Saint Teresa treats of the foundation of the monastery of the glorious St. Joseph made in the city of Toledo in 1569
The Book of the Foundations, Chapter 15
For some days we had no more than the straw mattresses and the blanket,and even that day we didn’t have so much as a stick of wood to make a fire to cook a sardine. And I don’t know who it was the Lord moved to leave a little bundle of wood in the church to help us.
The nights were quite cold; but with the blanket and the woolen mantles we wore, we kept ourselves warm, for these mantles often help us. It will seem impossible that though we had stayed in the house of that lady who loved me so much, [Doña Luisa de la Cerda] we had to enter the new foundation in so much poverty. I don’t know the reason, except that God wanted us to experience the good that lies in this virtue. I did not ask for help, because I don’t like to be a bother; and she perhaps wasn’t aware. Moreover, I am indebted for what she was able to give us.
The experience was very good for us; the interior consolation and happiness we felt were so great that I often think about what the Lord keeps stored up within the virtues. It seems to me this lack we experienced was the cause of a sweet contemplation.
But this poverty did not last long, for soon [the principal benefactor] Alonso Alvarez himself, as well as others, were providing us with more than we needed. And, true to say, my sadness was such that it resembled that of discovering that many gold jewels in my possession were taken away and I left poor.
Thus I felt sorry that they were bringing our poverty to an end, and my companions felt the same. Since I saw they were sad, I asked them what troubled them, and they answered: “What else could it be, Mother, for it no longer seems we are poor.”
From then on my desire to be very poor increased. And I felt freedom in having so little esteem for temporal goods, for the lack of these goods brings an increase of interior good. Certainly, such a lack carries in its wake another kind of fullness and tranquility.
Dear Mother, please, will Your Reverence allow me to offer myself to the Heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of propitiation for true peace: that the dominion of Antichrist may collapse, if possible, without a new world war, and that a new order may be established? I would like it [my request] granted this very day because it is the twelfth hour. I know that I am a nothing, but Jesus desires it, and surely He will call many others to do likewise in these days.
Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D.
Edith Stein addressed Letter 296 to her prioress in the Carmel of Echt, Mother Ottilia a Jesu Crucifixo, O.C.D.(Maria Margaret Thannisch)on Passion Sunday, 1939. In her letter, we see profound continuity with Teresian spirituality; we offer for your reflection a few salient points.
Edith’s obedience to her prioress prompts her to seek permission to make this solemn offering, rather than to enter into such a life-changing commitment by herself, a decision that could have consequences for her entire community.
Obedience is a cornerstone of all Carmelite life, beginning with the Rule of St. Albert of Jerusalem, which states, “The first thing I require is for you to have a prior, one of yourselves, who is to be chosen for the office by common consent, or that of the greater and maturer part of you; each of the others must promise him obedience — of which, once promised, he must try to make his deeds the true reflection…”(Rule, 4)
St. Teresa of Avila takes up the refrain when she writes, “in matters touching on obedience He doesn’t want the soul who truly loves Him to take any other path than the one He did: obediens usque ad mortem”(Ph 2:8). (Foundations, 5:5)
🞧The Discalced Carmelites of Compiègne made their offering after their prioress proposed making an act of consecration“by which the community would offer themselves in holocaust to appease the wrath of God and to obtain that, through the sacrifice of their very selves, peace may be restored to the Church and to the State.”(Sr. Marie de l’Incarnation 1836, p. 67)
🞧St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus was motivated by “ardent desires… to save souls” when she made her holocaust offering to merciful love on 9 June 1895. (CJ, 30 Sep 97) She wrote,
“O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to love you and make you loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory you have prepared for me in your kingdom… In order to live in one single act of perfect love, I offer myself as a victim of holocaust to your merciful love, asking you to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within you to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of your love, O my God!”(Pri 6)
🞧St. Teresa Benedicta offered herself to the heart of Jesus, a gesture of self-immolation in the furnace of the infinite love of Christ. Like St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Blessed Thérèse of Saint-Augustine, the prioress of Compiègne, St. Benedicta understood that a holocaust is consumed in the flames that spring forth from the Sacred Heart, echoing the sentiment of Thérèse: “O my Jesus! let it be me this happy victim, consume your holocaust through the fire of your Divine Love.”(Ms A, 84r)
Further, the propitiatory nature of St. Benedicta’s self-offering aligns with the consecration of the proto-martyrs of Discalced Carmelite nuns, Blessed Thérèse of Saint-Augustine and her companions “so that peace may be restored to the Church and to the State.” (Sr. Marie de l’Incarnation 1836, p. 67)
“I know that I am a nothing,” Edith wrote. This is an ancient tune in the Teresian Carmel, beginning with St. Teresa of Avila herself: “I realized I was a woman and wretched and incapable of doing any of the useful things I desired to do in the service of the Lord.”(Way, 1:2)
Blessed Thérèse of Saint-Augustine counseled abandonment as a remedy to her daughters and directees: “I’m speaking of perfect abandonment to the divine wishes of our good Master. We are in his hands like children in the arms of a tender Father, who knows well what we need” (Letter 4 from Blessed Thérèse of Saint-Augustine to Mademoiselle de Grand-Rut, Holy Thursday, April 1790). (Sr. Marie de l’Incarnation 1836, p. 137)
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, immersing herself within her own Carmelite identity—“of the Child Jesus”—through spiritual childhood, explores the frontier of nothingness through love. While she stated in Manuscript A that it is “the property of love… to lower itself,”(Ms A, 2v) in her magisterial Manuscript B, she plumbs the abyss: “So that Love may be fully satisfied, it must lower itself, lower itself all the way to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire.”(Ms B, 3v)
Are these three Carmelite martyrs exaggerating? No, insists the Discalced Carmelite friar who is the foremost expert on the theology of the saints, François-Marie Léthel, OCD—professor of the same at the Pontifical Theological Faculty “Teresianum”. His teaching is crystal clear:
It is “a rule in the theology of the saints: the saints never exaggerate, but simply tell the truth in dimensions that always seem exaggerated to us as they do for all those who aren’t yet saints!” (Léthel 2011, p. 144)
St. Teresa Benedicta minced no words when she declared her firm belief that God was calling her to make this radical self-sacrifice: “Jesus desires it.”
St. Thérèse was more poetic:
Divine Word! You are the Adored Eagle whom I love and who draws me! It is you who, soaring toward this land of exile, willed to suffer and die in order to draw souls into the heart of the Eternal Home of the Blessed Trinity. It is you who, ascending once again to the inaccessible Light, which will be henceforth your abode, still remain in this vale of tears, hidden beneath the appearance of a white host. Eternal Eagle, you desire to nourish me with your divine substance—me, poor little creature—who would return to nothingness if your divine gaze did not give me life each and every moment. O Jesus, in the excess of my gratitude, let me tell you that your love is crazy. Given this craziness, how can you not want my heart to soar to you? How can my trust have any limits?
Ah! For you, I know, the saints have done some crazy things, they’ve done some great things because they were eagles… Jesus, I’m too little to do great things… and my own craziness is to hope that your Love will accept me as a victim… My craziness consists in begging the Eagles my brothers, to obtain for me the favor of flying toward the Sun of Love with the Divine Eagle’s own wings… (Ms B, 05v)
For Blessed Thérèse of Compiègne, the divine inspiration to make the act of consecration came to her during mental prayer, those moments in the life of every Discalced Carmelite nun where even in the midst of dryness and darkness, she communes with God alone.
Mother Thérèse shared an apartment with the most senior members of the monastic community in Compiègne city after they were expelled from their cloister by the secularizing legislation of the French revolutionary government. It was to these most mature members of the community that one morning she first proposed a community act of holocaust consecration (probably in 1792); but their immediate reaction was to recoil in fear.
Historian William Bush notes that their reaction startled the prioress and she immediately regretted the proposal. Yet, after an entire day of contemplation, here were “two tearful 76-year-old nuns coming to ask forgiveness of their prioress for their lack of courage.”(Bush 1999, p. 107)
Again, what did Edith say? “Jesus desires it.”
When Blessed Thérèse of Saint-Augustine proposed the act of consecration to the entire community, she reminded her nuns in Compiègne to “note well, my Sisters, that we didn’t enter religious life except to put ourselves to work on our sanctification through the total immolation of our selves, which are so precious to us. It shouldn’t cost us much to do this.” (Sr. Marie de l’Incarnation 1836, p. 67)
With her typical audacity, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus dared to ask this of the Lord: “I beg you to lower your divine gaze upon a great number of little souls. I beg you to choose a legion of little victims worthy of your love!”(Ms B, 5v)
Yes, St. Thérèse begged for holocaust victims; and, St. Benedicta felt certain that Christ would call others to follow such a rugged path that she trod: “surely He will call many others to do likewise in these days.” (Stein, E 1939, Letter 269)
“In these days…”
In our time, self-sacrifice and courage never must be lacking. “Jesus desires it”still today. What time is it now? Is it still “the twelfth hour”? Are we too late to respond to his call? In the words of a meditation written for the Elevation of the Holy Cross, 14 September 1939, Saint Edith Stein still speaks to us today:
The world is in flames. Are you impelled to put them out? Look at the cross. From the open heart gushes the blood of the Savior. This extinguishes the flames of hell. Its precious blood is poured everywhere—soothing, healing, saving.
The eyes of the Crucified look down on you—asking, probing. Will you make your covenant with the Crucified anew in all seriousness? What will you answer him?
“Lord, where shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”
The Lord walks among
the pots and pans
Saint Teresa of Avila
First, I want to treat, according to my poor understanding, of the substance of perfect prayer.For I have run into some for whom it seems the whole business lies in thinking.If they can keep their minds much occupied in God, even though great effort is exerted, they at once think they are spiritual. If, on the contrary, without being able to avoid it, they become distracted, even if for the sake of good things, they then become disconsolate and think they are lost….
And so I am not treating of this now. But I should like to explain that the soul is not the mind, nor is the will directed by thinking, for this would be very unfortunate.
Hence, the soul’s progress does not lie in thinking much but in loving much.
How does one acquire this love?By being determined to work and to suffer, and to do so when the occasion arises.
It is indeed true that by thinking of what we owe the Lord, of who He is, and what we are, a soul’s determination grows, and that this thinking is very meritorious and appropriate for beginners. But it must be understood that this is true provided that nothing interferes withobedienceorbenefit to one’s neighbor.
When either of these two things presents itself, time is demanded, and also the abandonment of what we so much desire to give God, which, in our opinion, is to be alone thinking of Him and delighting in the delights that He gives us.
To leave aside these delights for either of these other two things is to give delight to Him and do the work for Him, as He Himself said: What you did for one of these little ones you did for Me (Matt 25:45). And in matters touching on obedience, He doesn’t want the soul who truly loves Him to take any other path than the one He did:obediens usque ad mortem (Phil 2:8).
There was a person to whom I spoke a few days ago who for about fifteen years was kept so busy through obedience with work in occupations and government that in all those years he didn’t remember having had one day for himself, although he tried the best he could to keep a pure conscience and have some periods each day for prayer. His soul in its inclination is one of the most obedient I have seen, and so he communicates this spirit of obedience to all those with whom he deals.
The Lord has repaid him well;for he has found that he has, without knowing how, that same precious and desirable liberty of spirit that the perfect have. In it, they find all the happiness that could be wanted in this life, for in desiring nothing they possess all.
Nothing on earth do they fear or desire, neither do trials disturb them, nor do consolations move them. In sum, nothing can take away their peace because these souls depend only on God.
And since no one can take Him away from them, only the fear of losing Him can cause them pain. Everything else in this world, in their opinion, is as though it were not; it neither contributes anything nor removes anything from their happiness. Oh, happy obedience and happy the resulting distraction that could obtain so much!
This is not the only person,for I have known others of the same sort, whom I had not seen for some, or many, years. In asking them about how they had spent these years, I learned that the years were all spent in the fulfillment of the duties of obedience and charity. On the other hand, I saw such improvement in spiritual things that I was amazed.
Well, come now, my daughters, don’t be sad when obedience draws you to involvement in exterior matters. Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly.
While reading a book on the life of St. Anne, the child, when a little more than twelve years old, became very devoted to the saints of Carmel. For the author of the book says that St. Anne’s mother — I believe her name is Merenciana — often went to speak to those saints. The effect this reading had on the girl was one of great devotion to the order of our Lady, for she then promised to become a nun in that order and also made a promise of chastity.
Saint Teresa of Avila The Book of Her Foundations, Chap. 26 Commenting on the vocation of Beatriz de la Madre de Dios
Jacob did not become less a saint for tending his flock, nor Abraham, nor St. Joachim. When we try to avoid work, everything tires us. That’s the way it goes for me, and for this reason God wills that I be always loaded down with many things to do.
Saint Teresa of Avila Letter 172 to her brother, Don Lorenzo de Cepeda 2 January 1577
The foundation of St. Joseph of Carmel in the city of Seville
Preparations were immediately begun for the journey because it was beginning to get very hot… We journeyed in wagons well covered, which was our mode of traveling… Although we hurried along on our journey, we did not reach Seville until the Thursday before Trinity Sunday, [26 May 1575] after having endured scorching heat.
Even though we did not travel during siesta time, I tell you, Sisters, that since the sun was beating on the wagons, getting into them was like stepping into purgatory.
Sometimes by thinking of hell, at other times by thinking that something was being done and suffered for God, those Sisters journeyed with much happiness and joy.
The six souls who were with me were of the kind that made me think I was daring enough to go off with them to the land of the Turks and that they had the fortitude, or better, our Lord gave them the fortitude, to suffer for Him; for this was the subject of their desires and conversations. They were very experienced in prayer and mortification.
Saint Teresa of Avila The Book of Her Foundations, Chap. 24
Our generals always reside in Rome and none ever came to Spain. So it seemed impossible that one should come now. But since nothing is impossible when our Lord wants it, His Majesty ordained that what had never happened before should come about now. When I came to know of it, I felt grieved. For as was already mentioned concerning the foundation of St. Joseph’s, that house was not subject to the friars for the reason given [the provincial refused to accept jurisdiction]. I feared two things: one, that our Father General would be displeased with me (and rightly so since he was unaware of how the things had come to pass); the other, that he would order me to return to the monastery of the Incarnation, where the mitigated rule is observed, which for me would have been an affliction for many reasons — there would be no point in going into them. One reason should be enough: that in the Incarnation I wouldn’t be able to observe the austerity of the primitive rule, that the community numbers more than 150, and that where there are few there is more harmony and quiet. Our Lord did better than I had imagined. For the general is such a servant of the Lord, and so discreet and learned, that he regarded the work as good; moreover he showed no displeasure toward me. His name is Fray Juan Bautista Rubeo de Ravenna, a person very distinguished in the order, and rightly so.
Well then, when he arrived in Avila, I arranged that he come to St. Joseph’s. And the bishop thought it well that he be given all the welcome that the bishop himself would receive. I gave our Father General an account in all truth and openness, for it is my inclination to speak thus with my superiors, whatever might happen, since they stand in the place of God — and with confessors, the same. If I didn’t do this, it wouldn’t seem to me that my soul was secure. And so I gave him an account of my soul and of almost my whole life, although it is very wretched. He consoled me much and assured me that he wouldn’t order me to leave St. Joseph’s.
He rejoiced to see our manner of life, a portrait, although an imperfect one, of the beginnings of our order, and how the primitive rule was being kept in all its rigor, for it wasn’t being observed in any monastery in the entire order; only the mitigated rule was observed. And with the desire he had that this beginning go forward, he gave me very extensive patent letters, so that more monasteries could be founded, along with censures to prevent any provincial from restraining me. I did not ask for these, but he understood from my way of prayer that my desires to help some soul come closer to God were great.
I was not seeking these means; rather the thought seemed to me foolish because a useless little woman as helpless as I well understood that she couldn’t do anything. But when these desires come to a soul, it is not in its power to put them aside. Faith and the love of pleasing God make possible what to natural reason is not possible. And thus in seeing the strong desire of our Most Reverend General that more monasteries be founded, it seemed to me I saw them founded.
Saint Teresa of Avila The Book of Her Foundations, Chap. 2 (excerpt)
Juan Bautista Rubeo (Giovanni Battista Rossi, 1507-1578) was an untiring apostle born in Ravenna who entered the Carmelites at the age of ten. He received his doctorate in Padua. In 1546 he was named procurator general of the order and began lecturing at the Sapienza in Rome. The Carmelite general chapter, under the presidency of St. Charles Borromeo, unanimously elected him general of the order on 21 May 1564. He lost no time in obtaining faculties from the Holy See to visit, reform, and correct the houses of the order. His cherished desires were to bring the order back to its origins, to stress solitude, affective prayer, devotion to Mary, and the apostolate. This appealed to him much more than merely promoting fulfillment of the laws newly set forth by the Council of Trent. In 1564 he began his visit to Spain, and on 10 June 1566, he had an audience with Philip II. Proceeding to Andalusia, where the Carmelites were torn by rival factions and resistance to reform, he convoked a provincial chapter for 22 September at which over 200 Carmelites took part. His efforts to correct abuses angered the guilty parties and caused them to make appeals to the king, complaining of Rossi and calling on the king himself to set up a visitation. As a result, Philip II lost confidence in Rossi and initiated his own plans for the reform of religious orders in Spain. Unaware of the king’s attitude, Rossi began his visitation of Castile and on 27 April 1567 authorized Teresa to found other houses for her nuns, provided they be under the jurisdiction of the order, and the number in each community be restricted to no more than twenty-five nuns. A month later he limited the region where the new houses could be founded to Castile, but later he extended this to all parts. Because of the troubles among the friars in Andalusia, he did not want to grant permission for new foundations of discalced friars. But at Teresa’s request on 10 August 1567, he wrote from Barcelona giving her permission to found two houses of “contemplative Carmelite friars” in Castile. In 1569 in a letter to the prioress of Medina, Rossi wrote: “She [Teresa of Jesus] does more good for the order than all the Carmelite friars in Spain together.” And Teresa esteemed him just as highly. But later because of the many jurisdictional complexities that arose from the king’s desire to reform the Carmelites in Spain, passions were aroused and Rossi was so misinformed that he approved measures harmful to what Teresa was trying to bring about. She never lost her high esteem for Rossi and explained and appealed to him through her letters. Rossi died unexpectedly on 4 September 1578 as a consequence of an accident in which he fell from his mule and broke his leg. Teresa was deeply saddened when she received the news and always lamented the pain she thought she had caused the general because of the misunderstandings that had arisen and her inability to explain things to him personally or get her letters through to him.
A priest from Villanueva de la Jara brought me letters from the town council there
The Foundation of Villanueva de la Jara and Venerable Catalina de Cardona
Excerpts from the Book of Her Foundations, Chapter 28
One day after I received Communion I was recommending this matter to God as I often used to do. For what made me answer them somewhat favorably was the fear of hindering spiritual progress in souls, for my desire is always to be some means by which our Lord may be praised and that there be more to serve Him. While I was praying in this way, His Majesty reprimanded me sternly, asking me with what treasures that which had been done so far had been accomplished and telling me that I should not hesitate to accept this house, that it would be for His great service and the spiritual progress of souls….
We had to go to the monastery of our Lady of Succor, already mentioned, which is three leagues from Villanueva, and stay there so as to inform the town that we were coming, which had been agreed upon with these Fathers, and it was right that in everything I obey these Fathers with whom we were traveling. This house stood in a delightfully isolated and solitary spot. And as we approached, the friars came out in procession to meet their prior. Since they were discalced and wore their poor, coarse woolen mantles, they inspired us all with devotion and moved me to tender feelings since it seemed to me that I was present in that flourishing time of our holy Fathers of old. In that field, they appeared to be like white fragrant flowers, and indeed I believe that before God they are, for in my opinion He is authentically served there. They entered the church singing the Te Deum with voices very restrained. The entrance to it is underground, as though through a cave, which represented that of our Father Elijah. Certainly, I was feeling so much interior joy that I would have considered a longer journey well worthwhile. I regretted very much that the saintly woman through whom our Lord founded this house was now dead. I didn’t deserve to see her, although I had desired to do so very much.
On seeing the penance that was done by this holy woman, may you realize, my Sisters, how far behind we are and may you try harder to serve our Lord
It seems to me that it would not be an idle thing to tell something here about her life and the means by which our Lord desired that this monastery be founded there. It has been of such benefits to souls in the surrounding area, as I have been told. On seeing the penance that was done by this holy woman, may you realize, my Sisters, how far behind we are and may you try harder to serve our Lord. There is no reason that we should do less, for we do not come from such noble and refined family descent. Although this is not important, I am mentioning it because she had lived a comfortable life in keeping with her status in society, for she was a descendant of the dukes of Cardona and thus she was called Doña Catalina de Cardona. After she had written to me a few times, she signed her letter with only the words, “the sinner.”
she was called
Doña Catalina de Cardona
she signed her letter
with only the words, the sinner
While this saintly woman was living among the nobility, she was always very concerned about her soul and did penance. The desire for penance greatly increased in her and also the longing to go where she could be alone to enjoy God and dedicate herself to doing penance without any hindrance….
She disclosed her plans to a hermit who was living in Alcalá and, without ever telling anyone about them, asked him to accompany her. They arrived at the place where the monastery now stands, and there she found a tiny cave hardly large enough for her; here he left her. But what love must have been hers since she wasn’t worried about what there might be to eat or about the dangerous things that could happen to her, or about the bad reputation she would have when it was discovered that she had disappeared….
Let us consider this well, Sisters, and reflect on how with one blow she conquered everything. For although what you do by entering this holy religious order, offering your will to God, and professing so continual an enclosure may not be less, I wonder whether, in the case of some, a part of this initial fervor does not pass away and out of self-love we make ourselves subject again to some things. May it please the divine Majesty that this not be so, but that since we imitate this holy woman in desiring to flee from the world we may interiorly stay far away from it in all things.
After these years that she lived there in such solitude, our Lord desired that her way of life become known, and the people began to venerate her so much that she could not get away from them…. She began to have desires that a monastery of friars be founded there, and these persisted for some time without her knowing from which order they would come. Once while praying before a crucifix she always carried with her, our Lord showed her a white mantle, and she understood that they would come from the discalced Carmelites, and she had never known that there were friars like this in the world. At the time only two monasteries of friars had been founded, Mancera and Pastrana. After this experience, she must have inquired. When she learned there was a monastery in Pastrana and since she had been in the past a close friend of the Princess of Eboli, wife of Prince Ruy Gómez, to whom Pastrana belonged, she went there to find out how she might make this foundation which she had been desiring so much.
There at the monastery of Pastrana, in the church of St. Peter, for this it is called, she received the habit of our Lady, although not with the intention of being a nun or of making profession, for she was never inclined toward being a nun since our Lord was leading her by another path. It seemed to her that if she professed obedience her plan to live in harsh austerity and solitude would be frustrated. All the friars were present when she received the habit of our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
In their company was Father Mariano, who I mentioned in these foundations. He told me that he himself had experienced at the time a suspension or rapture that carried him completely out of himself and that while in this state he saw many dead friars and nuns. Some were beheaded, some had their arms and feet cut off as though they were martyred, for martyrdom is what this vision was pointing to. And he is not the type of man who would tell what he had not seen, nor has his spirit ever been accustomed to these suspensions, for God does not lead him by such a path. Pray to God, Sisters, that this vision will come true and that we will merit in our times to see so great a blessing and be ourselves among the martyrs.
All of them have affirmed to me that the odor of sanctity emanating from her was so great that it permeated even her cincture and habit
From here, that is, from Pastrana, the holy woman of Cardona began to seek the means to found her monastery and for this purpose she went back to the court which she had so eagerly left before. Doing this must have been no small torment; it was a place where she underwent much criticism and trial. When she left the house where she was staying, she wasn’t able to protect herself from the crowd. This happened wherever she went. Some cut pieces from her habit, others from her mantle. She then went to Toledo where she stayed with our nuns. All of them have affirmed to me that the odor of sanctity emanating from her was so great that it permeated even her cincture and habit, which she exchanged for another given her by the nuns; it was something to praise God for. And the closer they came to her the greater was this fragrance, even though her manner of dress, because of the intense heat, would rather have caused a bad odor. I know that they wouldn’t say anything but the complete truth, and thus they were left with great devotion.
In the court and elsewhere they gave her the means for the monastery, and once she obtained the license, it was founded. The church was built at the place where her cave was. Another cave was made for her further away in which she had a tomb carved out, and she remained there most of the day and night. She lived this way only a short time, for about five and a half years after the monastery was built. That she lived even as long as she did seemed supernatural because of her harsh, austere life. Insofar as I can remember, she died in 1577. Her funeral services were held with greatest solemnity, for a gentleman named Fray Juan de León had great devotion to her and arranged it all with much care. She is now buried temporarily in a chapel of our Lady, to whom she was extremely devoted, until a church larger than the one they have now will be built to keep her blessed body as is fitting….
One day when I had just received Communion in that holy church, very great recollection came over me with suspension that drew me out of myself. In this suspension, through an intellectual vision, this holy woman appeared in a glorified body and some angels with her. She told me not to grow weary but that I should strive to go ahead with these foundations. I understood, although she did not indicate this, that she was helping me before God. She also told me something else but there is no reason to put it here in writing. I was left very much consoled and with a great desire to work hard, and I hope in the goodness of the Lord that with help as good as are these prayers of hers I will be able to serve Him in some way.
You can see here, my Sisters, how her trials have now come to an end, but the glory she enjoys will have no end. Let us now force ourselves for love of our Lord, to follow this sister of ours. Holding ourselves in abhorrence as she abhorred herself, we will finish our day’s journey, for it goes by so quickly and all comes to an end.
Catalina de Cardona had been governess to Don Juan de Austria, son of Charles V, and to Don Carlos, son of Philip II. In 1563 she withdrew to the solitude of La Roda, and in 1571 began to wear the Carmelite habit, but with the friar’s cowl. She died on 11 May 1577, the exact day that she herself had predicted.
While I was in this town of Beas waiting for the license from the Council of the Order of Knights for the foundation of Caravaca, a Father from the discalced of our order named Maestro Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios came to see me. A few years before he had received our religious habit while in Alcalá. Throughout his life, he has been a man of much learning, intelligence, and modesty along with other great virtues. It seems, while he was in Alcalá, that he was chosen by our Lady for the good of this primitive order without his having the remotest idea of receiving our habit, although he had considered entering the religious life. His parents had other intentions because of his great talent and their good standing with the king, but he was far from being inclined toward their plans for him. From the time he began school, he was urged by his father to take up the study of law. Yet, while still very young, he felt so strongly the desire to study theology that by force of tears he got his father to allow him to do so.
After graduating with a master’s degree, he took steps to enter the Society of Jesus, and they had accepted him. But for a certain reason, they told him to wait several days. He tells me that he was tormented by all the enjoyments in his life and that he didn’t think they constituted a safe path to heaven. He always set aside the hours for prayer and was extremely recollected and upright.
At this time a close friend of his entered the monastery in Pastrana to become a friar in our order. This friend’s name was Fray Juan de Jesús, and he, too, had a master’s degree. I don’t know how the interest began, whether it did so because of a letter Fray Juan wrote about the greatness and antiquity of our order or in some other way; for Father Gracián enjoyed very much reading everything about the order and verifying, through important authors, what was asserted. He says that he often had scruples about failing to study other things because he was unable to set these studies aside, and he occupied his hours of recreation in this way. O wisdom and power of God! How impossible for us to flee from His will! Our Lord truly saw the great need there was for a person like this to carry on the work that He had begun. I often praise Him for the favor He granted us in this matter. Had I very much desired to ask His Majesty for a person to organize all the things pertaining to the order in these initial stages, I would not have succeeded in asking for all that He, in fact, gave in Father Gracián. May the Lord be blessed forever.
God brought him there in order to give him the habit
Well then, while not having the slightest thought of taking the habit of this order, he was asked to go to Pastrana to speak to the prioress of our monastery there— for it had not yet been abandoned —that she might accept a nun. What means the divine Majesty takes! For had Father Gracián decided to go there to take the habit, he would perhaps have met with so much opposition that he might never have done so. But the Blessed Virgin, our Lady, to whom he is extremely devoted, wanted to repay him by giving him her habit. So I think she was the mediatrix through whom God granted him this favor. And this glorious Virgin was the reason he received it and became so fond of the order. She did not want one who desired to serve her so much to lack the occasion for putting this desire into practice. It is her custom to favor those who want to be protected by her.
While still a boy in Madrid, he often went to pray before an image of our Lady to whom he had great devotion. I don’t remember where it was; he called her “his love,” and his visits were very frequent. She must have obtained for him from her Son the purity in which he always lived. He says that sometimes it seemed to him his eyes were swollen from weeping over the many offenses committed against her Son. As a result, there arose in him a strong impulse and desire to help souls, and he felt it very deeply when he saw offenses committed against God. He has so great an inclination toward the good of souls that any hardship becomes small to him if he thinks that through it he can produce some fruit. I have seen this myself in the many trials that he has undergone.
Well, the Virgin brought him to Pastrana as though by tricking him into the thought that he was going there in order to request the habit for a nun. And God brought him there in order to give him the habit. Oh, secrets of God! But how true that without our desiring it, He disposes us so as to give us favors. And this soul was repaid for the good deeds that he did, for the good example that he had always given, and for his great desire to serve the Lord’s glorious Mother. His Majesty must always repay this latter with wonderful rewards.
Well, when he arrived in Pastrana, he went to speak to the prioress that she might accept the nun; and it seemed as though he had asked her to pray to the Lord that he himself might enter. For he is a very pleasant person so that generally he is loved by those who have dealings with him — it is a grace our Lord gives — and thus he is extremely loved by all his subjects, both friars and nuns. Yet he doesn’t let any fault go by, for he is extraordinarily careful in looking out for the welfare of the religious life. In his actions, he is so gentle and pleasant that it seems no one is able to complain about him.
Well, when this prioress saw him, that which happened to others happened to her; she felt a strong desire that he enter the order and told the Sisters how important it was to get him to join, for at the time there were very few, or almost none like him. And she told them all to beseech our Lord not to let him go without his receiving the habit.
This prioress is a very great servant of God. By her prayer alone I think she would have been heard by His Majesty; how much more would the prayers of nuns as good as those that were there be heard. All of them took the matter very much to heart and with fasts, disciplines, and prayer begged His Majesty continually. Thus He was pleased to grant us this favor. For since Father Gracián went to the monastery of the friars and saw so much religious observance and opportunity to serve our Lord and above all that it was the order of the Lord’s glorious Mother whom he so much desired to serve, his heart was moved not to return to the world. The devil set before him many difficulties, especially the pain this would bring his parents. They loved him very much and had great trust that he would help provide for their children, for they had many daughters and sons. He left this care to God for whom he left all, and decided to be a subject of the Virgin and take her habit. So they gave it to him amid the great happiness of all, especially of the nuns and the prioress. The nuns gave much praise to our Lord, thinking that His Majesty had granted them this favor through their prayers.
Father Jerónimo Gracián of the Mother of God (1545-1614) was an important figure in Teresian history. He was born in Valladolid, the son of one of King Phillip II’s secretaries. He studied at the University of Alcalá and was ordained a priest in 1570. Exceptionally gifted, he entered the novitiate in Pastrana on 25 April 1572. After meeting Teresa in 1575, he worked closely with her until her death. Later, falling into disfavor with Superior General Fr. Nicolas Doria, he was expelled from the order. He died in Brussels.
a sister of the Duke of Medinaceli, in whose home I had stayed by order of my superiors, as I mentioned more at length in writing about the foundation of St. Joseph’s. [Avila] While I was in her home, she got to like me in a special way, which in turn must have been a means by which this lady was stirred to do what she did. For His Majesty often makes use of means like these that seem fruitless to us who don’t know the future.
Since this lady knew that I had permission to found monasteries, she began to urge me very much to make a foundation in her town of Malagón.
Malagón is a small town, still today, in the province of Ciudad Real. In feudal times it belonged to the duchy of Medinaceli.
I in no way wanted to accept since the town was so small that we would be forced to have an income in order to support ourselves — something to which I was very much opposed.
Both my confessor [Domingo Báñez, O.P.] and other learned men with whom I discussed the matter told me that I was doing wrong, that since the holy Council had given permission to have an income, I shouldn’t, because of my own opinion, fail to found a monastery where God could be so much served. To this were added the many urgings of this lady which I could not resist. She provided a sufficient income, for I am always in favor of monasteries being either completely poor or maintained in such a way that the nuns will not need to beg from anyone for their needs.
I made every effort I could so that none of the nuns would possess anything, but that they would observe the constitutions in their entirety as in our other monasteries founded in poverty. Having completed all the paperwork, I sent for some Sisters to make the foundation, and along with that lady we went to Malagón. When we got there, the house was not yet ready for us to move in. And so we were detained for more than eight days in an apartment of this lady’s castle.
On Palm Sunday, [April 11] in the year 1568, with the people of the town, we went in procession to the church, in our white mantles and with veils covering our faces. A sermon was preached there, and from that church, the Blessed Sacrament was brought to our monastery. This inspired great devotion in everybody. I stayed there for some days. On one of those days, while in prayer after having received Communion, I understood from our Lord that He would be served in that house.
Saint Teresa of Avila
The Book of Her Foundations, Chap. 9
Saint Teresa urged Doña Luisa to build her nuns in Malagón a new monastery, the construction of which she supervised carefully. Inaugurated December 8, 1579, this building remains today, an exceptional relic still housing Teresa’s daughters.
I arrived here safely on the vigil of our Lady. Señora Doña Luisa was overjoyed. We spent a lot of time talking about you, which is a pleasure for me, for since she loves you so much she doesn’t tire of this.
Saint Teresa of Avila
Letter 19 to María de Mendoza, Valladolid (excerpt) Toledo, End of March 1569
“Yo llegué aquí buena la víspera de nuestra Señora. Hase holgado en extremo la señora doña Luisa.”
Cerda, Luisa de la (d. 1596). Daughter of the second Duke of Medinaceli, Luisa de la Cerda in 1537 married Antonio Arias Pardo de Saavedra, nephew of Cardinal Pardo de Tavera and one of the wealthiest and most titled men in Castile. Of his seven children, four were still alive when he died in 1561. His death left his wife so afflicted that the family began to fear for her. Finally, after many other failed attempts to comfort her, the family asked the provincial of the Carmelites to allow Teresa to stay with her in her palace in Toledo. Teresa remained with her for about six months and was able to help free her from the bonds of her affliction, frequent the sacraments, and practice good works. While living in the palace, Teresa was able to observe that nobility and wealth did not free one from the slavery of many human passions. In 1567 Luisa offered to fund a foundation in Malagón if the nuns would pray for her deceased husband. The house that the nuns rented there was poor and inadequate for their needs. Finally, on her return from Seville, Teresa insisted that Luisa build them a new monastery, which she had promised to do. The new monastery, the only one of Teresa’s houses that was not an adaptation of some already existing house, was built according to Teresa’s own specifications and still exists as a Carmel today, as do all of Teresa’s foundations. When the foundation of nuns in Toledo was made, Luisa gave them hospitality in her home while they tried to find a house for themselves. They were very poor and met with serious difficulties, but it doesn’t seem that Luisa did anything to help them. Teresa wrote in her Foundations, “It will seem impossible that though we had stayed in the house of that lady who loved me so much, we had to enter the new foundation in so much poverty (Foundations 15.13). Nonetheless Teresa continued on good terms with Doña Luisa, sending her little gifts, but also feeling free to ask her for favors when she needed help for herself or someone else. Among these favors was the task Doña Luisa undertook to deliver the precious secret manuscript of Teresa’s Life to St. John of Avila.
We will reach that city of Jerusalem, where all that has been suffered will be little, or nothing, in comparison with what is enjoyed.
Things pertaining to prayer and perfection are, because of our own sins, so discredited in the world that it’s necessary for me to explain myself the way I do. If even without seeing danger people fear to walk this path of prayer, what would happen if we mentioned some of the danger?
Although, truthfully, there is danger in everything, and, while we live, we have to proceed with fear and ask the Lord to teach us and not abandon us. But, as I believe I once said, if some danger can be lacking, there is much less of it for those who turn their thoughts more to God and strive for perfection in their lives.
Since, my Lord, we see that You often free us from the dangers in which we place ourselves, even in opposition to You, how can one believe that You will fail to free us when we aim after nothing more than to please You and delight in You? Never can I believe this! It could be that because of other secret judgments God might permit some things that must happen anyway. But good never brought about evil.
Thus, may what I have said help us strive to walk better along the road so as to please our Spouse more and find Him sooner, but not make us abandon it; and encourage us to walk with fortitude along a road that has such rugged mountain passes, as does that of this life, but not intimidate us from walking through them. For, in the final analysis, by proceeding with humility, through the mercy of God, we will reach that city of Jerusalem, where all that has been suffered will be little, or nothing, in comparison with what is enjoyed.
Saint Teresa of Avila The Book of Her Foundations, Chapter 4
We arrived in Villanueva de la Jara on the first Sunday of Lent, the feast of St. Barbaciani, [21 February] the vigil of the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, in the year 1580. On this same day at the time of the high Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in the church of the glorious St. Anne.
The city council and some others along with Doctor Ervías came out to receive us, and we got down from our wagons at the church in the town, which was quite far from St. Anne’s. The joy of the whole town was so great.
It gave me much consolation to see the happiness with which they received the order of the Blessed Virgin, our Lady.
We had heard from afar the peal of the church bells. Once we were inside the church, they began the Te Deum, one verse sung by the choir and the other played by the organ.
When it was finished, they carried the Blessed Sacrament on one portable platform and a statue of our Lady on another, and crosses and banners. The procession proceeded with much pomp.
We were in the middle near the Blessed Sacrament with our white mantles and our veils covering our faces, and next to us were many of our discalced friars from their monastery and Franciscans from the monastery of St. Francis that was located there, and one Dominican who happened to be present (even though he was alone it made me happy to see that habit there).
Since the distance was great, there were many altars set up along the way. From time to time the procession stopped and some verses were recited in honor of our order which moved us to great devotion. So did the sight of all of them praising the great God present in our midst and the fact that because of Him they paid so much honor to us seven poor, little discalced nuns who were there.
While I was engaged in all these reflections, I became very ashamed in recalling that I was among them and that if they were to do what I deserved they would all turn against me.
Saint Teresa of Avila The Book of Her Foundations, Chapter 28
We are grateful to photographer José-María Moreno García for making his photo-documentary of the Fifth Centenary visit to Saint Teresa’s foundation of Villanueva de la Jara available for download under a Creative Commons license. To see the complete photo album from this foundation, click here.
SAINT TERESA OF AVILA Spiritual Testimonies, No. 6 (Malagón, Feb. 9, 1570)
Our Lord encourages her to make more foundations and to write their history
Right after I received Communion, on the second day of Lent, in St. Joseph’s at Malagón, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me in an imaginative vision, as He usually does.
While I was gazing upon Him, I saw in place of the crown of thorns a crown of great brilliance on His head, there where the wounds must have been made.
Since I am devoted to this episode of the Passion, I was very much consoled and began to think how great the torment must have been since there were so many wounds; and I became afflicted. The Lord told me that I shouldn’t grieve over those wounds, but over the many that were now inflicted upon Him. I asked Him what I could do as a remedy for this because I was determined to do everything I could.
He told me that now was not the time for rest, but that I should hurry to establish these houses
He told me that now was not the time for rest, but that I should hurry to establish these houses; that He found his rest with the souls living in them; that I should accept as many houses as given me since there were many persons who did not serve Him because they had no place for it; that those houses I founded in small towns should be like this one, for, by desire, as much could be merited as in the other houses; that I should strive to put all the houses under the government of a superior; that I should insist that the interior peace not be lost through a concern for bodily sustenance; that He would help us so nothing would be lacking; that the sick especially should be cared for; that a prioress who did not provide for and favor the sick was like Job’s friends; that He made use of the scourge for the good of souls, and that in such an event they should practice patience;
and that I should write about the foundation of these houses.
I thought of how in regard to the house at Medina I never understood anything in a way that I could write of its foundation. He told me that that was all the more reason to write of it since He wanted it to be seen that the Medina foundation had been miraculous. He meant that He alone founded that house since it had seemed absolutely impossible to found.
And as a result I decided to write about the founding of these houses.
With profound gratitude to the translator, Father Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., who with his Spanish collaborator Father Otilio Rodriguez is the sine qua non of all of the texts of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross that we publish on this blog. Father Kieran died 2 February 2019, just days shy of his 91st birthday. His funeral Mass is celebrated today, 9 February in the monastery chapel in Washington DC and his interment will be at the provincial cemetery in Holy Hill, Wisconsin, 14 February. To learn more about Father Kieran and his remarkable career as a translator and Discalced Carmelite, visit the Washington Provinceblog.