The Great Debt She Owed to Our Lord for His Mercy to Her. She Takes St. Joseph for Her Patron.
1. After those four days, during which I was insensible, so great was my distress, that our Lord alone knoweth the intolerable sufferings I endured. My tongue was bitten to pieces; there was a choking in my throat because I had taken nothing, and because of my weakness, so that I could not swallow even a drop of water; all my bones seemed to be out of joint, and the disorder of my head was extreme. I was bent together like a coil of ropes--for to this was I brought by the torture of those days--unable to move either arm, or foot, or hand, or head, any more than if I had been dead, unless others moved me; I could move, however, I think, one finger of my right hand. Then, as to touching me, that was impossible, for I was so bruised that I could not endure it. They used to move me in a sheet, one holding one end, and another the other. This lasted till Palm Sunday.
1. March 25, 1537.
2. The only comfort I had was this--if no one came near me, my pains frequently ceased; and then, because I had a little rest, I considered myself well, for I was afraid my patience would fail: and thus I was exceedingly happy when I saw myself free from those pains which were so sharp and constant, though in the cold fits of an intermittent fever, which were most violent, they were still unendurable. My dislike of food was very great.
3. I was now so anxious to return to my monastery, that I had myself conveyed thither in the state I was in. There they received alive one whom they had waited for as dead; but her body was worse than dead: the sight of it could only give pain. It is impossible to describe my extreme weakness, for I was nothing but bones. I remained in this state, as I have already said, more than eight months; and was paralytic, though getting better, for about three years. I praised God when I began to crawl on my hands and knees. I bore all this with great resignation, and, if I except the beginning of my illness, with great joy; for all this was as nothing in comparison with the pains and tortures I had to bear at first. I was resigned to the will of God, even if He left me in this state for ever. My anxiety about the recovery of my health seemed to be grounded on my desire to pray in solitude, as I had been taught; for there were no means of doing so in the infirmary. I went to confession most frequently, spoke much about God, and in such a way as to edify everyone; and they all marvelled at the patience which our Lord gave me--for if it had not come from the hand of His Majesty, it seemed
2. Ch. v. § 17. The Saint left her monastery in 1535; and in the spring of 1536 went from her sister's house to Bezadas; and in July of that year was brought back to her father's house in Avila, wherein she remained till Palm Sunday, 1537, when she returned to the Monastery of the Incarnation. She had been seized with paralysis there, and laboured under it nearly three years, from 1536 to 1539, when she was miraculously healed through the intercession of St. Joseph (Bolland, n. 100, 101). The dates of the Chronicler are different from these.
impossible to endure so great an affliction with so great a joy.
4. It was a great thing for me to have had the grace of prayer which God had wrought in me; it made me understand what it is to love Him. In a little while, I saw these virtues renewed within me; still they were not strong, for they were not sufficient to sustain me in justice. I never spoke ill in the slightest degree whatever of any one, and my ordinary practice was to avoid all detraction; for I used to keep most carefully in mind that I ought not to assent to, nor say of another, anything I should not like to have said of myself. I was extremely careful to keep this resolution on all occasions though not so perfectly, upon some great occasions that presented themselves, as not to break it sometimes. But my ordinary practice was this: and thus those who were about me, and those with whom I conversed, became so convinced that it was right, that they adopted it as a habit. It came to be understood that where I was, absent persons were safe; so they were also with my friends and kindred, and with those whom I instructed. Still, for all this, I have a strict account to give unto God for the bad example I gave in other respects. May it please His Majesty to forgive me, for I have been the cause of much evil; though not with intentions as perverse as were the acts that followed.
5. The longing for solitude remained, and I loved to discourse and speak of God; for if I found any one with whom I could do so, it was a greater joy and satisfaction to me than all the refinements--or rather to speak more correctly, the real rudeness--of the world's conversation. I communicated and confessed more frequently still, and desired to do so; I was extremely fond of reading good books; I was most deeply penitent for having offended God; and I remember that very often I did not dare to pray, because I was afraid of that most bitter anguish which
I felt for having offended God, dreading it as a great chastisement. This grew upon me afterwards to so great a degree, that I know of no torment wherewith to compare it; and yet it was neither more nor less because of any fear I had at any time, for it came upon me only when I remembered the consolations of our Lord which He gave me in prayer, the great debt I owed Him, the evil return I made: I could not bear it. I was also extremely angry with myself on account of the many tears I shed for my faults, when I saw how little I improved, seeing that neither my good resolutions, nor the pains I took, were sufficient to keep me from falling whenever I had the opportunity. I looked on my tears as a delusion; and my faults, therefore, I regarded as the more grievous, because I saw the great goodness of our Lord to me in the shedding of those tears, and together with them such deep compunction.
6. I took care to go to confession as soon as I could; and, as I think, did all that was possible on my part to return to a state of grace. But the whole evil lay in my not thoroughly avoiding the occasions of sin, and in my confessors, who helped me so little. If they had told me that I was travelling on a dangerous road, and that I was bound to abstain from those conversations, I believe, without any doubt, that the matter would have been remedied, because I could not bear to remain even for one day in mortal sin, if I knew it.
7. All these tokens of the fear of God came to me through prayer; and the greatest of them was this, that fear was swallowed up of love--for I never thought of chastisement. All the time I was so ill, my strict watch over my conscience reached to all that is mortal sin.
8. O my God! I wished for health, that I might serve Thee better; that was the cause of all my ruin. For when I saw how helpless I was through paralysis, being still so young, and how the physicians of this
world had dealt with me, I determined to ask those of heaven to heal me--for I wished, nevertheless, to be well, though I bore my illness with great joy. Sometimes, too, I used to think that if I recovered my health, and yet were lost for ever, I was better as I was. But, for all that, I thought I might serve God much better if I were well. This is our delusion; we do not resign ourselves absolutely to the disposition of our Lord, Who knows best what is for our good.
9. I began by having Masses and prayers said for my intention--prayers that were highly sanctioned; for I never liked those other devotions which some people, especially women, make use of with a ceremoniousness to me intolerable, but which move them to be devout. I have been given to understand since that they were unseemly and superstitious; and I took for my patron and lord the glorious St. Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly that both out of this my present trouble, and out of others of greater importance, relating to my honour and the loss of my soul, this my father and lord delivered me, and rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and of soul. To other Saints, our Lord seems to have given grace to succour men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that as He was Himself subject to him upon earth--for St. Joseph having the title of father, and being His guardian, could command Him--so now in heaven He performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and
there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth.
10. I used to keep his feast with all the solemnity I could, but with more vanity than spirituality, seeking rather too much splendour and effect, and yet with good intentions. I had this evil in me, that if our Lord gave me grace to do any good, that good became full of imperfections and of many faults; but as for doing wrong, the indulgence of curiosity and vanity, I was very skilful and active therein. Our Lord forgive me!
11. Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious Saint; for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God. I have never known any one who was really devout to him, and who honoured him by particular services, who did not visibly grow more and more in virtue; for he helps in a special way those souls who commend themselves to him. It is now some years since I have always on his feast asked him for something, and I always have it. If the petition be in any way amiss, he directs it aright for my greater good.
12. If I were a person who had authority to write, it would be a pleasure to me to be diffusive in speaking most minutely of the graces which this glorious Saint has obtained for me and for others. But that I may not go beyond the commandment that is laid upon me, I must in many things be more brief than I could wish, and more diffusive than is necessary in others; for, in short, I am a person who, in all that is good, has but little discretion. But I ask, for the love of God, that he who does not believe me will make the trial for himself--when he will see by experience the great good
3. Of the devotion to St. Joseph, F. Faber (The Blessed Sacrament, bk. ii. p. 199, 3rd ed.) says that it took its rise in the West, in a confraternity in Avignon. "Then it spread over the church. Gerson was raised up to be its doctor and theologian, and St. Teresa to be its Saint, and St. Francis of Sales to be its popular teacher and missionary. The houses of Carmel were like the holy house of Nazareth to it; and the colleges of the Jesuits, its peaceful sojourns in dark Egypt."
that results from commending oneself to this glorious patriarch, and being devout to him. Those who give themselves to prayer should in a special manner have always a devotion to St. Joseph; for I know not how any man can think of the Queen of the angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Infant Jesus, without giving thanks to St. Joseph for the services he rendered them then. He who cannot find any one to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious Saint for his master, and he will not wander out of the way.
13. May it please our Lord that I have not done amiss in venturing to speak about St. Joseph; for, though I publicly profess my devotion to him, I have always failed in my service to him and imitation of him. He was like himself when he made me able to rise and walk, no longer a paralytic; and I, too, am like myself when I make so bad a use of this grace.
14. Who could have said that I was so soon to fall, after such great consolations from God--after His Majesty had implanted virtues in me which of themselves made me serve Him--after I had been, as it were, dead, and in such extreme peril of eternal damnation--after He had raised me up, soul and body, so that all who saw me marvelled to see me alive? What can it mean, O my Lord? The life we live is so full of danger! While I am writing this--and it seems to me, too, by Thy grace and mercy--I may say with St. Paul, though not so truly as he did: "It is not I who live now, but Thou, my Creator, livest in me." For some years past, so it seems to me, Thou hast held me by the hand; and I see in myself desires and resolutions--in some measure tested by experience, in many ways, during that time--never to do anything, however slight it may be, contrary to Thy will, though I must have frequently offended Thy Divine Majesty without being
4. Galat. ii. 20: "Vivo autem, jam non ego; vivit vero in me Christus."
aware of it; and I also think that nothing can be proposed to me that I should not with great resolution undertake for Thy love. In some things Thou hast Thyself helped me to succeed therein. I love neither the world, nor the things of the world; nor do I believe that anything that does not come from Thee can give me pleasure; everything else seems to me a heavy cross.
15. Still, I may easily deceive myself, and it may be that I am not what I say I am; but Thou knowest, O my Lord, that, to the best of my knowledge, I lie not. I am afraid, and with good reason, lest Thou shouldst abandon me; for I know now how far my strength and little virtue can reach, if Thou be not ever at hand to supply them, and to help me never to forsake Thee. May His Majesty grant that I be not forsaken of Thee even now, when I am thinking all this of myself!
16. I know not how we can wish to live, seeing that everything is so uncertain. Once, O Lord, I thought it impossible to forsake Thee so utterly; and now that I have forsaken Thee so often, I cannot help being afraid; for when Thou didst withdraw but a little from me, I fell down to the ground at once. Blessed for ever be Thou! Though I have forsaken Thee, Thou hast not forsaken me so utterly but that Thou hast come again and raised me up, giving me Thy hand always. Very often, O Lord, I would not take it: very often I would not listen when Thou wert calling me again, as I am going to show.
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Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. Chapter 6. / Revised 1 January 2004 / © Copyright 2003-2004, Elizabeth T. Knuth / URL: http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/teresa/life/chap6.html