Love for Love: The End
Teresa greeted the end of the years of suffering with overflowing thanks. “God alone knew in full about the bitterness, and now only he alone knows of the boundless joy that fills my soul, as I see the end of these many torments. I wish the whole world would thank God with me! Now we are all at peace, calced and discalced Carmelites, and nothing is to stop us from serving God. Now then, my brothers and sisters, let us hurry to offer ourselves up for the honor of the divine Master who has heard our prayers so well” [Foundations, 29:31–32].
During the short span of time still given to her, she herself sacrificed her final strength for new journeys to make foundations. The erection of the monastery in Burgos, the last one that she brought to life, cost her much effort and time. She had left Avila on January 2, 1582, to go there. It was July before she could begin the trip home, but she was not to reach the desired goal any more.
After she had visited a number of other monasteries of the nuns, Fr. Antonio of Jesus brought her to Alba to comply with a wish of the Duchess María Henríquez, the great patroness of that monastery. Completely exhausted, Teresa arrived on September 20.
According to a number of witnesses, she had predicted some years earlier that she would die at this place and at this time. Even though the attending physician saw her condition as hopeless, she continued to take part in all the monastic exercises until September 29. Then she had to lie down.
On October 2, in accordance with her wish, Fr. Antonio heard her last confession. On the third she requested Viaticum. An eyewitness gave this report:
“At the moment when the Blessed Sacrament was brought into her cell, the Holy Mother raised herself without anyone’s help and got on her knees. She would even have gotten out of her bed if she had not been prevented. Her expression was very beautiful and radiated divine love. With a lively expression of joy and piety, she spoke such exalted divine words to the Lord that we were all filled with great devotion.”
During the day she repeated again and again the words from the “Miserere” (Psalm 51): Cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, no despicies (“A broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise”). In the evening she asked to be anointed.
Concerning her last day, October 4, we again have an eyewitness account by Sr. María of St. Francis:
On the morning of the feast of St. Francis, at about 7 o’clock, our Holy Mother turned on her side toward the nuns, a crucifix in her hand, her expression more beautiful, more glowing, than I had ever seen it during her life. I do not know how her wrinkles disappeared, since the Holy Mother, in view of her great age and her continual suffering, had very deep ones. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice that she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.
Saint Edith Stein
Love for Love: The Life and Works of St. Teresa of Jesus
16. The End (excerpts)
About our featured image: Viático de santa Teresa (Viaticum of Saint Teresa) is an oil on canvas artwork by the Spanish painter Pablo Pardo González (1846–1876). He executed the work in 1870, which later was featured in Spain’s 1876 national fine arts exhibition. The catalog for the exhibition included the description of St. Teresa’s viaticum from the early biography of Teresa by Francisco de Rivera, S.J. (1590). This artwork is part of the collection of the Museo del Prado. It is not on display. Of particular interest: note the representation of Titian’s Ecce Homo hanging on the wall in the background.
Stein, E. 2014, The Hidden Life: hagiographic essays, meditations, spiritual texts, translated from the German by Stein, W, ICS Publications, Washington DC.