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Lord Who created you, and I had begged you
of Him as a great favour that I might oiFer you
to Him. May His Name be for ever blessed
for granting me far more than I thought of
asking. What else was the happiness you felt
at having freed yourself from the miseries of
this world, and at having received the pledge of
love from the celestial King, but a sign that
your change of plans proceeded, not from your
own inconstancy, but from God, Who had put
the desire into your heart. The happiness came
from him as a testimony and pledge of the
many great and pure joys He will give you if
you prove faithful to Him. The least or these
is incomparably better than husband, children,
riches, or anything else this world can give.
Would that you knew by experience how sweet
God is to those who forsake created things to
gaze on their Creator! How tenderly the
Divine Spouse cherishes those who cast away
all transitory joys. They are like the chaste
turtle doves which refuse all earthly comfort
and long only for the love of their Lord in
Heaven, and like the dove which returned from
her flight from the ark to her master's hand as
pure as when she left him, undefiled by having

36 Saint John of Avtla

touched any dead body even with her /eet. Is
anything the world contains of less account
than a corpse full of corruption ? Why unite
ourselves with what will only contaminate us?
For the bitterness its joys leave behind is a
thousand times greater than any pleasure they
give us. Return heartfelt thanks to Christ for
the light to distinguish between the priceless
and the worthless, between eternal and temporal
things, between God and a mortal man. Be
grateful to Him for grace to make the blessed
choice and determination to cleave to God and
refuse an earthly husband, and for love of a
Divine union to reject human wedlock, however
advantageous. Be loyal to Him you choose
for your Bridegroom; you will see why He is
called the pure Spouse of virgins, and will find
all joys in Him. Your union will not resemble
earthly marriages, in which a little happiness
is succeeded by bitter repentance; not only will
it please you at first, but the more you dwell
with our Lord the better you will know Him
and the more dearly will you love Him. Christ
is not like a man, whose faults we discover on
intimacy, as one who appears to be a good husband
on the wedding day, but who shortly proves to
be one impossible to live with. There is nothing
in our Lord to displease us, nor in our Blessed
Lady, who is the mother of her Son's brides.
Blessed be the hour in which you took this
resolve, and far more blessed the time when
your Spouse will visit you with such graces as

Letter III J7

to make you cry " O my Lord, how have I
deserved to find Thy hidden treasure? A thou-
sand lives would have been too little to give in
order to purchase it! " What happy and fortunate
espousals! What joy will they not bring both to
heaven and earth ? God the Father delights to
see souls so love His Only-Begotten Son as to
give up all human affections for Him, and
renounce not only those pleasures forbidden by
His command, but even the lawful tie of
marriage. To refuse for Christ's sake what is
permissible is a proof of fervent love for Him.
The Son is the Bridegroom; He died not only
that some might love Him with purity of soul,
but that others should consecrate to Him the
chastity of their bodies. The Holy Ghost is
immaculate and adverse to all impurity. When
He finds that a soul despises carnal pleasures.
He watches over it, fills it with spirituaJ
consolations and never leaves it unsatisfied since
it has refused earthly consolations. Our Blessed
Lady is the Mother of the Spouse, Whom she
closely resembles, being most loving and benign.
She is the Queen of virgins, their protector
and their advocate; and rejoices to see virginity
flourish on earth, for it is the flower she planted
there. Nor is the wedding without pages ia
attend it, for the angels are the servants of the
King of heaven, always ready to do His bidding.
Children, too, which the world so desires,
spring from this union ; they are born without
pain, they give no trouble to educate, nor bring

38 Blessed John of Avila

sorrow by turning out badly, or dying young.
The children of this marriage are good works,
which may well be called the fruit of Christians.
What a joy for the soul to conceive the purpose
of giving an alms to the poor or of performing
some other good works, and to give it birth by
practising it. These children bring both hap-
piness and honour to their mother. She has
no need of finding a dowry, for they will bring
one rich enough to purchase heaven for her.
They will obtain for her such peace of mind
that she will lie down to sleep at night more
calm and satisfied than if she were mistress of the
earth with all its pleasures. Now, tell me, what
is there in the world, though worth its weight in
gold, which can approach to such gains as these?
For one hour of pleasure here, we suffer a
hundred hours of pain: and if there exists
happiness without alloy, it will not last for ever,
for either the wife or the husband will die, and
so all will end in sorrow. Even if the children do
not die first, their mother weeps at parting
from them. Rejoice! then. Bride of Christ, for
your Spouse is immortal, and at your death
your good works, which are your oflFspring,
will surround you. You will not suffer grief
at leaving them, for they will accompany you to
God's throne; there they will more than repay
all the pain and labour they have cost, and their
mother will be welcomed for her children's
sake. Death will not dissolve this marriage,
t)ut rather unite the Bride and Bridegroom

Letter III 39

closer to one another. Christ will deliver you,
for He is the Lord of life and death, and no
devil shall dare to touch you, whom God has
taken under his protection and honoured with
the name of Spouse. The angels will come to
minister to you, and present you to Almighty
God; singing praises to Him and calling down
benedictions on you, they will say: "Come
Bride of Christ, and receive the crown He has
prepared for thee." Our Lady, too, will be
there, with many other virgins who have gladly
trodden the same path on earth. Thus you
will leave this world with your fellow-virgins
and ascend to the nuptial chamber which our
Lord has prepared for you, where you will
always enjoy riches, plenty and happiness in
the house and ih the presence of God. You
will be absorbed in incessant contemplation of
His infinite beauty; one hour of such joy is
a reward greater than could be deserved by all
that you have suffered, or that has been, or ever
will be, borne by the whole human race. All
good things will be yours; you will have reached
the end for which you were created, and will
possess God more fully than can be told or
imagined. Your soul will overflow with joy,
like one who is in a sea of delights, surrounding
him on every side. Then you will see, praise,
enjoy and possess the Lord of all things, and
will cry out: "I have Him Whom I have
loved; I have found Him I sought for. He, for
Whom I renounced the world, has become my

40 Blessed John of Avila

wages and my reward, and Him will I praise
and love unto endless ages." Amen.

letter to


From his childhood Blessed John of Avila had a
most ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament of the
Altar, He spent two hours every morning in
preparing to say Holy Mass and another hour in
thanksgiving; and sometimes he took two or three hours
to celebrate it. His great zeal for training priests
was an outcome of this devotion^ and he spared no
effort to inculcate a like affection for this sacred
Mystery on priests under his direction. During the
infirmities of his later years^ his greatest relief was
to write about the Holy Eucharist and he has left
many treatises and sermons on this subject.

Very Reverend Father,

I beseech our Lord that
my delay in answering you may be compensated
by the soundness of the doctrine contained in
my letter, and by the help it may bring your
soul, for your request is one of serious import,
and requires a suitable reply.

Letter IV 41

You wish to know what is the best preparation
to make before offering the most Holy Sacrament
of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus
Christ, and the most profitable considerations to
bear in mind during the celebration. You ask
this because you fear lest, for want of due dis-
positions, that which ought to bring great
blessings to your soul should injure it instead.
Men's bodies, as you know, are of very various
temperaments, and there is just as great a dis-
similarity in the constitution of their minds, for
God bestows very diverse gifts upon different
individuals. He does not lead all by the same
path, therefore it is impossible to fix upon any
devotion as the most suitable during Mass, but
what our Creator and Redeemer puts into the
heart, and what moves it most to piety is the
best. These things are not matters of faith,
and there is no certain rule about them, and if
anyone has reason to think that his dispositions
and preparation for this Mystery are instigated
by God, there is no reason to change from them
until our Lord should inspire him so to do.
This should be ascertained by laying the matter
before some experienced person and following
his advice. Some have no special attraction for
any one form of devotion at this time, and they,
too,, ought to consult some one as to their
interior dispositions, so as to know whether
they should allow themselves to be led by
motives of love or fear, of sadness or joy; and
how to apply the remedies most suitable to

42 Blessed John of Avila

their needs. From what you have told me
about yourself, I consider that you have made
progress in virtue, and that it would be best
for you to practise yourself in considerations
proper to excite in you fervent love and
reverence. For this purpose, I know of nothing
better than to meditate on the fact that our
Lord, with Whom we are to treat, is both God
and man, and to think over the reasons for
which He comes down upon the altar. Surely
such a stroke of love^ should be enough to
awaken anyone from the slumber of indifference.
Let such a one reflect upon this Mystery and
say to himself: " It is God Almighty Who will
come down upon the altar at the words of
Consecration: I shall hold Him in my hands,
and converse with Him, and receive Him into
my breast." If only we remember this, and if,
by the help of God's Holy Spirit, it penetrate
our soul, it will sufl^ce, and more than suffice,
to enable us, frail mortals as we are, to perform
this sacred duty as we ought.

Who can help being inflamed by love on
thinking that he is about to receive the Infinite
Goodness within his bosom.? Who would not
tremble with reverential fear in that Presence,
before which the powers of heaven are awed?
Who would not resolve never to ofl^end Him,
but to praise and serve Him evermore.? Is it

* At the mere mention of the Blessed Sacrament, Blessed John
would often exclaim, with tears coursing down his cheeks : " O great
stroke of love ! O great stroke of love ! "

Letter IV 43

possible for anyone not to be confounded and
overwhelmed with grief at having sinned against
that great Lord Whom he bears in his hands?
Can the Christian fail to trust such a pledge,
or can he want for strength to walk the way
of penance through the desert of this world,
nourished by such food? In short, such con-
siderations, by God's help, entirely change and
possess the soul, and draw it out of itself, — at
one time, by feelings of reverence, at another,
by love, and yet again, by the strong emotion
caused by the realisation of Christ's presence.
Although these thoughts do not inevitably
produce this result, yet unless the heart hardens
itself into stone against their influence, they
strongly conduce to it. Let your mind then
dwell on such reflections; listen to the cry:
" Behold, the Bridegroom cometh,"-(St. Matth.
XXV. 6.), your God cometh! Retire into the
secresy of your own heart, and open it to receive
what is wont to come from so powerful a Light.
Beseech this same Lord that, as He has deigned
to place Himself within your hands, He will
give you the further grace to esteem, and
venerate, and love Him as you should. Beg
Him fervently not to permit you to be in the
presence of His Majesty but with reverence,
and fear, and love. Endeavour constantly to
have a fitting sense of our Lord's presence, even
should you contemplate no other part of this
Think how men when they have due respect

44 Blessed John of Avila

for the king, stand before him with gravity and
reverence even though they be silent. Better
still, picture in your mind how the highest in
the court of heaven behave in the presence of
the Infinite Majesty. See how they tremble at
the remembrance of their own littleness, and
burn with the fire of love, so that they appear
to be consumed in its furnace. Imagine yourself
in the company of these, who are so gloriously
adorned, who are so reverent and so fervent in
God*s service, and being in such society and stand-
ing before so great a King, strive to feel as you
should at such a time, even though you meditate
on no other point. I wish to show you how it
is one thing to be able to speak fitly to the
king, and another to know how to conduct
yourself becomingly in his presence, although
you may have simply to stand by in silence.
This is that union with our Lord which should
keep you as closely united to Him during
Mass as you are in the interior of your heart
when alone with Him in your cell, and which
will prevent your being distracted by the words
you have to pronounce. You must, however,
pay fitting attention to the Liturgy, while
accustoming yourself at the same time to keep
your mind fixed on God's presence. O great
God, what should not be your feelings when
you hold in your hands Him Who elected our
Lady and enriched her with celestial graces to
fit her to minister to the God made man!
Compare her hands, her arms, her eyes, with

Letter IV 45

your own! The very thought should cover
you with confusion. What stringent obHgations
do such benefits lay upon you! What care
must you not take to keep yourself wholly for
Him Who honours you in such a way as to
place Himself in your hands, and comes into
them when you pronounce the words of

These, Reverend Father, are no mere words,
nor lifeless thoughts, but they are arrows shot
from the strong bow of God Himself, which
pierce and wholly transform the heart, so that
when Mass is over, the mind ponders on our
Lord's words : " Scitis quid fecerim vobis ? —
Know you what I have done to you? " (St. John
XIII. 12). Would that it were possible for a
man to understand "what our Lord has done
for us " in that hour, and to taste Him with the
palate of the soul! Oh that man had scales that
could rightly weigh this benefit ! How happy
would he be, even in this world! When Mass
is over, he would feel a loathing for all creatures,
their society would be a torment to him, while
his only joy would be to remember "what the
Lord had done to him, " until he should say
Mass again next day.

If God should ever give you this light, you
will realise what shame and sorrow you ought
to feel on approaching the altar without it, but
he whom it has never illuminated knows not
the torture of losing it. Besides the consideration
of Who it is that comes down upon the altar,

46 Blessed yohn of Avila

you may also meditate on why He comes, and
you will see a semblance of the love shown in
our Lord's Incarnation, Nativity, Life, and
Death, and how these mysteries are renewed
in the Holy Sacrifice or the altar. If you
could enter into the very Heart of our Lord,
and if He would vouchsafe to show you that
the reason of His coming down upon the altar
is an impassioned and strong affection, which
will brook no separation between the Lover
and His beloved, your soul would swoon away
before the very sight of such a marvel. The
mind is greatly moved by realising Christ's
presence on the altar, but when it further reflects
that He comes to us because His affection for
us is like that of the betrothed for his bride,
which will not allow him to pass a single day
without seeing and conversing with her, the
Christian wishes he had a thousand hearts
wherewith to make a fitting return for such
love. He longs to cry out with St. Augustine:
" Domine, quid tibi sum, quia jubes me diligere
te.'' Quid tibi sum.'' Lord, what am I to Thee,
that Thou shouldst bid me love Thee.'' What
am I to Thee.f^" Why dost thou so fervently
desire to see and to embrace m^} 'Thou^ Who
dost dwell in heaven in company with those
who understand so well how Thou shouldst be
served and loved, dost come to mcy who only
know how to offend Thee or to render Thee
slack service. Canst not Thou, then, O my
Lord, be happy without me, that my love

Letter IV 47

should draw Thee down to me? Oh, blessed
mayst Thou be, Who being what Thou art,
hast yet set Thy heart upon such a creature as
me! Can it be that Thou, King as Thou art,
dost come here and dost place Thyself in my
hands, and seem to say: "I died once for thy
sake and I come to thee now to show thee that
I do not repent of it, but on the contrary that,
if there were need, I would give my life for
thee a second time?" Who could remain
unmoved by such love? Who could hide
himself, O Lord, from Thy burning Heart,
which warms our own by Its very presence, and
is like a mighty furnace, throwing out sparks
of fire on all around it? Such a Lord as this,
dear Reverend Father, visits us from heaven,
and we, wretches as we are, hold intercourse
with Him and receive Him within our breasts I
Let us now conclude our discourse on this
great Mystery, so worthy of being meditated on
and understood. Let us beg our Lord that as
He has already done us one favour. He will
grant us a second, for unless we appreciate His
blessings, and thank, and serve Him for them
as He deserves, they will benefit us little.
Rather, as St. Bernard says of an ungrateful
man: " Eo ipso pessimus, quo optimus. — The
greater his gain ought to be, the greater is his
loss." Let us watch over our conduct during
the day, lest Christ punish our faults when we
are at the altar. Let us ever bear in mind the
thought: " I have received our Lord and sat at

48 Blessed John of Avila

His table; tomorrow I shall do the same." By
this means we shall avoid sin and have the
courage to do what is right, for our Lord is
wont to reward at the altar what is done away
from the altar. To conclude, I would remind
you how, when Jesus was the guest of Simon
the Pharisee, He complained that His host
gave Him no water for His feet, and kissed not
His face, to show us that when He enters our
house He would have us wash His feet with tears
for our sins and manifest our love as the kiss
of peace. May our Lord bestow on you both
for yourself and for your neighbours this peace,
which is born of perfect love, and may you
grieve both for your own sins against God and
those which other men commit against Him.
I pray that you may enjoy this peace one day
in heaven, and also that you may hold God's
interests dearer than your own, because of the
greater love you bear Him. I beg of you, for
His sake, that if there be aught in this letter
which requires amending you will correct it for
me, and thank God for any good it may contain,
and I ask you to remember me when you are
at His altar.

Letter V 49

letter »



I have delayed writing to
you, for I thought that my words could do
little to mitigate the great sorrow which they
tell me you are suffering. It seemed to me
that I could help you better by interceding on
your behalf with the God of all consolation,
than by anything I could say. However, I am
strongly urged to send you a letter, and as it is
so much desired and our Lord is able to fulfil
His purposes even by such means as this, I must
not fail to comply with the request. God grant
that my words may bring to your heart the
comfort I wish it.

It is our Lord's will that you should taste
of the sorrows of this vale of tears, and not of
the milder but of the most bitter kind. May
His Name be ever blessed, His judgments
adored and His will fulfilled, for the creature
owes its Creator reverence and subjection in all
things, be they pleasant or painful. To test
our obedience, and to teach us what great things
we are bound to do and to suffer for so great
a Master, God is wont to deprive us of what is
as dear to us as the light of our eyes.

Abraham had a strong affection for his son

Vol, I. ^

50 Blessed yohn of Avila

Isaac, and that was the point on which the
Almighty tried him. Job fondly loved his
seven sons, and God took them from him in
one day. In this manner He treats all those
who are dear to Him, that they may testify
their love for Him, while He bestows great
graces on them by this means.

I know that human nature cannot understand
this. It thinks only of the grief and the loss,
and cares for nothing else. But if God dwells
in us, we must restrain our feelings, and make
them subservient to reason and to His will.
Whatever our suffering may be, we must not
let it overwhelm us. Remember our Lord's
anguish, which wrung from Him a sweat of
blood, and made Him cry out: "Father, not
my will but thine be done.'* If we would be
known as His disciples we must say the same,
for as His servants on earth, and His companions
in heaven. He will have none but those who
take up their cross and follow Him, as sheep
do their shepherd, even though the path lead
to death.

Tell me, what right have we to complain of
our trials, for they enable us to rid ourselves
of our sins and make us like to the Son of God.''
It would be monstrous for slaves to refuse to
obey a law their master kept, or for an adopted
son to rebel against what the true son bore.
Who was ever more beloved by the Eternal
Father than His Only-begotten Son.? Yet who
was ever afflicted with so many sufferings as

Letter V 51

He ? He was the " Man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief." Count the drops of
water in the ocean, and then you may number
His afflictions. As the Son of God endured
such anguish, being sorrowful even unto death,
ought we to pass our lives without tasting one
drop of the vinegar and gall with Him.? How
ashamed should we feel at seeking to share His
joys, but leaving Him alone in His agony!
Let none deceive themselves, but let them feel
assured that, as the King of heaven entered
His kingdom through tribulations, we must
reach it by the same path. There is but one
way, — " Christ, and Christ crucified.'' If we
seek a different road, we shall not find it. We
should lose ourselves by any other path, and find
that, however hard the sufferings of this world
may be, those in the next world are far worse.
Oh! blindness of the sons of Adam, who think
nothing of the future as long as they can enjoy
the present; who care not for what profits them,
but only for what pleases them, and subordinate
their reason to their passions. They weep
when they ought to be glad, and rejoice when
they have cause to mourn. Earthly happiness,
like smoke, gradually fades away until it is no
more seen. The years we pass here are but as
a brief dream, from which we awake to find that
it has all been an illusion. When sorrow comes
to us, however light it may be, we forget our
past joys, and the remembrance of them is only
grier a to us.

5^ blessed *John of Avila

If this world is so treacherous a delusion,
why not seek the other? Day by day we see
our life slipping from us; let us strive for that
which will bring us eternal happiness. If, in
the past, prosperity has often made us think
that we could find happiness here, may our
eyes be anointed with the gall of suffering, so
as to give us light to see the misery of this
world, which is not our own country, but a land
of wretched exile. Let us raise our hearts, that
our conversation may be in heaven. Our Lord
has sent you this trial to make you cling closer
to Him, since you have less on earth for which
to care. Do not fancy that He takes pleasure
in your pain: for He is merciful, and feels
a tender pity for your tears. He has embittered
your cup with this drop of wormwood so that,
as all human consolation is taken from you,

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