Why has our time developed such a fondness we might even call it a craze for jubilees? Could it be the oppressive burden of misery that arouses the desire to withdraw again and again for a short breathing spell from the gray, oppressive atmosphere of the present time and to warm oneself a little in the sun of better days? But such flight from the present would be an unproductive way to celebrate jubilees, and we may assume that a deeper, healthier desire, even if not clearly conscious of itself, motivates these glimpses into the past. A generation poor in spirit and thirsting for the spirit looks anywhere where it once flowed abundantly in order to drink of it. And that is a healing impulse. For the spirit is living and does not die. Wherever it was once at work in forming human lives and human structures, it leaves behind not only dead monuments, but leads therein a mysterious existence, like hidden and carefully tended embers that flare up brightly, glow and ignite as soon as a living breath blows on them. The lovingly penetrating gaze of the researcher who traces out the hidden sparks from the monuments of the past this is the living breath that lets the flame flare up. Receptive human souls are the stuff in which it ignites and becomes the informing strength that helps in mastering and shaping present life. And if it was a holy fire that once burned here on the earth and left behind the traces of its action, then all the places and remains of this action are under holy protection. From the original source of all fire and light, the hidden embers are mysteriously nourished and preserved in order to break out again and again as an inexhaustible, productive source of blessing.
Such a source of blessing is revealed to us in the remembrance the lovely saint who 700 years ago closed her eyes to this world as someone perfected early in order to enter into the radiant glory of eternal life. Her life story seems like a wondrous fairy tale. It is the story of the Hungarian royal child, Elizabeth, who was born in the castle in Pressburg at the same time as the magician Klingsor in Eisenach read of her birth in the stars, and predicted her future fame and meaning for the Thuringia region.(38) The treasures which Queen Gertrud saved up to bestow in splendor on her little daughter sound like something out of A Thousand and One Nights and so also does the vehicle on which all of the splendors were loaded when Count Hermann of Thuringia sent for the four-year-old princess to be fetched to the far-away Wartburg as the bride for his son. The queen even promised to send a large dowry along later. But her relentless striving for riches, glitter, and power came to a sudden end. She was murdered by conspirators, and the child which she had sent abroad to secure a crown became a motherless orphan.
The story of the children Ludwig and Elizabeth reminds us of the intimate relationships in German folk tales. They grew up together, deeply loving each other deeply like brother and sister, and clung to each other in steadfast faithfulness when everything was working to separate them from one another, when everyone gradually turned away from the foreign and unusual child who would rather spend time with ragged beggars than celebrate joyful festivals, who seemed to fit better in a convent than on a royal throne as the center of a luxuriant, radiant life at court, to which the nobility of Thuringia had been accustomed on the Wartburg from the time of Count Hermann.
Then there follows a romance of chivalry, the young count's initiation into knighthood and the beginning of his reign, the glittering wedding and the young wedded bliss of the royal pair, Elizabeth's life as a countess at the side of her husband: festivals, hunts, horseback rides in all directions throughout their land. And placed between all this was her silent concern for the poor and sick in the vicinity of the Wartburg. Then there came the increasing seriousness of a ruler's concerns: her husband's sallies into battle, regency in his absence, struggles against the hunger and pestilence that was bringing down the people, and simultaneously against the opposition of her surroundings that would not permit her to address these needs with all her strength. Finally, there was the Count's crusader vow, the deep pain of farewell and separation, the collapse of the distraught widow when she got the news of her husband's death. A woman's fate like that of many so it seems.
But what happened next is new and has no parallel. She who is sunk in grief raises herself like a mulier fortis [strong woman], as the liturgy of her feast extols her, and takes her fate into her hands. At night during a storm, she leaves the Wartburg where people will no longer permit her to live as her conscience dictates. She seeks refuge for herself and her children in Eisenach, and because she cannot find bearable accommodations, she accepts for the time being the hospitality of her maternal relatives. And even when a reconciliation with the brothers of her husband has come about and she is returned to the Wartburg in utmost honor and brotherly love, she cannot stand it there for long. She must walk the path laid out for her to the end, must leave the place on the heights in order to live among the poorest of the poor as one of them, must place her children into strangers' hands, in order to belong to the Lord alone and to serve him in his suffering members. Stripped of everything, she vows herself to the Lord who gave everything for his own. On Good Friday in the year 1229, she puts her hands on the stripped altar of the Franciscan Church in Marburg and dons the clothing of the Order. She had belonged to it for years already as a tertiary without being able to live by its spirit as her heart desired. Now she is the sister of the poor and serves them in the hospital that she built for them. But not for very long, for only two years later her strength is exhausted and the twenty-four-year-old is permitted to enter into the joy of the Lord.
A life whose outer facts are colorful and appealing enough to arouse fantasy, to awaken amazement and admiration. But that is not why we are concerned with it. We would like to pursue what lies behind the outer facts, to feel the beat of the heart that bore such a fate and did such things, to internalize the spirit that governed her. All the facts reported about Elizabeth reveal one thing, all of the words we have from her: a burning heart that comprehends everything around her with earnest, tenderly adaptable, and faithful love. This is how she put her hand as a little child into the hand of the boy whom the political power struggles of her ambitious parents had given her for her life's companion, never again to release it. This is how she shared her entire life with the playmates of her early childhood until shortly before her death, when her severe director took them from her to dissolve the last tie of earthly love. This is how in her heart she carried the children she bore when still almost a child herself. And when she gave them up, it was certainly out of a maternal love that did not want them to share her own all-too-hard path, as well as a maternal sense of duty that would not let her take away by her own hands the destiny to which their natural circumstances in life entitled them. But she also gave them up because she felt such overwhelming love that they would have become a hindrance in the vocation to which God was calling her.
From earliest youth she opened her heart in warm, compassionate love for all who suffered and were oppressed. She was moved to feed the hungry and to tend the sick, but was never satisfied with warding off material need alone, always desiring to have cold hearts warm themselves at her own. The poor children in her hospital ran into her arms calling her mother, because they felt her real maternal love. All of this overflowing treasure came from the inexhaustible source of the Lord's love, for he had been close to her for as long as she could remember. When her father and mother sent her away, he went with her into the far-away, foreign country. From the time that she knew that he dwelt in the town chapel, she was drawn to it from the midst of her childhood games. Here she is at home. When people reviled and derided her, it was here that she found comfort. No one was as faithful as he. Therefore, she had to be true to him as well and love him above everyone and everything. No human image was permitted to dislodge his image from her heart. This is why strong pangs of remorse overwhelmed her when she was startled by the little bell announcing the consecration, making her aware that her eye and her heart were turned toward the husband at her side instead of paying attention to the Holy Sacrifice. In the presence the image of the Crucified One who hangs on the Cross naked and bleeding, she could not wear finery and a crown. He stretched his arms out wide to draw to himself all who were burdened and heavy laden. She must carry this Crucified One's love to all who are burdened and heavy laden and in turn arouse in them love for the Crucified One. They are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. She serves the Lord when she serves them. But she must also ensure that through faith and love they become living members. Everyone close to her she tried to lead to the Lord, thus practicing a blessed apostolate. This is evident in the life of her companions. The formation of her husband is a persuasive witness to this, as well as the interior change of his brother, Conrad, who after her death, obviously under her influence, entered an Order. The love of Christ, this is the spirit that filled and informed Elizabeth's life, that nurtured her unceasing love of her neighbors.
We can comprehend Elizabeth's characteristic contagious happiness as arising from the same source. She loved turbulent children's games and continued to take pleasure in them long after, in accordance with the usual ideas of breeding and custom, she was supposed to have outgrown them. She enjoyed everything beautiful. She dressed very well and put on splendid parties that delighted her guests, as was her duty in her position as a countess. Above all, she wanted to bring joy to the huts of the poor. She took toys to the children and played with them herself. Even the sullen widow whom she had for a housemate during the last part of her life could not dim her enthusiasm and had to be pleased by her jokes. And she was moved by the poor to the depths of her heart on that day when she invited them to Marburg by the thousands and singlehandedly distributed among them the remainder of the widow's pension that had been given to her in cash. From morning to evening she walked through the rows giving each one a share. As night came on, many remained who were too weak and sick to make their way home. They encamped in the open, and Elizabeth had fires lit for them. This made them feel good, and songs arose around the campfires. Amazed, the countess listened, and it confirmed for her what she had believed and practiced all her life: "See, I told you that all one has to do is to make the poor happy." That God had created his creatures for happiness had long been her conviction, and she felt it was proper to lift a radiant face to him. And this was also confirmed for her at her death when she was called to eternal joy by the sweet song of a little bird.
Overflowing love and joy led to a free naturalness that could not be contained by convention. How could one walk in measured stride or lisp pretentious speech when the signal resounds before the castle gate, announcing the master's return? Elizabeth forgot irretrievably all the rules of breeding when her heart began beating stormily, and she followed the rhythm and beat of her heart. Again, is one to think about socially acceptable forms for expressing one's devotion even in church? She could only do what love asked of her, even though it produced strong criticism. In no way could she understand that it was improper to take gifts to the poor herself, to speak with them in a friendly way, to go into their huts, and to care for them in their own homes. She did not want to be stubborn and disobedient and to live in discord with her own, but she could not hear human voices over the inner voice governing her. Therefore, in the long run she could not live among the conventional, who could not and would not release themselves from age-old institutions and deeply rooted ways of thinking about life. She was able to remain among her peers as long as a holy union held her fast and a faithful protector remained at her side, sympathetically taking into consideration her heart's command while at the same time prudently considering the demands of the surroundings. After the death of her husband, she had to leave the circles into which she was born and raised and to go her own way. It was a sharp and painful separation, certainly for her as well. But with a heart full of love that was stopped by no barriers separating her from her dear brothers and sisters, she found the path that so many today vainly seek, despite their great good will and the exertion of all their strength: the path to the hearts of the poor.
All through the centuries there runs a human longing that is never put to rest. Sometimes it is expressed softly, at other times more loudly. One who felt it particularly poignantly found a catchy phrase for it: return to nature. And someone who with a consuming longing vainly pursued this ideal his entire life, until he collapsed, has drawn an unusually impressive picture of the person whose every action springs from the depths in a continual motion without reflection or exertion of the will, guided by the command of the heart alone: "one would have the charm of a marionette."(39)
Does St. Elizabeth conform to this ideal? The facts presented so far, pointing to her spontaneous way of doing things, seem to say so. But the sources recount other facts that no less clearly point to a will as hard as steel, to a relentless battle against her own nature: The lovely, youthfully cheerful, enchantingly natural person is at the same time a strictly ascetic saint. Early enough she had to recognize that giving oneself over to the pull of one's heart without restraint is not without its dangers. Extravagant love of her relatives, pride, and greed caused Queen Gertrud to be hated by the Hungarian people, caused her sudden, unexpected death at the hands of murderers. Untamed passion led Gertrud's sister, Agnes of Meran, into a relationship with the king of France that broke up his marriage and brought ecclesiastical censure to all of France. Reckless political ambition entangled Count Hermann in a lifetime of unremitting warfare and left him to die while excommunicated. From time to time Elizabeth even had to see her own husband involved in unjust power struggles and anathematized. And was even she free of these sinister forces in her own breast? By no means! She knew very well that she, too, could not give herself over to the guidance of her own heart without danger.
When, with cunning piety, the child thought up games which would enable her to skip off to the chapel or throw herself down secretly to say her prayers, a mighty tug of grace must certainly have been working in her heart; but she could have suspected, too, that in her play she was also in danger of getting lost from God. This becomes even clearer when the young lady came home from her first dance with a serious face and said, "One dance is enough for the world. For God's sake, I want to forego the rest of them." When she arose from her bed at night and knelt to pray or left the room entirely to let the maids whip her, this surely tells us not only of her general desire to do penance and to suffer voluntarily for the Lord's sake, but that she wanted to save herself from the danger of forgetting the Lord while at her beloved husband's side. Surely Elizabeth's natural sense of beauty was drawn to pretty children rather than to ugly ones, and was repelled by the appearance and odor of disgusting wounds. Therefore, since she repeatedly sought out such ailing creatures to tend to them herself, this tells not only of her compassionate love for the poorest, but also of the will to overcome her natural revulsion. Even during the last years of her life Elizabeth prayed to God for three things: for contempt for all earthly goods, for the gift of cheerfully bearing humiliation, and to be free of excessive love for her children. She could tell her maids that she was heard in all of this. But that she had to ask for these things showed they were not natural for her, and that she had probably been struggling for them in vain for a long time.
Forming her life to please God Elizabeth strives for this goal not only for herself and in battle against her own nature. With full awareness and the same inflexible determination, she endeavors to influence her surroundings. As countess she takes pains to counteract excesses in sumptuous clothing and to move the titled ladies to renounce this or that vanity. When she begins to avoid all food obtained with illegal revenues and is thus often forced to go hungry at the fully-laden royal table, she assumes that her loyal companions Guda and Isentrud will share her deprivations, as later they will also follow her into the distress of voluntary banishment and poverty. And what a protest this abstention from food was against the whole way of life around her!
Her increasingly austere way of life made most severe demands on her husband. He had to look on while she treated herself with the utmost harshness, endangered her health, squandered his wealth lavishly; while, by all this, she roused the opposition of his family and of all at court; and, finally, while she fought to detach herself interiorly from him, even bemoaning bitterly that she was bound by her marriage. All this required heroic self-mastery on his part as well, and one readily understands why, as he accepted everything with love and patience, faithfully taking the trouble to stand by his wife in her striving for perfection, the young count came to be regarded as a saint by his people.
Initially, it was probably the doctrine of the Gospel and the general ascetic practices of her time that guided Elizabeth in her striving for perfection. Every now and then she had an insight and sought to put it into practice. When the Franciscans came to Germany, she found what she was looking for, a clearly outlined ideal and complete way of life; and, as her guest on the Wartburg, Rodiger instructed her about the lifestyle of the Poor Man of Assisi. Now suddenly she knew precisely what she wanted and what she had always longed for: to be entirely poor, to go begging from door to door, to be no longer chained by any possessions or human ties, also to be free of her own will to be entirely and exclusively the Lord's own. Count Ludwig could not bring himself to dissolve the marriage bond, to let her leave him. However, he would help her toward a regulated life, approximating her ideal as closely as possible. It was probably better for her guide not to be a Franciscan otherwise her unfulfillable wishes could not be put to rest but someone who dampened her excesses with quiet reason and yet had an understanding of her interior desire. Such a man was Master Conrad of Marburg who was recommended to the count as a guide for his wife. He was a secular priest but as poor as a beggar monk, entirely consecrated to the service of the Lord, and very strict with himself as well as with others. This is how he traveled throughout Germany as preacher of the crusade and warrior for the purity of the faith. Elizabeth took a vow to obey him in the year 1225 and remained under his direction until her death. For her to submit herself to him and to continue submissive to him was surely the severest breaking of her own will, for, in accordance with her own wishes, he not only engaged in the severest battle against her lower nature, but also directed her love of God and neighbor in directions different from her impulse. Neither before nor after the death of her husband did he ever permit her to give up all her possessions. He restrained her indiscriminate almsgiving, gradually limited it and finally completely forbade it to her. He also tried to keep her from tending people with contagious diseases (the only point on which Elizabeth had not entirely submitted by the end).
Certainly his ideal of perfection was not inferior to hers. It was clear to him from the beginning that he was entrusted with the guidance of a saintly soul, and he wanted to do everything he could to lead her to the summit of perfection. But his opinions about the means thereto differed from hers. In the first place, he wanted to teach her to strive for the ideal where she was, just as he had not considered it necessary to enter an Order himself. So he permitted her to join the Franciscans as a tertiary and interpreted for her the vows in a way appropriate to her state in life. As long as her husband was living she was to perform all her marital duties, but to renounce remarriage if he died. She was to live a life of poverty but not carelessly squander what she had, rather providing sensibly for the poor. Foremost in this life of poverty was the food ban, that prohibited her all nourishment not obtained from lawful revenues. Carrying out this prohibition (according to recent research) is said to be what caused her to leave the Wartburg after the death of her husband. It is assumed that her brother-in-law, Heinrich Raspe, was unwilling to tolerate her absenting herself from the royal table, and cut off her widow's pension to coerce her (surely also to put an end to her wasteful good deeds). After the extreme need and abandonment that she suffered from this voluntary or involuntary banishment, she could not bear to become reaccustomed to her former circumstances. She only returned to the Wartburg temporarily after her reconciliation with the count's family and immediately began to discuss with Master Conrad the best way of realizing her Franciscan ideal. He agreed to none of her suggestions, allowing neither entrance into a convent nor the assumption of a hermit or beggar life. He could not prevent her from renewing her vows or from allowing herself to be clothed in the dress of the Order. And he let her take up residence in her city of Marburg where he lived, too. He determined a lifestyle for her in accord with his judgment, by using her means to build a hospital in Marburg and assigning her certain duties in it. It was probably her own idea not to use any of her income for herself, but to earn her subsistence by her own hands (by spinning wool for the Altenburg monastery), and her director agreed. In Master Conrad's opinion, the most difficult and important task was to teach his charge obedience. It was his pious conviction that obedience was better than sacrifice, that there was no way of attaining perfection without letting go of all of one's own wishes and inclinations. And his enthusiasm for his goal drew him into corporal punishment when she repeatedly overstepped his orders. Certainly, deep within Elizabeth agreed with him. This is evident not only by the patience and meekness with which she bore these severe humiliations. She would certainly not have conceded on such an essential point as the renunciation of her greatly desired lifestyle if she had not been convinced of the importance of obedience. She saw God's representative in the director given to her and whom she had not chosen herself. More unerringly than the tug of her own heart, his word disclosed God's will. In the last analysis, it finally comes down to one thing: forming one's life according to God's will. Thus, they both wage a relentless struggle against natural inclinations.
Sometimes it is Elizabeth herself who takes the lead and finds only the master's approval, as in the move to Marburg and the separation from her children. Sometimes Conrad commands and Elizabeth submits obediently to him, e.g., when he takes away the beloved companions of her youth and substitutes housemates that are hard to bear, when he increasingly restricts her joy of personally giving alms and finally entirely prohibits it. There was only one point on which she would not totally concede. Along with her service at the hospital, she insisted on continuing to have with her a child sick with a particularly unbearable illness in her own little house next door and to care for it all alone. A little fellow ill with scabies even sat beside her death bed, as Master Conrad himself told Pope Gregory IX, who had entrusted to him the care of the widow after the death of the count. Immediately after her death, Master Conrad enthusiastically urged Pope Gregory to beatify her.
So we seem to get a conflicting picture of the saint and the formation of her life. On the one hand we have a stormy temperament that spontaneously follows the instincts of a warm, love-filled heart uninhibited by her own reflection or outside objections. On the other hand we see a forcefully grasping will constantly trying to subdue its own nature and compelling her life to conform to an externally prescribed pattern on the basis of rigid principles that consciously contradicted the inclinations of her heart.
However, there is a standpoint from which the contradictions can be understood and finally harmoniously resolved, that alone truly fulfills this longing to be natural. Those who avow an "unspoiled human nature" assume that people possess a molding power operating from the inside undisturbed by the push and pull of external influence, shaping people and their lives into harmonious, fully formed creatures. But experience does not substantiate this lovely belief. The form is indeed hidden within, but trapped in many webs that prevent its pure realization. People who abandon themselves to their nature soon find themselves driven to and fro by it and do not arrive at a clear formation or organization. And formlessness is not naturalness. Now people who take control of their own nature, curtailing rampant impulses, and seeking to give them the form that appears good to them, perhaps a ready-made form from outside, can possibly now and again give the inner form room to develop freely. But it can also happen that they do violence to the inner form and that, instead of a nature freely unfolded, the unnatural and artificial appears.
Our knowledge is piecemeal. When our will and action build on it alone, they cannot achieve a perfect structure. Nor can that knowledge, because it does not have complete power over the self and often collapses before reaching the goal. And so this inner shaping power that is in bondage strains toward a light that will guide more surely, and a power that will free it and give it space. This is the light and the power of divine grace. Mighty was the tug of grace in the soul of the child Elizabeth. It set her on fire, and the flame of the love of God flared up, breaking through every cloak and barrier. Then this human child placed herself in the hands of the divine Creator. Her will became pliant material for the divine will, and, guided by this will, it could set about taming and curtailing her nature to channel the inner form. Her will could also find an outer form suitable to its inner one and a form into which she could grow without losing her natural direction. And so she rose to that perfected humanity, the pure consequence of a nature freed and clarified by the power of grace. On these heights it is safe to follow the impulses of one's heart, because one's own heart is united with the divine heart and beats with its pulse and rhythm. Here Augustine's astute saying can serve as the guideline for forming a life: Ama et fac quod vis [Love and do what you will].
Yesterday in our monastery church we had perpetual adoration [forty hours devotion]. On such days, the faithful who are associated with our Carmel gather around the altar singing and praying from about six o'clock in the morning until about ten o'clock at night. Then the church is closed and during the night the sisters take turns keeping watch in the choir before the Blessed Sacrament. While outside in carnival's frantic tumult people get drunk and delirious, while political battles separate them, and great need depresses them so much that many forget to look to heaven, at such still places of prayer hearts are opened to the Lord. In place of the cold, the contempt, that he receives out there, they offer him their warm love. They want to atone for the insults that the divine heart must endure daily and hourly. By their steadfast supplications, they draw down God's grace and mercy on a humanity submerged in sin and need. In our time, when the powerlessness of all natural means for battling the overwhelming misery everywhere has been demonstrated so obviously, an entirely new understanding of the power of prayer, of expiation, and of vicarious atonement has again awakened. This is why people of faith crowd the places of prayer, also why, everywhere, there is a blazing demand for contemplative monasteries whose entire life is devoted to prayer and expiation. Also suddenly there is talk in all corners and parts about the silent Carmel which just a few years ago was a little known country. The desire for new foundations is surfacing in the most varied places. One almost feels transported into the time when our Holy Mother Teresa, the foundress of the reformed Carmel, traveled all over Spain from north to south and from west to east to plant new vineyards of the Lord. One would like to bring into our times also something of the spirit of this great woman who built amazingly during a century of battles and disturbances. May she herself bless this little picture of her life and works, that it may capture at least some of the radiance of her spirit and convey it to the hearts of readers. Then surely will people desire to know her better from the sources, from the rich treasure of her own works. And whoever has learned to draw from these sources will never tire of gaining courage and strength from them again and again.
Carmel of Cologne-Lindenthal, Candlemas [February 2]. 1934
1. Native Land and Family Home
As a contemporary, spiritual relative, and native of the same country as that famous champion of the faith, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa's impact unfolded in a century marked by religious strife and a great schism in the church. When she came into the world, a mere twenty years had passed since the last of the Moors were driven out of Spain and the whole peninsula united in the Catholic faith. Eight centuries of continual warfare between the Cross and Crescent lay behind the Spanish people. During these battles they blossomed into an heroic people, into a legion of Christ the King. Teresa's more immediate homeland, the ancient kingdom of Castile, was the strong fortress from which in resolute struggle of the cross was gradually carried to the South. The Castilian knights formed the special troops of the army of faith. Teresa, the bold warrior for God, came from such a race of heroes. A town built on cliffs, the fortress of Avila (called "Avila of the Saints") was her native town. Her parents, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and his second wife Beatriz de Ahumada, were of the old nobility.(40) According to the custom of the times and of her country, she was called by her mother's surname, Teresa de Ahumada. Just as she saw the light of day on the morning of March 28, 1515, the bell of the newly-built Carmelite monastery invited the faithful to a great celebration, to the consecration of its chapel. This was the house that later was to be her home for decades, where the Lord intended to form this vessel of his election. Teresa was the sixth child of her father, the third of her young mother, who had taken charge of the one daughter and two sons from her husband's first marriage. Six younger siblings were later added to these five older ones. Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda was a man of deep piety and strong virtue. He carefully watched over the upbringing of his children, sought to keep from them all harmful influences, guided them to everything good, and himself presented them with the best example of a serious Christian life. Delicate Doña Beatriz, mild and humble, ill at an early age , and dependent on the help of her step-daughter María for the upbringing of this great band of children, was fervently devout. The love of God and of prayer bloomed spontaneously in the hearts of the children who shared her life.
2. Childhood and Youth
The fiery heart of the little Teresa became attached to her noble parents in ardent love and devotion and to her siblings in affectionate trust. Her most beloved companions had to be, primarily, her brothers. Serious María, burdened with the duties of the eldest, was not regarded as a comrade, and the baby, Juana, was many years younger. Rodrigo, four years older than she, became her confidant during her childhood. Her mother's pious tales, her first instruction, ignited in the little Spaniard a holy zeal. Despite her liveliness and joy in merry company, she liked to withdraw into a quiet corner of the garden to pray alone. It gave her pleasure to give alms to the poor. And one day the seven-year-old let her favorite brother in on a secret plan which she had thought up. She tells about it herself in her autobiography. "We were reading the lives of saints together. When I saw what torments the martyrs endured for God, I discovered that they had earned the joy of seeing God for a low price, and I burned with the desire to die a similar death." She did not have far to go from the wish to the decision to act, and her brother was also enkindled by her enthusiasm. "We decided to travel to the land of the Moors to get our heads cut off. It seemed to me that God had given us enough strength to carry out our plans in spite of our tender years. What was the most difficult for us was parting from our parents." But the thought of eternal joy won over the pain of separation. "Forever! Oh Rodrigo, think of it, the martyrs gaze upon God forever. We must become martyrs." The very next morning they secretly set out on their way. But they did not get far. They slipped through the town gate happily. But soon afterwards they met an uncle who took the little fugitives back to their parents. They had already been missed and were greeted with reproach. "I left," Teresa replied, "because I want to see God and because one must die in order to see him." She was very hurt that her lovely plan had fallen apart. Her zeal did not abate. She built hermitages with Rodrigo in the garden, she preferred to play monastery life with her friends, and she continued her lengthy devotions.
The early death of her mother cut deeply into Teresa's youth. She was then thirteen years old.(41) She herself says about it, "I threw myself down in despair before an image of the Mother of God. With many tears, I implored the Holy Virgin to become my mother now. Uttered with the simplicity of a child, this prayer was heard. From that hour on, I never prayed to the Virgin in vain." The young person certainly surmised that she needed special protection, having lost her mother just when she especially needed her. Teresa had blossomed into a young beauty. Black curls framed her white forehead; luminous, dark eyes revealed the passion of her soul; her movements and posture had natural grace and dignity. The liveliness of her spirit, her charming amiability, gave her an attractiveness in her social life which almost nobody could resist. The dangers already inherent in these natural gifts were increased by an inclination that had already awakened in the young girl during her mother's life. Doña Beatriz, who was constantly house-bound by her suffering, liked to find a little distraction in romances of chivalry and was weak enough to allow her children to read them, too, even though this was not the father's intent. After her death, Teresa gave in to her passion without restraint and devoured one book after the other, busying herself with them day and night. Those novels are forgotten today, but we know their character from the magnificent satire, Cervantes' Don Quixote, which exposed for all time such writings and their impact. The "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" who mistook windmills for giants and the peasant girl for a princess, is the victim of such caricatures of real life. Teresa's active imagination was also enchanted by such entrancing portrayals of the deeds of heroic knights. The gentle attraction of the pious legends of her childhood paled against these colorful exploits. With bitter regret, she herself later looked back on these youthful mistakes.
Oh, how I suffer now when I recall how I forgot the longings of my childhood! My God, since you seem to have decided to rescue me, let it be your glorious will to do so.... Why did this soul, which you have selected for your habitation and showered with grace, become spotted like this? I feel great pain remembering it, for I know very well that I alone was guilty. You, Oh Lord, have left nothing untried to open my eyes ever since my youngest days.
It was not surprising that the young girl began to compare herself with the heroines of her beloved novels.
There came a time when I understood the natural gifts that heaven had bestowed on me.... Soon I acquired a taste for beautiful clothes; I wanted to appear well-dressed; I took many pains with my hands and my hair; I resorted to every lovely scent and beauty aid that I could lay hands on. Above all, I loved meticulous cleanliness. I really did not have any ulterior motives at all in my heart, and for all the world I did not want anyone to get an idea of offending God.
The young beauty did not lack admirers. However, her strict father would not permit her to associate with young strangers, but cousins of the same age were allowed in the house. "They liked me, and we spent time together. I let them talk as they would. I enlivened their conversation and, to please them, I took pleasure in their dreams of the future, in their childish misdeeds, and other useless things. However, the worst was that I learned about feelings and attitudes which were later to be unfortunate for me." The influence of one young relative was particularly unhealthy.
She was so frivolous that my mother, as if guessing the bad results, tried everything to keep her away from me. But it was in vain. She always returned under this or that pretext. Soon we were close confidantes. We talked together constantly. She gave me as much pleasure as I wanted, allowed me to share in hers, and confided her secrets and conceits to me. I couldn't get enough of listening to her. I believe I was a little over fourteen years old when our unhealthy friendship started. I believe that in this first period of my life I did not commit even one mortal sin. What saved me was the fear of God and, I must say, the even greater fear of staining my honor; for my honor was everything to me, and nothing in the world, no earthly good, could have shaken me from my decision to keep it pure.
Nevertheless, the effect was deep enough. "This friendship changed me so much that soon there was nothing left of my good nature. My relative and one of her equally frivolous girl friends seemed to have imprinted the frivolity of their characters on me." Her father and older sister, who tended the younger siblings with motherly concern, saw the transformation with serious alarm and made a definite decision. When María left her family home to go to the house of a pious nobleman as his wife, Don Alonso sent his darling to an Augustinian monastery to be educated. Suddenly and without saying good-bye, she vanished from the merry circle of which she had been the center.
3. The Monastery Pupil
The monastery of Our Lady of Grace was highly regarded in Avila. The first families of the city entrusted it with their daughters. Teresa felt as if she were in prison during her first days behind the monastery walls, but soon the solitude aroused strong repentance for the past months. She was tormented by pangs of conscience. But this painful state of affairs did not last long. She again found her peace of mind and also quickly adjusted to boarding school life. With grateful love she attached herself to the boarding school directress, María Briceño, a devout nun and an outstanding educator.
Among the nuns I found one who was especially designated to supervise the pupils. Her bed was in our dormitory. It was she whom God designated to open my eyes. Her conversation seemed beneficial to me. She spoke so beautifully of God! I loved to listen to her. She told me how, upon reading the words of the Gospel, "Many are called but few are chosen," she made the decision to leave the world. She also reflected for me the joy that God reserves for those who leave everything for the love of him. While listening to her, I forgot the recent past. I felt the thought, the longing for eternal things awakening in me. My great aversion to monastic life more and more disappeared....
I only stayed in this monastery for one and one-half years, though I had made great progress in goodness there. I asked the nuns for their prayers that God would show me a way of life in which I could best serve him. In my heart I was afraid that it could be a call to a monastery, just as I was afraid of marriage. Toward the end of my stay in the monastery, however, my inclinations turned more and more to the religious life. Since I believed that I was nevertheless not up to some of the practices of this monastery, I could not decide on this order. Moreover, I had a dear friend in a monastery of another convent. Uppermost in my mind was choosing a house where I could be with her. I was thinking less of the salvation of my soul than of the inclination of my nature. These good thoughts of becoming a nun arose now and then, but left again without my making a definite decision....
4. Vocational Decision
Still unclear about her future life's path, Teresa returned to her father's house. A serious illness occasioned her return. During her convalescence, she was sent to the farm of her sister María, who surrounded her with tender love and would have preferred to keep her permanently. But her father was unwilling to be deprived of her company any longer. He picked her up himself but left her en route with his brother Pedro Sánchez de Cepeda in Hortigosa for a few weeks, since he himself had to finish some pressing business.
Teresa's stay with her uncle was to be of decisive importance for her. His life was devoted entirely to prayer and to being occupied with spiritual books. He asked Teresa to read to him. "Actually," she writes, "this bored me a little. However, I gave the impression that I did so gladly anyhow, because I was overly compliant in order to give others pleasure." This time it was not to her detriment. Soon she was very much taken by the books her uncle gave her. The Letters of St. Jerome and St. Gregory's Morals, and the writings of St. Augustine captivated her active spirit and reawakened in her the pious enthusiasm of her childhood. The reading was often interrupted, and the pious old man and the young reader discussed the questions of eternal life in connection with it. Teresa's resolve ripened in this environment. She took a glance at her past life. What would have become of her if the Lord had called her from life during the time of vanity and infidelity? She does not want to expose herself to this danger again. From then on, eternal salvation is to be her goal, and, in order not to lose sight of it again, she will heroically conquer her aversion to religious life, her love of freedom, and her tender attachment to her father and siblings.
After the interior battle came a difficult outer one. In spite of all his piety, Don Alonso does not want to be separated from his favorite daughter. All her pleas, and the advocacy of her uncle and siblings, are in vain. But Teresa is no less decisive than her father. Since she cannot hope for his consent, she secretly leaves home. As in her earlier childish adventure, one of her brothers accompanies her. It is not Rodrigo, for he no longer lives at home, having taken a post in the Spanish colonies in America. Antonio, who is two years younger than Teresa, takes his place. She herself says:
While I was settling on my leaving, I persuaded one of my brothers to leave the world by pointing out its frivolities to him. We agreed to set out early in the morning and that my brother himself would take me to the monastery.... But when I stepped over the threshold of my family home, such fear gripped me that I believed I could hardly be more afraid at the hour of my death. It was as if my bones were being separated from one another. The love for God was not strong enough in me to triumph over the love for my relatives. My natural feelings arose with such force that, in spite of all my deliberations, without God's support I would not have taken one more step. But God gave me courage in spite of myself and I set out.
Antonio took his sister to the door of the Carmelite monastery. Then he himself went to the Dominican monastery of St. Thomas and asked for admission. This was on All Souls Day of the year 1535.
5.In the Monastery of the Incarnation: Novitiate
The house that in her childish reflections Teresa preferred over the Augustinians because a dear friend lived there (Juana Suárez, the blood sister of her governess María Briceño) was the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation. It also had a number of other material advantages which could prejudice a receptive disposition: its magnificent location, its beautiful, spacious buildings, its expansive garden through which flowed clear streams. But these earthly motives were no longer decisive. "In spite of my preference for the monastery where my friend lived, I felt ready to enter some other one should I have had the hope of serving God better there or should it have been my father's wish. For I was seriously seeking the salvation of my soul and placed little value on quiet living." So it was clearly God's mysterious grace guiding her that gave her the inner certainty of where to direct her steps.
The Order of the Most Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel, to which Teresa now belonged, already looked back on a long and glorious past. It revered as its founder the Prophet Elijah who led a hermit's life of prayer and fasting with his disciples in the caves of Mount Carmel. When his prayer freed the land of Israel from a drought that had lasted for years, then (according to the Order's legend) in a little cloud that signaled the saving rain, his prophetic vision recognized the image of the Virgin who would bear God, she who would bring grace. He is said to have been the first to revere the Mother of God, and the first shrine to Mary is said to have stood on the lovely heights of Mount Carmel. During the time of the crusades, the hermits of Mount Carmel were organized as an order. At their request, Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem gave them a rule for their Order around 1200. In solitude and silence, they were to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night, to observe strict fasts as of old, and to obtain what they needed to live by the work of their own hands, as the apostle Paul exhorted. The persecution of religious by the Moslem conquerors of the Holy Land led to the transplantation of the Order to the West. Here the destiny of other orders at the beginning of the Middle Ages befell them also. The strict discipline of old gave way to a certain mitigation. Pope Eugene IV moderated the original rule; and the first women's monasteries of the Order were founded in the fifteenth century on the basis of these moderated regulations. They also were observed at the Monastery of the Incarnation. It had only been in existence for a few decades before Teresa entered, and one could not accuse it of abuses. The existing regulations were being followed. Nuns of deep piety and of exemplary conduct lived there, but there was scarcely a trace left of the strong spirit of the original Carmel. The rich appointments of the monastery permitted a comfortable life; the old fasts and penances were for the most part abolished; there was great freedom of association with people in the world. The influx to this attractive place was so great that the monastery numbered 190 nuns in 1560. Still, the framework given it by its Constitutions continued to offer the full possibility of a true life of prayer. Teresa went through the school of the interior life to perfection here.
The last shadow to her happiness as a young novice vanished when Don Alonso subsequently gave his consent to her decision and, with a holy zeal, set about to challenge his young daughter in climbing the mountain of perfection, doing so in fact under her direction. She took up religious life with the same determination with which she had left her father's house, eagerly turned to prayer, the practices of obedience, and sisterly love. The reward was superabundant. If Teresa's resolute decision had mainly been based on the fear of God's judgment and on concern about her eternal salvation, these original motives soon receded in the face of God's love blazing up powerfully.
At the same time as I put on the holy habit, God showed me his preference for those who constrain themselves in his service. I also felt so happy in my new position that this blessed feeling still continues. Nothing could rob me of this delight. God changed the dryness that could bring me to doubt into love for him.
All the monastic practices were congenial to me. I often had to mop the floor in hours during which formerly I had dressed or amused myself. Just the thought of being free of all of these silly things gave me renewed joy. I did not understand the source of so much joy.
As I think about it, there is no difficulty then that I would not have the courage to overcome. I know from experience that as soon as one has firmly decided right from the beginning to pursue one's goal for the honor of God without considering the opposition of one's nature, one is soon also rewarded. In order to increase our merits, God wants the soul to undergo an indescribable anxiety before one sets to work. But the greater this anxiety, the greater, later, is the delight.
With holy joy the young novice participated in choral prayer. But the prescribed prayer times were not sufficient for her zeal. She also was happiest spending her free hours in silent contemplation before the tabernacle. It goes without saying that souls who did not like prayer as much accused her of exaggeration. But she let nothing stop her on her way. God's love gave her natural amiability and readiness to serve a new incentive and higher motivation when dealing with people. She felt that a day was lost if she did not do some work of charity. She welcomed the smallest opportunity for doing so. She took particular pleasure in caring for the sick. She enveloped with tender care a nun who was dying of a terrible disease which disgusted everyone else, and tried in every way to show that she was not at all repelled. This sick person's patience so strongly aroused her wonder that there was awakened in her a desire for similar trials.
...I asked God that, provided he were graciously to give me this patience, that he would also send me the most horrible diseases. I had the feeling of fearing none of them. I experienced such a strong desire for eternal goods that I would use any means to get them. Now I wonder at this myself, for at that time I did not yet have that love of God in me that I later found in meditative prayer. It was an inner light that let me recognize the little value of everything transitory and the immeasurable value of the eternal.
Soon her pleas were to be heard.
6. The School of Suffering: Interior Life
Not long after her profession (November 3, 1537), heart problems sent her to the infirmary. She bore the pain, the forced idleness, the inability to participate in the religious practices, with no less patience than that of the nun who had amazed her. So she won the love of all the other sisters, even those who formerly had criticized and misinterpreted her actions. Her fond father wanted everything possible to be done, and, because the doctors could not help, he decided to take his daughter to a healer who was famous for her cures. Since the Monastery of the Incarnation was not enclosed, there was no hesitation about allowing the family to care for the young sister. The long trip took them first past Hortigosa. Pedro Sánchez gave Teresa a book [i.e., the Third Spiritual Alphabet] by Fr. [Francisco de] Osuna about the prayer of recollection, which was soon to become her guide. The travelers spent the winter at the farmhouse of María de Cepeda. Even though as in earlier years she was here surrounded by her loved ones, and devoted herself wholeheartedly to them, Teresa knew how to arrange the day to give her enough time for solitary prayer; and so she remained faithful to her religious vocation outside of the monastery setting. However, her illness steadily increased so that it was a relief when spring came, the time the healer of Becedas had designated for the cure. The long journey was a torment for the patient, but the cure was even worse. Instead of healing her, it only increased her suffering. In spite of all her agonizing pain, she steadfastly continued in contemplative prayer according to the directions in her spiritual guidebook, and God rewarded this courageous fidelity by even then raising her to a high level of the interior life.
In her writings, this doctor of prayer later presented the mystical life of grace in all its stages with incomparable clarity.(42) The neophyte who was beginning to practice prayer did not yet know what was happening in her soul. But in order to make her further development intelligible, it is necessary to say a few words here about the interior life.
Prayer is the communication of the soul with God. God is love, and love is goodness giving itself away. It is a fullness of being that does not want to remain enclosed in itself, but rather to share itself with others, to give itself to them, and to make them happy. All of creation exists thanks to this divine love spending itself. However, the highest of all creatures are those endowed with spirit, able to receive God's love with understanding and to return it freely: angels and human souls. Prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable. But it is not merely a human achievement. Prayer is a Jacob's ladder on which the human spirit ascends to God and God's grace descends to people. The stages of prayer are distinguished according to the measure in which the natural efforts of the soul and God's grace participate. When the soul is no longer active by virtue of its own efforts, but is simply a receptacle for grace, one speaks of a mystical life of prayer.
So-called vocal prayer is designated as the lowest stage, prayer that remains within specifically designated spoken forms: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the rosary, the Divine Office. Of course, "vocal" prayer is not to be understood as simply saying words. If the mere words of a prayer alone are said without the soul's raising itself to God, this is only an outward show and not real prayer. The designated words, however, support the spirit and prescribe to it a fixed path.
Meditative prayer is one stage higher. Here the spirit moves more freely without being bound to specific words. It immerses itself, for example, in the mystery of the birth of Jesus. The spirit's imagination [Phantasie] transports it to the grotto in Bethlehem, seeing the child in the manger, the holy parents, the shepherds, and the kings. The intellect ponders the greatness of divine mercy, the emotions are seized by love and thankfulness, the will decides to make itself more worthy of divine love. This is how meditative prayer involves all the soul's powers and, when practiced with faithful persistence, can gradually remake the whole person. However, the Lord has yet another way of rewarding fidelity in meditation: by elevation to a higher manner of praying.
St. Teresa calls the next stage the prayer of quiet or of simplicity. Various activities are replaced by a recollection of spiritual energies. The soul is no longer in the position to reflect intellectually or to make definite decisions; she is completely engaged by something that she cannot avoid, the presence of her God who is close to her and allows her to rest in him. While the lower prayer stages are accessible to every believer by human effort, albeit aided by the grace of God, we are now standing at the border of the mystical life of grace that cannot be entered by virtue of human energy, for here only God's special favor grants admission.
If the perception of God's presence is already something which totally captivates the soul and gives it a happiness incomparable to any earthly happiness, then this is greatly surpassed by the union with the Lord, which, at first, is usually granted to it for only a very short time.
At this stage of mystical favor many events occur that are also outwardly recognized as extraordinary: ecstasies and visions. The energy of the soul is so attracted by the supernatural influence that its lower faculties, the senses, lose their effectiveness entirely. The soul no longer sees or hears anything, the body no longer feels pain when injured, in some cases becomes rigid like someone dead. But the soul lives an intensified life as if it were outside of its body. Sometimes the Lord himself appears to it in bodily form, sometimes the Mother of God or an angel or saint. It sees these heavenly forms as if through bodily perception, or also in imagination. Or its intellect is supernaturally enlightened and gains insight into hidden truths. Such private revelations usually have the purpose of teaching souls about their own condition or that of others, of confiding God's intentions to them, and of forming them for a specific task for which God has selected them. They are seldom absent in the lives of saints, though they by no means belong to the essence of holiness. Usually they only appear during a certain phase and later vanish again.
These souls, which have been sufficiently prepared and tested by repeated transitory union with him, by extraordinary illuminations, and at the same time through suffering and various trials, the Lord wishes to bind to himself permanently. He enters into a covenant with them that is called "spiritual betrothal." He expects them to put themselves completely at his service; at the same time, he takes takes them into safekeeping, cares for them, and is always ready to grant their requests.
Finally, Teresa calls the highest stage of blessedness "spiritual marriage." The extraordinary events have now stopped, but the soul is constantly united with the Lord. She enjoys his presence even in the midst of external activities without being hindered in the least.
The saint had to go through all of these stages during a development that took years before she could account for them herself and give others advice. But the beginnings were during that time of greatest bodily suffering:
It pleased the heavenly Master to deal with me with such love that he gave me the prayer of quiet. But he often also raised me up to that of union. Unfortunately, I was unfamiliar with either kind. In fact, it would have been useful to me to recognize their value. To be sure, this union did not last long, I believe, hardly as long as one Hail Mary. But it had a great influence on me. I was not yet twenty years old and already believed that I saw the world lying conquered under my feet. I pitied all who had relationships with the world, even if the ties were permitted. I tried with all of my strength to be truly present in my soul to Jesus our Lord, our highest Good, our Master. My way of praying was to think about one of the mysteries of his divine life and make a mental image of it.
The effect of her prayer life was an ever increasing love of God and of souls. If earlier her natural gifts had had an unusual influence on her human surroundings, her supernatural power to love now gave her an almost irresistible force. The first person to experience it was the priest to whom she confessed in Becedas. The insight he had into this pure soul, which blamed itself for innocent little slips with the most bitter regret, disturbed him so much that he himself confessed to his penitent the serious sin in which he had been living for years. Now she could not rest until he had freed himself from these disgraceful fetters. The power of her words and her intercession changed him into a contrite penitent.
After the return to the family home in Avila, the state of the patient got so much worse that there seemed no further hope for her life. She was unconscious for four days. The news of her death spread through the city. Her grave was dug at the Monastery of the Incarnation. The Carmelites of Avila sang a requiem for her. Only her father and siblings continued besieging heaven, and finally she opened her eyes again. At the moment of awakening she spoke some words that implied that she had seen some great things during this apparent death. During her last days she admitted that God at that time had shown her heaven and hell, besides her later work in the Order, and the saintly death of her father, her friend Juana Suárez, as well as her own.
As soon as a slight improvement began, Teresa moved back to her monastery at her urgent request. But she was confined to her bed for several more years, seemed to be crippled forever, and suffered unutterable pain. She herself describes the state of her soul during this time of trial.
I bore these sufferings with great composure, in fact with joy, except at first when the pain was too severe. What followed seemed to hurt less. I was completely surrendered to the will of God even if he intended to burden me like this forever. It appeared to me that all I wanted was to get healthy so as to withdraw into solitude as my book prescribed. This was difficult in the sick room.... The other sisters wondered at my God-given patience. Without him I truly could not have borne so much with so much joy.
Now I understood how prayer is a blessing. In the first place, it showed me what God's true love was. Next I felt new virtues developing in me that were still very weak.... I never said anything bad about others. Instead, I excused those who were targets of negative gossip, for I reminded myself that I did not want to say nor even liked to hear anything that I would not have liked to hear said about myself. I remained true to this resolution. Sometimes but not often I failed to keep it. I advised the other sisters and people who visited me to do likewise. They assumed these practices. It was soon noticed. It was said that those absent had nothing to fear from me or from my parents and friends....
Teresa suffered for three years without asking for recovery. We do not know why she now changed her mind. She only tells us that she decided to beseech heaven to end her suffering. With this intention, she asked that a Mass be offered and turned toward the saint in whom she had always had unlimited trust, and who owes to her zeal the increased veneration shown him. "I do not know how to think about the Queen of Angels, about all of her pains and cares with the little child Jesus without thanking St. Joseph for the dedication with which he came to the help of both of them." She ascribed her healing to him.
Soon he came to my rescue in very obvious ways. This most beloved father and lord of my soul quickly freed me of the weakness and suffering to which my body was consigned.... I don't recall that he ever denied me anything.
St. Joseph permitted his power and goodness to me to become evident. Through him I regained my strength. I stood up, walked, and was free of the paralysis.
Teresa's generous heart was certainly determined to dedicate the life that had been given to her anew entirely to the service of her beloved Lord. She had no idea that her recovery was to result in dangers, and that when she left the solitary sick room, there was to be an end for a long time to her excursions among the heights in fact, that she was to lose again all that she had gained. "My great misfortune was that I found myself in a monastery without an enclosure. Doubtless, the dear nuns could be pleased with the freedom and remain innocent.... But I, weakness itself, would have found it the way to hell had not God with particular grace saved me from this danger."
It was understandable that relatives and friends joyfully welcomed her whose life had been restored, that she was often called into the speakroom, that her lovableness, her animated spirit, her exceptional conversational ability delighted these visitors and drew them to come again and again. All research has concluded that Teresa's association with people in the world, on which she herself looked back with the most bitter repentance for her entire life, was entirely pure and in no way a relapse into worldly frivolity. She had a healthy influence on her visitors and during this time also spoke about nothing more eagerly than divine things. Nevertheless, her remorse is understandable because association with people diverted her from association with God. She lost the taste for prayer, and once she was had gone this far, she no longer even thought herself worthy of such a grace.
Under the pretext of humility, I was afraid of prayer and meditation. I said to myself that, as the most imperfect of persons, it was better for me to do what everyone else was doing and to limit myself to the prescribed verbal prayers. In my condition, which was more suited to the company of the devil, I did not want to pursue so much intimacy with God. I was also afraid of deceiving the whole world.
During this time Teresa impressed the other sisters as a thoroughly first-rate nun.
In spite of my youth and many relationships to the world, people saw how I sought solitude for reading and for prayer. I often spoke of God. I was fond of having the image of the Savior painted in various places. I had a special place to pray and carefully decorated it with all that could stimulate devotion. I never spread malicious gossip....
And all that took place "without appearing at all calculating; for I really hated pretense, empty honor, and I believe God be praised! that I never thus offended him. As soon as self-love stirred in my heart, I was so remorseful that the devil lost and I won...." But the Lord wanted more from her.
One day while I was talking with someone with whom I had recently become acquainted, God gave me to understand that such acquaintances were not suitable for me and illumined me in my darkness. Our Savior Jesus Christ appeared to me as sad and serious and declared how much I was distressing him. I saw him only with the eyes of my soul, but much more clearly than if I could have seen him with the eyes in my body. His image impressed itself into my spirit so deeply that even now, after more than twenty-six years, it is not erased. Seized by anxiety and confusion, I no longer wanted to receive this person. But to my detriment then, I did not know that the soul can see without the mediation of physical eyes. The devil used my ignorance to tell me this was impossible. He told me that the vision was a delusion, a machination of the devil.... But deep in my heart I still had a secret feeling that what I had seen came from God. But since this did not correspond to my inclinations, I tried to deceive myself. I did not dare to speak with someone about it.... People told me that it was not bad to welcome this person; associating with her would never hurt me, but would be an honor for me. Finally, I gave in.
Her father's attitude was a serious warning. He had been allowing his child to lead him on the path of interior prayer and remained faithful to it. Teresa's upright nature could not permit her to leave him under the delusion that she was faithful, too.
I confessed to him, even though without indicating the deeper reason, that I had stopped praying. I used only my health as a pretext. Actually, even though I had recovered from the serious illness, I still had to suffer a great deal. But this was not enough to justify myself. One does not need physical strength for prayer, but only love and steadfastness. My father, who loved me tenderly and was deceived by me, believed everything and pitied me. Since he had already progressed far toward perfection, he no longer spent as much time with me. After a short dialogue, he left me with the remark that lengthy lingering is time lost. But I who was losing time in an entirely different way did not see with as sharp an eye.
Teresa spent at least one year, possibly longer, in this way. She did not feel at all good about it, and was constantly in great spiritual unrest. Yet again and again she permitted herself to be held back by a false humility. "I do not know how I was able to stand such a state of affairs. Perhaps what kept me going was the hope of taking up praying again. For I still had in my heart the will to return to it again. I was only waiting until I got better. Oh, onto how wicked a path did this insane hope lead me!"
Teresa was to find deliverance at the deathbed of her father. Upon the news of his serious illness, she was permitted to go to him and be at his side during his last days.
With him I lost all my happiness and joy. Yet I had the strength to conceal my pain from him. I remained quiet until his death, even though I felt that someone was tearing a piece from my heart as I watched such a precious life being slowly extinguished. But God gave him such a holy death that I cannot thank him enough. It was deeply moving to see the supernatural joy of this good father, to listen to the advice that he gave us after receiving Extreme Unction. He made us promise to commend him to God and to plead for his mercy, to fulfill our duties faithfully, and always to remember how quickly the things of this world pass and perish. With tear-filled eyes, he told us about his pain at not having served God the Lord better and during his last moment rued not having entered the strictest order.
He suffered a great deal, mainly with a piercing pain in his shoulders that gave him not a moment's peace. I remembered his devotion to the mystery of the cross-bearing Savior and told him that God surely wanted to let him feel something of the pain that he himself bore at that time of suffering. This thought gave him such comfort that there no longer came the slightest complaint from his lips. He lay unconscious for three days. However, to our great surprise, on the day of his death God returned him to consciousness and he remained conscious to the end.
In the middle of the creed, which he himself was praying with a clear voice, he gently gave up his spirit. At the same time his features became supernaturally beautiful. He seemed to be resting in the peace of the angels. It seemed to me that he indeed became their brother at the moment of his death because of the purity of his soul and conscience. His confessor (from the order of St. Dominic) told us that he believed that our father had gone straight to heaven.
This Dominican, Fr. Vicente Barrón, made a deep impression on Teresa by the way in which he assisted the dying man. She asked if she could confess to him and gave him complete insight into the state of her soul. Contrary to all others before whom she had up to then accused herself, he recognized at once what she needed and advised her to take up prayer again. "I obeyed and since then I have never given it up again."
But what followed now was not an undisturbed peace but rather years of great spiritual struggles.
This life that I was leading was very difficult because, in the light of prayer, I saw my errors newly illuminated. On the one hand, God called me; on the other, the world flattered me. Oh, my God, how could I describe all that your compassion did for me during those years or this battle that your love waged against my ingratitude! How am I to find the words to enumerate all the graces which you showered on me? At the moment I was offending you the most you suddenly led my spirit by means of deep rest to the enjoyment of your blessings and your consolations. O my redeemer! It is really true that you knew me. You knew how to punish me in the tenderest and severest way in that you rewarded my errors with good deeds.... My character made me suffer a great deal more when I received blessings after my failures instead of punishment.... In an affliction I would at least have recognized a justified punishment. I would have seen this as a way of doing penance for my many sins. But to find myself showered by new favors after so shamefully misusing the many already received, was a much greater agony for me. I firmly believe that only those who have some knowledge of and love for God can understand this....
Most souls favored by such graces experience that the interior life usually takes this course. God first draws them to himself by letting them enjoy the supernatural happiness of his beneficent presence, but then tests their fidelity by taking all joys away from them and letting them languish in dryness.
For three years I was oh so often concerned less with God and good thoughts than with the desire for seeing the end of the hour of prayer. I listened for the bell finally to ring. I would have preferred the severest penances to the agony of being recollected at the feet of the Savior. The battle I had to endure with the devil and my wicked inclinations to make myself go to the oratory is indescribable. As soon as I entered, a deadly sadness came over me, and it took all my courage to conquer myself and give myself to prayer. Finally, God sent me help. And even if I had to force myself, I more often enjoyed consolations then than on the days when I was in a better mood.
The saint endured these struggles for fourteen years without ever wavering in her faithfulness. Holy Week of the year 1554 brought her release.
One day as I entered the oratory I saw before me an image of the Savior that someone had placed there for an upcoming feast day. This image showed our divine Master covered with wounds and with such a peaceful expression that I was moved by it. More than before I apprehended what the Savior had suffered for us. At the same time I experienced my own lack of thankfulness so bitterly that it seemed my heart would break. I fell at the feet of my divine Master and through a stream of tears pleaded with him to give me the strength not to offend him any more. I called on the presence of the holy Magdalene whom I already loved fervently and whose conversion I revered. She came to my help. Without trusting my good intentions, I put my whole trust in God. If I still remember this correctly, I said to him I would not get up until he had heard my plea and I knew for certain that he wanted to grant it. For on that day true life began for me and I never stopped improving.
Soon afterwards this operation of grace was reinforced by a second similar one.
Someone gave me the Confessions of St. Augustine. God granted this, for I never thought of requesting it nor had I ever read it. I had hardly opened this book than I thought that I saw myself in it. With all my strength I commended myself to this great saint.... I had always loved him very much, first, because the monastery in which I had been raised followed his rule and, secondly, because he was a poor sinner for a long time. I believed that, because God had forgiven him everything, I could also receive my forgiveness....
I cannot describe what happened in my heart when I read the description of his conversion and followed him into the garden where he heard the voice of heaven. It seemed to me as if God were speaking to me. Overcome by regret, I remained dissolved in my tears for a long time. The Lord be eternally praised. He led me from death to life again. My renewed strength made me recognize that he had heard my call and that my tears led him to have mercy on me.
9. God Alone
Teresa had completed the fortieth year of her life when the Lord rewarded her faithful perseverance and drew her to himself anew, this time forever. According to a comparison that she herself used in her Life to portray the various ways of praying, in her view she had up to now operated in her prayer life like a gardener who draws up the water for his garden from a deep well with a great deal of effort. She was most fond of conceiving of the Lord with the help of the imagination [Phantasie] she especially enjoyed seeking him out at the Mount of Olives and had tried to stay close to him. Now God came to meet her. Like the gardener who has a sufficient supply of water to let it stream forth, she could rest from her efforts. Intellect and memory could cease their activity. In this prayer of quiet, "the will alone is active and, without knowing how, it delivers itself to God like a prisoner for him to chain to himself through his love."
The soul that surrenders to the divine attraction by this way of praying is raised above its own suffering and receives some knowledge of heavenly glory. It grows, draws near to God, and so becomes stronger. It loses its pleasure in earthly things. Why? It clearly sees that it could not for even a moment enjoy this supernatural joy on earth, that no kingdoms, no realms, no honor, no joys can offer it for even a moment this true happiness that is absolutely the only thing that can satisfy....
Since it has known nothing to surpass this joy, it cherishes no other wish. With complete justification it will say along with St. Peter, "Lord, let us make our home here."
Soon the Lord himself takes over the role of gardener. The soul is raised from quiet (theologians usually call this contemplation) to union.
In my opinion, this way of praying is a clear union of the entire soul with God. The only leeway God leaves to the faculties is the freedom to recognize the great work he is doing in them. Their only activity is to be occupied with him without being able to do anything else. None of them dares to move. Strong measures would be required to divert them from their divine preoccupation, and, even so, such efforts would never succeed in tearing them away completely. The soul, entirely beside itself and moved by the sweetest rapture, would like its voice to intone hymns of praise, that everything in it could extol the superabundance of its happiness.
Often enough, such hymns of praise have streamed from the lips of the saint.
At the beginning of her mystical life the duration of the union was very short, Teresa says hardly as long as one Hail Mary. But its effect was astounding.
By one single visit, no matter how short, God changed the face, the appearance of the mystical garden.... Unaware [of what happened] the soul sees itself transformed. It finds I do not know what powers to do great things. At the same time it recognizes that it could not in many years acquire those virtues which the Lord has just given it, and it feels a humility beginning in itself that is much more profound than anything beforehand....
When God the Lord raises a soul to this stage of prayer, he requires nothing more from her than a simple consent to the graces he is giving her and a full surrender to the will of his divine wisdom. He intends to dispose of her as he does of his property.
Frequently the union increases to rapture. Overpowered by the force of grace and supernatural joy, the soul loses the use of its lower powers and the control of its own body.
During rapture it is almost always impossible to resist the supernatural power of attraction. The soul must have more decisiveness and courage than in the prior states. For when it is in these raptures, one feels oneself carried away without knowing where one is going or what is going to become of one, and our weak nature feels during this otherwise so delightful moment I cannot say what dread. Not only is the soul carried away, but sometimes the body also itself follows this movement, so that it no longer touches the floor. Should I want to be on solid ground again, I would feel under my feet astounding powers lifting me up against my will. It was a dreadful struggle. I remained as though annihilated and in fact I saw well that if God wills something, all resistance to his omnipotence amounts to nothing. The effects of such an extraordinary favor are great. First, it demonstrates to us God's omnipotence and teaches us that we are the masters of neither our bodies nor our souls, but that we have a divine Master who does what he wants with them. The other effect is a rare detachment which I have no words to describe. One truly feels like a stranger to things here below. Because they are vying with each other, promises and heroic resolutions come from these things; lively desires, frank aversion to the world; a clear glimpse into its nothingness. Finally, this prayer leaves behind in the soul such great love that it could perish, not from pain, but from the tears of joy which it pours out.
...One hour's ecstasy or even shorter is sufficient to make the soul the mistress of itself and of all things and to give it a freedom in which it no longer recognizes even itself....
What power is comparable to the power of a soul that has been raised by God to these heights, and sees beneath it the things of the world without in the least being governed by them! How confused it is about the time when it clung to them! How amazed it is by its blindness! How greatly is it concerned over those who still live in the same darkness! It would like to raise its voice to show them their error. It would like to break their chains and tear them from the prison of this life where it itself had been locked up. But then when it looks at itself, it not only sees the cobwebs or the great sins, but also the tiniest dust specks or the tiniest spots.... If on the one hand it contemplates the endless holiness of its God, it is blinded by his light. On the other hand, if it looks at itself, its eye seems to find her who is covered with the mud of her misery.... O happy, a thousand times happy, the soul whom God through ecstasy raises to the knowledge of the truth.
These recollections reveal to us the whole nature of the saint: the sensitivity of her conscience that with bitter regret accused itself when no one else could find a spot on her; the ardor of her love that made her ready to make any sacrifice for the glory of God; her concern over souls whom she wanted with all her might to rescue from ruin and to lead to the peace of the Lord. But before she was permitted to do great things as God's chosen instrument, she still had to taste the most bitter pains.
10. New Tests
The first difficulty arose from her own ignorance of mystical theology. In her deep humility, she could not imagine how an unworthy person (as in her opinion she was) could be so richly laden with such extraordinary favors. Of course, as long as the favors during prayer lasted she could not doubt their authenticity. But in between she was plagued by fears that these mystical states were deceptions of the devil. On the basis of her experience, Teresa later said again and again how necessary it is for a soul that is going the way of the interior life to have the guidance of a learned and enlightened spiritual director. Fr. Vicente Barrón, who had so charitably stood by her after the death of her father, had been called away from Avila some time earlier. In her need, upon the advice and through the mediation of a dear friend, the pious nobleman Francisco de Salcedo, she turned to Gaspar Daza, a priest who was considered throughout the city to be as holy as he was learned. His evaluation was devastating. He interpreted all of her favors during prayer as deceptions of the devil and advised her to cease entirely what she had been doing up to now. The saint fell into the uttermost distress showered by favors from heaven while at the same time, according to the theological expert, in the gravest danger, and directed to pull back from the supernatural influences! There appeared one more way out of her distress. A short time earlier a college of the Society of Jesus had been started in Avila. Teresa, who had the greatest admiration for the new order, heard this with joy, but up to now had not dared to speak with one of the greatly renowned fathers. Now she took refuge in them, and this was her deliverance. Fr. Juan de Prádanos completely reassured her about the origin of her mystical states and advised her to continue on this path. He only found it necessary that she make herself worthy of the favors by strict mortifications. As she said, "mortification" was at that time a word virtually unknown to her. But with her characteristic decisiveness, she took up the suggestion and began to accustom herself to severe penances. Recognizing that her weak health would not be able to stand such a severe life, P. Prádanos easily helped her with this. "Without doubt, my daughter," he said, "God sends you so many illnesses in order to make up for those mortifications that you do not practice. So do not be afraid. Your mortifications cannot hurt you." And in fact Teresa's health improved because of this new lifestyle.
Even though her new spiritual director had no doubt about the heavenly origin of her favors during prayer, he still thought it a good idea to impose on her some constraint in her manner of meditating and to instruct her in resisting the stream of favors. But even this restriction was soon to be lifted again. St. Francis Borgia visited the Jesuit college and to get his evaluation, Fr. Prádanos asked him to speak with Teresa. She herself writes about this:
I let him...know the state of my soul. After listening to me, he told me that everything happening in me came from the spirit of God. He called my behavior good so far. But he said that in the future I should offer no more resistance. He advised me always to begin my prayers by meditating on one of the mysteries of the passion. If then without my assistance the Lord transported my spirit into a supernatural state, I should surrender to his guidance.... He left me completely consoled.
If the saint herself was calmed by such weighty testimony, it was not so in her surroundings. In spite of the testimony of St. Francis Borgia, despite the sympathetic guidance she found, soon after the recall of Fr. Prádanos, in his very young but saintly confrere, Fr. Baltasar Alvarez, her devoted friends did not stop worrying about her. They asked others in for advice, and soon everyone in the city was talking about the unusual phenomena at the Monastery of the Incarnation and warning the young Jesuit not to let himself be deceived by his penitent. Even though he placed no credence in these voices, he did think it advisable to pose Teresa some difficult tests. He denied her solitude, and once withheld Holy Communion from her for twenty days. She submitted to all orders. But it was no wonder that unrest once more arose in her heart also, since everyone else doubted her or appeared to doubt her. Her deliverance was the goodness of the Lord who calmed her again and again, who enraptured her right in the middle of the mandatory conversations, since solitary prayer was taken from her. Above all, he strengthened her to persist faithfully in the way of obedience no matter how hard it was. Her reward was new, continually greater favors. She felt the presence of the Savior by her side often for entire days. At first he came to her invisibly, but later also in a visible form.
The Savior almost always appeared to me visibly in risen form. When I saw him in the holy Host, he was in this transfigured form. Sometimes when I was tired or sad, he showed me his wounds to encourage me. He also appeared to me hanging on the cross. I saw him in the garden; finally, I saw him carrying the cross. When he appeared to me in such a form, it was, I repeat, because of a need in my soul or for the consolation of various other persons; still his body was always glorified.
These appearances increased Teresa's love and strengthened her in the certainty that it was none other than the Lord who was visiting her with his favors. So it must have been all the more painful to her when, in the absence of Fr. Alvarez, another confessor ordered her to send the "evil spirit" away each time it appeared by making the sign of the cross and a gesture of contempt. She also obeyed this command. But at the same time she fell at the feet of the Lord and pleaded with him for forgiveness: "Oh Savior, you know when I act like this toward you that I do it only out of love for you because I want to submit obediently to him whom you have appointed in your Church to take your place for me." And Jesus calmed her. "Be comforted, my daughter, you do well to obey. I will reveal the truth."
In this obedience toward the church, the saint herself had always seen the surest criterion that a soul was on the right way.
I know for certain that God would never allow the devil to delude a soul that mistrusts itself and whose faith is so strong that it was prepared to endure a thousand deaths for the sake of one single article of faith. God blesses this noble disposition of the soul by strengthening its faith and making it ever more fiery. This soul carefully tries to transform itself so that it is completely in line with the teachings of the church and for this purpose asks questions of anyone who could elucidate them. It hangs on so tightly to the church's creeds that all conceivable revelations even if it saw heaven opened could never make it vacillate in its faith even in the minutest article taught by the church....
Should a soul not find in itself this powerful faith or its delight in devotion not contribute to increasing its dependence on the holy church, then I say that the soul is on a path filled with danger. The spirit of God only flows into things that are in agreement with the holy Scriptures. If there had been the slightest deviation, I would have been convinced that these things came from the author of lies.
That after each new favor she grew in humility and love must have pacified the saint herself, and must also have been an unmistakable sign to the enlightened men of the spirit of the disposition of her soul.
During that time of unusual demonstrations of grace and of the severest tests, Teresa also received a visible sensory image of the glowing love which pierced her heart. "I saw beside me at my left side an angel in a physical form.... Because of his flaming face, he seemed to belong to that lofty choir made up only of fire and love.... I saw a long, golden dart in his hands the end of which glowed like fire. From time to time the angel pierced my heart with it. When he pulled it out again, I was entirely inflamed with love for God." The heart of the saint, which has been preserved in the monastery of Alba and remains intact to this day, bears a long, deep wound.
11. Works for the Lord
One who loves feels compelled to do something for the beloved. Teresa, who even as a child showed herself to be boldly decisive and ready to act, burned with the desire to show the Lord her love and thankfulness by action. As a nun in a contemplative monastery, she seemed to be cut off from all outer activity. So she at least wanted to do as much as possible to make herself holy. With the permission of her confessor (Fr. Alvarez) and her highest superior in the Order, she took a vow always to do what would be the most pleasing to God. To protect her from uncertainty and from qualms of conscience, the text was later changed to read that her confessor was to decide what would be perfect at any given time.
But a soul so full of love could not be satisfied with caring for its own salvation and making the Lord happy by its own perfection. One day she was transported into hell by a horrible vision. "I immediately understood that God wanted to show me the place that the devil had reserved for me and that I deserved for my sins. It lasted hardly a moment. But even if I live for many more years, I will never be able to forget it." She recognizes that from which God's goodness has preserved her. "The superscription for my life should read as 'the mercy of God.'" But countless other people are constantly subject to the dangers that she herself had escaped. "How could I find one day of rest with such an outlook? How could I live in peace while so many souls were being lost?" It was at the time when Germany was torn by schism, France was tearing itself to pieces in wars of religion, and all of Europe was confused by false doctrines. "Brokenhearted, as though I could do something or as if I myself were someone, I embraced the feet of the Lord, shed bitter tears, and asked him to remedy such evil. I would gladly have sacrificed a thousand lives to save one of these misguided souls. But how could a poor woman like me serve the cause of her divine Master?" During such reflections, there occurred to her the thought of freeing herself from the mitigated rule of her monastery
so that she could rest entirely in God like the saints, the hermits who had preceded her. Since she could not, as she would have liked, extol God's mercy throughout the entire world, she at least wanted to gather some selected souls around her who would dedicate themselves to poverty, withdrawal, constant prayer, and the strictness of the Primitive Rule. Already full of this thought, which was not simply fantasy but a firm decision, she conceived of how she would surround herself with a small band of noble souls who were ready to join her in doing what was most perfect. She considered how she might pray day and night to be a constant support to those destined to save souls.... It seemed to her as though she were already in the situation which appeared to her as paradise. She saw herself already living in a little house clad in sackcloth, enclosed behind the walls, only occupied with prayer, and hurrying with her companions to serve the most Beloved.(43)
It was not to be too long before this lovely dream was to be become reality.
12. Saint Joseph's of Avila, the First Monastery of the Reform
A small group of nuns and visitors present for worship on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel on July 16, 1560 were discussing the obstacles to the life of prayer presented by the large number of nuns living in the monastery and the many visitors. María de Ocampo, a young relative of the saint and a celebrated beauty, suggested that someone should establish a monastery in which the life of the ancient hermits could be revived. In all seriousness she offered her dowry for this. The next day Teresa told her trusted friend Doña Guiomar de Ulloa (a young widow who like her led a life of prayer under the strict direction of Fr. Baltasar Alvarez) of this conversation. Doña Guiomar enthusiastically took up the idea. But what was decisive was that the Lord himself was calling for the project. "He assured me that he would be very well-served in a monastery I might found, that this house would become a star shedding the brightest light. God added that, even though they had lost some of their earlier enthusiasm, the orders were nevertheless of great service to him. What would the world be if there were no more monasteries?" According to the will of the Lord, the new house was to be consecrated to St. Joseph.
Now Teresa no longer hesitated. First she turned to her confessor. He made his consent dependent on the consent of the provincial of the Carmelites, Fr.. Angel de Salazar.(44) This consent was easier to get than expected by reason of the mediation of Doña Guiomar. Three very devout religious, whose advice Teresa sought, gave encouraging replies: Jesuit Francis Borgia, Dominican Luis Beltrán, and Franciscan Peter of Alcántara. Now the next task was to find a house. But before that could happen the public scented Teresa's plans, and this aroused a storm of indignation against her and her friends. One can certainly understand that the nuns of the Monastery of the Incarnation would take it as malicious arrogance for one of their own to want to leave their house to live in greater perfection than the community in which she had been formed. And people in the city shared this view. The two women received their first strong support from the scholarly and highly respected Dominican, Fr. Pedro Ibáñez. When the provincial withdrew his consent under the pressure of Teresa's sisters and compelled the saint to inaction, her friends continued with the work of preparation: Doña Guiomar, directed by Fr. Ibáñez, Don Francisco de Salcedo, and Gaspar Daza (the two who had once by their doubt caused her so much soul searching, but were now entirely won over to her). A little house was discovered. Her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, the husband of her youngest sister, Juana, who herself had been raised in the Monastery of the Incarnation and loved Teresa greatly, bought it and moved in to protect it until it could be given over to its real purpose.
It seemed like a great hindrance to her plans when the saint received the surprising order from her Fr. Provincial to go to the palace of Duchess Luisa de la Cerda in Toledo, because this influential lady sought the comfort of the saint in her grief over the death of her husband. Her friends hated to see her leave Avila. But the stay in Toledo was to be richly blessed. Doña Luisa became a powerful and faithful patroness of the reform. In the circle of women and girls that gathered around Teresa at the palace to seek her advice, there was someone soon to be one of her strongest supporters, the young María de Salazar (later María of St. Joseph, prioress of Seville). Above all, Teresa found the leisure here to write the story of her interior life, a project given to her the previous year by Fr. Ibáñez. This book was to make her name known in all Catholic lands, and down through the centuries would become a guide for countless people.
Even in regard to her foundation in Avila the time was not wasted. In the house of the Duchess de la Cerda, she was sought out by María of Jesus, a Carmelite from Granada who had reform ideas similar to Teresa's and wanted to talk them over with her. She also found occasion for a consultation with St. Peter of Alcántara who on an earlier occasion had tested the state of her soul and consoled her greatly. Now he encouraged her to found the Monastery of St. Joseph without an income, as the Primitive Rule prescribed.
Teresa was permitted to return to Avila only in June of 1562, after a six-month stay. Good news that came on the day of her arrival awaited her there: the papal brief that permitted Doña Guiomar and her mother to establish a Carmelite monastery according to the Primitive Rule, placing it under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, giving it the same rights as the other monasteries of the same order, and prohibiting anyone from disturbing it in any way. Teresa's name was not mentioned in the document. By a lucky coincidence, Peter of Alcántara was just then in Avila for the last time, for he died shortly thereafter. His efforts succeeded in winning the bishop of Avila, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, for the foundation. From then on he was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the reform.
The illness of her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, resulted in her gaining the permission of her provincial to move into his house, her future monastery, to care for him. This gave her the opportunity of personally supervising the construction. When the workers left the house, the patient was also healed and the monastery could become what it was meant to be. Now the most important thing was to find suitable living stones for the new foundation. There were four postulants about whom the Holy Mother herself said, "My first daughters were four orphans without dowries, but great servants of God. I found just what I had wished for, because my most ardent desire was that the first to enter would by their example be suitable building blocks of the spiritual edifice, would fulfill our intentions and lead lives of contemplation and perfection." On August 24, the feast of St. Bartholomew, these first four Carmelites of the reform arrived at the little monastery where the saint awaited them. The friends who had helped to make the foundation made their appearance. By commission of the Bishop of Avila, Gaspar Daza celebrated the first mass and received the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. Thereby the foundation was completed. Then Teresa clothed her daughters in the robe of the Discalced Carmelites ("discalced," or "without shoes," because instead of shoes they wore the footwear of the poor, sandals made of hemp). Their habit and scapular were made of coarse brown frieze; a mantle of white frieze; a toque of linen; and over it for the time being they wore the white novice's veil. Overjoyed, the mother remained behind with her daughters in the quiet of the holy place when the visitors departed. But people did not leave her in peace for long. The rumor of the accomplished foundation quickly spread to the entire city. The opposition stirred up all the townspeople. A monastery without any income would consume the alms of the poor. The prioress of the Incarnation, pressured by the indignant sisters, sent Teresa an order to return to her monastery immediately. The Saint obeyed at once. She left the four novices behind under the protection of St. Joseph and the direction of the oldest, Ursula of the Saints. On August 26 the city's municipal judge summoned the mayor and the cathedral chapter to a meeting in the city hall. The consensus was that the monastery was to be suppressed, and the municipal judge himself went there. But Teresa's young daughters did not allow themselves to be intimidated. When threatened with force, they answered through the grille, "...You may use force. But...such actions are judged here on earth by his Majesty Philip II, and in heaven by another judge, whom you should fear a great deal more, the almighty God, the champion of the oppressed." The city magistrate left without doing anything and called another, larger gathering for the next day. In an inflammatory speech he explained that this foundation was an innovation and as such suspect. The maintenance of the nuns would excessively burden the nobility of Avila. The opening of the house without the permission of the city was illegal. Therefore, one must conclude that it be suppressed. The speaker already had the majority on his side when a Dominican asked to speak. It was Fr. Domingo Báñez who had only been in Avila for a short time, but was famous for his scholarship. He did not know Teresa, but his love for justice impelled him to become a spokesman for her cause.
Is it a sufficient reason to destroy something because it is new? Were not all societies of orders innovations when they arose from the bosom of the Church? And when our Lord and God founded the Church, did his work not bear the mark of innovation? ...This newly founded monastery of Carmelites is a reform of the ancient community. It picks up what has fallen. It renews a weakened Rule. It strives for the formation of people for the glory of the holy faith. For these reasons it must not only be tolerated by the powers of the state and of the city, but favored and protected.
...How can anyone believe that poor women confined in a corner who pray to God for us could become such a heavy burden and a danger to the people? ...The frightening specter that is the entire cause of the disturbance in Avila is that of four humble, peace-loving Carmelites living at the outermost end of a suburb.... It seems to me of little use to Avila to call a council for such an insignificant reason.
The existence of the monastery is inviolable, since the Most Reverend Bishop Alvaro de Mendoza has taken it under his protection and the Holy See has given its approval in a brief, against which all of Avila can do nothing....
In response to his speech, the gathering broke up and the little monastery was rescued. However, it took several more months of negotiations and the sacrificial efforts of all the friends to overcome the rest of the hindrances. Finally, on December 5, 1562 the provincial Angel de Salazar gave Teresa permission to go to her daughters. She was even allowed to take along four nuns from the Monastery of the Incarnation. In overflowing thanks to the Lord, she once again consecrated herself and her little religious family to his service. Now she and those accompanying her put on the rough habit of the reform and exchanged their shoes for coarse sandals. At the same time, in order to bury all reminders of rank and status in the world, they gave up their family names and chose a noble title which came from heaven. From that day on, Teresa de Ahumada was called Teresa of Jesus.
The chaplain, Julián de Avila, the first confessor at St. Joseph's and a faithful assistant to the saint in the work of reform, wrote a history of the founding of this house after the saint's death. He gives us a picture of heavenly life in this solitude: "God wanted...to have a house where he could recreate, a dwelling for his consolation. He wanted a garden with flowers, not of those flowers that grow on the earth, but of those that unfold in heaven..., a flower garden with these selected souls in whose midst he could take his repose, to whom he could disclose his secrets and open his heart." "Because our Lord and Savior has so many enemies and so few friends, at least the latter must be very good," said the saint herself. And she educated the young souls entrusted into her hands to be such good friends of the Lord. Girls of youthful beauty, rich and sparkling with talent, rushed to St. Joseph's in order to discard all finery, in order to consecrate themselves to the Lord in unlimited self- forgetfulness and humble submission. Postulants also came without any dowries and were just as joyfully, in fact, even more lovingly, received. For the Holy Mother was concerned with having the real spirit of the order in her house and not with external goods. Soon the number reached thirteen, which Teresa originally did not want to exceed. (Later it was raised to twenty.) She regulated life in the house with the greatest wisdom.(45) Each sister received an office in which she served the requirements of the little monastic family. The day was strictly apportioned between work and prayer. And this work, which was to contribute support, had to be simple and modest, not giving rise to pride, and thereby preserving their recollection in God. The work was carried out in solitude and silence. Only during the hour of recreation did the sisters come together in heartfelt and spontaneous conversation. Teresa made this hour into a required practice and set great store by it, to allow the spirit the relaxation that nature demands and to give sufficient opportunity for the practice of sisterly love. But even during this hour of recreation there was no idleness. During lively conversation or joyful song, the busy hands raced as fast as they could.
Her little family's spirit was Teresa's greatest reward for all her efforts and sacrifice. She herself stood in wonder before her daughters:
Oh how I recognize all the superiorities of my fellow sisters over me! No sooner had God given them some understanding, some love, than for his sake they disdained the lives to which they used to be attached and sacrificed themselves for him. They find their delight in solitude. All their happiness lies in thoughts of making progress in serving God. Their blessedness is to live alone with him. Many of them spent their youth in the vanity of the world. They intended to find their happiness there and to make decisions according to the world's standards. But precisely these are the most joyful. God rewards them with true joy for the false delights which they have left for him. I cannot say how much comfort I feel in living in the company of such innocent souls who have renounced everything.
The saint also had no other desire than to live in this separation from the world with her little family, to lead them ever more deeply into the spirit of prayer, into the heroic exercise of virtues humility, obedience, complete giving of oneself, poverty, the most heartfelt love for God and for people and to consecrate with them this whole life of prayer, sacrifice, voluntary penance (on which, however, she set a wise limit and so obviated an unhealthy enthusiasm) to the glory of God and his church, for the salvation of souls and as a support for priests who were doing battle with the great errors of the time. But she was not to conclude her life in the quiet of St. Joseph's.
13. Spread of the Reform
Again, it was the burning desire for the salvation of souls that led Teresa to new action. One day a Franciscan from the missions visited her and told her about the sad spiritual and moral condition of people in heathen lands. Shaken, she withdrew into her hermitage in the garden. "I cried to the Savior, I pleaded with him for the means of winning souls for him because the evil enemy robs him of so many. I asked him to help himself a little by my prayers, because that was all I could offer him." After petitioning like this for many days, the Lord appeared to her and spoke the comforting words, "Wait a little while, my daughter, and you will see great things." Six months later came the fulfillment of this promise.
In the spring of the year 1567 she received the news of an upcoming visit to Spain by the Carmelite General, Giovanni Battista Rossi (Rubeo). "This was something most unusual. The generals of our order always have been situated in Rome. None had ever come to Spain before." The nun who had left her monastery and founded a new one had reason to be afraid of the arrival of her highest superior. He had the power to destroy her work. With the consent of the bishop of Avila who had jurisdiction of her house, Teresa invited the General to visit. He came, and Teresa gave him a completely candid account of the entire history of the foundation. What he saw convinced him of the spirit that ruled in this little monastery and he was moved to tears. It was evident that here was a perfect realization of the goal for which he had come to Spain. He was considering a reform of the entire Order, a return to the old traditions, but he had not risked proceeding as radically as Teresa. King Philip II had called him to Spain to renew discipline in the monasteries of his land. He had found little friendly reception in other places. Now he confided his concerns to Teresa. For her part, she responded with love and with a daughter's trust. When he departed from Avila, he left Teresa with permits to found additional women's monasteries of the reform. All of these monasteries were to be directly under the general. No provincial was to have the right to hinder their foundation or to involve himself in their affairs. When he returned to Madrid, Fr. Rubeo spoke enthusiastically to the king about Teresa and her work. Philip II asked for her prayers and those of her daughters, and was from then on the most powerful friend and protector of the reform. After returning to Rome, the Father General gave the saint even more power: to found two monasteries for men according to the Primitive Rule if she could obtain the permission of the present provincial and that of his predecessor. This permission was obtained for her by the bishop of Avila, who himself had been the first to express the wish for monasteries of friars of the reform. Teresa now found herself in an unusual position. Instead of a quiet little monastery to which she could retreat with a few selected souls, she was now to found an entire order for men and women. "And only a poor, unshod Carmelite was there to accomplish this, even though furnished with permits and the best wishes, but without any means for initiating the work and without any other support than that of the Lord...."(46) But this support sufficed. Before long, what was most important for a monastery of men appeared: the first friars. While she was making the first foundation for nuns in Medina del Campo, the prior of the Carmelite monastery of the mitigated rule there, Fr. Antonio de Heredia, energetically stood by Teresa's side. When she told him of her plan, he declared himself ready to be the first male discalced Carmelite. Teresa was surprised and not absolutely happy, because she did not fully credit him with having the strength to sustain the Primitive Rule. However, he stayed firm in his decision. A few days later, a companion for him appeared who was most satisfactory to the saint: a young Carmelite at that time called John of St. Matthias, who from his early youth had lived a life of prayer and the strictest self-denial. He had gained the permission of his superior to follow the Primitive Rule personally. Not satisfied with this, he was thinking of becoming a Carthusian. Teresa persuaded him, instead, to become the living cornerstone of the Carmelite Order of the Primitive Rule.
Some time later a little house in Duruelo, a hamlet between Avila and Medina del Campo, was offered to her for the planned foundation. It was in miserable condition, but neither Teresa nor the two fathers were taken aback by it. Fr. Antonio still needed some time to end his priorship and put all his affairs in order. In the meantime, Fr. John joined Holy Mother to acquaint himself with the spirit and rule of life of the reform under her personal direction. On September 20, 1568 he went to Duruelo, having been clothed by Teresa in the habit of the reform, which she herself had made for him. As the Holy Mother had anticipated, he divided the single room of the pitiful little hut into two cells, an attic room into the choir, a vestibule into a chapel where he celebrated the first Mass the next morning. Soon he was considered a saint by the peasants in the neighborhood. On November 27, Fr. Antonio joined him. Together they now committed themselves to the Primitive Rule and changed their names. From then on they were called Anthony of Jesus and John of the Cross.
A few months later the Holy Mother could visit them and get to know their way of life. She says about this:
I came there during Lent in the year 1569. It was morning. Father Antonio in his always cheerful mood was sweeping the doorway to the church. "What does this mean, my father," I said, "and where is your self-respect?" ..."Oh, cursed be the time when I paid attention to that," he answered chuckling. I went into the chapel and was seized by the spirit of fervor and poverty with which God had filled it. I was not the only one so moved. Two merchants with whom I was friendly and who had accompanied me from Medina del Campo looked at the house with me. They could only weep. There were crosses and skulls everywhere. I will never forget a little wooden cross over a holy water font to which an image of the Savior had been glued. This image was made of simple paper; however, it flooded me with more devotion than if it had been very valuable and beautifully made. The choir, once an attic room, was raised in the middle so that the fathers could comfortably pray the Office. But one still had to bow deeply when entering. At both sides of the church, there were two little hermitages where they could only sit or lie down and even so their heads would touch the roof. The floor was so damp that they had to put straw on it. I learned that the fathers, instead of going to sleep after matins, retreated to these little hermitages and meditated there until prime. In fact, they once were praying in such recollection that when snow fell on them through the slats in the roof, they did not notice it at all, and returned to the choir without it occurring to them even to shake their robes.
Duruelo was the cradle of the male branch of the reformed Carmel. It spread vigorously from there, always directed by the Holy Mother's prayer and illuminating suggestions, but nevertheless relatively independent. The humble little John of the Cross, the great saint of the church, inspired it with the spirit. But he was entirely a person of prayer, of penance. Others took on the external direction. Besides Fr. Antonio, there were the enthusiastic Italians, Fr. Mariano and Fr. Nicolás Doria. But, above all, the most faithful support for the Holy Mother during her last years was, as she was convinced, the choice instrument of the reform, the youthful, brilliantly gifted Fr. Jerónimo Gracián of the Mother of God.
Teresa herself had hardly any time for quiet monastic life after she left the peace of St. Joseph's upon founding the first daughter house in Medina del Campo. She was called now here, now there, to establish new houses of the reform. Despite her always fragile health and increasing age, she indefatigably undertook the most difficult journeys as often as the Lord's service required. Everywhere there were hard battles to endure: Sometimes there were difficulties with the spiritual and civil authorities; sometimes, the lack of a suitable house and the basic necessities of life; sometimes, disagreements with upper class founders who made impossible demands of the monasteries. When finally all obstacles had been overcome and everything organized so that the true life of Carmel could begin, she who had done it all had, without pause, to move on to new tasks. The only consolation she had was that a new garden was blooming for the Lord to enjoy.
14. Prioress at the Monastery of the Incarnation
While the spiritual gardens of Mother Teresa were spreading their lovely fragrance over all of Spain, the Monastery of the Incarnation, her former home, was in a sad state. Income had not increased in proportion to the number of nuns, and since they were used to living comfortably and not (as in the reformed Carmel) to finding their greatest joy in holy poverty, discontent and slackening of spirit spread. In the year 1570, Fr. Fernández of the Order of St. Dominic came to this house. He was the apostolic visitator entrusted by Pope Pius V with examining the disciplinary state of monasteries in Castile. Since he had already become thoroughly acquainted with some monasteries of the reform, the contrast must have shocked him. He thought of a radical remedy. By the authority of his position, he named Mother Teresa as prioress of the Monastery of the Incarnation and ordered her to return to Avila at once to assume her position. In the midst of her work for the reform, she now had to undertake the task that for all intents and purposes appeared impossible. Exhorted by the Lord himself, she declared her readiness. However, with the agreement of Fr. Fernández, she gave a written statement that she personally would continue to follow the Primitive Rule. One can imagine the vehement indignation of the nuns who were to have a prioress sent to them one not elected by them a sister of theirs who had left them eight years earlier and whom they considered as an adventuress, a mischief-maker. The storm broke as the provincial led her into the house. Fr. Angel de Salazar could not make himself heard in the noisy gathering. The "Te Deum" that he intoned was drowned out by the sounds of indignation. Teresa's goodness and humility finally brought about enough quiet for the sisters to go to their cells and to tolerate her presence in the house.
They were saving the decisive declarations for the first chapter meeting. But how amazed they were when they entered the chapter room at the sound of the bell to see in the prioress' seat the statue of our dear Lady, the Queen of Carmel, with the keys to the monastery in her hands and the new prioress at her feet. Their hearts were conquered even before Teresa began to speak and in her indisputably loving manner presented to them how she conceived of and intended to conduct her office. In a short time, under her wise and temperate direction, above all by the influence of her character and conduct, the spirit of the house was renewed. Her greatest support in this was Fr. John of the Cross, whom she called to Avila as confessor for the monastery.
This time of greatest expenditure of energy when Teresa, along with being prioress of the Monastery of the Incarnation, retained the spiritual direction of her eight reformed monasteries, was also a time of the greatest attestation of grace. At that time she had a vision which she herself described as a "spiritual marriage." On November 18, 1572, the Lord appeared to her during Holy Communion. "He offered me his right hand and spoke, 'See this nail. It is the sign of our union. From this day on you are my bride. Up to now you had not earned it. But now you will not only see me as your Creator, your King, your God, but from now on you will care for my honor as my true bride. My honor is yours; your glory is mine.'" From that moment on, she found herself united blissfully with the Lord, a union which remained with her for the entire last decade of her life, her own life mortified, "full of the inexpressible joy of having found her true rest, and of the sense that Jesus Christ was living in her."(47) She characterized as the first result of this union "such a complete forgetfulness of self that it truly seems as if this soul had lost its own being. It no longer recognizes itself. It no longer thinks about heaven for itself, about life, about honor. The only thing she cares about any longer is the honor of God." The second result is an inner desire for suffering, a desire, however, that no longer disturbs her soul as earlier. She desires with such fervor that God's will be fulfilled in her that everything which pleases the divine Master seems good to her. If he wants her to suffer, she is happy; if he does not, his will be done.
But the following surprised me the most. This soul whose life has been martyrdom, because of her strong desire to enjoy the vision of God, has now become so consumed by the wish to serve him, to glorify his name, and to be useful to other souls that, far from wishing to die, she would like to live for many years in the greatest suffering....
In this soul there is no more interior pain and no more dryness, but only a sweet and constant joy. Should she for a short time be less attentive to the presence of God, he himself immediately awakens her. He works to bring her to complete perfection and imparts his doctrines in a completely hidden way in the midst of such a deep peace that it reminds me of the building of Solomon's temple. Actually, the soul becomes the temple of God where only God alone and the soul mutually delight in each other in greatest quiet.
15. Doing Battle for Her Life's Work
The greatest grace that can befall a soul was probably necessary to strengthen the saint for the storm that was soon to break over the reform. Even during her term as prioress, she had to resume her journeys of foundation and leave a vicaress in charge in Avila. At the end of her years as prioress it was only with some effort that she stopped the nuns from re-electing her. Those who had so struggled against her assuming the position clung to her with such great love. Her humility and goodness, her superior intelligence and wise moderation in this case had been able to bridge the rift between the "calced" and the "discalced." Her spiritual sons were not so lucky. They had founded new monasteries in addition to the two for which the general of the Order, Fr. Rubeo, had previously given Teresa authorization. They had the permission of the apostolic visitator from Andalusia, Fr. Vargas, but no arrangement with the Order's superiors. Their extraordinary penances (which often caused the saint herself concern) and their zeal soon aroused the admiration of the people. This, along with the evident preference for the monasteries of the reform on the part of the apostolic visitator, made those not of the reform fear they themselves would soon be pushed entirely into the background, even that the reform might be imposed on the entire Order. Their envoys turned the general in Rome completely against the discalced as disobedient and as agitators. To suppress their "revolt," Fr. Tostado, a Portuguese Carmelite with special authority, was sent to Spain. A clash between the two branches of the Order ensued, which must have filled the heart of the humble and peace-loving Holy Mother with the greatest pain. In addition, it appeared that her entire work was threatened. She herself was called "a gadabout" by the new papal nuncio in Spain, "disobedient, ambitious, who presumes to teach others like a doctor of the church despite the prohibition of Saint Paul." She was ordered to choose one of the reformed monasteries as her permanent residence and to make no further trips. How grateful she would have been for the quiet in the monastery of Toledo which Fr. Gracián suggested to her, had there not been such a hostile design behind the command! All the monasteries of the reform were prohibited from taking in novices, condemning them to extinction. Her beloved sons were reviled and persecuted. Fr. John of the Cross, who had always kept himself far from all conflict, was even secretly abducted and kept in humiliating confinement in the monastery of the "calced" in Toledo. He was cruelly abused until the Blessed Virgin, his protectress since childhood, miraculously freed him. In this storm that finally made everyone lose courage, the Holy Mother alone stood erect. Together with her daughters, she stormed heaven. She was indefatigable in encouraging her sons with letters and advice, in calling her friends for help, in presenting the true circumstances to the Father. General who had once been so good to her, in appealing for protection from her most powerful patron, the king. And finally she arrived at the solution that she recommended as the only possible one: the complete separation of the calced from the discalced Carmelites into two provinces. The Congregation of Religious in Rome had been occupied with the unfortunate conflict for a long time. A well- informed cardinal, whom Pope Gregory XIII questioned concerning the state of affairs, responded, "The Congregation has thoroughly investigated all the complaints of the Carmelites of the Mitigated Rule. It comes down to the following: Those with the Mitigated Rule fear that the reform will finally reform them also." The pope then decided that the monasteries of Carmelite friars and nuns of the reform were to constitute a province of their own under a provincial chosen by them. A brief dated June 27, 1580 announced this decision. In March of 1581, the chapter of Alcalá elected Fr. Jerónimo Gracián as its first provincial in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Mother.
16. The End
Teresa greeted the end of the years of suffering with overflowing thanks. "God alone knew in full about the bitterness, and now only he alone knows of the boundless joy that fills my soul, as I see the end of these many torments. I wish the whole world would thank God with me! Now we are all at peace, calced and discalced Carmelites, and nothing is to stop us from serving God. Now then, my brothers and sisters, let us hurry to offer ourselves up for the honor of the divine Master who has heard our prayers so well." During the short span of time still given to her, she herself sacrificed her final strength for new journeys to make foundations. The erection of the monastery in Burgos, the last one that she brought to life, cost her much effort and time. She had left Avila on January 2, 1582 to go there. It was July before she could begin the trip home, but she was not to reach the desired goal any more. After she had visited a number of other monasteries of the nuns, Fr. Antonio of Jesus brought her to Alba to comply with a wish of the Duchess María Henríquez, the great patroness of that monastery. Completely exhausted, Teresa arrived on September 20. According to a number of witnesses, she had predicted some years earlier that she would die at this place and at this time. Even though the attending physician saw her condition as hopeless, she continued to take part in all the monastic exercises until September 29. Then she had to lie down. On October 2, in accordance with her wish, Fr. Antonio heard her last confession. On the third she requested Viaticum. An eyewitness gave this report: "At the moment when the Blessed Sacrament was brought into her cell, the Holy Mother raised herself without anyone's help and got on her knees. She would even have gotten out of her bed if she had not been prevented. Her expression was very beautiful and radiated divine love. With a lively expression of joy and piety, she spoke such exalted divine words to the Lord that we were all filled with great devotion." During the day she repeated again and again the words from the "Miserere" (Psalm 51): "Cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, no despicies" (a broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise). In the evening she requested to be anointed. Concerning her last day, October 4, we again have an eyewitness account by Sr. María of St. Francis:
On the morning of the feast of St. Francis, at about 7 o'clock, our Holy Mother turned on her side toward the nuns, a crucifix in her hand, her expression more beautiful, more glowing, than I had ever seen it during her life. I do not know how her wrinkles disappeared, since the Holy Mother, in view of her great age and her continual suffering, had very deep ones. She remained in this position in prayer full of deep peace and great repose. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice which she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.
The wondrous events that occurred at the Saint's burial, the incorrupt state of her body that was determined by repeated disinterments, the numerous miracles that she worked during her life and then really in earnest after her death, the enthusiastic devotion of the entire Spanish people for their saint all of this led to the initiation of the investigations preparatory to her canonization, already in the year 1595. Paul V declared her blessed in a brief on April 24, 1614. Her canonization by Gregory XV followed on March 22, 1622. Her feast day was designated as October 15, because the ten days after her death were dropped (October 5-14, 1582) due to the Gregorian calendar reform.
Luis de León(48) said of Teresa: "I neither saw nor knew the saint during her lifetime. But today, albeit she is in heaven, I know her and see her in her two living reflections, that is, in her daughters and in her writings...." Actually, there are few saints as humanly near to us as our Holy Mother. Her writings, which she penned as they came to her, in obedience to the order of her confessor, wedged between all of her burdens and work, serve as classical masterpieces of Spanish literature. In incomparably clear, simple and sincere language they tell of the wonders of grace that God worked in a chosen soul. They tell of the indefatigable efforts of a woman with the daring and strength of a man, revealing natural intelligence and heavenly wisdom, a deep knowledge of human nature and a rich spirit's innate sense of humor, the infinite love of a heart tender as a bride's and kind as a mother's. The great family of religious(49) that she founded, all who have been given the enormous grace of being called her sons and daughters, look up with thankful love to their Holy Mother and have no other desire than to be filled by her spirit, to walk hand in hand with her the way of perfection to its goal.
On March 19, 1934, Pope Pius XI entered Blessed Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart in the register of saints. In Germany, the new saint is virtually unknown outside of our Order. Her life was quiet and hidden. She died on March 7, 1770 at the age of 22, and of this short lifespan, she spent five years in the Carmelite monastery in Florence. She performed no brilliant, attention-getting deeds, nor did her reputation reach the wider world. She was like a lily that, in a quiet vale protected from storms, rises slim and straight and, in the warm light of the sun, unfolds into a wondrous bloom. Her powerful and sweet fragrance charmed everyone who lived around her. Even after her death it did not evaporate, but spread wider and wider, and now it is to fill the entire church of God.
Teresa Margaret is often compared with St. Aloysius. Like him, she not only died early, but also shared with him angelic purity and severe penance. Her home was Arezzo in Tuscany. Her parents, Ignatius Redi and Camilla Balleti, came from noble families. She was born on July 15, 1747, the eve of the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. She was baptized as Anna Maria. From early childhood on, she showed an unusual desire to hear people speak of God. When anyone talked of heavenly things in her presence, she fixed her eyes on the person's lips with such rapt attention that it had to amaze and move those present. When her confessor later asked her whether, from the moment she had gotten to know God she had also begun to love him, she replied, "But everyone does that, and how could anyone not do so?" This is how self-evident it was to her that one merely needed to know God in order to love him. Another time she said, "Jesus knows that from childhood on I never had any other wish than to please him and to become holy."
People often observed her even as a six-year-old gazing fixedly up to heaven for a long time as though in deep meditation. From her seventh year on she understood how to "find God in all things," in stars and flowers, in short, to read in all creatures a challenge to praise the Creator. When she was nine, her devout parents sent her to the Benedictine nuns at the monastery of St. Apollonia in Florence for her education. She at once won the hearts of those in authority as well as her contemporaries by her exemplary zeal and obedience, by her natural lovableness, cheerfulness, and readiness to serve. With childish naïveté, she quite unconsciously expressed her continual union with God. "While we are enjoying ourselves, Jesus is thinking of us," she called to her playmates in the middle of recess. So it is understandable that people took unusual advantage of her reliability and would often entrust her with watching her companions, without this evoking any dissension.
When she saw the older pupils go to the communion rail, her behavior showed such a deep desire to be united with the Lord that she was given permission to receive her first Holy Communion at ten years of age early for that time. She herself had not asked for it, for she was not in the habit of expressing wishes. Nor did she say anything about the result. But her increased faithfulness, her anxious avoidance of any shadow of sin that often gave her sleepless nights for a presumed fault, bore persuasive witness.
Her rich interior life required discerning direction for her soul. Because she did not want to attract attention at the boarding school by staying in the confessional too long, she got the idea of confiding in her own father. In detailed letters she gave him an account of her spiritual life. She also asked him to destroy the letters at once. Since he did this conscientiously, none of this evidence has come down to us except for the testimony of her father that they were full of the most exalted love of God and the most sensitive Christian perfection.
Probably at the suggestion of her father she also later consulted the confessor at the boarding school, Monsignor Pellegrini, and received from him direction in prayer and the regulation of her penances, which she had already begun in her family home at an interior motivation.
A particular characteristic of her piety was her love of the Mother of God, which she harbored from early childhood on. At the boarding school she once slipped on the steps while she was carrying a warming basin filled with glowing coals. She cried aloud to the Virgin Mary, whose picture hung near the foot of the stairs, and landed at the bottom completely unharmed; the coals had not even damaged her clothing.
Her constant spiritual recollection was evidenced by the calm, placid evenness of her disposition in spite of her being naturally high-spirited. And the fruit of her love for God was an untiring, loving readiness to serve everyone, not just the nuns and fellow boarders, but also the servants, from whom she liked to take over the heaviest tasks inconspicuously and as though for her own delight.
2. Religious Vocation
Anna Maria considered herself lucky to be living under the same roof with the Lord. With holy joy she participated in the monastery's routines. So it was only natural that the desire to spend her whole life in the house of the Lord should awaken in her. However, she still had no clarity about what order to choose. It was revealed to her in a singular way. She was 16 years old when one day in September of 1763 she was called into the speakroom with the nuns. It was a farewell visit of a childhood friend from her home town who was about to enter the Carmelite monastery of St. Teresa in Florence. On the way back inside the monastery, Anna Maria felt strangely uplifted and happy, and suddenly she heard a voice that spoke to her: "I am Teresa, and I want you to be one of my daughters." In doubt as to whether she should receive these words as divinely inspired, she rushed to the chapel to ask for complete clarity before the altar. Here that voice spoke for the second time and more clearly than before: "I am Teresa of Jesus, and I say to you that you will soon find yourself in my monastery."
Now complete calm settled over the soul of the young girl, and she decided to consecrate herself to God in Carmel. For the time being, she spoke with no one about this. And when shortly thereafter her father took her back to her family home, she kept her secret for several more months. She used this time to explore whether she would be equal to the strict lifestyle in Carmel. Without in the least neglecting her duties to her family, she remained in her room as much as possible to immerse herself in prayer and to read spiritual books. As much as consideration of her surroundings permitted, she practiced silence. She allowed no one to wait on her; in fact, where she could, she sought to do some of the servants' work. She let others choose her clothing without bringing up her own taste and, when possible, avoided changing her clothes during the day. She knew how to exercise secret mortifications during meals and to give to the poor some of what she denied herself. Indeed, she did not shrink from inflicting severe penances on her sensitive body.
After testing herself in this way for several months, it seemed to her time to take the steps necessary to carry out her decision. The first person in whom she confided was the Jesuit priest Jerome Maria Cioni. He advised her to discuss it with her mother. She chose her seventeenth birthday for this. Without her knowledge, her mother told her father. In spite of their piety, both parents were painfully disconcerted. However, it did not occur to them to refuse their consent outright. The only thing Count Redi deemed necessary was a thorough examination by experienced men of the spirit. Since everyone whose advice they sought definitely said that her vocation was genuine, Anna Maria received permission to write a letter to the mother superior of the Monastery of St. Teresa requesting admittance to the Order.
Objections raised by companions in her household and relatives could not dissuade the young candidate for the religious life in the least. Almost without meaning to, her father put her through a more difficult test. He and his favorite child had a habit of staying up together in the evenings to share their views on spiritual questions after the rest of the family had gone to bed. These hours gave both of them the greatest joy. One evening they were again sitting together. So far Count Redi had avoided discussing Anna Maria's plan with her. She did not even know that he was aware of it. On this evening he was suddenly overpowered by grief. He burst into tears and asked, "Do you really intend to leave me, my dear daughter?" Anna Maria loved her father tenderly. Not only was she bound to him by a child's natural attachments, but, simultaneously, by a supernatural love for her spiritual director and confidant. Therefore, this surprising outburst must have touched her deeply. Count Redi himself described her behavior at that moment: "At this shock, probably the strongest possible to inflict on her sensitive heart under these circumstances, she remained standing motionless before me for a time as though animated by a higher spirit. Then she retreated to her room without saying a word."
When the answer from Florence came assuring Anna Maria's acceptance as a postulant, her father decided to take her to the monastery himself. Beforehand, at her mother's suggestion, one more special pleasure was afforded her: a pilgrimage to the nearby Mount Alvernia, to the holy place where St. Francis received the stigmata.
One day during the second half of August in the year 1764 Anna Maria left her home forever. Her mother was sick in bed. The departing daughter knelt before her to ask for her farewell blessing. Countess Redi could not say a single word; tears were all she had in reply. Anna Maria again remained very quiet and completely controlled her pain. After a few consoling words to his wife, Count Redi led her to the carriage. "After we had taken our places in it," he later said during the process, "without letting her know that I was observing her, I saw my daughter serious, motionless, and silent for a solid hour. Then her cheerful disposition returned, and she engaged me in merry and spirited conversation, continuing the journey in the most complete composure."
In Florence Anna Maria once more visited the nuns at St. Apollonia's, who had raised her, to say good-bye to them and to her two younger sisters who were now pupils there. Then she stepped over the threshold of the Monastery of St. Teresa which was now to become her home.
3. Life in the Order
The young sister used to call the convent that had admitted her the "house of angels." She considered all of her fellow sisters as angels. In her letter requesting admittance, she had said that her goal was to "compete with them in the holy love of God." She deemed belonging to this community an entirely undeserved grace and was continually grateful to the nuns. She was always convinced that she lived among them as someone entirely undeserving. With complete sincerity, she once said to her confessor, "Believe me, my Father, these nuns are saints and real angels. I tremble when I think of how different I am from them and how far from their example. Believe me, I am really unworthy to lay myself under their feet and to serve as a floor for them. By constantly giving them annoyance, all I am good for is to enable them to practice the virtue of patience continually. I do not know how they begin to tolerate me." At the same time, her behavior from the day of her entrance resembled that of a tried religious; so, from that point of view there was never any doubt about her final acceptance after the probationary period.
But as the months of testing neared their end, another circumstance put the happy outcome in question: a virulent swelling above her right knee that would not go away for a long time. At first she tried to hide the trouble and knelt on the floor as always without support. But when she became feverish, the illness could no longer remain a secret. What gave her even more distress than the bodily pain was having to expose the affected part to the attending physician. She accepted the painful operation patiently in remembrance of the suffering Savior. Finally, the suffering abated and with it the impediment to her reception of the habit.
The sisters assembled in chapter to receive the postulant's request for acceptance. Fearful that she might be excluded because of her unworthiness, she knelt before the mother prioress and asked pardon for her failures, promising to do better. With great joy she heard the comforting assurance of the sisters who were completely convinced in their hearts of having obtained a consummate daughter of St. Teresa. But, in accord with the custom of that time, she had to wait two more months for the final vote and during this time even had to leave the enclosure. She spent the time in quiet withdrawal with Isabella Mozzi, a friend of her mother's in Florence.
March 11, 1765 was chosen for the clothing. On the eve, Anna Maria was permitted to return to the monastery. A large crowd of acquaintances and practically all the nobility of Florence were at the church where preparatory devotions were held to welcome her. They accompanied her to the door of the enclosure. Just as many participated at the clothing ceremony the following morning. At that time she received her religious name, Teresa Margaret Marianne of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The novice mistress into whose hands the young nun was entrusted, Teresa Maria Guadagni, had set as her goal the formation of her charges on the model of the oldest father of our Order, the strict hermit of Mount Carmel. The more she considered the perfection of which the new novice was capable and to which she was called, the sharper the weapons she believed herself permitted to use to foster the practice and to gain proficiency in the basic virtues of a religious: humility, obedience, self-abnegation. She knew how to find faults and shortcomings in everything that Margaret did and would reprimand her sharply. And when the young sister acknowledged the correction by the customary prostration on the floor, the mistress was in no hurry at all to give her the signal to rise. But no one ever saw a hint of bitterness or sensitivity in Margaret. However, when she was finally allowed to rise, she did so with a friendly and cheerful expression and with the words, "God reward you for your good deed."
Before her profession of vows, she had an experience of suffering similar to that before her clothing. It was the same physical illness and, after this had been successfully healed, there was the fear that they would not allow her to make her profession because of her many faults and imperfections. She could hardly believe it when the acceptance was finally confirmed, and was full of gratitude for the undeserved grace. She zealously examined herself to see whether she had any attachment that might impede her complete union with the Lord. Her great love for her father was the only thing that still caused her doubt. So she decided to sacrifice the exchange of letters that she had been maintaining up to then. She informed him that from now on they would meet in the heart of Jesus and would see who could love God the most. When incidentally another sister asked her, right after a visit from her father, whether the farewell had not been difficult for her, she smiled and showed her a scrap of paper on which some words of St. Augustine were written: Minus te amat, qui tecum aliquid amat. "They love you too little who continue to love anything other than you."
An eyewitness recounts of her profession on March 12, 1766: "At the solemn moment of profession, she seemed to be transformed into a seraph, and so deep and powerful was the impression of love that her outward appearance made on the circle of sisters around her that they were too moved and amazed to be able to restrain their tears."
The foundation of her life in the Order was her deep and living faith. As during her childhood, so also later, she wanted to hear about God and to enrich her knowledge. Even more than by books and priestly instruction, this desire was satisfied by illumination from on high. Out of this living faith there arose a holy reverence for everything connected with things of faith: for priests, for the other sisters as brides of Christ, for all the altar vessels which she cared for as sacristan, for all the rites during worship. Above all, the fruit of this living faith was constant living in God's presence. Her confessor and spiritual director during her years in the Order, Fr. Ildefonse, said during the process that in his judgment "her prayer had reached the level of unity in faith where these kinds of souls seem unable to continue to live much longer naturally. So in accord with the usual way of God's providence, they tend to be called early into the better world, there to see and to enjoy unveiled the Source of all being and all reality, the highest Lord whom they so eagerly sought to know on this miserable earth."
Her favorite expression was "God is love." And to requite this divine love with love in return was self-evident to her even from childhood. The thought of what the Lord suffered for us aroused in her the burning desire "to suffer a little for him, too." Therefore, she found no trial too hard; she discovered ever new sacrifices and penances. But she also knew that the Lord saw the proof of our love for him in the love we show to others. She found the occupation ideally suited for her love of neighbor in caring for the sick, when this responsibility was given to her after her profession. She was tireless in her care for those who were ill, and no impatience, no irritability nor any ingratitude of theirs could decrease her loving concern. Her strict superior, with whose care she was entrusted, knew how to try her most severely and had something to complain about in spite of all her eagerness. However, the caretaker always remained loving and patient. The ill mother prioress deliberately had to control herself so as not to express her wonder and gratitude for the tireless care. However, the only reason for this reticence was that she, too, considered it her duty to train her young daughter in humility and patience. In assuming the care of a mentally ill sister, the infirmarian took on a true martyrdom. But when they wanted to relieve her once more of this burden, she pleaded so hard to be allowed to continue to tend the patient that permission was granted her.
When the monastery was visited by an epidemic, her strength seemed to multiply. Indeed, it was apparent that supernatural gifts came to assist her in her duties. No matter how far away she was, she sensed when one of her patients needed her and was instantly at her side. A deaf elderly sister, with whom no one could communicate any longer, whom therefore even the confessor was no longer able to comfort, understood everything that Teresa Margaret said to her, even in a soft voice. So the infirmarian could care for her unhindered, and the patient also received from her the spiritual consolation for which she longed.
One day she found herself in the refectory with a sister who had been suffering from a severe toothache for a long time. Sr. Teresa Margaret saw that she was again in great pain. Full of sympathy, she arose, hurried over to the sufferer, and in complete contrast to her former reserve which the Constitutions of the Order also required she pressed a kiss on the painful spot. Then she returned to her place. At that moment the pain left and did not return.
4. Death and Glorification
In the midst of these self-sacrificing deeds of love, she herself was called away. On March 4, 1770 she asked her confessor to allow her to make a general confession and to permit her to receive communion the next morning as though it were her last. Obviously, she had a premonition of her sudden death that would make it impossible for her to receive Viaticum. On the eve of March 6 she stayed to care for the sick so long that she could no longer have supper with the community. Somewhat later she went to the refectory to have the small collation served in Lent. There she was suddenly seized by severe pain resembling colic. She wanted to go to her cell, but could only drag herself as far as a room near the refectory. Only after a while, when the pain had abated enough, was she able to reach her cell. There she collapsed and had to call for help.
She was put to bed never to leave it again. For the whole night and the following day she was in unspeakable pain, but not for a moment did she lose patience; and every effort made on her behalf seemed to her to be too much. She would not allow a sister to watch beside her at night. Only under obedience did she permit a maid to remain with her. And all she requested of her was that she remain quiet so as not to disturb anyone's nightly rest. In the morning her first concern was that the young woman should make up for the sleep she had missed. In the severest pain, she gave the sisters instructions for the care of her patients. When she could no longer speak from pain, she turned her eyes to the cross that she was holding in her hand and pressed her lips to the wounds of the Crucified.
At about three o'clock in the afternoon, about the hour when our Lord died, she lost movement and speech. The confessor who was called could do nothing more than administer Extreme Unction to her. Soon thereafter she passed away quietly and peacefully.
Because of the illness that had carried her off, shortly after her death the corpse was very disfigured, the face and neck were blue and the body very swollen. The nuns were almost hesitant to place her on view at the grate in the church as was the custom. But even during the transfer, an amazing change began: The blue color changed to a delicate pallor, the face took on a rosy glow, the body turned slim and pliant. On March 9, the deceased seemed to be more beautiful and vibrant than when alive. Therefore, the Father Provincial permitted a postponement of the burial. Until March 22, that is, for fifteen days, the nuns kept their deceased sister in the church; not a trace of decomposition appeared. On that day the archbishop of Florence visited the corpse with many associates, including medical experts. Besides the miraculous preservation of the body, what attracted great crowds of the faithful as at the death of our Holy Mother Teresa was the unique fragrance which the corpse exuded. It spread to everything that came in contact with the deceased. Indeed, even the things that she had touched during life exuded it.
The holy body, which has remained incorrupt to this day, now rests in a glass shrine in the monastery church in Florence. Countless answers to prayers and cures of the sick led to the early initiation of the beatification process so that her own father and confessor as well as a number of Carmelite nuns could make depositions.
In 1839, Pope Gregory XVI pronounced her virtues heroic. However, the beatification process was not concluded until the year 1929 under Pope Pius XI, and the jubilee of our salvation has now, on March 19, 1934, brought the canonization of the faithful follower of the Cross.
"A page from the great book of God's mercy" is what Sister Marie- Aimée called her life. This life is very simple in its external course, but has an inner richness that can only be hinted at in a short biography. Those who would like to know more about it must refer to her own writings.(50)
A delicate face of angelic purity and spirituality, big, soft, and deeply penetrating eyes which have knowledge of the supernatural world as well as of their natural home this is Dorothea Quoniam, who in Carmel received the name of Marie-Aimée de Jésus. This name tells the secret of her life: "loved by Jesus" with an overwhelming, jealous love that laid total claim to her from her very first day. Her birthplace, a thatched hut in the Normandy village of Le Rozel, matches in poverty the stall in Bethlehem. A day laborer, her father works as a gardener, but is unable, even with all his diligence, to protect his own from the direst need. He is deeply religious and loves his wife and children with a tender and reverent love. Her mother had merely learned to read and write, but she is completely knowledgeable about the saints and raises her children with such heavenly wisdom that her daughter sees in her a likeness to the Blessed Virgin.
Dorothea is born on January 14. In the year of her birth, 1839, this day happened to be the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. She was so weak at birth that emergency baptism had to be administered. Thereafter she recovered health and vitality. The name of Jesus was the first word that the lips of the child learned to form. Her mother's stories made her more at home in heaven than on earth. Inexhaustible were the mother's stories, insatiable the child's desire to hear. At four years of age, the little one hears from her mother's mouth the words: the Almighty. They captivate her. As usual, she wants to withdraw to a lonely place to reflect on what she has heard. But she is held fast at the threshold of the hut as if by an invisible force. Raising her eyes to heaven, she constantly repeats interiorly "the Almighty." Then she looks at herself and says, "How little I am!" She herself recounts:
And suddenly the Spirit of my dearly Beloved raised me to the incorruptible heights, not only once, but several times, all the way to the Almighty, the one God in three Persons. The Holy Spirit, like an eagle mother, held me, this little eagle child, in the claws of its love, so that I could stand the intense glow of the Sun of Righteousness and remain in the presence of the Father in whom the Son appeared to me; so that I was able to bear the excess of happiness and splendor, as I learned that I was destined to become the bride of my Lord me, a poor, fragile creature if I consented. I consented and became engaged to my Beloved.(51)
This was not the dream of an active imagination. It was the decisive event of her life. From then on, she saw herself as the bride of the Lord, as God's exclusive property. She was soon to discover that she was engaged to the Crucified. Even in these tender years of childhood the chain of suffering began that would not end until her death. Necessity forced her father to move his entire family to Paris in compliance with his brother's kind offer to help support them there more effectively. Instead of the open countryside, her home is now an attic on the eighth floor of an apartment building. They took off Dorothea's country garb and made her into a little Parisienne. The child's sensitive heart suffered greatly. But the others adjusted without complaining. So she bore her pain silently, too. Soon there were to come even severer tests. Yet the best thing she possessed went with her: Jesus, who speaks to her in her heart, and her mother in whom she senses the presence of the Lord himself. She is the confidante of her interior life. Yet there are some things, especially the acutest suffering, that no one knows but the heavenly Bridegroom. The child already knows how to keep the secret of the King, and the mother is in awe of this. She guesses much without it being said. The treasure with which heaven has entrusted her is completely clear to her. She does her best to support the work of grace in this elect soul.
Soon an early apostolate begins. At six years of age Dorothea was entrusted to the Sisters of Charity (Vincentians) at St. Roch's parish as a day pupil. The richness of her interior life insists on being communicated. During free time she knows how to talk about Jesus and Mary in a charming way. Her little companions gather around her and never tire of listening to her. She also has other friends whom she tries to win for God. When Mrs. Quoniam goes down the street with her little daughter, she notices that all kinds of people, big and small, greet the child with marks of love and respect. These are the poor people to whom she has given left-over morsels and has at the same time fed on heavenly doctrine. A burning zeal for God's honor fills the little bride of God. She carefully watches the behavior of the people, is happy when they honor the Lord, full of pain when they do not. A sense of dread fills her when she encounters people who live in sin. A burning desire to go into the wilderness or to suffer martyrdom grips her. Yet soon she has something else to wish for as well. She hears that the Mother of God died of love. This she wants, too, and she will never not stop asking to die of love.
Anyone zealous for God's honor will inevitably summon an embittered adversary to the arena: the enemy of all goodness from the beginning. He inflicts on Dorothea nocturnal fears and bodily assaults. He tries to get her to blaspheme God. She suffers unspeakably, but remains faithful. Added to these and other interior sufferings is the bitter poverty. The family no longer has the basic necessities. It must accept the help of good-hearted friends and public assistance. The hands of the child that so enjoyed giving gifts must open to receive them. The bride of the humble Savior learns to bear all kinds of humiliation. But all the support is insufficient. Parents and siblings are ravaged by their destitution. Two little siblings die soon after birth.(52) An older brother, a child of grace like Dorothea, pined away and died the death of a saint. The mother drags on as long as she possibly can. But she senses that the end is near. She teaches the child to carry out all the tasks of the little household, shows her how to do what is necessary. Dorothea is nine and one-half years old when she leaves school to oversee the household and care for her mother. Finally, her father also has to stop working. The physician says that the child will certainly collapse under the weight of caring for both of them. After a heartbreaking farewell, the fatally ill man is taken to a hospital. Mother and child are bound together most intimately during these days of illness. An interior pronouncement gives Dorothea certainty of the imminent death of the people she loves the most. She proposes that her mother receive the last sacraments and with her consent makes all the arrangements. During the celebration, the relatives are torn with pain, but the sick woman is filled with heavenly bliss. As the end drew near, she had the good relatives who had done so much for the family summoned. It was late in the evening. Aunt and uncle lovingly insisted that the exhausted little one go to bed. The mother made this last sacrifice. Nor would she allow the child to be awakened when the last moment came. All she did was to raise herself once more with her last strength to look over to the other bed. Dorothea was always convinced that her mother blessed her in this last moment as she had promised earlier. When the child awakened, the mother had been dead for an hour. It was the morning of January 9, 1850.
Here ends the story of her childhood. It gives off the gentle fragrance of medieval legends. The recounting of the death of her mother is reminiscent of one of the loveliest poems of German romanticism: the story of beautiful Els of Laurenburg in Clemens Brentano's "Chronika eines fahrenden Schülers" [Chronicles of an Itinerant Scholar]. However, here there is no legend or poem, but actual events full of fruitful seeds for the future.
The devoted relatives and a number of family friends would gladly have adopted the lovable child. However, her mother had decided something else. According to her wish, the child was to be raised in the orphanage of the Sisters of Charity, protected by the sanctuary from the dangers of the world. Dorothea was not placed with her former teachers at St. Roch's Parish, but into a different house designated for children who were not very well and needed care. This was another wound to her loving heart. Four weeks later her father died and soon thereafter her little sister. Her oldest brother, who was still alive, had already caused his mother much concern. He was very talented and won all hearts, but in a secular environment lost his own faith. When he became fatally ill at the age of eighteen, his sister feared for his eternal salvation. Her prayers and her loving influence led to his reconciliation with God. During his last days he no longer wanted to see anyone except a priest and her, whom he called his angel. When he closed his eyes, her last earthly tie was severed. Jesus had taken everything from his bride; she was to find her entire happiness in him, and the graces which he poured over her in her quiet "Nazareth" were superabundant. On September 8, 1851, she had the joy, so long desired, of receiving her first Holy Communion. She was like the deer that has found water, like a child in the arms of its mother. Even twenty years later her companions recalled her angelic recollection, her seraphic devotion on Communion days. In no way could the working of grace in this elect creature remain hidden from those around her, even though no one was initiated into the secrets of her interior life.
Probably she was subject to occasional enmity and misunderstanding, but her imperturbable gentleness and goodness overcame all obstacles. She had a most beneficial influence on her companions, for which the nuns could not give enough thanks. In all secrecy, the Lord himself formed her soul. Unnoticed by those watchful of her, she practiced the severest acts of self-denial, so that all the loving concern for her fragile health was to no avail. By tender reproaches and finally by forbidding her Communion, the Savior led her back from a short time of vanity and distraction. Then when he again invited her to the eucharistic meal, he took possession of her heart anew and locked it forever against everything other than himself. Occasionally, he revealed himself to her in human form and each time corresponding to her age, so that he seemed to grow up with her. When she was nineteen, her relatives wanted to arrange her future. One day they introduced a young man to her, and, after an opening conversation, let her know that he came as a suitor. Dorothea said not a word. She only smiled, but this smile was of a kind that made the poor fellow lower his eyes, blush, and wish that he had never come. The Lord had revealed himself beside this young man "in the full radiance of his virginal beauty" and said, "Compare!" At the same time, a smile of divine irony played about his lips and evoked its reflection in the face of his bride. The first attempt of this kind was rejected, and she knew how to refuse all thereafter with calm firmness. She had already known when she moved to her "Nazareth," that her aim was the "desert" of Carmel. But she had to await the Lord's hour.
In 1857 it appeared as though her hopes could soon be fulfilled. It had turned out to be very inconvenient for the orphans to be separated in two homes in different parts of the city. Therefore, it was decided to combine them and house them in another building. On this occasion, most of the sisters were transferred and many pupils left. It was a large, painful break-up. Dorothea's relatives now wanted to take her with them, too; and she hoped this would make it easier for her to gain admittance to the Order. Then she was asked to move into the new house. It was expected that the merging of both groups of pupils would involve great difficulties. Dorothea was to be an angel of peace in bridging the differences. She consented and silently made the sacrifice of seeing the fulfillment of her longing postponed indefinitely. The superior, Sr. Eugénie Michelin, received her with love and gratitude. She had heard many good things about the young lady, but soon saw even her expectations surpassed. Dorothea worked under the direction of the saintly young Sr. Louise Rousseille. Both were soon united in heart and soul. However, Sr. Louise died but one year later. Her young companion had to finish the work of reconciliation alone. Here, too, the irresistible influence of her personality succeeded, and even more, perhaps, her prayer and suffering.
Up to then she was unacquainted with any mystical writings. Nor was she conscious of the extraordinary graces she had received. She assumed that such things happened to everyone. Since no one spoke of them, she thought this was something that was supposed to be kept secret, and was herself silent, even in the confessional. Then a biography of Holy Mother Teresa came into her hands. The saint's concern over deception aroused in her the fear of being prey to the Prince of Lies. But Holy Mother [Teresa] also showed her where to find help: talking with an enlightened man of the spirit. She began to plead constantly that a qualified priest be sent to her. Her prayer was heard when an experienced religious priest came to hold a retreat for the pupils. Dorothea opened herself to him and was completely freed of her fears, and also strengthened in her vocation to Carmel.
3. The Desert
Dorothea's call to Carmel had already occurred when she was a child. Once when she began to take pleasure in frivolous things and endanger her interior life, her mother gave her a book that contained a short biography of Holy Mother Teresa. She found herself reflected in it word for word. "This child, upon whom God had bestowed so many graces, who loved good books and religious conversations, so longed for martyrdom, and, since she could not have this, placed her hope in the life of a hermit was that not I?"(53) But she also saw her own image in Teresa's involvement with frivolous friends and the consequent cooling of her ardor. Teresa finds herself again during her education in a monastery "I am that child from this moment on. Teresa is steadfast in doing good and consecrates herself to Jesus in the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This is the way opening before me. This is my way to heaven.... Teresa lives and dies holy. I also want to live and die holy."
Dorothea confided her decision to her mother at that time and found delighted agreement. She never wavered in it. After the long years of waiting, the fulfillment now seemed near, since her task in the orphanage was finished. The grateful superiors wanted to place no further hindrance in the path of the beloved child. But now difficulties from another side arose. Originally, Dorothea had thought only of the first Parisian Carmel. It was the only one she knew. It was near the orphanage on West Street and was often visited by the sisters with their pupils. But on a longer walk one day, they turned in at the Carmel on the Avenue de Saxe. Upon stepping over the threshold, the future Carmelite perceived she was then about seventeen years old these words within her: "This is where I want you." The impression was so strong that she asked her superior for permission to call on the prioress of this Carmel. She was received with friendliness and encouraged to return. But her youth, her fragile health, and lack of means aroused the concern of the older sisters so that her admission was delayed for a long time. It was suggested that she choose another order. But that was out of the question for her. "I need Carmel...with its perfection and way of perfection, Carmel with its purity, its apostolate, its martyrdom; Carmel with its special love for the sacred humanity of our Lord and its veneration of the Blessed Virgin without being restricted to one of her states or mysteries."(54)
She had tried to get to know the main orders thoroughly.
Each has its letter and its spirit, but I want the one that unites a rigorous letter with the spirit of love. Each has its goal, but I want the goal of supporting the church and converting sinners. Each has its principal means, but I want that of prayer. Each has its advantages, but I want that of solitude. Each has its fame, but I humbly pass by the one famed for its learning, reverently bow before the one known for its silence. I strike my breast when I pass the one famed for its penance, am enthusiastic about the one known for its poverty. However, I rush toward the one that has above all glories the incomparable glory of love....(55)
Nor could Dorothea consider any other Carmel than that which seemed to be stubbornly closed to her. God's will was too clear to her. And her trust was finally rewarded. A newly elected prioress, Mother Sophie of St. Elijah, remembered her and invited her anew. Her faithful maternal protector, the superior, Sr. Eugénie Michelin, became her indefatigable ally. The latter's intelligence finally triumphed over the opposition of the all-too-loving uncle and thereby secured a small dowry. On August 27, 1859, the feast of the Transverberation of the Heart of Holy Mother Teresa, she was permitted to escort her ward into Carmel. It was at exactly the time that the Lord had given to his faithful bride a year earlier.
The house that accepted the young postulant had an excellent spirit. Most of the sisters had been formed by the valiant foundress, Camille of the Child of Jesus [de Soyecourt]. Mother Sophie was a true mother, as good as she was firm, full of understanding and with a reverence for extraordinary graces, even though she herself was not led on this path. The novice mistress, Isabelle of the Nativity, was an exemplary religious, but her exaggerated fearfulness prevented her from reaching this extraordinary soul. Dorothea could not be open with her, and soon even had to bear her giving credence to malicious slander [against Dorothea]. Her interior life, her intimate relationship with the Lord, remained completely hidden from everyone. He placed only one director at her side with whom she could be open about everything without reserve. This director too, had already been promised her before her entrance. He was the extraordinary confessor to the monastery, Fr. Gamard, S.J. He was very soon clear about the specially graced child that was being entrusted to him, and stood faithfully by her side through all the trials of her thorny ascent.
Life in the monastery suited her deepest inclinations, especially the seven hours of service in the choir every day, the solitude, and the silence. Another sister once saw her standing listening in her cell with the door open during the midday silence. Later she asked her what she had been doing there. She answered that she had been listening to the silence. She wrote down for this sister what it had told her. So originated the wonderfully deep little paper about the twelve levels of silence.(56)
Before her clothing, concern was again raised about her fragile health. But she finally received admission anyway. At the celebration on February 15, 1860, the respect that this young orphan enjoyed in the widest circles became evident. Not only did the faithful sisters and companions from the orphanage participate, but also people of every standing who had come to know her there. The happy bride would gladly have had the whole world participate for the greater honor of her divine bridegroom.
A harder battle ensued over her admission to profession. The time of testing was lengthened to include Lent of the year 1861. The idea was to see if her health was up to this ordeal. During these weeks, constant visions of suffering consumed her strength, without anyone except Fr. Gamard knowing anything about them. While the Sisters were gathered in chapter, Marie-Aimée saw her mother pleading before the throne of the Most Blessed Trinity for mercy for her child. The decision was obviously on the turn of a blade. The endangered one gathered all her strength and united her prayer with that of her faithful advocate. A moment later her mother turned to her with a radiant smile. Then the vision vanished. The novice mistress came and brought the news that she had been admitted.
The celebration was set for April 18. For the ten-day preparatory retreat, the theme of a Carmelite's day was set for her. The mistress had no idea of the illuminations that the Holy Spirit would grant to her novice while meditating on this intentionally sober and simple material. On April 10, Jesus showed her his soul in its heavenly beauty in an intellectual vision. On the morning of the day of the profession, he himself instructed her in how he wanted to be loved by her. As the result of this teaching, Marie-Aimée wrote down the following solemn explanation: "Not for all the world do I want the wife of a mortal person to serve me as a model or even surpass me in the love that I must cherish for my Lord Jesus Christ, nor in the demonstrations of love which I owe him. I will be adamant with all of them over this."(57) At the moment when she took the vows, her physical surroundings vanished before her eyes; she saw the Most Holy Trinity and saw the Son of God bending down to her and taking her as his bride.
Even though those around her were not told about what was going on within the young Carmelite, the consequences of such fullness of grace could not remain hidden. Her entire nature breathed God's presence. Her life in the Order was formed by the Holy Spirit down to the most insignificant external activities. She was inexhaustible in demonstrating sisterly love, especially where there was a chance of inflaming hearts to a greater love of God. So she could not help but win everyone over. But this did not prevent a difficult trial from befalling her even during the first year of her profession. With the permission of the mother prioress, a young nun had come to her for help on the path to perfection. The frequent conversations brought both of them under suspicion of an inappropriate attraction (for this, also, the Lord had prepared his bride before her entrance into the Order) and led to their being constantly watched, so that they finally had to give up all contact. Great bodily suffering was soon added; this excluded the zealous religious from the beloved community exercises and also kept her from doing external penances. More terrible than all this were the spiritual nights, times of the uttermost darkness and abandonment. But nothing could quench the thirst for suffering of the faithful bride of Christ. She wanted to go the entire way of the Cross with her Lord. The fruit of all these trials was an ever more intimate union, an ever increasing growth into the likeness of Jesus.
4. The Task
In the desert solitude the instrument was forged, hardened in the fire of suffering. It lay ready for action in the hand of the Master. And the Lord did not hesitate to make use of it.
In the year 1863 there appeared the Life of Jesus by Renan. During recreation, Mother Sophie spoke to her daughters of the devastating impact of this book in order to invite their reparation. A number of sisters could not help looking at Sister Marie-Aimée. Her work dropped from her hands, her face became white as a sheet, she began to tremble. She seemed close to fainting. Everyone knew of her fervent love of God. So they understood that her pain must be particularly great. But no one could really fathom what was actually happening in her. From the first days of her life, the Lord had taken possession of her. Jesus Christ, in his divinity and humanity, was the Life of her life, the truest reality that she knew. She saw the divine Bridegroom at her side as she walked through the cloister halls. He awaited her in her cell when she returned to her cherished solitude after obligatory work. He sat at her left side in the empty choir stall during the Divine Office. Now a "new Arius" dared to deny the divinity of Jesus, to stamp him as an ordinary person. Could there be a greater insult? "All for the greater honor of God" was the motto of her life. Now this honor was at stake. In her solitary cell she shed a stream of tears. She felt compelled to undertake some kind of defense. "How," she cried out, "if I am the bride, can I keep silent? ...I cannot speak..., well then, I will write!" She recalled how Moses raised his hands to heaven on the mountain and prayed while the Israelites battled in the valley. But to pray, to suffer, and to weep were not enough for her while bishops and priests engaged in the open battle. "Yes, I will remain on the mountain, but from this peak I will call down, 'Jesus is the Son of God!' Yes, I will pray, suffer, shed tears; but after I have prayed, I will write with my blood and my tears, 'Jesus is the Son of God!'"
She picked up a pen and wrote on a little piece of paper, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word." Then a spirit seized her that was not her own, light streamed over her, words formed themselves. In a few moments the paper was covered. She had begun to prove the divinity of Jesus Christ with the words of the holy Scriptures.(58) After a while she paused, frightened. She wanted to burn what she had written, but she could not.
When she told Fr. Gamard about her wish to do battle with Renan, he expressed his astonishment, for he knew that she had no background at all for such an undertaking. She handed him a notebook in which she had written from memory some clarifications on certain questions of the interior life which he had given to her eight days earlier. He himself says about this, "In her writing my thoughts were raised to such heights, my modest speech so transformed, the doctrine presented with such complete exactness, that reading it was like a revelation for me."(59) Thereafter he was willing to assume that the desire to respond to Renan also came from the Holy Spirit. But before he could tell Marie-Aimée to write, she informed him that she had already started and told him what happened when she did so. She said that not only did overwhelming light flood her, but that also her hand was unusually facile and that it was impossible for her to burn the pages. He told her that in no way must she do so, and forbade her any further efforts. He expressed his willingness to examine the beginnings of her work. She herself was to obtain the permission of the mother prioress for this and was to inform her about what she had already done. Since an examination of the writing aroused great hopes, the young Carmelite received the charge to continue with the work from both Fr. Gamard and the mother prioress. But no one in the house was to know anything about it. Thus, the only time granted her for this was the sisters' free time. For a long while she had only one hour a day available to work. To this there were added all sorts of other difficulties and distress that should naturally have thwarted success. There were continual new bodily illnesses, interior doubt and disturbances, the lack of understanding by those around her. The burden was increased when Mother Isabelle was elected prioress. She now had to be let in on the secret and give her consent. Fearful as she was, Mother Isabelle did not dare to interrupt a task that had been sanctioned by her predecessor and a highly respected theologian. But she was in constant fear that the young sister could be the victim of a delusion and repeatedly raised new doubts in the already anxious sister. And then Fr. Gamard was called back to Paris and could now only give advice, comfort, and reassurance in infrequent letters. But no hindrance could put a stop to the work which God himself had initiated and commanded.
Marie-Aimée did not give herself a moment's rest. As soon as the time allowed came, she set to work even if she was dead tired and plagued by pain. And as soon as she picked up her pen, the Spirit came over her. The Lord himself instructed her. He did not want her to consult intellectual works. Without her making any kind of plan, a clear structure appeared that became evident to her only afterwards. The first part treated of the Eternal Word in the bosom of the Father and the Incarnate Word in the womb of Mary; the second about the hidden life of Jesus; the third about his public ministry; the fourth and last about his suffering, his death, and his life in glory. A great many scriptural passages from the Old and New Testaments came to her whenever she needed them. They came to her with their references. Subsequent checks confirmed them to be accurate. Everything was of the greatest theological clarity, sharpness, and exactness. It was the pure doctrine of the church, but written in the language of love. Accordingly, every observation included a presentation of how this mystery affected the loving soul. These comments offered excellent pointers for the interior life. The Lord set special importance on them.
On July 4, 1865, Marie-Aimée could announce to Fr. Gamard the conclusion of the last part. He found in it very little requiring substantial correction. But its external form appeared to him to require a second revision. The young Carmelite promptly set to it, but after a while her spiritual director himself called for a break. He commissioned her to write an account of the graces God had shown to her. In her hands this report became the story of her life. (Her letters to Fr. Gamard are an adjunct to it, since after his transfer she had to communicate with him in writing.) Thereafter, she was permitted to return to her main work. But even now there was no lack of severe interior and outer trials. A new superior, Abbé le Rebours, had to be let in on the secret and be asked for permission for the work to continue. He granted it and was soon entirely won over to the gifted young religious, but first she had to undergo a painful test. The most thorough study of the Gospels was the basis for the second revision of her work. But this time also the Lord did what was most essential for its success. He initiated his faithful disciple in all the mysteries of his life and suffering by actually letting her experience with him what she was to present. Occasionally, this involved suffering that would have overwhelmed her delicate nature had she not had the extraordinary support of grace to preserve her life for her task. She was only permitted to present Jesus' eucharistic life very briefly, because this life itself and the participation in it of the soul conformed to God is a hidden life.
After five years of devoted labor, the work was concluded on the feast of Holy Mother Teresa on October 15, 1869. Now Marie-Aimée was permitted to spend the rest of her life entirely with Christ in God in accordance with her deepest inclination. Her public task was fulfilled. Her superiors and the sisters would gladly have had her clarify some things. But she was not to write any more. She even destroyed voluminous notes on the Song of Songs to protect herself from being misunderstood. Nevertheless, many of her thoughts had already been taken up by people who, through misunderstanding them, drew false conclusions and occasioned new attacks.
Since Marie-Aimée had lived "from hand to mouth" when she first wrote her work, her goal as well as its structure had not become completely clear until she had reworked the manuscript. In every chapter the first part is devoted to the demonstration of Christ's divinity. The second is intended to "lead the soul to imitate Jesus Christ; to commandeer her at the beginning after she has decided to take the path to perfection, and then to lead her to the peak of perfection on the path of pure love by persistent elaboration and simplification," to make "of her a victim of love...."(60)
What Sister Marie-Aimée was trying to do by these teachings on the interior life was also the fruit of her life itself. From childhood on, she had been an apostle of divine love: with her fellow students, with the pupils at the orphanage, and finally with the other nuns. She witnessed the consummation of Sr. Aloysia Gonzaga. The bond of these two souls had aroused so much disturbance in the monastery and caused them both much suffering and humiliation, but it was desired by the Lord. He illumined his favored bride so that she could help her sister to ascend, gave her the consolation of seeing her die a holy death, and permitted her to effect a quick passage from the place of purification into heavenly glory.
During the war of 1870-71, she was the support of the house by her quiet trust and her imperturbable interior peace. At her suggestion, the monastic family secured the special protection of heaven through a vow, and remained completely intact during the bombardment.
During the last years of her life (1871-1874), she was also entrusted with the formation of the novices. She undertook and carried out her duties in deepest humility, trusting in Jesus alone. Her example itself was powerful in forming souls; her obvious union with God must have been attractive. But she was also an energetic guide. When necessary, she did not shrink from severe, decisive actions. But even then it was clearly evident that she did so out of love, a truly divine love that enveloped the entrusted souls with tireless care. In addition, she possessed supernatural illumination that disclosed the souls to her and let her know exactly what they required, what circumstances they would meet, and how they needed to be prepared for these. One of the novices had already been recommended to her by the Lord when the novice was still a child of twelve years and Marie- Aimée eighteen. Both were still far from Carmel at that time and unknown to each other. But when the postulant presented herself in the speakroom, the young mistress of novices recognized her as one of the souls especially entrusted to her. Soon after the death of her mistress, this novice recorded her impressions, "I saw Sr. Aimée de Jésus for the first time in May of 1871 at the time when I wished to enter Carmel. My impression when the grille was opened was one of deep gratitude to the Lord who had...heard my plea to give me a saint to introduce me to the religious life. The expression on her so completely quiet and pure face, her all-penetrating look, immediately convinced me that she read my soul profoundly, to its depths...." At first a certain shyness kept her from expressing herself verbally. Therefore, she decided to open her heart in writing. "She came to me, looked at me gently, and said a few words. That was all, but how much this look taught me! ...(I had) the innermost conviction that my soul was joined to hers, that a saint was taking me as her child, that in her and through her Jesus would now and in the future give himself to his little creature...."
5. Consummatum est ["It is Finished"]
While Marie-Aimée was forming young souls for her beloved Lord, he himself completed his work in her soul. Her union with the Incarnate God and the entire Blessed Trinity became ever deeper; and ever more complete, the release from everything earthly. Trials and sufferings of all kinds accompanied all this. Illness and weakness became more and more prevalent. Rumors that spread about the work of the simple Carmelite led to attacks by priestly circles so that finally the judgment of the papal nuncio had to be solicited. The superior, who had appeared so gracious at first, repeatedly initiated strong opposition to her. By his interference he even, for a time, brought things to the point of clouding the understanding she had with her faithful director. Moreover, when she was dying, he put her to a test that greatly dismayed all the sisters. He had offered to administer Extreme Unction to her himself. After she had asked the assembled community for forgiveness as was customary, he commanded her also to ask for forgiveness for the aggravation (scandal) that she had caused. She repeated the words he enunciated for her in complete calm. The distress of the sisters was all the greater because during her last illness even her strongest opponents had become convinced of her holiness. She caught the flu at the beginning of January, 1874, soon after her last retreat. It happened that she was nursed by sisters who earlier had been very much against her. They surrounded her with nothing but love and saw it as a grace to be allowed to do so. Twice they observed that her head was surrounded by light for an extended time and that her expression then resembled that of a three- or four- year-old child.
At this time Mother Isabelle, the former novice mistress, was again prioress. She, too, was now certain of the treasure the house possessed in this invalid. She also felt very much responsible for her work and even directed Marie-Aimée to arrange and edit her handwritten papers on her deathbed. After that distressing incident when Extreme Unction was given, Mother Isabelle asked the superior the reason for his actions. "I wanted to give an example," he said, "and to show what virtue can do. I myself also wanted to be certain of the kind of spirit that had been leading this nun during her life." Thereafter the prioress went to the patient and urgently asked her about her spiritual disposition. As an answer Marie-Aimée gave her a piece of paper which bore her writing in pencil and said, "My soul has been in this disposition since my last retreat and during this illness." She had written in the third person, but it was an account of her own spiritual state intended for Fr. Gamard:
This soul forgets everything; she is like an alien. She no longer petitions for herself, but the Holy Spirit inspires her with prayers which completely correspond to her requirements and are of great perfection.... This soul is at peace. For the most part, she does not dwell on the graces she used to receive and cannot even do so.... If she must write about them, she does so immediately and limits herself to important aspects that especially occur to her and whose communication she sees will serve the glory of God or the salvation of souls.... This soul no longer considers herself superior to others and judges nothing. She disdains herself and esteems others very highly.... She no longer knows hypocrisy, but is as simple as a child.... She desires for herself and in everything only the fulfillment of what pleases God. She desires no more talent, graces, or holiness than God has decided to give to her. Indeed she has an unquenchable thirst for suffering and humiliation, but still she wants only what God wants.... She turns naturally to Jesus as if he alone existed. And since he always answers her, she forgets more and more all that is created and depends on her dearly beloved alone. She is free, nothing disconcerts her. She is ready to obey anyone.... Looking at her failures does not disconcert her, and she seldom notices those of others and always forgives them.
During her last days, her increasing desire for the vision of God, the longing to die of love, was in conflict with her wish to suffer. Having gone the entire way of the cross with the Lord, she now had to share with him the ultimate, abandonment by God. Then came the peace of eternity. On May 4, 1874, about 9 o'clock in the morning, she raised "her eyes to heaven, smiled with an expression of mingled happiness, surprise, and delight, raised herself up as if to soar aloft to him whom she had loved so much, and expired so that no one could perceive her last breath."(61) What she had once rejoiced about in a hymn of thanks to the Lord was accomplished: "My dearly beloved has taken me from myself to become more his own! I am the prey of his love! He is in me like a fiery torrent, sweeping my soul into the sea of endless love, into God."