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8 8 Blessed John of Avila

time being, and afterwards, from a motive of
charity, correct the offender. Use persuasion
rather than reproof, for it is a far more efficacious
way of benefiting any one, and this should be
our aim in deahng with the faulty, rather than
to obtain personal satifaction for the injury or
insult offered to ourselves. Learn to feign,
sometimes, not to see things. Although you
may think that discipline is then kept more
slackly than is well, yet overlook the offence,
for sometimes it is from a secret motive of pride
or anger that we are anxious that our servants
should behave as they ought towards us. The
heart of man is deep, and often deceives itself.
Therefore we should always prefer to mortify
ourselves, and exercise ourselves by putting up
with one offence and then with another, until
at last, as 1 have said, when annoyances come,
we are actually glad of them and receive them
as a boon.

Therefore it will often be best to take no
notice of offences. As one of my companions,
who also possesses a very hasty temper, is accus-
tomed to say: "Behave as if you were deaf and
dumb. If you are forced to find fault with any
one, do so gently. Say : 'You know that I desire
your good : it pains me to to see that you are
not what I could wish, nor what Our Lord
would have you. I am more grieved on this
account, than at the faults you have committed
against me.' Thus, be gentle in your correction,
and if this is not sufficient, it would be better

Letter XII 89

to inflict some punishment such as fasting, or
something else of the kind, than to strike the
offender with a stick, or with your hand. If
he is incorrigible, you must keep your temper
and have him thrashed, and in the meantime,
you must pray constantly for him, for nothing
can be done without that/ Unless you under-
stand that to have servants is to have as many
masters, and that you must suffer from them,
and pray for them, you know nothing of your
duty in the matter, nor do you imitate our
Lord, and the way He treated His disciples.
How kind, and loving, and long-suffering He
was with them! He prayed for them, and
died for them! This is how the superior must
behave to his inferiors. Christ showed us this
when He washed the Apostles' feet and said:
" I have given you an example." In short,
behave towards your household more like a
father and a loving father, than with the strict-
ness of a master. Be most gentle, and patient,
and prayerful, and if you show any severity, let
it be very slight.

^ St. Teresa tells us that slavery still existed in Spain, although her
father would not allow it in his household. The culprit spoken of in
this letter was probably a slave, which accounts for the severity of the
corporal punishment that might be necessary, and for the fact that his
dismissal is not suggested.

90 Blessed 'John of Avila

letter x\\\


Your letter gave me mingled feelings of joy
and sorrow; for while I rejoice to hear that you
are enjoying better health, I regret to hear that
you have grown tepid in your religious duties.
Let us thank our merciful Saviour for restoring
your body, and confess with sorrow the faults
we have committed.

Oh tepidity! If those who give way to it
only rightly understood what it is, they would
less easily fall victims to it, for they would
dread to become the slaves of so cruel a tyrant.
If we are free from this vice, nothing we can
do or suffer for God, even death itself, seems
too great a burden, whereas the victim of tepidity
finds a straw too heavy for him to carry. This
vice ruins a man's spiritual life, and it not only
stops all perseverance in the good he had
commenced, but even causes him to repent of
having begun it, thus turning into bitterness
what should be sweeter than honey to his soul.

The Israelites who journeyed through the
desert had appetites so disordered that they
could not enjoy the manna " containing in itself
all sweetness," which God sent them. Their
blindness was so great that they did not find

Letter Xlll 91

fault with themselves, or with the evil condition
of their health, but with the food, which was
of the most savoury kind. They asked for
some other sort of viand with which they
thought they would be better satisfied and
pleased: — it was given them, but at the cost of
their lives. We are to learn by this that even if
the things of God are not always agreeable to
us, still we must not wish for what is contrary
to them, however delightful it may seem to us,
for without doubt it would poison our souls.
We should rather rid ourselves of the disgust
we feel for religion, and then, when the appetites
of our soul are healthy, we shall feel a right
and pleasant relish for the food God gives His

To work slothfully and tepidly in God*s
service will cause you to lead so unhappy a life
that you will be forced to change your ways.
Besides, such a life is disloyal to our Saviour
Who laboured with such ardent love to redeem
us, and so willingly took up the cross that His
love for us exceeded His suffering. The tepid
soul cannot enjoy the world's pleasures, having
given them up in the desire of doing right, and
yet, for want of fervour, it does not find
happiness in God. In this way such a soul
is placed between two opposites, each of which
is a torment to it; it suffers such severe afflic-
tions that at last it leaves the right road, and
with miserable fatuity seeks the flesh-pots of
the Egypt it had left, because it cannot endure

92 Blessed 'John of Avila

the hardships of the desert. Compare the
trouble that is undergone by one who serves
God diligently and fervently, with that which
the tepid soul suffers through sloth, and you
will find that the burden borne by tepidity is
a thousand times the heavier. It is indeed
wonderful that vigils, prayer, fasting, mortifica-
tion and other works undertaken for our Lord
should bring more pleasure to fervent souls
than the tepid find in all their feasts, and riches,
and other indulgences. The lukewarm Christian
appears gay, but grief gnaws at his heart: while
the just man, though his life be one of penance,
has happiness within his soul.

Why, then, for the sake of shirking a few
hardships, do we undergo others far more severe.''
We prefer dying of hunger to working for our
bread. Why cannot we understand that God
will reward our labours, and that this reward
cannot be earned by boasting of our piety, nor
by sleeping, or sitting still with folded arms.?
We should be ashamed to talk of our love for
God, and at the same time be mean enough to
refuse to give ourselves any trouble in His
service. Is that to honour God, and to esteem
Him.? It is not fitting that the soul which
values it so cheaply should receive so great
a boon. This is but justice, as our Saviour
teaches, when He bids us watch and be ready
to open when He knocks, like servants waiting
for their master. He has said that unless
a man takes up his cross and follows Him, he

Letter XIII 93

is not worthy of Him. It is not the slothful
who take up the cross, but those who love our
Lord, Who died upon it. It is not they who
imitate His courage and will so share in His
victory; for the lukewarm begin the work
to-day, and slacken in their efforts to-morrow,
until by degrees they desist from it entirely.
God threatens us with this when He says:
" Because thou art lukewarm, I will vomit thee
out of my mouth," which means that He wiU
permit the ojffender to fall into still graver and
fouler sins. We must not travel on this
dangerous road with our eyes shut, for it is full
of thieves who would rob and murder us, and
there are many pitfalls into which we might
slip, and great impediments to be overcome.
We have sometimes seen the prudent and
cautious in danger; what, then, can we expect,
if we are careless, except that at every chance
we should fall as miserable captives into the
hands of our enemies.'^

Let us, then, be diligent, whether it be from
motives of fear or or love, and not permit
tepidity to master us, for, like gall, it not only
embitters religion to us, but it makes our
service distasteful to God. Let us set to work
in earnest, for, as the Holy Scripture says : " If
thou be diligent, thy harvest shall come as
a fountain." (Prov. VI. 11.) Then we shall
experience the truth of Christ*s promise that
He would give to those who serve Him a water,
of which he who drinks, shall never more be

94 Blessed "John of Avila

thirsty. If He gives this water to us during
this life, what will He not give to us in the
world to come? If such solace is given us
during the battle, what shall be the feast of
victory? Let us do violence to ourselves, for
that is the way to come to the kingdom; and
in proportion as we deny ourselves, and renounce
our inclinations, do we advance on our way to
heaven and become more pleasing to God. I do
not think you should employ yourself in study
until you have spent at least a year, and more
if necessary, in eradicating from your heart all
its evil habits and propensities. You should
set about this at once, for until it is done,
I consider that you ought to attend to nothing

Letter XIV 95

letter rit)


It is very plain, my dear sister, that you cannot
bear being put to the test, nor have you yet
emerged from spiritual childhood, for when
your heavenly Bridegroom ceases to smile on
you, you immediately imagine He is displeased
with you. Where are the signal favours which
you received from His blessed Hand as a pledge
of His special love for you.^ Ought you so
soon to forget how He has cherished you.? or
to believe that God would lightly withdraw
affection He bestowed so fully? Why did He
grant so many proofs of it, if not to make you
trust Him? Be assured that He loves you,
even if He does not show it at the present
moment. You need not fear deception on this
point, for, as I have often told you, our love
for God should not cause us excessive sadness
whenever we commit some venial sin. If this
were necessary, who would ever be at rest or
peace, for we are all sinners? May our Lord
give you grace to lean on Him and rejoice in
Him, placing your wounds in His, that you
may be healed and comforted, however violent
and painful your hurt may be.

96 Blessed yohn of Avila

How long will you continue your minute
self-examinations? It is like raking up a dust
heap from which nothing can come but rubbish
and unpleasantness. Feel sure of this, that it
is not for your own merits, but for those of
Jesus crucified, that you are loved and made
whole. Do not give way to such discourage-
ment about your faults, the results will show
you how displeasing it is to God. It would be
far better to be courageous and strong-hearted.
Meditate on the benefits you have received
through Jesus Christ in the past and possess
now; reflect on them in such a manner as to
lead you to sorrow for your sins against Him
and to avoid offending Him, without losing
your peace and patience if you happen to fall.
As I have often repeated, God loves you as you
are. Be content that His love should come from
His goodness, and not from your merits.
What does it matter to a bride if she is not
beautiful, if the bridegroom's affection for her
makes her seem so in his eyes.^ If you look
only on yourself, you will loathe yourself and
your many defects will take away all your

What more have you to wish for? In heaven
there is One to Whom you appear all fair, for
He looks at you through the apertures of the
Wounds He received for you: by these He
gives you grace, and supplies what is lacking
in you, healing you and making you lovely.
Be at peace : you are indeed the handmaid of

Letter XIV 97

the crucified Christ: forget your past misdoings
as if they had never been. I tell you, in God's
name, as I have done before, that such is His
holy will. Run swiftly on your way with a
light foot, like one who has thrown a heavy
burden off his shoulders, which hindered his
course. If the longed-for quiet does not come
at once, do not distress yourself; sometimes
one travels farther in a storm than in a calm,
and war gains more merits than peace. He
Who redeemed you will guide you aright so
that you may be safe. Trust in Him; He has
given you many reasons to do so; and when
you consider your own defects, consider also
the depths of His mercy which will help you far
more than thinking about your deficiencies.

May God's mercy shelter you beneath His
everlasting love, as I desire, and pray, and trust
that it may, and for this I bid you hope.
Recommend me to the same Lord for the sake
of His love.

Vol, /.

9 8 Blessed John of Avila

Letter r»


I HAVE received your letters, and though I do
not answer them all, yet do not cease to ask me
whatever you wish to know, if you really desire
to be as holy as you say. A contrary course
of action would be neither humble nor obedient,
and therefore, not the way of the Saints.

The first thing by which to attain great
sanctity, is to consider that you are wicked and
that God is infinitely good, and that it is only
by His graces that sinners are made good
Christians, and that good Christians become
better still.

You must be most loyal to our Lord Jesus
Christ by giving Him the glory for any virtues
you possess. This is the matter, above all
others, on which He is susceptible to injustice,
and He leaves those who defraud Him of these
His claims without honour or graces. You
must also love Him fervently, if you would be
perfect, for holiness comes from love, and the
greater the love, the greater the saint. The
best proof we can give of our love for Christ is
to obey His commands and bear the cross for
Him ; the greater the mortifications and hardships

Letter XV 99

this entails, the more does it bear witness to the
genuineness of our love.

Contempt for self and abnegation of our will
are also signs of this love, for our Lord says;
" If any man will come after me, let him deny
himself" (St. Matth. XVI. 24.) A truly
devout soul is at enmity with its own judgment
and self-will, and is grateful when it receives
insults or annoyances, as they give it the oppor-
tunity of conquering these vices. Until a man
has obtained from God this self-hatred, so that
he takes vengeance on himself by penance as
far as possible, and is glad that other men
should avenge Christ's cause on him, he has
not travelled far on the way of that perfect love
of our Lord which causes the soul to have
a holy hatred towards self, so that it may have
a true love of God and of itself.

Another outcome of deep love of our Lord
is a perfect charity towards our neighbour, which
grows as our love for God increases, making its
possessor as much at one with his brethren, as
if they were members of the same body ; it
moves him to pray fervently for others, and do
penance for their welfare when it is possible.
May your heart for ever be wholly given to

I oo Blessed John df Avila

Letter Wi



It is a great pleasure to hear
of your holy desire to serve God, but 1 regret
your want of courage in putting it into
execution. It is extremely wrong for any one
to dare to continue living in a worldly manner,
and not begin to live for God, confiding in His
help. My dear Sister, since the human race
existed, has ever any man who trusted in his
Creator, and obeyed his commands, been aban-
doned by Him? Has any one persevered in
calling on God with his whole heart, and not
been heard? Nay, rather, the Almighty is
always seeking us, and urging us to serve Him.
If we draw near to Him, what can He, Who is
so good and so faithful to His promises do,
but come forth to meet and embrace us, and
give us His help and protection? Yes, most
truly and most certainly He will, as St. Paul
tells us, far more fully than we can possibly
imagine. Begin, then, servant of God, begin:
cast yourself upon Him, and be confident that
He, Who inspired you with the desire, will
give you strength to carry it out and perfect it

Letter XVI _ , .. xai ;

to the end; Our Lord does not arouse one
who sleeps, except to give him many favours
on his awaking.

Take courage, and set out with diligence
and fervour: nothing is worse than for a
beginner to commence badly by indulging his
body and trying to please the world. Shut
your ears against all human praise or blame,
for in a little while both the critic and the man
he judges will be dust and ashes. We shall
one day stand before God's tribunal, where the
mouth of wickedness shall be stopped and
virtue will be exalted. Meanwhile, embrace
the cross, and follow Him Who was dishonoured
and Who lost His life upon it for your sake.
Hide yourself in our Lord's wounds, so that
when He comes. He may find you dwelling in
Himself. Then He will beautify you with
His graces, and give Himself to you as your
reward for having left all things, even yourself,
for His sake. How little, indeed, does the
man who forsakes all things give up! He but
leaves now, what, whether he will or no, he
can keep but for a very brief time. Even while
he possesses it, it brings him misery, for all
that is not God only burdens and saddens the
soul, which its Creator alone can satisfy. Open
your heart to Him, and rejoice in Him, and
you will find Him more tender and loving than
can be imagined.

I sometimes wonder how any one can possibly
wish evil to others, for our Lord stands between

ib2 Blessed John of Avila

him and them. How can he be harsh towards
the body, who loves, or ought to love, the
Head? Do you not know, my dear Sister,
that when Jesus rose again and appeared to
His disciples, He placed Himself " in the midst
of them," and net at the head or elsewhere?
He acted thus to show that He is in the midst
of us and that we cannot wish harm, nor do
wrong to any one, without first doing it to
Him. The person who wishes evil fo his
neighbour, wishes evil to Christ, and it were
better for that man never to have been born,
since he ignores that the end for which he was
created was to love our Lord. You should
realise that your neighbours are very dear to
Christ, that they are created in His image and
that He gave His blood for them. Say to
yourself, then, " How can I wish ill to those to
whom my Lord wishes well? How can I desire
death to those, to whom He desires to give
life? Jesus died for these souls, and would do
so again if there were need, and shall not I love
those who are so dear to Him? What does it
matter if they injure me? I do not love them
because of what they are, nor for the way they
treat me, but for Christ's sake alone. Why
should their evil deeds destroy the affection
I bear them on His account? I ask of God
that they may be acceptable to Him, that they
may please Him, and enjoy His favour, so that
there may be more temples in which He may
dwell, more souls to praise Him and more

Letter XVI 103

hearts to love Him as He deserves." Offer
up this prayer: "O Lord, do Thou take pos-
session of these souls and make them wholly
Thine: may they enjoy Thy presence within
them for Thou art ready to give Thyself to all.
O my God, they are created in Thine image;
make them resemble Thee more and more, and
grant, both to them, and to us all, pardon,
grace and glory." If your nature rebel against
this prayer, yet utter it in spirit and lift up
your heart to Christ, crying: " For Thy loving
sake, O Lord, and not for their merits;" and
so, little by little, you will find yourself in
peace. If you should have to struggle with
yourself, still do not let yourself be overcome;
neither say nor do anything uncharitable, nor
let your heart consent to any unkind thought
about others.

Your scruples about confession are temptations
by which the devil tries to deprive you of
spiritual joy, and rob you of your pleasure in
the things of God. A scrupulous soul is not
fit to trust or to love God, and as it does not find
what satisfies it in Him, is not contented with
the way by which He leads it, and forsakes
Him to seek its happiness elsewhere: it commits
the fatal error of raising a storm where there
was a calm. It follows its own conceits, and
not God's way, which is always sweet and
simple. Treat your anxieties as a jest; obey
your confessor's advice; do not give way to
your own judgment. You must not allow

I04. Blessed John of Avila

ypur scruples to influence you, but say "God
is not scrupulous. I do what is commanded
me in His holy name, and that is all I have to
answer for." Lose no time in acquiring the
love of God, my dear Sister, and you will soon
get rid of scruples, which spring from a timorous
heart, for " perfect love casteth out fear." Cry
to our Lord: "Deus meus illumina tenebras
meas," " O my God enlighten my darkness,"
and trust to His merciful goodness, that whilst
you serve Him He will deign to give you
more grace to see your faults and amend them.
As for your thoughts of vain glory, laugh at
them too, and say to them, " I am not doing
this action on your account, nor will I cease
doing it because of you.^ O my God, it is to
Thee I offer all that I do, all that I say, all that
I think!" When the temptation returns, say:
" Thou hast come too late, the work is already
given to God."

It is more discreet for beginners not to
perform any remarkable exterior acts of piety;
their spiritual life is young and tender, and, as
it were, only in the bud, and is easily injured
by the breath of praise, so it is best for them to
hide their graces. Follow this advice when
you can, but when it is impossible and your
good works must necessarily be seen by others,
act with liberty and without fear. When you

* This is an allusion to the well known tale of St. Bernard, who,
when preaching was tempted by the devil to be vain of his eloquence
and its effects. He said : " I did not begin for you and I shall not .
leave ofi^ for you," and continued his sermon.

Letter XVI 105

commence an action, lift up your heart to our
Lord saying: "Non nobis, Domine, non nobis,
sed nomini Tuo da gloriam." " Not unto us,

Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give
glory." (Ps. CXIII. 9.) Or else " Gloria Patri
et Filio et Spiritui Sancto." In conclusion,

1 would urge you to cast out of your heart all
but God; let your eyes be ever towards Him,
that He " may pluck your feet from the snare."
(Ps. XXIV. 15.) Care for nothing in this
world but contrition, solitude, humility and
penance. Follow God's law, and you will find
how He will make your path straight, and cast
your enemies under your feet. Practice will
show you what you could never be taught by
word of mouth. Those who are tepid and
talkative learn little of God's ways, while others
who labour fervently for Him, come to know
Him well. Our Lord Jesus Christ goes on
before you, follow Him with your cross, and
one day you will come to be with Him in

I o6 Blessed John of Avila

Letter rtoii


Your Grace,

May the peace of our Lord
Jesus Christ be ever with you. If we would
not ofFend God, there are two points on which
we must be particularly careful — one is, that we
should love His goodness, and the second is,
that we should trust in His mercy. How
great is the blindness of a heart which does not
love God! and just as great is its weakness, if
it does not confide in His abundant mercy. The
graces we have received from Him in the past
ought to incite us to love Him, for they flowed
from Divine love which requires a like return
from us.

These gifts ought also to encourage us to
trust in God, for surely. He Who has already
bestowed such benefits on us, and has set us in
the path of holiness, will give us the grace to
persevere. We ought also to find motives for
hope in Christ's Passion: we should love Him
for dying for us and trust in His mercy. Cast
away, then, all doubts, faintheartedness and
misgivings, for the merits of the Passion are
ours, because Christ gave them to us, and we
are His. It is in the Passion that I trust, on

Letter XVII 107

it I rely, and by it 1 laugh my enemies to
scorn. Through it I make my prayers to the
Father and oiFer Him His Son; I pay all my
debts from Christ's merits, and have more than
is requisite for the purpose. Although I have
many sorrows, I find in Christ's sufferings more
than a sufficient solace; they are such a source
of joy that the grief caused by my own defects
is dispelled.

O God most loving. Who art Love itself,

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