ST. TERESA’S DESIRE FOR DEATH
Death is an object of the greatest terror to souls attached to this world. Those who love God especially desire it. St. Teresa in thinking of the danger she ran as long as life lasted, of offending God and losing Him, used to say that a single day, even a single hour was too long to have to live. “Alas! Lord, as long as we remain in this miserable life, life eternal is in jeopardy.”
If the worldly-minded have a fear of losing their goods, fleeting and miserable as they are, much greater is the fear the Saints have of losing God, Who is a Good infinite and eternal, and Who promises to bestow Himself in Heaven as a recompense upon him who has loved Him on earth, admitting him to the enjoyment of His beauty and of His own happiness. Hence as their whole fear during life has been simply the fear of sinning, and thus losing the friendship of that Lord Whom they have loved so well, so their whole desire has been to die in the grace of God, and by death to gain the assurance of loving and possessing Him forever.
Death, then — that object of the greatest terror to souls attached to this world — is what those that love God especially desire: for, says St. Bernard, it is for these happy souls both the termination of their labours and the gate of life. Hence we see that among the Saints, one would call this life a prison and pray the Lord to deliver him out of it: Deliver my soul from this prison (Ps. cxli. 8). Another, like St. Paul, would call it a real death: Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. vii. 24).
But how are we to express the grief and the extreme anguish that our Saint experienced through her desire for death, more especially after the time when the Lord called her to His perfect love? She protests, in her Life, written in obedience to her confessor, that the desire that she had of dying, in order to see God, was so great, that it did not even afford her the leisure to think of her sins. This humble spouse of Jesus crucified spoke in this manner because she was continually bewailing those imperfections in her love of her Spouse into which she had formerly fallen — imperfections she pronounced to be monstrous and deserving of hell, but in reality, as her biographers declare, her failings never amounted to a mortal sin.
The Saint, in thinking, moreover, of the danger she was in, as long as life should last, of offending God and losing Him, used to say that a single day, and even a single hour, seemed to her too long to have to live. Hence she would exclaim: “Alas! Lord, as long as we remain in this miserable life, life eternal is ever in jeopardy. O life! enemy of my welfare, who will be able to bring thee to an end? I endure thee, because God endures thee. I preserve thee, because thou dost appertain to Him; may I never prove treacherous or ungrateful. Oh! when will that day of benediction arrive on which I shall behold thee, O life, swallowed up in the boundless ocean of the sovereign truth, when thou wilt no longer possess the liberty to sin?”
O beautiful fatherland! O blessed fatherland of God-loving souls! where they love Him without fear of losing Him; without tepidity, and for ever! I greet thee from afar, from this valley of tears, and I sigh for thee, because I hope that in thee I shall love my God with all my powers for evermore.
To our Saint’s fear of the possibility of offending God in this life was joined the great desire that this loving soul entertained of seeing face to face the only object of her love, that she might thus gain the power of loving Him more perfectly, and of altogether uniting herself to Him. For this reason she could not endure to see herself at such a distance from the country of the Blessed; with abundance of tears, she would thus utter her complaint before her Spouse: “Alas! alas! Lord, this banishment is long indeed! What shall a soul confined in this prison do? Oh! Jesus, the life of man is long indeed! It is short, when considered as a means of gaining the life that is the true one; but it is long for that soul that desires to behold herself in the presence of her God.” At other times, blending with her loving pains her distrust in her own merits and her hope in God, she would occupy herself in the composition of the following beautiful harmony of ejaculations so pleasing to her Beloved: “O life!” she would say, “O life! how canst thou keep thyself apart from thy Life? O death! O death! I know not who can fear thee, because in thee is life! Yet who shall not fear thee after having spent a part of this life without the love of his God? O my soul! serve thy God, and hope that in His mercy He will heal thy miseries.”
But in order to understand the extent of the burning desire our Saint had for death, it is necessary that we should have a knowledge of the pain she experienced in continuing in life. She related to her confessor that this was such that it seemed already to destroy and bring her life to an end. Under its influence, too, she would even fall into an ecstasy. To give vent to her affections, she drew up on this subject those burning words of which that celebrated hymn of hers is composed, which thus begins:
“I live, from myself am far away:
And hope to reach a life so high,
That I’m for ever dying because I do not die!”
Elsewhere she says: “When will it be, O my God, that I shall at last see my whole soul perfectly united to Thee, so that all its faculties may have complete fruition of Thee?”
In a word, the only relief and consolation she found in this life was in thinking of her death. So she used to comfort herself, while on earth, with words like these: “Then, then, O my soul, you will have entered into your rest, when you shall be holding converse with that sovereign Good and shall know what He knows; when you shall love what He loves, and enjoy all that constitutes His blessedness; for then you will be rid of your own wretched will.” Thus, it may be said, that the life of our Saint was sustained by the hope of that life eternal, for which she had sacrificed all the goods of this world; “I had rather live and die,” she tells us, “hoping for the life eternal, than have all the goods of the earth in my possession. Do not Thou abandon me, O Lord, for I hope in Thee. If only I may serve Thee without intermission, do with me whatsoever Thou pleasest.”
O my holy advocate, Teresa, I rejoice with thee that thou hast reached the haven, the termination of thy sighs! Now Thou dost no longer believe, thou beholdest the beauty of God! Thou no longer hopest, thou art possessed of the Sovereign Good! Thou art now rejoicing in the clear vision of that God Whom thou hast so long desired and loved! Thy love is now satiated! There is nothing for thy loving heart to long for more! O my Saint, have compassion on me who am still in the midst of the storm. Pray for me that I may obtain salvation and go to join thee in loving that God Whom thou so greatly desirest to see loved.