Today is the Memorial of St Teresa of Avila, my patron saint. I am blessed to have this very great saint as my patron. Most of us know her as a Doctor of the Church, about her great devotion to St. Joseph, and of her writings on mental prayer- her book, The Interior Castle, is on my must buy list. What many of us do not know is how much she suffered physically as well as spiritually, and the part it played in her devotion to St. Joseph and in her spiritual growth. I will let her tell you:
....... I was in such a state that only the Lord can know what intolerable sufferings I experienced. My tongue was bitten to pieces; nothing had passed my lips; and because of this and of my great weakness my throat was choking me so that I could not even take water. All my bones seemed to be out of joint and there was a terrible confusion in my head. As a result of the torments I had suffered during these days, I was all doubled up, like a ball, and no more able to move arm, foot, hand or head than if I had been dead, unless others moved them for me. I could move, I think, only one finger of my right hand. It was impossible to let anyone come to see me, for I was in such a state of distress that I could not endure it. They used to move me in a sheet, one taking one end and another the other. This lasted until Easter Sunday. My only alleviation was that, if no one came near me, my pains often ceased; and when I had rested a little I used to think I was getting well. For I was afraid my patience would fail me; so I was very glad when I found myself without such sharp and constant pains, although I could hardly endure the terrible cold fits of quartan ague, from which I still suffered and which were very severe. I still had a dreadful distaste for food.
I was now so eager to return to the convent that they had me taken there. So, instead of the dead body they had expected, the nuns received a living soul; though the body was worse than dead and distressing to behold. My extreme weakness cannot be described, for by this time I was nothing but bones. As I have said, I remained in this condition for more than eight months, and my paralysis, though it kept improving, continued for nearly three years. When I began to get about on my hands and knees, I praised God. All this I bore with great resignation, and, except at the beginning, with great joy; for none of it could compare with the pains and torments which I had suffered at first. I was quite resigned to the will of God, even if He had left me in this condition for ever. My great yearning, I think, was to get well so that I might be alone when I prayed, as I had been taught to be -- there was no possibility of this in the infirmary. I made my confession very frequently, and talked a great deal about God, in such a way that all were edified and astonished at the patience which the Lord gave me; for if it had not come from His Majesty's hand it would have seemed impossible to be able to endure such great sufferings with such great joy.
It was a wonderful thing for me to have received the grace which God had granted me through prayer, for this made me realize what it was to love Him. After a short time I found these virtues were renewed within me, although not in great strength, for they were not sufficient to uphold me in righteousness. I never spoke ill of anyone in the slightest degree, for my usual practice was to avoid all evil-speaking. I used to remind myself that I must not wish or say anything about anyone which I should not like to be said of me. I was extremely particular about observing this rule on all possible occasions, although I was not so perfect as not to fail now and then when faced with difficult situations. Still, that was my usual habit; and those who were with me and had to do with me were so much struck by it that they made it a habit too. It came to be realized that in my presence people could turn their backs to me and yet be quite safe; and so, too, they were with my friends and kinsfolk and those who learned from me. But in other respects I shall have to give a strict account to God for the bad example which I set them. May it please His Majesty to forgive me, for I have been the cause of much wrongdoing, though my intentions were not so harmful as were the actions which resulted from them.
My desire for solitude continued and I was fond of speaking and conversing about God; if I found anyone with whom I could do so, it gave me more joy and recreation than indulgence in any of the refinements (which are really coarsenesses) of the conversation of the world. I communicated and confessed very much more frequently -- and this by my own wish; I loved reading good books; I was most sincerely penitent at having offended God; and I remember that often I dared not pray because I was afraid of the very deep distress which I should feel at having offended Him, and which was like a severe punishment. This continued to grow upon me and became such a torment that I do not know with what I can compare it. And its being greater or less had nothing to do with any fear of mine, for it would come when I thought of the favours which the Lord was giving me in prayer, and of all that I owed Him, and when I saw how ill I was requiting Him. I could not bear it; and I would grow very angry with myself at shedding so many tears for my faults, when I saw how little I improved and how neither my resolutions nor the trouble I took were sufficient to keep me from falling again when an occasion presented itself. My tears seemed to me deceptive and my faults the greater because I was conscious of the great favour which the Lord bestowed upon me in granting me these tears and this great repentance. I used to try to make my confession as soon as possible after I had fallen; and, I think, did all I could to return to grace. The whole trouble lay in my not cutting off the occasions of sin at the root, and in the scant help given me by my confessors. For, if they had told me how dangerous was the path I was taking and how incumbent upon me it was not to indulge in these conversations, I feel quite sure I could never have endured remaining in mortal sin for even a day with the knowledge that I was doing so. All these tokens of the fear of God came to me in prayer. The chief of them was that my fear was always swallowed up in love, for I never thought about punishment. All the time I was so ill, I kept a strict watch over my conscience with respect to mortal sin. O God, how I longed for health that I might serve Thee better! And that was the cause of all my wrongdoing.
For when I found that, while still so young, I was so seriously paralysed, and that earthly doctors had been unable to cure me, I resolved to seek a cure from heavenly doctors, for, though I bore my sickness with great joy, I none the less desired to be well again. I often reflected that, if I were to grow well and then to incur damnation, it would be better for me to remain as I was; but still I believed that I should serve God much better if I recovered my health. That is the mistake we make: we do not leave ourselves entirely in the Lord's hands; yet He knows best what is good for us.
I began by having Masses said for me, and prayers which had been fully approved; for I was never fond of other kinds of devotion which some people practise -- especially women -- together with ceremonies which I could never endure, but for which they have a great affection. Since then it has been explained to me that such things are unseemly and superstitious. I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honour and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask of him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favours which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succour us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succours us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth.
I used to try to keep his feast with the greatest possible solemnity; but, though my intentions were good, I would observe it with more vanity than spirituality, for I always wanted things to be done very meticulously and well. I had this unfortunate characteristic that, if the Lord gave me grace to do anything good, the way I did it was full of imperfections and extremely faulty. I was very assiduous and skilful in wrongdoing and in my meticulousness and vanity. May the Lord forgive me. I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I think, I have made some request of him every year on his festival and I have always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good.
If I were a person writing with authority, I would gladly describe, at greater length and in the minutest detail, the favours which this glorious saint has granted to me and to others. But in order not to do more than I have been commanded I shall have to write about many things briefly, much more so than I should wish, and at unnecessarily great length about others: in short, I must act like one who has little discretion in all that is good. I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him. Those who practise prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray. May the Lord grant that I have not erred in venturing to speak of him; for though I make public acknowledgment of my devotion to him, in serving and imitating him I have always failed. He was true to his own nature when he cured my paralysis and gave me the power to rise and walk; and I am following my own nature in using this favour so ill.