Life of St. Teresa - F. A. Forbes

Silence and Patience

"Let us somewhat resemble our King, Who had no house save the stable at Bethlehem, wherein He was born, and the Cross on which He died."

Teresa found Dona Luisa de la Cerda in bed, exhausted with the violence of her grief, and refusing all consolation. The Saint set to work at once to comfort her both in soul and body, and after a few days succeeded in inducing her to accept the Divine will with love and generosity. The young Duchess resolved to spend the rest of her life in the service of God and in good works, and felt sure that no one could teach her to do so as well as Teresa. Her new friend must stay with her, she declared, until she was strong enough to stand alone. Her love and veneration for the Saint showed itself in ways that were often more of a cross to her guest than anything else. The humble Carmelite was treated in the palace of the Duchess as if she had been a queen; everybody bowed before her and did her honour; her slightest wish was consulted.

To Teresa, whose only desire was to live in her little convent of St. Joseph in the poverty and simplicity of Bethlehem, life in a palace with its pomp and etiquette was a kind of martyrdom. But if the adulation of the members of the great household made small impression on the Saint, her holiness had much effect on them. Everyone came to seek her advice and to ask her questions. The relations and friends of Dona Luisa wanted always to be with her, for she had help and counsel for all. Amongst them was a young girl, Maria de Salazar, distinguished no less for her wit than for her beauty. It was not long before Teresa's eyes had pierced through the worldly and brilliant exterior and read in Maria's heart a long-cherished wish to give herself to God in religion. "Are these quite fit," she said one day gently, touching the rich jewels which served to set off the young girl's beauty, "for one who desires to be the bride of Christ?" Maria, who had told no one of her secret, was greatly astonished; but Teresa, who saw in her an ardent and generous soul, meet to help her in her plan of reform, did all she could to ground her in the principles of religious life.

It was while Teresa was at Toledo that she made the acquaintance of Mother Mary of Jesus, a Carmelite nun of Granada, who, like herself, had long cherished the plan of founding a convent of the Primitive Rule. She had just returned from Rome, whither she had gone with the permission of her Superiors to obtain a brief from the Pope authorizing her foundation. She had then heard of Teresa's undertaking, and had set out at once for Toledo to see her. The two nuns talked long and earnestly of the project that was so clear to their hearts. Mother Mary was both holy and austere, but she bad neither Teresa's breadth of mind nor her intelligence. Her work was not to prosper until it had been incorporated with that of the Saint.

From the Carmelite of Granada Teresa learnt something unknown to her beforehand—that the Primitive Rule forbade the endowment of monasteries. She determined, therefore, to start her little foundation without revenues; but when her friends at Avila heard of this resolve, there was a general outcry; all were against it. It so happened that St. Peter of Alcantara, passing through Toledo at that moment, went to see Teresa, who told him all about her project and the remonstrances of her friends. The holy Franciscan was too great a lover of poverty to agree with them; he encouraged Teresa in her determination to found without endowment. Shortly afterwards, our Lord Himself intimated to the Saint that it was His will that she should do so, and those who had been so much against it came round in the end to the same view.

The days were long past when the constant distractions amongst which she lived in Dona Luisa's palace would have disturbed Teresa's recollection. She prayed at Toledo as she had prayed at Avila, and her ecstasies and visions continued. Although she sought with the greatest care to conceal these favours from those around her, she was not always successful. People surprised her sometimes while the Divine light was still shining from her face and her thoughts were wholly rapt in God.

One day a servant who had long suffered from severe pains in the head and ears begged the Saint to make the sign of the Cross on her forehead. "What are you thinking of?" cried Teresa. "Make the sign of the Cross yourself." But even as she pushed the woman gently away, her hand accidentally touched the aching head, and the pain was instantly cured.

In the meantime, the Duchess was becoming more and more attached to her new friend, and it began to seem as if Teresa's stay at Toledo might be prolonged indefinitely. The Provincial made no step to recall her to Avila, and her friends were losing heart. Juana had gone home to Alba, leaving her husband as guardian of the unfinished convent, and he, uncertain what to do, suddenly resolved to go to Toledo to ask Teresa's advice. It was decided that it would be better for him to go back to his wife after having made a few necessary arrangements at Avila. But no sooner had Don Juan returned to the little convent than lie was suddenly seized with fever.

It was at this moment that Teresa received permission from the Provincial to return to her convent. In spite of Dona Luisa's lamentations, the Saint set out for Avila, and passing by St. Joseph's on her way, found her brother-in-law ill and in great need of assistance. Obedience obliged her to return direct to the Incarnation, but she promised to come back as soon as she could to nurse him, and found no difficulty in obtaining permission to do so.

Teresa realized in a moment how God had blessed her enterprise during her absence. The brief had just arrived from Rome authorizing the foundation of the little Convent of St. Joseph. It was to be a house of the Primitive Rule under the jurisdiction of the diocesan Bishop of Avila, and nobody else was to interfere with its affairs.

The Saint decided that now was the moment to found. Many of her most devoted friends happened at that moment to be in Avila. St. Peter of Alcantara was the guest of Don Francisco de Salcedo; Dr. Gaspar Daza and Father Gaspar de Salazar, rector of the Jesuit College of St. Giles, were both present in the town, together with the Bishop, Monsignor Alvaro de Mendoza.

The building was pushed on to completion, while a private meeting, presided over by St. Peter of Alcantara, was held to decide what was to be the first step in the matter. It was unanimously agreed that the Bishop's approval must be sought without delay, and the case was laid before him; but when he learnt that it was proposed to found the convent without endowment, he refused his sanction. St. Peter of Alcantara was ill in bed when the bad news was brought to him. Worn out with his long life of penance, his health was failing fast, and he knew that he was near his end, but his spirit was as dauntless as ever. Rising, he announced his intention of going himself to see the Bishop; and as his legs were too weak to support him, he had himself set on a mule, and so made his way to the episcopal residence. To such a petitioner Monsignor de Mendoza could refuse nothing; he agreed to take the foundation under his jurisdiction and to protect it against all attacks.

Before leaving Avila the holy Franciscan visited the convent. "This is indeed a house of Joseph, a true cave of Bethlehem," he said, delighted with its poverty.

In the meantime, the building was progressing rapidly. On the very day it was finished Don Juan's fever left him, and he understood what God had done. "It is not necessary for me to be ill any more," he said, laughing, and took lodgings in the town, that Teresa might be more at liberty to make her arrangements. The next thing was to collect the little community. The first postulants were Antonia de Henao, a connection of the Saint's, proposed by St. Peter of Alcantara, Maria de Paz, an adopted child of Dona Guiomar's, Ursula de Revilla, a penitent of Dr. Daza's, and Maria, a sister of Father Julian of Avila, a young priest who was to be the chaplain of the little convent.

On the feast of St. Bartholomew these first foundation-stones of the Reformed Carmelites arrived at St. Joseph's, and were welcomed by Teresa, who at once led them to the chapel. There, in the presence of the few faithful friends who had championed the undertaking, Mass was said by Dr. Daza, the Bishop's delegate, and the Blessed Sacrament placed in the tabernacle. The rough habits of the Reform were then blessed; the postulants were clothed; the Te Deum was chanted; and the dream of Teresa's life was accomplished. Prostrate before the altar, the newly-made novices poured out their hearts in love and gratitude to God, while the Saint, rapt in ecstasy, seemed to be already in heaven.

Teresa had long ago determined that in order to efface all differences of rank in the nuns of the Reformed Carmel, they should take symbolic names borrowed from the Saints and angels or from the mysteries of our Lord's life. Antonia de Henao therefore became Antonia of the Holy Ghost; Ursula de Revilla, Ursula of the Saints; Maria de Paz, Maria of the Cross; and Father Julian's sister, Maria of St. Joseph. To Teresa's great regret she could not herself assume the rough habit and coarse sandals prescribed by the Primitive Rule, for she was still personally under the jurisdiction of the Provincial. Even her permission to remain at St. Joseph's might be any day withdrawn, granted, as it had been, that she might nurse her brother-in-law, who was now strong and well.

Father Daza and his friends had left, the ceremony was long over, but Teresa could not tear herself away from the Tabernacle. The little convent was at last founded; the Rule of Carmel was at last to be practised in all its perfection; that which God had commanded had been done. The evil one, beaten at every point, was to make one last attempt on the chosen soul who had been appointed to carry out God's plans. Teresa was suddenly assailed with anguish as Satan suggested to her that she had made the foundation without her Superior's consent. The commands of our Lord Himself, the counsel of His saints, the sanction of her director, the brief from Rome all were forgotten. Doubts and fears overwhelmed her. How would these delicately nurtured young girls be able to stand the austerities of the Primitive Rule? How would the convent be provided for, founded as it was without endowment? How could she herself, weak in health, bear the new life in all its strictness? So did the tempter seek to drive her to despair; but Teresa called on her Divine Master, and the clouds at last began to break. Had she not asked our Lord to let her suffer for His sake? 'What then was to be feared?'

Summoning all her courage, Teresa promised before the Tabernacle that she would not rest until she had obtained permission from her Superiors to live entirely at St. Joseph's. As she made the promise, the temptation left her.