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TERESA ON HERSELF
I had a father and a mother who both feared God. My father had his chief delight in the reading of good books, and he did his best to give his children the same happy taste. This also helped me much, that I never saw my father or my mother regard anything but goodness. Though possessing very great beauty in her youth, my mother was never known to set any store by it. Her apparel, even in her early married life, was that of a woman no longer young. Her life was a life of suffering, her death was most Christian. After my mother’s removal, I began to think too much about my dress and my appearance, and I pursued many such like things that I was never properly warned against, full of mischief though they were both to myself and to others. I too early learned every evil from an immoral relative. I was very fond of this woman’s company. I gossiped and talked with her continually. She assisted me to all the amusements I loved; and, what was worse, she found some very evil amusements for me, and in every way communicated to me her own vanities and mischiefs. I am amazed to think on the evil that one bad companion can do; nor could I have believed it, unless I had known it by experience. The company and the conversation of this one woman so changed me that scarcely any trace was left in me of my natural disposition to virtue. I became a perfect reflection of her and of another who was as bad as she was.
For my education and protection my father sent me to the Augustinian Monastery, in which children like myself were brought up. There was a good woman in that religious house, and I began gradually to love her. How impressively she used to speak to me of God! She was a woman of the greatest good sense and sanctity. She told me how she first came to herself by the mere reading of these words of the Gospel, ‘Many are called and few chosen.’ This good companionship began to root out the bad habits I had brought to that house with me; but my heart had by that time become so hard that I never shed a tear, no, not though I read the whole Passion through. When at last I entered the Religious House of the Incarnation for life, our Lord at once made me understand how He helps those who do any violence to themselves in order to serve Him. No one observed this violence in me. They saw nothing in me but the greatest goodwill. At that sore step I was filled with a joy so great that it has never wholly left me to this day. God converted the dryness of my soul into the greatest tenderness, immediately on my taking up that cross. Everything in religion was now a real delight to me. I had more pleasure now in sweeping the house than I had in all the balls and dances I had forsaken for His sake. Whenever I remember those early days, it makes me ready to take up any cross whatsoever. For I know now by a long and a various experience that His Majesty richly rewards even in this life all the self-denial that we do for His sake and service. I know this by many experiences; and if I were a person who had to advise and guide God’s people, I would urge them to fear no difficulty whatsoever in the path of duty: for our God is omnipotent, and He is on our side. May He be blessed for ever! Amen.
O my supreme Good and my true Rest, I know not how to go on when I call those happy days to mind, and think of all my evil life since then! My tears ought to be tears of blood. My heart ought to break. But Thou, Lord, hast borne with me for almost twenty years, till I have had time to improve. And all that it might be better known to me who Thou art and what I am. Woe is me, my Maker! I have no excuse, I have only blame. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, rest on me. Other women there have been who have done great deeds in Thy service, but I am good only to talk: all my goodness ends in so many words: that is all my service of Thee, my God. Cost me what it may, let me not go on coming to Thee with idle words and empty hands, seeing that the reward of every one will be according to his works. Depart not from me, and I can do all things. Depart from me, and I shall return to whence I was taken, even to hell.
One of the reasons that move me, who am what I am, to write all this even under obedience, and to give an account of my wretched life, and of the graces the Lord hath wrought in me is this,—and would that I were a person of authority, and then people would perhaps believe what I say. This then is what I would say and repeat continually if any one would hear me. Let no one ever say: If I fall into sin, I cannot then pray. In this the devil turned his most dreadful batteries against me. He said to me that it showed very little shame in me if I could have the face to pray, who had just been so wicked. And under that snare of Satan I actually as good as gave up all prayer for a year and a half. This was nothing else but to throw myself straight down into hell. O my God, was there ever such madness as mine! Where could I think to find either pardon for the past, or power for the time to come, but from Thee? What folly to the stumbler to run away from the light! Let all those who would give themselves to prayer, and to a holy life, look well to this. They should know that when I was shunning prayer because I was so bad, my badness became more abandoned than ever it had been before. Rely on the waiting and abounding goodness of God, which is infinitely greater than all the evil you can do. When we acknowledge our vileness, He remembers it no more. I grew weary of sinning before God grew weary of forgiving my sin. He is never weary of giving grace, nor are his compassions to be exhausted. May He be blessed for ever, amen: and may all created things praise Him!
I have made a vow—[it is known as ‘the Teresian vow,’ ‘the seraphic vow,’ ‘the most arduous of vows,’ ‘a vow yet unexampled in the Church’], a vow never to offend God in the very least matter. I have vowed that I would rather die a thousand deaths than do anything of that kind, knowing I was doing it. I am resolved also, never to leave anything whatsoever undone that I consider to be still more perfect, and more for the honour of our Lord. Cost me what pain it may, I would not leave such an act undone for all the treasures of the world. If I were to do so, I do not think I could have the face to ask anything of God in prayer: and yet, for all that, I have many faults and imperfections remaining in me to this day.
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