St.Teresa’s famous prayer in her own handwriting!
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
St.Teresa’s famous prayer in her own handwriting!
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Teresa of Ávila was born Teresa Ali Fatim Corella Sanchez de Capeda y Ahumada in Ávila, Spain. Less than twenty years before Teresa was born in 1515, Columbus opened up the Western Hemisphere to European colonization. Two years after she was born, Luther started the Protestant Reformation. Out of all of this change came Teresa pointing the way from outer turmoil to inner peace.
Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.
When she was seven-years-old, she convinced her older brother that they should “go off to the land of the Moors and beg them, out of love of God, to cut off our heads there.” They got as far as the road from the city before an uncle found them and brought them back.
After this incident she led a fairly ordinary life, though she was convinced that she was a horrible sinner. As a teenager, she cared only about boys, clothes, flirting, and rebelling. When she was 16, her father decided she was out of control and sent her to a convent. At first she hated it but eventually she began to enjoy it — partly because of her growing love for God, and partly because the convent was a lot less strict than her father.
Still, when the time came for her to choose between marriage and religious life, she had a tough time making the decision. She’d watched a difficult marriage ruin her mother. On the other hand being a nun didn’t seem like much fun. When she finally chose religious life, she did so because she though that it was the only safe place for someone as prone to sin as she was.
Once installed at the Carmelite convent permanently, she started to learn and practice mental prayer, in which she “tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ present within me….My imagination is so dull that I had no talent for imagining or coming up with great theological thoughts.” Teresa prayed this way off and on for eighteen years without feeling that she was getting results. Part of the reason for her trouble was that the convent was not the safe place she assumed it would be.
Many women who had no place else to go wound up at the convent, whether they had vocations or not. They were encouraged to stay away from the convents for long period of time to cut down on expenses. Nuns would arrange their veils attractively and wear jewelry. Prestige depended not on piety but on money. There was a steady stream of visitors in the parlor and parties that included young men. What spiritual life there was involved hysteria, weeping, exaggerated penance, nosebleeds, and self- induced visions.
Teresa suffered the same problem that Francis of Assisi did — she was too charming. Everyone liked her and she liked to be liked. She found it too easy to slip into a worldly life and ignore God. The convent encouraged her to have visitors to whom she would teach mental prayer because their gifts helped the community economy. But Teresa got more involved in flattery, vanity and gossip than spiritual guidance. These weren’t great sins perhaps but they kept her from God.
Then Teresa fell ill with malaria. When she had a seizure, people were so sure she was dead that after she woke up four days later she learned they had dug a grave for her. Afterwards she was paralyzed for three years and was never completely well. Yet instead of helping her spiritually, her sickness became an excuse to stop her prayer completely: she couldn’t be alone enough, she wasn’t healthy enough, and so forth. Later she would say, “Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”
For years she hardly prayed at all “under the guise of humility.” She thought as a wicked sinner she didn’t deserve to get favors from God. But turning away from prayer was like “a baby turning from its mother’s breasts, what can be expected but death?”
When she was 41, a priest convinced her to go back to her prayer, but she still found it difficult. “I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don’t know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer.” She was distracted often: “This intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down.” Teresa sympathizes with those who have a difficult time in prayer: “All the trials we endure cannot be compared to these interior battles.”
Yet her experience gives us wonderful descriptions of mental prayer: “For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”
As she started to pray again, God gave her spiritual delights: the prayer of quiet where God’s presence overwhelmed her senses, raptures where God overcame her with glorious foolishness, prayer of union where she felt the sun of God melt her soul away. Sometimes her whole body was raised from the ground. If she felt God was going to levitate her body, she stretched out on the floor and called the nuns to sit on her and hold her down. Far from being excited about these events, she “begged God very much not to give me any more favors in public.”
In her books, she analyzed and dissects mystical experiences the way a scientist would. She never saw these gifts as rewards from God but the way he “chastised” her. The more love she felt the harder it was to offend God. She says, “The memory of the favor God has granted does more to bring such a person back to God than all the infernal punishments imaginable.”
Her biggest fault was her friendships. Though she wasn’t sinning, she was very attached to her friends until God told her “No longer do I want you to converse with human beings but with angels.” In an instant he gave her the freedom that she had been unable to achieve through years of effort. After that God always came first in her life.
Some friends, however, did not like what was happening to her and got together to discuss some “remedy” for her. Concluding that she had been deluded by the devil, they sent a Jesuit to analyze her. The Jesuit reassured her that her experiences were from God but soon everyone knew about her and was making fun of her.
One confessor was so sure that the visions were from the devil that he told her to make an obscene gesture called the fig every time she had a vision of Jesus. She cringed but did as she was ordered, all the time apologizing to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t seem upset but told her that she was right to obey her confessor. In her autobiography she would say, “I am more afraid of those who are terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.” The devil was not to be feared but fought by talking more about God.
Teresa felt that the best evidence that her delights came from God was that the experiences gave her peace, inspiration, and encouragement. “If these effects are not present I would greatly doubt that the raptures come from God; on the contrary I would fear lest they be caused by rabies.”
Sometimes, however, she couldn’t avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few friends.” But since Christ has so few friends, she felt they should be good ones. And that’s why she decided to reform her Carmelite order.
At the age of 43, she became determined to found a new convent that went back to the basics of a contemplative order: a simple life of poverty devoted to prayer. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Wrong.
When plans leaked out about her first convent, St. Joseph’s, she was denounced from the pulpit, told by her sisters she should raise money for the convent she was already in, and threatened with the Inquisition. The town started legal proceedings against her. All because she wanted to try a simple life of prayer. In the face of this open war, she went ahead calmly, as if nothing was wrong, trusting in God.
“May God protect me from gloomy saints,” Teresa said, and that’s how she ran her convent. To her, spiritual life was an attitude of love, not a rule. Although she proclaimed poverty, she believed in work, not in begging. She believed in obedience to God more than penance. If you do something wrong, don’t punish yourself — change. When someone felt depressed, her advice was that she go some place where she could see the sky and take a walk. When someone was shocked that she was going to eat well, she answered, “There’s a time for partridge and a time for penance.” To her brother’s wish to meditate on hell, she answered, “Don’t.”
Once she had her own convent, she could lead a life of peace, right? Wrong again. Teresa believed that the most powerful and acceptable prayer was that prayer that leads to action. Good effects were better than pious sensations that only make the person praying feel good.
At St. Joseph’s, she spent much of her time writing her Life. She wrote this book not for fun but because she was ordered to. Many people questioned her experiences and this book would clear her or condemn her. Because of this, she used a lot of camouflage in the book, following a profound thought with the statement, “But what do I know. I’m just a wretched woman.” The Inquisition liked what they read and cleared her.
At 51, she felt it was time to spread her reform movement. She braved burning sun, ice and snow, thieves, and rat-infested inns to found more convents. But those obstacles were easy compared to what she face from her brothers and sisters in religious life. She was called “a restless disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as though she were a professor” by the papal nuncio. When her former convent voted her in as prioress, the leader of the Carmelite order excommunicated the nuns. A vicar general stationed an officer of the law outside the door to keep her out. The other religious orders opposed her wherever she went. She often had to enter a town secretly in the middle of the night to avoid causing a riot.
And the help they received was sometimes worse than the hostility. A princess ordered Teresa to found a convent and then showed up at the door with luggage and maids. When Teresa refused to order her nuns to wait on the princess on their knees, the princess denounced Teresa to the Inquisition.
In another town, they arrived at their new house in the middle of the night, only to wake up the next morning to find that one wall of the building was missing.
Why was everyone so upset? Teresa said, “Truly it seems that now there are no more of those considered mad for being true lovers of Christ.” No one in religious orders or in the world wanted Teresa reminding them of the way God said they should live.
Teresa looked on these difficulties as good publicity. Soon she had postulants clamoring to get into her reform convents. Many people thought about what she said and wanted to learn about prayer from her. Soon her ideas about prayer swept not only through Spain but all of Europe.
In 1582, she was invited to found a convent by an Archbishop but when she arrived in the middle of the pouring rain, he ordered her to leave. “And the weather so delightful too” was Teresa’s comment. Though very ill, she was commanded to attend a noblewoman giving birth. By the time they got there, the baby had already arrived so, as Teresa said, “The saint won’t be needed after all.” Too ill to leave, she died on October 4 at the age of 67.
St.Teresa of Avila’s Secret Informer
Saint Teresa of Avila traveled often to start new convents or to visit the many old ones she had already founded across Spain.
With so many travels, she needed a way to keep herself informed on what went on in each convent in her absence. Her trust in Saint Joseph was such that she enthroned his statue in every convent, asking him to take charge of the sisters while she was away.
Saint Joseph obliged. But not in a way that most people would expect. Upon Saint Teresa’s return to each convent, she went to the Saint Joseph statue. And he faithfully reported everything the nuns had done since her departure.
In turn, Saint Teresa proceeded to correct the sisters for faults they had committed in her absence. And it didn’t take long for the nuns to realize who the miraculous reporter was: the Saint Joseph statue.
As a result, the nuns started calling their statue of Saint Joseph, el Parlero, which in English is the Speaker. And in fact, the statue shows Saint Joseph with his mouth open, in a speaking position.
“Saint Joseph gave me everything I asked for”
I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honor and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask of him.
I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succors us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks.
This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth.
I used to try to keep his feast with the greatest possible solemnity; but, though my intentions were good, I would observe it with more vanity than spirituality, for I always wanted things to be done very meticulously and well. I had this unfortunate characteristic that, if the Lord gave me grace to do anything good, the way I did it was full of imperfections and extremely faulty. I was very assiduous and skilful in wrongdoing and in my meticulousness and vanity.
May the Lord forgive me. I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services that did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I think, I have made some request of him every year on his festival and I have always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good.
If I were a person writing with authority, I would gladly describe, at greater length and in the minutest detail, the favors which this glorious saint has granted to me and to others.
But in order not to do more than I have been commanded I shall have to write about many things briefly, much more so than I should wish, and at unnecessarily great length about others: in short, I must act like one who has little discretion in all that is good. I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him.
Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.
May the Lord grant that I have not erred in venturing to speak of him; for though I make public acknowledgment of my devotion to him, in serving and imitating him I have always failed. He was true to his own nature when he cured my paralysis and gave me the power to rise and walk; and I am following my own nature in using this favor so ill.
St.Teresa of Avila’s Visions of Souls in Mortal Sin
Volume 1 of The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Chapter 38, parts 23 & 24 & 25:
“Once, while approaching to receive Communion, I saw with my soul’s eyes more clearly than with my bodily eyes two devils whose appearance was abominable. It seems to me their horns were wrapped around the poor priests’s throat, and in the host that was going to be given to me I saw my Lord with the majesty I mentioned placed in the priest’s hands, which were clearly seen to be His offender’s; and I understood that that soul was in mortal sin. What would it be my Lord, to see Your beauty in the midst of such abominable figures? They were as though frightened and terrified in Your presence, for it seems they would have very eagerly fled had You allowed them. This vision caused me such great disturbance I don’t know how I was able to receive Communion, and I was left with a great fear, thinking that if the vision had been from God, His Majesty would not have permitted me to see the evil that was in that soul. The Lord Himself told me to pray for him and that He had permitted it so that I might understand the power of the words of consecration and how God does not fail to be present, however evil the priest who recites them, and that I might see His great goodness since He places Himself in those hands of His enemy, and all out of love for me and for everyone. I understood well how much more priests are obliged to be good than are others, how deplorable a thing it is to receive this most Blessed Sacrament unworthily, and how much the devil is lord over the soul in mortal sin. It did me a great deal of good and brought me deep understanding of what I owed God. May He be blessed forever and ever.”
“At another time something else happened to me that frightened me very much. I was at a place where a certain person died who for many years had lived a wicked life, from what I knew. But he had been sick for two years, and in some things it seems he had made amends. He died without confession, but nevertheless it didn’t seem to me he would be condemned. While the body was being wrapped in its shroud, I saw many devils take that body; and it seemed they were playing with it and punishing it. This terrified me, for with large hooks they were dragging it from one devil to the other. Since I saw it buried with the honor and ceremonies accorded to all, I reflected on the goodness of God, how He did not want that soul to be defamed, but wanted the fact that it was His enemy to be concealed.
I was half stupefied from what I had seen. During the whole ceremony I didn’t see another devil. Afterward when they put the body in the grave, there was such a multitude of them inside ready to take it that I was frantic at the sight of it, and there was need for no small amount of courage to conceal this. I reflected on what they would do to the soul when they had such dominion over the unfortunate body. May it please the Lord that what I have seen -a thing so frightful!-will be seen by all those who are in such an evil state; I think it would prove a powerful help toward their living a good life. All of this gives me greater knowledge of what I owe God and of what He freed me from. I was very frightened until I spoke about it to my confessor, wondering if it was an illusion caused by the devil to defame that soul. Although it wasn’t considered to be the soul of someone with a very deep Christian spirit. Truly since the vision was not an illusion, it frightens me every time I think of it.”
The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 1, Chapter 31,
A person came to me who had been in mortal sin for two and a half years. It was one of the most abominable I’ve heard of, and in all this time he hadn’t confessed or made amends; and he was saying Mass. Although he was confessing other sins, of this one he asked how he could confess something so ugly. He had a great desire to give it up, but he wasn’t able to help himself. He made me feel great pity, and my seeing that he offended God in such a way caused me deep sorrow. I promised him I would beg God very much to liberate him and that I would beg God very much to liberate him and that I would get others better than myself to do the same, and I wrote to him through a certain person he told me I could give the letters to. And so it happened that after receiving the first letter he went to confession. For God desired (through the many very holy persons to whose prayers I recommended him) to grant this soul that mercy; and I, although miserable, did what I could with great care. He wrote to me that he was so much better that for days he had not fallen into the sin, but that the torment the temptation gave him was so intense it seemed from what he suffered he was in hell; he asked me to commend him to God. I in turn recommended him to my sisters through whose prayers the Lord must have granted me this favor, for they took the matter very much to heart. No one could guess who the person was. I begged His Majesty to mitigate those torments and temptations and that those devils would come to afflict me, provided that I would not offend the Lord in anything. As a result, for a month I suffered severe torments; it was during this time that these two things I mentioned happened.
The Lord was pleased that they leave him; this he wrote to me, for I told hm what I was going through during that month. His soul was fortified, and he was left completely free. He didn’t have enough of thanking God and me as though I had done anything. But the reputation I had from the fact that the Lord granted me favors benefitted him. He said that when he found himself very distressed he read my letters, and the temptation left him. He was very impressed by what I had suffered and how he had been freed. Even I was amazed, and I would have suffered many more years to see that soul free. May the Lord be praised for everything, for the prayer of those who serve Him (as I believe do these sisters in this house) can do much. But since I sought these prayers, the devils must have been more angry with me; and the Lord on account of my sins permitted this.
Also one night during this time I thought they were choking me; after much holy water had been sprinkled around, I saw a great multitude of them go by, as though they were being thrown down a precipice. There are so many times that these cursed creatures torment me, and so little is the fear I now have of them, seeing that they cannot stir unless the Lord allows them, that I would tire your Reverence and tire myself if I told about all these instances.
May what was said be of help that the true servant of God might pay no attention to the scarecrows the devils set up in order to cause fear. We should know that each time we pay no attention to them they are weakened and the soul gains much more mastery. Some great benefit always remains, which I won’t go into so as not to enlarge. I shall only mention what happened to me on the night of All Souls: while I was in the oratory after having recited a nocturn and while saying some very devotional prayers that come at the end, a devil appeared on the book so that I couldn’t finish the prayer. I blessed myself, and he went away. When I began again to recite the prayers, he returned. I believe it was three times I began, and until I threw holy water at him I couldn’t finish. I saw that some souls left purgatory at that instant; little must have been lacking to their freedom, and I wondered if he had aimed at preventing this.
A few times I’ve seen him in physical form, but many times with no physical form-as for instance in the vision mentioned above in which without seeing any form one knows he is there.
I also want to tell the following because it frightened me a lot: one day on the feast of the Trinity, being in the choir of a certain monastery and in rapture, I saw a great battle of devils against angels. I couldn’t understand what that vision meant. In less than fifteen days it became easily understandable on account of a certain conflict that arose between people of prayer and many who were not, and a lot of harm was done in the house in which it took place. It was a battle that lasted a long time and caused much disquiet.
At other times I saw a large multitude of devils around me, and it seemed that a great brightness encircled me, and this prevented them from reaching me. I understood that God was watching over me so that they could not get to me in order to make me offend Him. From what I sometimes saw in myself, I understood that it was a true vision. The fact is that now I have understood so well the little bit of power he has provided I’m not against God, that I have almost no fear . The powers of devils are nothing if these devils do not find souls cowardly and surrendered to them: it is with such souls that they show their power. Sometime, in the temptations I already mentioned, it seemed to me that all the vanities and weaknesses of the past were again awakening within me; I had really to commend myself to God. At once the torment came of thinking that since those thoughts arose in me the favors I experienced must all be from the devil. It seemed to me that there shouldn’t have been even the first stirrings of a bad thought in one who was receiving so many favors from the Lord. But then my confessor put me at peace.
From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. The also flee from the cross, but return; so holy water must have great value. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once, it has happened again and again and I have observed it attentively. It is let us say, as if someone very hot and thirsty were to drink from a jug of cold water: he would feel the refreshment throughout his body.
I often reflect on the great importance of everything ordained by the Church and it makes me very happy to find that those words of the Church are so powerful that they impart their power to the water and make it so different from water which has not been blessed..
One night, too, about this time, I thought the devils were stifling me; and when the nuns had sprinkled a great deal of holy water about, I saw a hug crowd of them running away as quickly as though they were about to fling themselves down a steep place.
I will only describe something that happened to me one night of All Sous Day. I was in an oratory: I had said one nocturne and was repeating some very devotional prayers which follow it – they are extremely devotional: we have them in our office book – when actually the devil himself alighted on the book, to prevent me from finishing the prayer. I made a sign of the cross and he went away. I then began again and he came back. I think I began the prayer three times and not until I had sprinkled some holy water on him could I finish it.”
St. Theresa of Avila said she would die for one drop of holy water since what gave it it’s effectivity was the precious blood of Jesus. She believed this because of the ancient saying that you say when blessing yourself with holy water. “By this holy water and by thy Precious Blood wash away all my sins, O Lord.”