Life of St. Teresa - F. A. Forbes

The Divine Mission

"With so good a Friend and Captain ever present, Himself the first to suffer, everything can be borne. He helps, He strengthens, He never fails; He is the true Friend."

The most influential man in Avila having pronounced himself in favour of Teresa's enterprise, several others took courage to come forward to her assistance. Don Francisco de Salcedo and Gaspar Daza offered to do all in their power to help, and some of the greatest enemies of the scheme were converted. An unassuming little house on the outskirts of the town was for sale; negotiations were at once set on foot to buy it.

But things were not destined to go so smoothly. As the excitement died down in the town, it increased in the Convent of the Incarnation. Teresa's desire to found a convent of the Primitive Rule was looked upon by the nuns as a personal affront to themselves. Some even suggested that she should be kept in confinement; others, but not many, took her part; the discussions grew bitter. Complaint after complaint was sent to the Provincial, who began to regret that he had ever consented to befriend the undertaking. Weary at last of the continual worry, he told Teresa that he considered himself obliged to withdraw his permission to found, urging as his reason that the opposition was too great, and that the money promised was not sufficient. Teresa, nothing daunted, told Father Baltasar of the refusal, and asked him what she should do. She was to obey, he answered, and give tip all thought of the foundation.

It seemed for the moment as if Teresa's efforts and sufferings had been in vain, but her faith was great if it was God's will that the convent should be founded, she reflected, it would certainly be done. In the meantime, her business was obedience, and she resolved to practise it as perfectly as possible. Neither in word nor in thought would she allow herself to revert to the project that had been so dear to her heart; in silence and in peace she went about her usual work at the convent. When Father Ibanez came to see her she spoke to him of God and of the spiritual life, but not one word on the subject of the foundation. It seemed as if she had completely forgotten that such an idea had ever existed, but Father Ibanez knew that this could not be so, and was greatly impressed by her obedience.

Although Teresa had obeyed, her friends were under no such obligation. Dona Guiomar, at Father Ibanez' suggestion, had applied to Rome for a brief authorizing the foundation; Don Francisco and Gaspar Daza were also at work, and Teresa's docility seemed to be bringing a blessing on their endeavours. Six months had passed when Father Ibanez suddenly resolved to leave Avila, to devote himself in silence and solitude to a life of prayer. His departure seemed a serious loss to the little group of workers, but God was to provide for Teresa another friend, who was destined to take his place. The rector of the College of St. Giles was shortly afterwards withdrawn, and Father Gaspar de Salazar, a strong, wise, and holy man, was put in his place. Father Baltasar Alvarez hastened to seek his advice with regard to St. Teresa, who was presently ordered to give the rector an account of her soul and of the supernatural manifestations that she had received. This was a thing which the Saint disliked extremely, but no sooner had she entered the confessional than she was at peace. A secret intuition that Father Gaspar would understand and help her made everything easy.

Teresa was not mistaken. God had given Father Gaspar a special grace for the reading of souls. He bade the Saint's confessor give her more liberty and fear nothing; the Spirit of God was there. A little later the Saint received an order from our Lord to speak to Father Gaspar on the subject of the new foundation. "Bid him meditate," said her Divine Master, "on the words, ` t) Lord, how great are Thy works! Thy thoughts are exceeding deep.' "Father de Salazar did so, and during his prayer saw the whole enterprise in the light of God. That very day he told Teresa that the Divine Will had been made known to him; she must go on with the undertaking.

It was agreed that they should work in secret, for the nuns of the Incarnation had prejudiced the Provincial so strongly against the project that it would have been worse than useless to appeal to him again. The state of affairs seemed anything but promising. Teresa was watched and distrusted by her sisters in religion; the required funds were not forthcoming; there was much to be done, and she alone could do it. "Ah, my beloved Master," she cried, "why do You command me to do impossible things? What can I do? What am I good for? I have neither money nor knowledge."

But there is something more necessary than either money or knowledge to succeed in God's work, and that is holiness. At her Saviour's feet Teresa found courage to endure for her Lord's sake all the difficulties that lay before her.

Her first step was to write to her sister Juana, married to a young nobleman of Alba, Don Juan de Ovalle, to ask if her husband could come to Avila and conclude the bargain for the little house they had in view. He came at once, and bought the house in his own name, taking up his abode in it with his wife, which made it possible for Teresa to visit them and so to make her plans. But the young couple were not rich, and could give little more than their good will. Part of the price at least must be paid down, and workmen would have to be hired at once to set the place in order.

Teresa as usual had recourse to prayer. As she prayed, St. Joseph appeared to her and bade her put the work in hand, for the money would be forthcoming when required. The workmen were accordingly engaged, plans made, and the necessary alterations begun. A few days later the Saint received a present of a large sum of money from her brother Lorenzo in Peru. She was thus able to pay both the workmen and the creditors.

The house which they had bought was so small that it seemed impossible to turn it into a convent, and Teresa was greatly puzzled how to fit in the dormitory and recreation-room, not to mention the little chapel. While she was trying to solve the difficulty our Lord spoke to her. "Have I not already told thee to go in?" He said. "How often have I slept in the open air because I had no roof to shelter me."

Teresa humbled herself at her Divine Master's feet, and went back to the task with fresh courage; this time everything seemed simple, and she saw at once how she could manage.

The presence of the workmen made the small house rather a comfortless dwelling for Juana and her husband, but neither of them thought of complaining. Their little son Gonsalvo, aged five, was playing one day amongst the workmen's materials when part of a wall that was being knocked down fell upon him. Crushed and senseless, the child lay under the ruins for several hours, and was at last found by his father, who, thinking him dead, carried him into the house in speechless anguish and laid him on Teresa's knees. The Saint bent her head over the inanimate little body, lowered her veil, and prayed silently. Presently Gonsalvo opened his eyes, smiled, sat up, and threw his little arms round his aunt's neck. "Do not be troubled," said Teresa to her sister, who was kneeling beside her, weeping bitterly. "Here is your son, take him." Both Juana and her husband believed that their child had been given back to them through Teresa's prayers.

Another strange accident showed that the evil one was doing all in his power to hinder the work. A strong wall which had just been carefully built fell suddenly during the night. "It will have to be rebuilt," said Teresa serenely when she heard the news. "But we have not the money," objected Dona Guiomar. "It will come," replied the Saint; and it did, that very day, Don Juan was for making the workmen rebuild it at their own expense, but Teresa would not hear of it. "Poor men!" she said. "It is not their fault. I know whose doing it is. What efforts Satan makes to prevent the work! But it will be carried through in spite of him." The building was indeed getting on, and the transformation of the house was nearly complete. It had been turned into the poorest little convent conceivable. Teresa's dreams seemed at last on the verge of fulfilment.

But in spite of all the care taken to preserve secrecy, suspicions had arisen of what was going on. There was danger that these might come to the ears of the Provincial, and that he would order Teresa to give up the enterprise. In that case, she would have to obey, and the work would be brought to a standstill. Our Lord, however, had His own ways of providing against this difficulty.

Although Teresa was not appreciated in her native town, rumours of her holiness had reached as far as Toledo. St. Peter of Alcantara had borne witness to her sanctity, no less than St. Francis Borgia and Father Pedro Ibanez. It began to be whispered about that there was a nun in the little town of Avila whose power of prayer was so great that God granted everything she asked of Him.

One of the greatest ladies of Toledo, Luisa, Duchess de la Cerda, had just lost her husband. It was her first great sorrow; the world which had hitherto smiled so brightly upon her seemed to be changed into a desolate wilderness. So great was her grief that her life was despaired of, when someone spoke to her of Teresa. Surely, thought the young Duchess in her anguish, a soul so beloved of God would have comfort for a sorrow such as hers. She wrote to Father Angel de Salasar, the Provincial of the Carmelites, to ask if the Saint might pay her a visit.

Teresa's surprise was great when she received an order from the Provincial to go to Toledo to be the guest of the widowed Duchess de la Cerda, who hoped for consolation from her presence. How could the Duchess have heard of her existence, she asked herself, and what would be the result if she left the work that was just about to be brought successfully to a close? She sought counsel of her Divine Master, and heard in an ecstasy our Lord speaking to her. "Go, daughter," He said; "pay no attention to those who would detain you. Fear not, I will be with you."

Father Gaspar de Salazar, hearing from Teresa of the order she had received and of our Lord's injunctions, urged her to start at once. Confiding therefore the completion of the convent to her sister and brother-in-law, she set out for Toledo, accompanied by a nun of the Convent of the Incarnation and with Don; Juan de Ovalle as escort.