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your heart may rest on Him alone. God has
deprived you of one happiness only to give you
another in its place, as is His wont: He has
taken your husband from you, that He Himself
may fill his place, for He is called the " Father of
the forsaken." Your widowhood will bring with
it many trials, and you will often miss your
husband's care: many of your friends will show
you but little kindness or fidelity, and some
will even prove ungrateful. When this is so,
God wishes you to have recourse to Him, and
to make Him the confidant of all your trouble.
Open your soul to Him as your true Father.
If you call on Him with all your heart and

Letter V 53

trust yourself in His hands, you will find Him
a sure refuge in all your difficulties, and a guide
on your way. Without knowing how, you
will often find that your affairs have succeeded
beyond your highest expectations. Experience
will show you how true a friend the Almighty
is to those in tribulation; how He dwells with
them and provides for them. If, sometimes.
He does not grant all you desire, it will be to
give you something that is better for you; this
is how the heavenly Physician treats the sick
who go to Him wishing to be cured, rather
than to taste pleasant medicines. Do not with-
draw yourself from His hands, however painful
His remedies may be. Ask Him not to do
your will in what He does, but to do His own.

Let prayers and tears be your weapons, and
these, not useless tears for what our Lord has
taken from you, but life-giving tears, which
may gain pardon for your husband's soul and
salvation for your own.

For what purpose, dear Lady, does the
unmeasured grief serve to which they tell me
you yield, except to add sin to sorrow.'' For,
you know, that as we should not indulge in
foolish mirth, neither must we indulge In
excessive grief; but both in the one and the
other we must be obedient to God's holy law.
Why do you complain. f* Why, I ask, do you
complain? Either you are a sinner, and this
affliction is to cleanse your soul, or you are
righteous, and must be tried, that you may win

54 Blessed John of Avila

your crown. Which ever you be, it is right
that you should render heart-felt thanks to your
Creator, that you should be resolute in loving
the end to be gained by your sufferings, nauseous
as the medicine may be. This is what the
Holy Scriptures mean when they relate how
Esther kissed the top of King Assuerus' rod.^
Let not the years pass in insatiate sorrow,
but lift up your heart to our Lord, and prepare
yourself for that passage from life which you
have seen others take before. You have already
yielded enough to nature: dry your eyes, and
spend not the time which was given you to
gain eternal life in mourning over death.
Remember how our Lord drove from the house
those who were mourning the death of a young
maiden, saying: " She is not dead, but sleepeth,"
— in peaceful rest, — so does your husband, for
he both lived and died a true servant of Christ.
Why should you be so grieved because God
has taken the man you loved from this unhappy
world into the place of salvation? If it bring
you trials, accept them willingly, that your
spouse may rest in peace. If his absence afflict
you, take comfort by the thought that you will
soon rejoin him, for the days of this life are
brief, and it is but of little consequence which
of us dies first. It is well to believe that our
Lord took him because he was ready for death,
and that you have been left here that you may
prepare yourself for it. You served God

^ Esther v. z.

Letter V ^5

earnestly during your married life; continue to
do so now that you live in the state of widow-
hood; accept its special trials with patience, so
that if you gained thirty-fold before, you may
now earn sixty-fold. Thus, although your life
may not be a very happy one, it will greatly
profit your soul, for by it you will purge away
your sins, you will imitate Christ on the cross,
and you will hold the certain hope of gaining
His eternal kingdom. To this end, with tears
and prayers you must beg our Lord for His
grace : you must read books of devotion, and
receive the Celestial Bread of the most Blessed
Sacrament. Raise up your dejected heart and
take courage to go on your way ; you have a
long road to traverse before you can reach
heaven, and you will not arrive there without
suffering more afflictions still. The gem you
desire to win is of inestimable value, and no
price can be too great to purchase it. God
never costs too dear, however much we pay for
Him. Rejoice in the hope of possessing Him,
for He is one day to be yours. Do not
murmur at your troubles, but say: "I look for
so great a good to come, that I do not feel my
present misery. " I pray and hope that our
Lord Jesus Christ may accomplish all this in
your soul.

5 6 Blessed yohn of Avila

Hettet t)i



1 have heard of your iHness,
and cannot say I am sorry for it; for if it is
caused by excess of penance, it proves that your
mortifications have been real, and if our Lord
has sent it, it should be welcome as the share
He gives you in His cross. Although, God
knows, I am grieved at your pain, yet, on the
other hand, I am glad, because it will profit one
whose progress I have so much at heart.

I do not desire comfort for my children, but
stripes and afflictions; the time for consolation
will come hereafter. Ever keep the cross before
your eyes, and unite your heart to Him Who
placed Himself upon it. Do not be satisfied
until suffering becomes sweet to you, for that is
the sign of true love. You must not think you
are to be pitied; both in heaven and in this
world there are many who have a warm affection
for you, and your sufferings come from the
loving providence of God.

Let not your faith and love be weakened by
your pain and trouble. A large fire is increased,
rather than quenched by the wind; so, though
a weak love of God is, like a candle, easily
extinguished by the first puff of air, yet true

Letter VI ^J

charity gains force and courage by Its trials.
This is the fire which comes down from heaven
which no water of tribulation can extinguish.

Our Lord bids you love Him; this does not
allow of self indulgence. You must hate your
soul for the love of Christ; deny and mortify
yourself to honour Him and make yourself
pleasing and acceptable to Him. If you love,
and wish to enjoy Him, you must resolve to
forget yourself You must pass through sharp
trials before you can see God face to face. If
you desire Him to dwell in your heart, empty
it of yourself and of all creatures.

The Almighty does not wish you to feel
lonely and sorrowful out of any ill will He
bears you, but because His blessed Son was
afflicted, and God would not have us unlike
Him. Nothing pleases Him so well as to see
a resemblance to His Only-Begotten Son in us.
What so touches the soul as to see our Lord
upon the cross, tortured for the love of us.?
The more afflicted and deformed by pain He
appears, the more beautiful He seem.s to us: so
the more we suffer for Him, the better will His
Father love to look on us. Thus we strive to
beautify our souls with the crimson hue of
suffering to win God's favour, just as fashionable
women suffer pain and take trouble to attract
the admiration of men. Our hearts must be
changed in order to satisfy God; they must be
purified as gold from which the dross is melted
by fire before it comes from the crucible bright

58 Blessed yohn of Avila

and glittering. We should be ashamed of our
weak efforts to please God, if only we realised
the importance of gaining His approval, for we
ought to be willing to shed our blood to gain
His love. While pondering over this truth,
a holy hermit saw a woman of the world pass
by, magnificently dressed and bejewelled. He
burst into tears, exclaiming: "I beseech Thee
to pardon me, O Lord, for this woman in one
day takes more trouble to please men, than
I have done in many years to please Thee!*'^

The love of God does not consist in mere
words, but in sorrow and bitter sufferings, in
being despised by the world, abandoned by all
creatures, and, it may seem, at times, in the
withdrawal of even our Creator*s favour. In
spite of all these trials, the Christian's courage
must be firm; he must not complain, nor lose
heart; he should imitate the martyr who, while
they were disembowelling him and tearing the
flesh from his bones with iron hooks, had no
word on his lips but the Name of Jesus, nor
any thought in his heart but " Blessed be God."

* The monk was St. Nonnus, Bishop of Heliopolis, and the woman
St. Pelagia, an actress at Antioch, of bad repute, who had formerly
been a catechumen. A few days after the incident recorded, she heard
St. Nonnus preach a sermon on the Last Judgment, which so touched
her heart, that she went to him and with many tears, beggtd him to
baptise her. He did so, and, giving all her riches to the poor, she
went to the Holy Land, where, under the name of Pelagius, she spent
many years in pentnce, shut up in a narrow cell with only a small
aperture for a window. She acquired the reputation of a Saint, and at
her death, the people were surprised to disco%'er that she was not
a man: the virgins of the neighbourhood bore her body to their church
as a rich treasure.

Letter VI 59

He was willing and resolute to bear even greater
torments, if it pleased God to send them.

Affliction, when borne for Christ, is both
a gift and a grace, which He only bestows on
His favourites. It is an act of great mercy to
let off with a few cuffs a criminal who has been
sentenced to a flogging; and if we can expiate
the punishment due to us in the next world by
suffering here, let us endeavour to satisfy God's
justice on earth, so that at our death we may
behold His face without delay. Let us lead
lives of penance during our exile here, that
when we die we may enter at once into our
heavenly country.

St. Augustine says that it is wronging a martyr
to pray for him after his death, for martyrdom
makes the soul fly straight to heaven. Let us
strive to be martyrs by patience, for though our
pains may be less severe, they yet last longer.
We ought not to wish for a happy life, but
prefer a martyrdom on earth; it was our Lord's
portion, and He wishes ours to be the same.
Some have died as martyrs for the faith, and
others have gone to heaven without doing so,
but we must all be martyrs of love, if we wish
to arrive there. This love must be a torment
and a pain to us, because of the offence given
to God by ourselves and others; it must deprive
us of all comfort in life, and load our shoulders
with the cross. It must make us embrace
hardships and overcome them by the burning
charity God has kindled in us. This love so

6o Blessed 'John of Avila

carries us out of ourselves that It makes us
perfectly insensible to dishonour, as wine takes
away the reason of a drunkard. Like all strong
affection, it makes a man forget himself, and
care only for his Beloved, Who in this case, is
God Himself, and His most holy will. Though
this affection seems to treat us cruelly now,
what mercy will it not gain hereafter for the
soul that has been its living martyr! We cannot
fully realise the strength of the love which
tortures us here, and will console us in the next
world. Let us believe what God has told us
of it, and walk in the faith of His word, for we
have still a long journey before us. Whether
your afflictions be light but last long, or short
and severe, from one or the other you cannot
escape. Do not grieve at this, for if God sends
you many sufferings, it is because your sins
deserve them, and through them you will atone
for your faults, as I pray God you may do.

I do not wish you to go to Purgatory after
my death, for perhaps there would be no one
to take pity on your soul and endeavour to
deliver it as I should; if you were to die first,
I should have a hard task to set you free.
Pardon my saying so, but it is not right that
either you or I should think only of our own
interests. Even if we knew we were to be
tormented hereafter, we ought, while on earth,
to muster strength to suffer out of love, because
love needs no reward but itself. Christ died
for love of us: let us suffer for love of Him.

Letter VI 6i

He carried His cross: let us help Him to bear
it. He was dishonoured, therefore 1 renounce
honour: He suffered torments, let them come
to me. He lived wanting many necessaries, let
me go destitute. Jesus made Himself a stranger
for me, let me have nothing in which my heart
can rest. He died for me; may my life be
a continual death for the love of Him. Oh!
that I might say, " I live, now not I, but Christ
liveth in me." (Gal. II. 20.) and that, Christ
crucified, agonised, and abandoned by all save
God. Behold Christ Whom I love! Upon the
cross I seek Him, and away from it I do not
wish to find Him! He may do with me what
He will; I choose sorrow for my portion for
His sake. Let Him decide whether to reward
me or no; to suffer for Him is all I ask. The
greatest boon I beg from my Saviour is to send
me suffering, for it will prove my love for
Him, and His for me, if He put me on the
cross on which He stretched Himself. Although
I seek nothing for myself, yet it is certain if I
stay upon the cross. He will bear me to His

To Him be glory, world without end!

62 Saint yohn of Avila

letter tiii


You mav well be content to serve our Lord In
illness, for when he calls people to suffer instead
oi working for Him, He is calling them to a
higher state. During our earthly exile, it is
most fitting that we should carry the cross with
Christ, who loved it so dearly that He chose to
die on it. We can do this better in sickness
than in health, for illness is repugnant to flesh
and blood and can never cause vain glory.
Great were the works of Christ in His mortal
life, but greater far were His sufferings, which
exceeded those of the whole world. This idea
explains St. James' words: "My brethren, count
it all joy, when you shall fall into divers tempt-
ations:" and again: "Patience hath a perfect
work. " (St. James I. 2, 4). Receive your illness
then willingly, and be grateful to our Lord
Who sent it. If you bear this cross and burden
well. He will send you interior and more painful
trials, which He keeps for His dearest friends,
to conform them to Himself For though
Christ's visible cross was great, it was not to be
compared to that which, unknown to men. He
bore in His soul.

Though you may think that God has taken
you away from other work because you per-

Letter VII 63

formed it badly, yet thank Him none the less
for doing so. To be corrected by the hand of
so loving a Father needs rather humility to
restrain our excessive joy, than patience to bear
our punishment well. However, I fear lest
you may not profit by this sickness as you
should, for sometimes beginners become lax in
their religious duties when suffering from an
illness which is not dangerous to life. How
foolish it is to change physic into poison, and
injure our souls with the thing God sends us
for a remedy. Call on Him for aid with all
your heart, that as He has weakened your body
by His touch, your soul may run to Him the
more swiftly. This infirmity is sent that your
flesh may expiate its sins by suffering pain; so
do not turn this chance of discharging your
past debts into a time for incurring fresh ones.

Watch carefully over your conduct: do not
think your body must have everything it asks
for, but by the aid of the Holy Ghost, offer it
to Christ crucified, and He Who let Himself
be placed between two thieves, will not drive
you from Him. Although you cannot now
keep up your customary reading and meditation
as you would wish, still, do all you can without
serious injury to your health. Our Lord is so
good and so powerful that He gives strength
to those He sees to be doing their best. Some-
times He bestows more favours on people who
lie ill in bed and are unable to pray, than on
others who spend hours in prayer. Perhaps

64 Blessed John of Avila

He will show you this mercy, which depends
solely on His will.

In conclusion, I beg you, for the love of God,
not to "be carried about by every wind of
doctrine," (Eph. IV. 14.) but to preserve your
high esteem for those persons through whose
hands you have received divine mercy. Imitate
the man in the Gospel who was born blind: he
considered his cure a proof of his Master's
goodness Who had worked it, and would let no
one persuade him to the contrary. He said:
"If he be a sinner, I know not: one thing
I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see."
(St. John IX. 25.). Though this man said:
" If he be a sinner," yet evidently he was
convinced of our Lord's justice, as is shown by
his persistently maintaining it in his answers to
the Jews, and also by Christ's making Himself
known to him in the temple as the reward of
his faith.

I have heard accusations made against these
Jesuit Fathers by people who are jealous of
them, but I believe that neither these, nor any
other charges that could be brought against
them, have any true foundation. I wish you,
however, to speak mildly in their defence and
with moderation, for God takes such matters
under His special protection, and wishes them
to be borne with patience and sweetness.

I beg our Blessed Lord Who died for you to
remain with you.

Utter Fill 65

letter tini


You ask me to give you some advice about
saving your soul: a demand most reasonable
and worthy to be granted if only my ability
were equal to my good will.

When a man first has the use of his reason,
he should begin so to regulate his life that
when death comes his days may all have been
spent in preparation for worthily receiving the
crown of glory. When maturer age, the
forerunner of death arrives, he must repent and
make amends for any past negligence. This is
the time to renew our courage and to exert
ourselves to remedy the weaknesses of our
youth and to devote ourselves with fervour to
making ready for death.

This preparation consists not only in setting

ourselves free from both debts and mortal sin,

but in doing penance for our past faults, so that

when our good and evil deeds are put into the

balance of justice, with the divine mercy added

to the right side of the scale, our attachment to

God's service may weigh as much as our former

attachment to the world. We ought to give

alms, to be charitable, devout, patient and

humble, in order to compensate for our former

defects in these virtues. Busy like a honey-
Vol, I. I

66 Blessed John of Avila

making bee, with a holy fervour, we should
seek to get nearer and nearer to God; for at
our time of life the hour approaches when we
shall appear before Him. How shall we answer
our Sovereign Judge, if we have spent carelessly
those later years He has most mercifully given
us, in which to amend the past and prepare
ourselves for heaven?

Therefore, care less for temporal things and
attend instead to those which are more

Withdraw your heart from the world before
God takes your body from it: keep your mind
in perfect peace however much it is occupied in
business. A man who is travelling post haste
concerning a matter which is of life and death
to him, does not turn his head to look at
anything as he passes. You must cultivate the
same indifference to mundane matters. Say in
your heart — " I am being led captive to death —
what is this world to me.^ I am going to God;
I do not wish to entangle myself in earthly
things." If in spite of all our efforts, we
often find our attention distracted from religious
matters, what would it be if we took no pains
to be recollected.'^ Consider that you are only
beginning to serve God: remember your former
good resolutions and beg God to assist you in
carrying them out, for you have more experience
as to the best means of keeping them now than
you had before.
. Your life consists in drawing nearer to God:

Letter VIII t^

to do this you must endeavour to detach
yourself from visible things and remember that
in a short time they will all be taken from you.
Practise spiritual reading and prayer; go to
confession and Holy Communion; and let the
one object of your life be to serve God and to
bear with things contrary to your will. Be
most tender in your love for God and your
neighbour; act in as charitable a way as possible
to others, and be firm as a rock in bearing
the trials sent you by Divine Providence.
Good works are of no use unless we bear the
cross as well, nor do sufferings profit us unless
we lead a Christian life. If this seem hard to
us, let us contemplate our Lord and Master,
and see how many were His labours and pains.
What He was, that He wishes His followers to
be, each in his own measure, for He asked and
obtained from His Father that where He was
there might His servants also be. Therefore
we must not fear to follow Him in His pains
here below and yet wish to share with Him in
His present bliss. Although it be the more
painful part to partake of His sorrows, yet it is
the better, for we shall enjoy our Lord's presence
more fully for having toiled for Him here.
" If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign
with Him." Do not let us be incredulous
about this promised reward nor slow in trying
to gain it, for after a brief time of toil we shall
enjoy eternal happiness.

Kindly consider this letter as written to your

68 Blessed John of Avila

wife as well as to yourself. You must help
each other and walk together in the right path
so as to be companions in heaven mutually-
enjoying the sight of God, for He has "joined
you together on earth."

letter \x


The grace of the Holy Ghost be ever with you.

They tell me you are passing so swiftly on
your way to the land of the living, that, even
while I write this, you may already be enjoying
the embraces of our sweetest Jesus. However,
I am sending you my congratulations on your
promotion to be prebendary^ in the heavenly
Jerusalem, where God is praised to all eternity
and seen face to face. Go on your way, then,
dearest Father, in that 'joyful, and thrice joyful
hour, to the supreme Good, and enjoy Him
for ever. Depart in that blessed hour, to dwell
in the Bosom of the celestial Father, where He

1 Blessed John playfully compares the position of a prebendary, who
resides within the precincts of a Cathedral and constantly attcndi its
services, to that of the Saints who " stand before the throne" of God
and " rest not day nor night, saying * Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God
Almighty/* and whose company the dying Jesuit hoped soon to jom.

Letter IX 69

receives those lambs which He fed with His
grace and led with His staff. Then, at last,
will you know what a favour our Lord did you
in calling you to the religious life, and in giving
you the grace to despise the world, and to follow
Him by the way of the cross, for heaven will
be the reward of your consecration to God's
service and glory, and your payment for the
cross you bore for Christ's love.

Blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ for His
goodness in bestowing such honours on the
worms of the earth ; " raising up the needy from
the dust, that he may sit with princes."
(i Kings II. 8.) Welcome be the hour in which
the body dies, and the soul ascends to take its
seat among the princes, who dwell for ever in
the presence of God. O day which ends all
our sorrows and all our sins! O day on which
we rise to heaven, and begin to serve God
perfectly, without the pain and discouragement
we experience here because we can only render
Him scant service! Here we halt, and faint,
whilst longing to please God and to give Him
all our hearts; but in heaven this wish is so
fully granted, that the whole man is employed
in the worship of his Creator without let or

Glory be to God Who hath gathered you so
early into His granary, lest wickedness should
alter your understanding, and Who will show
you His bountiful loving kindness by granting
you an eternitj^ of bliss, in return for the few

70 Blessed yohn of Avila

ye^rs you have in this world dedicated to Him.
Behold, Reverend Father, what a God He is I
The reward earned by His grace is the fruit of
His Passion. It is our blessed fate to have
fallen into the hands of such a Lord, and ^o
know Him, and to love Him, although, alas!
with many imperfections. He cleanses us from

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