The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

(1515-1582)

 

(CHAPTERS 25 - 40)

 

 

Chapter 25

    Discusses the method and manner in which these locutions bestowed by God on the soul are apprehended without being heard and also certain kinds of deception which may occur here and the way to recognize them. This chapter is most profitable for anyone who finds himself at this stage of prayer because the exposition is very good and contains much teaching.

    It will be well, I think, to explain the nature of the locutions which God bestows upon the soul, and the soul's experiences on receiving them, so that Your Reverence may understand this. For, since the occasion I have described[197] on which the Lord granted me this favour, it has become quite a common experience even to this day, as will be seen in what is to come. Though perfectly formed, the words are not heard with the bodily ear; yet they are understood much more clearly than if they were so heard, and, however determined one's resistance, it is impossible to fail to hear them. For when, on the natural plane, we do not wish to hear, we can close our ears, or attend to something else, with the result that, although we may hear, we do not understand. But when God talks in this way to the soul, there is no such remedy: I have to listen, whether I like it or no, and my understanding has to devote itself so completely to what God wishes me to understand that whether I want to listen or not makes no difference. For, as He Who is all-powerful wills us to understand, we have to do what He wills; and He reveals Himself as our true Lord. I have long experience of this; I was so much afraid of it that I kept up my resistance for almost two years and sometimes I still try to resist, though with little success.

    I should like to describe the different kinds of deception which may occur here, though I think anyone who has much experience will seldom, if ever, be deceived. But, as considerable experience is necessary before this state can be reached, I will explain the difference between locutions coming from good spirits and from evil ones and how, as may happen, the apprehension can be caused by the understanding itself or by the spirit conversing with itself (I do not know if that is possible, but I was thinking that it was, this very day). With regard to cases in which the locution is of God, I have a great deal of evidence, as I have heard such voices two or three years beforehand and all that they have said has come true -- not a single one of them so far has proved deceptive. And there are other things in which the Spirit of God can be clearly perceived, as will be said later.

    Sometimes, I think, a person who has commended some matter to God with great affection and concern will believe he hears something telling him if it will be granted him or not -- that is quite possible -- though, once he has really heard anything of the kind, he will recognize it immediately, for there is a great difference between true and false. If it is something invented by the understanding, subtle as the invention may be, he realizes that it is the understanding which is making up the words and uttering them, for it is just as if a person were making up a speech or as if he were listening to what someone else was saying to him. The understanding will realize that it is not listening, but being active; and the words it is inventing are fantastic and indistinct and have not the clarity of true locutions. In such a case we have the power to divert our attention from them, just as we are able to stop speaking and become silent, whereas with true locutions no such diversion is possible. A further indication, which is surer than any other, is that these false locutions effect nothing, whereas, when the Lord speaks, the words are accompanied by effects, and although the words may be, not of devotion, but rather of reproof, they prepare the soul and make it ready and move it to affection, give it light and make it happy and tranquil; and, if it has been afflicted with aridity and turmoil and unrest, the Lord frees it as with His own hand, or more effectively even than that; for He appears to wish it to realize His power and the efficacy of His words.

    It seems to me that the difference is like that between speaking and listening -- neither greater nor less. For while I am speaking, as I have said, my understanding is composing what I am saying, whereas, if I am being spoken to, I am doing nothing but listen and it costs me no labour. In the one case it is as if the thing is there but we cannot be sure what it is, any more than if we were half asleep. In the other case there is a voice which is so clear that not a syllable of what it says is lost. And sometimes it happens that the understanding and the soul are so perturbed and distracted that they could not put together a single sentence and yet the soul hears long set speeches addressed to it which it could not have composed, even if completely recollected. And at the first word, as I say, it is completely changed. How, especially if it is in rapture and the faculties are suspended, can the soul understand things that had never come into its mind before? How can they come at a time when the memory is hardly working and the imagination is, as it were, in a stupor?

    It should be noted that we never, I think, see visions or hear these words at a time when the soul is in union during an actual state of rapture, for then, as I have already explained (I think it was in writing of the Second Water), all the faculties are wholly lost, and at that time I do not believe there is any seeing, hearing or understanding at all. For the soul is wholly in the power of another, and during that period, which is very short, I do not think the Lord leaves it freedom for anything. It is of when this short period has passed, and the soul is still enraptured, that I am speaking; for the faculties, though not lost, are in such a state that they can do practically nothing; they are, as it were, absorbed and incapable of coherent reasoning. There are so many reasoning processes by which we may tell the difference between these types of' locution that, although we may be mistaken once, we shall not be so often.

    I mean that, if a soul is experienced and alert, it will see the difference very clearly; for, apart from other characteristics which prove the truth of what I have said, human locutions produce no effect upon the soul and it does not accept them (as it has to accept Divine locutions, even against its will) or give them credence: on the contrary, it recognizes them as ravings of the mind and will take no more notice of them than of a person whom it knows to be mad. But to Divine locutions we listen as we should to a person of great holiness, learning and authority who we know will not lie to us. Indeed, even this is an inadequate comparison, for sometimes these words are of such majesty that, without our knowing from whom they come, they make us tremble if they are words of reproof and if they are words of love fill us with a love that is all consuming. Further, as I have said, they are things of which the memory has no recollection, and sometimes they are such lengthy speeches and are uttered so quickly that it would take us a long time to make them up ourselves and in that case I am sure we could not be unaware that we had composed them. So there is no reason for my dwelling any longer upon this, for, unless he deliberately courted deception, I think it would be extraordinary if any experienced person were deceived.

    I have often been doubtful, and failed to believe what was said to me, and wondered if I had been imagining it (after the experience was over, I mean, for at the time doubt is impossible); and then, after a long interval has elapsed, I have found it all fulfilled. For the Lord impresses His words upon the memory so that it is impossible to forget them, whereas the words that come from our own understanding are like the first movement of thought, which passes and is forgotten. The Divine words resemble something of which with the lapse of time a part may be forgotten but not so completely that one loses the memory of its having been said. Only if a long time has passed, or if the words were words of favour or of instruction, can this happen; words of prophecy, in my opinion, cannot possibly be forgotten -- at least, I can never forget them myself, and my memory is a poor one.

    I repeat, then, that, unless a soul should be so impious as to want to pretend to have received this favour, and to say it has understood something when it has not, which would be very wrong, there seems to me no possibility of its failing to know quite well if it is making up these words and addressing them to itself. This is assuming that it has once heard the Spirit of God: if it has not, it may continue to be deceived all its life long, and think it is understanding what is being said to it, though I do not know how it can do so. Either this soul wishes to understand or it does not: if it is sorely troubled at what it hears and has not the slightest desire to hear because of its many fears and many other reasons it may have for desiring to be quiet in its times of prayer and not to have these experiences, how can its understanding have time enough for the making up of these speeches? For time is essential for this. The Divine words, on the other hand, instruct us at once, without any lapse of time, and by their means we can understand things which it would probably take us a month to make up ourselves. And at some of the things which they understand, the understanding and the soul are astounded.

    That is the position; and anyone who has experience of it will know that all I have said is literally true. I praise God that I have been able so to explain it. And I will end by saying that, if all locutions came from the understanding, we could hear them whenever we liked and we could think we heard them whenever we prayed. But with Divine locutions this is not the case. I may listen for many days; and, although I may desire to hear them, I shall be unable to do so; and then, at other times, when I have no desire to hear them, as I have said, I am compelled to. It seems to me that anyone who wishes to deceive people by saying that he has heard from God what comes from himself might equally well say that he heard it with his bodily ears. It is certainly a fact that I never thought there was any other way of hearing or understanding until I had this experience myself, and so, as I have said, it has cost me a great deal of trouble.

    When a locution comes from the devil, it not only fails to leave behind good effects but leaves bad ones. This has happened to me, though only on two or three occasions, and each time I have immediately been warned by the Lord that the locution came from the devil. Besides being left in a state of great aridity, the soul suffers a disquiet such as I have experienced on many other occasions when the Lord has allowed me to be exposed to many kinds of sore temptation and spiritual trial; and though this disquiet continually tortures me, as I shall say later, it is of such a nature that one cannot discover whence it comes. The soul seems to resist it and is perturbed and afflicted without knowing why, for what the devil actually says is not evil, but good. I wonder if one kind of spirit can be conscious of another.

    The pleasures and joys which the devil bestows are, in my opinion, of immense diversity. By means of these pleasures he might well deceive anyone who is not experiencing, or has not experienced, other pleasure given by God.

    I mean what I say when I describe them as pleasures, for they consist of a refreshment which is sweet, invigorating, lasting in its effects, delectable and tranquil. Mild feelings of devotion which come to the soul and which issue in tears and other brief emotional outlets are merely frail flowerets blasted at the first breath of persecution: they are a good beginning, and the emotions they engender are holy ones, but I do not call them true devotion at all and they are useless as means of distinguishing between a good spirit and an evil one. So it is well for us always to proceed with great caution, for persons who experience visions or revelations and are no farther advanced in prayer than this might easily be deceived. I myself had never experienced anything of the kind until God, of His goodness alone, granted me the Prayer of Union, unless it were on the first occasion of which I have spoken, when, many years ago, I saw Christ.[198] How I wish His Majesty had been pleased for me to realize then that this was a genuine vision, as I have since realized it was: it would have been no small blessing to me. After experiencing Satanic locutions,[199] the soul is not in the least docile but seems both bewildered and highly discontented at the same time.

    I consider it quite certain that the devil will not deceive, and that God will not permit him to deceive, a soul which has no trust whatever in itself, and is strengthened in faith and knows full well that for one single article of the Faith it would suffer a thousand deaths. With this love for the Faith, which God immediately infuses into it, and which produces a faith that is living and strong, the soul strives ever to act in conformity with a doctrine of the Church, asking for instruction from this person and from that, and acts as one already strongly established in these truths, so that all the revelations it could imagine, even were it to see the heavens opened, would not cause it to budge an inch from the Church's teachings. If it should ever feel its thoughts wavering about this, or find itself stopping to say "If God says this to me, it may quite well be true, just as what He said to the Saints is true", I will not assert that it necessarily believes what it is saying, but the devil is certainly taking the first step towards tempting it. To stop and say this is clearly wrong; but often, I believe, even this first step will have no effect if the soul is so strong in this respect (as the Lord makes the soul to whom He grants these things), that it feels able to pulverize the devils in its defence of one of the smallest of the truths which the Church holds.

    I mean by this that, if the soul does not find itself in possession of this great strength, and is not helped by devotion or by visions, it must not consider its strength to be secure. For, though it may not be aware of any immediate harm, great harm might be caused it by slow degrees; for, as far as I can see and learn by experience, the soul must be convinced that a thing comes from God only if it is in conformity with Holy Scripture; if it were to diverge from that in the very least, I think I should be incomparably more firmly convinced that it came from the devil than I previously was that it came from God, however sure I might have felt of this. There is no need, in that case, to go in search of signs, or to ask from what spirit it comes; for this is so clear a sign that it is of the devil that, if the whole world assured me it came from God, I should not believe it. The position is that, when it comes from the devil, all that is good is hidden from the soul, and flees from it, and the soul becomes restless and peevish and the effects produced cannot possibly be good. It may have good desires, but they are not strong ones, and the humility left in it is false humility, devoid of tranquillity and gentleness. Anyone, I think, who has experience of the good spirit will understand this.

    None the less, the devil can play many tricks; and so there is nothing so certain as that we must always preserve our misgivings about this, and proceed cautiously, and choose a learned man for our director, and hide nothing from him. If we do this, no harm can befall us, although a great deal has befallen me through these excessive fears which some people have. This was particularly so on one occasion, at a meeting between a number of people in whom I had great confidence, and rightly so. Though my relations were with only one of them, he ordered me to speak freely with the rest; I did so, and they had long talks together about helping me, for they had a great affection for me and feared I was deluded. I, too, was terribly afraid of this except when at prayer, for at these times I was immediately reassured whenever the Lord bestowed any favour upon me. I think there were five or six of these people, all of them great servants of God, and my confessor told me that they had all decided I was being deceived by the devil and that I must communicate less frequently and try to find distractions so that I should not be alone. I was extremely fearful, as I have said, and my heart trouble made things worse, with the result that I seldom dared to remain alone in a room by day. When I found that they all affirmed this, but that I myself could not believe it, I developed a most serious scruple, and believed myself lacking in humility. These men, I said, were all leading incomparably better lives than I, and they were also learned men: how, then, could I do other than believe them? So I made every possible effort to believe what they said, realizing how wicked my life was, and supposing that, in view of this, they must be right in what they said about me.

    With this affliction oppressing me, I left the church and went into an oratory. For many days I had refrained from communicating and from being alone, which was my great comfort; and I had had no one with whom to discuss this matter, for everyone was against me. Some of them, I thought, were mocking me when I spoke to them about it, as if I were imagining it all. Others warned my confessor to be on his guard against me. Others said that it was clearly a deception of the devil. Only my confessor consistently comforted me, and, as I afterwards found out, he was siding with them in order to test me. He used to tell me that, provided I did not offend God, my prayer could do me no harm even if it came from the devil, and that in that case I should be delivered from it and must pray frequently to God. He and all his penitents did the same continually, with many others; and I myself, like many more whom I knew to be servants of God, spent the whole of the time which I set apart for prayer in begging His Majesty to lead me by another path. This went on for perhaps two years, during the whole of which time I made this petition to the Lord.

    Nothing was any comfort to me when I reflected that words which I heard might so often be coming from the devil. As I never now spent hours of solitude in prayer, the Lord caused me to be recollected in conversation. He would say what He pleased to me and I could do nothing against Him: much as it troubled me to do so, therefore, I had to listen.

    Now when I was alone, and had no one in whose company I could find relaxation, I was unable to pray or read, but was like a person stunned by all this tribulation and fear that the devil might be deceiving me, and quite upset and worn out, with not the least idea what to do. I have sometimes -- often, indeed -- found myself in this kind of affliction, but never, I think, have I been in such straits as I was then. I was like this for four or five hours, and neither in Heaven nor on earth was there any comfort for me: the Lord permitted my fears of a thousand perils to cause me great suffering. O my Lord, how true a Friend Thou art, and how powerful! For Thou canst do all Thou wilt and never dost Thou cease to will if we love Thee.[200] Let all things praise Thee, Lord of the world. Oh, if someone would but proclaim throughout the world how faithful Thou art to Thy friends! All things fail, but Thou, Lord of them all, failest never. Little is the suffering that Thou dost allow to those who love Thee. O my Lord, how delicately and skilfully and delectably canst Thou deal with them! Oh, would that we had never stayed to love anyone save Thee! Thou seemest, Lord, to give severe tests to those who love Thee, but only that in the extremity of their trials they may learn the greater extremity of Thy love.

    O my God, had I but understanding and learning and new words with which to exalt Thy works as my soul knows them! All these, my Lord, I lack, but if Thou forsakest me not, I shall never fail Thee.[201] Let all learned men rise up against me, let all created things persecute me, let the devils torment me, but fail Thou me not, Lord, for I have already experience of the benefits which come to him who trusts only in Thee and whom Thou deliverest. When I was in this terrible state of exhaustion -- for at that time I had not yet had a single vision -- these words alone were sufficient to remove it and give me complete tranquillity: "Be not afraid, daughter, for it is I and I will not forsake thee: fear not."

    In the state I was in at that time, I think it would have needed many hours to persuade me to be calm and no single person would have sufficed to do so. Yet here I was, calmed by nothing but these words, and given fortitude and courage and conviction and tranquillity and light, so that in a moment I found my soul transformed and I think I would have maintained against the whole world that this was the work of God. Oh, what a good God! Oh, what a good Lord! What a powerful Lord! He gives not only counsel but solace. His words are deeds. See how He strengthens our faith and how our love increases!

    This is very true, and I would often recall how when a storm arose the Lord used to command the winds that blew over the sea to be still, and I would say to myself: "Who is this, that all my faculties thus obey Him[202] -- Who in a moment sheds light upon such thick darkness, softens a heart that seemed to be made of stone, and sends water in the shape of gentle tears where for so long there had seemed to be aridity? Who gives these desires? Who gives this courage? What have I been thinking of? What am I afraid of? What is this? I desire to serve the Lord; I aim at nothing else than pleasing Him. I seek no contentment, no rest, no other blessing but to do His will." I felt I was quite sure about this and so could affirm it.

    "Well, now," I went on, "if this Lord is powerful, as I see He is, and know He is, and if the devils are His slaves (and of that there can be no doubt, for it is an article of the Faith), what harm can they do me, who am a servant of this Lord and King? How can I fail to have fortitude enough to fight against all hell?" So I took a cross in my hand and it really seemed that God was giving me courage: in a short time I found I was another person and I should not have been afraid to wrestle with devils, for with the aid of that cross I believed I could easily vanquish them all. "Come on, now, all of you," I said: "I am a servant of the Lord and I want to see what you can do to me."

    It certainly seemed as if I had frightened all these devils, for I became quite calm and had no more fear of them -- in fact, I lost all the fears which until then had been wont to trouble me. For, although I used sometimes to see the devils, as I shall say later, I have hardly ever been afraid of them again -- indeed, they seem to be afraid of me. I have acquired an authority over them, bestowed upon me by the Lord of all, so that they are no more trouble to me now than flies. They seem to me such cowards -- as soon as they see that anyone despises them they have no strength left. They are enemies who can make a direct attack only upon those whom they see giving in to them, or on servants of God whom, for their greater good, God allows to be tried and tormented. May His Majesty be pleased to make us fear Him Whom we ought to fear[203] and understand that one venial sin can do us greater harm than all the forces of hell combined -- for that is really true.

    These devils keep us in terror because we make ourselves liable to be terrorized by contracting other attachments -- to honours, for example, and to possessions and pleasures. When this happens, they join forces with us -- since, by loving and desiring what we ought to hate, we become our own enemies -- and they will do us much harm. We make them fight against us with our own weapons, which we put into their hands when we ought to be using them in our own defence. That is the great pity of it. If only we will hate everything for God's sake and embrace the Cross and try to serve Him in truth, the devil will fly from these truths as from the plague. He is a lover of lies and a lie himself.[204] He will have no truck with anyone who walks in truth. When he sees that such a person's understanding is darkened, he gaily assists him to become completely blind; for if he sees anyone blind enough to find comfort in vanities -- and such vanities! for the vanities of this world are like children's playthings -- he sees that he is indeed a child, and treats him as one, making bold to wrestle with him, first on some particular occasion and then again and again.

    Please God I be not one of these! May His Majesty help me to find comfort in what is really comfort, to call honour what is really honour and to take delight in what is really delight -- and not the other way round. Not a fig[205] shall I care then for all the devils in hell: it is they who will fear me. I do not understand these fears. "Oh, the devil, the devil we say, when we might be saying "God! God!" and making the devil tremble. Of course we might, for we know he cannot move a finger unless the Lord permits it. Whatever are we thinking of? I am quite sure I am more afraid of people who are themselves terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself. For he cannot harm me in the least, whereas they, especially if they are confessors, can upset people a great deal, and for several years they were such a trial to me that I marvel now that I was able to bear it. Blessed be the Lord, Who has been of such real help to me!

 

 

Chapter 26

    Continues the same subject. Goes on with the description and explanation of things which befell her and which rid her of her fears and assured her that it was the good spirit that was speaking to her.

    This courage which the Lord gave me for my fight with the devils I look upon as one of the great favours He has bestowed upon me; for it is most unseemly that a soul should act like a coward, or be afraid of anything, save of offending God, since we have a King Who is all-powerful and a Lord so great that He can do everything and makes everyone subject to Him. There is no need for us to fear if, as I have said, we walk truthfully in His Majesty's presence with a pure conscience. For this reason, as I have said, I should desire always to be fearful so that I may not for a moment offend Him Who in that very moment may destroy us. If His Majesty is pleased with us, there is none of our adversaries who will not wring his hands in despair.[206] This, it may be said, is quite true, but what soul is upright enough to please Him altogether? It is for this reason, it will be said, that we are afraid. Certainly there is nothing upright about my own soul: it is most wretched, useless and full of a thousand miseries. But the ways of God are not like the ways of men. He understands our weaknesses and by means of strong inward instincts the soul is made aware if it truly loves Him; for the love of those who reach this state is no longer hidden, as it was when they were beginners, but is accompanied by the most vehement impulses and the desire to see God, which I shall describe later and have described already. Everything wearies such a soul; everything fatigues it; everything torments it. There is no rest, save that which is in God, or comes through God, which does not weary it, for it feels its true rest to be far away, and so its love is a thing most evident, which, as I say, cannot be hidden.

    On various occasions it happened that I found myself greatly tried and maligned about a certain matter, to which I shall refer later, by almost everyone in the place where I am living and by my Order. I was greatly distressed by the numerous things which arose to take away my peace of mind. But the Lord said to me: Why dost thou fear? Knowest thou not that I am all-powerful? I will fulfil what I have promised thee." And shortly afterwards this promise was in fact completely fulfilled. But even at that time I began at once to feel so strong that I believe I could have set out on fresh undertakings, even if serving Him had cost me further trials and I had had to begin to suffer afresh. This has happened so many times that I could not count them. Often He has uttered words of reproof to me in this way, and He does so still when I commit imperfections, which are sufficient to bring about a soul's destruction. And His words always help me to amend my life, for, as I have said, His Majesty supplies both counsel and remedy. At other times the Lord recalls my past sins to me, especially when He wishes to grant me some outstanding favour, so that my soul feels as if it is really at the Judgment; with such complete knowledge is the truth presented to it that it knows not where to hide. Sometimes these locutions warn me against perils to myself and to others, or tell me of things which are to happen three or four years hence: there have been many of these and they have all come true -- it would be possible to detail some of them. There are so many signs, then, which indicate that these locutions come from God that I think the fact cannot be doubted.

    The safest course is that which I myself follow: if I did not, I should have no peace -- not that it is right for women like ourselves to expect any peace, since we are not learned, but if we do what I say we cannot run into danger and are bound to reap great benefit, as the Lord has often told me. I mean that we must describe the whole of our spiritual experiences, and the favours granted us by the Lord, to a confessor who is a man of learning, and obey him. This I have often done. I had a confessor who used to mortify me a great deal and would sometimes distress and try me greatly by unsettling my mind: yet I believe he is the confessor who has done me most good.[207] Though I had a great love for him, I was several times tempted to leave him, for I thought that the distress he caused me disturbed my prayer. But each time I determined to do so, I realized at once that I must not and I received a reproof from God which caused me more confusion than anything done by my confessor. Sometimes, what with the questions on the one hand and the reproofs on the other, I would feel quite exhausted. But I needed them all, for my will was not bent to obedience. Once the Lord told me that I was not obeying unless I was determined to suffer. I must fix my eyes on all that He had suffered and I should find everything easy.

    A confessor to whom I had gone in my early days once advised me, now that my experiences were proved to be due to the good spirit, to keep silence and say nothing about them to anyone, as it was better to be quiet about such things. This seemed to me by no means bad advice, for whenever I used to speak about them to the confessor, I would be so distressed and feel so ashamed that sometimes it hurt me more to talk about these favours, especially if they were outstanding ones, than to confess grievous sins, for I thought my confessors would not believe me and would make fun of me. This distressed me so much that it seemed to me I was treating the wonders of God irreverently by talking about them, and for that reason I wanted to keep silence. I then found out that I had been very badly advised by that confessor and that when I made my confession I must on no account keep back anything: if I obeyed that rule I should be quite safe, whereas otherwise I might sometimes be deceived.

    Whenever the Lord gave me some command in prayer and the confessor told me to do something different, the Lord Himself would speak to me again and tell me to obey Him; and His Majesty would then change the confessor's mind so that he came back and ordered me to do the same thing. When a great many books written in Spanish were taken from us and we were forbidden to read them,[208] I was very sorry, for the reading of some of them gave me pleasure and I could no longer continue this as I had them only in Latin. Then the Lord said to me: "Be not distressed, for I will give thee a living book." I could not understand why this had been said to me, for I had not then had any visions.[209] But a very few days afterwards, I came to understand it very well, for what I saw before me gave me so much to think about and so much opportunity for recollection, and the Lord showed me so much love and taught me by so many methods, that I have had very little need of books -- indeed, hardly any. His Majesty Himself has been to me the Book in which I have seen what is true. Blessed be such a Book, which leaves impressed upon us what we are to read and do, in a way that is unforgettable! Who can see the Lord covered with wounds and afflicted with persecutions without embracing them, loving them and desiring them for himself? Who can see any of the glory which He gives to those who serve Him without recognizing that anything he himself can do and suffer is absolutely nothing compared with the hope of such a reward? Who can behold the torments suffered by the damned without feeling that the torments of earth are by comparison pure joy and realizing how much we owe to the Lord for having so often delivered us from damnation?

    As, by the help of God, I shall say more about some of these things, I will now go on with the account of my life. May it have pleased the Lord to enable me to make clear what I have said. I truly believe that anyone who has had experience of it will understand it and see that I have succeeded in describing some of it; but I shall not be at all surprised if those who have not think it all nonsense. The fact that it is I who have said it will be enough to clear them from blame, and I myself shall blame no one who may so speak of it. May the Lord grant me duly to carry out His will.

 

 

Chapter 27

    Treats of another way in which the Lord teaches the soul and in an admirable manner makes His will plain to it without the use of words. Describes a vision and a great favour, not imaginary, granted her by the Lord. This chapter should be carefully noted.

    Returning to the account of my life, I have already described my great distress and affliction and the prayers that were being made for me that the Lord would lead me by another and a surer way, since, as they told me, there was so much doubt about this one. The truth is that, though I was beseeching God to do this, and though I wished very much I could desire to be led by another way, yet, when I saw how much my soul was already benefiting, I could not possibly desire it, except occasionally when I was troubled by the things that were being said to me and the fears with which I was being inspired. Still, I kept on praying for it. I realized that I was completely different; so I put myself into God's hands, for I could do nothing else: He knew what was good for me and it was for Him to fulfil His will in me in all things. I saw that this road was leading me towards Heaven, whereas formerly I had been going in the direction of hell. I could not force myself to desire this change or to believe that I was being led by the devil; I did my best to believe this, and to desire the change, but it was simply impossible. To this end I offered up all my actions, in case any of them might be good. I begged the Saints to whom I was devoted to deliver me from the devil. I made novenas and commended myself to Saint Hilarion and to Saint Michael the Angel, for whom, with this in view, I conceived a fresh devotion, and I importuned many other Saints so that the Lord might show me the truth -- I mean so that they might prevail with His Majesty to this purpose.

    At the end of two years, during the whole of which time both other people and myself were continually praying for what I have described -- that the Lord would either lead me by another way or make plain the truth: and these locutions which, as I have said, the Lord was giving me were very frequent -- I had the following experience. I was at prayer on a festival of the glorious Saint Peter when I saw Christ at my side -- or, to put it better, I was conscious of Him, for neither with the eyes of the body nor with those of the soul did I see anything. I thought He was quite close to me and I saw that it was He Who, as I thought, was speaking to me. Being completely ignorant that visions of this kind could occur, I was at first very much afraid, and did nothing but weep, though, as soon as He addressed a single word to me to reassure me, I became quiet again, as I had been before, and was quite happy and free from fear. All the time Jesus Christ seemed to be beside me, but, as this was not an imaginary vision,[210] I could not discern in what form: what I felt very clearly was that all the time He was at my right hand, and a witness of everything that I was doing, and that, whenever I became slightly recollected or was not greatly distracted, I could not but be aware of His nearness to me.

    Sorely troubled, I went at once to my confessor, to tell him about it. He asked me in what form I had seen Him. I told him that I had not seen Him at all. Then he asked me how I knew it was Christ. I told him that I did not know how, but that I could not help realizing that He was beside me, and that I saw and felt this clearly; that when in the Prayer of Quiet my soul was now much more deeply and continuously recollected; that the effects of my prayer were very different from those which I had previously been accustomed to experience; and that the thing was quite clear to me. I did nothing, in my efforts to make myself understood, but draw comparisons -- though really, for describing this kind of vision, there is no comparison which is very much to the point, for it is one of the highest kinds of vision possible. This was told me later by a holy man of great spirituality called Fray Peter of Alcantara,[211] to whom I shall afterwards refer, and other distinguished and learned men have told me the same thing. Of all kinds of vision it is that in which the devil has the least power of interference, and so there are no ordinary terms by which we women, who have so little knowledge, can describe it: learned men will explain it better. For, if I say that I do not see Him with the eyes either of the body or of the soul, because it is not an imaginary vision, how can I know and affirm that He is at my side, and this with greater certainty than if I were to see Him? It is not a suitable comparison to say that it is as if a person were in the dark, so that he cannot see someone who is beside him, or as if he were blind. There is some similarity here, but not a great deal, because the person in the dark can detect the other with his remaining senses, can hear him speak or move, or can touch him. In this case there is nothing like that, nor is there felt to be any darkness -- on the contrary, He presents Himself to the soul by a knowledge brighter than the sun. I do not mean that any sun is seen, or any brightness is perceived, but that there is a light which, though not seen, illumines the understanding so that the soul may have fruition of so great a blessing. It brings great blessings with it.

    It is not like another kind of consciousness of the presence of God which is often experienced, especially by those who have reached the Prayer of Union and the Prayer of Quiet. There we are on the point of beginning our prayer when we seem to find Him Whom we are about to address and we seem to know that He is hearing us by the spiritual feelings and effects of great love and faith of which we become conscious, and also by the fresh resolutions which we make with such deep emotion. This great favour comes from God: and he to whom it is granted should esteem it highly, for it is a very lofty form of prayer. But it is not a vision. The soul recognizes the presence of God by the effects which, as I say, He produces in the soul, for it is by that means that His Majesty is pleased to make His presence felt: but in a vision the soul distinctly sees that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Virgin, is present. In that other kind of prayer there come to it influences from the Godhead; but in this experience, besides receiving these, we find that the most sacred Humanity becomes our Companion and is also pleased to grant us favours.

    My confessor then asked me who told me it was Jesus Christ. "He often tells me so Himself", I replied; "but, before ever He told me so, the fact was impressed upon my understanding, and before that He used to tell me He was there when I could not see Him." If I were blind, or in pitch darkness, and a person whom I had never seen, but only heard of, came and spoke to me and told me who he was, I should believe him, but I could not affirm that it was he as confidently as if I had seen him. But in this case I could certainly affirm it, for, though He remains unseen, so clear a knowledge is impressed upon the soul that to doubt it seems quite impossible. The Lord is pleased that this knowledge should be so deeply engraven upon the understanding that one can no more doubt it than one can doubt the evidence of one's eyes -- indeed, the latter is easier, for we sometimes suspect that we have imagined what we see, whereas here, though that suspicion may arise for a moment, there remains such complete certainty that the doubt has no force.

    It is the same with another way in which God teaches the soul, and addresses it without using words, as I have said. This is so celestial a language that it is difficult to explain it to mortals, however much we may desire to do so, unless the Lord teaches it to us by experience. The Lord introduces into the inmost part of the soul what He wishes that soul to understand, and presents it, not by means of images or forms of words, but after the manner of this vision aforementioned. Consider carefully this way in which God causes the soul to understand what He wills, and also great truths and mysteries; for often what I understand, when the Lord expounds to me some vision which His Majesty is pleased to present to me, comes in this way; for the reasons I have given, I think this is the state in which the devil has the least power of interference. If the reasons are not good ones, I must be suffering from deception.

    This kind of vision and this kind of language are such spiritual things that I believe no turmoil is caused by them in the faculties, or in the senses, from which the devil can pluck any advantage. They occur only from time to time and are quickly over; at other times, as I think, the faculties are not suspended, nor is the soul bereft of its senses, but these remain active, which in contemplation is not always the case -- it happens, indeed, very seldom. When it is the case, I believe that we ourselves do nothing and accomplish nothing -- the whole thing seems to be the work of the Lord. It is as if food has been introduced into the stomach without our having eaten it or knowing how it got there. We know quite well that it is there, although we do not know what it is or who put it there. In this experience, I do know Who put it there, but not how He did so, for my soul saw nothing and cannot understand how the operation took place; it had never been moved to desire such a thing, nor had it even come to my knowledge that it was possible.

    In the locutions which we described previously, God makes the understanding attentive, even against its will, so that it understands what is said to it, for the soul now seems to have other ears with which it hears and He makes it listen and prevents it from becoming distracted. It is like a person with good hearing, who is forbidden to stop his ears when people near him are talking in a loud voice: even if he were unwilling to hear them, he could not help doing so. As a matter of fact he does play a part in the process, because he is attending to what they are saying. But in this experience the soul does nothing, for even the mere insignificant ability to listen, which it has possessed until now, is taken from it. It finds all its food cooked and eaten: it has nothing to do but to enjoy it. It is like one who, without having learned anything, or having taken the slightest trouble in order to learn to read, or even having ever studied, finds himself in possession of all existing knowledge; he has no idea how or whence it has come, since he has never done any work, even so much as was necessary for the learning of the alphabet.

    This last comparison, I think, furnishes some sort of explanation of this heavenly gift, for the soul suddenly finds itself learned, and the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, together with other lofty things, is so clearly explained to it that there is no theologian with whom it would not have the boldness to contend in defence of the truth of these marvels. So astounded is the soul at what has happened to it that a single one of these favours suffices to change it altogether and make it love nothing save Him Who, without any labour on its part, renders it capable of receiving such great blessings, and communicates secrets to it and treats it with such friendship and love as is impossible to describe. For some of the favours which He bestows upon it, being so wonderful in themselves and granted to one who has not deserved them, may be regarded with suspicion, and they will not be believed save by one who has a most lively faith. So unless I am commanded to say more I propose to refer only to a few of those which the Lord has granted me; I shall confine myself to certain visions an account of which may be of some use to others, may stop anyone to whom the Lord gives them from thinking them impossible, as I used to do, and may explain to such a person the method and the road by which the Lord has led me, for that is the subject on which I am commanded to write.

    Now, returning to this method of understanding, the position seems to me to be that the Lord's will is for the soul to have at any rate some idea of what is happening in Heaven, and, just as souls in Heaven understand one another without speaking (which I never knew for certain till the Lord in His goodness willed me to see it and revealed it to me in a rapture), even so it is here. God and the soul understand each other, simply because this is His Majesty's will, and no other means is necessary to express the mutual love of these two friends. Just so, in this life, two persons of reasonable intelligence, who love each other dearly, seem able to understand each other without making any signs, merely by their looks. This must be so here, for, without seeing each other, we look at each other face to face as these two lovers do: the Spouse in the Songs, I believe, says this to the Bride: I have been told that it occurs there.[212]

    O wondrous loving-kindness of God, Who permittest Thyself to be looked upon by eyes which have looked on things as sinfully as have the eyes of my soul! After this sight, Lord, may they never more accustom themselves to look on base things and may nothing content them but Thee. O ingratitude of mortal men! How far will it go? I know by experience that all I am saying now is true and that what it is possible to say is the smallest part of what Thou doest with a soul that Thou leadest to such heights as this. O souls that have begun to pray and that possess true faith, what blessings can you find in this life to equal the least of these, to say nothing of the blessings you may gain in eternity?

    Reflect -- for this is the truth -- that to those who give up everything for Him God gives Himself. He is not a respecter of persons.[213] He loves us all: no one, however wicked, can be excluded from His love since He has dealt in such a way with me and brought me to so high a state. Reflect that what I am saying is barely a fraction of what there is to say. I have only said what is necessary to explain the kind of vision and favour which God bestows on the soul; but I cannot describe the soul's feelings when the Lord grants it an understanding of His secrets and wonders -- a joy so far above all joys attainable on earth that it fills us with a just contempt for the joys of life, all of which are but dung. It is loathsome to have to make any such comparison, even if we might enjoy them for ever. And what are these joys that the Lord gives? Only a single drop of the great and abundant river which He has prepared for us.

    It makes one ashamed, and certainly I am ashamed of myself: if it were possible to be ashamed in Heaven, I should be more so than anyone else. Why must we desire so many blessings and joys, and everlasting glory, all at the cost of the good Jesus? If we are not helping Him to carry His Cross with the Cyrenean, shall we not at least weep with the daughters of Jerusalem?[214] Will pleasures and pastimes lead us to the fruition of what He won for us at the cost of so much blood? That is impossible. And do we think that by accepting vain honours we shall be following Him Who was despised so that we might reign for ever? That is not the right way. We are going astray, far astray: we shall never reach our goal. Proclaim these truths aloud, Your Reverence, since God has denied me the freedom to do so myself. I should like to proclaim them for ever, but, as will be seen from what I have written, it was so long before God heard me and I came to know Him that it makes me very much ashamed to speak of it and I prefer to keep silence; so I shall only speak of something about which I meditate from time to time.

    May it please the Lord to bring me to a state in which I can enjoy this blessing. What will be the accidental glory and what the joy of the blessed who already have fruition of it when they see that, late as they were, they left nothing undone that they could possibly do for God, and kept back nothing, but gave to Him in every possible way, according to their power and their position; and the more they had, the more they gave! How rich will he find himself who has forsaken all his riches for Christ! What honour will be paid to those who for His sake desired no honour but took pleasure in seeing themselves humbled! What wisdom will be attributed to the man who rejoiced at being accounted mad, since madness was attributed to Him Who is Wisdom itself. How few such, through our sins, are there now! Alas, alas! No longer are there any whom men account mad because they see them perform the heroic deeds proper to true lovers of Christ. O world, world How much of thy reputation dost thou acquire because of the few there are who know thee!

    For we believe that God is better pleased when we are accounted wise and discreet. That may be so: it all depends on what we mean by discretion. We at once assume that we are failing to edify others if each one of us in his calling does not comport himself with great circumspection and make a show of authority. Even in the friar, the cleric and the nun we think it very strange and a scandal to the weak if they wear old, patched clothes, or even (to such a pass has the world come and so forgetful are we of the vehement longings which the saints had for perfection) if they are greatly recollected and given to prayer. The world is bad enough nowadays without being made worse by things like this.[215] No scandal would be caused to anyone if religious put into practice what they say about the little esteem in which the world should be held, for the Lord turns any such scandals as these to great advantage. If some were scandalized, too, others would be struck with remorse; and we should at least have a picture of what was suffered by Christ and His Apostles, which we need now more than ever.

    And what a grand picture of it has God just taken from us in the blessed Fray Peter of Alcantara![216] The world is not yet in a fit state to bear such perfection. It is said that people's health is feebler nowadays and that times are not what they were. But it was in these present times that this holy man lived; and yet his spirit was as robust as any in the days of old, so that he was able to keep the world beneath his feet. And, although everyone does not go about unshod[217] or perform such severe penances as he did, there are many ways, as I have said on other occasions, of trampling on the world and these ways the Lord teaches to those in whom He sees courage. And what great courage His Majesty gave to this holy man to perform those severe penances, which are common knowledge, for forty-seven years! I will say something about this, for I know it is all true.

    He told this to me, and to another person from whom he concealed little[218] -- the reason he told me was his love for me, for the Lord was pleased to give him this love so that he might stand up for me and encourage me at a time of great need, of which I have spoken and shall speak further. I think it was for forty years that he told me he had slept only for an hour and a half between each night and the next day, and that, when he began, the hardest part of his penance had been the conquering of sleep, for which reason he was always either on his knees or on his feet. What sleep he had he took sitting down, with his head resting against a piece of wood that he had fixed to the wall. Sleep lying down he could not, even if he had so wished, for his cell, as is well known, was only four and a half feet long. During all these years, how ever hot the sun or heavy the rain, he never wore his hood, or anything on his feet, and his only dress was a habit of sackcloth, with nothing between it and his flesh, and this he wore as tightly as he could bear, with a mantle of the same material above it. He told me that, when it was very cold, he would take off the mantle, and leave the door and window of his cell open, so that, when he put it on again and shut the door, he could derive some physical satisfaction from the increased protection. It was a very common thing for him to take food only once in three days. He asked me why I was so surprised at this and said that, when one got used to it, it was quite possible. A companion of his told me that sometimes he would go for a week without food. That must have been when he was engaged in prayer, for he used to have great raptures and violent impulses of love for God, of which I was myself once a witness.

    His poverty was extreme, and so, even when he was quite young, was his mortification: he told me that he once spent three years in a house of his Order and could not have recognized a single friar there, except by his voice, for he never raised his eyes, and so, when he had to go to any part of the house, could only do so by following the other friars. It was the same thing out of doors. At women he never looked at all and this was his practice for many years. He told me that it was all the same to him now whether he saw anything or not; but he was very old when I made his acquaintance[219] and so extremely weak that he seemed to be made of nothing but roots of trees. But with all this holiness he was very affable, though, except when answering questions, a man of few words. When he did speak it was a delight to listen to him, for he was extremely intelligent. There are many other things which I should like to say about him but I am afraid Your Reverence will ask why I am starting on this subject -- indeed, I have been afraid of that even while writing. So I will stop here, adding that he died as he had lived, preaching to, and admonishing, his brethren. When he saw that his life was drawing to a close, he repeated the psalm "Laetatus sum in hic quae dicta sunt mihi",[220] and knelt down and died.

    Since his death it has been the Lord's good pleasure that I should have more intercourse with him than I had during his life and that he should advise me on many subjects. I have often beheld him in the greatest bliss. The first time he appeared to me he remarked on the blessedness of the penance that had won him so great a prize, and he spoke of many other things as well. One of his appearances to me took place a year before his death. I was away at the time; and, knowing he was soon to die, I told him so, when he was some leagues from here. When he expired, he appeared to me and said that he was going to rest. I did not believe this, but repeated it to a number of people and in a week came the news that he was dead -- or, to put it better, that he had entered upon eternal life.

    See, then, how this austere life has ended in great glory. He is a much greater comfort to me, I think, than when he was on earth. The Lord once told me that no one should ask Him for anything in his name and not be heard. Many things which I have commended to him so that he should ask the Lord for them I have seen granted. Blessed be He for ever! Amen.

    But what a lot I have been saying in order to incite Your Reverence to pay no esteem to the things of this life, as though you did not know this already and had not already determined to forsake everything and put your determination into practice. I see so many people in the world going to perdition that, although when I speak in this way I may succeed only in tiring myself by writing, it is a comfort to me, for everything I say tells against myself. May the Lord forgive me for anything in which I have offended Him in this matter, and may Your Reverence also forgive me, for I am wearying you to no purpose. It looks as if I want to make you do penance for the sins which I have myself committed.

 

 

Chapter 28

    Treats of the great favours which the Lord bestowed upon her, and of His first appearance to her. Describes the nature of an imaginary vision. Enumerates the important effects and signs which this produces when it proceeds from God. This chapter is very profitable and should be carefully noted.

    Returning to our subject: I spent some days, though only a few, with that vision continually in my mind, and it did me so much good that I remained in prayer unceasingly and contrived that everything I did should be such as not to displease Him Who, as I clearly perceived, was a witness of it. And, although I was given so much advice that I sometimes became afraid, my fear was short-lived, for the Lord reassured me. One day, when I was at prayer, the Lord was pleased to reveal to me nothing but His hands, the beauty of which was so great as to be indescribable. This made me very fearful, as does every new experience that I have when the Lord is beginning to grant me some supernatural favour. A few days later I also saw that Divine face, which seemed to leave me completely absorbed. I could not understand why the Lord revealed Himself gradually like this since He was later to grant me the favour of seeing Him wholly, until at length I realized that His Majesty was leading me according to my natural weakness. May He be blessed for ever, for so much glory all at once would have been more than so base and wicked a person could bear: knowing this, the compassionate Lord prepared me for it by degrees.

    Your Reverence may suppose that it would have needed no great effort to behold those hands and that beauteous face. But there is such beauty about glorified bodies that the glory which illumines them throws all who look upon such supernatural loveliness into confusion. I was so much afraid, then, that I was plunged into turmoil and confusion, though later I began to feel such certainty and security that my fear was soon lost.

    One year, on Saint Paul's Day,[221] when I was at Mass, I saw a complete representation of this most sacred Humanity, just as in a picture of His resurrection body, in very great beauty and majesty; this I described in detail to Your Reverence in writing, at your very insistent request. It distressed me terribly to have to do so, for it is impossible to write such a description without a disruption of one's very being, but I did the best I could and so there is no reason for me to repeat the attempt here. I will only say that, if there were nothing else in Heaven to delight the eyes but the extreme beauty of the glorified bodies there, that alone would be the greatest bliss. A most especial bliss, then, will it be to us when we see the Humanity of Jesus Christ; for, if it is so even on earth, where His Majesty reveals Himself according to what our wretchedness can bear, what will it be where the fruition of that joy is complete? Although this vision is imaginary, I never saw it, or any other vision, with the eyes of the body, but only with the eyes of the soul.

    Those who know better than I say that the type of vision already described[222] is nearer perfection than this, while this in its turn is much more so than those which are seen with the eyes of the body. The last-named type, they say, is the lowest and the most open to delusions from the devil. At that time I was not aware of this, and wished that, as this favour was being granted me, it could have been of such a kind as was visible to the eyes of the body, and then my confessor would not tell me I was imagining it. And no sooner had the vision faded -- the very moment, indeed, after it had gone -- than I began to think the same thing myself -- that I had imagined it -- and was worried at having spoken about it to my confessor and wondered if I had been deceiving him. Here was another cause for distress, so I went to him and consulted him about it. He asked me if I had told him what the vision really looked like to me or if I had meant to deceive him. I said I had told him the truth, for I felt sure I had not been lying or had had any such intention; I would not think one thing and say another for the whole world. This he well knew, and so he managed to calm me. It worried me so much to have to go to him about these things that I cannot imagine how the devil could ever have suggested to me that I must be inventing them and thus be torturing myself. But the Lord made such haste to grant me this favour and to make its reality plain that my doubt about its being fancy left me immediately and since then it has become quite clear to me how silly I was. For, if I were to spend years and years imagining how to invent anything so beautiful, I could not do it, and I do not even know how I should try, for, even in its whiteness and radiance alone, it exceeds all that we can imagine.

    It is not a radiance which dazzles, but a soft whiteness and an infused radiance which, without wearying the eyes, causes them the greatest delight; nor are they wearied by the brightness which they see in seeing this Divine beauty. So different from any earthly light is the brightness and light now revealed to the eyes that, by comparison with it, the brightness of our sun seems quite dim and we should never want to open our eyes again for the purpose of seeing it. It is as if we were to look at a very clear stream, in a bed of crystal, reflecting the sun's rays, and then to see a very muddy stream, in an earthy bed and overshadowed by clouds. Not that the sun, or any other such light, enters into the vision: on the contrary, it is like a natural light and all other kinds of light seem artificial. It is a light which never gives place to night, and, being always light, is disturbed by nothing. It is of such a kind, indeed, that no one, however powerful his intellect, could, in the whole course of his life, imagine it as it is. And so quickly does God reveal it to us that, even if we needed to open our eyes in order to see it, there would not be time for us to do so. But it is all the same whether they are open or closed: if the Lord is pleased for us to see it, we shall do so even against our will. There is nothing powerful enough to divert our attention from it, and we can neither resist it nor attain to it by any diligence or care of our own. This I have conclusively proved by experience, as I shall relate.

    I should like now to say something of the way in which the Lord reveals Himself through these visions. I do not mean that I shall describe how it is that He can introduce this strong light into the inward sense and give the understanding an image so clear that it seems like reality. That is a matter for learned men to explain. The Lord has not been pleased to grant me to understand how it is; and I am so ignorant, and my understanding is so dull that, although many attempts have been made to explain it to me, I have not yet succeeded in understanding how it can happen. There is no doubt about this: I have not a keen understanding, although Your Reverence may think I have; again and again I have proved that my mind has to be spoon-fed, as they say, if it is to retain anything. Occasionally my confessor used to be astounded at the depths of my ignorance, and it never became clear to me how God did this and how it was possible that He should; nor, in fact, did I want to know, so I never asked anyone about it, though, as I have said, I have for many years been in touch with men of sound learning. What I did ask them was whether certain things were sinful or no: as for the rest, all I needed was to remember that God did everything and then I realized that I had no reason to be afraid and every reason to praise Him. Difficulties like that only arouse devotion in me, and, the greater they are, the greater is the devotion.

    I will describe, then, what I have discovered by experience. How the Lord effects it, Your Reverence will explain better than I and will expound everything obscure of which I do not know the explanation. At certain times it really seemed to me that it was an image I was seeing; but on many other occasions I thought it was no image, but Christ Himself, such was the brightness with which He was pleased to reveal Himself to me. Sometimes, because of its indistinctness, I would think the vision was an image, though it was like no earthly painting, however perfect, and I have seen a great many good ones. It is ridiculous to think that the one thing is any more like the other than a living person is like his portrait: however well the portrait is done, it can never look completely natural: one sees, in fact, that it is a dead thing. But let us pass over that, apposite and literally true through it is.

    I am not saying this as a comparison, for comparisons are never quite satisfactory: it is the actual truth. The difference is similar to that between something living and something painted, neither more so nor less. For if what I see is an image it is a living image -- not a dead man but the living Christ. And He shows me that He is both Man and God -- not as He was in the sepulchre, but as He was when He left it after rising from the dead. Sometimes He comes with such majesty that no once can doubt it is the Lord Himself; this is especially so after Communion, for we know that He is there, since the Faith tells us so. He reveals Himself so completely as the Lord of that inn, the soul, that it feels as though it were wholly dissolved and consumed in Christ. O my Jesus, if one could but describe the majesty with which Thou dost reveal Thyself! How completely art Thou Lord of the whole world, and of the heavens, and of a thousand other worlds, and of countless worlds and heavens that Thou hast created! And the majesty with which Thou dost reveal Thyself shows the soul that to be Lord of this is nothing for Thee.

    Here it becomes evident, my Jesus, how trifling is the power of all the devils in comparison with Thine, and how he who is pleasing to Thee can trample upon all the hosts of hell. Here we see with what reason the devils trembled when Thou didst descend into Hades: well might they have longed for a thousand deeper hells in order to flee from such great Majesty! I see that Thou art pleased to reveal to the soul the greatness of Thy Majesty, together with the power of this most sacred Humanity in union with the Divinity. Here is a clear picture of what the Day of Judgment will be, when we shall behold the Majesty of this King and see the rigour of His judgment upon the wicked. Here we find true humility giving the soul power to behold its own wretchedness, of which it cannot be ignorant. Here is shame and genuine repentance for sin; for, though it sees God revealing His love to it, the soul can find no place to hide itself and thus is utterly confounded. I mean that, when the Lord is pleased to reveal to the soul so much of His greatness and majesty, the vision has such exceeding great power that I believe it would be impossible to endure, unless the Lord were pleased to help the soul in a most supernatural way by sending it into a rapture or an ecstasy, during the fruition of which the vision of that Divine Presence is lost. Though it is true that afterwards the vision is forgotten, the majesty and beauty of God are so deeply imprinted upon the soul that it is impossible to forget these -- save when the Lord is pleased for the soul to suffer the great loneliness and aridity that I shall describe later; for then it seems even to forget God Himself. The soul is now a new creature: it is continuously absorbed in God; it seems to me that a new and living love of God is beginning to work within it to a very high degree; for, though the former type of vision which, as I said, reveals God without presenting any image of Him, is of a higher kind, yet, if the memory of it is to last, despite our weakness, and if the thoughts are to be well occupied, it is a great thing that so Divine a Presence should be presented to the imagination and should remain within it. These two kinds of vision almost invariably occur simultaneously, and, as they come in this way, the eyes of the soul see the excellence and the beauty and the glory of the most holy Humanity. And in the other way which has been described it is revealed to us how He is God, and that He is powerful, and can do all things and commands all things, and rules all things, and fills all things with His love.

    This vision is to be very highly esteemed, and, in my view, there is no peril in it, as its effects show that the devil has no power over it. Three or four times, I think, he has attempted to present the Lord Himself to me in this way, by making a false likeness of Him. He takes the form of flesh, but he cannot counterfeit the glory which the vision has when it comes from God. He makes these attempts in order to destroy the effects of the genuine vision that the soul has experienced; but the soul, of its own accord, resists them: it then becomes troubled, despondent and restless; loses the devotion and joy which it had before; and is unable to pray. At the beginning of my experiences, as I have said, this happened to me three or four times. It is so very different from a true vision that I think, even if a soul has experienced only the Prayer of Quiet, it will become aware of the difference from the effects which have been described in the chapter on locutions. The thing is very easy to recognize; and, unless a soul wants to be deceived, I do not think the devil will deceive it if it walks in humility and simplicity. Anyone, of course, who has had a genuine vision from God will recognize the devil's work almost at once; he will begin by giving the soul consolations and favours, but it will thrust them from it. And further, I think, the devil's consolations must be different from those of God: there is no suggestion in them of pure and chaste love and it very soon becomes easy to see whence they come. So, in my view, where a soul has had experience, the devil will be unable to do it any harm.

    Of all impossibilities, the most impossible is that these true visions should be the work of the imagination. There is no way in which this could be so: by the mere beauty and whiteness of a single one of the hands which we are shown the imagination is completely transcended. In any case, there is no other way in which it would be possible for us to see in a moment things of which we have no recollection, which we have never thought of, and which, even in a long period of time, we could not invent with our imagination, because, as I have already said, they far transcend what we can comprehend on earth. Whether we could possibly be in any way responsible for this will be clear from what I shall now say. If, in a vision, the representation proceeded from our own understanding, quite apart from the fact that it would not bring about the striking effects which are produced when a vision is of God, or, indeed, any effects at all, the position would be like that of a man who wants to put himself to sleep but stays awake because sleep has not come to him. He needs it -- perhaps his brain is tired -- and so is anxious for it; and he settles down to doze, and does all he can to go off to sleep, and sometimes thinks he is succeeding, but if it is not real sleep it will not restore him or refresh his brain -- indeed, the brain sometimes grows wearier. Something like that will be the case here: instead of being restored and becoming strong, the soul will grow wearier and become tired and peevish. It is impossible for human tongue to exaggerate the riches which a vision from God brings to the soul: it even bestows health and refreshment on the body.

    I used to put forward this argument, together with others, when they told me, as they often did, that I was being deceived by the devil and that it was all the work of my imagination. I also drew such comparisons as I could and as the Lord revealed to my understanding. But it was all to little purpose, because there were some very holy persons in the place, by comparison with whom I was a lost creature; and, as God was not leading these persons by that way, they were afraid and thought that what I saw was the result of my sins. They repeated to one another what I said, so that before long they all got to know about it, though I had spoken of it only to my confessor and to those with whom he had commanded me to discuss it.

    I once said to the people who were talking to me in this way that if they were to tell me that a person whom I knew well and had just been speaking to was not herself at all, but that I was imagining her to be so, and that they knew this was the case, I should certainly believe them rather than my own eyes. But, I added, if that person left some jewels with me, which I was actually holding in my hands as pledges of her great love, and if, never having had any before, I were thus to find myself rich instead of poor, I could not possibly believe that this was delusion, even if I wanted to. And, I said, I could show them these jewels -- for all who knew me were well aware how my soul had changed: my confessor himself testified to this, for the difference was very great in every respect, and no fancy, but such as all could clearly see. As I had previously been so wicked, I concluded, I could not believe that, if the devil were doing this to delude me and drag me down to hell, he would make use of means which so completely defeated their own ends by taking away my vices and making me virtuous and strong; for it was quite clear to me that these experiences had immediately made me a different person.

    My confessor, who, as I have said, was a very holy Father of the Company of Jesus,[223] gave them -- so I learned -- the same reply. He was very discreet and a man of deep humility, and this deep humility brought great trials upon me; for, being a man of great prayer and learning, he did not trust his own opinion, and the Lord was not leading him by this path. Very great trials befell him on my account, and this in many ways. I knew they used to tell him that he must be on his guard against me, lest the devil should deceive him into believing anything I might say to him, and they gave him similar examples of what had happened with other people. All this worried me. I was afraid that there would be no one left to hear my confession, and that everyone would flee from me: I did nothing but weep.

    By the providence of God this Father consented to persevere with me and hear me: so great a servant of God was he that for His sake he would have exposed himself to anything. So he told me that I must not offend God or depart from what he said to me, and if I were careful about that I need not be afraid that He would fail me. He always encouraged me and soothed me. And he always told me not to hide anything from him, in which I obeyed him. He would say that, if I did this, the devil -- assuming it to be the devil -- would not hurt me, and that in fact, out of the harm which he was trying to do my soul, the Lord would bring good. He did his utmost to lead my soul to perfection. As I was so fearful, I obeyed him in every way, though imperfectly. For the three years and more during which he was my confessor,[224] I gave him a great deal of trouble with these trials of mine, for during the grievous persecutions which I suffered and on the many occasions when the Lord allowed me to be harshly judged, often undeservedly, all kinds of tales about me were brought to him and he would be blamed on my account when he was in no way blameworthy.

    Had he not been a man of such sanctity, and had not the Lord given him courage, he could not possibly have endured so much, for he had to deal with people who did not believe him but thought I was going to destruction and at the same time he had to soothe me and deliver me from the fears which were oppressing me, though these he sometimes only intensified. He had also to reassure me; for, whenever I had a vision involving a new experience, God allowed me to be left in great fear. This all came from my having been, and my still being, such a sinner. He would comfort me most compassionately, and, if he had had more trust in himself, I should have had less to suffer, for God showed him the truth about everything and I believe the Sacrament itself gave him light.

    Those of God's servants who were not convinced that all was well would often come and talk to me. Some of the things I said to them I expressed carelessly and they took them in the wrong sense. To one of them I was very much attached: he was a most holy man and my soul was infinitely in his debt and I was infinitely distressed at his misunderstanding me when he was so earnestly desirous that I should advance in holiness and that the Lord should give me light. Well, as I have said, I spoke without thinking what I was saying and my words seemed to these people lacking in humility. When they saw any faults in me, and they must have seen a great many, they condemned me outright. They would ask me certain questions, which I answered plainly, though carelessly; and they then thought I was trying to instruct them and considered myself a person of learning. All this reached the ears of my confessor (for they were certainly anxious to improve me), whereupon he began to find fault with me.

    This state of things went on for a long time and I was troubled on many sides; but, thanks to the favours which the Lord granted me, I endured everything. I say this so that it may be realized what a great trial it is to have no one with experience of this spiritual road; if the Lord had not helped me so much, I do not know what would have become of me. I had troubles enough to deprive me of my reason, and I sometimes found myself in such a position that I could do nothing but lift up my eyes to the Lord. For though the opposition of good people to a weak and wicked woman like myself, and a timid one at that, seems nothing when described in this way, it was one of the worst trials that I have ever known in my life, and I have suffered some very severe ones. May the Lord grant me to have done His Majesty a little service here; for I am quite sure that those who condemned and arraigned me were doing Him service and that it was all for my great good.

 

 

Chapter 29

    Continues the subject already begun and describes certain great favours which the Lord showed her and the things which His Majesty said to her to reassure her and give her answers for those who opposed her.

    I have strayed far from any intention, for I was trying to give the reasons why this kind of vision cannot be the work of the imagination. How could we picture Christ's Humanity by merely studying the subject or form any impression of His great beauty by means of the imagination? No little time would be necessary if such a reproduction was to be in the least like the original. One can indeed make such a picture with one's imagination, and spend time in regarding it, and considering the form and the brilliance of it; little by little one may even learn to perfect such an image and store it up in the memory. Who can prevent this? Such a picture can undoubtedly be fashioned with the understanding. But with regard to the vision which we are discussing there is no way of doing this: we have to look at it when the Lord is pleased to reveal it to us -- to look as He wills and at whatever He wills. And there is no possibility of our subtracting from it or adding to it, or any way in which we can obtain it, whatever we may do, or look at it when we like or refrain from looking at it. If we try to look at any particular part of it, we at once lose Christ.

    For two years and a half things went on like this and it was quite usual for God to grant me this favour. It must now be more than three years since He took it from me as a continually recurring favour,[225] by giving me something else of a higher kind, which I shall describe later. Though I saw that He was speaking to me, and though I was looking upon that great beauty of His, and experiencing the sweetness with which He uttered those words -- sometimes stern words -- with that most lovely and Divine mouth, and though, too, I was extremely desirous of observing the colour of His eyes, or His height, so that I should be able to describe it, I have never been sufficiently worthy to see this, nor has it been of any use for me to attempt to do so; if I tried, I lost the vision altogether. Though I sometimes see Him looking at me compassionately, His gaze has such power that my soul cannot endure it and remains in so sublime a rapture that it loses this beauteous vision in order to have the greater fruition of it all. So there is no question here of our wanting or not wanting to see the vision. It is clear that the Lord wants of us only humility and shame, our acceptance of what is given us and our praise of its Giver.

    This refers to all visions, none excepted. There is nothing that we can do about them; we cannot see more or less of them at will; and we can neither call them up nor banish them by our own efforts. The Lord's will is that we shall see quite clearly that they are produced, not by us but by His Majesty. Still less can we be proud of them: on the contrary, they make us humble and fearful, when we find that, just as the Lord takes from us the power of seeing what we desire, so He can also take from us these favours and His grace, with the result that we are completely lost. So while we live in this exile let us always walk with fear.

    Almost invariably the Lord showed Himself to me in His resurrection body, and it was thus, too, that I saw Him in the Host. Only occasionally, to strengthen me when I was in tribulation, did He show me His wounds, and then He would appear sometimes as He was on the Cross and sometimes as in the Garden. On a few occasions I saw Him wearing the crown of thorns and sometimes He would also be carrying the Cross -- because of my necessities, as I say, and those of others -- but always in His glorified flesh. Many are the affronts and trials that I have suffered through telling this and many are the fears and persecutions that it has brought me. So sure were those whom I told of it that I had a devil that some of them wanted to exorcize me. This troubled me very little, but I was sorry when I found that my confessors were afraid to hear my confessions or when I heard that people were saying things to them against me. None the less, I could never regret having seen these heavenly visions and I would not exchange them for all the good things and delights of this world. I always considered them a great favour from the Lord, and I think they were the greatest of treasures; often the Lord Himself would reassure me about them. I found my love for Him growing exceedingly: I used to go to Him and tell Him about all these trials and I always came away from prayer comforted and with new strength. I did not dare to argue with my critics, because I saw that that made things worse, as they thought me lacking in humility. With my confessor, however, I did discuss these matters; and whenever he saw that I was troubled he would comfort me greatly.

    As the visions became more numerous, one of those who had previously been in the habit of helping me and who used sometimes to hear my confessions when the minister was unable to do so, began to say that it was clear I was being deceived by the devil. So, as I was quite unable to resist it, they commanded me to make the sign of the Cross whenever I had a vision, and to snap my fingers at it[226] so as to convince myself that it came from the devil, whereupon it would not come again: I was not to be afraid, they said, and God would protect me and take the vision away. This caused me great distress: as I could not help believing that my visions came from God, it was a terrible thing to have to do; and, as I have said, I could not possibly wish them to be taken from me. However, I did as they commanded me. I besought God often to set me free from deception; indeed, I was continually doing so and with many tears. I would also invoke Saint Peter and Saint Paul, for the Lord had told me (it was on their festival that He had first appeared to me)[227] that they would prevent me from being deluded; and I used often to see them very clearly on my left hand, though not in an imaginary vision. These glorious Saints were in a very real sense my lords.

    To be obliged to snap my fingers at a vision in which I saw the Lord caused me the sorest distress. For, when I saw Him before me, I could not have believed that the vision had come from the devil even if the alternative were my being cut to pieces. So this was a kind of penance to me, and a heavy one. In order not to have to be so continually crossing myself, I would carry a cross in my hand. This I did almost invariably; but I was not so particular about snapping my fingers at the vision, for it hurt me too much to do that. It reminded me of the way the Jews had insulted Him, and I would beseech Him to forgive me, since I did it out of obedience to him who was in His own place, and not to blame me, since he was one of the ministers whom He had placed in His Church. He told me not to worry about it and said I was quite right to obey, but He would see that my confessor learned the truth. When they made me stop my prayer He seemed to me to have become angry, and He told me to tell them that this was tyranny. He used to show me ways of knowing that the visions were not of the devil; some of these I shall describe later.

    Once, when I was holding in my hand the cross of a rosary, He put out His own hand and took it from me, and, when He gave it back to me, it had become four large stones, much more precious than diamonds -- incomparably more so, for it is impossible, of course, to make comparisons with what is supernatural, and diamonds seem imperfect counterfeits beside the precious stones which I saw in that vision. On the cross, with exquisite workmanship, were portrayed the five wounds.[228] He told me that henceforward it would always look to me like that, and so it did: I could never see the wood of which it was made, but only these stones. To nobody, however, did it look like this except to myself. As soon as they had begun to order me to test my visions in this way, and to resist them, the favours became more and more numerous. In my efforts to divert my attention from them, I never ceased from prayer; even when asleep I used to seem to be praying, for this made me grow in love. I would address my complaints to the Lord, telling Him I could not bear it. Desire and strive to cease thinking of Him as I would, it was not in my power to do so. In every respect I was as obedient as I could be, but about this I could do little or nothing, and the Lord never gave me leave to disobey. But, though He told me to do as I was bidden, He reassured me in another way, by teaching me what I was to say to my critics; and this He does still. The arguments with which He provided me were so conclusive that they made me feel perfectly secure.

    Shortly after this, His Majesty began to give me clearer signs of His presence, as He had promised me to do. There grew within me so strong a love of God that I did not know who was inspiring me with it, for it was entirely supernatural and I had made no efforts to obtain it. I found myself dying with the desire to see God and I knew no way of seeking that life save through death. This love came to me in vehement impulses, which, though less unbearable, and of less worth, than those of which I have spoken previously, took from me all power of action. For nothing afforded me satisfaction and I was incapable of containing myself: it really seemed as though my soul were being torn from me. O sovereign artifice of the Lord, with what subtle diligence dost Thou work upon Thy miserable slave! Thou didst hide Thyself from me, and out of Thy love didst oppress me with a death so delectable that my soul's desire was never to escape from it.

    No one who has not experienced these vehement impulses can possibly understand this: it is no question of physical restlessness within the breast, or of uncontrollable devotional feelings which occur frequently and seem to stifle the spirit. That is prayer of a much lower kind, and we should check such quickenings of emotion by endeavouring gently to turn them into inward recollection and to keep the soul hushed and still. Such prayer is like the violent sobbing of children: they seem as if they are going to choke, but if they are given something to drink their superabundant emotion is checked immediately. So it is here: reason must step in and take the reins, for it may be that this is partly accountable for by the temperament. On reflection comes a fear that there is some imperfection, which may in great part be due to the senses. So this child must be hushed with a loving caress which will move it to a gentle kind of love; it must not, as they say, be driven at the point of the fist. Its love must find an outlet in interior recollection and not be allowed to boil right over like a pot to which fuel has been applied indiscriminately. The fire must be controlled at its source and an endeavour must be made to quench the flame with gentle tears, not with tears caused by affliction, for these proceed from the emotions already referred to and do a great deal of harm. I used at first to shed tears of this kind, which left my brain so distracted and my spirit so wearied that for a day or more I was not fit to return to prayer. Great discretion, then, is necessary at first so that everything may proceed gently and the operations of the spirit may express themselves interiorly; great care should be taken to prevent operations of an exterior kind.

    These other impulses are very different. It is not we who put on the fuel; it seems rather as if the fire is already kindled and it is we who are suddenly thrown into it to be burned up. The soul does not try to feel the pain of the wound caused by the Lord's absence. Rather an arrow is driven into the very depths of the entrails, and sometimes into the heart, so that the soul does not know either what is the matter with it or what it desires. It knows quite well that it desires God and that the arrow seems to have been dipped in some drug which leads it to hate itself for the love of this Lord so that it would gladly lose its life for Him. No words will suffice to describe the way in which God wounds the soul and the sore distress which He causes it, so that it hardly knows what it is doing. Yet so delectable is this distress that life holds no delight which can give greater satisfaction. As I have said, the soul would gladly be dying of this ill.

This distress and this bliss between them bewildered me so much that I was never able to understand how such a thing could be. Oh, what it is to see a wounded soul -- I mean when it understands its condition sufficiently to be able to describe itself as wounded for so excellent a cause! It sees clearly that this love has come to it through no act of its own, but that, from the exceeding great love which the Lord bears it, a spark seems suddenly to have fallen upon it and to have set it wholly on fire. Oh, how often, when in this state, do I remember that verse of David: Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum,229 which I seem to see fulfilled literally in myself!

When these impulses are not very strong they appear to calm down a little, or, at any rate, the soul seeks some relief from them because it knows not what to do. It performs certain penances, but is quite unable to feel them, while the shedding of its blood causes it no more distress than if its body were dead. It seeks ways and means whereby it may express something of what it feels for the love of God; but its initial pain is so great that I know of no physical torture which can drown it. There is no relief to be found in these medicines: they are quite inadequate for so sublime an ill.[230] A certain alleviation of the pain is possible, which may cause some of it to pass away, if the soul begs God to grant it relief from its ill, though it sees none save death, by means of which it believes it can have complete fruition of its Good. At other times the impulses are so strong that the soul is unable to do either this or anything else. The entire body contracts and neither arm nor foot can be moved. If the subject is on his feet, he remains as though transported and cannot even breathe: all he does is to moan -- not aloud, for that is impossible, but inwardly, out of pain.

It pleased the Lord that I should sometimes see the following vision. I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form -- a type of vision which I am not in the habit of seeing, except very rarely. Though I often see representations of angels, my visions of them are of the type which I first mentioned. It pleased the Lord that I should see this angel in the following way. He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire. They must be those who are called cherubim:[231] they do not tell me their names but I am well aware that there is a great difference between certain angels and others, and between these and others still, of a kind that I could not possibly explain. In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it -- indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God, in His goodness, to give him the same experience.[232]

During the days that this continued, I went about as if in a stupor. I had no wish to see or speak with anyone, but only to hug my pain, which caused me greater bliss than any that can come from the whole of creation. I was like this on several occasions, when the Lord was pleased to send me these raptures, and so deep were they that, even when I was with other people, I could not resist them; so, greatly to my distress, they began to be talked about. Since I have had them, I do not feel this pain so much, but only the pain of which I spake somewhere before -- I do not remember in what chapter.[233] The latter is, in many respects, very different from this, and of greater worth. But, when this pain of which I am now speaking begins, the Lord seems to transport the soul and to send it into an ecstasy, so that it cannot possibly suffer or have any pain because it immediately begins to experience fruition. May He be blessed for ever, Who bestows so many favours on one who so ill requites such great benefits.

Chapter 30

Takes up the course of her life again and tells how the Lord granted her great relief from her trials by bringing her a visit from the holy man Fray Peter of Alcantara, of the Order of the glorious Saint Francis. Discusses the severe temptations and interior trials which she sometimes suffered.

Now when I saw that I could do little or nothing to stop myself from experiencing these violent impulses, I began to be afraid of them, for I could not understand how distress and contentment could go together. I already knew that it was quite possible for physical distress and spiritual contentment to exist together in the same person but it bewildered me to experience such excessive spiritual distress and with it such intense joy. Though I still did not cease striving to resist, I could do so little that it sometimes fatigued me. I used to seek the protection of the Cross and to try to defend myself against Him Who through the Cross became the Protector of us all. I saw that no one understood me, though I understood it very clearly myself; I did not dare, however, to speak of it save to my confessor, for to have done so would certainly have been to proclaim that I had no humility.

The Lord was pleased to grant me relief from a great part of my trials, and, for the time being, from all of them, by bringing to this place the blessed Fray Peter of Alcantara, whom I mentioned earlier when I said something about his penitential life: among other things, I have been assured that for twenty years he continuously wore a shirt made of iron.[234] He is the author of some little books on prayer, written in Spanish,[235] which are being used a great deal nowadays; as he was a man with great experience of prayer, his writings are very profitable for those who practise it. He kept the Primitive Rule of the blessed Saint Francis in all its rigour, as well as doing those other things of which something has already been said.

In due course that servant of God -- the widow of whom I have spoken and who was a friend of mine[236] -- learned that this great man was here. She knew of my necessities, for she was a witness of my afflictions and used to afford me great consolation, her faith being so strong that she could not but believe that what most people said was of the devil was really the work of the Spirit of God; and, as she is a person of very great intelligence and is also most discreet and was receiving many favours from the Lord in prayer, His Majesty was pleased to enlighten her upon matters of which learned men were ignorant. My confessors gave me permission to relieve my mind by talking to her about certain things, because for a multitude of reasons she was a suitable person for such confidences. She sometimes shared in the favours which the Lord was granting me and would receive counsels which were of great benefit to her soul. Well, when she learned that this holy man was here, she said nothing to me but obtained leave from my Provincial for me to stay with her for a week so as to give me a better opportunity of consulting him. So on this occasion of his first visit I had many talks with him, both in her house and in several churches, and later I had a great deal to do with him on many occasions. I gave him a summary account of my life and method of prayer with the greatest clarity of which I was capable; for I have always acted on the principle of speaking with the utmost clarity and truth to those whom I consult about my soul. I would always try to reveal to them its very first motions and tell them even the most dubious and suspicious things about myself: indeed, in discussing these matters with them I would put forward arguments which told against me. I was able, therefore, to reveal my soul to Fray Peter without duplicity or concealment.

Almost from the beginning, I saw that, out of his own experience, he understood me. And that was all I needed; for I did not understand myself then as I do now, and I could not describe what I was experiencing. Since that time God has granted me the ability to understand and describe the favours which His Majesty sends me. But just then I needed someone who had gone through it all himself, for such a person alone could understand me and interpret my experiences. He enlightened me wonderfully about them. I had been unable, at least as regards the visions which were not imaginary, to understand what they could all mean: I did not see how I could understand the nature of visions which I saw with the eyes of the soul, for, as I have said, I had thought that only visions which can be seen with the bodily eyes are of any importance, and of these I had none.

This holy man enlightened me about the whole matter, explained it all to me and told me not to be distressed but to praise God and be quite certain that it was the work of the Spirit; with the exception of the Faith, he said, there could be nothing truer, and nothing in which I could more confidently believe. He derived great happiness from what I said to him, was helpful and kind to me in every way and ever afterwards took a great interest in me and told me about his own affairs and undertakings. When he saw that I had desires which he himself had already carried into effect -- for the Lord had bestowed very resolute desires upon me -- and when he found, too, that I was so full of courage, he delighted in talking to me about these things. For if the Lord brings anyone to this state he will find no pleasure or comfort equal to that of meeting with another whom he believes He has brought along the first part of the same road -- for at this time I could not, I think, have gone much farther than that: please God I may still be as far advanced as I was then.

He had the greatest compassion on me. He told me that the trial I had been suffering -- that is to say, the opposition of good people -- was one of the severest in the world and that there would be many more such trials awaiting me. I should therefore have continual need of someone who understood me and there was no such person in this city, but he would speak to the priest to whom I made my confessions, and also to one of those who caused me the deepest distress -- namely, that married man of whom I have already spoken. The latter, just because he bore me the greatest goodwill, opposed me more than anyone else: being a holy and God-fearing[237] soul, and having so recently seen how wicked I was, he could not bring himself to have any confidence about me. The saintly man did as he had said he would: he spoke to them both and put reasons and arguments before them as to why they should be reassured about me and not cause me any more disquiet. My confessor hardly needed the advice. This gentleman, however, even when he had heard it, was not completely convinced, but it was sufficient to prevent him from frightening me as much as he had been doing.

We arranged -- Fray Peter and I -- that from that time onward I should write and tell him of anything that happened to me and that we should commend each other earnestly to God; for so great was his humility that he thought that there was value in the prayers of this miserable creature, which made me very much ashamed. He left me greatly comforted and very happy, telling me to continue confidently in prayer and not to doubt that the prayer came from God. For my greater security, I was to report any doubts I might have to my confessor; and, provided I did this, I should feel safe all my life. I was unable, however, to experience this feeling of complete security, for the Lord was leading me by the road of fear, with the result that, whenever I was told that the devil was deceiving me, I would believe it. In reality, none of my advisers was able to make me feel either afraid enough or secure enough to believe in him rather than in the feelings which the Lord implanted in my soul. So, although Fray Peter comforted and calmed me, I had not sufficient trust in him to be wholly without fear, especially when the Lord left me with the spiritual trials which I shall now describe. But, on the whole, as I say, I was greatly comforted. I was never weary of giving thanks to God and to my glorious father Saint Joseph, who seemed to me to have brought Fray Peter here, as he was Commissary General of the Custody[238] of Saint Joseph, to whom, as to Our Lady, I used often to commend myself. I had sometimes to endure -- and still have, though to a lesser degree -- the sorest spiritual trials, together with bodily pains and tortures, so severe that I could do nothing to ease them. At other times I suffered from more grievous bodily ills, and, if I had no spiritual distress, I bore these with great joy. It was when both kinds of distress came upon me together that my trials were so great and caused me such deep depression. I would forget all the favours that the Lord had bestowed upon me: nothing would remain with me but the mere recollection of them, like the memory of a dream, and this was a great distress to me. For, when a person is in this condition, the understanding becomes stupid; and so I was tormented by a thousand doubts and suspicions. I thought that I had not understood it properly, and that it might have been my fancy, and that it was bad enough for me to be deluded myself, without deluding good men as well. I felt I was so evil that I began to think that all the evils and heresies that had arisen were due to my sins.

This is a false humility; and it was invented by the devil so that he might unsettle me and see if he could drive my soul to despair. I have had so much experience by now of the devil's work that he sees I know his tricks and so he troubles me much less with this kind of torture than he used to. His part in it is evident from the disquiet and unrest with which it begins, from the turmoil which he creates in the soul for so long as his influence lasts, and from the darkness and affliction into which he plunges it, causing it an aridity and an ill-disposition for prayer and for everything that is good. He seems to stifle the soul and to constrain the body, and thus to render both powerless. For, though the soul is conscious of its own wretchedness and it distresses us to see what we are and our wickedness seems to us to be of the worst possible kind -- as bad as that which has just been described -- and we feel it very deeply, yet genuine humility does not produce inward turmoil, nor does it cause unrest in the soul, or bring it darkness or aridity: on the contrary, it cheers it and produces in it the opposite effects -- quietness, sweetness and light. Though it causes us distress, we are comforted to see what a great favour God is granting us by sending us that distress and how well the soul is occupied. Grieved as it is at having offended God, it is also encouraged by His mercy. It is sufficiently enlightened to feel ashamed, but it praises His Majesty, Who for so long has borne with it. In that other humility, which is the work of the devil, the soul has not light enough to do anything good and thinks of God as of one who is always wielding fire and sword. It pictures God's righteousness, and, although it has faith in His mercy, for the devil is not powerful enough to make it lose its faith, yet this is not such as to bring me consolation, for, when my soul considers God's mercy, this only increases its torment, since I realize that it involves me in greater obligations.[239]

This is an invention of the devil, and one of the most grievous and subtle and dissembling that I have found in him, and so I should like to warn Your Reverence of it, so that, if he should tempt you in this way, you may have some light, and may recognize his hand, if he leaves you sufficient understanding for doing so. Do not suppose that learning and knowledge have anything to do with this, for I am wholly destitute of both, and yet, after escaping from the devil's wiles, I see quite clearly that this is folly. What I have learned is that the Lord is pleased to give him permission and leave to tempt us, just as He gave him leave to tempt Job, although, being so wicked, I am not myself tempted as severely as that.

I have, however, been tempted in this way -- once, I remember, on the day before the vigil of Corpus Christi, a festival to which I am devoted, though not so much so as I ought to be. On that occasion the temptation lasted only until the day of the festival: on other occasions it has lasted for a week or a fortnight, or even perhaps for three weeks, or it may have been even longer. In particular it used to come during Holy Week, a time when I would derive great comfort from prayer. What happens on such occasions is that the devil suddenly lays hold on my understanding, sometimes by making use of things so trifling that at any other time I should laugh at them. He confuses the understanding and does whatever he likes with it, so that the soul, fettered as it is and no longer its own mistress, can think of nothing but the absurdities which he presents to it -- things of no importance, which neither keep the soul in bondage nor allow it to be free, and enslave it only in the sense that they stupefy it until its control over itself is gone. It has sometimes seemed to me, indeed, that the devils behave as though they were playing ball with the soul, so incapable is it of freeing itself from their power. Its sufferings at such a time are indescribable. It goes about in search of relief and God allows it to find none; it has only the reasoning power derived from its free-will, and it is unable to reason clearly. I mean that its eyes seem to be almost blindfolded: it is like someone who has gone along a particular road again and again, so that, even if it is night, and quite dark, he knows by the instinct which comes from experience where he is likely to stumble, for he has seen the road by day and is therefore on his guard against that danger. Just so the soul, in avoiding giving offence to God, seems to be walking by habit. This explanation, however, leaves out of account the fact that the Lord has it in His keeping, which is the thing that matters.

At such a time, faith, like all the other virtues, is quite numbed and asleep. It is not lost, for the soul has a firm belief in what is held by the Church; but, though it can testify with the mouth, it seems in other respects to be oppressed and stupefied, and it feels as if it knows God only as something of which it has heard from afar off. So lukewarm does its love become that, if it hears Him spoken of, it listens, believing that He is Who He is, because this is held by the Church, but it retains no memory of its own experiences of Him. To go and say its prayers, or to be alone, only causes it greater anguish, for the inward torture which it feels, without knowing the source of it, is intolerable; and, in my opinion, bears some slight resemblance to hell. Indeed this is a fact, for the Lord revealed it to me in a vision: the soul is inwardly burning, without knowing who has kindled the fire, nor whence it comes, nor how to flee from it, nor with what to put it out. In vain does it seek a remedy in reading: it might as well be unable to read at all. Once I chanced to take up the Life of a saint, to see if I could become absorbed in the reading of it and find comfort in thinking of the saint's sufferings. But I read four or five lines as many times, and, though they were in Spanish, I understood less of them at the end than at the beginning; so I gave it up. This happened to me on many occasions but I have a particular recollection of that one.

To engage in conversation with anyone is worse still, for the devil then makes me so peevish and ill-tempered that I seem to want to snap everyone up. I cannot help this, but if I can keep myself in hand I feel I am doing something, or rather that the Lord is doing something when His hand restrains anyone in this condition from saying or doing anything which may harm his neighbour or offend God. Then again, it is certainly useless to go to one's confessor. I will tell you what often happened to me. Saintly as were those whom I was consulting at that time, and am consulting still, they would say such things to me, and reprove me with such asperity that, when I spoke to them about it later, they were astonished at it themselves but said that they had been unable to do otherwise. For, although they had previously made up their minds not to speak to me like this, and afterwards would be sorry they had done so, and even feel scruples about it because of these bodily and spiritual trials which I was suffering, the resolutions they had made to comfort me with words of compassion would fall to the ground.

The words they used were not wrong -- not offensive, I mean, to God -- but they were the strongest words of displeasure permissible in a confessor. Their aim must have been to mortify me, and, although at other times I delighted in mortification and was well able to bear it, it was now pure torture to me. Then, too, I used to think I was deceiving them, so I would go and warn them most earnestly to be on their guard against me in case I might be doing so. I knew quite well that I would not deceive them intentionally, or tell them a lie, but I was thoroughly afraid. One of them, realizing how I was being tempted, once told me not to be distressed, for, even if I tried to deceive him, he had discernment enough not to allow himself to be deceived.[240] This was a great comfort to me.

Sometimes -- almost habitually, indeed, or at least very frequently -- I would find relief after communicating. There were times, in fact, when the very act of approaching the Sacrament would at once make me feel so well, both in soul and in body, that I was astounded. I would feel as if all the darkness in my soul had suddenly been dispersed and the sun had come out and shown me the stupidity of the things I had been saying and doing. At other times, if the Lord spoke only one word to me (if, for example, as on the occasion I have already described, He said no more than "Be not troubled: have no fear"), that one word completely cured me, or, if I were to see some vision, it was as if there had been nothing wrong with me. I rejoiced in God and made my complaint to Him asking Him how He could allow me to suffer such tortures but telling Him that I was well rewarded for them, since when they were over, I almost invariably received favours in great abundance. My soul seemed to emerge from the crucible like gold, both brighter and purer, to find the Lord within it. So trials like these, unbearable as they may seem, eventually become light, and the soul becomes anxious to suffer again if by so doing it can render the Lord greater service. And, however numerous may be our troubles and persecutions, if we endure them without offending the Lord, but rejoice to suffer for His sake, they all work together for our greater gain -- though I do not myself bear them as they should be borne, but in a way which is most imperfect.

On other occasions these temptations came to me in another fashion, as they do still. At such times as these I seem to have been totally deprived of the possibility of thinking a single good thought or of desiring to put it into practice. My soul and body seem to be completely useless and merely a burden to me. But I do not then have these other temptations and discomforts: only a feeling of dissatisfaction -- with what, I do not know -- so that there is nothing in which my soul can take pleasure. I used to try to occupy myself with the outward performance of good works, and I would half force myself to do these, and I know well how little a soul can do when it is without grace. This did not cause me great distress, for I derived some satisfaction from realizing my own baseness. At other times I find myself unable to formulate a single definite thought, other than quite a fleeting one, about God, or about anything good, or to engage in prayer, even when I am alone; yet none the less I feel that I know Him.

It is the understanding and the imagination, I think, which are doing me harm here. My will, I believe, is good, and well-disposed to all good things; but this understanding is so depraved that it seems to be nothing but a raving lunatic -- no body can repress it and I have not myself sufficient control of it to keep it quiet for a moment. Sometimes I laugh at myself and realize what a miserable creature I am and then I keep an eye on my understanding and leave it alone to see what it will do; and for a wonder -- glory be to God! -- it never occupies itself with evil things, but only with indifferent ones, looking round for things to think about here, there and everywhere. I then become more conscious of the exceeding great favour which the Lord bestows on me when He keeps this lunatic bound and allows me to enjoy perfect contemplation. I sometimes reflect on what would happen if people who think of me as good were to see me in this condition of distraction. I am deeply grieved when I find that my soul is in such bad company. I want to see it free, so I say to the Lord: "When, my God, shall I at last see all the faculties of my soul united in Thy praise and having fruition of Thee? Permit my soul no longer, Lord, to be dispersed in fragments, with each fragment seeming to go its own way." This is an experience I often have, but sometimes I know quite well that my poor bodily health is having a great deal to do with it. I often think of the harm wrought in us by original sin; it is this, I believe, that has made us incapable of enjoying so much good all at once, and added to this are my own sins, for, had I not committed so many, I should have been more nearly perfect in goodness.

There was another great trial, too, which I suffered. I used to think I understood all the books dealing with prayer which I read, and that, as the Lord had bestowed this gift of prayer upon me, I no longer needed them. So I left off reading them and read only lives of saints, for, as I find myself falling so far short of the saints in the service which they rendered to God, such reading helps me and spurs me on to do better. Then it would occur to me that it showed a great lack of humility to suppose that I had received that gift of prayer, and, as I could not succeed in persuading myself of the contrary, I was greatly distressed, until learned men, and the blessed Fray Peter of Alcantara, told me not to let it trouble me. I realize perfectly that, although in granting me favours His Majesty treats me as He does many good people, I have not yet begun to serve Him, and that I am nothing but imperfection except in desire and love, with regard to which I know well the Lord has helped me so that I may render Him some service. I do really believe I love Him, but my actions and the many imperfections which I find in myself discourage me.

At other times my soul is troubled by what I should call a kind of foolishness: I seem to be doing neither good nor evil, but to be following the crowd, as they say, without experiencing either suffering or bliss. I care not whether I live or die, nor whether I experience pleasure or pain: I seem to feel nothing. The soul appears to me to be like a little ass, feeding and sustaining its life by means of the food which is given it and which it eats almost unconsciously. For the soul in this state cannot do otherwise than feed on some of God's great favours; it does not mind living this miserable life and bears its existence with equanimity, but it is quite unconscious of any motions or effects which might help it to understand its condition.

This, it now seems to me, is like sailing with a very calm wind: one makes great headway, but without knowing how, whereas in these other experiences the effects are so noticeable that the soul almost immediately becomes conscious of its improvement, for the desires begin at once to be aroused and the soul is never fully satisfied. This is the result of the violent impulses of love, which I have already mentioned, in those to whom God gives them. It reminds me of little springs which I have seen gushing up and which keep on incessantly stirring up the sand all around them. This, I think, is a very lifelike illustration or comparison to apply to souls which attain to this state. Love is continually bubbling up in them and thinking of the things it will do: it cannot remain where it is, just as the spring-water seems unable to remain in the earth, but issues forth from it. Just so, as a general rule, is it with the soul: such is the love it has that it can find no rest, nor can it contain itself, and it has already saturated the earth around. It would like others to drink of its love, since it has itself no lack of it, so that they might help it to praise God. Oh, how often do I remember the living water of which the Lord spoke to the woman of Samaria! I am so fond of that Gospel. I have loved it ever since I was quite a child -- though I did not, of course, understand it properly then, as I do now -- and I used often to beseech the Lord to give me that water. I had a picture of the Lord at the well, which hung where I could always see it, and bore the inscription: "Domine, da mihi aquam."[241]

This love is also like a great fire, which has always to be fed lest it should go out. Just so with the souls I am describing: cost them what it might, they would always want to be bringing wood, so that this fire should not die. For my own part, I am the sort of person who would be satisfied if she had even straw to throw upon it, and it is sometimes -- often, indeed -- like that with me. Now I am laughing; now I am greatly troubled. An inward impulse moves me to serve God in some way, but I am useless except for decking images with branches of trees and flowers, or for sweeping or tidying an oratory or doing other trifling things which I am ashamed of. If I did anything in the way of penance, it was all so insignificant that, unless the Lord would take the will for the deed, I realized how completely worthless it was and scoffed at my own self. It is no small trial, then, for souls to whom God in His goodness grants an abundance of this fire of His love, that they should lack bodily strength to enable them to do anything for Him. It is a very great grief; for, when a soul lacks the strength to throw any wood on this fire, and is frightened to death lest it should go out, I think it becomes consumed itself and turns into ashes, or melts into tears and is burned up; and this, though delectable, is severe torture.

Let the soul give great praise to the Lord when it has progressed as far as this, and when He has granted it bodily strength to enable it to do penance, or given it learning and talent and freedom to preach, hear confessions and bring souls to God. It has no knowledge or understanding of the blessing it possesses if it has not learned by experience what it is to be able to do nothing in the Lord's service and always to be receiving so much from Him. May He be blessed for all things and may the angels glorify Him. Amen.

I do not know if I am doing right to say so much about trifles. As Your Reverence has again sent me a message telling me not to mind writing at length and to omit nothing, I am continuing to give a true and clear description of everything that I remember. But I cannot help omitting a great deal, for otherwise I should have to devote much more time to this (and, as I said, I have so little time) without perhaps doing any good by it.

 

 

Chapter 31

    Treats of certain outward temptations and representations made to her by the devil and of tortures which he caused her. Discusses likewise several matters which are extremely useful for people to know if they are walking on the road to perfection.

    Having described certain secret and inward disturbances and temptations inflicted upon me by the devil I shall now speak of others which he brought upon me almost in public and in which it was impossible not to detect his hand.

    Once, when I was in an oratory, he appeared on my left hand in an abominable form; as he spoke to me, I paid particular attention to his mouth, which was horrible. Out of his body there seemed to be coming a great flame, which was intensely bright and cast no shadow. He told me in a horrible way that I had indeed escaped out of his hands but he would get hold of me still. I was very much afraid and made the sign of the Cross as well as I could, whereupon he disappeared, but immediately returned again. This happened twice running and I did not know what to do. But there was some holy water there, so I flung some in the direction of the apparition, and it never came back. On another occasion the devil was with me for five hours, torturing me with such terrible pains and both inward and outward disquiet that I do not believe I could have endured them any longer. The sisters who were with me were frightened to death and had no more idea of what to do for me than I had of how to help myself.

    When the pains and the bodily suffering are quite intolerable, my custom is to make interior acts as well as I can, and to beseech the Lord, if it be His Majesty's good pleasure, to give me patience -- if only I have that I can keep on suffering in this way until the very end of the world. So, when on this occasion I found myself suffering so severely, I took to these acts and resolutions, using them as means which would enable me to bear the pain. The Lord evidently meant me to realize that this was the work of the devil, for I saw beside me a most hideous little negro, snarling as if in despair at having lost what he was trying to gain. When I saw him, I laughed and was not afraid. Some of the sisters who were with me were helpless and had no idea how to relieve such torture; for the devil had made me pound the air[242] with my body, head and arms and I had been powerless to resist him. But the worst thing had been the interior disquiet: I could find no way of regaining my tranquillity. I was afraid to ask for holy water, lest I should frighten my companions and they should discover what was wrong.

    From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact, it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once: it has happened again and again and I have observed it most attentively. It is, let us say, as if someone very hot and thirsty were to drink from a jug of cold water: he would feel the refreshment throughout his body. I often reflect on the great importance of everything ordained by the Church and it makes me very happy to find that those words of the Church are so powerful that they impart their power to the water and make it so very different from water which has not been blessed.

    Well, as my tortures did not cease, I said: "If you wouldn't laugh at me, I should ask for some holy water." So they brought me some and sprinkled me with it but it did me no good. Then I sprinkled some in the direction of the place where the little negro was standing and immediately he disappeared and all my troubles went, just as if someone had lifted them from me with his hand, except that I was as tired as if I had been dealt a great many blows. It edified me greatly to find that, when the Lord gives him permission, the devil can do so much harm to a soul and a body which are not his. For what, then, I thought, will he not do when he has them in his possession? And I felt a renewed desire to be freed from such pernicious companionship.

    On another occasion, quite recently, the same thing happened to me, though it did not last so long and I was alone. I asked for holy water, and, after the devils had gone away, the next persons to come in (two nuns who may safely be believed, for they would not tell a lie for anything) noticed a very bad smell, like brimstone. I could not detect it myself but it had remained there long enough for them to have noticed it. On another occasion I was in choir when I felt a vehement impulse towards recollection. I went out, so that the sisters should not observe it, but all who were near me heard sounds where I was, like the noise of heavy blows, and I myself heard voices near me as though people were discussing something. I could not hear what they were saying, however: so deeply immersed was I in prayer that I heard nothing at all and I was not in the least afraid. This happened nearly always at times when the Lord was granting me the favour of allowing some soul, through my agency, to be making progress. What I am now going to describe is something which actually happened to me; and there are many people who will bear witness to this, in particular my present confessor,[243] who saw a written account of the occurrence in a letter. I did not tell him who the author of the letter was, but he knew quite well.

    A person came to me who for two and a half years had been living in mortal sin -- one of the most abominable sins that I had ever heard of -- and during the whole of that time he neither confessed it nor amended his life, and yet went on saying Mass. And, though he confessed his other sins, when it came to that one, he would ask himself how he could possibly confess such a dreadful thing. He had a great desire to give it up but could not bring himself to do so. I was terribly sorry for him and very much distressed to find that God was being offended in such a way. I promised him that I would pray earnestly to God that He would help him and that I would get other people better than myself to do so too, and I wrote to a certain person who, he said, would be able to distribute the letters. And, lo and behold, at the first possible moment, he confessed; for through the many most saintly persons who at my request had prayed to Him on his behalf God was pleased to bestow this mercy upon his soul, and I, miserable though I am, had done what I could and taken the greatest pains about it. He wrote to me and said that he was now so much better that days passed without his falling into this sin, but he was suffering such tortures from temptation that his distress made him feel as if he were already in hell; and he asked me to commend him to God. I spoke about it again to my sisters, through whose prayers the Lord must have granted me this favour, and they took it very much to heart. (None of them could guess who he was.)[244] I begged His Majesty that these tortures and temptations might be assuaged and the devils be sent to torture me instead, provided I gave no offence to the Lord. This led me to suffer a month of the severest tortures and it was during that time that the two incidents happened which I have described.

    It was the Lord's good pleasure that the devils should leave him; this I learned from letters, for I wrote to tell him what had been happening to me during the past month. His soul took new strength and he remained completely free from his sin and was never tired of giving thanks to the Lord and to me, as if I had done anything for him, unless he was helped by his belief that the Lord was granting me favours. He said that, when he found himself sorely oppressed, he would read my letters, and the temptation would leave him, and added that he was astounded to hear of what I had suffered and of how he had been delivered. I was astounded myself, for that matter, and I would have gone through as much for many years longer to set that soul free. May He be praised for everything, for the prayers of those who serve the Lord can do a great deal and I believe the sisters in this house do indeed serve Him. But the devils must have loosed most of their wrath on me because all this happened through my agency and the Lord permitted me to suffer on account of my sins.

    One night, too, about this time, I thought the devils were stifling me; and when the nuns had sprinkled a great deal of holy water about I saw a huge crowd of them running away as quickly as though they were about to fling themselves down a steep place. So often have these accursed creatures tormented me and so little am I afraid of them, now that I see they cannot stir unless the Lord allows them to, that I should weary Your Reverence, and weary myself too, if I were to talk about them any further.

    May what I have said help the true servant of God to make little account of these horrors, which the devils present us with in order to make us afraid. Let him realize that, every time we pay little heed to them, they lose much of their power and the soul gains much more control over them. We always derive some great benefit from these experiences, but of this benefit I will say nothing lest I should write too fully. I will only describe something that happened to me one night of All Souls. I was in an oratory: I had said one nocturn and was repeating some very devotional prayers which follow it -- they are extremely devotional: we have them in our office-book -- when actually the devil himself alighted on the book, to prevent me from finishing the prayer. I made the sign of the Cross and he went away. I then began again and he came back. I think I began that prayer three times and not until I had sprinkled some holy water on him could I finish it. At the same moment I saw several souls coming out of purgatory: their time there must have been nearly up and I thought that perhaps the devil was trying to impede their deliverance. I have seldom seen him in bodily shape, but I have often seen him without any form, as in the kind of vision I have described, in which no form is seen but the object is known to be there.

    I want also to describe the following incident, which caused me great alarm. One Trinity Sunday, I was in the choir of a certain convent, and, while in a rapture, I saw a great battle between devils and angels. I could not understand the meaning of that vision, but before a fortnight had passed it had become clear that it referred to a conflict that had taken place between some persons who practised prayer and others who did not, which did the house great harm. It was a conflict which lasted a long time and caused a great deal of commotion. On other occasions I saw around me a great multitude of devils, and yet I seemed to be enveloped by a great light, which prevented them from coming nearer. I realized that God was guarding me so that they should not come near me and thus make me offend Him. From what I sometimes saw in myself, I knew the vision was a genuine one. The fact is, I realize so clearly now how little power the devils have, if I am not fighting against God, that I am hardly afraid of them at all: for their strength is nothing unless they find souls surrendering to them and growing cowardly, in which case they do indeed show their power. Sometimes, during the temptations I have already described, I would feel as if all my vanities and weaknesses of times past were re-awakening in me, and then I certainly had to commend myself to God. Until my confessor set my fears at rest, I was tormented by the idea that, because these thoughts came into my mind, I must be wholly possessed by the devil. For it seemed to me that not even the first impulse towards an evil thought ought to come to one on whom the Lord had bestowed so many favours. At other times I was greatly tormented -- and I still am even now -- by finding myself thought so much of, especially by people of importance, and so much good said of me. I have suffered a great deal from this, and suffer from it still. At such times I turn straight to the life of Christ and to the lives of the saints and realize that I am travelling in the opposite direction from that which they took, for they experienced nothing but contempt and insults. This makes me proceed very fearfully and as one who dares not lift her head, for I do not want to seem to be doing what I am not.

    When I am undergoing persecutions, my body suffers and I am afflicted in other ways, but my soul is completely mistress of itself to an extent that I should not have thought possible. But that is how it is: on such occasions the soul seems to be in its own kingdom and to have all things under its feet. This happened to me several times and lasted for quite a number of days: it seemed to be a kind of virtue, and humility, but I can now see quite well that it was a temptation. A Dominican friar, who was a very learned man, gave me a clear explanation of this. When I thought that a knowledge of these favours which the Lord is granting me might become public, my torture grew so excessive that it greatly disturbed my soul. Such a pitch did it reach that, when I dwelt on the matter, I decided I would rather be buried alive than endure this. So, when these raptures or these periods of deep recollection began, and I could not resist them, even in public, I would become so ashamed after they were over as to want not to appear where anyone would see me.

    Once, when I was very much troubled about this, the Lord asked me what I was afraid of, for only two things could happen -- people would either speak ill of me or praise Him. He meant that those who believed it was His work would praise Him, and those who did not would condemn me without my having done wrong, and that either course would be advantageous to me and therefore I must not be troubled. This calmed me a great deal and whenever I think of it it still comforts me. The temptation reached such a point that I wanted and leave this place and go and take my dowry to another convent, much more strictly enclosed than the one I was then in, which I had heard remarkably well spoken of. It belonged to my own Order and was a long way away; it is the distance that would have given me the greatest relief, for I should have been where nobody knew me.[245] But my confessor never allowed me to go.

    These fears robbed me of much freedom of spirit; later I came to see that all this restlessness on my part was not real humility. And the Lord revealed this truth to me: that if I believed resolutely and with conviction that anything good in me was not mine at all but came from God, then, just as I was not troubled at hearing other people praised but rather rejoiced and took comfort at seeing that God was showing His power in them, so, too, I should not be troubled if He were to show His works in me.

    I also fell victim to another excess of zeal, which was to beseech God, and to make it my special prayer, that when a person thought there was any good in me, His Majesty would reveal my sins to him, so that he might see how utterly undeserving I was of these favours -- which is always my great desire. My confessor told me not to do this; but I continued to do it almost down to this day. If I observed that someone was thinking very well of me, I would manage, indirectly or in any way that I could, to make him aware of my sins. That seemed to bring me relief. My sins have made me very scrupulous about this.

    This, however, I think, was not the result of humility, but often proceeded from a temptation. It seemed to me that I was deceiving everybody; and, though it is true that it was their own belief that there was some good in me which was deceiving them, I had no desire to deceive them, nor did I ever try to do so: for some reason the Lord permitted it. So, unless I saw that such a course was necessary, I said nothing about these things even to my confessors, for to do so would have caused me grave scruples. I realize now that all these little fears and troubles and this apparent humility were sheer imperfection, due to my lack of mortification. For a soul left in the hands of God cares nothing whether good or evil is spoken of it if it has a right understanding. And, when the Lord is pleased to grant it the grace of understanding, it must understand clearly that it has nothing of its own. Let it trust its Giver and it will learn why He reveals His gifts, and let it prepare itself for persecution, which at a time like the present is sure to come to a person when the Lord is pleased for it to be known that He is granting him such favours as these. For upon a soul like this are fixed a thousand eyes, whereas upon a thousand souls of baser texture there will not be fixed a single one.

    In truth, there is no small reason here for being afraid, and I certainly ought to have been so -- I was being, not humble, but pusillanimous. For a soul which God allows to walk in this way in the sight of the whole world may well prepare itself to be martyred by the world, for, if it will not die to the world of its own free will, the world itself will kill it. Really, I can see nothing in the world that seems to me good save its refusal to allow that good people can ever do wrong and the way it perfects them by speaking ill of them. I mean that more courage is necessary for following the way of perfection, if one is not perfect, than for suddenly becoming a martyr; for perfection cannot be acquired quickly, except by one to whom by some particular privilege the Lord is pleased to grant this favour. When the world sees anyone setting out on that road it expects him to be perfect all at once and detects a fault in him from a thousand leagues' distance; yet in that particular person the fault may be a virtue, and his critic, in whom it is a vice, may be judging him by himself. They will not allow him to eat or sleep -- they will hardly let him breathe, as we say: the more highly they think of him, the more they seem to forget that he is still in the body. For, however perfect his soul may be, he is still living on earth, and however resolutely he may trample earth's miserable limitations beneath his feet, he is still subject to them. And so, as I say, he needs great courage. His poor soul has not yet begun to walk, and men expect it to fly. He has not yet conquered his passions, and men expect him to rise to great occasions and be as brave as they read the saints were after they had been confirmed in grace. What happens here gives us cause for praising the Lord and also for great sorrow of heart, since so many poor souls turn back because they have no idea what to do to help themselves. And I believe my soul would have been like them had not the Lord Himself had such compassion on me and done everything for me. Until He of His goodness had done everything, I myself did nothing, as Your Reverence will know, but fall and rise again.

    I wish I knew how to express this, for many souls, I believe, go wrong here and want to fly before God gives them wings. I think I have made this comparison somewhere before, but it is very much to the point, so I will attempt it again, for I find that some souls are very much distressed by this. They begin with good desires, and fervour, and determination to advance in virtue, and some of them give up all external things for God. Then they see in others who are more fully grown in grace many notable fruits, in the shape of virtues given them by the Lord -- for we cannot acquire these ourselves. They see in all the books written on prayer and contemplation a description of things which we must do in order to rise to that dignity. And, as they themselves cannot manage to do all these things, they lose courage. I refer to such things as not caring if people speak ill of us, but being more pleased than when they speak well; holding our own reputation in little esteem; cultivating detachment from our kindred and, unless they be persons of prayer, not desiring converse with them but finding it wearisome; and many other things of that kind. These, I think, must be bestowed upon us by God, for they seem to me to be supernatural blessings, contradicting our natural inclinations. They must not be troubled, but hope in the Lord; for what they now are in desire His Majesty will, if they pray and do what they can for themselves, make them to be in very deed. It is most necessary that this weak nature of ours should have great confidence, and not be dismayed or think that, if we do our utmost, we can fail to come out victorious.

    As I have a great deal of experience here, I will say something to Your Reverence by way of counsel. Do not think, even though it may seem so to you, that anyone has acquired a virtue when he has not tested it by its corresponding vice. We must always guard our misgivings, and never, all our lives long, grow careless, for much of the world will cling to us, if, as I say, God has not given us the grace fully to understand the nature of everything; and there is never anything in this life which is not attended by many dangers. A few years ago, I believed, not merely that I was not attached to my relatives, but that they were wearisome to me, and this was certainly true, for I could not endure their conversation. Then a matter of great importance cropped up and I had to go and stay with a sister of mine of whom, in the past, I had been extremely fond.[246] Though she is a better woman than I am, I could not get on with her at all in conversation; for as she is married, and therefore lives a different kind of life, we could not always be talking of the things I should have liked, and all I could do was to try to be alone. But I found that when she was distressed it affected me much more than when my neighbours were; sometimes, in fact, I would be quite concerned about her. In short, I discovered that I was not as free from attachment as I had supposed and indeed that I needed to avoid occasions of sin, so that this virtue, which the Lord had begun to implant in me, might grow; and with His help I have done my utmost to cultivate it ever since.

    When the Lord begins to implant a virtue in us, it must be esteemed very highly and we must on no account run the risk of losing it. So it is in matters concerning our reputation[247] and in many others. Your Reverence can be quite sure that we are not all completely detached when we think we are and it is essential that we should never be careless about this. If any person wishing to make progress in spiritual matters finds that he is becoming punctilious about his reputation, let him believe what I say and put this attachment right behind him, for it is a chain which no file can sever; only God can break it, with the aid of prayer and great effort on our part. It seems to me to be an impediment on this road and I am amazed at the harm it does. I see some people whose actions are very holy and who do such wonderful things that everyone is astonished at them. God bless me, then! Why are such souls still on earth? How is it that they have not reached the summit of perfection? What is the reason for this? What can it be that is impeding one who is doing so much for God? Why, simply his punctiliousness about his reputation! And the worst of it is that this sort of person will not realize that he is guilty of such a thing, the reason sometimes being that the devil tells him that punctiliousness is incumbent upon him.

    Let such persons believe me, then: for the love of the Lord let them believe this little ant, for she speaks because it is the Lord's will that she should do so. If they fail to remove this caterpillar, it may not hurt the whole tree, for some of the other virtues will remain, but they will all be worm-eaten. The tree will not be beautiful: it will neither prosper itself nor allow the trees near it to do so, for the fruit of good example which it bears is not at all healthy and will not last for long. I repeat this: however slight may be our concern for our reputation, the result of it will be as bad as when we play a wrong note, or make a mistake in time, in playing the organ -- the whole passage will become discordant. Such concern is a thing which harms the soul whenever it occurs; but in the life of prayer it is pestilential.

    You are trying to attain to union with God. We want to follow the counsels of Christ, on Whom were showered insults and false witness. Are we, then, really so anxious to keep intact our own reputation and credit? We cannot do so and yet attain to union, for the two ways diverge. When we exert our utmost efforts and try in various ways to forgo our rights, the Lord comes to the soul. Some will say: "I have nothing to forgo: I never get an opportunity of giving up anything." But if anyone has this determination I do not believe the Lord will ever allow him to lose so great a blessing. His Majesty will arrange so many ways in which he may gain this virtue that he will soon have more than he wants. I would urge you, then, to set to work and root out things which are of little or no consequence, just as I used to do when I began -- or, at least, some of them. They are mere straws; and, as I have said, I throw them on the fire. I am incapable of doing more than that, but the Lord accepts it: may He be blessed for ever.

    One of my faults was this: I knew very little of my office book, and of what I ought to do in choir, and of how to behave, simply because I was careless and absorbed in other vanities. I saw other novices who could have taught me these things, but I did not ask them to do so, lest they should become aware how little I knew. But good example soon prevails: that, at least, is the general rule. Once God opened my eyes a little, I would ask the other girls' opinion[248] even when I knew something but was the slightest bit in doubt about it; and my doing so damaged neither my honour[249] nor my credit -- in fact I think the Lord has been pleased since then to give me a better memory. I was bad at singing and I felt it very deeply if I had not studied what was entrusted to me: not for my shortcomings in the Lord's eyes -- that would have been virtue -- but because of all the nuns who were listening to me. Merely out of concern for my own honour I was so much perturbed that I did much worse than I need have done. Later, when I did not know my part very well, I made a point of saying so. At first, this hurt me terribly but after a time I began to take pleasure in it. And when I ceased caring if my ignorance were known or not, I got on much better. So this miserable concern for my honour prevented me from being able to do what I really regarded as an honour, for everyone interprets the word "honour" to mean what he chooses.

    By means of these nothings, which after all actually are nothing (and I, too, am certainly nothing, to be hurt by a thing like this), one's actions gradually become worthier. And if we take trouble over such trifling things, to which God attaches importance because they are done for Him, His Majesty helps us to do greater ones. And so it was with me in matters concerning humility; seeing that all the nuns except myself were making progress (for I myself was always a good-for-nothing) I would collect their mantles when they left the choir. I felt that by doing this I was serving angels who were praising God there, until -- I do not know how -- they came to hear of it, which made me not a little ashamed. For my virtue had not reached the point of desiring them to know of these things -- not out of humility, but lest they should laugh at me over something so unimportant.

    O my Lord, how ashamed I am at having to confess all this wickedness! I go on counting these little grains of sand, which as yet were not being stirred up in the riverbed for Thy service, but were embedded in all kinds of filth.[250] The water of Thy grace was not yet flowing beneath all this sand to stir it up. O my Creator, if only amid so many things that are evil I had a few that were worthy of enumeration, to set beside the great favours that I have received from Thee! But thus it is, my Lord, and I know not how my heart can bear it or how anyone who reads this can fail to abhor me when he sees how ill I have requited such exceeding great favours and that despite all this I am not ashamed to reckon any services that I may have rendered Thee as my own. In reality, my Lord, I am ashamed to do so, but the fact that I have nothing else of my own to enumerate makes me speak of such mean beginnings so that those who began better may be hopeful that, as the Lord has taken notice of these, He will take notice of theirs still more. May it please His Majesty to give me grace so that I may not always remain a beginner. Amen.

 

 

Chapter 32

    Tells how the Lord was pleased to carry her in spirit to a place in hell which she had merited for her sins. Describes a part of what was shown her there. Begins to tell of the way and means whereby the convent of Saint Joseph was founded in the place where it now is.

    A long time after the Lord had granted me many of the favours which I have described, together with other very great ones, I was at prayer one day when suddenly, without knowing how, I found myself, as I thought, plunged right into hell. I realized that it was the Lord's will that I should see the place which the devils had prepared for me there and which I had merited for my sins. This happened in the briefest space of time, but, even if I were to live for many years, I believe it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage, like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall, like a cupboard, and it was here that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison with what I felt there. What I have said is in no way an exaggeration.

    My feelings, I think, could not possibly be exaggerated, nor can anyone understand them. I felt a fire within my soul the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing. My bodily sufferings were so intolerable that, though in my life I have endured the severest sufferings of this kind -- the worst it is possible to endure, the doctors say, such as the shrinking of the nerves during my paralysis[251] and many and divers more, some of them, as I have said, caused by the devil -- none of them is of the smallest account by comparison with what I felt then, to say nothing of the knowledge that they would be endless and never-ceasing. And even these are nothing by comparison with the agony of my soul, an oppression, a suffocation and an affliction so deeply felt, and accompanied by such hopeless and distressing misery, that I cannot too forcibly describe it. To say that it is as if the soul were continually being torn from the body is very little, for that would mean that one's life was being taken by another; whereas in this case it is the soul itself that is tearing itself to pieces. The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair, which is greater than the most grievous tortures and pains. I could not see who was the cause of them, but I felt, I think, as if I were being both burned and dismembered; and I repeat that that interior fire and despair are the worst things of all.

    In that pestilential spot, where I was quite powerless to hope for comfort, it was impossible to sit or lie, for there was no room to do so. I had been put in this place which looked like a hole in the wall, and those very walls, so terrible to the sight, bore down upon me and completely stifled me. There was no light and everything was in the blackest darkness. I do not understand how this can be, but, although there was no light, it was possible to see everything the sight of which can cause affliction. At that time it was not the Lord's will that I should see more of hell itself, but I have since seen another vision of frightful things, which are the punishment of certain vices. To look at, they seemed to me much more dreadful; but, as I felt no pain, they caused me less fear. In the earlier vision the Lord was pleased that I should really feel those torments and that affliction of spirit, just as if my body had been suffering them. I do not know how it was, but I realized quite clearly that it was a great favour and that it was the Lord's will that I should see with my own eyes the place from which His mercy had delivered me. It is nothing to read a description of it, or to think of different kinds of torture (as I have sometimes done, though rarely, as my soul made little progress by the road of fear): of how the devils tear the flesh with their pincers or of the various other tortures that I have read about -- none of these are anything by comparison with this affliction, which is quite another matter. In fact, it is like a picture set against reality, and any burning on earth is a small matter compared with that fire.

    I was terrified by all this, and, though it happened nearly six years ago, I still am as I write: even as I sit here, fear seems to be depriving my body of its natural warmth. I never recall any time when I have been suffering trials or pains and when everything that we can suffer on earth has seemed to me of the slightest importance by comparison with this; so, in a way, I think we complain without reason. I repeat, then, that this vision was one of the most signal favours which the Lord has bestowed upon me: it has been of the greatest benefit to me, both in taking from me all fear of the tribulations and disappointments of this life and also in strengthening me to suffer them and to give thanks to the Lord, Who, as I now believe, has delivered me from such terrible and never-ending torments.

    Since that time, as I say, everything has seemed light to me by comparison with a single moment of such suffering as I had to bear during that vision. I am shocked at myself when I think that, after having so often read books which give some idea of the pains of hell, I was neither afraid of them nor rated them at what they are. What could I have been thinking of? How could anything give me satisfaction which was driving me to so awful a place? Blessed be Thou, my God, for ever! How plain it has become that Thou didst love me, much more than I love myself! How often, Lord, didst Thou deliver me from that gloomy prison and how I would make straight for it again, in face of Thy will!

    This vision, too, was the cause of the very deep distress which I experience because of the great number of souls who are bringing damnation upon themselves -- especially of those Lutherans, for they were made members of the Church through baptism. It also inspired me with fervent impulses for the good of souls: for I really believe that, to deliver a single one of them from such dreadful tortures, I would willingly die many deaths. After all, if we see anyone on earth who is especially dear to us suffering great trial or pain, our very nature seems to move us to compassion, and if his sufferings are severe they oppress us too. Who, then, could bear to look upon a soul's endless sufferings in that most terrible trial of all? No heart could possibly endure it without great affliction. For even earthly suffering, which after all, as we know, has a limit and will end with death, moves us to deep compassion. And that other suffering has no limit: I do not know how we can look on so calmly and see the devil carrying off as many souls as he does daily.

    This also makes me wish that in so urgent a matter we were not ourselves satisfied with anything short of doing all that we can. Let us leave nothing undone; and to this end may the Lord be pleased to grant us His grace. I recall that, wicked creature though I was, I used to take some trouble to serve God and refrain from doing certain things which I see tolerated and considered quite legitimate in the world; that I had serious illnesses, and bore them with great patience, which the Lord bestowed on me; that I was not given to murmuring or speaking ill of anyone, nor, I think, could I ever have wished anyone ill; that I was not covetous and never remember having been envious in such a way as grievously to offend the Lord; and that I abstained from certain other faults, and, despicable though I was, lived in the most constant fear of God. And yet look at the place where the devils had prepared a lodging for me! It is true, I think, that my faults had merited a much heavier punishment; but none the less, I repeat, the torture was terrible, and it is a perilous thing for a soul to indulge in its own pleasure or to be placid and contented when at every step it is falling into mortal sin. For the love of God, let us keep free from occasions of sin and the Lord will help us as He has helped me. May it please His Majesty not to let me out of His hand lest I fall once more, now that I have seen the place to which that would lead me. May the Lord forbid this, for His Majesty's sake. Amen.

    After I had seen this vision, and other great things and secrets which, being what He is, the Lord was pleased to show me, concerning the bliss reserved for the good and the affliction for the wicked, I desired to find some way and means of doing penance for all my evil deeds and of becoming in some degree worthy to gain so great a blessing. I desired, therefore, to flee from others and to end by withdrawing myself completely from the world. My spirit was restless, yet the restlessness was not disturbing but pleasant: I knew quite well that it was of God and that His Majesty had given my soul this ardour to enable me to digest other and stronger meat than I had been in the habit of eating.

    I would wonder what I could do for God, and it occurred to me that the first thing was to follow the vocation for a religious life which His Majesty had given me by keeping my Rule with the greatest possible perfection. And although in the house where I was living[252] there were many servants of God, and He was well served in it, yet, as it was very needy, we nuns would often leave it for other places where we could live honourably and keep our vows. Furthermore, the Rule was not observed in its primitive rigour but, as throughout the Order, according to the Bull of Mitigation.[253] There were also other disadvantages, such as the excessive amount of comfort which I thought we had, for the house was a large and pleasant one. But this habit of frequently going away (and I was one who did it a great deal) was a serious drawback to me, for there were certain persons, to whom my superiors could refuse nothing, who liked to have me with them, and so, when importuned by these persons, they would order me to go and visit them. So things went on until I was able to be in the convent very little; the devil must have had something to do with my being away so much, though at the same time I was in the habit of repeating to some of the nuns the things taught me by the people I met and these did them a great deal of good.

    One day it happened that a person to whom I was talking,[254] with some other sisters, asked me why we should not become Discalced nuns,[255] for it would be quite possible to find a way of establishing a convent. I had had desires of this kind myself, so I began to discuss the matter with a companion -- that widowed lady who, as I have said before, had the same desire. She began to think out a way to find the money for such a house; I see now that that would not have got us very far, though our desire to achieve our object made us think that it would. But, for my own part, I was most happy in the house where I was, for I was very fond both of the house and of my cell, and this held me back. None the less, we agreed to commend the matter very earnestly to God.

    One day, after Communion, the Lord gave me the most explicit commands to work for this aim with all my might and made me wonderful promises -- that the convent would not fail to be established; that great service would be done to Him in it; that it should be called Saint Joseph's; that He[256] would watch over us at one door and Our Lady at the other; that Christ would go with us; that the convent would be a star giving out the most brilliant light; and that, although the Rules of the religious Orders were mitigated, I was not to think He was very little served in them, for what would become of the world if it were not for religious? I was to tell my confessor this[257] and to say that it was He Who was giving me this command and that He asked him not to oppose it nor to hinder me in carrying it out.

    So great was the effect upon me of this vision and such was the nature of these words which the Lord addressed to me that I could not doubt that it was He Who had uttered them. This caused me the deepest distress, because I had a fairly good idea of the serious disturbances and trials which the work would cost me. I was very happy, too, in that house, and, though in the past I had been accustomed to speak of such a foundation, it had not been with any great degree of determination or certainty that the thing would be done. I felt now that a great burden was being laid upon me, and, when I saw that I was at the beginning of a very disturbing time, I became doubtful what I should do. But the Lord appeared and spoke to me about it again and again, and so numerous were the motives and arguments which He put before me, in such a way that I saw that they were valid and that the project was His will, that I dared not do otherwise than speak to my confessor about it and give him a written account of everything that took place.

    He did not venture to tell me expressly to give up the idea, but he saw that, humanly speaking, there was no way of putting it into practice, since my companion, who was to be the person to effect this, had no resources at all, or very scanty ones. He told me to talk it over with my Superior, and to do what he advised. I did not discuss these visions with the Superior, but the lady who was desirous of founding this convent had a talk with him, and the Provincial,[258] who is well-disposed to the religious Orders, took to the idea very well, gave her all necessary help and told her he would give the house his sanction. They discussed the revenue which the convent would need, and we decided that, for many reasons, the number of nuns in the convent ought never to exceed thirteen. Before beginning to discuss the matter we had written to the holy Fray Peter of Alcantara and told him all that was happening. He advised us not to desist from our work and gave us his opinion about the whole matter.

    Hardly had news of the project begun to be known here than there descended upon us a persecution so severe that it is impossible in a few words to describe it: people talked about us, laughed at us and declared that the idea was ridiculous. Of me, they said that I was all right in the convent where I was living, while my companion was subjected to such persecution that it quite exhausted her. I did not know what to do, for up to a certain point I thought these people were right. Worn out with it all as I was, I commended myself to God and His Majesty began to give me consolation and encouragement. He told me that I could now see what those saints who had founded religious Orders had suffered: they had had to endure much more persecution than any I could imagine and we must not allow ourselves to be troubled by it. He told me certain things which I was to say to my companion, and to my absolute amazement we at once felt comforted by what had happened and courageous enough to resist everybody. And it is a fact that, at that time, both among people of prayer and in the whole place, there was hardly anyone who was not against us and did not consider our project absolutely ridiculous.[259]

    There was so much commotion and talk of this kind in my own convent that the Provincial thought it would be hard for him to set himself against everybody; so he changed his mind and refused to sanction the plan. He said that the revenue was not assured, that in any case there would be too little of it, and that the plan was meeting with considerable opposition. In all this he appeared to be right. So he dropped the matter and refused to sanction the new convent. We, on whom the first blows now seemed to have fallen, were very much distressed at this, and I myself was particularly so at finding the Provincial against me, for his previous approval of the plan had justified me in the eyes of all. My companion was refused absolution unless she would give up the idea; it was incumbent on her, she was told, to remove the scandal.

    She went to talk the matter over with a very learned man, a most devout servant of God, of the Order of Saint Dominic,[260] and to him she detailed the whole story. This she did even before the Provincial withdrew his support from us, for we had no one in the whole place who would advise us in the matter; and it was for that reason that they said the whole thing had come out of our own heads. The lady gave this holy man an account of everything and told him how much revenue she derived from her estate; she hoped very much that he would help us, since at that time he was the most learned man in the place, and there are few more learned than he in his entire Order. I myself told him all that we were proposing to do and some of the reasons for it. I said nothing to him about any of the revelations I had had, but only described the reasons, other than supernatural, which were prompting me, for it was these alone that I wanted him to take into account when giving us his opinion. He told us that we must allow him a week to think the matter over before answering and asked if we were definitely going to act upon whatever he said. I told him we were; but although I said this, and I think I would have acted upon it,[261] I never for a moment lost my confidence that the foundation would be made. My companion had more faith; and, whatever people might say to her, nothing would persuade her to abandon it.

    For my own part, although, as I say, the abandonment of the project seemed to me impossible, I believed the revelation to be true only in the sense that it was not contrary to what is in Holy Scripture or to the laws of the Church which we are obliged to keep; for, despite my belief that it really came from God, if that learned man had told me that we could not act upon it without offending Him and that we were acting against our conscience, I think I should at once have abandoned the plan and sought some other way. But the Lord showed me no other way than this. Later, this servant of God told me that at one point he had definitely decided to urge us to give the project up, because his attention had been directed to the popular clamour, and also because to him, as to everyone else, it had seemed folly; that a certain gentleman, on hearing that we had gone to him, had sent to advise him to be careful what he did and not to help us; but that, when he had begun to consider what he should say to us, to think over the matter, and to reflect upon the intentions that were prompting us, the way we were setting to work and our concern for our Order, he became convinced that we should be rendering God a great service and that the scheme must not be abandoned. And so his answer was that we should make haste to carry it out; he told us by what ways and methods this should be done; and, although our income was small, we must be prepared to some extent to trust God. Anyone, he said, who offered further opposition should be referred to him for an answer; and he always helped us in this way, as I shall show later.

    We were greatly comforted by this, and also by the fact that several saintly persons, who had previously been against us, were now better disposed and some of them actually helped us. One of these was the saintly gentleman whom I have already mentioned. He now felt that the project, being founded, as in fact it was, on prayer, would lead to great perfection, and though he thought it would be difficult and impracticable to find the necessary means for making the foundation, he gave up his former view and decided that the idea might be from God, in which decision the Lord Himself must have inspired him. He also inspired that Master, the cleric and servant of God to whom, as I said, I had spoken first of all, who is a pattern to the whole place and a person whom God keeps there for the help and profit of many souls.[262] He, too, came forward to help me in the matter. And while things were in that position, and many people were continually helping us by their prayers, we practically completed the negotiations for purchasing the house. It was a small one, but that did not trouble me in the least, for the Lord had told me to start work as well as I could and in due course I should see what His Majesty would do for us. (And how clearly I have seen it!) And so, though I realized our income would be small, I believed that the Lord would have other ways of arranging things for us and would give us His help.

 

 

Chapter 33

    Proceeds with the same subject -- the foundation of the convent of the glorious Saint Joseph. Tells how she was commanded not to continue it, how for a time she gave it up, how she suffered various trials and how in all of them she was comforted by the Lord.

    It was when matters had reached this position and were so near completion that the deeds were to be signed on the following day that the attitude of our Father Provincial suddenly changed. I believe, and it has since become apparent, that this change was by Divine appointment; for, while all these prayers were being offered for us, the Lord was perfecting His work and arranging for it to be accomplished in another way. As the Provincial would not now sanction the foundation, my confessor at once forbade me to go on with it, though the Lord knows what sore trials and afflictions it had cost me to bring it to its present state. When the project was given up, and remained unaccomplished, people became still more certain that it was all some ridiculous women's idea, and the evil-speaking against me increased, though until then I had been acting on my Provincial's orders.

    I was now very unpopular throughout my convent for having wanted to found a convent more strictly enclosed. The nuns said that I was insulting them; that there were others there who were better than myself, and so I could serve God quite well where I was; that I had no love for my own convent; and that I should have done better to get money for that than for founding another. Some said I ought to be thrown into the prison-cell;[263] others came out on my side, though of these there were very few. I saw quite well that in many respects they were right and I could sometimes make allowances for them; although, as I could not tell them the principal thing -- namely, that I had been obeying the Lord's command -- I did not know what to do and so was silent. At other times God was so gracious to me that none of this worried me in the slightest; I gave up the project as easily and happily as though it had cost me nothing. This nobody could believe, not even the very persons, given to prayer as they were, with whom I had to do: they supposed I must be very much distressed and ashamed -- even my confessor could not really believe that I was not. It seemed to me that I had done all I possibly could to fulfil the Lord's command and that therefore I had no further obligation. So I remained in my own house, quite content and happy. I could not, however give up my belief that the task would be duly accomplished and, though I was unable to forecast the means and knew neither how nor when the work would be done, I was quite sure that it would be done in time.

    What troubled me a great deal was that on one occasion my confessor[264] wrote me a letter of a kind which suggested that I had in some way been acting against his wishes. It must have been the Lord's will that I should not be immune from trials coming from the source which would cause me the greatest pain. For, amid this multitude of persecutions, my confessor, whom I had expected to console me, wrote that I must now have realized that all that had happened was just a dream and that henceforth I must lead a better life and not try to do anything more of the kind or talk about it any further, since I now saw what scandal it had occasioned. He said other things, too, all of them very distressing. This troubled me more than everything else put together, for I wondered if I had myself been an occasion of sin to others, if it had been my fault that offence had been given to God, if these visions were illusory, if all my prayer had been a deception and if I was sorely deluded and lost. These thoughts oppressed me to such an extent that I was quite upset by them and plunged into the deepest affliction. But the Lord, Who never failed me, and in all these trials which I have enumerated often comforted and strengthened me, in a way that need not here be described, told me at once not to distress myself and said that I had not offended Him in the matter at all but had rendered Him great service. He told me to do what my confessor ordered me and to keep silence for the present and until the time came for the project to be resumed. This brought me such comfort and satisfaction that all the persecution which I was undergoing seemed nothing at all.

    The Lord now showed me what a signal blessing it is to suffer trials and persecutions for His sake, for so great was the growth in my soul of love for God and of many other graces that I was astounded, and this made me incapable of ceasing to desire trials. The other people thought I was very much ashamed -- as indeed I should have been had the Lord not helped me in these straits by granting me such great favours. It was now that I began to experience the increasingly strong impulses of the love of God which I have described, and also deeper raptures, although I was silent on this subject and never spoke to anyone of what I had gained. The saintly Dominican[265] did not cease to share my certainty that the project would be accomplished; and, as I myself would take no further part in it, lest I should run contrary to the obedience which I owed my confessor, he discussed it with my companion and they wrote to Rome and sought a way out.

    And now the devil began to contrive that one person after another should hear that I had received some kind of revelation about this matter, and people came to me in great concern to say that these were bad times and that it might be that something would be alleged against me and I should have to go before the Inquisitors. But they only amused me and made me laugh, because I never had any fear about this. I knew quite well that in matters of faith no one would ever find me transgressing even the smallest ceremony of the Church, and that for the Church or for any truth of Holy Scripture I would undertake to die a thousand deaths. So I told them not to be afraid, for my soul would be in a very bad way if there were anything about it which could make me fear the Inquisition. If ever I thought there might be, I would go and pay it a visit of my own accord; and if anything were alleged against me the Lord would deliver me and I should be very much the gainer. I discussed this with my Dominican Father, who, as I say, was a very learned man, so that I knew I could rely on anything he might say to me. I told him, as clearly as I could, all about my visions, my way of prayer and the great favours which the Lord was granting me, and I begged him to think it all over very carefully, to let me know if there was anything in them contrary to Holy Scripture and to tell me his feelings about the whole matter. He reassured me a great deal and I think it was a help to him too; for, although he was very good, from that time onward he devoted himself much more to prayer, and retired to a monastery of his Order where there is great scope for solitude, so that he might the better practise prayer; and here he stayed for over two years.[266] He was then commanded under obedience to leave, which caused him great regret, but he was such an able man that they needed him.

    In one way, I was very sorry when he went, because I too needed him badly. But I did nothing to unsettle him, for I realized that the gain was his; and, when I was feeling very much grieved at his departure, the Lord told me to take comfort and not be distressed, because he was being led in the right way. When he came back, his soul had made such progress and his spiritual growth had been so great that he told me after his return that he would not have missed going for anything. And I too could say the same thing; for previously he had been reassuring and comforting me only by his learning, whereas now he did so as well by the ample spiritual experience which he had acquired of things supernatural. And God brought him back just at the right time, for His Majesty saw that he would be needed to help with this convent, the foundation of which was His Majesty's will.

    For five or six months I remained silent, taking no further steps with regard to the plan and never even speaking about it, and the Lord gave me not a single command. I had no idea what was the reason for this, but I could not get rid of my belief that the foundation would be duly made. At the end of that time, the priest who had been Rector of the Company of Jesus having left, His Majesty brought a successor to him here who was a very spiritual man, of great courage, intelligence and learning, at a time when I was in dire need.[267] For the priest who at that time was hearing my confessions had a superior over him, and in the Company they are extremely particular about the virtue of never doing the slightest thing save in conformity with the will of those who are over them. So, although he thoroughly understood my spirit and desired its progress, there were certain matters about which, for very good reasons, he dared not be at all definite. My spirit, which was now experiencing the most vehement impulses, was greatly troubled at being constrained in this way; I did not, however, depart from his orders.

    One day, when I was in great affliction, thinking that my confessor did not believe me, the Lord told me not to be worried, for my distress would soon be over. I was very glad, supposing His meaning to be that I was soon going to die, and whenever I thought of this I was very happy. Later I realized that He was referring to the arrival of this Rector whom I have mentioned; for I never had any reason to feel so distressed again, because the new Rector placed no restrictions upon the minister who was my confessor, but told him that, as there was no cause for fear, he should comfort me and not lead me by so strait a path, but allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in me, for sometimes it seemed as if these strong spiritual impulses prevented my soul even from breathing.

    This Rector came to see me and my confessor told me to consult him with the utmost frankness and freedom. I used to dislike very much speaking about the matter, and yet, when I went into the confessional, I felt something in my spirit which I do not recall having felt in the presence of anyone else, either before or since. I cannot possibly describe its nature or compare it with anything whatsoever. For it was a spiritual joy: my soul knew that here was a soul that would understand and be in harmony with mine, although, as I say, I do not know how this happened. If I had ever spoken to him or had been told great things about him, it would not have been strange that I should have felt happy and been sure that he would understand me; but I had never spoken a word to him before, nor had he to me, nor was he a person about whom I had ever previously heard anything. Later I discovered that my instinct had not been wrong, and my contact with him has in every way been of great benefit to me and to my soul; for he knows how to treat persons whom the Lord seems to have brought to an advanced state: he makes them run, not walk a step at a time. His method is to train them in complete detachment and mortification, and for this, as for many other things, the Lord has given him the greatest aptitude.

    When I began to have dealings with him, I realized at once what type of director he was, and saw that he had a pure and holy soul and a special gift from the Lord for the discernment of spirits. From this I derived much comfort. Soon after I came under his direction, the Lord began to lay it upon me again that I must take up the matter of the convent and put all my reasons and aims before my confessor and this Rector so that they should not hinder me. Some of the things I said made them afraid, but this Father Rector never doubted that I was being led by the Spirit of God, having studied and thought very carefully about the effects which would be produced by the foundation. In short, after hearing these numerous reasons, they did not dare to risk hindering me.

    My confessor now gave me leave once more to take up the work again with all my might. I saw clearly with what a task I was burdening myself, since I was quite alone and there was so very little that I could do. We agreed that the work should be done in all secrecy, and so I arranged that a sister of mine,[268] who lived outside the town, should buy the house and furnish it, as if it were to be for herself, the Lord having given us money, from various sources, for its purchase. It would take a long time to tell how the Lord continued to provide for us. I thought it of great importance to do nothing against obedience, but I knew that, if I told my superiors about it, everything would be ruined, just as it was on the last occasion, and this time things might be even worse. Getting the money, finding a convent, arranging for its purchase and having it furnished cost me many trials, some of which I had to suffer quite alone; my companion did what she could, but that was little -- so little as to be hardly anything beyond allowing the work to be done in her name and with her approval. All the most difficult part of the work was mine and there were so many different things to do that I wonder now how I was able to go through with it. Sometimes in my distress I would say: "My Lord, how is it that Thou commandest me to do things which seem impossible? If only I were free, woman though I am -- ! But being bound in so many ways, without money or means of procuring it, either for the Brief or for anything else, what can I do, Lord?"

    Once, when I was in a difficulty and could not think what to do, or how I was going to pay some workmen, Saint Joseph, my true father and lord, appeared to me and gave me to understand that money would not be lacking and I must make all the necessary arrangements. I did so, though I had not a farthing, and the Lord, in ways which amazed people when they heard of them, provided the money.[269] I thought the house very small, so small that it seemed impossible to turn it into a convent.[270] I wanted to buy another, but had not the wherewithal, so there was no way of buying it, and I could not think what to do. There was a house near our own, but it was also too small to make into a church. One day, after I had communicated, the Lord said to me: "I have already told you to go in as best you can," and then added a kind of exclamation: "Oh, the greed of mankind! So you really think there will not be enough ground for you![271] How often did I sleep all night in the open air because I had not where to lay My head!" This amazed me, but I saw that He was right. So I went to look at the little house, and worked things out, and found that it would just make a convent, though a very small one. I thought no more then about buying another site but arranged to have this house furnished so that we could live in it. Everything was very rough and it had only enough done to it not to make it injurious to the health. And that is the principle that should be followed everywhere.

    On Saint Clare's day, as I was going to Communion, that Saint appeared to me in great beauty and told me to put forth all my efforts and proceed with what I had begun and she would help me. I conceived a great devotion for her and her words turned out to be the exact truth, for a convent of her Order, which is near our own, is helping to maintain us. What is more, she has gradually brought this desire of mine to such perfection that the poverty observed by the blessed Saint in her own house is being observed in this and we live upon alms. It has cost me no little trouble to get this principle quite definitely and authoritatively approved by the Holy Father -- this, of course, being essential -- so that we shall never have any income.[272] And -- at the request, it may be, of this blessed Saint -- the Lord is doing still more for us. Without any demand on our part His Majesty is providing amply for all our needs. May He be blessed for it all. Amen.

    At this same period, on the festival of the Assumption of Our Lady, I was in a monastery of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic, thinking of the many sins which in times past I had confessed in that house and of other things concerning my wicked life, when there came upon me a rapture so vehement that it nearly drew me forth out of myself altogether.[273] I sat down and I remember even now that I could neither see the Elevation nor hear Mass being said, and later this caused me a certain amount of scruple. While in this state, I thought I saw myself being clothed in a garment of great whiteness and brightness. At first I could not see who was clothing me, but later I saw Our Lady on my right hand and my father Saint Joseph on my left, and it was they who were putting that garment upon me. I was given to understand that I was now cleansed of my sins. When the clothing was ended, and I was experiencing the greatest joy and bliss, I thought that Our Lady suddenly took me by the hands and told me that I was giving her great pleasure by serving the glorious Saint Joseph and that I might be sure that all I was trying to do about the convent would be accomplished and that both the Lord and they two would be greatly served in it. I was not to fear that there would be any failure whatever about this, although the nature of the obedience which it would have to render might not be to my liking. They would keep us safe and her Son had already promised to go with us: as a sign that that was true, she said, she would give me this jewel. Then she seemed to throw round my neck a very beautiful gold collar, to which was fastened a most valuable cross. The gold and stones were so different from earthly things of the kind that no comparison between them is possible: their beauty is quite unlike anything that we can imagine and the understanding cannot soar high enough to comprehend the nature of the garment or to imagine the brightness of the vision which it was the Lord's will to send me, and by comparison with which everything on earth looks, as one might say, like a smudge of soot.

    The beauty which I saw in Our Lady was wonderful, though I could discern in her no particularly beautiful detail of form: it was her face as a whole that was so lovely and the whiteness and the amazing splendour of her vestments, though the light was not dazzling, but quite soft. The glorious Saint Joseph I did not see so clearly, though I could see plainly that he was there, as in the visions to which I have already referred and in which nothing is seen. Our Lady looked to me quite like a child. When they had been with me for a short time and caused me the greatest bliss and happiness -- more, I believe, than I had ever before experienced, so that I wished I need never lose it -- I seemed to see them ascending to Heaven with a great multitude of angels. I remained quite alone, but so greatly comforted and exalted and recollected in prayer, and so full of tender devotion, that I stayed for some time where I was, without moving, and unable to speak, quite beside myself. I was left with a vehement impulse to melt away in love for God, and with other feelings of a like kind, for everything happened in such a way that I could never doubt that this was of God, however hard I tried. It left me greatly comforted and full of peace.

    As to what the Queen of the Angels said about obedience the point of it is that it was a grief to me not to make over the convent to the Order, but the Lord had told me that it would not be wise for me to do so. He gave me reasons for which it would be extremely unwise and told me to send to Rome, and to follow a certain procedure, which He also described to me. He would see to it that that procedure should bring security. And so it came about. I sent as the Lord had told me -- had I not, we should never have concluded the negotiations -- and it turned out very well. As to the things which have happened since, it proved a very wise arrangement that we should be under the Bishop's obedience, but at the time I did not know this, nor did I even know who that prelate would be. But the Lord was pleased that he should be good and helpful to this house, as has been necessary, in view of all the opposition it has met with, which I shall recount later, and in order to bring it to the state it is now in.[274] Blessed be He Who has brought all this to pass! Amen.

 

 

Chapter 34

    Describes how about this time she had to leave the place, for a reason which is given, and how her superior ordered her to go and comfort a great lady who was in sore distress. Begins the description of what happened to her there, of how the Lord granted her the great favour of being the means whereby His Majesty aroused a great person to serve Him in real earnest and of how later she obtained help and protection from Him. This chapter should be carefully noted.

    Despite all the care I took that nothing should be known of all this work that I was doing, it could not be done so secretly but that a few people heard of it: of these, some believed in it, while others did not. I was sorely afraid that they would say something about it to the Provincial when he came, and that he might then order me to stop, in which case all would be up with it. The Lord provided against this as follows. It happened that, in a large city,[275] more than twenty leagues from here, there was a lady in great distress because of the death of her husband: her grief had reached such a pitch that there were fears for her health.[276] She had heard about this poor sinner -- for the Lord had ordained that people should speak well to her about me for other good purposes which resulted from this. This lady was well acquainted with the Provincial, and as she was an important person and knew that I lived in a convent where the nuns were allowed to leave the house, the Lord gave her a very great desire to see me: she thought that I might bring her comfort, which she could not find herself. So she began at once to use all possible means to get me to visit her, sending a great distance, for that purpose, to the Provincial. He sent me an order to go at once, under obedience, with a single companion. This message I received On Christmas night.

    It disturbed me a little and distressed me a great deal to think that she wanted me to come to her because she believed there was some good in me: knowing myself to be so wicked, I could not bear this. I commended myself earnestly to God; and, during the whole of Matins, or for a great part of it, I was in a deep rapture. The Lord told me I must go without fail and must not listen to people's opinions, as there were few who would advise me otherwise than rashly: to go might bring trials upon me, but God would be greatly served, and, as far as the convent was concerned, it would be as well if I were absent until the Brief arrived, because the devil had organized a great plot against the arrival of the Provincial; I was to fear nothing, however, for He would help me in this. I found this assurance a great strength and comfort. I told the Rector about it. He told me to go by all means, whereas others were telling me that I should not stand it, that it was an invention of the devil to bring some evil upon me there, and that I ought to send word about it to the Provincial.

    I obeyed the Rector, and, after what I had learned in prayer, went without any fear, though not without the greatest confusion when I saw the reason of their sending for me and knew all the time how completely they were mistaken. This made me beseech the Lord still more earnestly that He would not abandon me. It was a great comfort to me that there was a house of the Company of Jesus in the place where I was going[277]: I thought I should feel fairly safe if I continued to be subject to their direction, as I was here. The Lord was pleased that the lady should be so much comforted that she began at once to grow markedly better: she felt more comforted every day. This was a notable achievement, for, as I have said, her distress was causing her great depression: the Lord must have brought it about in response to the many prayers for the success of my enterprise which had been offered by the good people whom I knew. She was a most God fearing lady and so good that her most Christian spirit made up for what was lacking in me. She conceived a great affection for me, as I also did for her when I saw how good she was. But almost everything was a cross for me: the comforts in her house were a real torment and when she made so much of me I was filled with fear. My soul had such misgivings that I dared not be careless, and the Lord was not careless of me, for while I was there He showed me the most signal favours[278] and these made me feel so free and enabled me so to despise all I saw -- and the more I saw, the more I despised it -- that I never treated those great ladies, whom it would have been a great honour to me to serve, otherwise than with the freedom of an equal. From this I derived great profit, and I told my lady so. I saw that she was a woman, and as subject to passions and weaknesses as I was myself. I learned, too, how little regard ought to be paid to rank, and how, the higher is the rank, the greater are the cares and the trials that it brings with it. And I learned that people of rank have to be careful to behave according to their state, which hardly allows them to live: they must take their meals out of the proper time and order, for everything has to be regulated, not according to their constitutions but according to their position; often the very food which they eat has more to do with their position than with their liking.

    So it was that I came to hate the very desire to be a great lady. God deliver me from this sinful fuss -- though I believe that, despite her being one of the most important in the kingdom, there are few humbler and simpler people than this woman. I was sorry for her, and I still am when I think how often she has to act against her own inclination in order to live up to her position. Then, with regard to servants, though hers were good, one can really place very little trust in them. It is impossible to talk more to one of them than to another; otherwise the favoured one is disliked by the rest. This is slavery; and one of the lies which the world tells is that it calls such persons masters, whereas in a thousand ways, I think, they are nothing but slaves. The Lord was pleased that, during the time I spent in that house, its inmates should come to render His Majesty better service, though I was not free from trials, or from certain jealousies on the part of some of them, on account of the great love which my lady had for me. They must surely have thought that I was working for some interest of my own. The Lord must have allowed such things to try me to some extent so that I should not become absorbed in the comforts which I was enjoying there, and He was pleased to free me from all this to my soul's profit.

    While I was there, it chanced that a religious arrived with whom for many years I had been in communication on various occasions and who was a person of great importance.[279] When I was at Mass in a monastery of his Order, which was near the house where I was staying,[280] the desire came to me to know about the state of his soul, for I wished him to be a great servant of God; so I got up in order to go to speak to him. But then, as I was already recollected in prayer, this seemed to me a waste of time. What right, I thought, had I to interfere with him? So I sat down again. This happened, I believe, no less than three times, but finally my good angel got the better of my evil angel and I went to ask for him and he came to one of the confessionals to speak to me. I began to question him about his past life, and he to question me about mine, for we had not seen one another for many years. I began to tell him that mine had been a life of many spiritual trials. He urged me to tell him what the trials were. I said that they were not such as could be told and that I ought not to say anything about them. He replied that, as the Dominican Father to whom I have alluded[281] knew of them and was a great friend of his, he would tell him about them at once, so that I need not mind doing so myself.

    The truth is, he could not help importuning me, any more, I think, than I could help talking to him; for, despite all the regret and shame which I used to feel when I discussed these things with him and with the Rector whom I have mentioned,[282] I was not now in the least distressed -- in fact, I found it a great comfort. I told him everything under the seal of confession. I had always taken him for a man of great intelligence, but now he seemed to me shrewder than ever. I thought what great talents and gifts he had and what a deal of good he could do with them if he gave himself wholly to God. For some years now I have felt like this -- I never see a person whom I like very much without immediately wishing that I could see him wholly given to God, and sometimes this yearning of mine is so strong that I am powerless against it. Though I want everybody to serve God, my desire that those whom I like may do so is particularly vehement, and so I become extremely importunate for them with the Lord. This is what happened in the case of the religious I am referring to.

    He asked me to commend him often to God: he had no need to do so, for my state of mind was such that I could not do otherwise, so I went to the place where I am in the habit of praying in solitude, and, with extreme recollection, began to speak to the Lord in that silly way in which I often speak to Him without knowing what I am saying; for it is love that speaks, and my soul is so far transported that I take no notice of the distance that separates it from God. For the love which it knows His Majesty has for it makes it forget itself and it thinks it is in Him, and that He and it are one and the same thing without any division, and so it talks nonsense. I shed copious tears, and begged Him that that soul might really give itself up to His service, for, good as I thought him, I was not satisfied but wanted him to be better still. And after praying in that way, I remember saying these words: "Lord, Thou must not refuse me this favour. Think what a good person he is for us to have as our friend."

    Oh, the great goodness and humaneness of God, Who regards not the words but the desires and the good-will with which they are uttered! To think that His Majesty should allow such a person as myself to speak to Him thus boldly! May He be blessed for ever and ever.

    That night, I remember, I was greatly troubled during those hours of prayer, wondering if I had incurred the enmity of God. I could not be sure if I were in grace or no -- not that I wanted to be sure, but I wanted to die, so as to find myself no longer in a life in which I was not sure if I were dead or alive. For there could be no worse death for me than to think I had offended God and my distress about this caused me great depression: then I felt quite happy again, and, dissolving into tears, besought Him not to permit such a thing. I soon learned that I might safely take comfort and be certain[283] that I was in grace, since my love for God was so strong and His Majesty was working these favours in my soul and, of His compassion, giving it feelings which He would never give to a soul that was in mortal sin. I became confident that the Lord must surely do for this person what I begged of Him. He told me to say certain things to him. I was troubled about this, as I had no idea how to say them, and the thing I most dislike, as I have said, is having to take messages to a third person, especially if I am not sure how he will receive them or even that he will not make fun of me. So I was sorely distressed. But in the end I was quite persuaded that I must do it without fail, and I believe I promised God that I would, but I was so shy about it that I wrote down the message and handed it to him.

    The effect which it produced upon him showed clearly that it came from God, for he made a most earnest resolve to give himself to prayer, though he did not fulfil that resolve immediately. As the Lord desired to have him for Himself, He had sent through my instrumentality to tell him certain truths which, without my knowing it, were so apposite that he was astounded. The Lord must have prepared him to believe that they came from His Majesty. And for my part, miserable creature though I am, I kept beseeching the Lord to bring him right back to Himself and make him hate the pleasures and affairs of this life. And -- praised be God for ever! -- so he did, to such an extent that, every time he speaks to me, he astounds me. If I had not seen it for myself, I should have thought it doubtful that in so short a time God could have shown him such increased favours, and led him to become so completely immersed in Him that, so far as things of earth are concerned, he no longer seems to be alive. May His Majesty hold him in His hand, for he has such profound self knowledge that, if he advances farther, as I hope in the Lord he may, he will be one of the most notable of His servants and bring many souls great advantage. For in spiritual things he has had a great deal of experience in a short time, these being gifts bestowed by God when He wills and as He wills and having nothing to do either with time or with service. I do not mean that these latter things are unimportant but that often the Lord grants to one person less contemplation in twenty years than to others in one: His Majesty knows why. We are wrong if we think that in the course of years we are bound to understand things that cannot possibly be attained without experience, and thus, as I have said, many are mistaken if they think they can learn to discern spirits without being spiritual themselves. I do not mean that, if a man is learned but not spiritual, he may not direct a person of spirituality. But in both outward and inward matters which depend upon the course of nature, his direction will of course be of an intellectual kind, while in supernatural matters he will see that it is in conformity with Holy Scripture. In other matters he must not worry himself to death, or think he understands what he does not, or quench the spirits, for these souls are being directed by another Master, greater than he, so that they are not without anyone over them.

    He must not be astonished at this or think such things are impossible: everything is possible to the Lord. He must strive to strengthen his faith and humble himself, because the Lord is perhaps making some old woman better versed in this science than himself, even though he be a very learned man. If he has this humility, he will be of more use both to other souls and to himself than if he tries to become a contemplative without being so by nature. I repeat, then, that if he has neither experience nor the deepest humility which will reveal to him how little he understands and show him that a thing is not impossible because he cannot understand it, he will gain little himself and the people who have to do with him will gain less. But, if he is humble, he need not fear that the Lord will allow either him or them to fall into error.

    Now this Father of whom I am speaking, and to whom in many ways the Lord has granted humility, has studied these matters and done his utmost to discover all that study can reveal. For he is a very good scholar, and when he has no experience of a thing he consults those who have; and, as the Lord also helps him by granting him great faith, he has rendered a great deal of service both to himself and to certain souls, of which mine is one. For, as the Lord knew of the trials I had to endure, His Majesty, having seen good to call to Himself some who were directing me,[284] seems to have provided others who have helped me in numerous trials and done me a great deal of good. The Lord has almost completely transformed this religious, until, as one might say, he hardly knows himself. Though formerly he had poor health, He has given him physical strength, so that he can do penance, and has made him valiant in all that is good, and has done other things for him as well. He seems, then, to have received a very special vocation from the Lord. May He be blessed for ever.

    All this good, I believe, has come to him from the favours which the Lord has granted him in prayer, for there is no mistaking their reality. The Lord has already been pleased to test him in a number of situations, and from all these he has emerged like one who has amply proved the reality of the merit which we gain by suffering persecutions. I hope the Lord in His might will grant that much good may come through him to various members of his Order and to that Order itself. This is already beginning to be understood. I have seen great visions and the Lord has told me a number of very wonderful things about him and about the Rector of the Company of Jesus, whom I have already mentioned,[285] and about two other religious of the Order of Saint Dominic:[286] especially about one of them, to whom, for his own profit, the Lord has taught certain things which He[287] had previously taught me. From this Father of whom I am now speaking I have learned a great deal.

    To one of my experiences with him I will refer here. I was with him once in the locutory, and so great was the love that my soul and spirit felt to be burning within him that I became almost absorbed, as I thought of the wonders of God, Who had raised a soul to so lofty a state in so short a time. It filled me with confusion to see him listening so humbly to what I was telling him about certain things concerning prayer. There was little enough humility in me that I could talk in this way with such a person, but the Lord must have borne with me because of the earnest desire that I had to see him make great progress. It helped me so much to be with him that he seemed to have left my soul ablaze with a new fire of longing to begin to serve the Lord all over again. O my Jesus, how much a soul can do when ablaze with Thy love! What great value we ought to set on it and how we should beseech the Lord to allow it to remain in this life! Anyone who has this love should follow after such souls if he is able.

    For one who has this sickness it is a great thing to find another stricken by it too. It is a great comfort to him to see that he is not alone: the two are of mutual help in their sufferings and their deservings. They stand shoulder to shoulder, ready for God's sake to risk a thousand lives and longing for a chance to lose them. They are like soldiers who, in order to win booty and grow rich upon it, are spoiling for war, realizing that without fighting they can never become rich at all. Toiling in this way, in fact, is their profession. Oh, what a great thing it is, when the Lord gives this light, to know how much we are gaining in suffering for His sake! But we cannot properly understand this until we have given up everything; for, if there is a single thing to which a man clings, it is a sign that he sets some value upon it; and if he sets some value upon it, it will naturally distress him to give it up, and so everything will be imperfection and loss. "He who follows what is lost is himself lost": that saying is appropriate here. And what greater loss, what greater blindness, what greater misfortune is there than to set a great price on what is nothing?

    Returning, then, to what I was saying: As I looked at that soul I rejoiced exceedingly and I think the Lord was desirous that I should have a clear view of the treasures He had laid up in it. So when I became aware of the favour which He had done me in bringing this to pass through my intervention, I realized how unworthy I was of it. I prized the favours which the Lord had bestowed upon him and considered them more my own than if they had actually been granted to me, and I praised the Lord repeatedly when I found that His Majesty was fulfilling my desires and had heard my prayer that He would awaken such persons as this. And then my soul, in such a state that it could not endure so much joy, went out from itself, and lost itself for its own greater gain. It abandoned its meditations, and, as it heard that Divine language, which seems to have been that of the Holy Spirit, I fell into a deep rapture, which caused me almost to lose my senses, though it lasted but for a short time. I saw Christ, in the greatest majesty and glory, manifesting His great satisfaction at what had been taking place. This He told me, and said that He wanted me to realize clearly that He was always present at conversations of this kind, for He was very pleased when people found their delight in talking of Him.

    At another time, when I was a long way from here,[288] I saw him being carried up to the angels in great glory.[289] By this vision I understood that his soul was making great progress, as indeed it was. For a cruel slander against his reputation had been started by a person whom he had helped a great deal and to whose reputation and to whose soul he had rendered a great service; and he had endured this very happily and had done other things which tended greatly to the service of God and had undergone other persecutions. I do not think it suitable to say more about this just now, but Your Reverence knows about it all, and in the future, if you think well, it can all be set down to the glory of the Lord. All the prophecies about this house to which I have already referred, and others of which I shall speak later, concerning both this house and other matters, have been fulfilled. Some the Lord made to me three years before they became known; others, before that time, and others, again, since. And I always mentioned them to my confessor and to that widow who was a friend of mine, and with whom, as I said before, I was permitted to discuss them. She, I have learned, repeated them to other people, who know that I am not lying. God grant that I may never, in any matter, speak anything but the whole truth, especially on so serious a subject as this!

    Once, when I was in great distress because a brother-in-law of mine[290] had died suddenly without being careful[291] to make his confession, I was told in prayer that my sister, too, would die in the same way and that I must go to see her and get her to prepare for death. I told my confessor about this, but he would not let me go; I then heard the same thing several times more. When he found that this was so, he told me to go, as no harm could possibly come of it. She lived in a village,[292] and I went there without telling her the reason but giving her what light I could about everything. I got her to go to confession very frequently and always to think of her soul's profit. She was very good and did as I said. Some four or five years after she had adopted these habits and begun to pay great heed to her conscience, she died in such circumstances that nobody could come to see her or hear her confession. So it was a fortunate thing that, following her usual custom, she had made her last confession little more than a week previously. When I heard of her death, it made me very happy to think that she had done so. She remained only a very short time in purgatory.

    It could hardly have been a week later when, just after I had communicated, the Lord appeared to me and was pleased to let me see her as He was taking her to glory. During all those years between the time when the Lord spoke to me and the time of her death, neither my companion[293] nor I forgot what I had been told, and, when she died, my companion came to me in amazement at the way in which it had all been fulfilled. God be praised for ever, Who takes such care of souls so that they are not lost!

 

 

Chapter 35

    Continues the some subject -- the foundation of this house of our glorious father Saint Joseph. Tells how the Lord brought it about that holy poverty should be observed there and why she left that lady, and describes several other things that happened to her.

    While I was with this lady whom I have mentioned, and with whom I stayed for over six months,[294] the Lord brought it about that a beata[295] of our Order, living more than seventy leagues from here, heard of me, and, happening to come this way, went some leagues out of her road to talk to me.[296] The Lord had inspired her, in the same year and month as He had inspired me, to found another convent of this Order; and, as He had given her this desire, she sold all she had and walked barefoot to Rome to obtain the necessary patent.

    She is a woman greatly devoted to penance and prayer and the Lord granted her many favours. Our Lady had appeared to her and ordered her to undertake this task. She had done so much more than I in the service of the Lord that I was ashamed to be in her presence. She showed me the patents which she had brought from Rome and during the fortnight she was with me we made our plans as to how these convents were to be founded. Until I spoke to her, it had not come to my notice that our Rule, before its severity became mitigated, had ordered us to possess nothing,[297] and I had had no idea of founding a convent without revenue, my intention being that we should have no anxiety about necessaries, and I did not think of all the anxieties which are entailed by the holding of possessions. Though unable to read, this blessed woman had been taught by the Lord, and so she knew quite well what I did not, despite my having so often perused the Constitutions. And when she told me this, I thought it a good idea, though I was afraid that no one would ever agree with me, but say I was being ridiculous and tell me not to do things which would cause suffering to others. If I alone were concerned, nothing whatever should hold me back: on the contrary, it would be a great joy to me to think I was keeping the counsels of Christ our Lord, for His Majesty had already given me great desires for poverty. For my own part, I had never doubted that poverty was the soundest basis for a foundation. I had been wishing for days that it were possible for a person in my state of life to go about begging for love of God and have no house or any other possession. But I was afraid that, if others were not given these desires by the Lord, they would live in a state of discontent, and also that the thing would cause some distraction. I had seen a number of poor monasteries in which there was no great degree of recollection, and it had not occurred to me that their distraction was not due to their poverty, but that their poverty was the result of their not being recollected. Distraction does not make people richer and God never fails those who serve Him. In short, my faith was weak, whereas the faith of this servant of God was not.

    I sought the opinions of a great many people with regard to all this but found hardly anyone who shared my own -- neither my confessor nor the learned men whom I consulted about it. They put before me so many contrary arguments that I did not know what to do; for, now that I had learned the nature of the Rule and realized that its way was that of greater perfection, I could not persuade myself to allow the house to have any revenue. True, they sometimes convinced me; but, when I betook myself to prayer again and looked at Christ hanging poor and naked upon the Cross, I felt I could not bear to be rich. So I besought Him with tears to bring it about that I might become as poor as He.

    I found that the possession of revenue entailed so many inconveniences, and was such a cause of unrest, and even of distraction, that I kept on disputing about it with learned men. I wrote to that effect to the Dominican friar who was helping us,[298] and he answered me in a letter two sheets long, full of refutations and theology; in this he told me that he had made a close study of the subject, and tried to dissuade me from my project. I replied that I had no wish to make use of theology and should not thank him for his learning in this matter if it was going to keep me from following my vocation, from being true to the vow of poverty that I had made, and from observing Christ's precepts with due perfection. If I found anyone who would help me, I was delighted. The lady with whom I was staying[299] was of great assistance to me here. Some told me at the very beginning that they approved of my plan, but afterwards, on looking into it farther, found so many disadvantages in it that they once more urged me strongly to give it up. I told them that, though they had changed their opinions so quickly, I preferred to keep mine. It was at this time that, through my entreaties, for the lady had never seen him, the Lord was pleased that the saintly Fray Peter of Alcantara should come to her house. As one who was a great lover of poverty and had practised it for so many years, he knew how much wealth there was in it, and so he was a great help to me and told me that I must carry out my plan without fail. Once I had his opinion and help, which, as he had had the advantage of a long experience, none was better able to give, I resolved to seek no further opinions.

    One day, when I was earnestly commending my plan to God, the Lord told me that I must on no account fail to found the convent in poverty, for that was His Father's will, and His own will, and He would help me. I was in a deep rapture at the time, the effects of which were so marked that I could not possibly doubt that it had been of God. On another occasion He told me that money led only to confusion, and said other things in praise of poverty, and assured me that none would ever lack the necessaries of life if they served Him. For my own part, as I say, I was never afraid of being without these things. The Lord also changed the heart of the Presentado[300] -- I mean, of the Dominican friar -- who, as I have related, had written and told me not to make the foundation unless I had money. I was delighted at hearing this and at having the support of such opinions; I thought I had nothing less than all the riches in the world when I had resolved to live only on the love of God.

    It was about then that my Provincial[301] revoked his order and released me from the obligation of obedience which he had laid upon me and which kept me in the place where I then was: he now left me free to do as I liked, so that I could go away for a time, if I wanted to do so, and, if I wanted to stay where I was, I could do that too. Just at that time there was to be an election in my convent, and I was warned that many of the nuns wanted to lay upon me the responsibility of being their superior. The very thought of this was such a torment to me that, though I was resolved and prepared to undergo any martyrdom for God's sake, I could not possibly persuade myself to accept this. For, apart from the great labour it would involve, on account of the large number of nuns there were, and for other reasons (such as the fact that I was never fond of such work, and had not wanted to hold any office -- indeed, I had always declined to do so), I thought it would involve my conscience in grave peril, and so I praised God that I was not there. I wrote to my friends and asked them not to vote for me.

    Just as I was feeling very glad that I should not be getting mixed up in that commotion, the Lord told me that I must on no account fail to go: if I wanted a cross, there was a good one all ready for me and I was not to reject it but go on bravely, for He would help me; so I was to go at once. I was terribly worried and did nothing but weep, for I thought that this cross meant that I was to become Superior, and, as I say, I could not persuade myself that that would do the least good to my soul or see any way in which it possibly could. I told my confessor[302] about it. He ordered me to see at once about going, saying that this was clearly the way of greatest perfection; but he added that, as the weather was very hot and it would suffice if I got there for the election, I could wait for a few days lest the journey should do me any harm. But the Lord had disposed it otherwise and I had to leave then and there, so great were my inward restlessness and my inability to pray and my fear that I was being false to the Lord's command, and that I would not go and offer myself for the work because I was comfortable and at my ease where I was. I felt that I was rendering God nothing but lip-service. Why, if I had the chance of living a life of greater perfection, should I not take it? If I had to die, let me die. Together with these thoughts came an oppression of soul and the Lord took all the joy out of my prayer. In fact, I found myself in such torment that I begged the lady to be good enough to let me leave, and, when my confessor saw the state I was in, he told me to do so: God had moved him just as He had moved me.

    She was very sorry that I was leaving her, and this was a further trial, for it had cost her a great deal of trouble, and she had practised all kinds of importunities, to obtain permission from the Provincial for me to come. I thought it a very great thing that she should agree to my going, considering how she felt about it, but as she was a most God-fearing woman and I told her if I went I might be doing a great service to God, as well as giving her many other reasons, and held out the hope that I might possibly come and see her again, she acquiesced in it, though with the greatest regret.

    For myself, I now no longer regretted going; for, as I realized that this would be conducive to greater perfection and to the service of God, and as pleasing Him always gives me pleasure, I bore my distress at leaving this lady, at seeing how sorry she was about it, and also at leaving others to whom I was greatly indebted -- in particular, my confessor, a priest of the Society of Jesus, with whom I got on very well. The greater was the comfort which I sacrificed for the Lord's sake, the happier I was to forgo it. I could not understand how this was possible, for I realized clearly that I was being moved by two contrary feelings: that is to say, I was rejoicing and being glad and finding comfort in what was oppressing my soul, for I was calmed and comforted and had the opportunity of spending many hours in prayer. I saw that I was about to fling myself into a fire, for this the Lord had already told me, and that I was going to bear a heavy cross, though I never thought it would be as heavy as I afterwards found it to be. Yet, in spite of all this, I went off gladly, only chagrined that, since it was the Lord's will that I should enter the battle, I was not doing so immediately. Thus was His Majesty sending me strength and establishing it in my weakness.[303]

    As I say, I could not understand how this was possible. But I thought of this comparison. If I possess a jewel, or something which gives me great pleasure, and if I happen to discover that some person wants it whom I love better than myself, and I am more anxious for her pleasure than for my own comfort, it will give me greater happiness to go without it than it has given me to have it, because I shall be affording that person pleasure. And as the pleasure of pleasing her transcends my pleasure in having the jewel myself, my regret at no longer having it, or anything else that I like, and at losing the pleasure it gave me, will disappear. In the same way, although I wanted to feel sorry when I found that I was leaving people who so much regretted losing me, especially as I am such a grateful person by temperament, I could not feel sorry any more, however hard I tried, though on any other occasion it would have been enough to cause me great distress.

    It was so important for the affairs of this house that I should not delay for another day that I do not know how they would have been settled had I waited. Oh, the greatness of God! I am often astounded when I think about this and realize how specially anxious His Majesty was to help me carry out the business of this little corner of God's house (for such, I believe, it is) and this dwelling in which His Majesty takes His delight -- once, when I was in prayer, He told me that this house was the paradise of His delight. So it seems that His Majesty had chosen the souls whom He has drawn to Himself and in whose company I am living, feeling very, very much ashamed of myself, for I could never have expected to have souls like these for this plan of living in a state of such strict enclosure and poverty and prayer. Such is the joy and happiness of their lives that each of them thinks herself unworthy to have merited coming to such a place. This is particularly true of some, whom the Lord has called from all the vanity and parade of the world, in which, according to its own standards, they might have been happy. But here the Lord has so multiplied their happiness that they clearly recognize that in place of the one thing they have forsaken He has given them an hundredfold, and they are never tired of giving His Majesty thanks. Others He has changed from good to better. To the young He gives fortitude and knowledge so that they may desire nothing else and may learn that, even from an earthly standpoint, to live far from everything that has to do with this life is to live with the maximum of repose. To those who are older and whose health is poor He gives strength, as He has done in the past, to endure the same austerity and penance as all the rest.

    O my Lord, how abundantly dost Thou manifest Thy power! There is no need to seek reasons for what Thou willest, for Thou dost transcend all natural reason and make all things possible, thus showing clearly that we have only to love Thee truly, and truly to forsake everything for Thee, and Thou, my Lord, will make everything easy. It is well said, with regard to this, that "Thou feignest labour in Thy law",[304] for I do not see, Lord, and I do not know how the road that leads to Thee can be "narrow".[305] To me it seems a royal road, not a pathway; a road along which anyone who sets out upon it in earnest travels securely. Mountain passes and rocks that might fall upon him -- I mean, occasions of sin -- are far distant. What I call a path, and a cruel path, and a really narrow road, is that which has on one side a deep gorge into which one may fall, and on the other side a precipice: hardly has a man relaxed his care than he falls over it and is dashed to pieces.

    He who truly loves Thee, my God, travels by a broad and a royal road and travels securely. It is far away from any precipice, and hardly has such a man stumbled in the slightest degree when Thou, Lord, givest him Thy hand. One fall -- and even many falls, if he loves Thee and not the things of the world -- will not be enough to lead him to perdition: he will be travelling along the valley of humility. I cannot understand why it is that people are afraid to set out upon the way of perfection. May the Lord, for His name's sake, make us realize how unsafe we are amid such manifest perils as beset us when we follow the crowd, and how our true safety lies in striving to press ever forward on the way of God. Our eyes must be fixed upon Him and we must not be afraid that this Sun of Justice will set, or that He will allow us to travel by night, and so be lost, unless we first forsake Him.

    People are not afraid to walk among lions, each of which seems to be trying to tear them to pieces -- I mean among honours, delights and pleasures (as the world calls them) of that kind. The devil seems to be frightening us with scarecrows here. A thousand times have I been amazed by this; fain would I weep ten thousand times, till I could weep no more, and fain would I cry aloud to tell everyone of my great blindness and wickedness, in the hope that this might be of some avail to open their eyes. May He open them Who alone of His goodness can do so, and may He never allow mine to become blind again. Amen.

 

Chapter 36

    Continues the subject already begun and describes the completion of the foundation of this convent of the glorious Saint Joseph, and the great opposition and numerous persecutions which the nuns had to endure after taking the habit, and the great trials and temptations which she suffered, and how the Lord delivered her from everything victoriously, to His glory and praise.

    After leaving that city I went on my way very happily, resolved to suffer with the greatest willingness whatever it might please the Lord to send me. On the very night of my arrival in these parts there arrived our patent for the convent and the Brief from Rome.[306] I was astonished at this, and so were those who knew how the Lord had hastened my coming here, when they found how necessary it had proved to be and how the Lord had brought me here just in the nick of time. For here I found the Bishop and the saintly Fray Peter of Alcantara, and another gentleman,[307] a great servant of God, in whose house this saintly man was staying -- he was one with whom God's servants could always find hospitality.

    Between them, these two persuaded the Bishop to sanction the foundation of the convent. This was by no means easy,[308] as it was to be founded in poverty, but he was so much drawn to people whom he saw determined to serve the Lord that he at once inclined to the idea of helping it. The whole thing was due to the approval of this saintly old man and the way he urged first one person and then another to come to our aid. If, as I have already said, I had not arrived at this particular moment, I cannot see how it could have been done, for this saintly man was here only for a few days -- not more than a week, I believe -- and during that time he was very ill: not long afterwards the Lord took him to Himself. It seems as if His Majesty had prolonged his life until this business was settled, for he had for some time been in very poor health -- I fancy for over two years.

    Everything was done with great secrecy: had it been otherwise, nothing could have been done at all, for, as appeared later, the people were opposed to the plan. The Lord had ordained that a brother-in-law of mine[309] should fall ill, and, his wife not being with him, should be in such need of me that I was given leave to go and stay with him. This prevented anything from being discovered, and, though a few people must have been rather suspicious, they did not think there was anything in it. The remarkable thing was that his illness lasted only for just the time we needed for our negotiations, and, when it was necessary for him to be better so that I could be free again and he could go away and leave the house, the Lord at once restored him to health, and he was amazed at it.

    What with one person and what with another, I had a great deal of trouble in getting the foundation sanctioned. Then there was my patient, and there were the workmen -- for the house had to be got ready very quickly, so that it would be suitable for a convent, and there was a great deal which had to be done to it. My companion[310] was not here, for we thought it advisable that she should be away so that the secret might be the better kept. I saw that speed was of the first importance, and this for many reasons, one of them being that I was in hourly fear of being sent back to my own convent. So many were the trials I had to suffer that I began to wonder if this was my cross, though I thought it very much lighter than the heavy one which I had understood the Lord to say I should have to bear.

    When everything had been arranged, the Lord was pleased that some of the sisters[311] should take the habit on Saint Bartholomew's Day and on that day too the Most Holy Sacrament was placed in the convent. So with the full weight of authority this convent of our most glorious father Saint Joseph was founded in the year 1562. I was there to give the habit, with two other nuns of our own house, who chanced to be absent from it. As the house in which the convent was established belonged to my brother-in-law, who, as I have said, had bought it in order to keep the matter secret, I was there by special permission, and I did nothing without asking the opinion of learned men, lest in any way whatever I should act against obedience. As they saw what benefits, in numerous ways, were being conferred upon the whole Order, they told me I might do what I did, although it was being done in secret and I was keeping it from my superiors' knowledge. Had they told me that there was the slightest imperfection in this, I think I would have given up a thousand convents, let alone a single one. Of that I am sure; for, though I desired to make the foundation so that I could withdraw more completely from everything and fulfil my profession and vocation with greater perfection in conditions of stricter enclosure, I desired it only with the proviso that if I found that the Lord would be better served by my abandoning it entirely, I should do so, as I had done on a former occasion, with complete tranquillity and peace.

    Well, it was like being in Heaven to me to see the Most Holy Sacrament reserved, and to find ourselves supporting four poor orphans (for they were taken without dowries)[312] who were great servants of God. From the very beginning we tried to receive only persons whose examples might serve as a foundation on which we could effectively build up our plan of a community of great perfection, given to prayer, and carry out a work which I believed would lead to the Lord's service and would honour the habit of His glorious Mother. It was for this that I yearned. It was also a great comfort to me that I had done what the Lord had so often commanded me and that there was one more church here than there had previously been, dedicated to my glorious father Saint Joseph. Not that I thought I had done anything of all this myself; I never thought that nor do I now; I have always known that it was done by the Lord. The part of it which concerned me was so full of imperfections that I can see I ought to have been blamed rather than thanked for it. But it was a great comfort to me to see that in such a great work as this His Majesty had taken me, wicked as I am, to be His instrument. I was so happy, therefore that I was quite carried away by the intensity of my prayer.

    When everything was finished -- it might have been about three or four hours afterwards -- the devil plunged me into a spiritual battle again, as I shall now relate. He made me wonder if what I had done had not been a mistake and if I had not been acting against obedience in arranging it all without a mandate from the Provincial. It had certainly occurred to me that the Provincial would be rather displeased at my having placed the convent under the jurisdiction of the Ordinary, without having first told him about it, though, on the other hand, as he had not been prepared to sanction it and I had not altered my plans, I had also imagined that he might not trouble about it. The devil also asked me if people living under so strict a rule would be contented, if they would have enough to eat, and if the whole thing was not ridiculous -- and what reason had I to mix myself up in it, seeing that I was already in a convent of my own? All that the Lord had commanded me, all the opinions I had been seeking and the prayers I had been saying almost continuously for over two years -- all these things fled from my memory as if they had never existed. The only thing I remembered now was my own opinion; and faith, and all the virtues, were suspended in me, and I had not the power to turn any of them into practice or to defend myself against all these blows.

    The devil would also put it to me how, when I was so often indisposed, I could want to endure so much penance, to leave such a large, pleasant house, where I had always been so happy, and to give up so many friends for people in this other convent who would perhaps not be to my liking. Then he suggested that I had undertaken a great deal and might possibly have to abandon it as hopeless. Indeed, he said, might it not be the devil himself who had induced me to do this, in order to deprive me of peace and quiet? And, once I was inwardly disturbed, I might be unable to pray, and then my soul would be lost. Things of this kind he suggested to me one after another, till I found it impossible to think of anything else, and at the same time he plunged my soul into such affliction and obscurity and darkness as I cannot possibly describe. When I found myself in this state, I went to visit the Most Holy Sacrament, though I felt unable to commend myself to God. I really think my anguish was like a death agony. And I dared not discuss it with anyone, for as yet I had not even been given a confessor.

    Oh, God help me! What a miserable life is this! There is no happiness that is secure and nothing that does not change. Here I was, such a short time ago, thinking I would not exchange my happiness with anyone on earth and now the very cause of it was tormenting me so sorely that I did not know what to do with myself. Oh, if only we thought carefully about the things of life, we should each find by experience how little either of happiness or of unhappiness there is to be got from it! I certainly think this was one of the worst times that I have ever spent in my life; my spirit seemed to be divining all that it would have to suffer, though I never had to endure as much suffering as this would have caused me had it lasted. But the Lord did not allow His poor servant to suffer long: in all my tribulations He has never failed to succour me. So it was here. He gave me a little light, so that I should see that it was the work of the devil, understand the truth and know that this was simply an attempt to frighten me with falsehoods. Then I began to remember my firm resolutions to serve the Lord and my desires to suffer for Him. I realized that, if I was to carry them out, I must not go about looking for repose; that, if I was to have trials, this was the way to win merit; and if I was to be unhappy and used my unhappiness in order to serve God, it would serve me as a kind of purgatory.[313] What was I afraid of? I asked myself. I had been wanting trials, and here were some good ones, and the greater was the opposition I endured, the greater would be my gain. Why was I lacking in courage to serve Him to Whom my debt was so great? By means of these and other reflections, I made a great effort, and in the presence of the Most Holy Sacrament promised to do all I could to get permission to enter this new house, and, if I could do so with a good conscience, to make a vow of enclosure.

    The instant I had done this, the devil fled, leaving me quiet and happy; and I remained so and have been so ever since. All the rules we observe in this house concerning enclosure, penance and other things of that sort I find extremely easy and there are not many of them. So great is my happiness that I sometimes wonder what earthly choice I could possibly have made which would have been more delightful. I do not know if this has anything to do with my being in much better health than ever before, or whether, because it is right and necessary that I should do as all the others do, the Lord is being pleased to comfort me by enabling me to keep the Rule, though it costs me something to do so. But my ability to keep it astonishes all who know my infirmities. Blessed be He Who gives everything and in Whose strength this can be done!

    After this conflict I was sorely fatigued, but I laughed at the devil, for I saw clearly that it was his doing. As I have never known what it was to be discontented with being a nun -- not for a single moment of the twenty-eight years and more that have gone by since I became one -- I think the Lord permitted what had taken place so that I might understand what a great favour He had granted me in this, and from what torment He had delivered me, and also in order that, if I ever saw anyone in that state, I should not be alarmed, but should be sorry for her and know how to comfort her. When this was over, I wanted to get a little rest after dinner. (All the previous night I had had hardly any peace of mind; and on several of the preceding nights I had been continuously troubled and worried; so that during each day I had felt worn out. For now what we had done became known in my convent and in the city, and for the reasons I have given there was a great deal of commotion -- not, it seemed, without some cause.) But the Superior[314] sent for me to come to her immediately. On receiving the order, I went at once, leaving my nuns terribly upset. I was well aware that there was ample trouble in store for me, but, as the thing was now done, I cared very little about that. I prayed to the Lord and begged Him to help me and besought my father Saint Joseph to bring me back to his house. I offered up to God all I should have to suffer, very happy at having some suffering to offer Him and some service to render. I went in the belief that I should at once be put in prison. This, I think, would have been a great joy to me, as I should not have had to talk to anyone and should have been able to rest for a little and be alone -- and I needed that very badly, for all this intercourse with people had worn me to pieces.

    When I got there and gave the Superior my version of the affair, she relented a little, and they all sent for the Provincial[315] and laid the case before him. He came, and I went to hear his judgment with the utmost happiness, thinking that there would now be something for me to suffer for the Lord. I could not discover that I had committed any offence either against His Majesty or against the Order -- indeed, I was striving with all my might to strengthen the Order and to do this I would willingly have died, for my whole desire was that its Rule should be observed with all perfection. But I remembered the trial of Christ and realized that this, by comparison, was nothing at all. I acknowledged my fault, as if I had acted very wrongly, and so in fact I must have appeared to have done to anyone who did not know all the reasons. The Provincial gave me a severe rebuke, though its severity was less than would have been justified by the report which many people had given him of my delinquency. I would not excuse myself, for I had already resolved not to do so, but begged him to forgive me, to punish me and not to be annoyed with me any longer.

    In some ways I knew quite well that they were condemning me unjustly, for they told me that I had done this so as to win esteem for myself, to get well known, and so on. But in other ways it was clear to me that they were speaking the truth -- in saying that I was more wicked than other nuns, and in asking how, if I had not kept all the numerous rules observed in that house, I could consider keeping stricter rules in another: I should be scandalizing the people, they said, and setting up new ideas. None of this caused me the least trouble or distress, though I gave the impression that it did, lest I should appear to be making light of what they were saying. Finally, I was commanded to state my version of the matter in the presence of the nuns, so I had to do so.

    As I was inwardly calm and the Lord helped me, my account of the affair gave neither the Provincial nor the others present any reason for condemning me. Afterwards, when I was alone with him, I spoke to him more plainly, and he was quite satisfied, and promised me, if my foundation succeeded, to give me permission to go there as soon as the city was quiet -- for there had been a very great commotion in the city, as I shall now relate.[316]

    Two or three days before, there had been a meeting between the Mayor and certain members of the City Council and of the Chapter, and they had all agreed that this new convent must on no account be sanctioned, that it would cause notable harm to the common weal, that the Most Holy Sacrament must be removed and that the matter must on no account be allowed to go any farther. They summoned a meeting of representatives of all the Orders -- two learned men from each -- to obtain their opinions. Some said nothing; others were condemnatory. Finally, they decided that the foundation must be dissolved at once. There was only one of them, a Presentado of the Order of Saint Dominic,[317] who was not opposed to the convent, though he objected to its poverty: he said that there was no reason for dissolving it, that the question should be gone into with care, that there was plenty of time for doing so, that it was the Bishop's affair, and other things of that kind. This did a great deal of good: to judge by their fury, it was fortunate for us that they had not proceeded to dissolve the foundation on the spot. The fact was that the convent had been destined to be founded, for its foundation was the Lord's will and against that the whole body of them were powerless. They gave reasons for what they did and showed great zeal for what was good, and so, without offending God, made me, and all the people who were helping the project, suffer: there were a number of these and they all had to go through a great deal of persecution.

    All this made such a commotion in the city that people talked about nothing else. Everybody was condemning me and going to see the Provincial and visiting my convent. I was no more distressed by all they were saying about me than I should have been if they had said nothing at all, but I was afraid that the foundation might be dissolved, and that distressed me a great deal, as it did to see that the people who were helping me were losing credit and suffering such great trials. I believe what they had been saying about me made me rather glad. If I had had a little faith, I should not have let it worry me at all, but a slight failing in a single virtue is sufficient to deaden all the rest. So I was greatly distressed during the two days in which these meetings I have mentioned were being held in the town. Once, when I was quite worn out, the Lord said to me: "Knowest thou not how powerful I am? What dost thou fear?" and He assured me that the foundation would not be dissolved. This brought me great comfort. They sent the information which they had obtained to the Royal Council and a reply came requiring a report to be made on how all this had arisen.

    Here we were, then, at the beginning of legal proceedings. The city sent representatives to the capital, and it was clear that the convent would have to send some too, but there was no money for this and I had no idea what to do. However, the Lord provided, and my Father Provincial never ordered me to withdraw from the business, for he is a lover of everything that is good, and, though he did not help us, he would not take the other side. But until he saw what the outcome of all this was going to be, he did not give me permission to come and live here. So those servants of God were alone in the house and their prayers were more effective than all my negotiations, though I had to be extremely diligent about these. Sometimes it seemed that everything was going wrong: this was particularly so one day, before the arrival of the Provincial, when the Prioress ordered me to have no more to do with the matter and to give it up altogether. I went to God and said: "Lord, this house is not mine; it has been founded for Thee; and now there will be no one to carry on the negotiations, so Thy Majesty must do so." This calmed me and left me as free from worry as if I had had the whole world carrying on the negotiations for me; from that moment I felt quite sure they would prosper.

    A priest, who was a great servant of God and a lover of all perfection, and who had always been a great help to me,[318] went to the capital to take the matter in hand and worked very hard at it. That saintly gentleman of whom I have made mention also did a very great deal in the matter and helped in every way he could. He suffered many trials and great persecution over this and I always found him a father in everything and find him so still. Those who helped me were inspired by the Lord with such fervour that each of them regarded the matter as if it were his own and as if his own life and reputation were at stake, when it had really nothing to do with them except in so far as they believed it to be for the Lord's service. It seemed clear, too, that His Majesty was helping the cleric I have referred to, who was another of my great helpers, and whom the Bishop sent to represent him at an important meeting which was held. Here he stood out alone against all the others and eventually pacified them by suggesting certain expedients which did a great deal to bring about an agreement. But nothing was sufficient to dissuade them from putting their whole weight, as we say, into smashing us. It was this servant of God of whom I am speaking who gave us the habit and reserved the Most Holy Sacrament for us,[319] and as a result found himself sorely persecuted. This commotion lasted for six months, and it would take a long time to give a detailed description of the severe trials which we had to suffer.

    I was astonished at all the trouble that the devil was taking to hurt a few poor women, and how everybody thought that twelve women and a prioress (for I must remind those who opposed the plan that there were to be no more) could do such harm to the place, when they were living so strictly. If there had been any harm or error in their project it would have concerned themselves alone; harm to the city there could not possibly be, and yet our opponents found so much that they fought us with a good conscience. Eventually they said they would allow the matter to go forward if the convent had an endowment. By this time I was so wearied, more by all the trouble my helpers were having than by my own, that I thought it would not be a bad idea to accept some money until the storm subsided, and then to give it up. At other times, like the wicked and imperfect woman I am, I would wonder if perhaps it was the Lord's will that we should have an endowment, as it seemed impossible for us to get anywhere without one. So in the end I agreed to this arrangement.

    The discussion of it had already begun, when, on the very night before it was to be concluded, the Lord told me that I must not agree to such a thing, for, if once we had an endowment, we should never be allowed to give it up again. He said various other things as well. That same night there appeared to me the holy Fray Peter of Alcantara, who was now dead.[320] Before his death, knowing how much opposition and persecution we were meeting with, he had written to me[321] saying he was delighted the foundation was encountering all this opposition, for the efforts which the devil was making to prevent the establishment of the convent were a sign that the Lord would be very well served there; and he had added that I must on no account allow the place to have any revenue. He had insisted upon this in the letter two or three times, and said that, if I were firm about it, everything would turn out as I wished. Since his death I had seen him on two previous occasions and had had a vision of the great bliss that he was enjoying. So his appearance caused me no fear -- indeed, it made me very happy, for he always appeared as a glorified body, full of great bliss, and it gave me the greatest joy to see him. I remember that, the first time I saw him, he told me among other things how great was his fruition, adding that the penances he had done had been a happy thing for him, since they had won him such a great reward. As I think I have already said something about this, I will say no more here than that on this occasion he spoke to me with some severity. All he said was that I was on no account to accept any endowment and asked why I would not take his advice; he then immediately disappeared. I was astounded, and on the next day I told that gentleman what had happened, for I used to consult him about everything, as he was the person who helped us most. I told him on no account to allow the agreement about our endowment to be concluded, but to let the lawsuit continue. He was more definite about this than I and was delighted at what I said; he told me afterwards how much he had regretted having given the agreement his approval.

    There then came forward another person, a zealous and devoted servant of God,[322] who suggested that, now this point was satisfactorily settled,[323] the matter should be put into the hands of learned men. This caused me a good deal of uneasiness, for some of my helpers agreed to that course and the unravelling of this tangle in which the devil now involved us was the most difficult task of all. Throughout everything the Lord helped me, but in this summary narrative it is impossible to give an adequate description of what happened in the two years between the beginning of the foundation and its completion. The first six months and the last were the most troublesome.

    When the city was finally somewhat calmed, the Dominican Father-Presentado[324] who was helping us managed things for us very well. He had not previously been there, but the Lord brought him at a time which was very convenient for us, and His Majesty seems to have done so for that end alone, for he told me afterwards that he had had no reason for coming and had only heard of the matter by accident. He stayed with us for as long as was necessary. When he left, he managed somehow -- it seemed impossible that he could have done this in so short a time -- to get our Father Provincial to give me leave to go and live in the new house and to take some other nuns with me so that we might say the Office and instruct the sisters who were there. It was the happiest of days for me when we went in.[325]

    While at prayer in the church, before entering the convent, I all but went into a rapture, and saw Christ, Who seemed to be receiving me with great love, placing a crown on my head and thanking me for what I had done for His Mother. On another occasion, after Compline, when we were all praying in choir, I saw Our Lady in the greatest glory, clad in a white mantle, beneath which she seemed to be sheltering us all.[326] From this I learned what a high degree of glory the Lord would give to the nuns in this house.

    When we had started to say the Office, the people began to be very much devoted to the convent. More nuns were received and the Lord started to move the people who had persecuted us most to help us and give us alms. So they now found themselves approving what previously they had so strongly condemned and gradually they abandoned the law suit and said they now realized the work was of God, since His Majesty had seen well to further it despite so much opposition. There is no one now who thinks it would have been right to give up the foundation, so they are very anxious to provide for us with their alms; and, without our making any appeals or asking anyone for money, the Lord inspires people to send it. We get on very well, then, and have no lack of necessaries, I hope in the Lord that this will be the case always. As the nuns are few in number I am sure His Majesty will never fail them if they do their duty, as at present He is giving them grace to do; nor will they ever have to be burdensome or importunate, for the Lord will take care of them as He has done until now. It is the greatest happiness to me to find myself among souls with detachment.

    Their life consists in learning how to advance in the service of God. They find their greatest happiness in solitude and it troubles them to think of seeing anyone -- even a near relative -- unless doing so will help to enkindle them in the love of their Spouse. So none come to this house save with that aim; were they to do so it would give pleasure neither to themselves nor to the sisters. They speak only of God, and they understand no one who speaks of anything else, nor does such a person understand them. We observe the rule of Our Lady of Carmel, and we keep it without mitigation, in the form drawn up by Fray Hugo, Cardinal of Santa Sabina, and given in the year 1248, in the fifth year of the pontificate of Pope Innocent IV.

    All the trials that we have suffered will, I believe, have been endured to good purpose. The rule is rather strict, for meat is never eaten except in cases of necessity, there is an eight-months' fast, and there are other ascetic practices, as may be seen in the primitive Rule. Yet many of these things seem to the sisters very light and they observe other rules which we have thought it necessary to make so that our own Rule may be kept the more perfectly. I hope in the Lord that what we have begun will prosper, as His Majesty told me it would.

    The other house which the beata I spoke of[327] was endeavouring to establish has also enjoyed the Lord's favour. It was founded in Alcala and did not fail to meet with a great deal of opposition or escape severe trials. I know that all the observances of the religious life are practised in it, according to this our primitive Rule. May the Lord be pleased to direct it all to His glory and praise and to that of the glorious Virgin Mary, whose habit we wear. Amen.

    I expect Your Reverence[328] will be getting impatient at the long account which I have given of this convent, though it is short enough when you remember how many trials the Lord has sent us and what marvellous things He has wrought. There are many witnesses who will be able to swear to these, so I beg Your Reverence, for the love of God, if you think it well to tear up everything else that is written here, to preserve what concerns this convent. Then, after my death, it should be given to the sisters here, for it will be a great encouragement in the service of God to those who come after us and will prevent this work that has been begun from falling to the ground and help it to prosper continually when it is seen what importance His Majesty must have attached to this house since He founded it through a creature as wicked and as base as I. And I believe myself that, as the Lord has been pleased to grant us such special help in its foundation, anyone will do great harm and be heavily punished by God who attempts to mitigate the perfection of the Rule which the Lord has initiated and encouraged here, and which works so smoothly. For it is quite evidently easy to endure and pleasant to carry out, and there is every facility for its being kept permanently by those who desire to rejoice in Christ their Spouse in solitude. This will always be the aim of our nuns -- to be alone with Him only. There will not be more than thirteen of them,[329] for, after asking the opinions of many people, I have decided that that number is best, and I have seen by experience that, if we are to preserve the spirituality which we now possess, and to live on alms, yet not to beg from anyone, it is impossible for us to admit more. May they always give the greatest credence to one who, with much labour and through the prayers of many, contrived to arrange things for the best. That this is the way which suits us will be evident from the great joy and gladness and the few trials which we have had during the years we have been in this house, as well as from our health, which has been far better than before. If anyone thinks the Rule a harsh one, let her blame her own lack of spirituality and not our observance; for it can be borne quite easily by people who are not in the least robust, but really delicate, if they have sufficient spirituality. Let those who have not go to some other convent, where they will find salvation and yet live according to the spirituality which they have.

 

 

Chapter 37

    Describes the effects produced upon her after the Lord had granted her any favour. Adds much sound teaching. Says how we must strive in order to attain one degree more of glory and esteem it highly and how for no trial must we renounce blessings which are everlasting.

    It is painful to me to say more of the favours which the Lord has bestowed on me than I have said already; even these are so numerous that it is hard for anyone to believe they can have been granted to one as wicked as I. But in obedience to the Lord, Who has commanded me to do so, and to Your Reverences,[330] I shall speak of some of these things to His glory. May it please His Majesty that some soul shall be profited by seeing that the Lord has thus been pleased to help so wretched a creature -- how much more will He help one who has served Him truly! Let us all strive to please His Majesty, since even in this life He gives such pledges as these.

    First, it must be understood that, in these favours which God grants the soul, there are greater and lesser degrees of glory. For so far do the glory and pleasure and happiness of some visions exceed those of others that I am amazed at the diversity in fruition which is possible, even in this life. There can be so much difference between the consolations and favours given by God in a vision or in a rapture that it seems impossible there can be anything more in this life to be desired,[331] and so the soul does not desire, and would never ask for, any greater happiness. At the same time, now that the Lord has explained to me that there is a difference in Heaven between the fruition that can be experienced by one soul and by another, and shown me how great that difference is, I see clearly that here too, when the Lord is pleased so to give, there is no measure in His giving. I wish that the same were true of the service I render His Majesty, and that I employed my whole life and strength and health in this; I would have no fault of mine deprive me of the smallest degree of fruition. I can say, then, that if I were asked whether I should prefer to endure all the trials in the world until the world itself ends, and afterwards to gain a little more glory, or to have no trials and attain to one degree less of glory, I should answer that I would most gladly accept all the trials in exchange for a little more fruition in the understanding of the wonders of God, for I see that he who understands Him best loves and praises Him best.

    I do not mean that I should not be pleased and think myself very happy to be in Heaven, even if I were in the lowest place there; for, as one who had merited such a place in hell, I should be receiving a great favour from the Lord if He were to grant me a place in Heaven at all: may it please His Majesty to bring me there and not to regard my grievous sins. What I mean is that, if the choice were mine, and the Lord gave me grace to endure great trials, even were it at the greatest cost to myself, I should not like to lose anything whatever through my own fault. Wretch that I am, who through my many faults had lost everything!

    It should also be observed that, after every favour in the shape of a vision or a revelation which the Lord granted me, my soul was left with some great gain -- after certain visions, with very many. After a vision of Christ there remained with me an impression of His exceeding great beauty, which I have preserved to this very day. And if one single vision sufficed to effect this, how much greater would be the power of all those which of His favour the Lord has granted me! One very great benefit which I received was this. I had a very serious fault, which led me into great trouble. It was that, if I began to realize that a person liked me, and I took to him myself, I would grow so fond of him that my memory would feel compelled to revert to him and I would always be thinking of him; without intentionally giving any offence to God, I would delight in seeing him and think about him and his good qualities. This was such a harmful thing that it was ruining my soul. But when once I had seen the great beauty of the Lord, I saw no one who by comparison with Him seemed acceptable to me or on whom my thoughts wished to dwell. For if I merely turn the eyes of my mind to the image of Him which I have within my soul, I find I have such freedom that from that time forward everything I see appears nauseating to me by comparison with the excellences and glories which I have seen in this Lord. Nor is there any knowledge or any kind of consolation to which I can attach the slightest esteem by comparison with that which it causes me to hear a single word coming from that Divine mouth -- and more wonderful still is it when I hear many. And, unless for my sins the Lord allows this memory to fade, I consider it impossible for me to be so deeply absorbed in anything that I do not regain my freedom when I turn once more in thought, even for a moment, to this Lord.

    This has happened to me with some of my confessors, for I always have a great affection for those who direct my soul, looking upon them as so truly in the place of God that I always like to follow their advice more than anything else. As I was feeling perfectly safe, therefore, I would show myself pleasant to them. But they, being God-fearing and God-serving men, were afraid that I might in some way become attached to them and drawn towards them -- in a spiritual sense, of course -- by the bonds of affection; so they would treat me quite unpleasantly. This happened after I became accustomed to obeying them; before that I had had no such affection for them. I used to laugh to myself when I saw how mistaken they were. I was not always telling them, in so many words, how little attachment I had to anybody, though secretly I knew this to be the case, but I would reassure them, and, when they got to know me better, they learned how much I owed to the Lord -- for these suspicions which they had of me always came at the beginning. Once I had seen this Lord, I was so continually in converse with Him that my love for Him and trust in Him began to increase greatly. I saw that, although God, He was also Man, and is not dismayed at the weaknesses of men, for He understands our miserable nature, liable as it is to frequent falls, because of man's first sin for which He had come to make reparation. Although He is my Lord, I can talk to Him as to a friend, because He is not, I believe, like those whom we call lords on earth, all of whose power[332] rests upon an authority conferred on them by others. Such lords have fixed hours for audiences and persons whom they appoint for the purpose of speaking with them. If some poor man has business with them, he can only get it attended to by employing roundabout methods and currying favours and taking a great deal of trouble. If his business is with a king, and he is poor and not well-born, he cannot approach him directly, but has to find out who are his favourites. And you may be sure they will not be people who trample the world underfoot; for people who do that speak the truth, fear nothing and need fear nothing; they are not meant for palaces, for there they cannot do as they are wont, but must keep silence about anything they dislike and must not dare even to think about it or they will fall from favour.

    O King of glory and Lord of all kings! Thy kingdom is not fenced in by trifles, but is infinite. No third party is required to obtain us an audience of Thee. We have only to look at Thy person to see at once that Thou alone deservest to be called Lord. Thou revealest Thy majesty; we need no sight of a retinue or guard to convince us that Thou art a King. An earthly king can scarcely be recognized as such in his own person; for, however much he may wish to be so recognized, no one will believe he is a king if there is nothing about him to distinguish him from others; his majesty must be seen to be believed. So it is reasonable that kings should maintain this artificial authority, for, if they had none, nobody would respect them, as their appearance of power does not come from themselves and their authority must of necessity come from others. O my Lord! O my King! If one could but picture Thy majesty! It is impossible not to see that in Thyself Thou art a great Emperor, for to behold Thy majesty strikes terror. But my terror is greater, my Lord, when together with Thy majesty I behold Thy humility and the love that Thou bestowest on such a creature as I.

    We can converse and speak with Thee about anything, just as we wish, when we have lost our initial fear and terror at seeing Thy majesty and acquired a deeper fear of offending Thee -- but not a fear of punishment, my Lord, for that is of no account by comparison with loss of Thee! Here, then, are the benefits of this vision, setting aside other important ones which it leaves behind in the soul. If the vision is of God, its source will be recognizable by its effects, when the soul receives light -- for, as I have often said, the Lord may be pleased for the soul to be in darkness and not to see this light, so it is not surprising if one who knows herself to be as wicked as I should be afraid.

    Only quite recently it chanced that for a full week I was in such a condition that I seemed to have lost all sense of my debt to God and was unable to recapture it. I could not remember His favours; and my soul had become so stupid and so much occupied (I know not with what, or how: it was not that I had bad thoughts but that I was incapable of thinking any good ones) that I would laugh at myself and find it pleasant to realize how low a soul can sink when God is not forever working within it. In such a state, the soul sees clearly that it is not without God: this is not like the severe trials which I have said I sometimes experience. The soul collects wood and does all it can by itself, but finds no way of kindling the fire of the love of God. It is only by His great mercy that the smoke can be seen, which shows that the fire is not altogether dead. Then the Lord comes back and kindles it, for the soul is driving itself crazy with blowing on the fire and rearranging the wood, yet all its efforts only put out the fire more and more. I believe the best thing is for the soul to be completely resigned to the fact that of itself it can do nothing, and busy itself, as I have already suggested, in other meritorious activities, for the Lord may perhaps be depriving it of the power to pray, precisely so that it may engage in these other activities and learn by experience how little it can do of itself.

    It is true that, while in converse with the Lord to-day, I have dared to complain of His Majesty. "How is it, my God," I have said to Him, "that it is not enough for Thee to keep me in this miserable life, which I endure for love of Thee, willing to live where on every hand there are obstacles to my having fruition of Thee? I have to eat, sleep, attend to my business and mix with people of every kind -- and all this I endure for love of Thee. Well knowest Thou, my Lord, that this is the sorest torment to me. How few are the moments which remain to me for enjoying communion with Thee, and even during these moments Thou hidest Thyself! How does this agree with Thy mercy? How can Thy love for me endure it? Verily, Lord, I believe that, if it were possible for me to hide myself from Thee as Thou hidest Thyself from me, the love that Thou bearest me is such that Thou wouldst not endure it. But Thou art with me and seest me always. My Lord, this is not to be borne; consider, I beseech Thee, what a wrong is being done to one who so much loves Thee."

    This and other things, as it chanced, I was saying, while realizing all the time how merciful was the place in hell assigned to me by comparison with the place I deserved. But sometimes love makes me foolish, so that I do not know what I am saying, and I use all the sense I have and make these complaints and the Lord bears with it all. Praised be so good a King! Should we be as bold as this in our approach to earthly kings? I am not surprised that we should not dare to speak to a king, for it is right that he and the lords who act as his representatives should be feared, but the world is now in such a condition that our lives will have to be longer than they are if we are to learn the new customs and details and methods of correct behaviour and yet spend any time in the service of God. When I see all that goes on, I can only cross myself in dismay. The fact is, when I came here[333] I did not know how I was going to live; for when we are careless and omit to treat people much better than they deserve it is not made light of, but considered as a real affront; if, as I said, we have been careless, we have to satisfy people that our intentions were good -- and please God they may believe us!

    Really, I repeat, I did not know how I was going to live: you could have seen that my poor soul was worn out. It hears itself being told always to occupy its thoughts with God and to be sure to keep them fixed on Him so that it may escape from all kinds of danger. On the other hand, it discovers that it must not fail to observe a single point of worldly etiquette, lest it should give offence to those who think this etiquette essential to their honour. I used to be simply worn out by all this: my attempts to satisfy people were never-ending, for, study to please them as I would, I was always making mistakes, and, as I say, these are never overlooked as being unimportant. And is it the case that in religious Orders excuses are made for all such things? It might be thought only reasonable that we should be excused from these observances. But no; they say that convents should be courts and schools of good breeding. Personally, I simply cannot understand this. It has occurred to me that some saint may have said that they ought to be courts to teach those who want to be courtiers of Heaven and that this saying may have been wrongly interpreted. But if we are careful, as it is right we should be, always to please God and to hate the world, I do not see how at the same time we can be so very careful to please those who are living in the world, in matters which are so often changing. If these things could be learned once and for all, it might be tolerable. But even for a matter like the addressing of letters we need a University professorship, and lectures would have to be given in that art, or whatever it is to be called. For in one case one part of the paper has to be left blank, and in another case, another part, and the title "Illustrious" has to be given to a man who formerly was not even described as "Magnificent".

    I cannot think what we are coming to -- for I am not yet fifty,[334] and even in my own short life I have seen so many changes that I have no idea how to live. What, then, will it be with those who are now being born and whose lives are still before them? I am really sorry for spiritual people who for certain pious reasons are obliged to live in the world: the cross they have to bear is a dreadful one. If they could all come to an agreement to remain ignorant of these sciences and be willing to be considered so, they would escape a great deal of trouble.

    But what nonsense I have begun to write! I was discussing the wonders of God and I have descended so far that I am now talking about the pettinesses of the world. So, as the Lord has granted me the favour of allowing me to renounce the world, I will bring this to a close. Let those who toil over the adjustment of such trifles settle them to their own satisfaction. And pray God that in the life to come, where there are no changes, we may not have to pay dearly for them. Amen.

 

 

Chapter 38

    Describes certain great favours which the Lord bestowed upon her, both in showing her certain heavenly secrets and in granting her other great visions and revelations which His Majesty was pleased that she should experience. Speaks of the effects which these produced upon her and of the great profit which they brought to her soul.

    One night, when I was so unwell that I meant to excuse myself from mental prayer, I took a rosary, so as to occupy myself in vocal prayer, trying not to be recollected in mind, though, as I was in an oratory, I was recollected to all outward appearance. But, when the Lord wills it otherwise, such efforts are of little avail. I had been in that condition only a very short time when there came to me a spiritual impulse of such vehemence that resistance to it was impossible. I thought I was being carried up to Heaven: the first persons I saw there were my father and mother, and such great things happened in so short a time -- no longer than it would take to repeat an Ave Maria -- that I was completely lost to myself, and thought it far too great a favour. I was afraid lest it might be an illusion, but, as it did not seem to be so, I did not know what to do, for I was very much ashamed to go to my confessor about it -- not, I think, because of any humility but for fear he might laugh at me and say: "What a Saint Paul she is, with her heavenly visions! Quite a Saint Jerome!" Because these glorious saints had had visions of this kind, I was the more afraid, and did nothing but shed copious tears, for I did not think it possible that I had been sharing their experiences. In the end, though feeling still worse about it, I went to see my confessor, for, however much it troubled me to speak of such things, I never dared to keep silence about them, so fearful was I of being deceived. When he saw how worried I was about it, he comforted me a great deal, and gave me a great many good reasons for not being troubled.

    With the progress of time, the Lord continued to show me further great secrets: sometimes He does so still. The soul may wish to see more than is pictured to it, but there is no way in which it may do so, nor is it possible that it should; and so I never on any occasion saw more than the Lord was pleased to show me. What I saw was so great that the smallest part of it was sufficient to leave my soul amazed and to do it so much good that it esteemed and considered all the things of this life as of little worth. I wish I could give a description of at least the smallest part of what I learned, but, when I try to discover a way of doing so, I find it impossible; for, while the light we see here and that other light are both light, there is no comparison between the two and the brightness of the sun seems quite dull if compared with the other. In short, however skilful the imagination may be, it will not succeed in picturing or describing what that light is like, nor a single one of those things which I learned from the Lord with a joy so sovereign as to be indescribable. For all the senses rejoice in a high degree, and with a sweetness impossible to describe, for which reason it is better to say no more about it.

    Once, when I had been for more than an hour in this state, and the Lord had shown me wonderful things, and it seemed as if He were not going to leave me, He said to me: "See, daughter, what those who are against Me lose: do not fail to tell them of it." Ah, my Lord, how little will my words profit those who are blinded by their own actions unless Thy Majesty gives them light! Some persons to whom Thou hast given it have profited by the knowledge of Thy wonders, but they see them, my Lord, as revealed to a wicked and miserable creature like myself, so that I think it will be a great thing if there should be anyone who believes me. Blessed be Thy name and Thy mercy, for I have found that my own soul at least has notably improved. Afterwards I could have wished that my soul had remained in that state for ever and that I had not returned to this life, for I was left with a great contempt for everything earthly. It seemed to me like dung and I see how base are the occupations of those of us who are detained here below.

    It happened on one occasion while I was staying with that lady whom I have mentioned,[335] and I was troubled with my heart (as I have said, I have suffered with this a great deal, though less so of late), that, being an extremely kind person, she had some very valuable golden trinkets and stones brought out for me, and in particular a set of diamonds, supposed to be of great price, thinking that they would cheer me. But I only laughed to myself, thinking what a pity it is that people esteem such things, remembering what the Lord has laid up for us and reflecting how impossible it would be for me to set any store by these things, even if I tried to make myself do so, unless the Lord were to allow me to forget those others.

    The soul that feels like this has great dominion over itself -- so great that I do not know if it can be understood by anyone who does not possess it, for it is a real, natural detachment, achieved without labour of our own. It is all effected by God, for, when His Majesty reveals these truths, they are so deeply impressed upon our souls as to show us clearly that we could not in so short a time acquire them ourselves. I was also left with very little fear of death, of which previously I had been very much afraid. Now it seems to me very easy for one who serves God, for in a moment the soul finds itself freed from this prison and at rest. This experience, in which God bears away the spirit in these transports and shows it such excellent things, seems to me very much like that in which a soul leaves the body; for it finds itself in possession of all these good things in a single instant. We may leave out of account the pains of the moment of its flight, to which no great importance need be attached: to those who love God in truth and have put aside the things of this world death must come very gently.

    I think, too, that this experience has been of great help to me in teaching me where our true home is and in showing me that on earth we are but pilgrims; it is a great thing to see what is awaiting us there and to know where we are going to live. For if a person has to go and settle in another country, it is a great help to him in bearing the trials of the journey if he has found out that it is a country where he will be able to live in complete comfort. It also makes it easy for us to die if we think upon heavenly things and try to have our conversation in Heaven. This is a great advantage for us: merely to look up towards the heavens makes the soul recollected, for, as the Lord has been pleased to reveal some part of what is there, the thought dwells upon it. It sometimes happens that those with whom I keep company, and whose presence comforts me, are those who I know live in Heaven: they, it seems to me, are the people who are really alive, while those who live on earth are so dead that it seems as if there is no one in the whole world who can be a companion to me, especially when those vehement impulses come upon me.

    Everything I see is like a dream and what I see with my bodily eyes is a mockery. What my soul desires is what I have seen with the eyes of the soul; and, finding itself so far away from it all, it desires death. In short, this is a very great favour that the Lord grants to those on whom He bestows such visions, for by so doing He helps them greatly, yet at the same time gives them a heavy cross to carry, for all the things they have are powerless to satisfy them, but are simply impediments. If the Lord were not sometimes to allow these visions to be forgotten (though later they return to the remembrance), I do not know how one could live. Blessed be He and praised for ever and ever! May His Majesty grant, by the blood which His Son shed for me, that, seeing He has been pleased to give me some understanding of these great blessings, and I have in some degree begun to enjoy them, I may not share the fate of Lucifer, who by his own fault lost everything. For His own sake may He not allow this: sometimes I have no little fear that He will, although, as a general rule, the mercy of God gives me assurance, for, as He has delivered me from so many sins, He will not let me out of His hand and permit me to be lost. I beg Your Reverence to beg this of Him for me always.

    The favours I have already mentioned are not, I think, as great as one which I shall now describe, for many reasons and because of the great blessings which it has bestowed on me, together with great fortitude of soul, although each of these favours, considered by itself, is so great that there is nothing with which it can be compared.[336]

    One day -- it was the vigil of Pentecost -- I went, after Mass, to a very solitary spot,[337] where I used often to say my prayers, and began to read about this festival in the Carthusian's Life of Christ.338 As I read about the signs by which beginners, proficients and perfect may know if the Holy Spirit is with them, it seemed to me, when I had read about these three states, that by the goodness of God, and so far as I could understand, He was certainly with me then. For this I praised God and remembered a previous occasion when I had read this passage and when I lacked much that I now have; this I saw very clearly, and, as I became aware how different I am now, I realized what a great favour the Lord had granted me. So I began to meditate on the place in hell which I deserved for my sins, and I gave great praises to God, for so changed was my life that I seemed not to recognize my own soul. While I was meditating in this way a strong impulse seized me without my realizing why. It seemed as if my soul were about to leave the body, because it could no longer contain itself and was incapable of waiting for so great a blessing. The impulse was so exceedingly strong that it made me quite helpless. It was different, I think, from those which I had experienced on other occasions, and I did not know what was the matter with my soul, or what it wanted, so changed was it. I had to seek some physical support, for so completely did my natural strength fail me that I could not even remain seated.

    While in this condition, I saw a dove over my head, very different from those we see on earth, for it had not feathers like theirs but its wings were made of little shells which emitted a great brilliance. It was larger than a dove; I seemed to hear the rustling of its wings. It must have been fluttering like this for the space of an Ava Maria. But my soul was in such a state that, as it became lost to itself, it also lost sight of the dove. My spirit was calmed by so gracious a guest, though I think it must have been disturbed and alarmed at experiencing this marvellous favour; as it began to rejoice in it, however, its fear left it, and with its joy came a return of its tranquillity, and it remained in rapture.

    The glory of this rapture was surpassingly great; for most of the festal season I was so bewildered and stupid that I did not know what to do or how I could be capable of receiving so great a favour and grace. It was as if I could neither hear nor see, so great was my inward joy. From that time forward I became conscious of the greatest progress in the highest love of God and of a very great trengthening in virtue. May He be blessed and praised for ever. Amen.

    On another occasion I saw the same dove over the head of a Father of the Order of Saint Dominic, though I thought the rays and the brightness of its wings extended much farther. I took this to mean that he was to draw souls to God.

    On another occasion I saw Our Lady putting a pure white cope on a Presentado of this same Order of whom I have several times spoken.[339] She told me that she was giving him that vestment because of the service he had rendered her in helping in the foundation of this house, and as a sign that from that time forward his soul would remain pure and that he would not fall into mortal sin. I am sure that this came true, for a few years later he died, and both his death and the last years of his life were marked by such penitence, and his life and death were so holy, that, as far as one can understand, there is no possibility of doubt about it. A friar who had been present when he died informed me that, before passing away, he had told him that Saint Thomas was with him. He died with great joy and with a longing to depart from this exile.[340] Since then he has several times appeared to me in very great glory and told me a number of things. He was such a man of prayer that although, before he died, he was so weak that he would have liked to cease praying, he was so often in rapture that he could not do so. Shortly before his death, he wrote to me to ask what he ought to do; for no sooner had he finished saying Mass than he would go for a long time into rapture and was quite unable to prevent himself from doing so. In the end, God gave him the reward of the many services which he had rendered Him during his whole life.

    With regard to the Rector of the Company of Jesus, whom I have already mentioned several times,[341] I have had a number of visions of the great favours which the Lord was bestowing upon him, but, lest I should write at too great length, I am not setting them down here. It once happened that he was in great trouble, having been sorely persecuted and finding himself in great distress. One day, when I was hearing Mass, at the elevation of the Host I saw Christ on the Cross. He spoke certain words to me, which He told me to repeat to the Rector for his comfort, and He added other things to warn him of what was to come and to remind him of what He had suffered for him and how he too must prepare to suffer. This brought him great comfort and gave him courage and everything has since happened as the Lord told me it would.

    Concerning the members of the Order to which this Father belongs -- namely, the Company of Jesus[342] -- and of the entire Order itself, I have seen great things. On several occasions I saw these Fathers in Heaven with white banners in their hands, and, as I say, I have seen other things concerning them which give cause for great wonder. Thus I hold this Order in great veneration, for I have had a great deal to do with its members and I see that their lives are in conformity with what the Lord has given me to understand about them.

    One night, when I was at prayer, the Lord began to talk to me. He reminded me how wicked my life had been and made me feel very much confused and distressed; for, although He did not speak severely, His words caused me to be consumed with distress and sorrow. A single word of this kind makes a person more keenly aware of his advance in self-knowledge than do many days spent in meditating upon his own wretchedness, for it bears a stamp of truth the reality of which none can deny. He pictured to me the earlier movements of my will, showed me how vain they had been, and told me that I must prize the desire that I now had to fix upon Him a will which had spent itself as foolishly as mine had done, and that He would accept this desire. On other occasions He told me to remember how I used to think it honourable to oppose His honour. On others, again, to remember what I owed Him, for even when I was dealing Him the cruellest of blows, He was bestowing favours upon me. When I am committing any faults -- and my faults are not few -- His Majesty makes me so conscious of them that I feel entirely confused with shame, and so numerous are they that this happens often. Sometimes it has chanced that my confessor has rebuked me, and, when I have tried to find comfort in prayer, I have been soundly rebuked there as well.

    Let me now return to what I was saying. As the Lord began to remind me of the wickedness of my past life, and in the midst of the tears which I shed at having till then, as I thought, achieved nothing, I wondered if He was about to show me some favour. For it is quite usual for the Lord to grant me some special favour after I have been beside myself with shame, so that I may the better realize how far I am from deserving it; I think this must be the Lord's doing. Soon after this, my spirit became so completely transported that it seemed to have departed almost wholly from the body: or, at least, there was no way of telling that it was in the body. I saw the most sacred Humanity in far greater glory than I had ever seen before. I saw a most clear and wonderful representation of it in the bosom of the Father. I cannot possibly explain how this happened, but, without seeing anything, I seemed to see myself in the presence of the Godhead. I was amazed, so much so that I believe several days must have gone by before I was completely myself again. I seemed all the time to have present with me that Majesty of the Son of God, although not in the same way as in the first vision. This I was quite well able to understand, but it remained so indelibly stamped upon my imagination that for some time, quickly as it passed, I could not rid myself of it: it is a wonderful comfort to me and it also does me a great deal of good.

    I have beheld this same vision on three other occasions: I think it is the sublimest vision which the Lord has granted me grace to see, and it brings with it the greatest benefits. It appears to have a wonderfully purifying effect upon the soul and almost entirely destroys the power of our sensual nature. It is a great flame, which seems to burn up and annihilate all life's desires; for, although -- glory be to God! -- I had no desires for vain things, I was clearly shown here how everything was vanity, and how vain, how completely vain, are all worldly dignities. This is a wonderful way of teaching the soul to lift up its desires in purity of truth. It impresses on it a sense of reverence which I cannot possibly describe, but which is very different from anything that we can acquire on earth. The soul becomes astounded when it remembers that it has dared to offend His exceeding great Majesty and that there is anyone else who can dare to do the same.

    I must have spoken several times of these effects produced by visions and other experiences of that kind, but, as I have already said, there are greater and lesser degrees of profit to be extracted from them, and it is this kind of vision that causes the greatest profit of all. Whenever I approached the altar to communicate, and remembered that exceeding great Majesty which I had seen, and considered that it was He Who was in the Most Holy Sacrament and that the Lord was often pleased that I should see Him in the Host, my hair would stand on end and I would feel completely annihilated. O my Lord! Didst Thou not cloak Thy greatness, who would dare to come so often to the union of such foulness and wretchedness with such great Majesty? Blessed be Thou, Lord. Let the angels and all creatures praise Thee, Who measurest things by our weakness, so that, while we are rejoicing in Thy sovereign favours, we may not be so much affrighted by Thy great power as not to dare, because we are weak and miserable creatures, to rejoice in those favours.

    We might have the same experience as a certain peasant -- and this is a thing which I know actually happened. He found some treasure, much more valuable than his dull mind was capable of grasping; and the mere possession of it gradually brought on a melancholy, so that eventually he died of pure distress and worry because he had no idea what to do with it. If he had not found it all at once, but had been given it by degrees, so that he could have lived upon it, he would have been happier than when he was poor and it would not have cost him his life.

    O Wealth of the poor, how wonderfully canst Thou sustain souls, revealing Thy great riches to them gradually and not permitting them to see them all at once! Since the time of that vision I have never seen such great Majesty, hidden in a thing so small as the Host, without marvelling at Thy great wisdom. I cannot tell how the Lord gives me courage or strength to approach Him; I only know that it is bestowed on me by Him Who has granted me, and still grants me, such great favours. I could never possibly conceal this or refrain from proclaiming aloud such great marvels. What must be the feelings of a wretch like myself, weighed down with abominations, who has gone through life with so little fear of God, when she finds herself approaching this Lord of such Majesty, Whose will it is that my soul shall see Him? How can I open my mouth, which has uttered so many words against this same Lord, to receive that most glorious Body, full of purity and compassion? For the soul, knowing that it has not served Him, is much more grieved and afflicted by the love shining in that face of such great beauty, so kindly and so tender, than it is affrighted by the Majesty which it sees in Him.

    What, then, must my feelings have been on two occasions when I saw the things that I shall now describe? Indeed, my Lord and my Glory, I am going to say that in some measure these great afflictions experienced by my soul have resembled acts performed in Thy service. Ah, I know not what I am saying, for I am writing this almost as though I were not myself speaking: I find I am troubled, and even somewhat distraught, as I recall these things to my memory. If these feelings really came from me, my Lord, I might well say that I had done something for Thee, but, as there can be no good thoughts unless Thou givest them, no thanks for them can be due to me. I, Lord, am the debtor, and it is Thou Who hast been offended.

    Once, when I was about to communicate, I saw, with the eyes of the soul, more clearly than ever I could with those of the body, two devils of most hideous aspect. Their horns seemed to be around the poor priest's throat; and when I saw my Lord, with the Majesty which I have described, in the hands of such a man, in the Host which he was about to give me, I knew for a certainty that those hands had offended Him and realized that here was a soul in mortal sin. What must it be, my Lord, to see that beauty of Thine between two such hideous forms? In Thy presence they seemed so cowed and terrified that I think they would gladly have fled, hadst Thou allowed them to go. This upset me so much that I do not know how I was able to communicate, and I was sore afraid, for, I thought, had it been a vision from God, His Majesty would not have allowed me to see the evil that was in that soul. Then the Lord Himself told me to pray for him and said He had allowed me to see this so that I might realize what power there was in the words of consecration, and that, however wicked the priest who pronounces those words may be, God is always present without fail. He wanted me also to appreciate His great goodness in placing Himself in the hands of that enemy of His, and this solely for my good and for the good of all. This showed me clearly how much stricter is the obligation laid upon priests to be virtuous than upon other people, and what a terrible thing it is to take this Most Holy Sacrament unworthily, and how complete is the devil's dominion over the soul that is in mortal sin. It was of the very greatest help to me and gave me the fullest knowledge of what I owe to God. May He be blessed for ever and ever.

    On another occasion something else of this kind happened to me which gave me a bad fright. I was in a place where a certain person had died after leading for many years, as I knew, a very bad life. But for two years he had been ill and in some respects seemed to have mended his ways. He died without making his confession, but in spite of all this I did not myself think he would be damned. While his body was being wrapped in its shroud, I saw a great many devils taking hold of it and apparently playing with it and treating it roughly. I was horrified at this: they were dragging it about in turn with large hooks. When I saw it being taken to burial with the same honour and ceremony that is paid to all dead persons, I kept thinking upon the goodness of God Who would not allow that soul to be dishonoured but permitted the fact of its having been His enemy to be concealed.

    After what I had seen I was half crazy. During the whole of the funeral office I saw no more devils; but afterwards, when the body was laid in the grave, there was such a crowd of them waiting there to take possession of it that I was beside myself at the sight and had need of no little courage to hide the fact. If they were taking possession like this of the unfortunate body, I reflected, what would they do with the soul? Would to God that this frightful thing which I saw could be seen by everyone who is leading an evil life! I think it would be a great incentive to amendment. All this makes me realize better what I owe to God and what He has saved me from. Until I had talked to my confessor about it I was terribly frightened, wondering if it were an illusion produced by the devil to dishonour that person's soul, though he was not considered to be a very good Christian. In any case, illusion or no, the very remembrance of it always makes me afraid.

    Now that I have begun to talk of visions about the dead, I will refer to some matters, in connection with certain souls, which the Lord has been pleased to reveal to me. For brevity's sake and because they are not necessary -- for our profit, I mean -- I will describe only a few of them. I was told of the death of a former Provincial of ours -- at the time of his death he was Provincial of another province -- whom I had had to do with and had reason to be grateful to for several kindnesses.[343] He had been a person of many virtues. When I heard of his death, I was greatly perturbed, for I was fearful about his salvation, as he had been a superior for twenty years -- this always causes me misgivings, for it seems to me a very dangerous thing to have the charge of souls. So, greatly distressed, I went to an oratory. There I offered on his behalf all the good I had done in my whole life, which must have been very little, and then I begged the Lord to make up the deficiency for that soul with His own merits so as to deliver it from purgatory.

    While I was praying to the Lord for him to the best of my ability, he seemed to me to rise up, on my right hand, from the depths of the earth, and I saw him ascend to Heaven with the greatest joy. He had actually been very old, but, as I saw him then, he seemed to be about thirty, or even less, and his face was bright and shining. This vision passed very quickly, but I was so wonderfully comforted that I could never again grieve about his death, although I found people greatly distressed by it, for he was very much loved. So greatly was my soul comforted that nothing troubled me and I could not doubt that this was a genuine vision -- I mean, that it was no illusion. He had not been dead more than a fortnight at the time; none the less, I did not cease trying to get people to commend him to God and to do so myself, except that I could not pray with the same fervour as if I had not seen this vision; for, once the Lord had revealed him to me in that way, I could not help feeling that to want to commend him to His Majesty was like giving alms to a rich man. I heard later about the kind of death which the Lord granted him -- for he died a long way from here. It was one which caused me great edification; he was in such complete possession of his faculties when he died, and so repentant and humble, that everyone was astounded.

    A nun who had been a great servant of God had died in our house,[344] and rather more than a day and a half later there occurred the following incident. The office for the departed was being said for her in choir; a nun was reading the lesson; and I was standing there to assist her with the versicle. Halfway through the lesson I saw the dead sister: her soul seemed to be rising on my right hand, as in the preceding vision, and to be going up to Heaven. This was not an imaginary vision, as the last had been, but was like the others to which I have referred already. There is no more reason for doubting it, however, than for doubting visions which are seen.

    Another nun who died in this same house of mine was about eighteen to twenty years old. She had always had poor health; and she served God well and was fond of choir and very virtuous. I certainly thought she would not have to go to purgatory, for not only had she suffered much from illness but she had superabundant merits. About four hours after her death, while the Hours were being said before she was buried, I perceived her in the same place, ascending to Heaven.

    Once I was in a college of the Company of Jesus, suffering severely in soul and body, as I have said I sometimes used to, and still do, to such an extent that I was hardly capable of thinking a single good thought. On that night a brother of that house of the Company had died[345]; and, while I was commending him to God as well as I was able, and hearing a Mass which was being said for him by another Father of the Company, I became deeply recollected and saw him ascending to Heaven in great glory, and the Lord ascending with him. I understood that it was by a special favour that His Majesty bore him company.

    Another friar of our Order -- a very good friar -- was extremely ill[346]; and while I was at Mass I became recollected and saw that he was dead and was ascending into Heaven without passing through purgatory. He had died, as I afterwards heard, at the very hour at which I saw him. I was amazed that he had not gone to purgatory. I learned that, as he had been a friar who had faithfully observed his Rule, the Bulls of the Order had been of avail to save him from going there. I do not know why I was allowed to learn this: I think it must have been to teach me that being a friar does not consist in a habit -- I mean, in the wearing of the habit -- and that this does not in itself imply the state of greatest perfection, which is that of a friar.

    I will say no more of these matters, for, as I have said, it is unnecessary for me to do so, though the Lord has granted me the favour of seeing a great many such things. But from none of the visions that I have seen have I ever gathered that any soul has escaped purgatory save the souls of this Father, of the saintly Fray Peter of Alcantara and of the Dominican Father whom I have mentioned.[347] The Lord has been pleased that I should see the degrees of glory to which some persons have been raised and has shown them to me in the places which have been assigned to them. There is a great difference between some of these places and others.

 

 

Chapter 39

    Continues the same subject and tells of the great favours which the Lord has shown her. Describes His promises to her on behalf of persons for whom she might pray to Him. Tells of some outstanding respects in which His Majesty has granted her this favour.

    I was once earnestly importuning the Lord to give sight to a person to whom I was under a certain obligation and who was almost entirely blind; I was very sorry for him and feared that the Lord would not hear me because of my sins. He appeared to me as on former occasions, began by showing me the wound in His left hand, and then, with the other hand, drew out a large nail which was embedded in it, in such a way that in drawing out the nail He seemed to me to be tearing the flesh. It was clear how very painful this must be and I was sorely grieved at it. Then He said to me that surely, if He had borne that for me, He would even more readily do whatever I asked Him; that He promised me I should never ask Him anything which He would not grant; that He knew I should never ask anything that did not tend to His glory; and that therefore He would do what I was now asking of Him. I must remember, He added, that, even in the days when I did not serve Him, I had never asked Him for anything which He had not granted in a better way than I could have planned; how much more readily still would He not do it now that He knew I loved Him? Of that I must have no doubt. I do not think a full week had passed before the Lord restored that person's sight. My confessor heard of it at once. It may not, of course, have been due to my prayer; but, as I had seen this vision, I felt certain that it was a favour granted to me and I gave His Majesty thanks for it.

    On another occasion there was a person[348] very ill with a most painful malady, which, as I do not know its exact nature, I shall not now describe. His sufferings for two months had been intolerable and he was in such torture that he would lacerate his own body. My confessor, the Rector I have mentioned, who went to see him, was very sorry for him and told me that I must certainly pay him a visit -- and it was possible for me to do this, as he was a relative of mine. I went and was moved to such pity for him that I began with great importunity to beg the Lord to cure him. This showed me clearly the way in which, as I firmly believe, He favours me, for, on the very next day, my relative was completely free from that pain.

    I was once in the deepest affliction because I learned that a person to whom I was under great obligations wanted to do something which militated grievously against God and His honour and was firmly resolved that he would. I was so worried about this that I did not know what means I could employ to dissuade him: it seemed, in fact, that there were none. I besought God from the bottom of my heart to give me some such means, but until I found them I could get no relief from my distress. While things were in that position, I went to a very lonely hermitage, of which this convent has a number, and which contains a representation of Christ bound to the Column, and there I begged Him to grant me this favour. Then I heard a very soft voice, speaking to me, as it were, in a whisper. My whole body quivered with fear and I tried to catch what the voice was saying, but I could not, and very soon it was gone. My fear quickly left me, and, when it had passed, I experienced a calm, a joy and an inward delight, and it amazed me that the mere hearing of a voice with the bodily ears, unaccompanied by any understanding of what it said, should have such an effect upon the soul. I saw by this that what I was asking of God was to be granted me, and, although this had not then been done, my distress was as completely removed as if it had been. I told my confessors of it -- for at that time I had two, very learned men and servants of God.[349]

    There was someone who I knew had resolved to serve God in very truth; for some days he had been engaged in prayer, in the course of which His Majesty had granted him many favours. But certain occasions of sin then presented themselves and, instead of withdrawing himself from these occasions of sin, which were very perilous, he gave up his prayer. This caused me the greatest distress, for he was a person whom I dearly loved and to whom I was much indebted. I believe more than a month passed during which I did nothing but beg God to turn this soul to Himself. One day, when I was at prayer, I saw beside me a devil, in a great fury, tearing up some papers which he held in his hand. This brought me great comfort, for I thought it meant that what I had been praying for was granted me. And so it was, for I afterwards learned that this man had made a very contrite confession and had so truly turned to God that I hope in His Majesty that he will make continual progress. Blessed be He for everything! Amen.

    In answer to my supplications Our Lord has frequently delivered souls from grave sins, and has led others to greater perfection. As to rescuing souls from purgatory and doing other such notable things, the favours which He has granted me here are so numerous that I should be fatiguing myself, and fatiguing the reader too, if I were to describe them. Many more of them have concerned the health of the soul than the health of the body. This fact has been generally recognized and there have been numerous witnesses to it. It used to cause me great scruples, for I could not help believing that the Lord was doing this because of my prayers -- apart, of course, from the chief reason, which is His pure goodness. But now these favours have become so numerous and have been observed by so many people that it causes me no distress to believe this. I praise His Majesty and I grow ashamed, because I see I am more His debtor than ever, and I believe He increases my desires to serve Him and revives my love for Him. What astonishes me most has to do with favours which the Lord sees are not good for me: even if I try to do so, I am unable to beg Him to grant me these; when I attempt it, my prayers have very little power or spirituality or concentration; and, however much I try to force myself to do more, I cannot. Yet, when it comes to other things which His Majesty means to grant, I find that I can ask for these often and with great importunity, and though I may not be specially thinking of them they seem to come to my mind.

    There is a great difference between these two ways of praying, which I do not know how to explain. When I pray for the first kind of favour, I may persist in forcing myself to beg the Lord for it, yet, even if it is a thing which touches me nearly, I do not feel that I have the same fervour as in praying for the other kind. I am like a person whose tongue is tied: desire to speak as he may, he cannot, or if he does so he cannot make himself understood. In the other case I am like a person speaking clearly and alertly to someone whom he sees to be eagerly listening to him. The first type of prayer, we might say, is like vocal prayer; the other is like contemplation so sublime that the Lord reveals Himself, and so we know His Majesty is hearing us and rejoicing at what we are asking of Him and delighting to bestow it upon us. May He be blessed for ever, Who gives so much when I give Him so little. For what can a man accomplish, my Lord, who does not wholly abase himself for Thy sake?[350] How far -- oh, how far, how very far! I could say it a thousand times -- am I from doing this! It is because I am not living as I should, in view of what I owe Thee, that I cannot desire to live at all, though there are other reasons for this also. How many imperfections do I find in myself! How feebly do I serve Thee! Sometimes I could really wish I were devoid of sense, for then I should not understand how much evil is in me. May He Who is able to do so grant me succor!

    While I was in the house of that lady whom I have mentioned,[351] I had to be careful of my behaviour and constantly bear in mind the vanity inseparable from everything in this life, because of the high esteem and the great praise which were bestowed on me and the numerous things to which, had I looked only to myself, I might have become attached. But He Who sees things in their true light looked favourably upon me and suffered me not to escape out of His hand.

    Speaking of seeing things in their true light, I call to mind the great trials which have to be borne in their dealings with others by persons to whom God has given a knowledge of what is meant by truth in earthly matters; for on earth, as the Lord once said to me, there is so much dissembling. Much that I am writing here does not come out of my own head; I have been told it by this Heavenly Master of mine; and so, in places where I distinctly say "I was told this" or "The Lord told me", I am extremely scrupulous about adding or subtracting so much as a single syllable. When I do not remember everything exactly, then, it must be understood that it comes from me and some of the things I say will come from me altogether. Anything that is good I do not attribute to myself, for I know there is nothing good in me save what the Lord has given me without my deserving it. When I say that a thing has "come from me", I mean that it was not told me in a revelation.

    But, O my God, how is it that even in spiritual matters we often try to interpret things in our own way, as if they were worldly things, and distort their true meaning? We think we can measure our progress by the number of years during which we have been practising prayer. We even seem to be trying to set a measure to Him Who bestows on us measureless gifts, and Who can give more to one person in six months than to another in many years. This is something which I have so-often observed, and in so many people, that I am amazed to find we can act so pettily.

    I am quite sure that no one will be deceived in this way for long if he has a gift for the discernment of spirits and if the Lord has given him true humility: such a person will judge these spirits by their fruits and their resolutions and their love, and the Lord will give him light to recognize these. What He considers here is not the years which people have spent in prayer but the extent to which their souls have advanced and made progress; for one soul can attain as much in six months as another in twenty years, since, as I say, the Lord gives to whom He wills and also to him who is best prepared to receive. I find at present that among those coming to this convent are a number of girls, quite young in years.[352] God touches their hearts and gives them a little light and love -- I mean, during some short period in which He has granted them consolation in prayer. They have not been expecting this and they put aside evens other consideration, forgetting even their meals, and shut themselves up for good in a convent that has no money, like people who make no account of their lives for the sake of Him Who they know loves them. They give up everything; they have no wish to follow their own desires; and it never occurs to them that they may grow discontented in a place so circumscribed and so strictly enclosed. They offer themselves wholly, as a sacrifice, to God.

    How glad I am to admit that they are better than I and how ashamed of myself I ought to be in God's presence! For what His Majesty has not consummated in me during the many years that have elapsed since I began to pray and He began to grant me favours, He consummates in them in three months -- sometimes even in three days -- though, while amply rewarding them, His Majesty gives them far fewer favours than He gives me. They have most certainly no cause to be dissatisfied with what they have done for Him.

    For this reason I should like those of us who have been professed for many years, as well as others who have spent long years in the practice of prayer, to retrace that period in their memories. I have no desire, however, to distress those who in a short time have made more progress than ourselves by making them turn back and go at our own pace, or to make those who, thanks to the favours given them by God, are soaring like eagles move like hens with their feet tied. Let us rather fix our eyes on His Majesty, and, if we see that these souls are humble, give them the reins; the Lord, who is showing them so many favours, will not allow them to fling themselves down a precipice. They themselves put their trust in God and their trust makes the truth which they know through faith of avail to them. Shall not we, then, trust them too, instead of trying to measure them by our own standards, which are determined by the pettiness of our spirits? That we must never do: if we cannot produce fruits and resolutions equal to theirs, which cannot be properly understood except by experience, let us humble ourselves and not condemn them. For, by our apparent regard for their profit, we shall be impeding our own, as well as losing this opportunity, sent us by the Lord, of humbling ourselves and understanding our own faults; and we shall fail to realize how much more detached and how much nearer to God these souls must be than our own since His Majesty is drawing so near to them.

    My only intention here -- and I do not wish to suggest that I have any other -- is to explain why I value prayer which has lasted for only a short time and yet is producing fruits so notable and so quickly apparent; for we cannot resolve to leave everything, in order to please God, without great potency of love. I prefer this to prayer which has continued for many years, but which, neither first nor last, produces any more resolutions to do things for God than a few of no weight or bulk, like grains of salt, which a bird might carry in its beak, and which we cannot consider as fruits of prayer or signs of great mortification. Sometimes we attribute importance to things we do for the Lord which, however numerous they may be, cannot fairly be so considered. I am like that myself -- and I forget His favours at every moment. I do not say that His Majesty will not value the services I have rendered Him, since He is so gracious, but I have no wish to set store by them myself, or even to notice it when I do them, since they are nothing. Forgive me, then, my Lord, and blame me not if I try to take comfort from anything I do, since I am of no real service to Thee: if I served Thee in great matters, I should set no store by these nothingnesses. Blessed are they who serve Thee by doing great deeds. If I could accomplish anything by merely envying them and desiring to imitate them I should not be backward in pleasing Thee. But I am of no worth, my Lord. Do Thou put worth into what I do, since Thou hast such love for me.

    One day, after I had obtained a Brief from Rome empowering me to found this convent without providing any revenue for it,[353] and the whole business, which I think really cost me some trouble, had been brought to a conclusion, I was feeling glad that it had been accomplished in this way and thinking over the trials which it had cost me, and praising the Lord for having been pleased to make some use of me. Then I began to think of the things which I had gone through. And it is a fact that in every action of mine which I thought had been of some value I found any number of faults and imperfections. In some of them, too, I discovered signs of faintheartedness, and in many of them a lack of faith. I can see now that all the Lord told me would happen with regard to this house has been accomplished, but previously I had never been able to bring myself resolutely to believe that it would be so, and yet I could not doubt that it would either. I cannot explain this. But the position is that while, on the one hand, it seemed to me impossible, on the other I could not doubt it -- I mean, I could not believe that it would not turn out as the Lord had said. Eventually I found that He, on His side, had done all the good things, and I had done all the bad things, and so I stopped thinking about it; and I have no further desire to remember it lest I should recall to mind all my faults. Blessed be He Who, when such is His will, brings good out of them all! Amen.

    As I say, then, it is dangerous to keep counting the years during which we have practised prayer, for, even though we may do so with humility, it is a habit which seems to leave us with a feeling that we have won some merit by serving God. I do not mean that our service is devoid of merit or that it will not be well rewarded; but any spiritual person who thinks that the mere number of years he has practised prayer has earned him these spiritual consolations will, I am certain, fail to reach the summit of spirituality. Is it not enough that God has thought him worthy to be taken by His hand and kept from the offenses which he used to commit before he practised prayer? Must he sue God, as we say, for his money's worth? This does not seem to me very deep humility; I should rather call it presumption. My own humility is little enough, yet I do not think I have ever dared to do such a thing. It may be, however, that I have never asked because I have never served Him; if I had, perhaps I should have been more anxious than anyone else for the Lord to recompense me.

    I do not mean that, if a soul has been humble in its prayer, it does not make progress, or that God will not grant us progress: what I mean is that we should forget the number of years we have served Him, for the sum total of all we can do is worthless by comparison with a single drop of the blood which the Lord shed for us. And if, the more we serve Him, the more deeply we fall into His debt, what is it we are asking, since, when we pay a farthing of our debt, He gives us back a thousand ducats? For the love of God, let us leave all this to Him to judge, for judgment is His. Comparisons of this kind are always bad, even in earthly matters: what, then, will they be in questions of which only God has knowledge? And this His Majesty clearly showed when He gave the same payment to the last workers as to the first.[354]

    It has taken me such a long time to write all this (the last three sheets have taken as many days, for, as I have said, I have had, and still have, little opportunity for writing) that I had forgotten what I had begun to describe -- namely, the following vision. While I was at prayer, I saw myself in a great field, all alone, and around me there was such a multitude of all kinds of people that I was completely surrounded by them. They all seemed to have weapons in their hands for the purpose of attacking me: some had lances; others, swords; others, daggers; and others, very long rapiers. Well, I could not get away in any direction without incurring mortal peril, and I was quite alone there, without anyone on my side. I was in great distress of spirit, and had no idea what I should do, when I raised my eyes to Heaven, and saw Christ, not in Heaven, but in the air high above me, holding out His hand to me and encouraging me in such a way that I no longer feared all the other people, who, try as they might, could do me no harm.

    This vision will seem meaningless, but it has since brought me the greatest profit, for its meaning was explained to me, and soon afterwards I found myself attacked, in almost exactly that way, whereupon I realized that the vision was a picture of the world, the whole of which seems to take up arms in an offensive against the poor soul. Leaving out of account those who are not great servants of the Lord, and honours and possessions and pleasures and other things of that kind, it is clear that, when the soul is not on the look out, it will find itself ensnared, or at least all these will strive their utmost to ensnare it -- friends, relatives, and, what amazes me most, very good people. By all these I found myself oppressed: they thought they were doing right and I did not know how to stand up for myself or what to do.

    Oh, God help me! If I were to describe the different kinds of trial which I had to bear at this time, on top of the trials I have already mentioned, what a warning it would be to people that they should hate everything worldly altogether! Of all the persecutions I have suffered, this, I think, has been the worst. I mean that I found myself sorely oppressed on every side and could get relief only by raising my eyes to Heaven and calling upon God. I kept clearly in mind what I had seen in this vision. It was of great help to me in teaching me not to put much trust in anyone, for there is none who never changes save God. In these sore trials the Lord always sent me some person coming from Him who would lend me a hand, exactly as He had shown me that He would, and had revealed it to me in this vision, so that I had no need to cling to anything but pleasing the Lord. This has served to sustain the little virtue that I had in desiring to serve Thee. Blessed be Thou for ever!

    Once, when I was very restless and upset, unable to recollect myself, battling and striving, turning all the time in thought to things that were not perfect, and imagining I was not as detached as I used to be, I was afraid, seeing how wicked I was, that the favours which the Lord had granted me might be illusions. In short, my soul was in great darkness. While I was distressed in this way, the Lord began to speak to me and told me not to be troubled: the state in which I found myself would show me how miserable I should be if He withdrew from me; while we lived in this flesh we were never safe. I was shown how well our time is spent in warring and struggling for such a prize and it seemed to me that the Lord was sorry for those of us who live in the world. But, He added, I was not to think myself forgotten, for He would never leave me, though I myself must do all that lay in my power. This the Lord said to me compassionately and tenderly, as well as other things in which He was very gracious to me and which there is no need to repeat.

    Often His Majesty says to me, as a sign of His great love: "Now thou art Mine and I am thine." There are some words which I am in the habit of repeating to myself -- and I believe I mean what I say. They are: "What do I care about myself, Lord, or about anything but Thee?" When I remember what I am, these words and signs of love cause me the very greatest confusion; for, as I believe I have said on other occasions and as I sometimes say now to my confessor, I think more courage is needed for receiving these favours than for suffering the sorest trials. When they come, I almost forget the good I have done, my reason ceases to function and I can do nothing but picture to myself my own wickedness: this, too, I sometimes think, is supernatural.

    At times there come to me yearnings for Communion so vehement that I doubt if I could put them into words. One morning it happened to be raining so heavily that I thought I could not leave the house. But, once I had started, I was so much carried away by my desire that, even if the raindrops had been spears levelled at my breast, I think I should have gone on through them -- how much less did I trouble about drops of water! When I reached the church, I fell into a deep rapture. I thought I saw, not a door into the heavens, as I have seen on other occasions, but the heavens wide open. There was revealed to me the throne which, as I told Your Reverence, I have seen at other times, and above it another throne, on which (I did not see this, but learned it in a way I cannot explain) was the Godhead. The throne seemed to me to be held up by some beasts; I think I have heard something about these animals -- I wondered if they were the Evangelists.[355] But I could not see what the throne was like, or Who was on it -- only a great multitude of angels, whom I thought of incomparably greater beauty than those I have seen in Heaven. I wondered if they were seraphim or cherubim, for they were very different in their glory and they seemed to be all on fire. There is a great deal of difference between angels, as I have said, and the glory which I felt within me at that time cannot be expressed in writing, or even in speech, nor can it be imagined by anyone who has not experienced it. I felt that all the things that can be desired were there at one and the same time, yet I saw nothing. They told me -- I do not know who -- that all I could do was to understand that I was incapable of understanding anything, and to consider everything else as nothing at all by comparison with that. Afterwards my soul was dismayed to find that there was any created thing in which it could rest, still more that I could come to have affection for any, for everything else seemed to me a mere ant hill.

    I assisted at Mass and communicated. I do not know how I did so. I thought I had been there only a very short time and I was astounded when the clock struck and I found that I had been in that state of rapture and bliss for two hours. Afterwards I was amazed at having experienced this fire, which seems to proceed from on high, and from the true love of God, for, however much I desire and strive and am consumed with the effort to attain it it is only when His Majesty so pleases, as I have said on other occasions, that I am able to obtain so much as a single spark. It seems to consume the old man, with his faults, his lukewarmness and his misery; it is like the phoenix, from the ashes of which, after it has been burned (or so I have read), comes forth another. Even so is the soul transformed into another, with its fresh desires and its great fortitude. It seems not to be the same as before, but begins to walk in the way of the Lord with a new purity. When I besought His Majesty that this might be so with me and that I might begin to serve Him anew, He said to me: "The comparison thou hast made is a good one: see thou forget it not, that thou mayest ever strive to amend."

    Once when I was struggling with this same doubt that I described just now, as to whether these visions were of God or no, the Lord appeared to me and exclaimed sternly: "Oh, children of men, how long will ye be hard of heart?" I was to examine myself thoroughly, He added, on one matter: Had I made a full surrender of myself to Him or no? If I had, and was wholly His, I must have confidence that He would not allow me to be lost. I felt greatly troubled at that exclamation of His. So, very tenderly and consolingly, He told me again not to be troubled, for He knew well that I would not knowingly fail to devote myself wholly to His service; and He promised that all I desired should be performed. And in fact what I was then beseeching of Him was granted me. He bade me, too, consider the love for Him which was increasing daily within me, and I should then see that this experience of mine was not of the devil. He told me not to suppose that God could allow the devil to have so much to do with His servants' souls as to be able to give them the clearness of mind and the quiet that I was experiencing. He gave me to understand that, when so many persons, and such persons, had told me that the visions came from God, I should be doing wrong not to believe them.

    Once, when I was reciting the psalm Quicunque vult, I was shown so clearly how it was possible for there to be one God alone and Three Persons that it caused me both amazement and much comfort. It was of the greatest help to me in teaching me to know more of the greatness of God and of His marvels, and when I think of the Most Holy Trinity, or hear It spoken of, I seem to understand how there can be such a mystery and it is a great joy to me.

    Once, on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, the Lord was pleased to grant me the following favour: in a rapture there was pictured to me her ascent into Heaven and the joy and solemnity with which she was received and the place where she now is. To explain how this happened would be impossible for me. Exceeding great was the glory which filled my spirit when it saw such glory. The fruits of the vision were wonderful and I was left with a great desire to serve Our Lady, because of her surpassing merits.

    I was once in a college of the Company of Jesus[356] when the brethren of that house were communicating, and I saw a very rich canopy above their heads: this I saw twice. When other people were communicating I did not see it.

 

 

Chapter 40

    Continues the same subject and tells of the great favours which the Lord has granted her. From some of these may be obtained most excellent teaching, and, next to obedience, her principal motive in writing has been, as she has said, to convey this instruction and to describe such favours as are for the profit of souls. With this chapter the narrative of her life which she has written comes to an end. May it be to the glory of the Lord. Amen.

    Once, when I was in prayer, I felt within myself such great joy that, being unworthy of such a blessing, I began to think how much more I deserved to be in the place which I had seen prepared for me in hell; for, as I have said, I never forget the vision which I once had of myself there. As I meditated in this way, my soul began to be more vehemently enkindled and there came to me a spiritual transport of a kind which I cannot describe. My spirit seemed to be plunged into that Majesty of which I have been conscious on other occasions, and to be filled with It. In this Majesty I was given to understand a truth which is the fulfilment of all truths, yet I cannot tell how, for I saw nothing. Someone said to me -- I could not see who, but I was quite clear that it was the Truth Itself: "This that I am doing for thee is no small thing, but one of the things for which thou art greatly indebted to Me; for all the harm which comes to the world is due to a failure to know the truths of Scripture in the clarity of their truth, of which not a tittle shall fail."[357] I thought that I had always believed this and that all the faithful believed it. Then He said to me: "Ah, daughter, how few are they who love Me in truth! If people loved Me, I should not hide my secrets from them. Knowest thou what it is to love Me in truth? It is to realize that everything which is not pleasing to Me is a lie. Thou dost not yet realize this, but thou shalt come to see it clearly in the profit it will bring to thy soul."

    And, praised be the Lord, I have indeed come to see it: since that time I have looked upon all that I do not see being directed to the service of God as vanity and lies. I could not explain how it is that I realize this or say how much I pity those whom I see living in darkness with respect to this truth. From this, too, I have derived other advantages which I shall here describe and many others which I cannot. On the occasion referred to, the Lord said one special thing which has been of the greatest help to me. I do not know how this happened, for I saw nothing, but, in a way which I cannot explain, I acquired an extreme fortitude so that I became most firmly resolved to carry out with all my might the very smallest thing contained in the Divine Scripture. I believe that there is no obstacle that could present itself to me which I could not overcome.

    From this Divine Truth,[358] which was presented to me with out my knowing what it was or how it came, there remained imprinted upon me one truth in particular. It gives me a fresh reverence for God, by granting me a knowledge of His Majesty and Power in a way which it is impossible to describe; but I can at least understand that it is a great thing. It gave me a very great desire to speak only of things which are very true and which go far beyond any that are treated of in the world, and thus living in the world began to cause me deep distress.[359] It left me filled with a great tenderness, consoled and humbled. I thought, without understanding how, that the Lord had now given me a great deal; I had not the least misgiving lest it should be an illusion. I saw nothing, but I understood what a great blessing it is to set no store by anything that will not bring us nearer to God. Thus I understood what it is for a soul to be walking in truth in the presence of Truth Itself. And what I understood comes to this: the Lord showed me that He is Truth Itself.

    All that I have been saying I learned, sometimes by means of locutions, and sometimes without their instrumentality -- and yet I grasped these latter things more clearly than others which were told me in words. About this Truth I learned the profoundest truths and more of them than if I had been taught them by many learned men. I do not think learned men could ever have impressed upon me so strongly or have shown me so clearly the vanity of this world. This truth which I am referring to and which was taught me is truth in itself, and is without beginning or end, and upon this truth all other truths depend, just as all other loves depend upon this love and all other greatnesses upon this greatness. This is an obscure way of putting the clear truth which the Lord was pleased should be revealed to me. And what the might of this Majesty must be when in so short a time it brings the soul such great gain and leaves such things as this imprinted upon it! Oh, my Majesty and Greatness! What art Thou doing, my Lord Almighty? Consider to whom Thou art granting such sovereign mercies. Dost Thou not remember that this soul has been an abyss of lies and an ocean of vanities and all through my own fault? Thou hadst given me a nature which abhorred lying, yet in many things I allowed myself to deal in lies. How, my God, can it be thought fitting or tolerable for such great favours to be granted to one who has deserved so ill of Thee?

    On one occasion, when I was reciting the Hours with the community, my soul suddenly became recollected and seemed to me to become bright all over like a mirror: no part of it -- back, sides, top or bottom -- but was completely bright, and in the centre of it was a picture of Christ Our Lord as I generally see Him. I seemed to see Him in every part of my soul as clearly as in a mirror, and this mirror -- I cannot explain how -- was wholly sculptured in the same Lord by a most loving communication which I shall never be able to describe. This, I know, was a vision which, whenever I recall it, and especially after Communion, is always of great profit to me. It was explained to me that, when a soul is in mortal sin, this mirror is covered with a thick mist and remains darkened so that the Lord cannot be pictured or seen in it, though He is always present with us and gives us our being; with heretics it is as if the mirror were broken, which is much worse than being dimmed. Seeing this is very different from describing it, for it cannot be properly explained. But it has helped me a great deal and has also caused me deep regrets at the many occasions when, through my faults, my soul has become darkened and so I have been unable to see the Lord.

    This vision seems to me a very beneficial one for recollected persons, for it teaches them to think of the Lord as being in the very innermost part of their soul. This is a meditation which has a lasting effect, and, as I have said on other occasions, is much more fruitful than thinking of Him as outside us, as certain books do which treat of prayer, telling us where we are to seek God. This is particularly well put by the glorious Saint Augustine, who says that neither in market places[360] nor in pleasures nor wheresoever else he sought Him did he find Him as he did within himself.[361] It is quite clear that this is the best way: we need not go to Heaven, nor any farther than to our own selves, for to do that is to trouble the spirit and distract the soul, without producing any great fruit.

    There is one thing which happens in a deep rapture and of which I want to give warning here: when the period has passed during which the soul is in union and its faculties are wholly absorbed -- and this period, as I have said, is short -- the soul will still be recollected, and be unable, even in outward things, to return to itself; two of the faculties -- memory and understanding -- will be quite bewildered, and almost in a state of frenzy. This, as I say, sometimes happens, especially at the beginning. It may, I imagine, be a result of the inability of our natural weakness to endure such spiritual vehemence, and of the weakening of the imagination. I know this happens to some people. I should think it a good idea for them to force themselves to give up prayer and to take it up again later, at some time when they have leisure, for if they try to pray while in that state they may come to great harm. And I have experience of this and of the wisdom of considering what our health can bear.

    In all this we need experience and a director; for, when the soul has reached this stage, many things will occur which it will need to discuss with someone. Yet, if it seeks such a person unsuccessfully, the Lord will not fail it, for, even though I am what I am, He has not failed me. I believe there are few who have acquired experience of all these things, and without experience it is useless to attempt to bring a soul relief -- one will bring it only disquiet and distress. This the Lord will also take into account, for which reason it is better, as I have said on other occasions, to discuss the matter with one's confessor. All that I am saying now I have said already, but I do not remember it very well, and I am sure the relations of penitent and confessor, and the type of confessor to be chosen, are very important matters, especially to women. The Lord gives these favours far more to women than to men: I have heard the saintly Fray Peter of Alcantara say that, and I have also observed it myself. He would say that women made much more progress on this road than men, and gave excellent reasons for this, which there is no point in my repeating here, all in favour of women.

    Once, when I was in prayer, I saw, for a very brief time and without any distinctness of form, but with perfect clarity, how all things are seen in God and how within Himself He contains them all. Describe this I cannot, but the vision remained firmly imprinted upon my soul and is one of those great favours which the Lord has granted me and which, when I remember the sins I have committed, cause me the greatest confusion and shame. I believe, if it had been the Lord's will for me to have seen this vision earlier, and if it had been seen by those who offend Him, they would have neither the heart nor the presumption to do so. I cannot say with certainty that I saw nothing, for, as I am able to make this comparison, something must have been visible to me; but the vision comes in so subtle and delicate a way that the understanding cannot grasp it. Or it may be that I cannot understand these visions, which do not seem to be imaginary, though there must be an imaginary element in some of them; but, as they take place during raptures, the faculties are unable, after the rapture is over, to form the picture which the Lord has revealed to them and in which it is His will that they should rejoice.

    Let us say that the Godhead is like a very clear diamond, much larger than the whole world, or a mirror, like that which symbolized the soul in my account of an earlier vision, except that it is of a far sublimer kind, to which I cannot do justice. Let us suppose, furthermore, that all we do is seen in this diamond, which is of such a kind that it contains everything within itself, because there is nothing capable of falling outside such greatness. It was a terrifying experience for me, in so short a space of time, to see so many things at once in the clear depths of that diamond, and whenever I think of it, it is a most piteous reflection, that so many foul things, like my sins, should have been pictured in that clearness and purity. So, whenever I remember this, I do not know how to bear it and at that time I felt so ashamed that I did not seem to know where to hide myself. Oh, that someone could reveal this to those who commit the most foul and dishonourable sins and could make them realize that their sins are not hidden; that, committed as they are in His Majesty's own presence, God justly grieves for them; and that we are behaving in His sight with the greatest irreverence! I saw how truly one single mortal sin merits hell; it is impossible to understand how grave an offence it is to commit such a sin in the sight of such great Majesty and how alienated such things are from His nature. And thus His mercy becomes ever the more clearly seen, for, though He knows that we are doing all this, He none the less bears with us.

    This has also made me wonder, if one such experience as this leaves the soul so terrified, what the Judgment Day will be like, when His Majesty will reveal Himself to us clearly and we shall see the offences we have committed. Oh, God help me, how blind I have been! I have often been amazed at what I have written, but Your Reverence must not be amazed except at my being still alive when I see these things and consider what I am. May He Who has borne with me for so long be blessed for ever.

    Once when I was in prayer, and deep in recollection, sweetness and quiet, I thought I was surrounded by angels and very near to God. I began to entreat His Majesty for the Church. I was shown what a great benefit would be conferred upon it in the latter days by one of the Orders and by the fortitude with which its members would uphold the Faith.[362]

    Once when I was praying before the Most Holy Sacrament there appeared to me a holy man whose Order had been to some extent in a state of decline. In his hands he was holding a large book; he opened this and told me to read a few words which were in large and very legible print. "In the times to come," they said, "this Order will flourish; it will have many martyrs."[363]

    On another occasion when I was at Matins in choir, I saw in front of me the figures of six or seven members of this same Order, with swords in their hands. I take this to mean that they are to defend the Faith. For at another time, when I was in prayer, my spirit was carried away and I thought I was in a great field where many people were fighting and the members of this Order were doing battle with great fervour. They had lovely faces, quite lit up with zeal; many were vanquished and laid low by them; others were killed. This, I thought, was a battle against the heretics.

    I have seen this glorious Saint several times and he has told me various things and thanked me for praying for his Order and promised to commend me to the Lord. I do not name these Orders. If the Lord wishes it to be known which they are, He will make it clear, and in that case the rest will not be offended. Each Order, and every individual member of an Order should strive that the Lord may use it and him to bless it so that it may serve Him in the Church's present great necessity. Blessed are the lives which are spent in doing this.

    I was once asked by someone to beg God to tell him if he would be serving Him by accepting a bishopric.[364] And after Communion the Lord said to me: When he has quite clearly and truly realized that true dominion consists in possessing nothing, then he may take it." By this He meant that anyone who is to hold a position of authority should be very far from desiring or wishing for one, or at least from trying to obtain one.

    These and many other favours the Lord has granted this sinner and still grants her continually. But there is no need, I think, for me to describe any more of them, for from what I have said can be gathered what progress my soul is making and how much spirituality the Lord has given me. Blessed be He for ever, Who has had so much care for me!

    Once He told me, by way of consolation, not to worry -- and He said this very lovingly -- for in this life we could not always be in the same condition. Sometimes I should be fervent and at other times not; sometimes I should be restless and at other times, in spite of temptations, I should be tranquil. But I was to hope in Him and not to be afraid.

    One day I was wondering if I was too much attached to the world because I was happy when I was with the people to whom I speak about my soul and had an affection for them, and because, when I see that anyone is a great servant of God, I always find comfort in his company. And the Lord told me that if a sick man had been at death's door, and attributed his recovery to a physician, it would be no virtue in him to fail to thank him and not to love him. What would have become of me, He continued, but for these people? The conversation of good people never did any harm, and provided my conversation was always carefully considered and virtuous I should not cease mixing with them, and I should find that they would do me good rather than harm. This comforted me a great deal, for I used sometimes to think myself over-attached to them and would want to have nothing to do with them at all. The Lord would always give me counsel about everything, even to the point of telling me how I must deal with people who were weak and with certain others. He never fails to look after me; sometimes I am distressed when I see of how little use I am in His service and how I am obliged to spend so much more time than I should like in a body as weak and miserable as mine is.

    Once, when the time came for me to go to bed, I was in prayer, and I was suffering very great pain and beginning to experience my usual sickness. Seeing how tied I was to my body, yet how, on the other hand, my spirit craved time for itself, I became so depressed that I started to shed floods of tears and to be in great distress. This happened not only once but, as I say, often: it seemed to make me exasperated with myself, and whenever that happens I regard myself with abhorrence. But as a general rule I do not think I regard myself so, nor do I fail to do anything I see to be necessary for me. Please God I do not often do more than is essential, though sometimes I am bound to. On this occasion, as I say, when I was so distressed, the Lord appeared to me and comforted me a great deal and said I was to do these things for love of Him and to put up with everything, for my life was necessary now. I think I have never found myself distressed since I resolved to serve this Lord and Comforter of mine with all my might; for, though He would let me suffer a little, He would comfort me in such a way that it is nothing to me to desire trials. So there seems to me now to be no other reason for living than this, and it is for this that I pray to God most earnestly. I sometimes say to Him with my whole will: "To die, Lord, or to suffer! I ask nothing else of Thee for myself but this." It comforts me to hear a clock strike, for when I find that another hour of life has passed away, I seem to be getting a little nearer to the vision of God.

    At other times I am in a state in which I do not feel I am alive and yet I do not seem to want to die[365]: as I have said is frequently the case, I experience a kind of lukewarmness and everything is dark as a result of the great trials I am suffering. When the Lord was pleased that these favours which His Majesty is granting me should become publicly known (which He told me some years ago would happen), I was greatly troubled, and, as Your Reverence knows, it has caused me no little suffering down to this very day, for everyone interprets them as he likes. It has been a comfort to me that they have become known through no fault of mine, for I have been very careful, and at great pains, never to talk about them except to my confessors and to people to whom I have known that my confessors have spoken about them: this I have done, not from humility, but because it has distressed me to speak of them even to my confessors. Now, however, though, out of a zeal for righteousness, people may speak very ill of me, and others are afraid to have anything to do with me or to hear my confessions, while still others say all kinds of things to my face, I care about it -- glory be to God! -- very little; for I believe the Lord has chosen this means of helping many souls, and I know quite well how much the Lord Himself would suffer for the sake of just one soul: I often call that to mind. I do not know if it is for that reason that His Majesty has put me in this little corner,[366] where I live in such strict enclosure, and where I am so much like a dead thing that I once thought nobody would ever remember me again. But this has not been so to the extent that I should like, as there are certain people to whom I am obliged to speak. Still, I am not in a place where I can be seen, so the Lord seems to have been pleased at last to bring me to a haven, which I hope in His Majesty will be a safe one.

    As I am now out of the world, and my companions are few and saintly, I look down upon the world as from above and care very little what people say or what is known about me. I care more about the smallest degree of progress achieved by one single soul than for all the things that people may say about me; for, since I have been here, it has been the Lord's will that this should become the aim of all my desires. He has given me a life which is a kind of sleep: when I see things, I nearly always seem to be dreaming them. In myself I find no great propensity either to joy or to sorrow. If anything produces either of these conditions in me, it passes so quickly that I marvel, and the feeling it leaves is like the feeling left by a dream. And it is really true that, if later I should want to be glad about that occasion of joy or to feel sad about that cause for sorrow, I am no more capable of doing so than is a sensible person of either grieving or glorying over anything he may have dreamed. My soul has been awakened by the Lord from a condition in which I used to feel as I did because I was neither mortified nor dead to the things of the world; and His Majesty will not let me become blind again.

    It is thus, dear Sir and Father,[367] that I live now. Your Reverence must beseech God either to take me to be with Him or to give me the means of serving Him. May it please His Majesty that what is written here may be of some profit to Your Reverence, for the little opportunity I have of writing has made it a laborious task for me. But the task will be a happy one if I have managed to say anything for which one single act of praise will be made to the Lord. This alone would make me feel rewarded, even were Your Reverence then to burn what I have written immediately.

    I should prefer it not to be burned, however, before it has been seen by the three persons, known to Your Reverence, who are or have been my confessors;[368] for, if it is bad, it would be well that they should lose the good opinion they have of me, and, if it is good, they are virtuous and learned men and I know they will recognize whence it comes and praise Him Who said it through me. May His Majesty ever keep Your Reverence in His hand and make you so great a saint that your spirituality and light may enlighten this miserable creature, so lacking in humility and so presumptuous as to have dared to resolve to write upon subjects so sublime. May it please the Lord that I may not have erred in this, for my intention and desire have been to be accurate and obedient and I have hoped that through me some praise might be given to the Lord, a thing for which I have prayed for many years. And as no works which I have performed can accomplish this, I have ventured to put together this story of my unruly life, though I have wasted no more time or trouble on it than has been necessary for the writing of it, but have merely set down what has happened to me with all the simplicity and truth at my command.

    May it please the Lord, since He is powerful and can do what He will, that I may succeed in doing His will in all things, and may He not allow this soul to be lost which so often, by so many methods and devices, His Majesty has rescued from hell and drawn to Himself. Amen.

    Letter written by the Saint to Father Garcia de Toledo when sending him her Life

    May the Holy Spirit be ever with Your Reverence. Amen. It would not be a bad idea if I were to exaggerate the importance of this task of mine to Your Reverence so as to impose upon you the obligation to commend me earnestly to Our Lord, as well I might after what I have suffered through finding that I have written about so many of my miserable deeds and have thus called attention to them; though I can truly say I have felt more keenly having to write of the favours which the Lord has bestowed upon me than of the offenses which I have committed against His Majesty. I have done what Your Reverence commanded me, and written at length, on the condition that Your Reverence will do as you promised me and tear up anything that seems to you wrong. I had not finished reading through what I had written when Your Reverence sent for it. Some things in it may be badly explained and others set down twice, for I have had so little time that I have been unable to re-read all that I have written. I beseech Your Reverence to amend it, and, if it is to be sent to Father-Master Avila, to have it copied, for otherwise someone might recognize the handwriting.

    I am most anxious that the order shall be given for him to see it, as it was with this intention that I began to write it and, if he thinks I am on the right road, this will be a great comfort to me, for I can only do what lies in my power. Your Reverence must act in everything as you think best and realize your obligations to one who thus entrusts you with her soul.

    I shall commend Your Reverence's soul to Our Lord all my life long. Be assiduous, therefore, in serving His Majesty, so as to help me, for Your Reverence will see from what I have written here how well we use our time if we do as Your Reverence has begun to do and give ourselves wholly to Him Who gives Himself to us without measure.

    May He be blessed for ever, and I trust in His mercy that Your Reverence and I shall see each other in a place where we shall realize more clearly what great things He has done for us and praise Him for ever and-ever. Amen. This book was ended in June of the year MDLXII.[370]

 

Abbreviations to The Life of St. Teresa

Principal Abbreviations

A.V. -- Authorized Version of the Bible (1611). D.V. -- Douai Version of the Bible (1609). Letters. -- 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 Jesus. Editadas y anotadas por el P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., Burgos, 1915 -- 24. 9 vols. Ribera. -- Francisco de Ribera: Vida de Santa Teresa de Jesus. Nueva ed. aumentada, con introduccion, etc., por el P. Jaime Pons. Barcelona, 1908. S.S.M.-E. Allison Peers: Studies of the Spanish Mystics. London, 1927-30. 2 vols. St. 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, 1934-5. 3 vols. Yepes. -- Diego de Yepes: Vida de Santa Teresa. Madrid, 1615.

 

 

The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus
(Saint Teresa of Avila)

TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTERS

1-12

CHAPTERS

13-24

CHAPTERS

25-40

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