41 – 42

CHAPTER 41
Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must keep ourselves from venial sins.

How I have enlarged on this subject! Yet I have not said as much about
it as I should like; for it is a delightful thing to talk about this
love of God. What, then, must it be to possess it? May the Lord, for
His own sake, give it me! May I not depart from this life till there is
nothing in it that I desire, till I have forgotten what it is to love
anything but Thee and till I deny the name of love to any other kind of
affection–for all love is false but love of Thee, and, unless the
foundations of a building are true, the building itself will not
endure. I do not know why it surprises us to hear people say:
”So-and-so has made me a poor return for something.” ”Someone else does
not like me.” I laugh to myself when I hear that. What other sort of
return do you expect him to make you? And why do you expect anyone to
like you? These things will show you what the world is; your love
itself becomes your punishment, and the reason why you are so upset
about it is that your will strongly resents your involving it in such
childish pastimes.

Let us now come to the fear of God–though I am sorry not to be able to
say a little about this worldly love, which, for my sins, I know well
and should like to acquaint you with, so that you may free yourself
from it for ever. But I am straying from my subject and shall have to
pass on.

This fear of God is another thing with which those who possess it and
those who have to do with them are very familiar. But I should like you
to realize that at first it is not very deep, save in a few people, to
whom, as I have said, the Lord grants such great favours as to make
them rich in virtues and to raise them, in a very short time, to great
heights of prayer. It is not recognizable, therefore, at first, in
everyone. As it increases, it grows stronger each day, and then, of
course, it can be recognized, for those who possess it forsake sin, and
occasions of sin, and bad company, and other signs of it are visible in
them. When at last the soul attains to contemplation, of which we are
chiefly treating at the moment, its fear of God is plainly revealed,
and its love is not dissembled even outwardly. However narrowly we
watch such persons, we shall not find them growing careless; for, close
as our watch on them may be, the Lord so preserves them that they would
not knowingly commit one venial sin even to further their own
interests, and, as for mortal sin, they fear it like fire. These are
the illusions, sisters, which I should like you always to fear; let us
always beseech God that temptation may not be strong enough for us to
offend Him but that He may send it to us in proportion to the strength
which He gives us to conquer it. If we keep a pure conscience, we can
suffer little or no harm. That is the important point; and that is the
fear which I hope will never be taken from us, for it is that fear
which will stand us in good stead.

Oh, what a great thing it is not to have offended the Lord, so that the
servants and slaves of hell [139] may be kept under control! In the
end, whether willingly or no, we shall all serve Him–they by
compulsion and we with our whole heart. So that, if we please Him, they
will be kept at bay and will do nothing that can harm us, however much
they lead us into temptation and lay secret snares for us.

Keep this in mind, for it is very important advice, so do not neglect
it until you find you have such a fixed determination not to offend the
Lord that you would rather lose a thousand lives and be persecuted by
the whole world, than commit one mortal sin, and until you are most
careful not to commit venial sins. I am referring now to sins committed
knowingly: as far as those of the other kind are concerned, who can
fail to commit them frequently? But it is one thing to commit a sin
knowingly and after long deliberation, and quite another to do it so
suddenly that the knowledge of its being a venial sin and its
commission are one and the same thing, and we hardly realize what we
have done, although we do to some extent realize it. From any sin,
however small, committed with full knowledge, may God deliver us,
especially since we are sinning against so great a Sovereign and
realizing that He is watching us! That seems to me to be a sin
committed of malice aforethought; it is as though one were to say:
”Lord, although this displeases Thee, I shall do it. I know that Thou
seest it and I know that Thou wouldst not have me do it; but, though I
understand this, I would rather follow my own whim and desire than Thy
will.” If we commit a sin in this way, however slight, it seems to me
that our offence is not small but very, very great.

For the love of God, sisters, never be careless about this –and, glory
be to the Lord, you are not so at present. If you would gain this fear
of God, remember the importance of habit and of starting to realize
what a serious thing it is to offend Him. Do your utmost to learn this
and to turn it over in your minds; for our life, and much more than our
life, depends upon this virtue being firmly planted in our souls. Until
you are conscious within your soul of possessing it, you need always to
exercise very great care and to avoid all occasions of sin and any kind
of company which will not help you to get nearer to God. Be most
careful, in all that you do, to bend your will to it; see that all you
say tends to edification; flee from all places where there is
conversation which is not pleasing to God. Much care is needed if this
fear of God is to be thoroughly impressed upon the soul; though, if one
has true love, it is quickly acquired. Even when the soul has that firm
inward determination which I have described, not to offend God for the
sake of any creature, or from fear of a thousand deaths, it may
subsequently fall from time to time, for we are weak and cannot trust
ourselves, and, the more determined we are, the less self-confidence we
should have, for confidence must come from God. But, when we find
ourselves in this state, we need not feel constrained or depressed, for
the Lord will help us and the habits we have formed will be of
assistance to us so that we shall not offend Him; we shall be able to
walk in holy freedom, and associate with anyone, as seems right to us,
even with dissolute people. These will do you no harm, if you hate sin.
Before we had this true fear of God worldly people would have been
poisonous to us and would have helped to ruin our souls; but now they
will often help us to love God more and to praise Him for having
delivered us from what we see to be a notorious danger. And whereas we
for our part may previously have helped to foster their weaknesses, we
shall now be helping to repress them, because they will restrain
themselves in our presence, and this is a compliment which they will
pay us without our desiring it.

I often praise the Lord (though I also wonder why it should be so) that
merely by his presence, and without saying a word, a servant of God
should frequently prevent people from speaking against Him. It may be
as it is in worldly intercourse: a person is always spoken of with
respect, even in his absence, before those who are known to be his
friends, lest they should be offended. Since this servant of God is in
a state of grace, this grace must cause him to be respected, however
lowly his station, for people will not distress him in a matter about
which they know him to feel so strongly as giving offence to God. I
really do not know the reason for this but I do know that it very
commonly happens. Do not be too strict with yourselves, then, for, if
your spirit begins to quail, it will do great harm to what is good in
you and may sometimes lead to scrupulosity, which is a hindrance to
progress both in yourselves and in others. Even if things are not as
bad as this, a person, however good in herself, will not lead many
souls to God if they see that she is so strict and timorous. Human
nature is such that these characteristics will frighten and oppress it
and lead people to avoid the road you are taking, even if they are
quite clear it is the best one.

Another source of harm is this: we may judge others unfavourably,
though they may be holier than ourselves, because they do not walk as
we do, but, in order to profit their neighbours, talk freely and
without restraint. You think such people are imperfect; and if they are
good and yet at the same time of a lively disposition, you think them
dissolute. This is especially true of those of us who are unlearned and
are not sure what we can speak about without committing sin. It is a
very dangerous state of mind, leading to great uneasiness and to
continual temptation, because it is unfair to our neighbour. It is very
wrong to think that everyone who does not follow in your own timorous
footsteps has something the matter with her. Another danger is that,
when it is your duty to speak, and right that you should speak, you may
not dare to do so lest you say too much and may perhaps speak well of
things that you ought to hate.

Try, then, sisters, to be as pleasant as you can, without offending
God, and to get on as well as you can with those you have to deal with,
so that they may like talking to you and want to follow your way of
life and conversation, and not be frightened and put off by virtue.
This is very important for nuns: the holier they are, the more sociable
they should be with their sisters. Although you may be very sorry if
all your sisters’ conversation is not just as you would like it to be,
never keep aloof from them if you wish to help them and to have their
love. We must try hard to be pleasant, and to humour the people we deal
with and make them like us, especially our sisters.

So try, my daughters, to bear in mind that God does not pay great
attention to all the trifling matters which occupy you, and do not
allow these things to make your spirit quail and your courage fade, for
if you do that you may lose many blessings. As I have said, let your
intention be upright and your will determined not to offend God. But do
not let your soul dwell in seclusion, or, instead of acquiring
holiness, you will develop many imperfections, which the devil will
implant in you in other ways, in which case, as I have said, you will
not do the good that you might, either to yourselves or to others.

You see that, with these two things–love and fear of God– we can
travel along this road in peace and quietness, and not think at every
step that we can see some pitfall, and that we shall never reach our
goal. [140] Yet we cannot be sure of reaching it, so fear will always
lead the way, and then we shall not grow careless, for, as long as we
live, we must never feel completely safe or we shall be in great
danger. And that was our Teacher’s meaning when at the end of this
prayer He said these words to His Father, knowing how necessary they
were: ”But deliver us from evil. Amen.”
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[139] Lit.: ”the infernal slaves.”

[140] Or ”for [if we do this] we shall never reach our goal.”
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CHAPTER 42
Treats of these last words of the Paternoster: ”Sed libera nos a malo. Amen.”
”But deliver us from evil. Amen.”

I think the good Jesus was right to ask this for Himself, for we know
how weary of this life He was when at the Supper He said to His
Apostles: ”With desire I have desired to sup with you” [141] –and that
was the last supper of His life. From this it can be seen how weary He
must have been of living; yet nowadays people are not weary even at a
hundred years old, but always want to live longer. It is true, however,
that we do not live so difficult a life or suffer such trials or such
poverty as His Majesty had to bear. What was His whole life but a
continuous death, with the picture of the cruel death that He was to
suffer always before His eyes? And this was the least important thing,
with so many offenses being committed against His Father and such a
multitude of souls being lost. If to any human being full of charity
this is a great torment, what must it have been to the boundless and
measureless charity of the Lord? And how right He was to beseech the
Father to deliver Him from so many evils and trials and to give Him
rest for ever in His Kingdom, of which He was the true heir.

By the word ”Amen,” as it comes at the end of every prayer, I
understand that the Lord is begging that we may be delivered from all
evil for ever. It is useless, sisters, for us to think that, for so
long as we live, we can be free from numerous temptations and
imperfections and even sins; for it is said that whosoever thinks
himself to be without sin deceives himself, and that is true. But if we
try to banish bodily ills and trials–and who is without very many and
various trials of such kinds?–is it not right that we should ask to be
delivered from sin?

Still, let us realize that what we are asking here–this deliverance
from all evil–seems an impossibility, whether we are thinking of
bodily ills, as I have said, or of imperfections and faults in God’s
service. I am referring, not to the saints, who, as Saint Paul said,
can do all things in Christ [142] but to sinners like myself. When I
find myself trammelled by weakness, lukewarmness, lack of mortification
and many other things, I realize that I must beg for help from the
Lord.

You, daughters, must ask as you think best. Personally, I shall find no
redress in this life, so I ask the Lord to deliver me from all evil
”for ever.” What good thing shall we find in this life, sisters, in
which we are deprived of our great Good and are absent from Him?
Deliver me, Lord, from this shadow of death; deliver me from all these
trials; deliver me from all these pains; deliver me from all these
changes, from all the formalities with which we are forced to comply
for as long as we live, from all the many, many, many things which
weary and depress me, and the enumeration of all of which would weary
the reader if I were to repeat them. This life is unendurable. The
source of my own depression must be my own wicked life and the
realization that even now I am not living as I should, so great are my
obligations.

I beseech the Lord, then, to deliver me from all evil for ever, since I
cannot pay what I owe, and may perhaps run farther into debt each day.
And the hardest thing to bear, Lord, is that I cannot know with any
certainty if I love Thee and if my desires are acceptable in Thy sight.
O my God and Lord, deliver me from all evil and be pleased to lead me
to that place where all good things are to be found. What can be looked
for on earth by those to whom Thou hast given some knowledge of what
the world is and those who have a living faith in what the Eternal
Father has laid up for them because His Son asks it of Him and teaches
us to ask Him for it too?

When contemplatives ask for this with fervent desire and full
determination it is a very clear sign that their contemplation is
genuine and that the favours which they receive in prayer are from God.
Let those who have these favours, [143] then, prize them highly. But if
I myself make this request it is not for that reason (I mean, it must
not be taken as being for that reason); it is because I am wearied by
so many trials and because my life has been so wicked that I am afraid
of living any longer. It is not surprising if those who share in the
favours of God should wish to pass to a life where they no longer enjoy
mere sips at them: being already partakers in some knowledge of His
greatness, they would fain see it in its entirety. They have no desire
to remain where there are so many hindrances to the enjoyment of so
many blessings; nor that they should desire to be where the Sun of
justice never sets. Henceforward all the things they see on earth seem
dim to them and I wonder that they can live for even an hour. No one
can be content to do so who has begun to enjoy such things, and has
been given the Kingdom of God on earth, and must live to do, not his
own will, but the will of the King.

Oh, far other must be that life in which we no longer desire death! How
differently shall we then incline our wills towards the will of God!
His will is for us to desire truth, whereas we desire falsehood; His
will is for us to desire the eternal, whereas we prefer that which
passes away; His will is for us to desire great and sublime things,
whereas we desire the base things of earth; He would have us desire
only what is certain, whereas here on earth we love what is doubtful.
What a mockery it all is, my daughters, unless we beseech God to
deliver us from these perils for ever and to keep us from all evil! And
although our desire for this may not be perfect, let us strive to make
the petition. What does it cost us to ask it, since we ask it of One
Who is so powerful? It would be insulting a great emperor to ask him
for a farthing. Since we have already given Him our will, let us leave
the giving to His will, so that we may be the more surely heard; and
may His name be for ever hallowed in the Heavens and on the earth and
may His will be ever done in me. Amen.

You see now, friends, what is meant by perfection in vocal prayer, in
which we consider and know to Whom the prayer is being made, Who is
making it and what is its object. When you are told that it is not good
for you to practise any but vocal prayer, do not be discouraged, but
read this with great care and beg God to explain to you anything about
prayer which you cannot understand. For no one can deprive you of vocal
prayer or make you say the Paternoster hurriedly, without understanding
it. If anyone tries to do so, or advises you to give up your prayer,
take no notice of him. You may be sure he is a false prophet; and in
these days, remember, you must not believe everyone, for, though you
may be told now that you have nothing to fear, you do not know what is
in store for you. I had intended, as well as saying this, to talk to
you a little about how you should say the Ave Maria, but I have written
at such length that that will have to be left over. If you have learned
how to say the Paternoster well, you will know enough to enable you to
say all the other vocal prayers you may have to recite.

Now let us go back and finish the journey which I have been describing,
for the Lord seems to have been saving me labour by teaching both you
and me the Way which I began to outline to you and by showing me how
much we ask for when we repeat this evangelical prayer. May He be for
ever blessed, for it had certainly never entered my mind that there
were such great secrets in it. You have now seen that it comprises the
whole spiritual road, right from the beginning, until God absorbs the
soul and gives it to drink abundantly of the fountain of living water
which I told you was at the end of the road. It seems, sisters, that
the Lord’s will has been to teach us what great consolation is
comprised in it, and this is a great advantage to those who cannot
read. If they understood this prayer, they could derive a great deal of
sound instruction from it and would find it a real comfort. Our books
may be taken from us, but this is a book which no one can take away,
and it comes from the lips of the Truth Himself, Who cannot err.

As we repeat the Paternoster so many times daily, then, as I have said,
let us delight in it and strive to learn from so excellent a Master the
humility with which He prays, and all the other things that have been
described. May His Majesty forgive me for having dared to speak of such
high matters. Well does His Majesty know that I should not have
ventured to do so, and that my understanding would not have been
capable of it, had He not taught me what I have said. Give thanks to
Him for this, sisters, for He must have done it because of the humility
with which you asked me to write it for you in your desire to be
instructed by one so unworthy.

Well, sisters, Our Lord seems not to want me to write any more, for,
although I had intended to go on, I can think of nothing to say. The
Lord has shown you the road and has taught me what I wrote in the book
which, as I say, I have already written. [144] This tells you how to
conduct yourselves on reaching this fount of living water and what the
soul experiences when there, and how God satiates it and takes away its
thirst for earthly things, and makes it grow in things pertaining to
God’s service. This will be very helpful to those who have reached the
fount, and will give them a great deal of light.

Before you see this book I shall give it to my confessor, Father
Presentado Domingo Bañez of the Order of Saint Dominic. If he thinks
you will benefit by it, and gives it you to read, and if you find it of
any comfort, I, too, shall be comforted. If he gives you this book, he
will give you the other [145] as well. Should it be found unsuitable
for anyone to read, you must take the will for the deed, as I have
obeyed your command by writing it. [146] I consider myself well repaid
for my labour in writing, though it has certainly been no labour to me
to think about what I have been going to say, as the Lord has taught me
the secrets of this evangelical prayer, which has been a great comfort
to me. Blessed and praised be the Lord, from Whom comes all the good
that we speak and think and do. Amen.
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[141] St. Luke xxii, 15.

[142] Philippians iv, 13.

[143] Lit.: ”Let those who are so.”

[144] The Life.

[145] The Life. I do not know what reason St. Teresa had to suppose
this, but the Spanish of E. (”tambi}n os dará el otro”) is quite
definite.

[146] Lit.: ”you will take my will, as I have obeyed your command with
the work” [i.e. in deed].