Today is the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila. From the Divine Office, at Matins, the Carthusians listened to this great Saint in her own words. Here’s what the monks heard.
In the beginning, when I attained to some degree of supernatural prayer -- I speak of the prayer of quiet -- I laboured to remove from myself every thought of bodily objects; but I did not dare to lift up my soul, for that I saw would be presumption in me, who was always so wicked. I thought, however, that I had a sense of the presence of God: this was true, and I contrived to be in a state of recollection before Him. This method of prayer is full of sweetness, if God helps us in it, and the joy of it is great. And so, because I was conscious of the profit and delight which this way furnished me, no one could have brought me back to the contemplation of the Humanity of Christ; for that seemed to me to be a real hindrance to prayer. O Lord of my soul, and my Good! Jesus Christ crucified! I never think of this opinion, which I then held, without pain; I believe it was an act of high treason, though done in ignorance.
The first consideration is this: there is a little absence of humility -- so secret and so hidden, that we do not observe it. Who is there so proud and wretched as I, that, even after labouring all his life in penances and prayers and persecutions, can possibly imagine himself not to be exceedingly rich, most abundantly rewarded, when our Lord permits him to stand with Saint John at the foot of the Cross? I know not into whose head it could have entered to be not satisfied with this, unless it be mine, which has gone wrong in every way where it should have gone right onwards. Then, if our constitution -- or perhaps sickness -- will not permit us always to think of His Passion, because it is so painful, who is to hinder us from thinking of Him risen from the grave, seeing that we have Him so near us in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is glorified?
No trial befalls me that is not easy to bear, when I think of You standing before those who judged You. With so good a Friend and Captain ever present, Himself the first to suffer, everything can be borne. He helps, He strengthens, He never fails, He is the true Friend. I see clearly, and since then have always seen, that if we are to please God, and if He is to give us His great graces, everything must pass through the Hands of His most Sacred Humanity, in Whom His Majesty said that He is well pleased. I know this by repeated experience: our Lord has told it me. I have seen clearly that this is the door by which we are to enter, if we would have His supreme Majesty reveal to us His great secrets. So, then, I would have you seek no other way, even if you have arrived at the highest contemplation. This way is safe.
Our Lord is He by Whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more could we want than so good a Friend at our side, Who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to this world! Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him! Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul, who seems as if Jesus was never absent from his lips, as if he had Him deep down in his heart. After I had heard this of some great Saints given to contemplation, I considered the matter carefully; and I see that they walked in no other way. Saint Francis with the stigmata proves it, Saint Antony of Padua with the Infant Jesus; Saint Bernard rejoiced in the Humanity of Christ; so did Saint Catherine of Siena, and many others, who knew better than I do. This withdrawing from bodily objects must no doubt be good, seeing that it is recommended by persons who are so spiritual; but, in my opinion, it ought to be done only when the soul has made very great progress; for until then it is clear that the Creator must be sought for through His creatures.
When God suspends all the powers of the soul – by some means of prayer -- it is clear that, whether we wish it or not, this presence of the most Sacred Humanity of Christ is withdrawn. Be it so, then, the loss is a blessed one, because it takes place in order that we may have a deeper fruition of what we seem to have lost; for at that moment the whole soul is occupied in loving Him Whom the understanding has toiled to know; and it loves what it has not comprehended, and rejoices in what it could not have rejoiced in so well, if it had not lost itself, in order, as I am saying, to gain itself the more. But that we should carefully and laboriously accustom ourselves not to strive with all our might to have always -- and please God it be always -- the most Sacred Humanity before our eyes -- this, I say, is what seems to me not to be right: it is making the soul, as they say, to walk in the air; for it has nothing to rest on, however full of God it may think itself to be. It is a great matter for us to have our Lord before us as Man while we are living and in the flesh.
We are not angels, for we have a body; to seek to make ourselves angels while we are on the earth, and so much on the earth as I was, is an act of folly. In general, our thoughts must have something to rest on, though the soul may go forth out of itself now and then, or it may be very often so full of God as to be in need of no created thing by the help of which it may recollect itself. But this is not so common a case; for when we have many things to do, when we are persecuted and in trouble, when we cannot have much rest, and when we have our seasons of dryness, Christ is our best Friend; for we regard Him as Man, and behold Him faint and in trouble, and He is our Companion; and when we shall have accustomed ourselves in this way, it is very easy to find Him near us, although there will be occasions from time to time when we can do neither the one nor the other. We must not show ourselves as labouring after spiritual consolations; come what may, to embrace the Cross is the great thing.
The Lord of all consolation was Himself forsaken: they left Him alone in His sorrows. Do not let us forsake Him; for His Hand will help us to rise more than any efforts we can make; and He will withdraw Himself when He sees it to be expedient for us, and when He pleases will also draw the soul forth out of itself. God is greatly pleased when He beholds a soul in its humility making His Son a Mediator between itself and Him, and yet loving Him so much as to confess its own unworthiness, even when He would raise it up to the highest contemplation, and saying with Saint Peter: ‘Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’ (Saint Luke 5:8). I know this by experience: it was thus that God directed my soul. Others may walk by another and a shorter road. What I have understood of the matter is this: that the whole foundation of prayer must be laid in humility, and that the more a soul humbles itself in prayer, the more God lifts it up.
I come, then, to this conclusion: whenever we think of Christ, we should remind ourselves of the love that made Him bestow so many graces upon us, and also how great that love is which our Lord God has shown us, in giving us such a pledge of the love He bears us; for love draws forth love. And though we are only at the very beginning, and exceedingly wicked, yet let us always labour to keep this in view, and stir ourselves up to love; for if once our Lord grants us this grace, of having this love imprinted in our hearts, everything will be easy, and we shall do great things in a very short time, and with very little labour. May His Majesty give us that love -- He knows the great need we have of it -- for the sake of that love which He bore us, and of His glorious Son, to Whom it cost so much to make it known to us! Amen.