of Avila (1515- 1582)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
of Avila (1515- 1582)
By St Teresa of Avila
In which there are four Chapters.
Concludes by describing what appears to be Our Lord's aim in granting the soul such great favours and says how necessary it is for Martha and Mary to walk in each other's company. This chapter is very profitable.
You must not take it, sisters, that the effects which
I have described as occurring in these souls are
invariably present all the time; it is for this
reason that, whenever I have remembered to do so, I
have referred to them as being present "habitually".
Sometimes Our Lord leaves such souls to their own
nature, and when that happens, all the poisonous
things in the environs and mansions of this castle
seem to come together to avenge themselves on them
for the time during which they have not been able to
have them in their power.
It also distresses them to see so many souls being
lost; and, although on the one hand they have great
hopes of not being among them, yet, when they
remember some whom the Scriptures describe as having
been favoured of the Lord -- like Solomon, who
enjoyed such converse with His Majesty -- they
cannot, as I have said, but be afraid. And let
whichever of you feels surest of herself fear most,
for, says David, "Blessed is the man that feareth
God." May His Majesty always protect us; let us
beseech Him to do so, that we may not offend Him;
this is the greatest security that we can have. May
He be for ever praised. Amen.
I am very fond of the story of how, when Saint Peter
was fleeing from prison, Our Lord appeared to him and
told him to go back to Rome and be crucified. We
never recite the Office on his festival, in which
this story is found, without my deriving a special
consolation from it. How did Saint Peter feel
after receiving this favour from the Lord? And what
did he do? He went straight to his death; and the
Lord showed him no small mercy in providing someone
to kill him.
I was wrong when I said it will profit me little, for anyone who is with God must profit greatly, and, although after making these resolutions we may be too weak to carry them out, His Majesty will sometimes grant us grace to do so, even at great cost to ourselves, as often happens. For, when He sees a very timorous soul, He sends it, much against its own will, some very sore trial the bearing of which does it a great deal of good; and later, when the soul becomes aware of this, it loses its fear and offers itself to Him the more readily.
What I meant was that the profit is small by
comparison with the far greater profit which comes
from conformity between our deeds on the one hand and
our resolutions and the words we use on the other.
Anyone who cannot achieve everything at once must
progress little by little. If she wishes to find help
in prayer, she must learn to subdue her own will and
in these little nooks of ours there will be very many
occasions when you can do this.
Unless they resolve to do this, they need not expect
to make great progress. For the foundation of this
whole edifice, as I have said, is humility, and, if
you have not true humility, the Lord will not wish it
to reach any great height: in fact, it is for your
own good that it should not; if it did, it would fall
to the ground. Therefore, sisters, if you wish to lay
good foundations, each of you must try to be the
least of all, and the slave of God, and must seek a
way and means to please and serve all your
companions. If you do that, it will be of more value
to you than to them and your foundation will be so
firmly laid that your Castle will not fall.
The soul, where it now is, is fighting harder to keep
the faculties and senses and every thing to do with
the body from being idle than it did when it suffered
with them. For it did not then understand what great
gain can be derived from trials, which may indeed
have been means whereby God has brought it to this
state, nor did it realize how the companionship which
it now enjoys would give it much greater strength
than it ever had before. For if, as David says, with
the holy we shall be holy, it cannot be doubted
that, if we are made one with the Strong, we shall
gain strength through the most sovereign union of
spirit with Spirit, and we shall appreciate the
strength of the saints which enabled them to suffer
In this life, then, the soul has a very bad time,
for, however much it accomplishes, it is strong
enough inwardly to attempt much more and this causes
such strife within it that nothing it can do seems to
it of any importance. This must be the reason for the
great penances done by many saints, especially by the
glorious Magdalen, who had been brought up in such
luxury all her life long; there was also that hunger
for the honour of his God suffered by our father
Elias; and the zeal of Saint Dominic and Saint
Francis for bringing souls to God, so that He might
be praised. I assure you that, forgetful as they were
of themselves, they must have endured no little
What a sight it must have been in the town to see such a woman as she had been making this change in her life! Such wicked people as we know the Jews to have been would only need to see that she was friendly with the Lord, Whom they so bitterly hated, to call to mind the life which she had lived and to realize that she now wanted to become holy, for she would of course at once have changed her style of dress and everything else.
Think how we gossip about people far less notorious
than she and then imagine what she must have
suffered. I assure you, sisters, that that better
part came to her only after sore trials and great
mortification -- even to see her Master so much hated
must have been an intolerable trial to her. And how
many such trials did she not endure later, after the
Lord's death! I think myself that the reason she was
not granted martyrdom was that she had already
undergone it through witnessing the Lord's
death. The later years of her life, too, during
which she was absent from Him, would have been years
of terrible torment; so she was not always enjoying
the delights of contemplation at the Lord's feet.
I told you elsewhere that the devil sometimes puts ambitious desires into our hearts, so that, instead of setting our hand to the work which lies nearest to us, and thus serving Our Lord in ways within our power, we may rest content with having desired the impossible. Apart from praying for people, by which you can do a great deal for them, do not try to help everybody, but limit yourselves to your own companions; your work will then be all the more effective because you have the greater obligation to do it.
Do you imagine it is a small advantage that you
should have so much humility and mortification, and
should be the servants of all and show such great
charity towards all, and such fervent love for the
Lord that it resembles a fire kindling all their
souls, while you constantly awaken their zeal by your
other virtues? This would indeed be a great service
to the Lord and one very pleasing to Him. By your
doing things which you really can do, His Majesty
will know that you would like to do many more, and
thus He will reward you exactly as if you had won
many souls for Him.
We must not begin by growing weary; but during the
whole of this short life, which for any one of you
may be shorter than you think, we must offer the Lord
whatever interior and exterior sacrifice we are able
to give Him, and His Majesty will unite it with that
which He offered to the Father for us upon the Cross,
so that it may have the value won for it by our will,
even though our actions in themselves may be trivial.
The writing of this was finished in the convent of
Saint Joséph of Avila, in the year one thousand five
hundred and seventy seven, on the vigil of Saint
Andrew, to the glory of God, Who liveth and reigneth
for ever and ever. Amen.