THE HUMILITY OF ST. TERESA
Humble hearts are the targets at which the arrows of Divine love are aimed. It was because God found the heart of Teresa most humble that it pleased Him to bestow upon her such a multitude of graces.
Humble hearts are the targets at which the arrows of Divine love are aimed; and so, as St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi used to say, the practice suitable for us, in order to obtain Divine love, is that of self-humiliation. It was because God found the heart of Teresa most humble that it pleased Him to bestow upon her such a multitude of graces. The Saint, in speaking of herself, declares that the most precious graces with which the Lord enriched her were those that she received at the very time when she was humbling herself most before Him.
Our Saint was in reality so humble that, although the Lord treated her as His beloved spouse, as we have already observed, she nevertheless treated with her Lord only in the character of an ungrateful and faithless one. For this reason it was that however many might be the favours heaped upon her by Jesus Christ, and how great soever the commendations she received from men, she could never be persuaded to think well of herself. Although God Himself had conveyed to her an assurance that her visions were not illusions, but gifts of His love, so that in receiving them it was impossible for her to doubt that they came from God, nevertheless the opinion that she entertained of herself was so mean that she was perpetually fearing lest she might be mistaken, being unable to believe that God would grant such favours to a soul so unworthy as she believed herself to be.
One day, as the Saint was on her way to Burgos to found a convent, a Religious mentioned to her the reputation for sanctity she enjoyed. In reply, she said: “Three things have been said of me: that when I was a little child I had a good disposition; that I was discreet; and now there are some persons who say of me that I am a saint. In times gone by I believed the two former of these, and I have accused myself in Confession of having yielded to this vanity; but I have never practised upon myself so great a deception as to give credence to the third.”
In the account of her life that she addressed to her confessor she says, when speaking of the graces the Lord bestowed upon her: “Formerly it seemed to me I felt confusion that they were known, but it now seems to me that so far from being better I am much worse on their account; for with so many graces I do so little. For this reason it seems to me that from every point of view there is not in the whole world a creature worse than myself.” Elsewhere she says: “I do nothing but receive graces without profiting by them, as if I were the most useless thing in the world. All others bear fruit; it is I only that am good for nothing.”
A certain person, on seeing how many favours she received from God, and how great her reputation for sanctity was in the world, said to her: “My mother, be on your guard against vainglory.” Teresa, all astonishment, replied: “Vainglory? On what account I know not. Seeing what I am, I shall have much to do to keep myself from falling into despair.”
The light God gave Teresa to see the greatness of His Majesty and the love He bore her made her regard as grave faults the little defects into which she used to fall — defects that others like ourselves would not consider defects at all. In consequence, she used continually to exclaim, full of confusion: “Lord, consider what Thou art doing! How is it that Thou hast so quickly forgotten my ingratitude?”
In writing the account of her life for her confessor, she prays him in one place to publish her sins everywhere, “in order that,” she said, “I may no longer impose upon people who think that there is some good in me.” And when those to whom she made a manifestation of her bad life would not share the opinion that she entertained of herself she betook herself to her Spouse and laid her complaint before Him, saying: “Lord, why is it that these people do not believe me? Do Thou look to it. For my part, I know not what more I can do.”
On the other hand, when she thought that others might have a knowledge of the graces that God bestowed upon her, this thought alone caused her so much affliction that as she says in her Life, she would have wished to be buried alive, so as not to be seen any longer in the world. Wherefore it was that the Lord, in order to tranquillize her in this affliction, one day said to her: “Teresa, of what art thou afraid? If men were to know the graces I bestow upon thee, one of two things would happen: they would either give glory to Me, or speak ill of thee.” The Saint tells us that these words restored tranquillity to her.
O my holy Advocate, Teresa, who didst wound the Heart of thy God by thy beautiful humility, I beg thee by the love thou bearest towards thy dear Mother Mary, and thy beloved Spouse Jesus, to obtain for me holy humility, in order that being transformed like thee into the likeness of my Jesus in His state of humiliation upon earth, I may one day be able to see and to love Him with thee in Paradise.