|« Prev||On Prayer||Next »|
(1) The Price of Prayer.—O Thou Lord of my soul, and my Eternal Good, why is it that when a soul resolves to follow Thee, and to do her best to forsake all for Thee,—why is it that Thou dost not instantly perfect Thy love and Thy peace within that soul? But I have spoken unadvisedly and foolishly, for it is we who are at fault in prayer, and never Thee. We are so long and so slow in giving up our hearts to Thee. And then Thou wilt not permit our enjoyment of Thee without our paying well for so precious a possession. There is nothing in all the world wherewith to buy the shedding abroad of Thy love in our heart, but our heart’s love. If, however, we did what we could, not clinging with our hearts to anything whatsoever in this world, but having our treasure and our conversation in heaven, then this blessedness would soon be ours, as all Thy saints testify. God never withholds Himself from him who pays this price and who perseveres in seeking Him. He will, little by little, and now and then, strengthen and restore that soul, till at last it is victorious. If he who enters on this road only does violence enough to himself, with the help of God, he will not only go to heaven himself, but he will not go alone: he will take others with him. God will give him, as to a good leader, those who will go after him. Only, let not any man of prayer ever expect to enjoy his whole reward here. He must remain a man of faith and prayer to the end. Let him resolve, then, that whatever his aridity and sense of indevotion may be, he will never let himself sink utterly under his cross. And the day will come when he will receive all his petitions in one great answer, and all his wages in one great reward. For he serves a good Master, who stands over him watching him. And let him never give over because of evil thoughts, even if they are sprung upon him in the middle of his prayer, for the devil so vexed the holy Jerome even in the wilderness. But all these toils of soul have their sure reward, and their just recompense set out for them. And, I can assure you, as one who knows what she is saying, that one single drop of water out of God’s living well will both sustain you and reward you for another day and another night of your life of life-long prayer.
(2) Sin spoils Prayer.—Now I saw that there would be no answer to me till I had entire purity of conscience, and no longer regarded any iniquity whatsoever in my heart. I saw that there were some secret affections still left in me, which, though they were not very bad perhaps in themselves, yet in a life of prayer such as I was attempting those remanent affections spoiled all.
(3) Eighteen Years of Misery in Prayer.—It is not without very good reason that I have dwelt so long on this part of my life. It will give no one any pleasure to see any one so base as I was. And I wish all who read this to have me in abhorrence. I failed in all obedience, because I was not leaning on my strong pillar of prayer. I passed nearly twenty years of my life on this stormy sea, constantly tossed with tempest and never coming to harbour. It was the most painful life that can be imagined, because I had no sweetness in God, and certainly no sweetness in sin. I was often very angry with myself on account of the many tears I shed for my faults, when I could not but see how little improvement all my tears made in me. All my tears did not hold me back from sin when the opportunity returned. Till I came to look on my tears as little short of a delusion: and yet they were not. It was the goodness of the Lord to give me such compunction even when it was not as yet accompanied with complete reformation. But the whole root of my evil lay in my not thoroughly avoiding all occasions of sin, and in my confessors, who helped me at that time so little. If they had only told me what a dangerous road it was I was travelling in, and that I was bound to break off all occasions of sin, I do believe, without any doubt, that the matter would have been remedied at once. Nevertheless, I can trace distinctly the mercy of God to me in that all the time I had still the courage to pray. I say courage, because I know nothing in the whole world that requires greater courage than plotting treason against the King, knowing that He knows it, and yet continuing to frequent His presence in prayer. I spent more than eighteen years in that miserable attempt to reconcile God and my life of sin. The reason that I tell and repeat all this so often is that all who read what I write may understand how great is that grace God works in the soul when He gives it a disposition to pray on, even when it has not yet left off all sin. If that soul perseveres, in spite of sin, and temptation, and many relapses, our Lord will bring that soul at last—I am certain of it—to the harbour of salvation, to which He is surely bringing myself. I will say what I know by experience,—let him never cease from prayer, who has once begun to pray, be his life ever so bad. For prayer is the only way to amend his life, and without prayer it will never be mended. Let him not be tempted of the devil, as I was, to give up prayer on account of his unworthiness. Let him rather believe that if he will only still repent and pray, our Lord will still hear and answer. For myself, very often I was more occupied with the wish to see the end of the hour. I used actually to watch the sand-glass. And the sadness I sometimes felt on entering my oratory was so great, that it required all my courage to force myself in. In the end our Lord came to my help: and, then, when I had done this violence to myself, I found far greater peace and joy than when I prayed with regale and rapture. If our Lord then bore so long with me in all my wickedness, why should any one despair, however wicked he may be? Let him have been ever so wicked up till now, he will not remain in his wickedness so many years as I did after receiving so many graces from our Lord. And this more I will say,—prayer was the true door by which our Lord distributed out all His grace so liberally to me. Prayer and trust. I used indeed to pray for help: but I see now that I committed all the time the fatal mistake of not putting my whole trust in His Majesty. I should have utterly and thoroughly distrusted and detested and suspected myself. I sought for help. I sometimes took great pains to get it. But I did not understand of how little use all that is unless we root utterly all confidence out of ourselves, and place it at once, and for ever, and absolutely in God. Those were eighteen miserable years.
(4) Aridity in Prayer.—Let no one weary or lose heart in prayer because of aridity. For the Hearer of prayer comes in all such cases very late. But at last He comes. And though He confessedly comes late, He correspondingly makes up to the soul for all His delays, and rewards her on the spot for all her toil, and dryness, and discouragement of many years. I have great pity on those who give way and lose all this through not being taught to persevere in prayer. It is a bad beginning, and very prejudicial to proficiency in prayer, to use it for the gust and consolation that a man receives at the time. I know by my own experience, that he who determines to pray, not much heeding either immediate comfort or dejection, he has got into one of the best secrets of prayer. I am troubled to hear that grave men, and men of learning and understanding, complain that God does not give them sensible devotion. It proceeds from ignorance of the true life of prayer, and from not carrying the cross into prayer as into all the rest of the spiritual life. He who begins to pray should be well told that he begins to plant a fine garden in very bad soil; a soil full of the most noxious and ineradicable weeds. And that after good herbs and plants and flowers have been sown, then he has to weed and water and fence and watch that garden night and day and all his life. Till the Lord of the garden is able to come and recreate and regale Himself where once there was nothing but weeds, and stones, and noxious vermin. Prayer, howsoever perfect in itself it may be, must always be directed in upon the performance of good works. We must not content ourselves with the gift of prayer, or with liberty and consolation and gust in prayer. We must come out from prayer the most rapturous and sweet only to do harder and ever harder works for God and our neighbour. Otherwise the prayer is not good, and the gusts are not from God. The growth and maturity and fruitfulness of the soul do not stand in liberty in prayer, but in love. And this love is got not by speaking much but by doing and suffering much. For my part, and I have been long at it, I desire no other gift of prayer but that which ends in every day making me a better and better woman. By its fruits your prayer will be known to yourselves and others.
At other times I find myself so arid that I am not able to form any distinct idea of God, nor can I put my soul into an attitude of prayer, though I am in the place of prayer, and though I feel that I know something of God. This mind of mine at such times is like a born fool or some idiot creature that nothing can bind down. I cannot command myself. I cannot properly say one Credo. At such times I laugh bitterly at myself, and see clearly my own natural misery. I come then to see the exceeding favour of the Lord in that He ever holds this insane fool fast in prayer and holiness. What would those who love and honour me think if they saw their friend in this dotage and distraction? I reflect at such times on the great hurt our original sin has done us. For it is from our first fall that all this has come to us that we so wander from God, and are so often utterly incapable of God. But it is not so much Adam’s sin as my own that works in me all this alienation and inability and aridity. Methinks I love God; but my actions, and the endless imperfections I see in myself, cause me great fear, and deep and inconsolable distress.
(5) Prayer after Sin.—Never let any one leave off prayer on any pretence: great sins committed, or any other pretence whatsoever. For by leaving off prayer the soul will be finally lost, while every return to prayer is new life and new strength, as I am continually telling you. I tell you again that the leaving off of prayer was the most devilish and the most deadly temptation I ever met with.
(6) Meditation in Prayer.—He who prays should often stop to think with whom he speaks: who he himself is who speaks: who Jesus Christ is through whom he speaks: what that country is to which he aspires: how he may best please Him who dwells there: and what he is to do so that his character and disposition may suit with God’s disposition and character. Mental prayer, as I am wont to call it, is the constant meditation of such things as these. And mental prayer ought to be endeavoured after by all, though they have no virtues, because it is the beginning of them, and therefore the one interest of all men is at once to begin such prayer. But it will be exercised with no little difficulty unless the steady acquisition of the virtues accompanies it. In prayer it is far best to be alone; as, for our example and instruction, our Lord always was when He prayed. For we cannot talk both to God and man at the same moment. And, if we feel too much alone, and must have company, no company is comparable to Christ’s company. Let us picture and represent Christ to ourselves and to His Father as always at our side. Those who pray with proper preparation: that is, with much meditation on the whole life and death of our Lord: on their own death: on the last day, or such like, our Lord will bring all such to the port of light. Meditate much on the Sacred Humanity of our Lord: what He was on earth: what He said: what He did, and what He suffered. Because this life of ours is long and uphill, which to pass well through needs the constant presence with us of our great Exemplar, Jesus Christ.
(7) The Presence of God in Prayer.—In prayer there would sometimes come upon me such a sense of the Presence of God that I seemed to be all engulfed in God. I think the learned call this mystical experience; at any rate, it so suspends the ordinary operations of the soul that she seems to be wholly taken out of herself. This tenderness, this sweetness, this regale is nothing else but the Presence of God in the praying soul. At the same time, I believe that we can greatly help toward the obtaining of God’s Presence. We obtain it by considering much our own baseness, the neglect and the ingratitude we show toward the Son of God, how much He has done for us, His passion and terrible suffering, His whole life so full of affliction, by delighting ourselves in His word and in His works, and such things as these. And if in these reflections the soul be seized with the Presence of God, then the whole soul is regaled as I have described. The heart is filled with relenting. Tears also abound. In this way does the Divine Majesty repay us even here for any little care we take to serve Him and to be with Him. The life of prayer is just love to God and the custom of being ever with Him.
(8) Supernatural Prayer.—In supernatural prayer God places the soul in His immediate Presence, and in an instant bestows Himself upon the soul in a way she could never of herself attain to. He manifests something of His greatness to the soul at such times: something of His beauty, something of His special and particular grace. And the soul enjoys God without dialectically understanding just how she so enjoys Him. She burns with love without knowing what she has done to deserve or to prepare herself for such a rapture. It is the gift of God, and He gives His gifts to whomsoever and whensoever He will. This, my daughters, is perfect contemplation: this is supernatural prayer. Now this is the difference between natural and supernatural prayer: between mental and transcendental prayer. In ordinary prayer we more or less understand what we say and do. We think of Him to whom we speak; we think about ourselves and about our Surety and Mediator. In all this, by God’s help, we can do something, so to speak, of ourselves. But in pure supernatural and transcendental prayer, we do nothing at all. His Divine Majesty it is who does it all. He works in us at such elect seasons what far transcends and overtops all the powers and resources even of the renewed nature. At the same time, as a far-off means of attaining to supernatural prayer, it is necessary to put upon ourselves the acquiring of the great virtues, and especially, humility: we must give up and resign ourselves wholly and entirely unto God. Whoever will not attempt to do this, with all the grace of God, that man will never come within sight of the highest prayer. Let him, in absolutely everything, seat himself in the lowest place. Let him account himself utterly and hopelessly unworthy of everything he possesses, both in nature and in grace. Let him shun advancement. Let him apply himself to daily mortification, not of the body so much as of the mind and the heart, and let him be more than content with the least thing that God allows him, for this is true humility. In short, let His Majesty lead us in any way He pleases, and the chances are that He will soon lead us by these ways to a life of prayer and communion it had not entered into our hearts to conceive possible to such sinners as we are. Let no man be too much cast down, because he has not yet attained to supernatural prayer. God leads His people in the way that He chooses out as best for Him and for them. And he who stands low in his own eyes, may all the time stand high in God’s eyes. Supernatural prayer is not necessary to salvation: nor doth God require it of us. They shall not fail of salvation who practise themselves in the solid virtues. No, they may have more merit in His eyes than their more favoured neighbours, because their obedience, and their faith, and their love have cost them more. Their Lord deals with them as with strong and valiant men, appointing them travail and trouble here, that they may fight for Him the good fight of faith, and only come in for the prize at the end. And, after all, what greater mark of a high election can there be than to taste much of the cross? Whom the Lord loveth, in that measure He lays on them His cross. And the heaviest of all our crosses is a life of sanctification and service without sensible consolation.
(9) Over-familiarity in Prayer.—He was a man of a powerful understanding. I thought on his great gifts, and the possibilities there were in him of doing great service if he were once entirely devoted to God. He asked me to recommend him much to God, and I did not need to be asked. I went away to the place to which I used to retreat in cases like this. And once there, I put myself into a state of entire recollection, and began to treat with our Lord in a way, when I think of it, of too great familiarity. But it was love that spake, and every one allows love great familiarity, and no one so much as our Lord. My soul overlooked the distance between herself and her Lord. She forgot herself, as she so often does, and began to talk impertinences and to take too great freedoms. I entreated our Lord with many tears. I judged my friend to be already a good man, but I must have him much better, and I said so too freely, I fear. ‘O Lord,’ I remember I said,’ Thou must not deny me this favour that I ask. This is a man for us to make a friend of.’ And far more than that. And He did it. Yes, He did it. O His immense bounty and goodness! He regards not the words but the affection with which the words are uttered. That must be so, when He endures with such an impertinent and over-familiar and irreverent wretch as I am; endures and answers. May He be blessed to all eternity!
(10) The Best Result of Prayer.—To Father Gratian. To-day I received three letters from your Reverence by the way of the head-post. The whole matter is in a nut-shell. That prayer is the most acceptable which leaves the best results. Results, I mean, in actions. That is true prayer. Not certain gusts of softness and feeling, and nothing more. For myself, I wish no other prayer but that which improves me in virtue. I would fain live more nearly as I pray. I count that to be a good prayer which leaves me more humble, even if it is still with great temptations, tribulations, and aridities. For it must never be thought that because a man has much suffering, therefore he cannot have prayed acceptably. His suffering is as incense set forth before God. Tell my daughters that they must work and suffer as well as pray, and that it is the best prayer that has with it the most work and the most suffering.
(11) A Bishop taught to Pray.—To Don Alonzo Velasquez, Bishop of Osma. Your Reverence enjoined me the other day to recommend you to God. I have done so: not regarding my own inconsiderableness, but your requisition and your rights. And I promise myself from your goodness that you will take in good part what I feel compelled to say to you, and will accept that which proceeds only from my obedience to you. Recognising, then, and representing to our Lord, the great favours He has done you in having bestowed upon you humility, charity, zeal for souls, and a strong desire to vindicate the Divine honour, I still besought the Lord for an increase in you of all these same virtues and perfections in order that you may prove as accomplished in all these things as the dignity of your office requires. Till it was discovered to me that you still wanted that which is the foundation of every virtue, and without which the whole superstructure dissolves, and falls in ruins. You want prayer. You want believing, persevering, courageous prayer. And the want of that prayer causes all that drought and disunion from which you say your soul suffers. That which was shown me as the way your lordship is henceforth to pray is this. You are to recollect and accuse yourself of all your sins since your last time of like prayer. You are to divest yourself of everything as if you were that moment to die. You are to begin by reciting to yourself and to God the Fifty-first Psalm. And after that you must say this. ‘I come, O Lord, Bishop as I am, to Thy children’s school of prayer and obedience. I come to Thee not to teach, but to learn. I will speak to Thee, who am but dust and ashes.’ And all the time set before the eyes of your soul Jesus Christ crucified, and ruminate on Him in some such way as this. Fix your eyes on that stupendous humility of His whereby He so annihilated Himself. Look on His head crowned with thorns. Fix your eyes on His nailed hands, His feet, and His side. Meditate on and interrogate every one of His wounds for you. It behoves you also to go to prayer with a most entire resignation and submission and pliantness to go that way in religion and in life that God points out to you. Sometimes He will teach you by turning His back on you: and, anon, by lifting up the light of His countenance upon you. Sometimes by shutting you out of His presence, and sometimes by bringing you into His banqueting-house. And you are to receive it all with the same equability of mind, knowing that He always acts for the best. Otherwise you will go to teach God in your prayers, which is not the proper scope and intent of prayer at all. And when you say that you are dust and ashes, you must observe and exhibit the proper quality of such. In our Lord’s prayer in the garden, He requested that the bitterness and the terrible trial He felt in overcoming His human nature might be taken away. He did not ask that His pains might be taken away, but only the disgust wherewith He suffered them. And when it was answered Him that it was not expedient but that He should drink that cup, He had to master that weakness and pusillanimity of the flesh, as must all other men. One cannot be a great scholar, or even a finished courtier, without great pains and expense; and to be a scholar in the Church, and a minister, and a master in the science of Heaven, cannot be done without long time at school and much hard work. And herewith I desist from saying more to your lordship, whose pardon I beg for all this presumption. Which, however full it may be of defects and indiscretions, is not wanting in that zeal I owe to your service as one of the most wandering and gone astray of your lordship’s flock. Our Lord preserve your lordship, and enrich you with the manifold increase of His grace. I am, your lordship’s unworthy servant and subject, Teresa of Jesus.
(12) The proper Readers of what the Saint has Written,—And now I return most humbly to beseech your Reverence, that, if you mean to impart to any one these things that you have made me write concerning prayer, let them be imparted to spiritual persons, and to persons of real insight only. For, indeed, I have written for persons of exceptional experience and exceptional prudence only. What I have written, I fear, very few are capable of. But what am I, to speak thus about any but myself? Farewell.—I am,
Teresa the Sinner.
|« Prev||On Prayer||Next »|