no need or trial or
persecution that cannot be easily borne if we begin to partake and taste
of those which He Himself bore, and to make them the subject of our
regard to other bread
-- the bread of bodily necessaries and sustenance -- I neither like to think
that the Lord is always being reminded of it nor would I have you remember it
yourselves. Keep on the level of the highest contemplation, for anyone who
dwells there no more remembers that he is in the world than if he had already
left it -- still less does he think about food. Would the Lord ever have
insisted upon our asking for food, or taught us to do so by His own example? Not
in my opinion. He teaches us to fix our desires upon heavenly things and to pray
that we may begin to enjoy these things while here on earth: would He, then,
have us trouble about so petty a matter as praying for food? As if He did not
know that, once we begin to worry about the needs of the body, we shall forget
the needs of the soul! Besides, are we such moderately minded people that we
shall be satisfied with just a little and pray only for a little? No: the more
food we are given, the less we shall get of the water from Heaven. Let those of
you, daughters, who want more of the necessaries of life pray for this.
Join with the Lord, then, daughters, in
begging the Father to let you have your Spouse to-day, so that, as long as
you live, you may never find yourself in this world without Him. Let it
suffice to temper your great joy that He should remain disguised beneath these
accidents of bread and wine, which is a real torture to those who have nothing
else to love and no other consolation. Entreat Him not to fail you but to
prepare you to receive Him worthily.
As for that other bread, have no anxiety about
it if you have truly resigned yourselves to God's will. I mean that at these
hours of prayer you are dealing with more important matters and there is time
enough for you to labour and earn your daily bread. Try never at any time to let
your thoughts dwell on this; work with your body, for it is good for you to try
to support yourselves, but let your soul be at rest. Leave anxiety about this to
your Spouse, as has been said at length already, and He will always bear it for
you. Do not fear that He will fail you if you do not fail to do what you have
promised and to resign yourselves to God's will. I assure you, daughters, that,
if I myself were to fail in this, because of my wickedness, as I have often done
in the past, I would not beg Him to give me that bread, or anything else to eat.
Let Him leave me to die of hunger. Of what use is life to me if it leads me
daily nearer to eternal death?
then, you are really surrendering yourselves to God, as you say, cease to be
anxious for yourselves, for He bears your anxiety, and will bear it always.
It is as though a servant had gone into service and were anxious to please his
master in everything. The master is bound to give him food for so long as he
remains in his house, and in his service, unless he is so poor that he has food
neither for his servant nor for himself. Here, however, the comparison breaks
down, for God is, and will always be, rich and powerful. It would not be right
for the servant to go to his master every day and ask him for food when
he knew that his master would see that it was given him and so he would be sure
to receive it. To do this would be a waste of words. His master would
quite properly tell him that he should look after his own business of serving
and pleasing him, for, if he worried himself unnecessarily, he would not do his
work as well as he should. So, sisters, those who will may worry about asking
for earthly bread; let our own task be to beg the Eternal Father that we may
merit our heavenly bread, so that, although our bodily eyes cannot feast
themselves on the sight of Him since He is thus hidden from us, He may reveal
Himself to the eyes of the soul and may make Himself known to us as another kind
of food, full of delight and joy, which sustains our life.
Do you suppose that this most holy food is not
ample sustenance even for the body and a potent medicine for bodily ills?
I am sure that it is. I know a person who was subject to serious illnesses and
often suffered great pain; and this pain was taken away from her in a flash
and she became quite well again. This often occurs, I believe; and cures are
recorded from quite definite illnesses which could not be counterfeited. As the
wondrous effects produced by this most holy bread in those who worthily receive
it are very well known, I will not describe all the things that could be related
about this person I mentioned, though I have been enabled to learn about them
and I know that they are not fabrications. The Lord had given this person such a
lively faith that, when she heard people say they wished they had lived when
Christ walked on this earth, she would smile to herself, for she knew that we
have Him as truly with us in the Most Holy Sacrament as people had Him then, and
wonder what more they could possibly want.
I know, too, that for many years this person,
though by no means perfect, always tried to strengthen her faith, when she
communicated, by thinking that it was exactly as if she saw the Lord entering
her house, with her own bodily eyes, for she believed in very truth that this
Lord was entering her poor abode, and she ceased, as far as she could, to think
of outward things, and went into her abode with Him. She tried to recollect her
senses so that they might all become aware of this great blessing, or rather, so
that they should not hinder the soul from becoming conscious of it. She imagined
herself at His feet and wept with the Magdalen exactly as if she had seen Him
with her bodily eyes in the Pharisee's house. Even if she felt no devotion,
faith told her that it was good for her to be there.
For, unless we want to be foolish and to close
our minds to facts, we cannot suppose that this is the work of the imagination,
as it is when we think of the Lord on the Cross, or of other incidents of the
Passion, and picture within ourselves how these things happened. This is
something which is happening now; it is absolutely true; and we have no need to
go and seek Him somewhere a long way off. For we know that, until the accidents
of bread have been consumed by our natural heat, the good Jesus is with us and
we should [not lose so good an opportunity but should] come to Him. If, while He
went about in the world, the sick were healed merely by touching His clothes,
how can we doubt that He will work miracles when He is within us, if we have
faith, or that He will give us what we ask of Him since He is in our house? His
Majesty is not wont to offer us too little payment for His lodging if we treat
If you grieve at not seeing Him with the eyes
of the body, remember that that would not be good for us, for it is one thing to
see Him glorified and quite another to see Him as He was when He lived in the
world. So weak is our nature that nobody could endure the sight -- in fact,
there would be no one left to endure it, for no one would wish to remain in the
world any longer. Once having seen this Eternal Truth, people would realize that
all the things we prize here are mockery and falsehood. And if such great
Majesty could be seen, how could a miserable sinner like myself, after having so
greatly offended Him, remain so near to Him? Beneath those accidents of bread,
we can approach Him; for, if the King disguises Himself, it would seem that we
need not mind coming to Him without so much circumspection and ceremony: by
disguising Himself, He has, as it were, obliged Himself to submit to this. Who,
otherwise, would dare to approach Him so unworthily, with so many imperfections
and with such lukewarm zeal?
Oh, we know not what we ask! How much better
does His Wisdom know what we need! He reveals Himself to those who He knows will
profit by His presence; though unseen by bodily eyes, He has many ways of
revealing Himself to the soul through deep inward emotions and by various other
means. Delight to remain with Him; do not lose such an excellent time for
talking with Him as the hour after Communion. Remember that this is a very
profitable hour for the soul; if you spend it in the company of the good Jesus,
you are doing Him a great service. Be very careful, then, daughters, not to lose
it. If you are compelled by obedience to do something else, try to leave
your soul with the Lord. For He is your Master, and, though it be in a way
you may not understand, He will not fail to teach you. But if you take your
thoughts elsewhere, and pay no more attention to Him than if you had
not received Him, and care nothing for His being within you, how can He make
Himself known to you? You must complain, not of Him, but of yourself.
This, then, is a good time for our Master to teach us and for us to listen to
Him. I do not tell you to say no prayers at all, for if I did you would take
hold of my words and say I was talking about contemplation, which you need
practise only if the Lord brings you to it. No: you should say the Paternoster,
realize that you are verily and indeed in the company of Him Who taught it you
and kiss His feet in gratitude to Him for having desired to teach you and beg
Him to show you how to pray and never to leave you.
You may be in the habit of praying while
looking at a picture of Christ, but at a time like this it seems foolish
to me to turn away from the living image -- the Person Himself -- to look
at His picture. Would it not be foolish if we had a portrait of someone whom we
dearly loved and, when the person himself came to see us, we refused to talk
with him and carried on our entire conversation with the portrait? Do you know
when I find the use of a picture an excellent thing, and take great pleasure in
it? When the person is absent and we are made to feel his loss by our great
aridity, it is then that we find it a great comfort to look at the picture of
Him Whom we have such reason to love. This is a great inspiration, and makes
us wish that, in whichever direction we turn our eyes, we could see the
picture. What can we look upon that is better or more attractive to the sight
than upon Him Who so dearly loves us and contains within Himself all good
things? Unhappy are those heretics, who through their own fault have lost this
comfort, as well as others.
When you have received the Lord, and are in
His very presence, try to shut the bodily eyes and to open the eyes of the soul
and to look into your own hearts. I tell you, and tell you again, for I should
like to repeat it often, that if you practise this habit of staying with Him,
not just once or twice, but whenever you communicate, and strive to keep
your conscience clear so that you can often rejoice in this your Good, He will
not, as I have said, come so much disguised as to be unable to make His presence
known to you in many ways, according to the desire which you have of seeing Him.
So great, indeed, may be your longing for Him that He will reveal Himself to you
But if we pay no heed to Him save when we have
received Him, and go away from Him in search of other and baser things, what can
He do? Will He have to drag us by force to look at Him and be with Him
because He desires to reveal Himself to us? No; for when He revealed Himself to
all men plainly, and told them clearly who He was, they did not treat Him at all
well -- very few of them, indeed, even believed Him. So He grants us an
exceeding great favour when He is pleased to show us that it is He Who is in the
Most Holy Sacrament. But He will not reveal Himself openly and communicate His
glories and bestow His treasures save on those who He knows greatly desire Him,
for these are His true friends. I assure you that anyone who is not a true
friend and does not come to receive Him as such, after doing all in his power to
prepare for Him, must never importune Him to reveal Himself to him. Hardly is
the hour over which such a person has spent in fulfilling the Church's
commandment than he goes home and tries to drive Christ out of the house. What
with all his other business and occupations and worldly hindrances, he seems to
be making all possible haste to prevent the Lord from taking possession of the
house which is His own.
Describes the recollection which should be
practised after Communion. Concludes this subject with an exclamatory prayer to
the Eternal Father.
I have written at length about this, although,
when writing of the Prayer of Recollection, I spoke of the great importance of
our entering into solitude with God. When you hear Mass without communicating,
daughters, you may communicate spiritually, which is extremely profitable, and
afterwards you may practise inward recollection in exactly the same way, for
this impresses upon us a deep love of the Lord. If we prepare to receive Him, He
never fails to give, and He gives in many ways that we cannot understand. It is
as if we were to approach a fire: it might be a very large one, but, if we
remained a long way from it and covered our hands, we should get little warmth
from it, although we should be warmer than if we were in a place where there was
no fire at all. But when we try to approach the Lord there is this difference:
if the soul is properly disposed, and comes with the intention of driving out
the cold, and stays for some time where it is, it will retain its warmth for
several hours, and if any little spark flies out, it will set it on fire.
is of such importance, daughters, for us to prepare ourselves in thy way that
you must not be surprised if I often repeat this counsel. If at first you do not get on with this practice
(which may happen, for the devil will try to oppress and distress your heart,
knowing what great harm he can do in this way), the devil will make you think
that you can find more devotion in other things and less in this. But [trust me
and] do not give up this method, for the Lord will use it to prove your love for
Him. Remember that there are few souls who stay with Him and follow Him in His
trials; let us endure something for Him and His Majesty will repay us. Remember,
too, that there are actually people who not only have no wish to be with Him but
who insult Him and with great irreverence drive Him away from their
homes. We must endure something, therefore, to show Him that we have the
desire to see Him. In many places He is neglected and ill-treated, but He
suffers everything, and will continue to do so, if He finds but one single soul
which will receive Him and love to have Him as its Guest.
Let this soul be yours, then, for, if there were none, the Eternal Father would
rightly refuse to allow Him to remain with us. Yet the Lord is so good a Friend
to those who are His friends, and so good a Master to those who are His
servants, that, when He knows it to be the will of His Beloved Son, He will not
hinder Him in so excellent a work, in which His Son so fully reveals the love
which He has for His Father, as this wonderful way which He seeks of showing
how much He loves us and of helping us to bear our trials.
Since, then, Holy Father, Who art in the
Heavens, Thou dost will and accept this (and it is clear that Thou couldst not
deny us a thing which is so good for us) there must be someone, as I said at the
beginning, who will speak for Thy Son, for He has never defended Himself. Let
this be the task for us, daughters, though, having regard to what we are, it is
presumptuous of us to undertake it. Let us rely, however, on Our Lord's command
to us to pray to Him, and, in fulfilment of our obedience to Him, let us beseech
His Majesty, in the name of the good Jesus, that, as He has left nothing undone
that He could do for us in granting sinners so great a favour, He may be pleased
of His mercy to prevent Him from being so ill-treated. Since His Holy Son has
given us this excellent way in which we can offer Him up frequently as a
sacrifice, let us make use of this precious gift so that it may stay the advance
of such terrible evil and irreverence as in many places is paid to this Most
Holy Sacrament. For these Lutherans seem to want to drive Him out of the
world again: they destroy churches, cause the loss of many priests and
abolish the sacraments.
And there is something of this even among Christians, who sometimes go to
church meaning to offend Him rather than to worship Him.
Why is this, my Lord and my God? Do Thou bring
the world to an end or give us a remedy for such grievous wrongs, which even our
wicked hearts cannot endure. I beseech Thee, Eternal Father, endure it no
longer: quench this fire, Lord, for Thou canst do so if Thou wilt. Remember that
Thy Son is still in the world; may these dreadful things be stopped out of
respect for Him, horrible and abominable and foul as they are. With His beauty
and purity He does not deserve to be in a house where such things happen. Do
this, Lord, not for our sake, for we do not deserve it, but for the sake of Thy
Son. We dare not entreat Thee that He should no longer stay with us, for Thou
hast granted His prayer to Thee to leave Him with us for to-day -- that is,
until the end of the world. If He were to go, what would become of us? It
would be the end of everything. If anything can placate Thee it is to have on
earth such a pledge as this. Since some remedy must be found for this, then, my
Lord, I beg Thy Majesty to apply it. For if Thou wilt, Thou art able.
O my God, if only I could indeed importune
Thee! If only I had served Thee well so that I might be able to beg of Thee this
great favour as a reward for my services, for Thou leavest no service
unrewarded! But I have not served Thee, Lord; indeed, it may perhaps be for my
sins, and because I have so greatly offended Thee, that so many evils come.
What, then, can I do, my Creator, but present to Thee this most holy Bread,
which, though Thou gavest it to us, I return to Thee, beseeching Thee, by the
merits of Thy Son, to grant me this favour, which on so many counts He has
merited? Do Thou, Lord, calm this sea, and no longer allow this ship, which is
Thy Church, to endure so great a tempest. Save us, my Lord, for we perish.
Treats of these words in the Paternoster:
"Dimitte nobis debita nostra."
Our good Master sees that, if we have this
heavenly food, everything is easy for us, except when we are ourselves to blame,
and that we are well able to fulfil our undertaking to the Father that His will
shall be done in us. So He now asks Him to forgive us our debts, as we ourselves
forgive others. Thus, continuing the prayer which He is teaching us, He says
these words: "And forgive us, Lord, our debts, even as we forgive them to
Notice, sisters, that He does not say:
"as we shall forgive." We are to understand that anyone who asks for
so great a gift as that just mentioned, and has already yielded his own will to
the will of God, must have done this already. And so He says: "as we
forgive our debtors." Anyone, then, who sincerely repeats this petition,
"Fiat voluntas tua", must, at least in intention, have done this
already. You see now why the saints rejoiced in insults and persecutions: it was
because these gave them something to present to the Lord when they prayed to
Him. What can a poor creature like myself do, who has had so little to forgive
others and has so much to be forgiven herself? This, sisters, is something which
we should consider carefully; it is such a serious and important matter that God
should pardon us our sins, which have merited eternal fire, that we must pardon
all trifling things which have been done to us and which are not wrongs at
all, or anything else. For how is it possible, either in word or in deed, to
wrong one who, like myself, has deserved to be plagued by devils for ever? Is it
not only right that I should be plagued
in this world too?
As I have so few, Lord, even of these trifling things, to offer Thee, Thy
pardoning of me must be a free gift: there is abundant scope here for Thy mercy.
Thy Son must pardon me, for no one has done me any injustice, and so there
has been nothing that I can pardon for Thy sake. But take my desire to do so,
Lord, for I believe I would forgive any wrong if Thou wouldst forgive me and I
might unconditionally do Thy will. True, if the occasion were to arise, and I
were condemned without cause, I do not know what I should do. But at this moment
I see that I am so guilty in Thy sight that everything I might have to suffer
would fall short of my deserts, though anyone not knowing, as Thou knowest, what
I am, would think I was being wronged. Blessed be Thou, Who endurest one
that is so poor: when Thy most holy Son makes this petition in the name
of all mankind, I cannot be included, being such as I am and having nothing to
And supposing, my Lord, that there are others
who are like myself but have not realized that this is so? If there are any
such, I beg them, in Thy name, to remember this truth, and to pay no heed to
little things about which they think they are being slighted, for, if they
insist on these nice points of honour, they become like children building houses
of straw. Oh, God help me, sisters! If we only knew what honour really is and
what is meant by losing it! I am not speaking now about ourselves, for it would
indeed be a bad business if we did not understand this; I am speaking of myself
as I was when I prided myself on my honour without knowing what honour meant; I
just followed the example of others. Oh, how easily I used to feel slighted! I
am ashamed to think of it now; and I was not one of those who worried most about
such things either. But I never grasped the essence of the matter, because I
neither thought nor troubled about true honour, which it is good for us to have
because it profits the soul. How truly has someone said: "Honour and profit
cannot go together." I do not know if this was what that person was
thinking of when he said it; but it is literally true, for the soul's profit and
what the world calls honour can never be reconciled. Really, the topsy-turviness
of the world is terrible. Blessed be the Lord for taking us out of it! May
His Majesty grant that this house shall always be as far from it as it is now!
God preserve us from religious houses where they worry about points of honour!
Such places never do much honour to God.
help us, how absurd it is for religious to connect their honour with things so
trifling that they amaze me! You know nothing about this, sisters, but I will
tell you about it so that you may be wary. You see, sisters, the devil has not forgotten us. He has invented
honours of his own for religious houses and has made laws by which we go up and
down in rank, as people do in the world. Learned men have to observe this with
regard to their studies (a matter of which I know nothing): anyone, for example,
who has got as far as reading theology must not descend and read philosophy --
that is their kind of honour, according to which you must always be going up and
never going down. Even if someone were commanded by obedience to take a step
down, he would in his own mind consider himself slighted; and then
someone would take his part [and say] it was an insult; next, the devil would
discover reasons for this -- and he seems to be an authority even in God's own
law. Why, among ourselves, anyone who has been a prioress is thereby
incapacitated from holding any lower office for the rest of her life. We
must defer to the senior among us, and we are not allowed to forget it either:
sometimes it would appear to be a positive merit for us to do this, because it
is a rule of the Order.
The thing is enough to make one laugh -- or,
it would be more proper to say, to make one weep. After all, the Order does not
command us not to be humble: it commands us to do everything in due form. And in
matters which concern my own esteem I ought not to be so formal as to insist
that this detail of our Rule shall be kept as strictly as the rest, which we may
in fact be observing very imperfectly. We must not put all our effort into
observing just this one detail: let my interests be looked after by others -- I
will forget about myself altogether. The fact is, although we shall never rise
as far as Heaven in this way, we are attracted by the thought of rising higher,
and we dislike climbing down. O, Lord, Lord, art Thou our Example and our
Master? Yes, indeed. And wherein did Thy honour consist, O Lord, Who hast
Didst Thou perchance lose it when Thou wert humbled even to death? No, Lord,
rather didst Thou gain it for all.
For the love of God, sisters! We have lost our
way; we have taken the wrong path from the very beginning. God grant that no
soul be lost through its attention to these wretched niceties about honour, when
it has no idea wherein honour consists. We shall get to the point of thinking
that we have done something wonderful because we have forgiven a person for some
trifling thing, which was neither a slight nor an insult nor anything else. Then
we shall ask the Lord to forgive us as people who have done something important,
just because we have forgiven someone. Grant us, my God, to understand how
little we understand ourselves and how empty our hands are when we come to Thee
that Thou, of Thy mercy, mayest forgive us. For in truth, Lord, since all things
have an end and punishment is eternal, I can see nothing meritorious which I may
present to Thee that Thou mayest grant us so great a favour. Do it, then, for
the sake of Him Who asks it of Thee, and Who may well do so, for He is always
being wronged and offended.
How greatly the Lord must esteem this mutual
love of ours one for another! For, having given Him our wills, we have given
Him complete rights over us, and we cannot do that without love. See, then,
sisters, how important it is for us to love one another and to be at peace.
The good Jesus might have put everything else before our love for one another,
and said: "Forgive us, Lord, because we are doing a great deal of penance,
or because we are praying often, and fasting, and because we have left all for
Thy sake and love Thee greatly." But He has never said: "Because we
would lose our lives for Thy sake"; or any of these [numerous] other things
which He might have said. He simply says: "Because we forgive."
Perhaps the reason He said this rather than anything else was
because He knew that our fondness for this dreadful honour made mutual love the
hardest virtue for us to attain, though it is the virtue dearest to His Father. Because
of its very difficulty He put it where He did, and after having asked for
so many great gifts for us, He offers it on our behalf to God.
Note particularly, sisters, that He says:
"As we forgive." As I have said, He takes this for granted. And
observe especially with regard to it that unless, after experiencing the favours
granted by God in the prayer that I have called perfect contemplation, a person
is very resolute, and makes a point, if the occasion arises, of forgiving, not
[only] these mere nothings which people call wrongs, but any wrong, however
grave, you need not think much of that person's prayer.
For wrongs have no effect upon a soul whom God draws to Himself in such sublime
prayer as this, nor does it care if it is highly esteemed or no. That is not
quite correct: it does care, for honour distresses much more than dishonour and
it prefers trials to a great deal of rest and ease. For anyone to whom the Lord
has really given His Kingdom no longer wants a kingdom in this world, knowing
that he is going the right way to reign in a much more exalted manner, and
having already discovered by experience what great benefits the soul gains and
what progress it makes when it suffers for God's sake. For only very rarely does
His Majesty grant it such great consolations, and then only to those who have
willingly borne many trials for His sake. For contemplatives, as I have said
elsewhere in this book, have to bear heavy trials, and therefore the Lord seeks
out for Himself souls of great experience.
Understand, then, sisters, that as these
persons have already learned to rate everything at its proper valuation, they
pay little attention to things which pass away. A great wrong, or a great trial,
may cause them some momentary distress, but they will hardly have felt it when
reason will intervene, and will seem to raise its standard aloft, and drive away
their distress by giving them the joy of seeing how God has entrusted them with
the opportunity of gaining, in a single day, more lasting favours and graces in
His Majesty's sight than they could gain in ten years by means of trials which
they sought on their own account. This, as I understand (and I have talked about
it with many contemplatives), is quite usual, and I know for a fact that it
happens. Just as other people prize gold and jewels, so these persons prize and
desire trials, for they know quite well that trials will make them rich.
Such persons would never on any account esteem
themselves: they want their sins to be known and like to speak about them to
people who they see have any esteem for them. The same is true of their descent,
which they know quite well will be of no advantage to them in the kingdom which
has no end. If being of good birth were any satisfaction to them, it would be
because this would enable them to serve God better. If they are not well born,
it distresses them when people think them better than they are, and it causes
them no distress to disabuse them, but only pleasure. The reason for this is
that those to whom God grants the favour of possessing such humility and great
love for Him forget themselves when there is a possibility of rendering Him
greater services, and simply cannot believe that others are troubled by things
which they themselves do not consider as wrongs at all.
These last effects which I have mentioned are
produced in persons who have reached a high degree of perfection and to whom the
Lord commonly grants the favour of uniting them to Himself by perfect
contemplation. But the first of these effects -- namely, the determination to
suffer wrongs even though such suffering brings distress -- is very quickly seen
in anyone to whom the Lord has granted this grace of prayer as far as the stage
of union. If these effects are not produced in a soul and it is not strengthened
by prayer, you may take it that this was not Divine favour but indulgence and
illusion coming from the devil, which he makes us think to be good, so
that we may attach more importance to our honour.
It may be that, when the Lord first grants
these favours, the soul will not immediately attain this fortitude. But, if He
continues to grant them, He will soon give it fortitude -- certainly, at least,
as regards forgiveness, if not in the other virtues as well. I cannot believe
that a soul which has approached so nearly to Mercy Itself, and has learned to
know itself and the greatness of God's pardon, will not immediately and readily
forgive, and be mollified and remain on good terms with a person who has done it
wrong. For such a soul remembers the consolation and grace which He has shown
it, in which it has recognized the signs of great love, and it is glad that the
occasion presents itself for showing Him some love in return.
I repeat that I know many persons to whom Our
Lord has granted the grace of raising them to supernatural experiences and of
giving them this prayer, or contemplation, which has been described; and
although I may notice other faults and imperfections in them, I have never seen
such a person who had this particular fault, nor do I believe such a person
exists, if the favours he has received are of God. If any one of you receives
high favours, let her look within herself and see if they are producing these
effects, and, if they are not, let her be very fearful, and believe that these
consolations are not of God, Who, as I have said, when He visits the soul,
always enriches it. That is certain; for, although the grace and the
consolations may pass quickly, it can be recognized in due course through the
benefits which it bestows on the soul. And, as the good Jesus knows this well,
He gives a definite assurance to His Holy Father that we are forgiving our
Describes the excellence of this prayer called
the Paternoster, and the many ways in which we shall find consolation in it.
The sublimity of the perfection of this
evangelical prayer is something for which we should give great praise to the
Lord. So well composed by the good Master was it, daughters, that each of us may
use it in her own way. I am astounded when I consider that in its few words are
enshrined all contemplation and perfection, so that if we study it no other book
seems necessary. For thus far in the Paternoster the Lord has taught us the
whole method of prayer and of high contemplation, from the very beginnings of
mental prayer, to Quiet and Union. With so true a foundation to build upon, I
could write a great book on prayer if only I knew how to express myself. As you
have seen, Our Lord is beginning here to explain to us the effects which it
produces, when the favours come from Him.
I have wondered why His Majesty did not
expound such obscure and sublime subjects in greater detail so that we might all
have understood them. It has occurred to me that, as this prayer was meant to be
a general one for the use of all, so that everyone could interpret it as he
thought right, ask for what he wanted and find comfort in doing so, He left the
matter in doubt;
and thus contemplatives, who no longer desire earthly things, and persons
greatly devoted to God, can ask for the heavenly favours which, through the
great goodness of God, may be given to us on earth. Those who still live on
earth, and must conform to the customs of their state, may also ask for the
bread which they need for their own maintenance and for that of their
households, as is perfectly just and right, and they may also ask for other
things according as they need them.
be His name for ever and ever. Amen. For His sake I entreat the Eternal Father
to forgive my debts and grievous sins: though no one has wronged me, and I have
therefore no one to forgive,
I have myself need for forgiveness every day. May He give me grace so that every
day I may have some petition to lay before Him.)
good Jesus, then, has taught us a sublime method of prayer, and begged that, in
this our life of exile, we may be like the angels, if we endeavour, with our
whole might, to make our actions conform to our words -- in short, to be like
the children of such a Father, and the brethren of such a Brother. His Majesty
knows that if, as I say, our actions and our words are one, the Lord will
unfailingly fulfil our petitions, give us His kingdom and help us by means of
supernatural gifts, such as the Prayer of Quiet, perfect contemplation and all
the other favours which the Lord bestows on our trifling efforts -- and
everything is trifling which we can achieve and gain by ourselves alone.
It must be realized, however, that these two
things -- surrendering our will to God and forgiving others -- apply to all.
True, some practise them more and some less, as has been said: those who are
perfect will surrender their wills like the perfect souls they are and will
forgive others with the perfection that has been described. For our own part,
sisters, we will do what we can, and the Lord will accept it all. It is as if He
were to make a kind of agreement on our behalf with His Eternal Father, and to
say: "Do this, Lord, and My brethren shall do that." It is certain
that He for His own part will not fail us. Oh, how well He pays us and how
limitless are His rewards!
We may say this prayer only once, and yet in
such a way that He will know that there is no duplicity about us and that we
shall do what we say; and so He will leave us rich. We must never be insincere
with Him, for He loves us, in all our dealings with Him, to be honest, and to
treat Him frankly and openly, never saying one thing and meaning another; and
then He will always give us more than we ask for. Our good Master knows that
those who attain real perfection in their petitions will reach this high degree
through the favours which the Father will grant them, and is aware that those
who are already perfect, or who are on the way to perfection, do not and cannot
fear, for they say they have trampled the world beneath their feet, and the Lord
of the world is pleased with them. They will derive the greatest hope of His
Majesty's pleasure from the effects which He produces in their souls; absorbed
in these joys, they wish they were unable to remember that there is any other
world at all, and that they have enemies.
O Eternal Wisdom! O good Teacher! What a
wonderful thing it is, daughters, to have a wise and prudent Master who foresees
our perils! This is the greatest blessing that the spiritual soul still on earth
can desire, because it brings complete security. No words could ever exaggerate
the importance of this. The Lord, then, saw it was necessary to awaken such
souls and to remind them that they have enemies, and how much greater danger
they are in if they are unprepared, and, since if they fall it will be from a
greater height, how much more help they need from the Eternal Father. So, lest
they should fail to realize their danger and suffer deception, He offers these
petitions so necessary to us all while we live in this exile: "And lead us
not, Lord, into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Treats of the great need which we have to
beseech the Eternal Father to grant us what we ask in these words: "Et ne
nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo."
Explains certain temptations. This chapter is noteworthy.
There are great things here for us to meditate
upon, sisters, and to learn to understand as we pray. Remember I consider it
quite certain that those who attain perfection do not ask the Lord to deliver
them from trials, temptations, persecutions and conflicts -- and that is another
sure and striking sign that these favours and this contemplation which His
Majesty gives them are coming from the Spirit of the Lord and are not illusions.
For, as I said a little way back, perfect souls are in no way repelled by
trials, but rather desire them and pray for them and love them. They are
like soldiers: the more wars there are, the better they are pleased, because
they hope to emerge from them with the greater riches.
If there are no wars, they serve for their pay, but they know they will not get
very far on that.
Believe me, sisters, the soldiers of Christ --
namely, those who experience contemplation and practise prayer -- are always
ready for the hour of conflict. They are never very much afraid of their open
enemies, for they know who they are and are sure that their strength can never
prevail against the strength which they themselves have been given by the Lord:
they will always be victorious and gain great riches, so they will never turn
their backs on the battle. Those whom they fear, and fear rightly, and from whom
they always beg the Lord to deliver them, are enemies who are treacherous,
devils who transform themselves and come and visit them in the disguise of
angels of light. The soul fails to recognize them until they have done it a
great deal of harm; they suck our life-blood and put an end to our virtues and
we go on yielding to temptation without knowing it. From these enemies let us
pray the Lord often, in the Paternoster, to deliver us: may He not allow us to
run into temptations which deceive us; may their poison be detected; and may
light and truth not be hidden from us. How rightly does our good Master teach us
to pray for this and pray for it in our name!
Consider, daughters, in how many ways these
enemies do us harm. Do not suppose that the sole danger lies in their making us
believe that the consolations and the favours which they can counterfeit to us
come from God. This, I think, in a way, is the least harmful thing they can do;
it may even help some whom this sensible devotion entices to spend more time in
prayer and thus to make greater progress. Being ignorant that these consolations
come from the devil, and knowing themselves to be unworthy of such favours, they
will never cease to give thanks to God and will feel the greater obligation to
serve Him; further, they will strive to prepare themselves for more favours
which the Lord may grant them, since they believe them to come from His hand.
Always strive after humility, sisters, and try
to realize that you are not worthy of these graces, and do not seek them. It is
because many souls do this, I feel sure, that the devil loses them: he thinks
that he has caused their ruin, but out of the evil which he has been trying to
do the Lord brings good. For His Majesty regards our intention, which is to
please Him and serve Him and keep near to Him in prayer, and the Lord is
faithful. We shall do well to be cautious, and not to let our humility break
down or to become in any way vainglorious. Entreat the Lord to deliver you from
this, daughters, and you need then have no fear that His Majesty will allow you
to be comforted much by anyone but Himself.
Where the devil can do great harm without our
realizing it is in making us believe that we possess virtues which we do not:
that is pestilential. For, when consolations and favours come to us, we feel
that we are doing nothing but receive, and have the greater obligation to serve;
but when we suffer from this other delusion we think that we are giving and
serving, and that the Lord will be obliged to reward us; and this, little by
little, does us a great deal of harm. On the one hand, our humility is weakened,
while, on the other, we neglect to cultivate that virtue, believing we have
already acquired it. We think we are walking safely, when, without realizing
it, we stumble, and fall into a pit from which we cannot escape. Though we may
not consciously have committed any mortal sin which would have sent us
infallibly to hell, we have sprained our ankles and cannot continue on that road
which I began to speak about and which I have not forgotten. You can imagine how
much progress will be made by anyone who is at the bottom of a huge pit: it will
be the end of him altogether and he will be lucky if he escapes falling right
down to hell: at best, he will never get on with his journey. This being so, he
will be unable to help either himself or others. It will be a bad thing for
others, too, for, once the pit has been dug, a great many passers-by may fall
into it. Only if the person who has fallen in gets out of it and fills it up
with earth will further harm to himself and others be prevented. But I warn you
that this temptation is full of peril. I know a great deal about it from
experience, so I can describe it to you, though not as well as I should like.
What can we do about it, sisters? To me the best thing seems to be what our
Master teaches us: to pray, and to beseech the Eternal Father not to allow us to
fall into temptation.
There is something else, too, which I want to
tell you. If we think the Lord has given us a certain grace, we must understand
that it is a blessing which we have received but which He may take away from us
again, as indeed, in the great providence of God, often happens. Have you never
observed this yourselves, sisters? I certainly have: sometimes I think I am
extremely detached, and, in fact, when it comes to the test, I am; yet at other
times I find I have such attachment to things which the day before I should
perhaps have scoffed at that I hardly know myself. At some other time I seem to
have so much courage that I should not quail at anything I was asked to do in
order to serve God, and, when I am tested, I find that I really can do these
things. And then on the next day I discover that I should not have the courage
to kill an ant for God's sake if I were to meet with any opposition about it.
Sometimes it seems not to matter in the least if people complain or speak ill of
me, and, when the test comes, I still feel like this -- indeed, I even get
pleasure from it. And then there come days when a single word distresses me and
I long to leave the world altogether, for everything in it seems to weary me.
And I am not the only person to be like this, for I have noticed the same thing
in many people better than myself, so I know it can happen.
That being so, who can say that he possesses
any virtue, or that he is rich, if at the time when he most needs this virtue he
finds himself devoid of it? No, sisters: let us rather think of ourselves as
lacking it and not run into debt without having the means of repayment. Our
treasure must come from elsewhere and we never know when God will leave us in
this prison of our misery without giving us any. If others, thinking we are
good, bestow favours and honours upon us, both they and we shall look foolish
when, as I say, it becomes clear that our virtues are only lent us. The truth is
that, if we serve the Lord with humility, He will sooner or later succour us in
our needs. But, if we are not strong in this virtue, the Lord will leave us to
ourselves, as they say, at every step. This is a great favour on His part, for
it helps us to realize fully that we have nothing which has not been given us.
And now you must take note of this other piece
of advice. The devil makes us believe that we have some virtue -- patience, let
us say -- because we have determination and make continual resolutions to suffer
a great deal for God's sake. We really and truly believe that we would suffer
all this, and the devil encourages us in the belief, and so we are very pleased.
I advise you to place no reliance on these virtues: we ought not to think that
we know anything about them beyond their names, or to imagine that the Lord has
given them to us, until we come to the test. For it may be that at the first
annoying word which people say to you your patience will fall to the ground.
Whenever you have frequently to suffer, praise God for beginning to teach you
this virtue, and force yourself to suffer patiently, for this is a sign that He
wants you to repay Him for the virtue which He is giving you, and you must think
of it only as a deposit, as has already been said.
The devil has yet another temptation, which is
to make us appear very poor in spirit: we are in the habit of saying that we
want nothing and care nothing about anything: but as soon as the chance comes of
our being given something, even though we do not in the least need it, all our
poverty of spirit disappears. Accustoming ourselves to saying this goes far
towards making us think it true. It is very important always to be on the watch
and to realize that this is a temptation, both in the things I have referred to
and in many others. For when the Lord really gives one of these solid virtues,
it seems to bring all the rest in its train: that is a very well-known fact. But
I advise you once more, even if you think you possess it, to suspect that you
may be mistaken; for the person who is truly humble is always doubtful about his
own virtues; very often they seem more genuine and of greater worth when he sees
them in his neighbours.
devil makes you think you are poor, and he has some reason for doing so, because
you have made (with the lips, of course) a vow of poverty, as have some other
people who practise prayer. I say "with the lips" because, if before
making the vow we really meant in our hearts what we were going to say, the
devil could not possibly lead us into that temptation -- not even in twenty
years, or in our entire lifetime -- for we should see that we were deceiving the
whole world, and ourselves into the bargain. Well, we make our vow of poverty,
and then one of us, believing herself all the time to be keeping it, says:
"I do not want anything, but I am having this because I cannot do without
it: after all, if I am to serve God, I must live, and He wants us to keep these
bodies of ours alive." So the devil, in his angelic disguise, suggests to
her that there are a thousand different things which she needs and that they are
all good for her. And all the time he is persuading her to believe that she is
still being true to her vow and possesses the virtue of poverty and that what
she has done is no more than her duty.
now let us take a test case, for we can only get to the truth of this by keeping
a continual watch on ourselves: then, if there is any cause for anxiety on our
part, we shall at once recognize the symptoms. Here is someone who has a larger
income than he needs -- I mean, needs for the necessaries of life -- and, though
he could do with a single manservant, he keeps three. Yet, when he is sued in
the courts in connection with a part of his property, or some poor peasant omits
to pay him his dues, he gets as upset and excited about it as if his life were
at stake. He says he must look after his property or he will lose it, and
considers that that justifies him. I do not suggest that he ought to neglect his
property: whether or no things go well with him, he should look after it. But a
person whose profession of poverty is a genuine one makes so little account of
these things that, although for various reasons he attends to his own interests,
he never worries about them, because he never supposes he will lose everything
he has; and, even if he should do so, he would consider it of no great moment,
for the matter is one of secondary importance to him and not his principal
concern. His thoughts rise high above it and he has to make an effort to occupy
himself with it at all.
monks and nuns are demonstrably poor -- they must be so, for they possess
nothing: sometimes because there is nothing for them to possess. But if a
religious of the type just mentioned is given anything, it is most unlikely that
he will think it superfluous. He always likes to have something laid by; if he
can get a habit of good cloth, he will not ask for one of coarse material. He
likes to have some trifle, if only books, which he can pawn or sell, for if he
falls ill he will need extra comforts. Sinner that I am! Is this the vow of
poverty that you took? Stop worrying about yourself and leave God to provide for
you, come what may. If you are going about trying to provide for your own
future, it would be less trouble for you to have a fixed income. This may not
involve any sin, but it is as well that we should learn to recognize our
imperfections, so that we can see how far we are from possessing the virtue of
poverty, which we must beg and obtain from God. If we think we already possess
it, we shall grow careless, and, what is worse, we shall be deceiving ourselves.
same thing happens with regard to humility.
We think that we have no desire for honour and that we care nothing about
anything; but as soon as our honour comes to be slighted in some detail our
feelings and actions at once show that we are not humble at all. If an
opportunity occurs for us to gain more honour, we do not reject it; even those
who are poor, and to whom I have just referred, are anxious to have as much
profit as possible -- God grant we may not go so far as actually to seek it! We
always have phrases on our lips about wanting nothing, and caring nothing about
anything, and we honestly think them to be true, and get so used to repeating
them that we come to believe them more and more firmly. But when, as I say, we
keep on the watch, we realize that this is a temptation, as regards both the
virtue I have spoken of and all the rest; for when we really have one of these
solid virtues, it brings all the rest in its train: that is a very well-known
Continues the same subject and gives counsels
concerning different kinds of temptation. Suggests two remedies by which we may
be freed from temptations.
Beware also, daughters, of certain kinds of
humility which the devil inculcates in us and which make us very uneasy about
the gravity of our past sins. There are many ways in which he is
accustomed to depress us so that in time we withdraw from Communion and give up
our private prayer, because the devil suggests to us that we are not worthy to
engage in it. When we come to the Most Holy Sacrament, we spend the time during
which we ought to be receiving grace in wondering whether we are properly
prepared or no. The thing gets to such a pass that a soul can be made to believe
that, through being what it is, it has been forsaken by God, and thus it almost
doubts His mercy. Everything such a person does appears to her to be dangerous,
and all the service she renders, however good it may be, seems to her fruitless.
She loses confidence and sits with her hands in her lap because she thinks she
can do nothing well and that what is good in others is wrong in herself.
Pay great attention, daughters, to this point
which I shall now make, because sometimes thinking yourselves so wicked may be
humility and virtue and at other times a very great temptation. I have had
experience of this, so I know it is true. Humility, however deep it be, neither
disquiets nor troubles nor disturbs the soul; it is accompanied by peace, joy
and tranquillity. Although, on realizing how wicked we are, we can see clearly
that we deserve to be in hell, and are distressed by our sinfulness, and rightly
think that everyone should hate us, yet, if our humility is true, this distress
is accompanied by an interior peace and joy of which we should not like to be
deprived. Far from disturbing or depressing the soul, it enlarges it and makes
it fit to serve God better. The other kind of distress only disturbs and upsets
the mind and troubles the soul, so grievous is it. I think the devil is anxious
for us to believe that we are humble, and, if he can, to lead us to distrust
When you find yourselves in this state, cease
thinking, so far as you can, of your own wretchedness, and think of the mercy of
God and of His love and His sufferings for us. If your state of mind is the
result of temptation, you will be unable to do even this, for it will not allow
you to quiet your thoughts or to fix them on anything but will only weary you
the more: it will be a great thing if you can recognize it as a temptation. This
is what happens when we perform excessive penances in order to make ourselves
believe that, because of what we are doing, we are more penitent than others. If
we conceal our penances from our confessor or superior, or if we are told to
give them up and do not obey, that is a clear case of temptation. Always try to
obey, however much it may hurt you to do so, for that is the greatest possible
There is another very dangerous kind of
temptation: a feeling of security caused by the belief that we shall never again
return to our past faults and to the pleasures of the world. "I know all
about these things now," we say, "and I realize that they all come to
an end and I get more pleasure from the things of God." If this temptation
comes to beginners it is very serious; for, having this sense of security, they
think nothing of running once more into occasions of sin. They soon come up
against these -- and then God preserve them from falling back farther than
before! The devil, seeing that here are souls which may do him harm and be of
great help to others, does all in his power to prevent them from rising again.
However many consolations and pledges of love the Lord may give you, therefore,
you must never be so sure of yourselves that you cease to be afraid of falling
back again, and you must keep yourselves from occasions of sin.
Do all you can to discuss these graces and
favours with someone who can give you light and have no secrets from him.
However sublime your contemplation may be, take great care both to begin and to
end every period of prayer with self-examination. If these favours come from
God, you will do this more frequently, without either taking or needing any
advice from me, for such favours bring humility with them and always leave us
with more light by which we may see our own unworthiness. I will say no more
here, for you will find many books which give this kind of advice. I have said
all this because I have had experience of the matter and have sometimes found
myself in difficulties of this nature. Nothing that can be said about it,
however, will give us complete security.
What, then, Eternal Father, can we do but flee
to Thee and beg Thee not to allow these enemies of ours to lead us into
temptations? If attacks are made upon us publicly, we shall easily surmount
them, with Thy help. But how can we be ready for these treacherous assaults,
my God? We need constantly to pray for Thy help. Show us, Lord, some way of
recognizing them and guarding against them. Thou knowest that there are not many
who walk along this road, and if so many fears are to beset them, there will be
What a strange thing it is! You might suppose
that the devil never tempted those who do not walk along the road of prayer!
People get a greater shock when deception overtakes a single one of the many
persons who are striving to be perfect than when a hundred thousand others are
deceived and fall into open sin, whom there is no need to look at in order to
see if they are good or evil, for Satan can be seen at their side a thousand
leagues away. But as a matter of fact people are right about this, for very few
who say the Paternoster in the way that has been described are deceived by the
devil, so that, if the deception of one of them causes surprise, that is because
it is a new and an unusual thing. For human nature is such that we scarcely
notice what we see frequently but are astounded at what we see seldom or hardly
at all. And the devils themselves encourage this astonishment, for if a single
soul attains perfection it robs them of many others.
is so strange, I repeat, that I am not surprised if people are amazed at it;
for, unless they are altogether at fault, they are much safer on this road than
on any other, just as people who watch a bull-fight from the grand-stand are
safer than the men who expose themselves to a thrust from the bull's horns. This
comparison, which I heard somewhere, seems to me very exact. Do not be afraid to
walk on these roads, sisters, for there are many of them in the life of prayer
-- and some people get most help by using one of them and others by using
another, as I have said. This road is a safe one and you will the more readily
escape from temptation if you are near the Lord than if you are far away from
Him. Beseech and entreat this of Him, as you do so many times each day in the
Describes how, by striving always to walk in
the love and fear of God, we shall travel safely amid all these temptations.
Show us, then, O our good Master, some way in
which we may live through this most dangerous warfare without frequent surprise.
The best way that we can do this, daughters, is to use the love and fear given
us by His Majesty. For love will make us quicken our steps, while fear will make
us look where we are setting our feet so that we shall not fall on a road where
there are so many obstacles. Along that road all living creatures must pass, and
if we have these two things we shall certainly not be deceived.
You will ask me how you can tell if you really
have these two very, very great virtues.
You are right to ask, for we can never be quite definite and certain about it;
if we were sure that we possessed love, we should be sure that we were in a
state of grace. But you know, sisters, there are some indications which are in
no way secret but so evident that even a blind man, as people say, could see
them. You may not wish to heed them, but they cry so loud for notice that they
make quite an uproar, for there are not many who possess them to the point of
perfection and thus they are the more readily noticed. Love and fear of God!
These are two strong castles whence we can wage war on the world and on the
Those who really love God love all good, seek
all good, help forward all good, praise all good, and invariably join forces
with good men and help and defend them. They love only truth and things worthy
of love. Do you think it possible that anyone who really and truly loves God can
love vanities, riches, worldly pleasures or honours? Can he engage in strife or
feel envy? No; for his only desire is to please the Beloved. Such persons die
with longing for Him to love them and so they will give their lives to learn how
they may please Him better. Will they hide their love? No: if their love for God
is genuine love they cannot. Why, think of Saint Paul or the Magdalen. One of
these -- Saint Paul -- found in three days that he was sick with love. The
Magdalen discovered this on the very first day. And how certain of it they were!
For there are degrees of love for God, which shows itself in proportion to its
strength. If there is little of it, it shows itself but little; if there is
much, it shows itself a great deal. But it always shows itself, whether little
or much, provided it is real love for God.
But to come to what we are chiefly treating of
now -- the deceptions and illusions practised against contemplatives by the
devil -- such souls have no little love; for had they not a great deal they
would not be contemplatives, and so their love shows itself plainly and in many
ways. Being a great fire, it cannot fail to give out a very bright light. If
they have not much love, they should proceed with many misgivings and realize
that they have great cause for fear; and they should try to find out what is
wrong with them, say their prayers, walk in humility and beseech the Lord not to
lead them into temptation, into which, I fear, they will certainly fall unless
they bear this sign. But if they walk humbly and strive to discover the truth
and do as their confessor bids them and tell him the plain truth, then the Lord
is faithful, and, as has been said, by using the very means with which he had
thought to give them death, the devil will give them life, with however many
fantasies and illusions he tries to deceive them. If they submit to the
teaching of the Church, they need not fear; whatever fantasies and illusions the
devil may invent, he will at once betray his presence.
But if you feel this love for God which I have
spoken of, and the fear which I shall now describe, you may go on your way with
happiness and tranquillity. In order to disturb the soul and keep it from
enjoying these great blessings, the devil will suggest to it a thousand false
fears and will persuade other people to do the same; for if he cannot win souls
he will at least try to make them lose something, and among the losers will be
those who might have gained greatly had they believed that such great favours,
bestowed upon so miserable a creature, come from God, and that it is possible
for them to be thus bestowed, for sometimes we seem to forget His past mercies.
Do you suppose that it is of little use to the
devil to suggest these fears? No, it is most useful to him, for there are two well-known
ways in which he can make use of this means to harm us, to say nothing of
others. First, he can make those who listen to him fearful of engaging in
prayer, because they think that they will be deceived. Secondly, he can dissuade
many from approaching God who, as I have said, see that He is so good that He
will hold intimate converse with sinners. Many such souls think that He will
treat them in the same way, and they are right: I myself know certain persons
inspired in this way who began the habit of prayer and in a short time became
truly devout and received great favours from the Lord.
Therefore, sisters, when you see someone to
whom the Lord is granting these favours, praise Him fervently, yet do not
imagine that she is safe, but aid her with more prayer, for no one can be safe
in this life amid the engulfing dangers of this stormy sea. Wherever this love
is, then, you will not fail to recognize it; I do not know how it could be
concealed. For they say that it is impossible for us to hide our love even for
creatures, and that, the more we try to conceal it, the more clearly is it
revealed. And yet this is so worthless that it hardly deserves the name of love,
for it is founded upon nothing at all: it is loathsome, indeed, to make this
comparison. How, then, could a love like God's be concealed -- so strong, so
righteous, continually increasing, never seeing cause for ceasing to manifest
itself, and resting upon the firm foundation of the love which is its reward? As
to the reality of this reward there can be no doubt, for it is manifest in Our
Lord's great sorrows, His trials, the shedding of His blood and even the loss of
His life. Certainly, then, there is no doubt as to this love. It is indeed
love, and deserves that name, of which worldly vanities have robbed it. God
help me! How different must the one love be from the other to those who have
experience of both!
May His Majesty be pleased to grant us to
experience this before He takes us from this life, for it will be a great
thing at the hour of death, when we are going we know not whither, to
realize that we shall be judged by One Whom we have loved above all things, and
with a passion that makes us entirely forget ourselves. Once our debts have
been paid we shall be able to walls in safety. We shall not be going into a
foreign land, but into our own country, for it belongs to Him Whom we have loved
so truly and Who Himself loves us. For this love of His, besides its other
properties, is better than all earthly affection in that, if we love Him, we are
quite sure that He loves us too. Remember, my daughters, the greatness of
the gain which comes from this love, and of our loss if we do not possess it,
for in that case we shall be delivered into the hands of the tempter, hands so
cruel and so hostile to all that is good, and so friendly to all that is evil.
What will become of the poor soul when it
falls into these hands after emerging from all the pains and trials of death?
How little rest it will have! How it will be torn as it goes down to hell! What
swarms and varieties of serpents it will meet! How dreadful is that place! How
miserable that lodging! Why, a pampered person (and most of those who go to hell
are that) can hardly bear to spend a single night in a bad inn: what, then, will
be the feelings of that wretched soul when it is condemned to such an inn as
this and has to spend eternity there?
Let us not try to pamper ourselves, daughters. We are quite well off here: there
is only a single night for us to spend in this bad inn. Let us praise God and
strive to do penance in this life. How sweet will be the death of those who have
done penance for all their sins and have not to go to purgatory! It may be that
they will begin to enjoy glory even in this world, and will know no fear, but
Even if we do not attain to this, sisters, let
us beseech God that, if in due course we must suffer these pains, it may be with
a hope of emerging from them. Then we shall suffer them willingly and lose
neither the friendship nor the grace of God. May He grant us these in this life
so that we may not unwittingly fall into temptation.
Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must
keep ourselves from venial sins.
How I have enlarged on this subject! Yet I
have not said as much about it as I should like; for it is a delightful thing to
talk about this love of God. What, then, must it be to possess it? May
the Lord, for His own sake, give it me! May I not depart from this life till
there is nothing in it that I desire, till I have forgotten what it is to love
anything but Thee and till I deny the name of love to any other kind of
affection -- for all love is false but love of Thee, and, unless the foundations
of a building are true, the building itself will not endure. I do not know why
it surprises us to hear people say: "So-and-so has made me a poor return
for something." "Someone else does not like me." I laugh to
myself when I hear that. What other sort of return do you expect him to make
you? And why do you expect anyone to like you? These things will show you what
the world is; your love itself becomes your punishment, and the reason why you
are so upset about it is that your will strongly resents your involving it in
such childish pastimes.
Let us now come to the fear of God -- though
I am sorry not to be able to say a little about this worldly love, which, for my
sins, I know well and should like to acquaint you with, so that you may free
yourself from it for ever. But I am straying from my subject and shall have to
This fear of God is another thing with which
those who possess it and those who have to do with them are very familiar. But I
should like you to realize that at first it is not very deep, save in a few
people, to whom, as I have said, the Lord grants such great favours as to make
them rich in virtues and to raise them, in a very short time, to great
heights of prayer. It is not recognizable, therefore, at first, in everyone.
As it increases, it grows stronger each day, and then, of course, it can be
recognized, for those who possess it forsake sin, and occasions of sin, and bad
company, and other signs of it are visible in them. When at last the soul
attains to contemplation, of which we are chiefly treating at the moment, its
fear of God is plainly revealed, and its love is not dissembled even outwardly.
However narrowly we watch such persons, we shall not find them growing careless;
for, close as our watch on them may be, the Lord so preserves them that they
would not knowingly commit one venial sin even to further their own interests,
and, as for mortal sin, they fear it like fire. These are the illusions,
sisters, which I should like you always to fear; let us always beseech God that
temptation may not be strong enough for us to offend Him but that He may send it
to us in proportion to the strength which He gives us to conquer it. If we
keep a pure conscience, we can suffer little or no harm. That is the
important point; and that is the fear which I hope will never be taken from us,
for it is that fear which will stand us in good stead.
Oh, what a great thing it is not to have
offended the Lord, so that the servants and slaves of hell
may be kept under control! In the end, whether willingly or no, we shall all
serve Him -- they by compulsion and we with our whole heart. So that, if we
please Him, they will be kept at bay and will do nothing that can harm us,
however much they lead us into temptation and lay secret snares for us.
Keep this in mind, for it is very important
advice, so do not neglect it until you find you have such a fixed determination
not to offend the Lord that you would rather lose a thousand lives and be
persecuted by the whole world, than commit one mortal sin, and until you are
most careful not to commit venial sins. I am referring now to sins committed
knowingly: as far as those of the other kind are concerned, who can fail to
commit them frequently? But it is one thing to commit a sin knowingly and after
long deliberation, and quite another to do it so suddenly that the knowledge of
its being a venial sin and its commission are one and the same thing, and we
hardly realize what we have done, although we do to some extent realize it.
From any sin, however small, committed with full knowledge, may God deliver us,
especially since we are sinning against so great a Sovereign and realizing that
He is watching us! That seems to me to be a sin committed of malice
aforethought; it is as though one were to say: "Lord, although this
displeases Thee, I shall do it. I know that Thou seest it and I know that Thou
wouldst not have me do it; but, though I understand this, I would rather follow
my own whim and desire than Thy will." If we commit a sin in this way,
however slight, it seems to me that our offence is not small but very, very
For the love of God, sisters, never be
careless about this -- and, glory be to the Lord, you are not so at present.
If you would gain this fear of God, remember the importance of habit and of
starting to realize what a serious thing it is to offend Him. Do your utmost to
learn this and to turn it over in your minds; for our life, and much more
than our life, depends upon this virtue being firmly planted in our souls. Until
you are conscious within your soul of possessing it, you need always to exercise
very great care and to avoid all occasions of sin and any kind of company which
will not help you to get nearer to God. Be most careful, in all that you do, to
bend your will to it; see that all you say tends to edification; flee from all
places where there is conversation which is not pleasing to God. Much care is
needed if this fear of God is to be thoroughly impressed upon the soul; though,
if one has true love, it is quickly acquired. Even when the soul has that firm
inward determination which I have described, not to offend God for the sake of
any creature, or from fear of a thousand deaths, it may subsequently fall
from time to time, for we are weak and cannot trust ourselves, and, the more
determined we are, the less self-confidence we should have, for confidence must
come from God. But, when we find ourselves in this state, we need not feel
constrained or depressed, for the Lord will help us and the habits we have
formed will be of assistance to us so that we shall not offend Him; we shall be
able to walk in holy freedom, and associate with anyone, as seems right to us,
even with dissolute people. These will do you no harm, if you hate sin.
Before we had this true fear of God worldly people would have been poisonous to
us and would have helped to ruin our souls; but now they will often help us to
love God more and to praise Him for having delivered us from what we see to be a
notorious danger. And whereas we for our part may previously have helped to
foster their weaknesses, we shall now be helping to repress them, because they
will restrain themselves in our presence, and this is a compliment which they
will pay us without our desiring it.
I often praise the Lord (though I also wonder
why it should be so) that merely by his presence, and without saying a word, a
servant of God should frequently prevent people from speaking against Him. It
may be as it is in worldly intercourse: a person is always spoken of with
respect, even in his absence, before those who are known to be his friends, lest
they should be offended. Since this servant of God is in a state of grace, this
grace must cause him to be respected, however lowly his station, for people will
not distress him in a matter about which they know him to feel so strongly as
giving offence to God. I really do not know the reason for this but I do know
that it very commonly happens. Do not be too strict with yourselves, then, for,
if your spirit begins to quail, it will do great harm to what is good in you and
may sometimes lead to scrupulosity, which is a hindrance to progress both in
yourselves and in others. Even if things are not as bad as this, a person,
however good in herself, will not lead many souls to God if they see that she is
so strict and timorous. Human nature is such that these characteristics will
frighten and oppress it and lead people to avoid the road you are taking, even
if they are quite clear it is the best one.
Another source of harm is this: we may judge
others unfavourably, though they may be holier than ourselves, because they do
not walk as we do, but, in order to profit their neighbours, talk freely and
without restraint. You think such people are imperfect; and if they are good and
yet at the same time of a lively disposition, you think them dissolute. This is
especially true of those of us who are unlearned and are not sure what we can
speak about without committing sin. It is a very dangerous state of mind,
leading to great uneasiness and to continual temptation, because it is unfair to
our neighbour. It is very wrong to think that everyone who does not follow in
your own timorous footsteps has something the matter with her. Another danger is
that, when it is your duty to speak, and right that you should speak, you may
not dare to do so lest you say too much and may perhaps speak well of things
that you ought to hate.
Try, then, sisters, to be as pleasant as you
can, without offending God, and to get on as well as you can with those you have
to deal with, so that they may like talking to you and want to follow your way
of life and conversation, and not be frightened and put off by virtue. This is
very important for nuns: the holier they are, the more sociable they should be
with their sisters. Although you may be very sorry if all your sisters'
conversation is not just as you would like it to be, never keep aloof from them
if you wish to help them and to have their love. We must try hard to be
pleasant, and to humour the people we deal with and make them like us,
especially our sisters.
So try, my daughters, to bear in mind that God
does not pay great attention to all the trifling matters which occupy you, and
do not allow these things to make your spirit quail and your courage fade, for
if you do that you may lose many blessings. As I have said, let your intention
be upright and your will determined not to offend God. But do not let your soul
dwell in seclusion, or, instead of acquiring holiness, you will develop many
imperfections, which the devil will implant in you in other ways, in which case,
as I have said, you will not do the good that you might, either to yourselves or
You see that, with these two things -- love
and fear of God -- we can travel along this road in peace and quietness, and
not think at every step that we can see some pitfall, and that we shall never
reach our goal.
Yet we cannot be sure of reaching it, so fear will always lead the way, and then we shall not grow careless,
for, as long as we live, we must never feel completely safe or we shall be in
great danger. And that was our Teacher's meaning when at the end of this prayer
He said these words to His Father, knowing how necessary they were: "But
deliver us from evil. Amen."
Treats of these last words of the Paternoster:
"Sed libera nos a malo. Amen." "But deliver us from evil.
I think the good Jesus was right to ask this
for Himself, for we know how weary of this life He was when at the Supper He
said to His Apostles: "With desire I have desired to sup with you"
-- and that was the last supper of His life. From this it can be seen how weary
He must have been of living; yet nowadays people are not weary even at a hundred
years old, but always want to live longer. It is true, however, that we do not
live so difficult a life or suffer such trials or such poverty as His Majesty
had to bear. What was His whole life but a continuous death, with the picture of
the cruel death that He was to suffer always before His eyes? And this was the
least important thing, with so many offenses being committed against His Father
and such a multitude of souls being lost. If to any human being full of charity
this is a great torment, what must it have been to the boundless and measureless
charity of the Lord? And how right He was to beseech the Father to deliver Him
from so many evils and trials and to give Him rest for ever in His Kingdom, of
which He was the true heir.
By the word "Amen," as it comes at
the end of every prayer, I understand that the Lord is begging that we may be
delivered from all evil for ever. It is useless, sisters, for us to think
that, for so long as we live, we can be free from numerous temptations and
imperfections and even sins; for it is said that whosoever thinks himself to be
without sin deceives himself, and that is true. But if we try to banish bodily
ills and trials -- and who is without very many and various trials of such
kinds? -- is it not right that we should ask to be delivered from sin?
let us realize that what we are asking here -- this deliverance from all evil --
seems an impossibility, whether we are thinking of bodily ills, as I have said,
or of imperfections and faults in God's service. I am referring, not to the
saints, who, as Saint Paul said, can do all things in Christ
but to sinners like myself. When I find myself trammelled by weakness,
lukewarmness, lack of mortification and many other things, I realize that I must
beg for help from the Lord.
daughters, must ask as you think best. Personally, I shall find no redress in
this life, so I ask the Lord to deliver me from all evil "for ever."
What good thing shall we find in this life, sisters, in which we are deprived of
our great Good and are absent from Him? Deliver me, Lord, from this shadow of
death; deliver me from all these trials; deliver me from all these pains;
deliver me from all these changes, from all the formalities with which we are
forced to comply for as long as we live, from all the many, many, many things
which weary and depress me, and the enumeration of all of which would weary the
reader if I were to repeat them. This life is unendurable. The source of my own
depression must be my own wicked life and the realization that even now I am not
living as I should, so great are my obligations.
I beseech the Lord, then, to deliver me from
all evil for ever, since I cannot pay what I owe, and may perhaps run farther
into debt each day. And the hardest thing to bear, Lord, is that I cannot know
with any certainty if I love Thee and if my desires are acceptable in Thy sight.
O my God and Lord, deliver me from all evil and be pleased to lead me to that
place where all good things are to be found. What can be looked for on earth by
those to whom Thou hast given some knowledge of what the world is and those who
have a living faith in what the Eternal Father has laid up for them because
His Son asks it of Him and teaches us to ask Him for it too?
When contemplatives ask for this with fervent
desire and full determination it is a very clear sign that their
contemplation is genuine and that the favours which they receive in prayer
are from God. Let those who have these favours,
then, prize them highly. But if I myself make this request it is not for that
reason (I mean, it must not be taken as being for that reason); it is because I
am wearied by so many trials and because my life has been so wicked that I am
afraid of living any longer. It is not surprising if those who share in the
favours of God should wish to pass to a life where they no longer enjoy mere
sips at them: being already partakers in some knowledge of His greatness,
they would fain see it in its entirety. They have no desire to remain where
there are so many hindrances to the enjoyment of so many blessings; nor that
they should desire to be where the Sun of justice never sets. Henceforward all
the things they see on earth seem dim to them and I wonder that they can live
for even an hour. No one can be content to do so who has begun to enjoy such
things, and has been given the Kingdom of God on earth, and must live to do, not
his own will, but the will of the King.
Oh, far other must be that life in which we no
longer desire death! How differently shall we then incline our wills towards the
will of God! His will is for us to desire truth, whereas we desire falsehood;
His will is for us to desire the eternal, whereas we prefer that which passes
away; His will is for us to desire great and sublime things, whereas we desire
the base things of earth; He would have us desire only what is certain, whereas
here on earth we love what is doubtful. What a mockery it all is, my daughters,
unless we beseech God to deliver us from these perils for ever and to keep us
from all evil! And although our desire for this may not be perfect, let us
strive to make the petition. What does it cost us to ask it, since we ask it of
One Who is so powerful? It would be insulting a great emperor to ask him for
a farthing. Since we have already given Him our will, let us leave the
giving to His will, so that we may be the more surely heard; and may His name be
for ever hallowed in the Heavens and on the earth and may His will be ever done
in me. Amen.
see now, friends, what is meant by perfection in vocal prayer, in which we
consider and know to Whom the prayer is being made, Who is making it and what is
its object. When you are told that it is not good for you to practise any but
vocal prayer, do not be discouraged, but read this with great care and beg God
to explain to you anything about prayer which you cannot understand. For no one
can deprive you of vocal prayer or make you say the Paternoster hurriedly,
without understanding it. If anyone tries to do so, or advises you to give up
your prayer, take no notice of him. You may be sure he is a false prophet; and
in these days, remember, you must not believe everyone, for, though you may be
told now that you have nothing to fear, you do not know what is in store for
you. I had intended, as well as saying this, to talk to you a little about how
you should say the Ave Maria, but I have written at such length that that will
have to be left over. If you have learned how to say the Paternoster well, you
will know enough to enable you to say all the other vocal prayers you may have
let us go back and finish the journey which I have been describing, for the Lord
seems to have been saving me labour by teaching both you and me the Way which I began to outline to you and
by showing me how much we ask for when we repeat this evangelical prayer. May He
be for ever blessed, for it had certainly never entered my mind that there were
such great secrets in it. You have now seen that it comprises the whole
spiritual road, right from the beginning, until God absorbs the soul and gives
it to drink abundantly of the fountain of living water which I told you was at
the end of the road. It seems, sisters, that the Lord's will has been to teach
us what great consolation is comprised in it, and this is a great advantage to
those who cannot read. If they understood this prayer, they could derive a great
deal of sound instruction from it and would find it a real comfort. Our books
may be taken from us, but this is a book which no one can take away, and it
comes from the lips of the Truth Himself, Who cannot err.
we repeat the Paternoster so many times daily, then, as I have said, let us
delight in it and strive to learn from so excellent a Master the humility with
which He prays, and all the other things that have been described. May His
Majesty forgive me
for having dared to speak of such high matters. Well does His Majesty know that I
should not have ventured to do so, and that my understanding would not have
been capable of it, had He not taught me what I have said. Give thanks to Him
for this, sisters, for He must have done it because of the humility with which
you asked me to write it for you in your desire to be instructed by one so
sisters, Our Lord seems not to want me to write any more, for, although I had
intended to go on, I can think of nothing to say. The Lord has shown you the
road and has taught me what I wrote in the book which, as I say, I have already
This tells you how to conduct yourselves on reaching this fount of living water
and what the soul experiences when there, and how God satiates it and takes away
its thirst for earthly things, and makes it grow in things pertaining to God's
service. This will be very helpful to those who have reached the fount, and will
give them a great deal of light.
Before you see this book I shall give it to my
confessor, Father Presentado Domingo BáĖez of the Order of Saint Dominic.
If he thinks you will benefit by it, and gives it you to read, and if you find
it of any comfort, I, too, shall be comforted. If he gives you this book, he
will give you the other
Should it be found unsuitable for anyone to read, you must take the will for the
deed, as I have obeyed your command by writing it.
I consider myself well repaid for my labour in writing, though it has certainly
been no labour to me to think about what I have been going to say, as the Lord
has taught me the secrets of this evangelical prayer, which has been a great
comfort to me. Blessed and praised be the Lord, from Whom comes all the good
that we speak and think and do. Amen.
Cf. Vol. I, pp. 2-5, above
See also the reference, in the "General Argument" of the Valladolid redaction, to her being Prioress of St. Joseph's when the book was written. Presumably the original draft is meant.
E.g., at places where a chapter ends in E. but not in V.
One special case of this class is the suppression in V. of one out of two or three almost but not quite synonymous adjectives referring to the same noun.
With few exceptions, the footnotes to the Way of perfection are the translators. Square brackets are therefore not used to distinguish them from those of P. Silverio, as elsewhere. Ordinary brackets, in the footnote translations, are placed round words inserted to complete the sense.
This title, in St. Teresa's hand, appears on the first page of the Valladolid autograph (V.) which, as we have said in the Introduction, is the basis of the text here used. The Escorial autograph (E.) has the words "Treatise of the Way of Perfection" in an unknown hand, followed by the Prologue, in St. Teresa's. The Toledo copy (T.) begins with the Protestation.
These lines, also in St. Teresa's hand, follow the title in the Valladolid autograph. P. BáĖez added, in his own writing, the words: "I have seen this book and my opinion of it is written at the end and signed with my name." Cf. ch. 42, below.
This Protestation, taken from T., was dictated by St. Teresa for the edition of the Way of perfection published at Évora in 1583 by D. Teutonio de Braganza.
The words "Fray Domingo BaĖes" are crossed out, probably by P. BáĖez himself. T. has: "from the Father Master Fray Domingo BáĖez, Professor at Salamanca." BáĖez was appointed to a Chair at Salamanca University in 1577.
The pronoun (quien) in the Spanish is singular, but in the sixteenth century it could have plural force and the context would favour this. A manuscript note in V., however (not by P. BáĖez, as the Paris Carmelites -- Oeuvres, V, 30 -- suggest), evidently takes the reference to be to St. Gregory, for it says: "And he wrote something on Job, and the Morals, importuned by servants of God, and trusting in their prayers, as he himself says."
French Protestantism which had been repressed during the reigns of Francis I and Henry II, increased after the latter's death in 1559, and was still doing so at the time of the foundation of St. Joseph's.
Lit.: "and bad."
Allá se lo hayan. "And serve them right!" would, in most contexts, be a more exact rendering of this colloquial phrase, but there is no suspicion of Schadenfreude here.
An apparent reference to St. Mark xiii, 31.
In the Spanish the subject is in the singular: P. BáĖez inserted "the house", but crossed this out later.
St. Teresa liked to have hermitages in the grounds of her convents to give the nuns opportunity for solitude.
Lit.: "making this corner." The reference is to St. Joseph's, Ávila.
The italicized lines which follow, and are in the nature of a digression, do not appear in V., and in E. they have been crossed out.
Here follow two erased lines which are illegible but for the words "Thou didst honour the world". The exact sense of the following words ("We can . . . in secret") is affected by these illegible lines and must be considered uncertain.
Lit.: "of those." P. BáĖez wrote in the margin "of the mansions" using the word which is thus translated in the titles of the seven main divisions of the Interior Castle. T. has: "of the houses."
Lit., "poor little one."
Lit.: "are seldom ordered in such a way as."
"Other" is not in the Spanish. "When they are only between", is the reading of T., which also omits: "and become a pest."
Here begins the passage reproduced in the Appendix to Chapter 4, below.
Lit.: "I beg her who is in the position of a senior (mayor)." Mayor was the title given to the superior at the Incarnation, Ávila, and many other convents in Spain, at that time.
Lit.: "There remains, as people say, no patience"; but, as the phrase "as people say" (which E. omits) suggests that this was a popular phrase, I have translated rather more freely and picturesquely. T. has (after "ache too"): "and it upsets us, and so on."
Ternura. Lit.: ''tenderness."
Lit.: "My life!" "My soul!" "My good!"
Lit.: de darnos todas a Él todo: "giving ourselves wholly to Him wholly."
The thirteenth was St. Teresa.
De sus tierras. The phrase will also bear the interpretation: "from their own countries."
The sense of this passage, especially without the phrase from E. which V. omits, is not very clear. T. remodels thus: "You know there is no worse thief for the perfection of the soul than the love of ourselves, for unless etc."
Here, in the margin, is written: "Humility and mortification, very great virtues."
Lit.: "to contrive not to die." But the reading of E. ("to think that we came to the convent for no other reason than to serve our bodies and look after them") suggests that this is what is meant.
Lit.: "which can be suffered on foot."
Lit.: "to look at (or to) what is needful" -- the phrase is ambiguous and might mean: "to worry about their own needs." The word translated "people" is feminine.
Lit.: "Do you know why, apart from other things?"
Lit.: "did them to Him."
Lit.: "to this college of Christ."
I.e., St. Joseph's, Ávila.
An untranslatable play upon words: corto y no muy cortado -- as though "sharpened" could be used in the sense of "refined".
Proverbs xxiv, 16.
The first four paragraphs of this chapter originally formed part of V., but, after writing them, St. Teresa tore them out of the manuscript, as though, on consideration, she had decided not to leave on record her knowledge of such a worldly game as chess. The allegory, however, is so expressive and beautiful that it has rightly become famous, and from the time of Fray Luis de León all the editions have included it. The text here followed is that of E.
Chess was very much in vogue in the Spain of St. Teresa's day and it was only in 1561 that its great exponent Ruy López de Segura had published his celebrated treatise, in Spanish, entitled "Book of the liberal invention and art of the game of chess".
Lit.: "the great virtues." In V. St. Teresa originally began this sentence thus: "In the last chapter I said that the King of glory, etc.," and ended it: "to gain the virtues which I there described as great." Later she altered it to read as above.
Lit.: "out of his hands", but the meaning, made more explicit in V., is evident. On the doctrinal question involved in this paragraph, see Introduction, above. P. Silverio (III, 75-6), has a more extensive note on the subject than can be given here and cites a number of Spanish authorities, from P. Juan de Jesús María (Theologia Mystica, Chap. III) to P. Seisdedos Sanz (Principios fundamentales de la mística, Madrid, 1913, II, 61-77.)
Lit.: "and tenderness."
Lit.: "low", contrasting with "high" at the end of the sentence.
Acts x, 34.
St. Luke xiv, 10.
Lit.: "These others."
Lit.: "would give them nothing", but the reference seems to be to payment.
Lit.: "very, very certain" -- a typically Teresan repetition.
Lit.: "who is such."
Lit.: "so many days."
Lit.: "It will have to go as it comes out."
St Teresa is probably referring to the treatises of Luis de Granada and St. Peter of Alcántara (S.S.M, 1, 40-52, II, 106-20). Cf. Constitutions (Vol. III, p. 236, below).
Lit.: "of his doing something on (the horse) which is not graceful."
St. John iv, 13.
Lit.: "But this one -- no, no."
The author probably refers to herself: Cf. Life, Chapter XX, and Relations, passim.
Lit.: "We eat it without measure."
Lit.: "to cut the thread."
Presumably a reminiscence of Romans vii, 24 or Philippians i, 23.
This, too, is generally taken as referring to St. Teresa herself.
Cassian: Conferences, II. v.
E. ends the chapter here. This final paragraph appears to be based upon St. John vii, 37.
There is a reference here to St. John xiv, 2.
St. John vii, 37.
Lit.: "these are they who are, etc."
Cuenta de perdones: a bead larger in size than the remainder in the rosary and carrying special indulgences for the souls in purgatory.
Lit.: "of beginning so great a good."
Lit.: "save in God" -- i.e., save as those whose life is centred in God: not necessarily, I think, only of God.
"Do not be surprised, daughters, for this is the royal road (camino real) to Heaven." A more idiomatic translation of camino real would be "king's highway".
Lit.: "determined determination": this doubling of words is not uncommon in St. Teresa.
Lit.: "are such ingenious geniuses."
V.: alguna consideración: the use of the singular form in a plural sense, with the shade of meaning which might be conveyed by "some occasional thoughts," is common in Spanish. E. uses one of St. Teresa's characteristic diminutives (see Vol. 1, p. xxi) alguna consideracioncita -- "some (occasional) trifling thoughts."
This is generally taken as referring to St. Teresa's visit to DoĖa Luisa de la Cerda in 1562.
Lit.: "to call her 'Honour." The point of this delightfully unaffected reminiscence, omitted in V. and inserted here rather for its attractiveness than for its artistic appropriateness, is that "Your Honour" (Vuestra Merced: now abbreviated to Vd. and used as the third personal pronoun of ordinary polite address) was an expression merely of respect and not of rank: the Saint often uses it, for example, in addressing her confessors. It was as though a peer of the realm were to say "Just call me 'Sir."
For "fears" the original has "things"; but that seems to be the meaning.
Lit.: "a thing".
Lit.: "a Beauty . . . itself", as though referring to obras: "works."
Lit.: "Yes, approach God, and, in approaching, try."
The words "think about our Spouse" appear in no manuscript but were added by Luis de León.
Este cuidadito: lit., "this little attentiveness" -- another characteristic diminuitive.
Lit.: "a nothing at all" (una nonada).
No es nada delicado mi Dios. "Fastidious" might be nearer to the characteristically bold adjective of the original.
St. Luke xi, 9.
Lit.: "the good."
The word rendered "discuss", both here and below, is a strong one, entrometerse, to intermeddle.
More literally: "consider", "reflect".
Lit.: "and that His greatness is addressing her."
algarabía. Lit.: "Arabic" and hence "gibberish," "jargon."
A vague reminiscence of some phrase from Canticles: perhaps ii, 14, 16, v, 2, or vi, 12.
Or "love Him". The verb in the Spanish can have either meaning.
Lit.: "With what majesty!"
Psalm xxxvi (A.V., xxxvii, 25).
Psalm xxxiii 20-1 (A.V., xxxiv, 19-20).
Lit. "when they deflect the soul in any way from going within itself."
Lit.: "once we begin to be glad."
Lit.: "of recollection within me."
"Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come."
The allusion is, of course, to St. Luke ii, 25 ("just and devout"), 29.
Moradas. The "three tabernacles" of St. Matthew xvii, 4.
In the margin of T. the author adds, in her own hand, that this contemplative was St. Francis Borgia, Duke of Gandía. No doubt, then, the other person referred to was St. Teresa herself. The addition reads: "who was a religious of the Company of Jesus, who had been Duke of Gandía," and to this are added some words, also in St. Teresa's hand, but partially scored out and partially cut by the binder, which seem to be: "who knew it well by experience."
St. Luke xviii, 13. St. Teresa apparently forgot that the publican "would not so much as lift his eyes towards heaven".
Lit.: "and drawn along with it"; the same phrase is found at the end of the preceding paragraph.
Lit. "let the milk fall out of its mouth."
Algarabía. Cf. n. 96 above.
Lit.: "neither the one nor the other will gain."
"Thy will be done: as in Heaven, so on earth."
Lit. "given it."
"Give us this day our daily bread."
Lit.: "should want as much for himself as for his neighbour, and for his neighbour as for himself." The italicized phrase is found in E. only.
Lit.: "each day, each day."
This, as will be observed from the title to this chapter, is the order of the words in the Latin.
Lit.: "in service" -- en servidumbre, a strong word, better rendered, perhaps, "servitude," and not far removed from "slavery."
The whole of this paragraph is lightly crossed out in the manuscript.
Lit.: "as if by (someone's) hand." St. Teresa is thought here to be referring to herself.
Lit.: "and have him within itself with love."
The sense of the verb here rendered "cause the loss of" is vague. Literally the phrase reads: "so many priests are lost."
St. Matthew viii, 25.
"Forgive us our debts."
Lit.: "ill-treated." The same verb is used in the following sentence.
Lit.: "our Honourer" -- Honrador nuestro: a rather unusual phrase which T. changes into the quite conventional honrado Maestro -- "honoured Master."
St. Teresa left this sentence uncompleted. Luis de León added: "You need not . . . prayer" in his edition, since when it has always been included. It figures as an anonymous correction in T.
Lit.: "He left it thus confused." Here follows in E., in place of the rest of this paragraph, a passage which interrupts the trend of the thought, and therefore, in the text above, is printed in italics and in brackets at the end of this paragraph.
The words "though . . . forgive" are crossed out in the manuscript, as is the following sentence "May He . . . before Him."
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Lit.: "gains", as also in the next paragraph. E. has: "because they have hopes of becoming rich." The reference in both manuscripts is, of course, to the spoils and booty of war.
It will be noticed that this paragraph is similar to the last paragraph in the text of V. (p. 254, above). The differences, however, are so wide that each of the two is given as it stands.
A marginal addition made, in the autograph, to the title by another hand reads: "This chapter is very noteworthy, both for those tempted by false kinds of humility and for confessors." This is found in T. and in most of the editions.
Lit.: "these treasons."
Lit.: "these two virtues, so great, so great."
Lit.: "to an inn for ever, ever, for eternity." The repetition of "ever" (siempre) reminds one of the famous reminiscence of St. Teresa's childhood, to be found in her Life, Chap. I.
Lit.: "the infernal slaves."
Or "for [if we do this] we shall never reach our goal."
St. Luke xxii, 15.
Philippians iv, 13.
Lit.: "Let those who are so."
The Life. I do not know what reason St. Teresa had to suppose this, but the Spanish of E. ("también os dará el otro") is quite definite.
Lit.: "you will take my will, as I have obeyed your command with the work" [i.e. in deed].