Catholic First
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year

  Subscribe to CF
Be first to know























Read our AAA review from Catholic Culture

Our Mission

To bring Jesus Christ; the Way, the Truth and the Life; to all who will follow, according to scripture and tradition, per the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.
 

While you visit! Listen to
EWTN AM/FM Radio
Radio

For the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

CHAPTER XVI

Treats of the third degree of prayer and continues to expound very lofty matters, describing what the soul that reaches this state is able to do and the effects produced by these great favours of the Lord. This chapter is well calculated to uplift the spirit in praises to God and to provide great consolation for those who reach this state.

Let us now go on to speak of the third water with which this garden is watered -- that is, of running water proceeding from a river or a spring. This irrigates the garden with much less trouble, although a certain amount is caused by the directing of it. But the Lord is now pleased to help the gardener, so that He may almost be said to be the gardener Himself, for it is He Who does everything. This state is a sleep of the faculties, which are neither wholly lost nor yet can understand how they work. The pleasure and sweetness and delight are incomparably greater than in the previous state, for the water of grace rises to the very neck of the soul, so that it is unable to go forward, and has no idea how to do so, yet neither can it turn back: it would fain have the fruition of exceeding great glory. It is like a person holding the candle in his hand,[1] who is soon to die a death that he longs for; and in that agony it is rejoicing with ineffable joy. This seems to me to be nothing less than an all but complete death to everything in the world and a fruition of God. I know no other terms in which to describe it or to explain it, nor does the soul, at such a time, know what to do: it knows not whether to speak or to be silent, whether to laugh or to weep. This state is a glorious folly, a heavenly madness, in which true wisdom is acquired, and a mode of fruition in which the soul finds the greatest delight.

It is now, I believe, some five, or perhaps six, years since the Lord granted me this prayer in abundance, and granted it me many times, yet I never understood it or knew how to describe it. My intention, therefore, when I reached this point, was to say very little about it, or even nothing at all. I fully realized that it was not a complete union of all the faculties and yet it was very obviously something higher than the previous state of prayer; but I confess that I could neither decide nor understand the nature of this difference. I believe it is because of Your Reverence's humility in consenting to be helped by simplicity as great as mine that to-day, after I had communicated, the Lord granted me this prayer, without allowing me to go beyond it, and set these comparisons before me, and taught me how to express all this and to describe what the soul in this state must do. I was certainly astonished, for in a moment I understood everything. I used often to commit follies because of this love, and to be inebriated with it, yet I had never been able to understand its nature. I realized that it came from God but I could not understand the method of His working; for the truth is that the faculties are in almost complete union, though not so much absorbed as not to act. I am extremely pleased at having understood it at last. Blessed be the Lord, Who has given me this consolation!

The faculties retain only the power of occupying themselves wholly with God; not one of them, it seems, ventures to stir, nor can we cause any of them to move except by trying to fix our attention very carefully on something else, and even then I do not think we could entirely succeed in doing so. Many words are spoken, during this state, in praise of God, but, unless the Lord Himself puts order into them, they have no orderly form. The understanding, at any rate, counts for nothing here; the soul would like to shout praises aloud, for it is in such a state that it cannot contain itself -- a state of delectable disquiet. Already the flowers are opening: see, they are beginning to send out their fragrance. The soul would like everyone to see her now, and become aware of her glory, to the praise of God, and help her to sing His praises. She seems to me like the woman spoken of in the Gospel, who wanted to call (or did call) her neighbours.[2] Such as these, I think, must have been the wondrous feelings of the royal prophet David, when he played on the harp and sang in praise of God. I am very much devoted to this glorious king and I wish all were, especially those of us who are sinners.[3]

O God, what must that soul be like when it is in this state! It would fain be all tongue, so that it might praise the Lord. It utters a thousand holy follies, striving ever to please Him Who thus possesses it. I know a person who, though no poet, composed some verses in a very short time, which were full of feeling and admirably descriptive of her pain[4]: they did not come from her understanding, but, in order the better to enjoy the bliss which came to her from such delectable pain, she complained of it to her God. She would have been glad if she could have been cut to pieces, body and soul, to show what joy this pain caused her. What torments could have been set before her at such a time which she would not have found it delectable to endure for her Lord's sake? She sees clearly that, when the martyrs suffered their torments, they did hardly anything of themselves, for the soul is well aware that fortitude comes from somewhere outside itself. But what will the soul experience when it regains its senses and goes back to live in the world and has to return to the world's preoccupations and formalities? I do not think what I say is in the least exaggerated; I have rather fallen short of the truth in describing this kind of rejoicing which the Lord desires a soul to experience while in this exile. Blessed be Thou, Lord, for ever; let all things for ever praise Thee. Be pleased now, my King, I beseech Thee, to ordain that since, as I write this, I am, by Thy goodness and mercy, not yet recovered from this holy heavenly madness -- a favour which Thou grantest me through no merits of my own -- either those with whom I shall have to do may also become mad through Thy love or I myself may have no part in anything to do with the world or may be taken from it. This servant of Thine, my God, can no longer endure such trials as come when she finds herself without Thee; for, if she is to live, she desires no repose in this life nor would she have Thee give her any. This soul would fain see itself free: eating is killing it; sleep brings it anguish. It finds itself in this life spending its time upon comforts, yet nothing can comfort it but Thee: it seems to be living against nature, for it no longer desires to live to itself, but only to Thee.

O my true Lord and Glory, what a cross -- light and yet most heavy -- hast Thou prepared for those who attain to this state! Light, because it is sweet; heavy, because there come times when there is no patience that can endure it: never would the soul desire to be free from it save to find itself with Thee. When it remembers that as yet it has rendered Thee no service and that by living[5] it can still serve Thee, it would gladly take up a much heavier cross and never die until the end of the world. It sets no store by its own repose if by forfeiting this it can do Thee a small service. It knows not what to desire, but it well knows that it desires nothing else but Thee.

O my son! (He to whom this is addressed and who commands me to write it is so humble that he desires to be addressed thus).[6] May Your Reverence alone see some of these things in which I am transgressing my proper limits! For there is no reason strong enough to keep me within the bounds of reason when the Lord takes me out of myself. And since I communicated this morning I cannot believe that it is I who am speaking at all: I seem to be dreaming what I see and I wish all the people I see were suffering from the same complaint that I have now. I beseech Your Reverence, let us all be mad, for the love of Him Who was called mad for our sakes. Your Reverence says that you are attached to me: I want you to show it by preparing yourself for God to grant you this favour, for I see very few people who are not too worldly-wise to do what is incumbent upon them. I may of course be more so than anybody else: Your Reverence must not allow me to be. You are my confessor, my father,[7] and it is to you that I have entrusted my soul: undeceive me, then, by telling me the truth, for such truths as these are very seldom told.

I wish we five,[8] who now love each other in Christ, could make an agreement together. Just as others in recent times have been meeting secretly to contrive evil deeds and heresies against His Majesty,[9] so we might try to meet sometimes to undeceive one another and to advise one another as to ways in which we might amend our lives and be more pleasing to God; for there is no one who knows himself as well as he is known by those who see him if they observe him lovingly and are anxious to help him. I say "secretly", because it is no longer the fashion to talk in this way: even preachers nowadays phrase their sermons so as not to give offence.[10] No doubt their intention is good, and the work they do is good too, but they lead few people to amend their lives. How is it that there are not many who are led by sermons to forsake open sin? Do you know what I think? That it is because preachers have too much worldly wisdom. They are not like the Apostles, flinging it all aside and catching fire with love for God; and so their flame gives little heat: I do not say that their flame is as great as the Apostles' was, but I could wish it were stronger than I see it is. Does Your Reverence know what our great care ought to be? To hold our life in abhorrence and to consider our reputation as quite unimportant. Provided we say what is true and maintain it to the glory of God, we ought to be indifferent whether we lose everything or gain everything. For he who in all things is truly bold in God's service will be as ready to do the one as the other. I do not say I am that kind of person, but I wish I were.

Oh, what great freedom we enjoy! It makes us look upon having to live and act according to the laws of the world as captivity! It is a freedom which we obtain from the Lord; and there is not a slave who would not risk everything in order to get his ransom and return to his native country. And as this is the true road, there is no reason for lingering on it, for we shall never gain complete possession of that great treasure until our life is over. May the Lord give us His help to this end. Your Reverence must tear up what I have written if it seems good to you to do so; in that case consider it as a letter addressed to yourself and forgive me for having been so bold.

CHAPTER XVII

Continues the same subject, the exposition of this third degree of prayer. Concludes her exposition of the effects produced by it. Describes the hindrances caused in this state by the imagination and the memory.

A reasonable amount has been said concerning this mode of prayer and of what the soul must now do -- or, more correctly, of what God does within it, for it is He Who now undertakes the work of the gardener and is pleased that the soul should be idle. The will has only to consent to those favours which it is enjoying and to submit to all that true Wisdom may be pleased to accomplish in it. And for this it needs courage, that is certain; for the joy is so great that sometimes the soul seems to be one the point of leaving the body -- and what a happy death that would be!

In this state I think it is well, as Your Reverence has been told, for the soul to abandon itself wholly into the arms of God. If He is pleased to take it to Heaven, let it go; if to hell, it is not distressed, so long as it is going there with its Good. If its life is to come to an end for ever, that is its desire; if it is to live a thousand years, that is its desire also. Let His Majesty treat it as His own: it no longer belongs to itself; it is given wholly to the Lord; it can cease to worry altogether. When God grants the soul prayer as sublime as that which belongs to this state, He can do all this and much more, for that is the effect it produces. The soul realizes that He is doing this without any fatiguing of its understanding; only I think it is, as it were, astonished to see what a good gardener the Lord is making, and to find that He does not desire the soul to undertake any labour, but only to take its delight in the first fragrance of the flowers. In any one of these visits, brief as its duration may be, the Gardener, being, as He is, the Creator of the water, gives the soul water without limit; and what the poor soul could not acquire, even if it laboured and fatigued its understanding for as much as twenty years, this heavenly Gardener achieves in a moment; the fruit grows and ripens in such a way that, if the Lord wills, the soul can obtain sufficient nourishment from its own garden. But He allows it to share the fruit with others only when it has eaten so much of it that it is strong enough not to consume it all by merely nibbling at it,[11] and not to fail to get profit from it, nor to omit to recompense Him Who has bestowed it, but to maintain others and give them food at its own cost while itself perhaps dying of hunger. This will be understood perfectly by persons of intelligence and they will be able to apply it more effectively than I can describe it, for I am growing tired.

The virtues, then, are now stronger than they were previously, in the Prayer of Quiet, for the soul sees that it is other than it was, and does not realize how it is beginning to do great things with the fragrance that is being given forth by the flowers. It is the Lord's will that these shall open so that the soul may see that it possesses virtues, though it also knows very well that it could not itself acquire them, and has in fact been unable to do so even after many years, whereas in this short space of time they have been given to it by the heavenly Gardener. The humility, too, which remains in the soul is much greater and deeper than it was previously, for it sees more clearly that it has done nothing at all of itself save to consent that the Lord shall grant it favours and to receive them with its will.

This kind of prayer, I think, is quite definitely a union of the entire soul with God, except that His Majesty appears to be willing to give the faculties leave to understand, and have fruition of, the great things that He is now doing. It happens at certain seasons, very often indeed (I say this now so that Your Reverence may know that it can happen and recognize it when it happens to you: I myself was quite distracted by it), that, when the will is in union, the soul realizes that the will is captive and rejoicing, and that it alone is experiencing great quiet, while, on the other hand, the understanding and the memory are so free that they can attend to business and do works of charity. This may seem to be just the same as the Prayer of Quiet of which I spoke, but it is really different -- partly because in that prayer the soul would fain neither stir nor move and is rejoicing in that holy repose which belongs to Mary, while in this prayer it can also be a Martha. Thus the soul is, as it were, occupied in the active and in the contemplative life at one and the same time: it is doing works of charity and also the business pertaining to its mode of life, as well as busying itself with reading. Those in this state, however, are not wholly masters of themselves and they know very well that the better part of the soul is elsewhere. It is as if we were speaking to one person while someone else was speaking to us: we cannot be wholly absorbed in either the one conversation or the other.

This is a thing which can be very clearly apprehended, and which, when experienced, gives great satisfaction and pleasure; it is also a most effective preparation for attainment to a very restful state of quiet, since it gives the soul a period of solitude or freedom from its business. It works in this way. A person may have so far satisfied his appetite that he has no need to eat; he feels quite well fed and would not look at ordinary food; yet he is not so replete that, if he sees something nice, he will not be glad to eat some of it. Just so here: the soul in this state is not satisfied by the pleasures of the world and has no desire for them because it has within it that which satisfies it more: greater joys in God and desires to satisfy its desire, to have greater fruition and to be with Him -- that is what the soul seeks.

There is another kind of union, which, though not complete union, is more nearly so than the one which I have just described, but not so much so as the one which has been referred to in speaking of this third water. Your Reverence will be very glad, if the Lord grants them all to you (assuming that you do not possess them already), to have a written description of them and thus to be able to understand their nature. For it is one favour that the Lord should grant this favour; but quite another to understand what favour and what grace it is; and still another to be able to describe and explain it. And although only the first of these favours seems necessary for the soul to be able to proceed without confusion and fear and to walk in the way of the Lord with the greater courage, trampling underfoot all the things of the world, it is a great benefit and favour to understand it, and it is right that everyone who can do so, as well as everyone who cannot, should praise the Lord because His Majesty has granted it to a few people who are alive so that we may reap advantage from it. Now frequently this kind of union which I wish to describe comes about as follows (and this is specially true of myself, for God very often grants me this favour in this way). God constrains the will, and also, I think, the understanding, as it does not reason but occupies itself in the fruition of God, like one who, as he looks, sees so much that he does not know where to look next: as he sees one thing he loses sight of another so that he can give no description of anything. The memory remains free -- both it and the imagination must be so -- and when they find themselves alone one would never believe what a turmoil they make and how they try to upset everything. Personally, I get fatigued by it and I hate it, and often I beseech the Lord, if He must upset me so much, to let me be free from it at times like these. "My God," I say to Him sometimes, "when shall my soul be wholly employed in Thy praise, instead of being torn to pieces in this way, and quite helpless?" This makes me realize what harm is done to us by sin, which has bound us in this way so that we cannot do as we would -- namely, be always occupied in God.

As I say, it happens at times -- to-day has been one of them, so I have it clearly in mind -- that I find my soul is becoming unwrought, because it wants to be wholly where the greater part of it is, yet it knows this to be impossible. Memory and imagination make such turmoil within it that they leave it helpless; and the other faculties, not being free, are unable to do anything, even harm. They do the soul extreme harm, of course, by disturbing it; but, when I say "unable to do harm", I mean that they have no strength and cannot concentrate. The understanding gives the soul no help whatever by what it presents to the imagination; it rests nowhere, but goes from one thing to another, like nothing so much as those restless, importunate little moths that fly by night: just so the understanding flies from one extreme to another. This comparison, I think, is extremely apt; for though the understanding has not the strength to do any harm, it importunes those who observe it. I do not know what remedy there is for this, for so far God has not revealed one to me. If He had, I would very willingly make use of it, for, as I say, I am often tormented in this way. Here we have a picture of our own wretchedness and a very clear one of God's great power; the faculty which remains free causes us all this fatigue and harm, whereas the others, which are with His Majesty, bring us rest.

The remedy which I finally discovered, after having caused myself much fatigue for many years, is the one I spoke of when describing the Prayer of Quiet: the soul must take no more notice of the will than it would of a madman, but leave it to its work, for God alone can set it free. In this state, in short, it is a slave. We must bear patiently with it as Jacob bore with Lia, for the Lord is showing us an exceeding great mercy if He allows us to enjoy Rachel. I say that it is a slave because, after all, however much it may try, it cannot attract to itself the other faculties; on the contrary, they often compel it to come to them and it does so without the smallest effort. Sometimes, seeing it so confused and restless because of its desire to be with the other faculties, God is pleased to have pity on it, and His Majesty allows it to burn in the fire of that Divine candle, which has already deprived the others of their natural form and reduced them to ashes: so great are the blessings they are enjoying that they have become almost supernatural.

In all these types of prayer which I have described in speaking of this last-mentioned kind of water, which comes from a spring, the glory and the repose of the soul are so great that the body shares in the soul's joy and delight, and this to a most marked extent, and the virtues are very highly developed in it, as I have said. It seems that the Lord has been pleased to describe these states in which the soul finds itself, and to do so as clearly, I believe, as in this life is possible. Your Reverence should discuss the matter with some spiritual person, who has himself reached this state and is a man of learning. If he tells you that it is all right, you may take his assurance as coming from God and be grateful for it to His Majesty. For, in due time, as I have said, you will rejoice greatly at having understood the nature of this, until He gives you grace to understand it fully, just as He is giving you grace to enjoy it. As His Majesty has granted you the first grace, you, with all your intellect and learning, will come to understand it as well. May He be praised for all things, for ever and ever. Amen.

CHAPTER XVIII

Treats of the fourth degree of prayer. Begins to describe in an excellent way[12] the great dignity conferred by the Lord upon the soul in this state. This chapter is meant for the great encouragement of those who practise prayer to the end that they may strive to reach this lofty state, which it is possible to attain on earth, though not through our merits but by the Lord's goodness. Let it be read with attention, for its exposition is most subtle and it contains most noteworthy things.[13]

May the Lord teach me words in which to say something about the fourth water. His help is very necessary, even more so than it was for describing the last water, for in that state the soul still feels that it is not completely dead -- and we may use this word in speaking of it, since it is dead to the world. As I said, it retains sufficient sense to realize that it is in the world and to be conscious of its loneliness, and it makes use of exterior things for the expression of its feelings, even if this is only possible by signs. In the whole of the prayer already described, and in each of its stages, the gardener is responsible for part of the labour; although in these later stages the labour is accompanied by such bliss and consolation that the soul's desire would be never to abandon it: the labour is felt to be, not labour at all, but bliss. In this state of prayer to which we have now come, there is no feeling, but only rejoicing, unaccompanied by any understanding of the thing in which the soul is rejoicing. It realizes that it is rejoicing in some good thing, in which are comprised all good things at once, but it cannot comprehend this good thing. In this rejoicing all the senses are occupied, so that none of them is free or able to act in any way, either outwardly or inwardly. Previously, as I have said, they were permitted to give some indication of the great joy that they feel; but in this state the soul's rejoining is beyond comparison greater, and yet can be much less effectively expressed, because there is no power left in the body, neither has the soul any power, to communicate its rejoicing. At such a time everything would be a great hindrance and torment to it and a disturbance of its rest; so I assert that, if there is union of all the faculties, the soul cannot communicate the fact, even if it so desires (when actually experiencing it, I mean): if it can communicate it, then it is not union.

The way in which this that we call union comes, and the nature of it, I do not know how to explain. It is described in mystical theology, but I am unable to use the proper terms, and I cannot understand what is meant by "mind" or how this differs from "soul" or "spirit". They all seem the same to me, though the soul sometimes issues from itself, like a fire that is burning and has become wholly flame, and sometimes this fire increases with great force. This flame rises very high above the fire, but that does not make it a different thing: it is the same flame which is in the fire. This, with all your learning, Your Reverences will understand: there is nothing more that I can say of it.

What I do seek to explain is the feelings of the soul when it is in this Divine union. It is quite clear what union is -- two different things becoming one. O my Lord, how good Thou art! Blessed be Thou for ever! Let all things praise Thee, my God, Who hast so loved us that we can truly say that Thou hast communication with souls even in this exile: even if they are good, this is great bounty and magnanimity. In a word, my Lord, it is a bounty and a magnanimity which are all Thine own, for Thou givest according to Thine own nature. O infinite Bounty, how magnificent are Thy works! Even one whose understanding is not occupied with things of the earth is amazed at being unable to understand such truths. Dost Thou, then, grant these sovereign favours to souls who have so greatly offended Thee? Truly my own understanding is overwhelmed by this, and when I begin to think about it I can make no progress. What progress, indeed, is there to be made which is not a turning back? As for giving Thee thanks for such great favours, there is no way of doing it, though sometimes I find it a help to utter foolishness.

When I have just received these mercies, or when God is beginning to bestow them on me (for while actually receiving them, as I have said, a person has no power to do anything), I am often wont to exclaim "Lord, consider what Thou art doing; forget not so quickly the gravity of my evil deeds. Though Thou must have forgotten them before Thou couldst forgive me, I beseech Thee to remember them in order that Thou mayest set a limit to Thy favours. O my Creator, pour not such precious liquor into so broken a vessel, for again and again Thou hast seen how I have allowed it to run away. Put not such a treasure in a place where the yearning for the comforts of this life has not yet disappeared as it should, or it will be completely wasted. How canst Thou entrust this fortified city and the keys of its citadel to so cowardly a defender, who at the enemy's first onslaught allows him to enter? Let not Thy love, eternal King, be so great as to imperil such precious jewels. For it seems, my Lord, that men have an excuse for despising them if Thou bestowest them upon a creature so wretched, so base, so weak, so miserable and so worthless, who, though she may strive not to lose them, by Thy help (of which I have no small need, being what I am), cannot make use of them to bring profit to any. I am, in short, a woman, and not even a good one, but wicked.

"When talents are placed in earth as vile as this they seem to be not only hidden but buried. It is not Thy wont, Lord, to do such great things for a soul and to bestow such favours upon it save that it may profit many others. Thou knowest, my God, that I beseech this of Thee with all my heart and will, and that I have oftentimes besought it of Thee, and that I count it a blessing to lose the greatest blessing which may be possessed upon earth, if Thou wilt bestow thy favours upon one who will derive greater profit from this blessing, to the increase of Thy glory." It has come to pass many times that I have said these things and others like them. And afterwards I have become conscious of my foolishness and want of humility; for the Lord well knows what is fitting for me and that my soul would have no power to attain salvation did not His Majesty bestow it on me with these great favours.

I propose also to speak of the graces and effects which remain in the soul, and of what it can do by itself, if it can do anything, towards reaching a state of such sublimity.

This elevation of the spirit, or union, is wont to come with heavenly love; but, as I understand it, the union itself is a different thing from the elevation which takes place in this same union. Anyone who has not had experience of the latter will think it is not so; but my own view is that, even though they may both be the same, the Lord works differently in them, so that the soul's growth in detachment from creatures is much greater in the flight of the spirit. It has become quite clear to me that this is a special grace, though, as I say, both may be, or may appear to be, the same; a small fire is as much fire as is a large one and yet the difference between the two is evident. In a small fire, a long time elapses before a small piece of iron can become red-hot; but if the fire be a large one, the piece of iron, though it may also be larger, seems to lose all its properties very quickly. So it is, I think, with these two kinds of favour from the Lord. Anyone who has attained to raptures will, I know, understand it well. If he has not experienced it, it will seem ridiculous to him, as well it may be: for a person like myself to speak of such a thing and to make any attempt to explain a matter which cannot even begin to be described in words may very well be ridiculous.

But I believe that the Lord will help me in this, since His Majesty knows that, next to doing what I am bidden, my chief aim is to cause souls to covet so sublime a blessing. I shall say nothing of which I have not myself had abundant experience. The fact is, when I began to write about this fourth water, it seemed to me more impossible to say anything about it than to talk Greek -- and indeed it is a most difficult matter. So I laid it aside and went to Communion. Blessed be the Lord, Who thus helps the ignorant! O virtue of obedience, that canst do all things! God enlightened my understanding, sometimes giving me words and sometimes showing me how I was to use them, for, as in dealing with the last kind of prayer, His Majesty seems to be pleased to say what I have neither the power nor the learning to express. What I am saying is the whole truth; and thus, if I say anything good, the teaching comes from Him, while what is bad, of course, comes from that sea of evil -- myself. And so I say, if there are any persons (and there must be many) who have attained to the experiences in prayer which the Lord has granted to this miserable woman, and who think that they have strayed from the path and wish to discuss these matters with me, the Lord will help His servant to present His truth.

Speaking now of this rain which comes from Heaven to fill and saturate the whole of this garden with an abundance of water, we can see how much rest the gardener would be able to have if the Lord never ceased to send it whenever it was necessary. And if there were no winter, but eternal warm weather, there would never be a dearth of flowers and fruit and we can imagine how delighted he would be. But during this life, that is impossible, and, when one kind of water fails, we must always be thinking about obtaining another. This rain from Heaven often comes when the gardener is least expecting it. Yet it is true that at first it almost always comes after long mental prayer: as one degree of prayer succeeds another, the Lord takes this little bird and puts it into the nest where it may repose. Having watched it flying for a long time, striving with mind and will and all its strength to seek and please God, it becomes His pleasure, while it is still in this life, to give it its reward. And what a great reward that is! For even a moment of it suffices to recompense the soul for all the trials that it can possibly have endured.

While seeking God in this way, the soul becomes conscious that it is fainting almost completely away, in a kind of swoon with an exceeding great and sweet delight. It gradually ceases to breathe and all its bodily strength begins to fail it: it cannot even move its hands without great pain; its eyes involuntarily close, or, if they remain open, they can hardly see. If a person in this state attempts to read, he is unable to spell out a single letter: it is as much as he can do to recognize one. He sees that letters are there, but, as the understanding gives him no help, he cannot read them even if he so wishes. He can hear, but he cannot understand what he hears. He can apprehend nothing with the senses, which only hinder his soul's joy and thus harm rather than help him. It is futile for him to attempt to speak: his mind cannot manage to form a single word, nor, if it could, would he have the strength to pronounce it. For in this condition all outward strength vanishes, while the strength of the soul increases so that it may the better have fruition of its bliss. The outward joy experienced is great and most clearly recognized.

This prayer, for however long it may last, does no harm; at least, it has never done any to me, nor do I ever remember feeling any ill effects after the Lord has granted me this favour, however unwell I may have been: indeed, I am generally much the better for it. What harm can possibly be done by so great a blessing? The outward effects are so noteworthy that there can be no doubt some great thing has taken place: we experience a loss of strength but the experience is one of such delight that afterwards our strength grows greater.

It is true that at first this happens in such a short space of time -- so, at least, it was with me -- that because of its rapidity it can be detected neither by these outward signs nor by the failure of the senses. But the exceeding abundance of the favours granted to the soul clearly indicates how bright has been the sun that has shone upon it and has thus caused the soul to melt away. And let it be observed that, in my opinion, whatever may be the length of the period during which all the faculties of the soul are in this state of suspension, it is a very short one: if it were to last for half an hour, that would be a long time -- I do not think it has ever lasted so long as that with me. As the soul is not conscious of it, its duration is really very difficult to estimate, so I will merely say that it is never very long before one of the faculties becomes active again. It is the will that maintains the contact with God[14] but the other two faculties soon begin to importune it once more. The will, however, is calm, so they become suspended once again; but eventually, after another short period of suspension, they come back to life.

With all this happening, the time spent in prayer may last, and does last, for some hours; for, once the two faculties have begun to grow inebriated with the taste of this Divine wine, they are very ready to lose themselves in order to gain the more, and so they keep company with the will and all three rejoice together. But this state in which they are completely lost, and have no power of imagining anything -- for the imagination, I believe, is also completely lost -- is, as I say, of brief duration, although the faculties do not recover to such an extent as not to be for some hours, as it were, in disorder, God, from time to time, gathering them once more to Himself.

Let us now come to the most intimate part of what the soul experiences in this condition. The persons who must speak of it are those who know it, for it cannot be understood, still less described. As I was about to write of this (I had just communicated and had been experiencing this very prayer of which I am writing), I was wondering what it is the soul does during that time, when the Lord said these words to me: "It dies to itself wholly,[15] daughter, in order that it may fix itself more and more upon Me; it is no longer itself that lives, but I. As it cannot comprehend what it understands, it is an understanding which understands not." One who has experienced this will understand something of it; it cannot be more clearly expressed, since all that comes to pass in this state is so obscure. I can only say that the soul feels close to God and that there abides within it such a certainty that it cannot possibly do other than believe. All the faculties now fail and are suspended in such a way that, as I have said, it is impossible to believe they are active. If the soul has been meditating upon any subject,[16] this vanishes from its memory as if it had never thought of it. If it has been reading, it is unable to concentrate upon what it was reading or to remember it; and the same is true if it has been praying. So it is that this importunate little butterfly -- the memory -- is now burning its wings and can no longer fly. The will must be fully occupied in loving, but it cannot understand how it loves; the understanding, if it understands, does not understand how it understands, or at least can comprehend nothing of what it understands. It does not seem to me to be understanding, because, as I say, it does not understand itself. Nor can I myself understand this.

There was one thing of which at first I was ignorant: I did not know that God was in all things, and, when He seemed to me to be so very present, I thought it impossible. I could not cease believing that He was there, for it seemed almost certain that I had been conscious of His very presence. Unlearned persons would tell me that He was there only by grace; but I could not believe that, for, as I say, He seemed to me to be really present; and so I continued to be greatly distressed. From this doubt I was freed by a very learned man of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic[17]: he told me that He was indeed present and described how He communicated Himself to us, which brought me very great comfort. It is to be noted and understood that this water from Heaven, this greatest of the Lord's favours, leaves the greatest benefits in the soul, as I shall now explain.

CHAPTER XIX

Continues the sane subject. Begins to describe the effects produced in the soul by this degree of prayer. Exhorts souls earnestly not to turn back, even if after receiving this favour they should fall, and not to give up prayer. Describes the harm that will ensue if they do not follow this counsel. This chapter is to be read very carefully and will be of great comfort to the weak and to sinners.

The soul that has experienced this prayer and this union is left with a very great tenderness, of such a kind that it would gladly become consumed,[18] not with pain but in tears of joy. It finds itself bathed in these tears without having been conscious of them or knowing when or how it shed them. But it derives great joy from seeing the vehemence of the fire assuaged by water which makes it burn the more. This sounds like nonsense but none the less it is what happens. Sometimes, when I have reached the end of this prayer, I have been so completely beside myself that I have not known whether it has been a dream or whether the bliss that I have been experiencing has really come to me; and I have only known that it has not been a dream through finding myself bathed in tears, which have been flowing without causing me any distress and with such vehemence and rapidity that it has been as if they had fallen from a cloud in Heaven. This would happen to me in the early stages, when the condition soon passed away.

The soul is left so full of courage that it would be greatly comforted if at that moment, for God's sake, it could be hacked to pieces. It is then that it makes heroic resolutions and promises, that its desires become full of vigour, that it begins to abhor the world and that it develops the clearest realization of its own vanity. The benefits that it receives are more numerous and sublime than any which proceed from the previous states of prayer; and its humility is also greater, for it clearly sees how by no efforts of its own it could either gain or keep so exceeding and so great a favour. It also sees clearly how extremely unworthy it is -- for in a room bathed in sunlight not a cobweb can remain hidden. It sees its own wretchedness. So far is vainglory from it that it cannot believe it could ever be guilty of such a thing. For now it sees with its own eyes that of itself it can do little or nothing, and that it hardly even gave its consent to what has happened to it, but that, against its own will, the door seemed to be closed upon all the senses so that it might have the greater fruition of the Lord. It is alone with Him: what is there for it to do but to love Him? It can neither see nor hear save by making a great effort and it can take little credit for that. Then its past life comes up before it and all the truth of God's great mercy is revealed. The understanding has no need to go out hunting for its food is already prepared. The soul realizes that it has deserved to go to hell, yet its punishment is to taste glory. It becomes consumed[19] in praises of God as I would fain become now. Blessed be Thou, my Lord, Who from such filthy slime as I dost draw water so pure as to be meet for Thy table! Praised be Thou, O Joy of the angels, Who art thus pleased to raise up a worm so vile!

The benefits thus achieved remain in the soul for some time; having now a clear realization that the fruits of this prayer are not its own, it can start to share them and yet have no lack of them itself. It begins to show signs of being a soul that is guarding the treasures of Heaven and to be desirous of sharing them with others and to beseech God that it may not be alone in its riches. Almost without knowing it, and doing nothing consciously to that end, it begins to benefit its neighbours, and they become aware of this benefit because the flowers have now so powerful a fragrance as to make them desire to approach them. They realize that the soul has virtues, and, seeing how desirable the fruit is, would fain help it to partake of it. If the ground is well dug over by trials, persecutions, backbitings and infirmities (for few can attain such a state without these), and if it is broken up by detachment from self-interest, the water will sink in so far that it will hardly ever grow dry again. But if it is just earth in the virgin state and as full of thorns as I was at first; if it is not yet free from occasions of sin and not so grateful as it should be after receiving such great favours: then it will once again become dry. If the gardener becomes careless, and the Lord is not pleased, out of His sheer goodness, to send rain upon it afresh, then you can set down the garden as ruined. This happened to me several times and I am really amazed at it: if I had not had personal experience of it, I could not believe it. I write this for the consolation of weak souls like myself, so that they may never despair or cease to trust in God's greatness. Even if, after reaching so high a point as this to which the Lord has brought them, they should fall, they must not be discouraged if they would not be utterly lost. For tears achieve everything: one kind of water attracts another.

This is one of the reasons why, though being what I am, I was encouraged to obey my superiors by writing this and giving an account of my wretched life and of the favours which the Lord has granted me, albeit I have not served Him but offended Him. I only wish I were a person of great authority so that my words might be believed: I beseech the Lord that His Majesty may be pleased to grant me this. I repeat that no one who has begun to practise prayer should be discouraged and say: "If I am going to fall again, it will be better for me not to go on practising prayer." I think it will be if such a person gives up prayer and does not amend his evil life; but, if he does not give it up, he may have confidence that prayer will bring him into the haven of light. This was a matter about which the devil kept plaguing me, and I suffered so much through thinking myself lacking in humility for continuing prayer, when I was so wicked, that, as I have said, for a year and a half I gave it up -- or at any rate for a year: I am not quite sure about the six months. This would have been nothing less than plunging into hell -- nor was it: there was no need for any devils to send me there. Oh, God help me, how terribly blind I was! How well the devil succeeds in his purpose when he pursues us like this! The deceiver knows that if a soul perseveres in practising prayer it will be lost to him, and that, by the goodness of God, all the relapses into which he can lead it will only help it to make greater strides onward in His service. And this is a matter of some concern to the devil.

O my Jesus! What a sight it is to see a soul which has attained as far as this, and has fallen into sin, when Thou of Thy mercy stretchest forth Thy hand to it again and raisest it up! How conscious it becomes of the multitude of Thy wonders and mercies, and of its own wretchedness! Now indeed is it consumed with shame when it acknowledges Thy wonders. Now it dares not raise its eyes. Now it raises them only to acknowledge what it owes Thee. Now it devoutly beseeches the Queen of Heaven to propitiate Thee. Now it invokes the saints, who likewise fell after Thou hadst called them, that they may aid it. Now it feels all Thou givest it to be bounty indeed, for it knows itself to be unworthy even of the ground it treads upon. It has recourse to the Sacraments and a lively faith is implanted in it when it sees what virtues God has placed in them; it praises Thee for having left us such medicine and such ointment for our wounds, which, far from healing them superficially, eradicate them altogether. At this it is amazed -- and who, Lord of my soul, can be other than amazed at mercy so great and favour so immense, at treason so foul and abominable? I cannot think why my heart does not break when I write this, wicked that I am.

With these few tears that I am here shedding, which are Thy gift (water, in so far as it comes from me, drawn from a well so impure), I seem to be making Thee payment for all my acts of treachery -- for the evil that I have so continually wrought and for the attempts that I have made to blot out the favours Thou hast granted me. Do Thou, my Lord, make my tears of some efficacy. Purify this turbid stream, if only that I may not lead others to be tempted to judge me, as I have been tempted to judge others myself. For I used to wonder, Lord, why Thou didst pass by persons who were most holy, who had been piously brought up, who had always served Thee and laboured for Thee and who were truly religious and not, like myself, religious only in name: I could not see why Thou didst not show them the same favours as Thou showedst to me. And then, O my Good, it became clear to me that Thou art keeping their reward to give them all at once -- that my weakness needs the help Thou bestowest on me, whereas they, being strong, can serve Thee without it, and that therefore Thou dost treat them as brave souls and as souls devoid of self-seeking.

But nevertheless Thou knowest, my Lord, that I would often cry out unto Thee, and make excuses for those who spoke ill of me, for I thought they had ample reason for doing so. This, Lord, was after Thou of Thy goodness hadst kept me from so greatly offending Thee and when I was turning aside from everything which I thought could cause Thee displeasure; and as I did this, Lord, Thou didst begin to open Thy treasures for Thy servant. It seemed that Thou wert waiting for nothing else than that I should be willing and ready to receive them, and so, after a short time, Thou didst begin, not only to give them, but to be pleased that others should know Thou wert giving them, to me.

When this became known, people began to have a good opinion of one of whose great wickedness all were not fully aware, though much of it was clearly perceptible. Then suddenly began evil-speaking and persecution, and I think with great justification, so I conceived enmity for none, but besought Thee to consider how far they were justified. They said that I wanted to become a saint, and that I was inventing newfangled practices, though in many respects I had not even achieved the full observance of my Rule, nor had I attained to the goodness and sanctity of nuns in my own house, and indeed I do not believe that I ever shall unless God brings this about of His own goodness. On the contrary, I was well on the way to giving up things that were good and adopting habits that were not so: at least I was adopting them to the best of my ability and I had a great deal of ability for doing wrong. So these people were not to blame when they blamed me. I do not mean only the nuns, but other people: they revealed things about me that were true because Thou didst permit it.

Once when, after having been tempted in this way for some time, I was reciting the Hours, I came to the verse which says: "Justus es, Domine, and Thy judgments. . . ."[20] I began to think how very true this was; for the devil was never powerful enough to tempt me sufficiently to make me doubt that Thou, my Lord, hast all good things, or any other truth of the Faith; indeed, it seemed to me that the less of a natural foundation these truths had, the more firmly I held them and the greater was the devotion they inspired in me. Since Thou art almighty, I accepted all the wondrous works which Thou hadst done as most certain; and in this respect, as I say, I never harboured a doubt. While I was wondering how in Thy justice Thou couldst ordain that so many of Thy faithful handmaidens, as I have said, should not be given the graces and favours which Thou didst bestow on me, being such as I was, Thou didst answer me, Lord, saying "Serve thou Me, and meddle not with this". This was the first word which I ever heard Thee speak to me and so it made me very much afraid; but, as I shall describe this method of hearing later, together with certain other things, I will say nothing about it here, for that would be to digress from my purpose and I think I have digressed quite sufficiently as it is. I hardly know what I have said. It cannot be otherwise, and Your Reverence must suffer these lapses; for, when I consider what God has borne with from me, and find myself in my present state, it is not surprising if I lose the thread of what I am saying and of what I still have to say. May it please the Lord that any foolishness I talk shall be of this kind and may His Majesty never allow me to have the power to resist Him in the smallest degree; rather than that, let Him consume me, just as I am, at this very moment.

It suffices as an illustration of His great mercies that He should have forgiven such ingratitude as mine, and this not once but many times. He forgave Saint Peter once; but me He has forgiven often. Good reason had the devil for tempting me, telling me not to aspire to a close friendship with One for Whom I was so publicly showing my enmity. How terribly blind I was! Where, my Lord, did I think I could find help save in Thee? What foolishness to flee from the light and to walk on all the time stumbling! What a proud humility did the devil find in me when I ceased to make use of the pillar and the staff whose support I so greatly need lest I should suffer a great fall! As I write I make the sign of the Cross: I do not believe I have ever passed through so grave a peril as when the devil put this idea into my head under the guise of humility. How, he asked me, could one who, after receiving such great favours, was still as wicked as I, approach God in prayer? It was enough for me, he would go on, to recite the prayers enjoined upon me, as all the nuns did, but I did not even do this properly: why, then, should I want to do more? It was showing small respect and indeed contempt for the favours of God. I was right to think about this and to try to realize it, but extremely wrong to put my thoughts into practice. Blessed be Thou, Lord, Who didst thus succour me!

This seems to me to be the principle on which the devil tempted Judas, except that he dared not tempt me so openly: none the less, he would gradually have brought me to the same fate. For the love of God, let all who practise prayer consider this. Let them be told that by far the worst life I ever led was when I abandoned prayer. Let them consider with what a fine remedy the devil provided me and with what a pretty humility he inspired me. It caused me a great deal of inward unrest. And how could my soul find any rest? Miserable creature that it was, it went farther and farther away from its rest. I was very conscious of the favours and graces I had received from Thee; for the pleasures of earth I felt a loathing: I am amazed that I was able to endure it all. Only hope enabled me to do so, for, as far as I can remember (and it must have been more than twenty-one years ago), I never swerved from my resolution to return to prayers -- I was only waiting until I should be quite free from sins. Oh how far this hope led me astray!

The devil would have encouraged me in it until the Day of Judgment, so that he might then carry me off to hell. But, though I had recourse to prayer and reading, and these revealed truths to me and showed me along what a disastrous road I was walking, and though I importuned the Lord, often with tears, I was so wicked that all this could avail me nothing. When I abandoned these practices, and gave myself up to pastimes which led me into many occasions of sin and helped me but little -- I will even venture to say that the only thing they helped me to do was to fall -- what could I expect but what I have already mentioned? I think much credit in the sight of God is due to a friar of the Order of Saint Dominic,[21] a very learned man, for it was he who awakened me from this sleep; it was he who, as I think I said, made me communicate once a fortnight, and do less that was wrong. I began to return to my senses, though I did not cease to offend the Lord, but, as I had not lost my way, I continued upon it, first falling and then rising again, and making very little progress; still, he who never ceases walking, and advances all the time, may reach his goal late, but does reach it all the same. To lose one's way seems to be the same thing as giving up prayer. May God, for His name's sake, deliver us from doing so.

From this it is evident (and for the love of the Lord let it be carefully noted) that, even if a soul should attain the point of receiving great favours from God in prayer, it must put no trust in itself, since it is prone to fall, nor must it expose itself to occasions of sin in any way whatsoever. This should be carefully considered, for it is most important: even though a favour may undoubtedly have come from God, the devil will later be able to practise a deception upon us by treacherously making such use as he can of that very favour against persons who are not strong in the virtues, or detached, or mortified; for such persons, as I shall explain later, are not sufficiently strengthened to expose themselves to occasions of sin and other perils, however sincere may be their desires and resolutions. This is excellent doctrine, and it is not mine, but has been taught me by God, and so I should like people as ignorant as I am to know it. Even if a soul should be in this state, it must not trust itself so far as to sally forth to battle: it will have quite enough to do to defend itself. Arms are needed here for defence against devils: the soul is not yet strong enough to fight against them and to trample them under its feet as do those in the state which I shall describe later.

This is the deception by which the devil wins his prey. When a soul finds itself very near to God and sees what a difference there is between the good things of Heaven and those of earth, and what love the Lord is showing it, there is born of this love a confidence and security that there will be no falling away from what it is now enjoying. It seems to have a clear vision of the reward and believes that it cannot now possibly leave something which even in this life is so sweet and delectable for anything as base and soiled as earthly pleasure. Because it has this confidence, the devil is able to deprive it of the misgivings which it ought to have about itself; and, as I say, it runs into many dangers, and in its zeal begins to give away its fruit without stint, thinking that it has now nothing to fear. This condition is not a concomitant of pride, for the soul clearly understands that of itself it can do nothing; it is the result of its extreme confidence in God, which knows no discretion. The soul does not realize that it is like a bird still unfledged. It is able to come out of the nest, and God is taking it out, but it is not yet ready to fly, for its virtues are not yet strong and it has no experience which will warn it of dangers, nor is it aware of the harm done by self-confidence.

It was this that ruined me; and, both because of this and for other reasons, the soul has great need of a director and of intercourse with spiritual people. I fully believe that, unless a soul brought to this state by God completely abandons Him, His Majesty will not cease to help it nor will He allow it to be lost. But when, as I have said, the soul falls, let it look to it -- for the love of the Lord, let it look to it -- lest the devil trick it into abandoning prayer, in the way he tricked me, by inspiring it with a false humility, as I have said, and as I should like to repeat often. Let it trust in the goodness of God, which is greater than all the evil we can do. When, with full knowledge of ourselves, we desire to return to friendship with Him, He remembers neither our ingratitude nor our misuse of the favours that He has granted us. He might well chastise us for these sins, but in fact He makes use of them only to forgive us the more readily, just as He would forgive those who have been members of His household, and who, as they say, have eaten of His bread. Let them remember His words and consider what He has done to me, who wearied of offending His Majesty before He ceased forgiving me. Never does He weary of giving and never can His mercies be exhausted: let us, then, not grow weary of receiving. May He be blessed for ever, Amen, and may all things praise Him.

Next Page


Footnotes

[1][I have translated literally, but the phrase, a common one in Spanish, is equivalent to "at the point of death."]

[2]St. Luke xv, 9.

[3]The feast of King David is to be found in the Carmelite calendar revised by the Chapter-General in 1564.

[4]The "person", as so often in St. Teresa, was the author herself. [The description of the poem is too vague for it to be identified.]

[5][Lit.: "by seeing" (viendo), which reading P. Silverio adopts; but I think we may assume this to be an error for "by living" (viviendo).]

[6]The reference is to P. Pedro Ib‡–ez. The parenthetical sentence [which I have bracketed in the text] is scored through in the autograph, by some hand other than the Saint's -- probably by P. B‡–ez.

[7]After this word come three or four others, which have been so effectively scored through that they are indecipherable. No doubt they were words eulogizing P. Ib‡–ez.

[8]Probably the other four were P. Daza, Don Francisco de Salcedo, Do–a Guiomar de Ulloa and P. Ib‡–ez.

[9]The reference is to clandestine meetings held at Valladolid by a group of people suspected of heresy, under the leadership of Dr. Aust’n Cazalla, a Canon of Salamanca and a Chaplain to the Emperor Charles V. These meetings came to an end in 1559, when an auto was held which involved persons of high rank and caused a great sensation in the country. The unorthodox propaganda of the Cazallist group spread as far as Avila and St. Teresa had herself come into contact with it.

[10]P. B‡–ez wrote in the margin of the autograph here: "Legant praedicatores."

[11][Tan fuerte . . . que no se le vaya en gostaduras. A difficult phrase, which used to be interpreted by assuming gastadura, a presumedly archaic substantive from gastar (spend, waste, fail to profit from), for gostadura, of which the modern form is gustadura, and which denotes the action of tasting. But I greatly prefer gostadura, and, though the figure could not be pressed to its logical conclusion, the translation I suggest seems wholly in accord with St. Teresa's realistic way of looking at things, whereas the gastadura reading ("strong enough not to fritter it all away", ". . . not to waste it all") is by comparison conventional.]

[12]These four words were crossed out in the manuscript by the author.

[13]This sentence was also crossed out by the author.

[14][Lit.: "Maintains the web." This curious phrase will be familiar to readers of St. John of the Cross ("Break the web of this sweet encounter": Living Flame of Love, Stanza I): cf. St. John of the Cross, III, 34-40, where the phrase is commented upon by its author. Here I think the reference as not to the web, or thread, of human life, but to that of Communion with God. Changing the metaphor, one might render: "It is the will that is the soul's stanchion." In the text, however, I have used a phrase which better suits the context.]

[15][The Spanish is deshacerse: this verb, often used by St. Teresa, is the contrary of hacer, to do, and can generally be rendered "be consumed", "be destroyed", "be annihilated".]

[16][Paso: incident, occurrence -- here, no doubt, referring to some scene in the Gospels.]

[17]Probably P. B‡–ez, though P. Gracián and Mar’a de San JosŽ say that P. Barr—n is meant.

[18][Deshacerse. Cf. p. 179, n. 4.]

[19][Deshacerse.]

[20]Psalm cxviii, 137 [A.V., cxix, 137]. The Latin text is: "Justus es, Domine, et rectum judicium tuum." The remainder of the verse no doubt escaped the Saint's memory. [The Latin opening she would remember, because it comes at the beginning of one of the divisions of the psalm. This is an interesting illustration of her indifference to precision in her work. Even a hasty revision would have revealed the omission of the latter part of the verse: it is strange that P. B‡–ez did not supply it.]

[21]P. Barr—n.

Next Page

Home

Visit our Catholic First Online Store

Copyright © 2000 - 2009 Catholic First