Saturday, 21 March 2020

208- CoronaVirus

Dear Friends, 

We live in difficult times and the news of not being able to attend Mass leaves the majority of us in shock. We don’t know what to think. Also, confinement changes everything in our life, daily routine, relationships, family, community, work and movement. After the initial shock, we are trying to make sense of this trial. If we allow God’s wisdom to guide us, we might even find in it a deep benefit. In fact, is a great opportunity for us to deepen the fact that our Christian Worship should always be not only physical but also “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:23-24); with our heart and not only with our lips (see Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13); entering into our inner room, closing the door of our senses and praying to God (see Matthew 6:6) who is spirit (John 4:23-24).

We often take for granted that the Mass is a right, while in fact the Mass is a Present from God. We take for granted that we have Priests while in fact they also are a Present from God. Without Priests there are no Masses! We need to pray for our priests, seminarians and for vocations to the Priesthood.

Today, what is available and offered to us is to attend Mass via the internet. It a challenge for us but it is also, paradoxically, a huge blessing. God is inviting us to really appreciate the beauty and spiritual depth of the Mass. He wants us to go deeper into it. How can this happen?

1- We have been constantly aware of the direct link between the Liturgy of the Word and Lectio Divina. The latter is the digestive process of the Grace received during the Liturgy of the Word. Today, in our confinement, let us take the opportunity to receive the Grace of Jesus’ Word for us today. Let us renew our practice of Lectio Divina in order to enter deeper into the first part of the Mass.

2- Also, in the second part of the Mass, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the moment of Communion arrives, when the Priest invites us to do a “Spiritual Communion”, we need to really do it, opening our heart to Jesus who wants to come and dwell in us. More so, we can take a silent time right after our Spiritual Communion, in a “Prayer of the Heart” like attitude, in order to benefit from the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We can also, at any other designated time, resume the Prayer of the Heart, continuing to benefit from our Spiritual Communion.

Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart are intimately connected to the two Liturgies of the Mass, they allow us to digest the Grace of God received and benefit spiritually from it, grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus and discover in Him new depths.

During this time of confinement, God is calling us to the desert. He wants to talk to our heart and wants to offer us exceptional graces, drawing us closer to Him and revealing to us new dimensions in our Christian life. (see Hosea 2:14)

After this time of desert, by the Grace of God, we will go back to normal life, but it will be a transfigured Christian life, having benefitted from many graces given during this special time. It will be a new start.

Let us pray for each other, entrust each other to Our Lady, entrust our Country and all countries to Her and the entire World. Let us entrust the sick and the prisoners. May the Grace of Our Lord be always with us. 
Please pray for me.

Jean Khoury
Sunday 22nd March 2020

Friday, 21 February 2020

207- Does God Love Us Always?

Question: If God creates a “new man” in me and the old man has to go completely, what is it that God loves in me then? If I am "made in his image and likeness" and "he has called me by my name", what is it in me that He loves? Does He only love the capacity to be like Him? Does He love us as far as we do His will, are transformed into Him and live His life and therefore our Ego has to go? Do you see the question, psychologically? If we need to be transformed into Him does the fact that "I am" mean anything?


Is the Old Man Different from Our Self?

The real meaning of the expression "Old Man" encompasses a way of acting and its deep roots in us. "Purification" and trans-formation into God does not imply the cancellation of our being.
It seems that to “go completely” from one state to the other means throwing out the baby with the dirty water. We must avoid this, please. We need to properly understand what the expression “Old Man” alludes to. The “old man” concerns behaviour rather than being - certainly not all of our being. It most certainly does not impinge on the self, but on our way of acting. We, therefore, should distinguish between on one hand our behaviour, acts, choices and, on the other hand, our being, our soul, spirit, the faculties of our soul, and our self.
There is a definite difference between a faculty in our soul (mind, will) and the use we make of this faculty. Hence, while it is true to say God loves each one of us, we can all agree that He doesn't love our sins! But, still, after sinning He still loves us - for who we are, not for this or that act. He hopes also that we can change. He wants us close to Him. He enjoys our presence. He desires even more - He wants to be united to us.
When we say that the Old Man has to go, it doesn't mean that this happens in a mechanical way, like pressing "delete" and saying: "let us re-create from scratch". No. God doesn’t re-create us from scratch. He needs us, from the first day, He needs our full collaboration, given freely… willingly. This is why St. Augustine says: God created us without our consent, but He won’t save us without our consent. Our own salvation, realised on God’s side, by Jesus on the Cross, cannot be fully received, enacted, to transform us, without our consent being given, at each step! It is not accomplished by one act but through a multitude of acts, coming from our free will.
In this sense, He cannot realise his salvation in us (realised first on the Cross), without us. God needs us!!
So, returning to the question, it is fair to say that “sin” and “grace” don't cancel out our being. They are the result, the fruits of our being, they give a colour and a shape to our being, but still they are not our being. We are something different, bigger, exceedingly bigger. The biggest sin is infinitely smaller than each one of us is in His eyes.
Spiritual authors often take the following verse from St. John out of context and apply it to the “Old Man” and the “New Man”: "He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30). This verse is normally said by St. John the Baptist when talking about his mission. We can accept with tolerance the deviation in meaning. However, in order to understand better the meaning of Old Man vs New Man, it is better to re-read what St. Paul says in the following texts: Romans 13:12ss, Eph 4:13-27. See also: Rm 7:7-23); 2 Cor 4:16-17 ; Eph 3, 14-18. Newness of life, old man : Rm 6, 2-11 ; Col 3, 9-10.
Fundamentally we need to understand that the Old Man and New Man consist of essentially two different uses (and acts produced) by our faculties (eg. mind and will). The same faculties can collaborate or not with God’s Grace. One way of acting if repeated will essentially produce, by the grace of God, a virtue, a good supernatural habit. This makes our “new man” grow. We can act in “neutral” ways, in the sense that our acts are not bad acts, but they are not activated by the Theological acts of Faith, Hope and Love. It is true that the main driving engine of spiritual growth includes these three acts. They allow the New Man in us to grow, to learn how God sees things (Faith), to see what goal we are pursuing (Hope) and how to act in general, that is, to see whether we love God and our brothers in Him. Any act, in fact, goes either in the direction of feeding the growth of the New Man, or the growth of the Old Man.
It is true that the soul itself is the mother of its spiritual life. We ourselves are the mother of our own new being. Self stays but it grows in depth and finds new roots.
As a consequence, however, the disappearance of the Old Creature is not the disappearance of ourselves!!

God Loves Us Always

We often hear: “God loves us but not our sin”, or, “God love the sinner but not his sin”. Consider this, however: He loves our choices even the sinful ones for two reasons, not of course because of their sinfulness but because of on the one hand his respect for us, and on the other hand his capacity to offer us a further solution that will make us greater in his eyes.
In us we have “good” and “evil” as well as a “higher good”. Our choice is always between good and evil. This is fine. But in case (God forbid) we choose evil, God is capable afterwards of helping us reach a higher good! It is as if evil has opened a new potential in us for something greater. In a way God can always have the “final word”. But this depends on us. However, this never means that the door is open for sin! Knowing this and still sinning would be a real offence to his mercy and tempting Him: it is like throwing yourself from a high building and still expecting the angels to rescue you.
It is because of this understanding that not everything is lost after sin that we sing at Easter Vigil, while thinking of Adam’s fault: "O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer."
In conclusion it would be fair to say that we can't mix the “old creature” and “the person”. The “Old creature” is a way of acting, thinking seeing and is not the very self of this person, not the actual person itself.
When you take a shower after swimming in filthy water it is still you that emerges after the shower. This is a little like what occurs with the Old Man in us after purification. But it penetrates more deeply, in the sense that one has to introduce the notion of “purification” and “trans-formation” into the process.
Added to this, the act of sin adds new bad roots to the person, rooting the person in something else other than God. If your son or daughter does something bad do you love what they did? No. Do you love their act and the consequences of this act in them and outside of them? No. But you still love they themselves. The act of sin has just added a perished patch of cloth and bad roots to them, which only the experience of the Holy Spirit can show them from within, and which only He can remove; in fact we can refrain from sin, but the habits and bad roots which sin has created can only be removed by the Holy Spirit! Confession reconciles us with God, reopens the stream of the Grace of God, but it is the penance that we receive in confession that helps the Holy Spirit purify our being more deeply! This is why the penance has to be proportionate to the real gravity of the sin in order to help the grace of God enter deeply and change the person! The grace of confession is given but often not totally received and integrated. Therefore, the roots of our being can still hinder our future behaviour.

Transformed in God

Do we know what it is to be transformed in God? It is advisable here to pause and consider what is needed for God to instruct us. Let us take the example of clay. We are created in God’s Image and Likeness. The “image” of God that we are is the clay. The “likeness” is the form that the clay takes as a result of our acts. Because of sin, we lose only “the form”. The “clay” is still there, but, is half-dead (see the parable of the Good Samaritan and the state in which the man was left on the side of the road).
Only the Holy Spirit can show us what is left after total purification.

God’s Bowels of Mercy

Let us enter into the bowels of God, the bowels of his being, of Him being Love. He loves us when we are sinners. Not for our sin, but for our sake. If we remove our sins, there stands our being, whole and entire. But be in no doubt: at any stage of our growth we are loved. Either at the beginning of the journey i.e. where the Old Man is in great evidence, or in the middle, or towards the end where the New Man predominates in the main.
Is God’s love for us conditioned by His desire to have us Holy in front of Him? Would He continue to love us if we are sinning? Would He continue to love us even if we are far from Him and decided firmly to stay far away from Him? What is the “size” of his love for each one of us? Of course, He wants us to be with Him, but with our full collaboration. Does He know anything else other than “to love”? If we are far from Him, if his love can’t reach us, He still loves us, waits for us. Of course, He cannot consent to any act we make that leads us further from Him. But despite our choice and our act, He continues to love us and considers that we need Him more than others need Him! However, He cannot and will never move our will or act for us. He cannot and will not ever impose his love on us!
He leaves us free if we want to abandon Him and go off! He will continue to love us and wait for us. But He will not force us. Never. His respect for our will and choices is absolute. This, ironically, even constitutes a handicap, a difficulty for Him! He can only send messages, warn, try to convince us, but He will never force us. This is our being made in his image! We were created as his partners, but He will not force us to be his!
On an even more positive note we can say that, our sins, and what they generate in us (the Old Man) are still, in a way, like a thin crust, ugly, but we are still there, underneath it. Like being in a prison, but it is still us! He loves us, He wants us free, out of this prison. Our sins are like an illness! Our illness cannot kill our soul! We are still there, loved as if we were without any illness.
I would say that a person who is far from God is, in a way, loved by God even more! Why? Because of his understanding of the person, his compassion. If we humans see a person in pain, thirsty, hungry, we feel compassion for this person! Why wouldn’t God feel the same? But infinitely more!
It is true that we often hear this statement nowadays: “God loves us as we are”. On the other hand, we hear also, the statement found above in the question: “he loves me as long as I am doing his will”.
Both statements are correct. When He loves me, his gaze is capable of piercing the outer shell of my sin (the Old Man) to find me inside of this prison and darkness. Why would I deny this? Why would this be underestimated? He loves me, here, despite my condition, despite my illness. He even loves me more.
Does He love my condition? My illness? My sin? We cannot ask or expect God to do so!
But paradoxically He has the utmost respect and understanding of my choices! First, because they come from me, who is created in his image! “Created in his image” is really a big mystery, because this enables me to stand in front of God and allows me to say to Him and his love: “yes” or “no”! What dignity we have been given! What power we have over God, over God’s destiny!
We are as great as God, even if we are created by Him, in the sense that because of how we are created we have free will toward God himself…and He still loves us!
We can speak forever about the fact that God loves us, whichever the state in which we are in. Look at the behaviour of the father of the prodigal son. He still went to the top of the road of the road every day and waited for his son to return! Was he a happy person? No! Did he stay at home partying with this other son? No! He was “outside of himself”, in pain, part of Him was missing from him. His son, “flesh of his flesh”, “bone of his bones”, had gone away… he couldn’t force him to stay… but the father’s state, God’s state, is really bad! He is in huge pain! His son is away… “lost” … It wasn’t the Dad’s choice! It was the son’s choice! The father respected it! He waited… in pain, as if part of his body were missing, sad, sad, very sad. Crying! Waiting!
So yes, God loves us… we need to experience His love…
He is in a very bad state… He is out of himself… dead alive… part of Him is missing - his son - flesh of his flesh… He is in deep distress… He doesn’t know what to do! He can’t do that much! He respects his son’s decision… He certainly sent messages… inquired… but He feels empty, infinitely sad…, He waits….
So, yes, God loves you… Jesus loves you….
We do not know what it means. It is unconditional though! Totally unconditional, because this is God’s being and He cannot change his being!

Friday, 7 February 2020

206- Meditation or no Meditation?

Meditation Articles Raise Questions

My last two articles on Meditation could very well shake your confidence a little, causing you, in fact, to lose a measure of your spiritual self-confidence. Indeed, these articles are meant to provoke thought and consideration.
You might even self-doubt: have I ever gone through a Second Conversion? You might be tempted to say: “Maybe all I have been doing all this time is meditation - the brain can really play tricks on us!”
But let me reassure you here: all your Lectios are not pure brain work. Let us also remember that, in a way, “Meditation” is one of the steps of our actual Lectio Divina (Reading (1): Reading in order to understand what the text says), so that when the supernatural action of God doesn’t work in our Lectio we will be led to feel that we did a Meditation instead. The last two articles I have written, in fact, are capable of creating this kind of "trouble", and some trouble also in general. Hence the necessity for Discernment and not applying one or two criteria without thinking, plus taking into consideration all the other elements that constitute our reality and the reality of Lectio Divina. This has led me to deeply feel the necessity and need to offer a Course on Second Conversion. I consider it is becoming urgent.
To answer the above doubts, we need to remember that we need to accept humbly the doubts that can occur, without panicking. They make us humbler, and it is healthy to stay humble.
But in case you have such doubts, please do remember the powerful Lectio Divinas you have experienced... and many others less powerful.
Recently I commented in a lecture (see the video online) on a chapter from Fr. Marie Eugene where he talked about “Spiritual Growth”. In one of the three sections of the Chapter he states the existence of growth and stages of growth. In the following section, however, he seems to negate all that he has said, in the sense that it is full of “buts”, i.e. difficult to discern…we can make mistakes…it is not all felt… the essential part of the grace of God occurs deep inside of us, so we don’t know…we live in Faith, etc. Then, he finishes this dialectical movement by offering a third section and saying in one word: it is still important to have in mind growth etc. So, self-categorising should be done with great prudence. This Chapter is more for Spiritual Directors – not that we should never read about spiritual growth and spiritual stages as they do help, because they invite us to do things we are not doing, and recognise things in us to correct! Otherwise why did St. Teresa write “The Interior Castle”. My Master, Fr. Louis Guillet, never gave any importance to categorising (i.e. what stage has the person reached, or to tell the person where she is) despite the fact that he knew very well the changes in God's behaviour as regards this person. Why so? Because there is a sort of obscurity that pervades our whole Spiritual Life in general. True there are changes and sometimes drastic ones. But the advice given all along the journey is often very similar: practising Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart, humility, love, meekness, duty of state, God’s Commandments, Sacraments,… The very advanced person will still be under all this and having to be vigilant. Certainly, it will be lived differently, but the frame is the same.

Are We Then Changing Anything in the School?

The articles I have written do create a minor upset in the normal bearings within the School. But we stay the same. Why? As I have said above: I am seriously reluctant to teach only Meditation or give advice even to who only practise Meditation, and never to try proper Lectio Divina. I couldn’t deprive a beginner of the knowledge of proper Lectio Divina. Why? Because Christ sooner or later for this person will be at the Centre of their life. Because all our Christian life is “sacramental”, i.e. it has all the visible aspects we deal with every day, and yet we have the invisible grace of God trying to find us all the time and reach us. A Christian person sees through externals, sees the invisible. It is true that there is a stage where the mind will have to do more work, laying the foundations, studying Faith, in order to deepen belief. But, in the end, as “Meditation” is described in the Catechism: it leads to Christ, and Christ is at the Centre of everything, and we are called to be united to Him – even if we are still very far off (before Second Conversion). We have to preach the Truths about spiritual life to everybody! One day, the Truths will become alive in the person! A person has to fulfil the duties of the Mansions where she currently is, and in doing so, the person aspires toward higher realms, or better said: closer intimacy with Christ.
The articles on Meditation in a way, are like completing a teaching initially aimed to start from the Fourth Mansions. It is as if it is offering the first three Mansions (0, 1, 2, 3). By offering a more complete panorama, it sheds a new light, gives more clarity and offers nuances. They help us understand also what happens in a life within the first four Mansions! This is the life of the majority of Christians!!! The Parishioners! This helps you target your Parish audience more effectively, by knowing in advance that you will fail 95% of the time when you teach your Lectio Divina to a simple parishioner, despite all their good will.
The “Second Conversion” Teaching or Doctrine, then, assumes greater importance. As a teacher you already know the main points, which have been mentioned in these articles, and which sum up the teaching of St. Teresa of Avila concerning the first four Mansions (0, 1, 2, 3). They sum up all the core issues of the forty initial years of her life: the key points she had to implement in order to facilitate Second Conversion.
Till now, the unconscious tendency amongst St. Teresa’s commentators, over more than four centuries, has been to consider “Second Conversion” as a pure grace of God that nobody can foresee, prepare for, or even facilitate, like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, and least of all to trigger a reaction! It is a grace! One can’t trigger or merit it! Therefore, why bother studying it, if in the end it is a powerful grace she received while staring at a very small statue of Christ at the Column. This tiny statue shows our Lord and Saviour, naked torso, attached to the column, while being scourged, with his entire torso covered in wounds and blood. To reiterate as St. Paul says: it is God who has mercy on whomever He wants to have mercy! We can’t do anything here but wait! I think that the implicit Theology of the Grace of God that is present in the mind of the majority of the commentators is that since it is a grace that provokes the Second Conversion, we can’t do anything to obtain it. Dogmatically, the position is very seductive and seems perfectly orthodox. I just quoted St. Paul. Indeed, nobody can merit (or trigger) the Grace of the Second Conversion (or any grace). This is simple Theology of Grace. Nobody can normally challenge this position. So, commentators when they tell the story of her conversion, put the emphasis rather on the narrative, rather than on things she should have been implementing! They naturally will quote the account St. Teresa makes of her conversion, the powerful moment when it occurs; they will acknowledge the power of God’s intervention, and the story seems to end there! They seem to ignore that she spent twenty or so years in the sea of the world, struggling, to end by finding Christ and in a resolute way focusing, from then onwards, on Christ.
Who can challenge this? Almost nobody. Except that St. Teresa’s writings don’t seem to give this explanation only, but rather she adds more and opens ways to facilitate the Conversion. Very little is written on her Second Conversion, which is a surprise, especially when you can consult thousands of articles and books written on all sorts of aspects of her teaching!
I personally see in all her writings (not only in her Autobiography where she tells the story in chapters 9 and 23/24, but also in the Way of Perfection and Interior Castle), explanations of very brief indications given in her Autobiography. I think it took her years to understand, implement for her sisters and explain what happened: i.e. why for twenty years she wasn’t totally there for Christ and what should have been done in order to be totally with Him and for Him - at least on her part, using the “General help of the Grace of God” (see Way of Perfection, first half and the first three Mansions, especially the third one, in the Interior Castle, and include the way she shaped life within her monastery (Constitutions)).
When, in chapters 6-9, 23-24 of her Autobiography she speaks about her conversion, St. Teresa gives essential clues, such as the advice given by two different priests. However, the mention of these pieces of advice occurs in one or two sentences at most! By contrast she will need the entire book of the Way of Perfection to explain the true secret that facilitates the Second Conversion and the working of the “Particular Help of the Grace of God”. It has been only during the past few years that I have been given the grace to see the link between the two, because, like everybody, I tended to see her Conversion as the pure work of the grace of God, i.e. she couldn’t do anything anyway, there is no teaching regarding this powerful grace for us, other than just praising the Lord and waiting for His Mercy to shower down upon us – or something as close as this.

Question: Do these two articles on Meditation alter the way we would teach? Should we be speaking to youngsters?
Answer: When I talked to some French children (9-13 years old) last year I gave them Lectio Divina as I usually teach it, with the empty chair, and Jesus sitting there. The result was positive – they got the point. Children are so open! We are not! They are closer to God, to Jesus than we are.
The same result came about also many years ago when I taught Lectio Divina to 14-16 years old. Actually, I would “hate” teaching Meditation alone for as everything is Sacramental in Christianity because God became incarnate, we are invited in Christianity to "see" God through many different means. We are talking to Christians, not to pure Jewish people who have never heard of Christ.

Question: you mentioned in various Courses a passage in St. Paul where he says that when the Jew starts to believe, becomes Christian, the veil that was in front of his eyes is lifted and he starts to see Christ in the Old Testament. (Refer also to 1 Cor 10, where St. Paul makes the point about the Old Testament being “opened” i.e. revealed and tells us about Christ. See also the lesson given to the Disciples of Emmaus and the Apostles in Luke 24.) Is the veil so to speak lifted off the OT as a fruit of Baptism or is it a special grace? Can you clarify? Is it a fruit of general help or particular help?
Answer: It is the Particular help of the Grace of God. But it doesn’t always happen automatically, in the sense that the Teaching on the lifted veil to a Second Converted person (or Baptised) still needs to be given. Remember when teaching Lectio I do remind people of the “opening” that occurs during their baptism! Why do I do so? They are already baptised, so it should be working. No, it can be sleeping! The Seeds of Baptism, in many persons, can go into very long hibernation, especially when we enter adulthood, and is often synonymous with a distancing from faith, the Church, God, and Jesus. Therefore, it is important to revive the grace of Baptism, the awareness of what has been given to us and is buried in us, dormant, and needs awakening. When you teach, you help the Holy Spirit awake this “inner hearing”, or “inner vision” or sight. Remember the doctrine of the Fathers of the Church of the existence of internal spiritual senses: like our five senses, they are new capacities that grow through this awakening and help us see, hear, sense, taste Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. This is an ancient teaching on spiritual life that is rarely taught and when it is mentioned “en passant” in Theology, in Patrology, it is mentioned as if you were talking about a piece in a museum! Now you can appreciate how the Charismatic Renewal is a huge opportunity for the Church, still not perfectly understood theologically and integrated properly into the life of the Church.
Teaching therefore is essential. Reminding people of what they have buried in them, helping the Holy Spirit awaken the inner spiritual sight depends on the Teacher. Often it is not automatic.  Things occur when the Teaching is imparted. Mystagogy as practised by the Fathers of the Church is a Sacred Teaching, a Communication of the Holy Spirit. However, who talks about it today? Who implements it today? When? How? With which understanding?
Sometimes – and in the 20th century we had many – Second Conversions are extremely sudden and powerful. Remember one Christmas night when St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus received a very powerful grace that took her from the life of a youngster into adult life. She says that from that day on, growth never stopped, and she reached great heights. A Giant Race she calls it!
Remember, also, Paul Claudel’s Second Conversion, or simply double conversion, first and second. True he was initially catholic, but as an adult he drifted totally, becoming rather an atheist. One day, on Christmas day 1886 he went to follow Christmas High Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and came back for the Vespers, when the children’s choir was singing the Magnificat (today there is a commemorative plaque on the floor where he was standing, at the foot of Our Lady on the Column, to the right of  the main Altar). He recorded his second conversion thus: “In one instant my heart was touched, and I believed. I believed with such a powerful adhesion, with such a lifting of all my being, with such a powerful conviction that didn’t leave any space for any doubt, that from that moment, all the books, reasonings, randomness of an agitated life, weren’t able to shake my faith, or even touch it.” He entered atheist and came out believing as a fully-fledged catholic would do, in all the articles of the Creed, which seemed to be glowing with their inner truth and more especially the “tearing feeling of the Innocence, of God’s eternal childhood [or youth] an ineffable revelation”.
However, ordinarily, Second Conversion doesn't always happen in a sudden way. It took Teresa of Avila more than twenty years. (When we read the history of the Church, we find that during the three hundred years before St. Teresa was born, the Church, through various Councils tried to reform itself and failed, hence the birth of the Protestant Reformation. It was taking the Church three centuries trying to reform itself and it never succeeded. As if the key to reformation (i.e. Second Conversion) were lost. This is why the first forty years of St. Teresa’s life are a bit like the paradigm of a Church wanting to reform itself and failing. This is why the elements that constitute St. Teresa’s Conversion are of huge importance for the whole Church.
In some lives Second Conversion never occurs. Why? Because certain things should be done beforehand as I have explained and will again explain.
Having undergone her own second conversion and knowing what it entailed, you would think that St. Teresa, after her conversion, would have learned the lesson and would then offer to her daughters of the new reformed Monastery only one option: Second Conversion life and therefore Contemplation. But mysteriously, and for three reasons at least, she tones down her wording and expectations (see Way of Perfection). Her reasons for this were:

1. Contemplation is not always felt,
2. She might have a nun who hadn’t crossed the line of SC, but who was still very obedient and followed all that the Carmelite Rule demanded as well as St. Teresa’s advice, or at least did her best to do so. As long as the nun was “dans les rangs” (“within the ranks”) and was not making alterations or trouble, she would keep her,
3.Grace is always a matter that depends at the end of the day on God. He is free to do what He wants and how He sees things.

Hence, she leaves the door open to a possibility: maybe God doesn’t envisage having to give contemplation to all the nuns, i.e. some are left without it. You will notice also, a few years afterwards when writing the Interior Castle, she deliberately does not start her book with the Fourth Mansions! That would be following the exact hard logic of considering that all the nuns in her new reformed monastery would be at the point of “after Second Conversion”. No, she starts by exposing four other mansions, Mansion zero being outside of the Castle. Then you have the three Mansions inside of the Castle: 1, 2 and 3, and only then, does she start to talk about the supernatural (the Fourth Mansions). Why? Why is she talking to her nuns about the first four Mansions? In fact, she is telling her own story, and allowing for the possibility of some of the nuns being at the Third Mansions at the very least. The Third Mansions are really amazing, because they seem to describe a perfectly committed Catholic. There is no sin, there is fervour to fight against venial sins etc. the person, in fact, is morally sound! Doing his or her duties! Think of an excellent Opus Dei person for instance! This could be a perfect nun in any of St. Teresa’s Monasteries! Indeed, she writes for all these good people.

What About the Third and Fourth Soils?
Some have wondered why in my article I haven’t addressed the third and fourth soils, why I just stopped at the second in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed?
My answer is very simple: I do agree, it seems truncated. I should mention that the third soil is a prolongation or extension of the second soil’s effort. Of course, it deserves an explanation. But it wasn’t the core of my subject and would fit better in an article on the Second Conversion. But the essence of the third soil belongs to the essence of the second soil. Our context, instead, is that of the pre-Second Conversion. While the fourth soil, is the new world of the Supernatural, where God acts directly in us, and where He brings about growth in three progressive stages of development: 30, 60 and 100-fold.

Be Careful not to Push Certain People too early on into Lectio
Alluding to this sentence in the text: “Therefore, one needs to be careful not to push people too much into applying Lectio Divina as taught, or try to “torture” them by asking them to repeat the process and to keep on trying to do so, as this could lead to their even feeling guilty because it is not “working”, a reader wrote: “I list myself as among the tortured...” Some readers thought then that I had given the wrong advice by choosing to teach Lectio Divina and never Meditation.

My answer is: I have never addressed the issue before or considered teaching Meditation because I always considered and took for granted that people whom Our Lady enticed to the Solid Foundation Course came after their Conversion. I left the job to Her.
Plus, my personal experience has never led me to practise Meditation! From day one I was on to Lectio Divina! So, I always thought, why deprive others of the gift of Contemplation and the Grace of God? Why go backwards?
After my conversion I did “Spiritual Reading”, and certainly meditated, and reflected, on my readings, but never refrained from doing Lectio Divina from day one! (But it is true, it was after my Second Conversion!)
I always considered that people who came to the school did so after their Conversion! Hence my “refusal” to go there! My Master, Fr. Louis, considered that a good Carmelite novice nun was beyond it, and that God started quite early on to pour out His Graces (Fourth Mansions).
I do consider also for instance that any person going to a Charismatic renewal group does so certainly after his Second Conversion! So... no need to teach Meditation, or a replacement for Lectio Divina.

Question: “Replacement of Lectio Divina”?
Answer: Yes, if you chose “Meditation” as your way of praying, you are considering that you are not worth “Contemplation”, or, you are before Second Conversion, and therefore, only Meditation is for you. So, in this case, your feeling is to forget about the Lectio Divina as described by the School, and practise Meditation only or, call your Meditation Lectio Divina - which is for me an improper, gloomy situation.

Question: Regarding the question about the School teaching Meditation, is this not something that is already well served by others in the Church e.g. Jesuits? Are those who come to the First Level course (Solid Foundations) not self-selecting i.e. most likely to attend if they have already experienced the Second Conversion?
Answer: I deeply believe in the two branches of the Church, the Priestly (before Second Conversion) and the Prophetic (after Second Conversion). I have to confess, however, that a great paradox exists today: this ecclesiological distinction is present in many texts in the Church’s life and in its structure and management, Canon Law, etc, but the sharp awareness and the consequences for Spiritual Life and Spiritual Theology of this distinction is rather absent. So, if any person outside of the School will hear or read about it as presented and explained in the School, they will need some time to think and ponder, overcoming their initial surprise. This is strange but this is a fact.
It also sheds an amazing light on many issues in the Church. Example: Adult Catechesis is the mission of the Parish, and while being in the Parish, we need to receive this formation. While, once the Second Conversion has occurred, one finds very quickly how short is the food given in the Parish. True that Mass and Confession stay totally solid and nourishing for the soul, but formation-wise, the Parish and the Parish Priest don’t have any qualification to offer the deeper Spiritual Formation that is characteristic of the new life of the post Second Conversion. Every day one has confirmation of this very important ecclesiology point.
Having said this, I deeply consider that all that is needed to bring any of the Faithful to the edge of one bank, right before crossing to the other bank, should be provided by the Parish. So, the first three or four Mansions’ formation is normally provided by the Parish. This includes Meditation.
The School belongs completely to the Prophetic branch of the Church! It opens the “Noviciate room” you find in any Abbey or Religious Order and teaches the richness of the basics of the Spiritual Life of this new life, of this new part of the Journey.
Please see the drawing below that shows that the journey is like one path, but there is like a border-like division between the Parish and the Desert (red line on the diagram).
IMG_0333 copy
Think of St. Anthony the Great, called by Jesus during the Proclamation of the Gospel in his Parish to leave everything and follow Jesus! He leaves his parish and heads toward the Desert and becomes the disciple of some monks in a community. He goes from one “economy” to another. One “management” to the other. Both are under the supervision of the Bishop, or the Patriarch. But they are very different.
Again, the SOM's mission should be from the Fourth Mansions onwards, when spiritual life begins.

Question: Does the School have the capacity to comprehensively address issues of growth for the earlier Mansions?!
Answer: As mentioned above, I do deeply believe that this is the task of the Parish. It is true also – and we will see it in a clearer way – that the Parish mission is failing to attain its full capacity.
Its mission is not only about teaching some methods of meditation. Implementing “Meditation” is not on its own sufficient to draw Parishioners closer to the second conversion. A comprehensive platform offered by their Parish is needed. It should include also many other aspects: duty of state, moral life, work, growth in virtues, growth in understanding our Faith, commitment in the Parish, ascesis, gift of oneself to the Lord. By this I mean that it's not so much that the School has to change - it’s more that the school should have a new awareness and that this can help with discernment should problems arise, thus for example one could then point people to other courses etc.
Some still think, however, that it is still beneficial to get the teaching from the School in order to know what to do when one reaches the stages further along, so to speak. A big undertaking.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

205- Are We Always Aware that We Contemplate?

Summary: in this article a fundamental tool of discernment is explained that helps avoid confusing a common belief that when God gives us his graces we normally feel them. The difference between uncreated grace (which falls in the spirit only) and created grace (which falls in the soul/body area only) is explained using also an anthropological diagram showing the spirit (above consciousness) and soul-body (consciousness). Two texts from St. Teresa vividly illustrate the necessity for discernment.

There is a very important point of discernment in Spiritual Life. Without it much confusion reigns in our spiritual life and it can lead to disastrous results.
Where does the grace of God work essentially? It works essentially and directly in our spirit which is the highest part of our soul (see diagram where spirit is the top of the mountain beyond the clouds, and the sun represents God). This part is above our consciousness. We can’t feel directly what God is doing in our spirit. Think of the moment when you receive Communion when you receive the very Divine Nature of Jesus also, it acts directly in the deepest roots of your being, or the highest ones, but you don’t feel the very Nature of God. You know, by faith, that you received Him. Now, exactly what does occur in the soul (mind, imagination and emotions) and the body (senses)? God might allow some created crumbs of his grace to fall into any of these regions, and therefore we become aware of something. However, we are never aware directly of what He is doing in our spirit. This area can’t be directly reached by our conscious part. The latter is in fact our soul and our body (see diagram below, all that is below the clouds). The divine food that falls in each “container” is very different.
Diagram: “spirit” (supra-consciousness) and “soul-body” (consciousness)

What falls in the body is a created grace, with the same dimensions and consistency of the body. It is a created grace. The same for the soul: emotions, imagination and mind. What falls in each of these faculties is still a created grace. Certainly, the higher the faculty the “pricier” the grace. But all these graces that fall into the conscious part (soul and body) are all created.

The essence of any given grace is mainly and essentially given to the spirit (or heart), which is above consciousness, closer to God himself. Our spirit is the only part of our being that can receive God himself, in his uncreated very nature. And this is what matters. To sense with our sense, feel with our emotions, or see with our imagination or with our mind remains secondary and created. What is needed is the essence of God’s Grace. The rest is given to us when He wants and in the way He thinks is better for us. And if He doesn’t give it, it doesn’t mean that He is not necessarily pouring his Grace into our spirit. He might very well be doing so, especially if we are doing his will, and do our best to be recollected and pray.

Some persons mix/confuse “consolations” or the palpable support that God gives us in the conscious part (soul and body) with the Grace itself. They therefore tend spontaneously to think that if they don’t receive any grace (translate this by: they don’t feel any created grace falling in their conscious part) they conclude that God is not giving himself to them and therefore something must be wrong. Many fall into the trap of what is a lack of proper discernment, or apply in an amateur way some rules used in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which are to be used only within the Exercises. This is grace and causes a great deal of suffering, doubts, feelings of going in circles, or even of regressing.

Suffering: because in some cases the persons are doing their maximum, and they want to please God with all their soul and feel that they are not realising this goal and feel out of their depth.

Doubts: some think that since their way of praying and leading their Christian life is not working. They doubt their faith or choices.

Going in Circles: since they are attached to created palpable graces, and they are not receiving them, they go into a new circle, asking for them, receiving them mildly, and continue endlessly. God wants to elevate them, and therefore needs to stop giving them consolations so they can activate the necessary acts of Faith, Hope and Love, but He can’t do so, because they immediately think that they are going backwards! Absence of consolations is not seen as progress by them, but rather regression.

Regressing: thinking that something is not right, not finding it, they might even start to stop praying, start to abandon their new spiritual life and go backwards to their previous life.

The great and unparalleled master for true discernment in this precise field is St. John of the Cross. He explains the different stages of growth, showing that after a period of consolations, God often offers a mixed period, alternating some consolations with longer periods of aridity. Then after that, when He sees the human being well rooting in His Will, He then starts to stop almost completely the consolations and offers even tougher purifications where the persons see themselves under a very negative (sinful) light. All this is progress, and is totally positive. If we don’t have this discernment, we will continue to confuse spirit and soul, the action of God in our spirit and in our soul-body and will continue to be convinced that any grace that God gives us must be felt, or sensed or seen and therefore is a good sign that we are on the right track doing God’s will, mixing uncreated Grace with created Grace. In sum they will think that if they don’t receive any palpable grace from God, something is wrong and that they need to mend their ways.

St. Teresa of Avila teaches the deepest way of praying which is the Prayer of the Heart, and in doing so, she talks about God’s action in us, Contemplation. In doing so, she addresses the same issue: do we have to feel, sense or see Contemplation? And what if this is not so? Her teaching brings an important light to the fore: it shows that one can be a true contemplative i.e. receiving all the necessary graces meant for our growth and union with Jesus, and at the same time not feel necessarily anything, or very little. She talks about a great servant of God she knew who was perplexed, not knowing what to do, because she wanted badly “contemplation” so very much (i.e. the supernatural action of God in her) but she wasn’t feeling anything, no exterior signs! She was also using a very basic way of prayer: i.e. just vocal prayers (like the Divine Office, Rosary, saying other prayers vocally), and couldn’t stay silent without saying vocal prayers, reading and saying her prayers. The fact that the great St. Teresa of Avila addresses this issue, see below, and sheds a light on it is very consoling and enlightening for us.

One has to say that this discernment applies in all areas in our spiritual (except Lectio Divina, because through it we are supposed to understand clearly, with our conscious mind, what God wants us to do). Progressing spiritually, doesn’t necessarily imply that we feel it. One can be very well united with Jesus in spiritual marriage and not know it. It is just up to the Spiritual Director to give the right advice. We are not always supposed to know where we are, but we need to have the correct guidance and have a check-up from time to time.

Let us now read some extracts from St. Teresa of Avila speaking about the perception or not of Contemplation (i.e. the supernatural action of God in us). Here are two passages extracted from her book Way of Perfection where she answers the desire of her Nuns to teach them Contemplation.

First Text: Way of Perfection Chapter 17

“I seem now to be beginning my treatment of prayer, but there still remains a little for me to say, which is of great importance because it has to do with humility, and in this house that is necessary. For humility is the principal virtuewhich must be practised by those who pray, and, as I have said, it is very fitting that you should try to learn how to practise it often: that is one of the chief things to remember about it and it is very necessary that it should be known by all who practise prayer. […] I do not say this without good reason, for, as I have said, it is very important for us to realise that God does not lead us all by the same road, and perhaps she who believes herself to be going along the lowest of roads is the highest in the Lord's eyes. […] I myself spent over fourteen years without ever being able to meditate except while reading. There must be many people like this, and others who cannot meditate even after reading, but can only recite vocal prayers, in which they chiefly occupy themselves and take a certain pleasure. Some find their thoughts wandering so much that they cannot concentrate upon the same thing, but are always restless, to such an extent that, if they try to fix their thoughts upon God, they are attacked by a thousand foolish ideas and scruples and doubts concerning the Faith.

I know a very old woman, leading a most excellent life -- I wish mine were like hers -- a penitent and a great servant of God, who for many years has been spending hours and hours in vocal prayer, but from mental prayer can get no help at all; the most she can do is to dwell upon each of her vocal prayers as she says them. There are a great many other people just like this; if they are humble, they will not, I think, be any the worse off in the end, but very much in the same state as those who enjoy numerous consolations. In one way they may feel safer, for we cannot tell if consolations come from God or are sent by the devil. If they are not of God, they are the more dangerous; for the chief object of the devil's work on earth is to fill us with pride. If they are of God, there is no reason for fear, for they bring humility with them, as I explained in my other book at great length.

These others walk in humility, and always suspect that if they fail to receive consolations the fault is theirs, and are always most anxious to make progress. They never see a person shedding a tear without thinking themselves very backward in God's service unless they are doing the same, whereas they may perhaps be much more advanced. For tears, though good, are not invariably signs of perfection; there is always greater safety in humility, mortification, detachment and other virtues. There is no reason for fear, and you must not be afraid that you will fail to attain the perfection of the greatest contemplatives.

[…] Reflect that true humility consists to a great extent in being ready for what the Lord desires to do with you and happy that He should do it, and in always considering yourselves unworthy to be called His servants. If contemplation and mental and vocal prayer and tending the sick and serving in the house and working at even the lowliest tasks are of service to the Guest who comes to stay with us and to eat and take His recreation with us, what should it matter to us if we do one of these things rather than another?”

Second Text: Way of Perfection Chapter 30

“If it were not that you would tell me I am treating of contemplation, it would be appropriate, in writing of this petition, to say a little about the beginning of pure contemplation, which those who experience it call the “Prayer of Quiet”; but, as I have said, I am discussing vocal prayer here, and anyone ignorant of the subject might think that the two had nothing to do with one another, though I know this is certainly not true. Forgive my wanting to speak of it, for I know there are many people who practise vocal prayer in the manner already described and are raised by God to the higher kind of contemplation without having had any hand in this themselves or even knowing how it has happened. For this reason, daughters, I attach great importance to your saying your vocal prayers well.

I know a nun who could never practise anything but vocal prayer but who kept to this and found she had everything else; yet if she omitted saying her prayers her mind wandered so much that she could not endure it. May we all practise such mental prayer as that. She would say a number of Paternosters, corresponding to the number of times Our Lord shed His blood, and on nothing more than these and a few other prayers she would spend two or three hours. She came to me once in great distress, saying that she did not know how to practise mental prayer, and that she could not contemplate but could only say vocal prayers. She was quite an old woman and had lived an extremely good and religious life. I asked her what prayers she said, and from her reply I saw that, though keeping to the Paternoster, she was experiencing pure contemplation, and the Lord was raising her to be with Him in union. She spent her life so well, too, that her actions made it clear she was receiving great favours. So, I praised the Lord and envied her vocal prayer. If this story is true - and it is - none of you who have had a bad opinion of contemplatives can suppose that you will be free from the risk of becoming like them if you say your vocal prayers as they should be said and keep a pure conscience. I shall have to say still more about this. Anyone not wishing to hear it may pass it over.”


Wednesday, 22 January 2020

204- Meditation in the Catechism and in St. Teresa of Avila

A- Meditation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Part Four, addresses the different ways of prayer, we have what could be considered as an excellent introduction to what Meditation is: Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.” (Catechism 2705) As we can see, “Meditation” involves mainly the working of the mind. It is a quest. Is the quest purely an intellectual exercise of the mind? Not at all. The mind towers over an important operation, which is confronting with our very being what we read and find in our reading and meditating upon it from the viewpoint of our very lives.
“To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: "Lord, what do you want me to do?"” (Catechism 2706)
First, we “make our own” what we meditate upon. How so? “by confronting it with ourselves”. We discover therein our being, our faculties, our mind, our will, memory, imagination, senses, desires, emotions, our body. To know oneself is one of the first stages of “Meditation” (see Blessed Marie Eugene, “I want to See God”, First Part, chapter III, “Knowledge of Self”). Mainly we carefully watch our thoughts, goals, and compare them with what we read or meditate upon. We consider attentively our acts, the state of our will, and what we do. We learn about the human virtues, and about the Cardinal virtues (justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude). We learn to grown and persevere in them. As we can see, it is not a pure intellectual undertaking. The ideas we gather shed light on our personal daily life, either generally or for particular issues. As the Catechism puts it, we are often led by this question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (2706) Meditation engages all our being: “Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire.” (Catechism 2708)
The ordinary grace of God is constantly given to us to help us meditate, amend our life, convert, grow, avoid sin, persevere in the growth in virtues. However, does this work of meditation depend only on God? Not at all, on the contrary, since God constantly gives us his ordinary grace, we ought to make the effort to meditate, to organise ourselves, on a regular basis and practise this exercise. The Catechism reminds us of this by saying: “Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower. (Cf. Mk 4:4-7, 15-19)” (2707)
Is meditating easy? Can our mind sustain such effort easily? The Catechism warns us of the challenge and of the regular effort needed: “The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain.” (2705) The Catechism reminds us that in this endeavour we are not left alone: “We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the "today" of God is written.” (Catechism2705) “There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters.” (Catechism 2707)
Finally, the presentation of Meditation by the Catechism, reminds us of the final goal, in order to stay in/at this stage for the rest of our life: “But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus.” (Catechism 2707) Christ Jesus an Union with Him are the goal. “This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ.” (Catechism 2708) “This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.” (Catechism 2708) We can see, therefore, how the Catechism wants us to progress and reach the relationship with Christ, which belongs to stages further along.

Does Lectio Divina fall Under Meditation?

While presenting “Meditation”, in paragraph 2708, the Catechism mentions Lectio Divina and Rosary“Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosa­ry.” (2708) Can Lectio Divina and the Rosary be considered as methods of Meditation? Aren’t they rather methods of Meditation and Contemplation? Here the Catechism doesn’t offer a clear answer. The question is too detailed and complex for the Catechism to settle in a hasty way. Hence the impression of being in mid-air or lack of clarity.
Maybe this is caused also by the different uses the People of God makes of them, depending on the spiritual progress of each person. In fact, when we look carefully around us, we find that Lectio Divina is often practised not in a decisively contemplative way; often the description we find of Lectio Divina doesn’t allow a proper and complete process of Contemplation. Contemplation can occur, but as a one off, and only a few groups pay heed to the fruit of the Contemplation: the act that God wants us to do with Him.
Therefore, often the practice of Lectio Divina and our perception of it come closer to a “prayerful reflection”, where the interference of the mind is more prominent. It is then seen as rather a “meditation” than a proper contemplation. Let us discuss the issue further.
Let us remember that Meditation leans on the “general help of the grace of God”, it is the quest of the mind, and we ought to put it into practice (implement it) without waiting for any special grace for it. It doesn’t involve any form of supernatural action from God. And if we do not put it into practice we won’t progress.
Therefore, various doctors of the Church, especially St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, we prefer to classify “Meditation” as distinct from “Contemplation”. In the process of a proper Lectio Divina, it is true that we use our mind to understand what is written in the text, we search for a proper understanding of the text, we reflect on it. But this is only a first stage of a process that will lead to a proper intervention of the Holy Spirit triggering the process of Listening. We go then from the Sacred Text to the experience of the Living Word of God. We find this kind of reflection in the Document of the Vatican Council, “Dei Verbum” and in a more recent text from Pope Benedict XVI, “Verbum Domini”. They both underline the difference between the Sacred Text and the living and active Word of God, the Risen Lord present among us who wants to talk to us.
Another point of difference between Meditation and Lectio is worth noting: Meditation can be done without necessarily involving the Sacred Text. This is not the case of Lectio Divina.
Note: We need also to add that the Rosary should normally be a method that offers a proper experience of Contemplation. Please see the very beautiful letter of Pope John Paul II on the Rosary, in order to see how the Pope describes it: a true contemplation. Having said that, in our daily experience, is our prayer of the Rosary a contemplative one? It should be, and we need to learn how to make it work.

See also the Chapter on the "Knowledge of Self", from "I Want to See God".
Please read also: Lectio Divina or Meditation?

B- Meditation in St. Teresa of Avila

Let us now see what St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church and Mother of all spiritual people says about Meditation. We find the answer in three chapters from her Autobiography: Chapters XI, XII and XIII.


Gives the reason why we do not learn to love God perfectly in a short time. Begins, by means of a comparison, to describe four degrees of prayer, concerning the first of which something is here said. This is most profitable for beginners and for those who are receiving no consolations in prayer.
[…] The beginner must think of himself as of one setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds. His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their stead. Let us suppose that this is already done -- that a soul has resolved to practise prayer and has already begun to do so. We have now, by God's help, like good gardeners, to make these plants grow, and to water them carefully, so that they may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that He may often come into the garden to take His pleasure and have His delight among these virtues.
Let us now consider how this garden can be watered, so that we may know what we have to do, what labour it will cost us, if the gain will outweigh the labour and for how long this labour must be borne.
It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways:
1- by taking the water from a well, which costs us great labour;
2- or by a water-wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass (I have sometimes drawn it in this way: it is less laborious than the other and gives more water);
3- or by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it often, so that the gardener's labour is much less;
4- or by heavy rain, when the Lord waters it with no labour of ours, a way incomparably better than any of those which have been described.
And now I come to my point, which is the application of these four methods of watering by which the garden is to be kept fertile, for if it has no water it will be ruined. It has seemed possible to me in this way to explain something about the four degrees of prayer to which the Lord, of His goodness, has occasionally brought my soul. May He also of His goodness grant me to speak in such a way as to be of some profit to one of the persons who commanded me to write this book, whom in four months the Lord has brought to a point far beyond that which I have reached in seventeen years. He prepared himself better than I, and thus his garden, without labour on his part, is watered by all these four means, though he is still receiving the last watering only drop by drop; such progress is his garden making that soon, by the Lord's help, it will be submerged. It will be a pleasure to me for him to laugh at my explanation if he thinks it foolish.

[First Way of Watering: Meditation]

Beginners in prayer, we may say, are those who draw up the water out of the well: this, as I have said, is a very laborious proceeding, for it will fatigue them to keep their senses recollected, which is a great labour because they have been accustomed to a life of distraction.
Beginners must accustom themselves to pay no heed to what they see or hear, and they must practise doing this during hours of prayer; they must be alone and in their solitude think over their past life -- all of us, indeed, whether beginners or proficients, must do this frequently. There are differences, however, in the degree to which it must be done, as I shall show later.
At first it causes distress, for beginners are not always sure that they have repented of their sins (though clearly they have, since they have so sincerely resolved to serve God). Then they have to endeavour to meditate upon the life of Christ and this fatigues their minds. Thus far we can make progress by ourselves -- of course with the help of God, for without that, as is well known, we cannot think a single good thought. This is what is meant by beginning to draw up water from the well -- and God grant there may be water in it! But that, at least, does not depend on us: our task is to draw it up and to do what we can to water the flowers. And God is so good that when, for reasons known to His Majesty, perhaps to our great advantage, He is pleased that the well should be dry, we, like good gardeners, do all that in us lies, and He keeps the flowers alive without water and makes the virtues grow. By water here I mean tears -- or, if there be none of these, tenderness and an interior feeling of devotion.
What, then, will he do here who finds that for many days he experiences nothing but ariditydislikedistaste and so little desire to go and draw water that he would give it up entirely if he did not remember that he is pleasing and serving the Lord of the garden; if he were not anxious that all his service should not be lost, to say nothing of the gain which he hopes for from the great labour of lowering the bucket so often into the well and drawing it up without water? It will often happen that, even for that purpose, he is unable to move his arms -- unable, that is, to think a single good thought, for working with the understanding is of course the same as drawing water out of the well. What, then, as I say, will the gardener do here? He will be glad and take heart and consider it the greatest of favours to work in the garden of so great an Emperor; and, as he knows that he is pleasing Him by so working (and his purpose must be to please, not himself, but Him), let him render Him great praise for having placed such confidence in him, when He has seen that, without receiving any recompense, he is taking such great care of that which He had entrusted to him; let him help Him to bear the Cross and consider how He lived with it all His life long; let him not wish to have his kingdom on earth or ever cease from prayer; and so let him resolve, even if this aridity should persist his whole life long, never to let Christ fall beneath the Cross. The time will come when he shall receive his whole reward at once. Let him have no fear that his labour will be lost. He is serving a good Master, Whose eyes are upon him. Let him pay no heed to evil thoughts, remembering how the devil put such thoughts into the mind of Saint Jerome in the desert.
These trials bring their own reward. I endured them for many years; and, when I was able to draw but one drop of water from this blessed well, I used to think that God was granting me a favour. I know how grievous such trials are and I think they need more courage than do many others in the world. But it has become clear to me that, even in this life, God does not fail to recompense them highly; for it is quite certain that a single one of those hours in which the Lord has granted me to taste of Himself has seemed to me later a recompense for all the afflictions which I endured over a long period while keeping up the practice of prayer. I believe myself that often in the early stages, and again later, it is the Lord's will to give us these tortures, and many other temptations which present themselves, in order to test His lovers and discover if they can drink of the chalice and help Him to bear the Cross before He trusts them with His great treasures. I believe it is for our good that His Majesty is pleased to lead us in this way so that we may have a clear understanding of our worthlessness; for the favours which come later are of such great dignity that before He grants us them He wishes us to know by experience how miserable we are, lest what happened to Lucifer happen to us also.
What is there that Thou doest, my Lord, which is not for the greater good of the soul that Thou knowest to be already Thine and that places itself in Thy power, to follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest, even to the death of the Cross, and is determined to help Thee bear that Cross and not to leave Thee alone with it? If anyone finds himself thus determined, there is nothing for him to fear. No, spiritual people, there is no reason to be distressed. Once you have reached so high a state as this, in which you desire to be alone and to commune with God, and abandon the pastimes of the world, the chief part of your work is done. Praise His Majesty for this and trust in His goodness, which never yet failed His friends. Close the eyes of your thought and do not wonder: "Why is He giving devotion to that person of so few days' experience, and none to me after so many years?" Let us believe that it is all for our greater good; let His Majesty guide us whithersoever He wills; we are not our own, but His. It is an exceeding great favour that He shows us when it is His pleasure that we should wish to dig in His garden, and we are then near the Lord of the garden, Who is certainly with us. If it be His will that these plants and flowers should grow, some by means of the water drawn from this well and others without it, what matter is that to me? Do Thou, O Lord, what Thou wilt; let me not offend Thee and let not my virtues perish, if, of Thy goodness alone, Thou hast given me any. I desire to suffer, Lord, because Thou didst suffer. Let Thy will be in every way fulfilled in me, and may it never please Thy Majesty that a gift so precious as Thy love be given to people who serve Thee solely to obtain consolations.
It must be carefully noted -- and I say this because I know it by experience -- that the soul which begins to walk resolutely in this way of mental prayer and can persuade itself to set little store by consolations and tenderness in devotion, and neither to be elated when the Lord gives them nor disconsolate when He withholds them, has already travelled a great part of its journey. However often it may stumble, it need not fear a relapse, for its building has been begun on a firm foundation.[1] Yes, love for God does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving Him with righteousness, fortitude of soul and humility. The other seems to me to be receiving rather than giving anything.
As for poor women like myself, who are weak and lack fortitude, I think it fitting that we should be led by means of favours: this is the way in which God is leading me now, so that I may be able to suffer certain trials which it has pleased His Majesty to give me. But when I hear servants of God, men of weight, learning and intelligence, making such a fuss because God is not giving them devotion, it revolts me to listen to them. I do not mean that, when God gives them such a thing, they ought not to accept it and set a great deal of store by it, because in that case His Majesty must know that it is good for them. But I do mean that if they do not receive it they should not be distressed: they should realize that, as His Majesty does not give it them, it is unnecessary; they should be masters of themselves and go on their way. Let them believe that they are making a mistake about this: I have proved it and seen that it is so. Let them believe that it is an imperfection in them if, instead of going on their way with freedom of spirit, they hang back through weakness and lack of enterprise.
I am not saying this so much for beginners (though I lay some stress upon it, even for these, because it is of great importance that they should start with this freedom and determination): I mean it rather for others. There must be many who have begun some time back and never manage to finish their course, and I believe it is largely because they do not embrace the Cross from the beginning that they are distressed and think that they are making no progress. When the understanding ceases to work, they cannot bear it, though perhaps even then the will is increasing in power, and putting on new strength,[2] without their knowing it. We must realize that the Lord pays no heed to these things: to us they may look like faults, but they are not so. His Majesty knows our wretchedness and the weakness of our nature better than we ourselves and He knows that all the time these souls are longing to think of Him and to love Him. It is this determination that He desires in us. The other afflictions which we bring upon ourselves serve only to disturb our souls, and the result of them is that, if we find ourselves unable to get profit out of a single hour, we are impeded from doing so for four. I have a great deal of experience of this and I know that what I say is true, for I have observed it carefully and have discussed it afterwards with spiritual persons. The thing frequently arises from physical indisposition, for we are such miserable creatures that this poor imprisoned soul shares in the miseries of the body, and variations of season and changes in the humours often prevent it from accomplishing its desires and make it suffer in all kinds of ways against its will. The more we try to force it at times like these, the worse it gets and the longer the trouble lasts. But let discretion be observed so that it may be ascertained if this is the true reason: the poor soul must not be stifled. Persons in this condition must realize that they are ill and make some alteration in their hours of prayer; very often it will be advisable to continue this change for some days.
They must endure this exile as well as they can, for a soul which loves God has often the exceeding ill fortune to realize that, living as it is in this state of misery, it cannot do what it desires because of its evil guest, the body. I said we must observe discretion, because sometimes the same effects will be produced by the devil; and so it is well that prayer should not always be given up when the mind is greatly distracted and disturbed, nor the soul tormented by being made to do what is not in its power. There are other things which can be done -- exterior acts, such as reading or works of charity -- though sometimes the soul will be unable to do even these. At such times the soul must render the body a service for the love of God, so that on many other occasions the body may render services to the soul. Engage in some spiritual recreation, such as conversation (so long as it is really spiritual), or a country walk, according as your confessor advises. In all these things it is important to have had experience, for from this we learn what is fitting for us; but let God be served in all things. Sweet is His yoke, and it is essential that we should not drag the soul along with us, so to say, but lead it gently, so that it may make the greater progress.
I repeat my advice, then (and it matters not how often I say this, for it is of great importance), that one must never be depressed or afflicted because of aridities or unrest or distraction of the mind. If a person would gain spiritual freedom and not be continually troubled, let him begin by not being afraid of the Cross and he will find that the Lord will help him to bear it; he will then advance happily and find profit in everything. It is now clear that, if no water is coming from the well, we ourselves can put none into it. But of course we must not be careless: water must always be drawn when there is any there, for at such a time God's will is that we should use it so that He may multiply our virtues.


Continues to describe this first state. Tells how far, with the help of God, we can advance by ourselves and describes the harm that ensues when the spirit attempts to aspire to unusual and supernatural experiences before they are bestowed upon it by the Lord.
Although in the last chapter I digressed a good deal about other things, because they seemed to me very necessary, what I was trying to make clear was how much we can attain by our own power and how in this first stage of devotion we can do a certain amount for ourselves. For, if we examine and meditate upon the Lord's sufferings for us, we are moved to compassion, and this grief and the tears which proceed from it are very sweet. And then if we think about the glory we hope for, and the love which the Lord bore us, and His resurrection, we are moved to a rejoicing which is neither wholly spiritual nor wholly sensual, but is a virtuous joy; the grief also is of great merit. Of this nature are all the things which cause a devotion acquired in part by the understanding, though this can be neither merited nor attained unless it be given by God. It is best for a soul which has been raised no higher than this not to try to rise by its own efforts. Let this be noted carefully, for if the soul does try so to rise it will make no progress but only go backward.
In this state it can make many acts of resolution to do great things for God and it can awaken its own love. It can make other acts which will help the virtues to grow, as is explained in a book called The Art of sensing God,[3] which is very good and suitable for persons in this state, because in it the understanding is active. The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred Humanity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys and yet never allow its joys to make it forgetful of Him. It has no need to think out set prayers but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs. This is an excellent way of making progress, and of making it very quickly; and if anyone strives always to have this precious companionship, makes good use of it and really learns to love this Lord to Whom we owe so much, such a one, I think, has achieved a definite gain.
For this reason, as I have said, we must not be troubled if we have no conscious devotion, but thank the Lord Who allows us to harbour a desire to please Him, although our deeds may be of little worth. This method of bringing Christ into our lives is helpful at all stages; it is a most certain means of making progress in the earliest stage, of quickly reaching the second degree of prayer, and, in the final stages, of keeping ourselves safe from the dangers into which the devil may lead us.
This, then, is what we can do. If anyone tries to pass beyond this stage and lift up his spirit so as to experience consolations which are not being given to him, I think he is losing both in the one respect and in the other. For these consolations are supernatural and, when the understanding ceases to act, the soul remains barren and suffers great aridity. And, as the foundation of the entire edifice is humility, the nearer we come to God, the greater must be the progress which we make in this virtue: otherwise, we lose everything. It seems to be a kind of pride that makes us wish to rise higher, for God is already doing more for us than we deserve by bringing us near to Him. It must not be supposed that I am referring here to the lifting up of the mind to a consideration of the high things of Heaven or of God, and of the wonders which are in Heaven, and of God's great wisdom. I never did this myself, for, as I have said, I had no ability for it, and I knew myself to be so wicked that even when it came to thinking of earthly things God granted me grace to understand this truth, that it was no small presumption in me to do so -- how much more as to heavenly things! Other persons will profit in this way, especially if they are learned, for learning, I think, is a priceless help in this exercise, if humility goes with it. Only a few days ago I observed that this was so in certain learned men, who began but a short while since and have made very great progress; and this gives me great longings that many more learned men should become spiritual, as I shall say later.
When I say that people should not try to rise unless they are raised by God I am using the language of spirituality; anyone who has had any experience will understand me and if what I have already said cannot be understood I do not know how to explain it. In the mystical theology which I began to describe, the understanding loses its power of working, because God suspends it, as I shall explain further by and by if God grants me His help for that purpose. What I say we must not do is to presume or think that we can suspend it ourselves; nor must we allow it to cease working: if we do, we shall remain stupid and cold and shall achieve nothing whatsoever. When the Lord suspends the understanding and makes it cease from its activity, He gives it something which both amazes it and keeps it busy, so that, without reasoning in any way, it can understand more in a short space of time than we, with all our human efforts, in many years. To keep the faculties of the soul busy and to think that, at the same time, you can keep them quiet, is foolishness. And I say once more that, although the fact is not generally realized, there is no great humility in this: it may not be sinful, but it certainly causes distress, for it is lost labour, and the soul feels slightly frustrated, like a man who is just about to take a leap and then is pulled back, so that he seems to have put forth his strength and yet finds that he has not accomplished what he had expected to. Anyone who will consider the matter will detect, in the slightness of the gain achieved by the soul, this very slight lack of humility of which I have spoken. For that virtue has this excellent trait -- that when an action is accompanied by it the soul is never left with any feeling of irritation. I think I have made this clear, though it may possibly be so only to me. May the Lord open the eyes of those who read this by granting them experience of it, and, however slight that experience may be, they will at once understand it.
I spent a good many years doing a great deal of reading and understanding nothing of what I read; for a long time, though God was teaching me, I could not utter a word to explain His teaching to others, and this was no light trial to me. When His Majesty so wills He can teach everything in a moment, in a way that amazes me. I can truthfully say this: though I used to talk with many spiritual persons, who would try to explain what the Lord was teaching me so that I might be able to speak about it, I was so stupid that I could not get the slightest profit from their instruction. Possibly, as His Majesty has always been my teacher -- may He be blessed for everything, for I am thoroughly ashamed at being able to say that this is the truth --, it may have been His will that I should be indebted to no one else for my knowledge. In any case, without my wishing it or asking for it (for I have never been curious about such things, as it would have been a virtue in me to be, but only about vanities), God suddenly gave me a completely clear understanding of the whole thing, so that I was able to speak about it in such a way that people were astounded. And I myself was more astounded even than my own confessors, for I was more conscious than they of my own stupidity. This happened only a short time ago. So I do not now attempt to learn what the Lord has not taught me, unless it be something affecting my conscience.
Once more I repeat my advice that it is very important that we should not try to lift up our spirits unless they are lifted up by the Lord: in the latter case we shall become aware of the fact instantly. It is specially harmful for women to make such attempts, because the devil can foster illusions in them, although I am convinced that the Lord never allows anyone to be harmed who strives to approach Him with humility: rather will he derive more profit and gain from the very experience through which the devil thought to send him to perdition. As this road is that most generally taken by beginners, and the counsels that I have given are of great importance, I have said a good deal about it. I confess that others have written about it much better elsewhere, and I have felt great confusion and shame in writing of it, though less than I should. May the Lord be blessed for it all, Whose will and pleasure it is that one such as I should speak of things that are His -- things of such a nature as these and so sublime!


Continues to describe this first state and gives counsels for dealing with certain temptations which the devil is sometimes wont to prepare. This chapter is very profitable.
It has seemed to me appropriate to speak of certain temptations which, as I have observed, often attack beginners -- I have had some of them myself -- and to give counsels about matters which appear to me necessary. In the early stages, then, one should strive to feel happy and free. There are some people who think that devotion will slip away from them if they relax a little. It is well to have misgivings about oneself and not to allow self-confidence to lead one into occasions which habitually involve offenses against God. This is most necessary until one becomes quite perfect in virtue; and there are not many who are so perfect as to be able to relax when occasions present themselves which tempt their own peculiar disposition. It is well that, all our lives long, we should recognize the worthlessness of our nature, if only for the sake of humility. Yet there are many circumstances in which, as I have said, it is permissible for us to take some recreation, in order that we may be the stronger when we return to prayer. In everything we need discretion.
We must have great confidence, for it is most important that we should not cramp our good desires, but should believe that, with God's help, if we make continual efforts to do so, we shall attain, though perhaps not at once, to that which many saints have reached through His favour. If they had never resolved to desire to attain this and to carry their desires continually into effect, they would never have risen to as high a state as they did. His Majesty desires and loves courageous souls if they have no confidence in themselves but walk in humility; and I have never seen any such person hanging back on this road, nor any soul that, under the guise of humility, acted like a coward, go as far in many years as the courageous soul can in few. I am astounded at how much can be done on this road if one has the courage to attempt great things; the soul may not have the strength to achieve these things at once but if it takes a flight it can make good progress, though, like a little unfledged bird, it is apt to grow tired and stop.
At one time I used often to bear in mind the words of Saint Paul, that everything is possible in God:[4] I realized quite well that in myself I could do nothing. This was a great help to me, as were also the words of Saint Augustine: "Give me, Lord, what Thou commandest me and command what Thou wilt."[5] I used often to reflect that Saint Peter had lost nothing by throwing himself into the sea, though after he had done so he was afraid.[6] These first resolutions are of great importance, although during this first stage we have to go slowly and to be guided by the discretion and opinion of our director; but we must see to it that he is not the kind of person to teach us to be like toads, satisfied if our souls show themselves fit only to catch lizards. We must always keep humility before us, so that we may realize that this strength cannot proceed from any strength of our own.
But it is necessary that we should realize what kind of humility this must be, for I believe the devil does a great deal of harm to those who practise prayer by encouraging misunderstandings about humility in them so as to prevent them from making much progress. He persuades us that it is pride which makes us have ambitious desires and want to imitate the saints and wish to be martyrs. Then he tells us, or induces us to believe, that we who are sinners may admire the deeds of the saints but must not copy them. I myself would agree with him to the extent that we must consider which of their deeds we are to admire and which to imitate. For it would not be a good thing for a person who was weak and ill to indulge in a great deal of fasting and in severe penances, or to go to a desert where he could not sleep or get anything to eat, or to attempt other things of that kind. But we must reflect that, with the help of God, we can strive to have a great contempt for the world, no regard for honour, and no attachment to possessions. For so ungenerous are we that we imagine the earth will go from under our feet if we try to forget the body a little and to cultivate the spirit. Or, again, we think that to have an abundance of all we need is a help to recollection because anxieties disturb prayer.
It distresses me to reflect that we have so little confidence in God, and so much love for ourselves, that anxieties like this upset us. When we have made so little spiritual progress, the smallest things will trouble us as much as important and weighty things will trouble others, and yet in our own minds we presume to think ourselves spiritual. Now to me it seems that this kind of life is an attempt to reconcile body and soul, so that we may lose neither comfort in this world nor fruition of God in the world to come. We shall get along all right if we walk in righteousness and hold fast to virtue, but it will mean advancing at the pace of a hen and will never lead us to spiritual freedom. This is a procedure which seems to me quite good for people who are in the married state and have to live in accordance with their vocation; but in any other state I should not at all like to see such a method of progress nor will anyone persuade me to think it a good one. For I have tried it; and I should have been practising it still if the Lord in His goodness had not shown me another and a shorter road.
With regard to this matter of desires, my own were always ambitious, but I strove, as I have said, to practise prayer and yet to live according to my own pleasure. If there had been anyone to encourage me to soar higher, I think he might have brought me to a state in which these desires were carried into effect; but, for our sins, those who are not over-cautious in this respect are very few and far between, and that, I think, is sufficient reason why those who begin do not more quickly attain to great perfection. For the Lord never fails us and the fault is not His: it is we who are faulty and miserable.
We may also imitate the saints by striving after solitude and silence and many other virtues; such things will not kill these wretched bodies of ours, which want to have everything organized for their benefit in such a way as to disorganize the soul and which the devil does his best to incapacitate when he sees that we are getting fearful about them. That is quite enough for him: he tries at once to persuade us that all these habits of devotion will kill us, or ruin our health; he even makes us afraid that if we weep we shall go blind. I have experienced this, so I know it -- and I also know that we can desire no better kind of sight or health than to lose both in so good a cause. As my own health is so bad, I was always impeded by my fears, and my devotion was of no value at all until I resolved not to worry any more about my body or my health; and now I trouble about them very little. For it pleased God to reveal to me this device of the devil; and so, whenever the devil suggested that I should ruin my health, I would reply: "Even if I die it is of little consequence." "Rest, indeed!" I would say. "I need no rest; what I need is crosses." And so with other things. I saw clearly that in very many cases, although in fact I have very bad health, it was a temptation either of the devil or of my own weakness; and since I have been less self-regarding and indulgent my health has been very much better. It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts. And you may take my word for this, for I have learned it by experience; this mere narration of my faults might be of use to others if they will take warning by me.
There is another temptation which is very common -- namely to desire that everyone should be extremely spiritual when one is beginning to find what tranquillity, and what profit, spirituality brings. It is not wrong to desire this but it may not be right to try to bring it about unless we do so with such discretion and dissimulation that we give no impression of wanting to teach others. For if a person is to do any good in this respect he must be very strong in the virtues so as not to put temptation in others' way. This I found out for myself -- and that is why I realize it. When, as I have said, I tried to get others to practise prayer, and when on the one hand they would hear me saying so much about the blessedness of prayer, while on the other they would observe that I, who practised it, was so poverty stricken in virtue, it would lead them into temptations and various kinds of foolishness. And they had good reason on their side; for, as they have since told me, they could not see how one of these things could be compatible with the other. And so they came to believe that there was nothing wrong in what was intrinsically evil; for they saw that I sometimes did such things and at that time they had rather a good opinion of me.
This is the devil's doing. He seems to make use of the virtues which we have, and which are good, in order to give such authority as he can to the evil which he is trying to make us do: however trifling the evil may be, it must be of great value to him when it is done in a religious community -- how much more, then, must he have gained from the evil which I did, for it was very great. So, over a period of many years, only three persons derived any profit from what I said to them;[7]whereas, now that the Lord has made me stronger in virtue, many persons have derived such profit in the course of two or three years, as I shall afterwards relate. In addition, there is another great disadvantage in yielding to this temptation: namely, the harm caused to our own soul; for the utmost we have to do at first is to take care of our soul and to remember that in the entire world there is only God and the soul;[8] and this is a thing which it is very profitable to remember.
Another temptation comes from the distress caused by the sins and failings which we see in others, for we all have a zeal for virtue and so we must learn to understand ourselves and walk warily. The devil tells us that this distress arises solely from our desire that God should not be offended and from our concern for His honour and then we immediately try to set matters right. This makes us so excited that is prevents us from praying, and the greatest harm of all is that we think this to be a virtue, and a sign of perfection and of great zeal for God. I am not referring to the distress caused by public offenses in a religious congregation, if they become habitual, or of wrongs done to the Church, such as heresies, through which, as we see, so many souls are lost; for distress caused by these is right, and, being right, causes us no excitement. Safety, then, for the soul that practises prayer will consist in its ceasing to be anxious about anything and anybody, and in its watching itself and pleasing God. This is most important. If I were to describe the mistakes I have seen people make because they trusted in their good intentions!
Let us strive, then, always to look at the virtues and the good qualities which we find in others, and to keep our own grievous sins before our eyes so that we may be blind to their defects. This is a course of action which, though we may not become perfect in it all at once, will help us to acquire one great virtue -- namely, to consider all others better than ourselves. In this way we shall begin to profit, by God's help (which is always necessary, and, when it fails, our own efforts are useless), and we must beg Him to give us this virtue, which, if we exert our own efforts, He will deny to none. This counsel must also be remembered by those who use their intellects a great deal and from one subject can extract many ideas and conceptions. To those who cannot do this -- and I used to be one -- there is no need to offer any counsel, save that they must have patience until the Lord gives them occupation and enlightenment, for of themselves they can do so little that their intellect hinders rather than helps them.
Returning, then, to those who can make use of their reasoning powers, I advise them not to spend all their time in doing so; their method of prayer is most meritorious, but, enjoying it as they do, they fail to realize that they ought to have a kind of Sunday -- that is to say, a period of rest from their labour. To stop working, they think, would be a loss of time, whereas my view is that this loss is a great gain; let them imagine themselves, as I have suggested, in the presence of Christ, and let them remain in converse with Him, and delighting in Him, without wearying their minds or fatiguing themselves by composing speeches to Him, but laying their needs before Him and acknowledging how right He is not to allow us to be in His presence. There is a time for one thing and a time for another; were there not, the soul would grow tired of always eating the same food. These foods are very pleasant and wholesome; and, if the palate is accustomed to their taste, they provide great sustenance for the life of the soul, and bring it many other benefits.
I will explain myself further, for these matters concerning prayer are difficult, and, if no director is available, very hard to understand. It is for this reason that, though I should like to write more briefly, and though merely to touch upon these matters concerning prayer would suffice for the keen intellect of him who commanded me to write of them, my own stupidity prevents me from describing and explaining in a few words a matter which it is so important to expound thoroughly. Having gone through so much myself, I am sorry for those who begin with books alone, for it is extraordinary what a difference there is between understanding a thing and knowing it by experience. Returning, then, to what I was saying, we begin to meditate upon a scene of the Passion -- let us say upon the binding of the Lord to the Column. The mind sets to work to seek out the reasons which are to be found for the great afflictions and distress which His Majesty must have suffered when He was alone there. It also meditates on the many other lessons which, if it is industrious, or well stored with learning, this mystery can teach it. This method should be the beginning, the middle and the end of prayer for all of us: it is a most excellent and safe road until the Lord leads us to other methods, which are supernatural.
I say "for all of us," but there will be many souls who derive greater benefits from other meditations than from that of the Sacred Passion. For, just as there are many mansions in Heaven, so there are many roads to them. Some people derive benefit from imagining themselves in hell; others, whom it distresses to think of hell, from imagining themselves in Heaven. Others meditate upon death. Some, who are tender hearted, get exhausted if they keep thinking about the Passion, but they derive great comfort and benefit from considering the power and greatness of God in the creatures, and the love that He showed us, which is pictured in all things. This is an admirable procedure, provided one does not fail to meditate often upon the Passion and the life of Christ, which are, and have always been, the source of everything that is good.
The beginner needs counsel to help him ascertain what benefits him most. To this end a director is very necessary, but he must be a man of experience, or he will make a great many mistakes and lead souls along without understanding them or without allowing them to learn to understand themselves; for the soul, knowing that it is a great merit to be subject to its director, dares not do other than what he commands it. I have come across souls so constrained and afflicted because of the inexperience of their director that I have been really sorry for them. And I have found some who had no idea how to act for themselves; for directors who cannot understand spirituality afflict their penitents both in soul and in body and prevent them from making progress. One person who spoke to me about this had been kept in bondage by her director for eight years; he would not allow her to aim at anything but self-knowledge, yet the Lord was already granting her the Prayer of Quiet, so she was suffering great trials.
At the same time, this matter of self-knowledge must never be neglected. No soul on this road is such a giant that it does not often need to become a child at the breast again. (This must never be forgotten: I may repeat it again and again, for it is of great importance.) For there is no state of prayer, however sublime, in which it is not necessary often to go back to the beginning. And self-knowledge with regard to sin is the bread which must be eaten with food of every kind, however dainty it may be, on this road of prayer: without this bread we could not eat our food at all. But bread must be taken in moderate proportions. When a soul finds itself exhausted and realizes clearly that it has no goodness of its own, when it feels ashamed in the presence of so great a King and sees how little it is paying of all that it owes Him, what need is there for it to waste its time on learning to know itself? It will be wiser to go on to other matters which the Lord sets before it, and we are not doing right if we neglect such things, for His Majesty knows better than we what kind of food is good for us.
It is of great importance, then, that the director should be a prudent man -- of sound understanding, I mean -- and also an experienced one: if he is a learned man as well, that is a very great advantage. But if all these three qualities cannot be found in the same man, the first two are the more important, for it is always possible to find learned men to consult when necessary. I mean that learning is of little benefit to beginners, except in men of prayer. I do not mean that beginners should have no communication with learned men, for I should prefer spirituality to be unaccompanied by prayer than not to be founded upon the truth. Learning is a great thing, for it teaches those of us who have little knowledge, and gives us light, so that, when we are faced with the truth of Holy Scripture, we act as we should. From foolish devotions may God deliver us!
I want to explain myself further, for I seem to be getting involved in a great many subjects. I have always had this failing -- that I cannot explain myself, as I have said, except at the cost of many words. A nun begins to practise prayer: if her director is a simpleton and gets the idea into his head, he will give her to understand that it is better for her to obey him than her superior, and he will do this without any evil intention, thinking he is right. Indeed, if he is not a religious, it will probably seem right to him. If he is dealing with a married woman, he will tell her it is better for her to be engaged in prayer when she has work to do in her home, although this may displease her husband: he cannot advise her about arranging her time and work so that everything is done as true Christianity demands. Not being enlightened himself, he cannot enlighten others, even if he tries. And although learning may not seem necessary for this, my opinion has always been, and always will be, that every Christian should try to consult some learned person, if he can, and the more learned this person, the better. Those who walk in the way of prayer have the greater need of learning; and the more spiritual they are, the greater is their need.
Let us not make the mistake of saying that learned men who do not practise prayer are not suitable directors for those who do. I have consulted many such; and for some years past, feeling a greater need of them, I have sought them out more. I have always got on well with them; for, though some of them have no experience, they are not averse from spirituality, nor are they ignorant of its nature, for they study Holy Scripture, where the truth about it can always be found. I believe myself that, if a person who practises prayer consults learned men, the devil will not deceive him with illusions except by his own desire; for I think devils are very much afraid of learned men who are humble and virtuous, knowing that they will find them out and defeat them.
I have said this because some people think that learned men, if they are not spiritual, are unsuitable for those who practise prayer. I have already said that a spiritual director is necessary, but if he has no learning it is a great inconvenience. It will help us very much to consult learned men, provided they are virtuous; even if they are not spiritual they will do us good and God will show them what they should teach and may even make them spiritual so that they may be of service to us. I do not say this without proof and I have had experience of quite a number.[9] Anyone, I repeat, who surrenders his soul to a single director, and is subject to him alone, will be making a great mistake, if he is a religious, and has to be subject to his own superior, in not obtaining a director of this kind. For the director may be lacking in all the three things, and that will be no light cross for the penitent to bear without voluntarily submitting his understanding to one whose understanding is not good. For myself, I have never been able to bring myself to do this, nor do I think it right. If such a person be in the world, let him praise God that he is able to choose the director to whom he is to be subject and let him not give up such righteous freedom; let him rather remain without a director until he finds the right one, for the Lord will give him one if his life is founded upon humility and he has the desire to succeed. I praise God greatly, and we women, and those who are not learned, ought always to give Him infinite thanks, that there are persons who with such great labour have attained to the truth of which we ignorant people know nothing.
I am often amazed that learned men, and religious in particular, will give me the benefit of what they have gained with so much labour, and at no cost to myself save the labour of asking for it. And to think that there may be people who have no desire to reap such benefits! God forbid it be so! I see these learned fathers bearing the trials of the religious life, which are grievous ones -- its penances, its poor food and its obligation to obey: really, I am sometimes downright ashamed to think of it. And then, the scant sleep they get: nothing but trials, nothing but crosses! I think it would be very wrong for anyone, through his own fault, to forfeit the benefits of such a life as that. It may be that some of us who are free from these trials -- who are pampered, as they say -- and live just as we like, think ourselves superior to those who undergo them, merely because we practise a little more prayer than they.
Blessed be Thou, Lord, Who has made me so incompetent and unprofitable! Most heartily do I praise Thee because Thou quickenest so many to quicken us! We should pray most regularly for those who give us light. What would become of us without them amid these great storms which the Church now has to bear? If some of them have been wicked, the good will shine the more. May it please the Lord to keep them in His hand and help them to help us. Amen.
I have wandered far from the aim with which I began, but for those who are beginners it is all to the point, and it will help them, as they set out upon so high a journey, to keep their feet planted upon the true road. Returning to what I was saying -- the meditation upon Christ bound to the Column -- it is well to reflect for a time and to think of the pains which He bore there, why He bore them, Who He is that bore them and with what love He suffered them. But we must not always tire ourselves by going in search of such ideas; we must sometimes remain by His side with our minds hushed in silence. If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking upon Him Who is looking at us; keep Him company; talk with Him; pray to Him; humble ourselves before Him; have our delight in Him; and remember that He never deserved to be there. Anyone who can do this, though he may be but a beginner in prayer, will derive great benefit from it, for this kind of prayer brings many benefits: at least, so my soul has found. I do not know whether I have succeeded in what I have tried to say; but Your Reverence will know. May the Lord grant me always to succeed in pleasing Him. Amen.

[1][The metaphors here follow the Spanish exactly.]
[2][Lit.: "is growing fat and taking strength." Fatness is often spoken of in Spain as synonymous with robustness and made a subject of congratulation.]
[3]By the Franciscan P. Alonso de Madrid: first published at Seville in 1521 and reprinted many times in the sixteenth century.
[4][Presumably a reference to Philippians iv, 13, unless the author is attributing Our Lord's words in St. Matthew xix, 26 to St. Paul.]
[5]"Da quod jubes et jube quod vis" (Confessions, Bk. X, Chap. XXIX).
[6]St. Matthew xiv, 29.
[7]According to P. Gracian, these persons were Maria de San Pablo, Ana de los Angeles and Dona Maria de Cepeda. The same names are given by P. Gracian's sister, M. Maria de San José. (B. Nac., MS. 12,936.) [Lewis, however (p. 98, n. 6), aptly remarks that, as shown in Chap. VII (p. 101), one of the three must have been St. Teresa's father.]
[8][While there are too many similarities between the writings of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross for more than a very small proportion of them to be referred to, I cannot forbear quoting here the latter's well-known maxim: "Live in this world as though there were in it but God and thy soul, so that thy heart may be detained by aught that is human" (St. John of the Cross, III, 256).]
[9][Lit.: "of more than two" -- but the expression is a figurative one.]