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St. Teresa of Avila
Autobiography

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CHAPTER III - Describes how good companionship helped to awaken desires in her and the way in which the Lord began to give her light concerning the delusion under which she had been suffering.

As I began to enjoy the good and holy conversation of this nun, I grew to delight in listening to her, for she spoke well about God and was very discreet and holy. There was never a time, I think, when I did not delight in listening to her words. She began to tell me how she had come to be a nun through merely reading those words in the Gospel: Many are called but few chosen.72 She used to describe to me the reward which the Lord gives to those who leave everything for His sake. This good companionship began to eradicate the habits which bad companionship had formed in me, to bring back my thoughts to desires for eternal things, and to remove some of the great dislike which I had for being a nun, and which had become deeply engrained in me. If I saw anyone weeping as she prayed, or giving evidence of any other virtues, I now greatly envied her; for my heart was so hard in this respect that, even if I read the entire narrative of the Passion, I could not shed a tear; and this distressed me.

I remained in this convent for a year and a half, and was much the better for it. I began to say a great many vocal prayers and to get all the nuns to commend me to God and pray that He would bring me to the state in which I was to serve Him. But I was still anxious not to be a nun, for God had not as yet been pleased to give me this desire, although I was also afraid of marriage. By the end of my time there, I was much more reconciled to being a nun -- though not in that house, because of the very virtuous practices which I had come to hear that they observed and which seemed to me altogether excessive. There were a few of the younger ones who encouraged me in this feeling; if all the nuns had been of one opinion, it would have been much better for me. I also had a close friend in another convent,73 and this gave me the idea that, if I was to be a nun, I would go only to the house where she was. I thought more about pleasures of sense and vanity than of my soul's profit. These good thoughts about being a nun came to me from time to time but they soon left me and I could not persuade myself to become one.

At this time, though I was not careless about my own improvement, the Lord became more desirous of preparing me for the state of life which was best for me. He sent me a serious illness, which forced me to return to my father's house. When I got better, they took me to see my sister, who was living in a village.74 She was so fond of me that, if she had had her way, I should never have left her. Her husband was also very fond of me -- at least, he showed me every kindness. This, too, I owe chiefly to the Lord, for I have always been well treated everywhere, and yet the only service I have rendered Him is to be what I am.

On the road leading to my sister's lived one of my father's brothers,75 a widower, who was a very shrewd man and full of virtues. Him, too, the Lord was preparing for Himself: in his old age he gave up all that he had and became a friar, and he ended his life in such a way that I believe he is now rejoicing in God. He wanted me to stay with him for some days. It was his practice to read good books in Spanish and his conversation was ordinarily about God and the vanity of the world. He made me read to him; and, although I did not much care for his books, I acted as though I did; for in the matter of pleasing others, even when I disliked doing it, I have been so excessively complacent, that in others it would have been a virtue, though in me it was a great fault because I was often very indiscreet. O God, in how many ways did His Majesty gradually prepare me for the state in which He was to be pleased to use me! In how many ways, against my own will, did He constrain me to exercise restraint upon myself!76 May He be blessed for ever. Amen.

Though I stayed here for only a few days, such was the impression made on my heart by the words of God, both as read and as heard, and the excellence of my uncle's company, that I began to understand the truth, which I had learned as a child, that all things are nothing, and that the world is vanity and will soon pass away. I began to fear that, if I had died of my illness, I should have gone to hell; and though, even then, I could not incline my will to being a nun, I saw that this was the best and safest state, and so, little by little, I determined to force myself to embrace it.

This conflict lasted for three months. I used to try to convince myself by using the following argument. The trials and distresses of being a nun could not be greater than those of purgatory and I had fully deserved to be in hell. It would not be a great matter to spend my life as though I were in purgatory if afterwards I were to go straight to Heaven, which was what I desired. This decision, then, to enter the religious life seems to have been inspired by servile fear more than by love. The devil suggested to me that I could not endure the trials of the religious life as I had been so delicately brought up. This suggestion I met by telling him about the trials suffered by Christ and saying that it would not be too much for me to suffer a few for His sake. I must have thought that He would help me to bear them but that I cannot remember. I had many temptations in those days.

I had now begun to suffer from serious fainting fits, together with fever; my health has always been poor. The fact that I had now become fond of good books gave me new life. I would read the epistles of Saint Jerome;77 and these inspired me with such courage that I determined to tell my father of my decision, which was going almost as far as taking the habit; for my word of honour meant so much to me that I doubt if any reason would have sufficed to turn me back from a thing when I had once said I would do it. He was so fond of me that I was never able to get his consent, nor did the requests of persons whom I asked to speak with him about it succeed in doing so. The most I could obtain from him was permission to do as I liked after his death. As I distrusted myself and thought I might turn back out of weakness, this course seemed an unsuitable one. So I achieved my aim in another way, as I shall now explain.






72 St. Matthew xx, 16.



73 Do-a Juana Surez, a nun in the Convent of the Incarnation at Avila, where St. Teresa afterwards professed.



74 Do-a Mar'a, living at Castellanos de la Ca-ada. Cf. n. 80.



75 Cf. n. 81.



76 [Lit.: "did He force me to exercise force upon myself." The play upon words cannot be fully brought out by any satisfactory translation.]



77 A Spanish translation of these, by Juan de Molina, had been published at Valencia, in 1520.






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