Hope in the Mercy of God by St. Teresa of Avila

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Hope in the Mercy of God by St. Teresa of Avila

When I was in the midst of the pleasures of the world, the remembrance of what I owed to God made me sad, and when I was praying to God my worldly affections disturbed me. This is so painful a struggle that I know not how I could have borne it for a month, let alone for so many years. Nevertheless, I can trace distinctly the great mercy of our Lord to me, while thus immersed in the world, in that I had still the courage to pray. I say courage, because I know of nothing in the whole world which requires greater courage than plotting treason against the King, knowing that He knows it, and yet never withdrawing from His presence; for, granting that we are always in the presence of God, yet it seems to me that those who pray are in His presence in a very different sense; for they, as it were, see that He is looking upon them, while others may be for days together without even once recollecting that God sees them.

It is true, indeed, that during these years there were many months, and, I believe, occasionally a whole year, in which I so kept guard over myself that I did not offend our Lord, gave myself much to prayer, and took some pains, and that successfully, not to offend Him. I speak of this now because all I am saying is strictly true; but I remember very little of those good days, and so they must have been few, while my evil days were many. Still, the days that passed over without my spending a great part of them in prayer were few, unless I was very ill, or very much occupied.

When I was ill, I was well with God. I contrived that those about me should be so, too, and I made supplications to our Lord for this grace, and spoke frequently of Him. Thus, with the exception of that year of which I have been speaking, during eight and twenty years of prayer, I spent more than eighteen in that strife and contention which arose out of my attempts to reconcile God and the world. As to the other years, of which I have now to speak, in them the grounds of the warfare, though it was not slight, were changed; but inasmuch as I was–at least, I think so–serving God, and aware of the vanity of the world, all has been pleasant, as I shall show hereafter.

The reason, then, of my telling this at so great length is that, as I have just said, the mercy of God and my ingratitude, on the one hand, may become known; and, on the other, that men may understand how great is the good which God works in a soul when He gives it a disposition to pray in earnest, though it may not be so well prepared as it ought to be. If that soul perseveres in spite of sins, temptations, and relapses, brought about in a thousand ways by Satan, our Lord will bring it at last–I am certain of it–to the harbor of salvation, as He has brought me myself; for so it seems to me now. May His Majesty grant I may never go back and be lost! He who gives himself to prayer is in possession of a great blessing, of which many saintly and good men have written–I am speaking of mental prayer–glory be to God for it! and, if they had not done so, I am not proud enough, though I have but little humility, to presume to discuss it.

I may speak of that which I know by experience; and so, I say, let him never cease from prayer who has once begun it, be his life ever so wicked; for prayer is the way to amend it, and without prayer such amendment will be much more difficult. Let him not be tempted by Satan, as I was, to give it up, on the pretense of humility; let him rather believe that His words are true Who says that, if we truly repent, and resolve never to offend Him, He will take us into His favor again, give us the graces He gave us before, and occasionally even greater, if our repentance deserves it. And as to him who has not begun to pray, I implore him by the love of our Lord not to deprive himself of so great a good.

Herein there is nothing to be afraid of, but everything to hope for. Granting that such a one does not advance, nor make an effort to become perfect, so as to merit the joys and consolations which the perfect receive from God, yet he will by little and little attain to a knowledge of the road which leads to heaven. And, if he perseveres, I hope in the mercy of God for him, seeing that no one ever took Him for his friend that was not amply rewarded; for mental prayer is nothing else, in my opinion, but being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him Who, we know, loves us. Now, true love and lasting friendship require certain dispositions; those of our Lord, we know, are absolutely perfect; ours, vicious, sensual, and thankless; and you cannot, therefore, bring yourselves to love Him, as He loves you, because you have not the disposition to do so; and if you do not love Him, yet, seeing how much it concerns you to have His friendship, and how great is His love for you, rise above that pain you feel at being much with Him Who is so different from you.

O infinite Goodness of my God! I seem to see Thee and myself in this relation to one another. O Joy of the angels! when I consider it, I wish I could wholly die of love! How true it is that Thou endurest those who will not endure Thee! Oh, how good a friend art Thou, O my Lord! how Thou comfortest and endurest, and also waitest for them to make themselves like unto Thee, and yet, in the meanwhile, art Thyself so patient of the state they are in! Thou takest into account the occasions during which they seek Thee, and for a moment of penitence forgettest their offences against Thyself.

Saint Teresa of Avila

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Saint Teresa of Avila

Virgin, Reformer of the Carmelite Order
(1515-1582)

By their fruits you will know them, says Our Lord of those who claim to be His followers. The fruits which remain of the life, labors and prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila bear to her virtue a living and enduring testimony which none can refuse to admit. She herself wrote her life and many other celebrated spiritual works, and much more can still be said of this soul of predilection, whose writings and examples have led so many souls to high sanctity.

Born in 1515 in the kingdom of Castile in Spain, she was the youngest child of a virtuous nobleman. When she was seven years old, Teresa fled from her home with one of her young brothers, in the hope of going to Africa and receiving the palm of martyrdom. Brought back and asked the reason for her flight, she replied: I want to see God, and I must die before I can see Him. She then began, with her same brother, Rodriguez, to build a hermitage in the garden, and was often heard repeating: Forever, forever! She lost her mother at the age of twelve years, and was led by worldly companions into various frivolities. Her father decided to place her in a boarding convent, and she obeyed without any inclination for this kind of life. Grace came to her assistance with the good guidance of the Sisters, and she decided to enter religion in the Carmelite monastery of the Incarnation at Avila.

For a time frivolous conversations there, too, checked her progress toward perfection, but finally in her thirty-first year, she abandoned herself entirely to God. A vision showed her the very place in hell to which her apparently light faults would have led her, and she was told by Our Lord that all her conversation must be with heaven. Ever afterwards she lived in the deepest distrust of herself. When she was named Prioress against her will at the monastery of the Incarnation, she succeeded in conciliating even the most hostile hearts by placing a statue of Our Lady in the seat she would ordinarily have occupied, to preside over the Community.

God enlightened her to understand that He desired the reform of her Order, and her heart was pierced with divine love. The Superior General gave her full permission to found as many houses as might become feasible. She dreaded nothing so much as delusion in the decisions she would make in difficult situations; we can well understand this, knowing she founded seventeen convents for the Sisters, and that fifteen others for the Fathers of the Reform were established during her lifetime, with the aid of Saint John of the Cross. To the end of her life she acted only under obedience to her confessors, and this practice both made her strong and preserved her from error. Journeying in those days was far from comfortable and even perilous, but nothing could stop the Saint from accomplishing the holy Will of God. When the cart was overturned one day and she had a broken leg, her sense of humor became very evident by her remark: Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few! She died October 4, 1582, and was canonized in 1622.

The history of her mortal remains is as extraordinary as that of her life. After nine months in a wooden coffin, caved in from the excess weight above it, the body was perfectly conserved, though the clothing had rotted. A fine perfume it exuded spread throughout the entire monastery of the nuns, when they reclothed it. Parts of it were later removed as relics, including the heart showing the marks of the Transverberation, and her left arm. At the last exhumation in 1914, the body was found to remain in the same condition as when it was seen previously, still recognizable and very fragrant with the same intense perfume.

Reflection: The devotion of Saint Teresa of Avila to Saint Joseph, virginal father of Jesus, is proverbial. She said she had never asked anything of him without receiving what she requested. In the eighteenth century the Carmelite churches named for him numbered over one hundred and fifty. Let us imitate this holy Foundress and invoke Saint Joseph for our needs, both spiritual and temporal.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).