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how we wound Thee if we trust not in Thee
with all our hearts! If, after the favours Thou
hast shown us, and more than all, after having
died for us, we do not feel confidence in Thee,
we must be worse than the very brutes. After
all Thou hast given us in the past, can we doubt
Thy loving kindness in the future, or think
that Thou wilt cease to protect those Thou hast
saved from hell.'^ Wilt Thou leave Thy adopted
sons to die of hunger, or cease to guide them
aright in the path in which Thou didst set them
when they had wandered away.^^ When we were
estranged from Thee, Thou didst give us many
graces, — wilt Thou then refuse them now when
our only desire is to serve Thee.^ Whilst we
offended against Thee Thou didst cherish us,
Thou didst follow after us when we fled from
Thee; Thou didst draw us to Thyself, didst
cleanse us from our guilt, and giving to us Thy
Holy Spirit, didst fill our souls with joy, and
bestow on us the kiss of peace.

And wherefore didst Thou do all this.f^ Surely

TO 8 Blessed' John of Avila

It was that we might believe that, as for Christ's
sake Thou didst reconcile us to Thyself when
we we were among Thine enemies, much more
surely, wilt Thou keep us for His sake, now
that we are in the number of Thy friends.

O my God and my Mercy! after the countless
favours Thou hast shown us, permit not that
we distrust Thee and question whether Thou
dost love us and intend to save us. More
evident than the sun at mid-day is the witness
borne by Thy works that Thou dost cherish us
and give us the hope of salvation. Let our
hearts rely confidently on God, even though
we feel not the sweetness of His consolations.
Genuine faith believes without the need of
argument or miracles; and love trusts its
Beloved, even though He chastise it: true
patience is content to suffer without relief, and
so a real confidence in God remains unshaken
by the absence of any solace from Him. Let
us not ask for any signs of God's favour, but
obey His command to rely implicitly on Him,
and all will be well with us. If we feel weak,
let us rely on God, and we shall be strong: for
those who confide in Him " shall take wings as
eagles and not faint." (Isaias XL. 31.) If we
know not what to do, let us trust in our
Creator, and He will be our Light; for, as
Isaias says, " who is there amongst you that
hath walked in darkness and hath no light .f^
Let him hope in the name of the Lord, and
lean upon his God." (L. 10.) Holy Scripture

Letter XVII 109

:-also tells us: "They that trust in God shall
understand the truth." (Wisd. III. 9.) Let
us place our hope in our heavenly Father when
we are in trouble, and we shall be set free from
it, as David, speaking in His name, says in the
Psalms: (XC. 14.) "Because he hoped in me
I will deliver him." These words show that
God only asks that we hope in Him, in order
that He may deliver us, and this, because those
who fall in time of tribulation, fall because their
i faith is weak. St. Peter, while he felt no fear,
walked on the sea as if it had been dry land;
but the instant he lost confidence he began to
sink, and our Lord said to him : " O thou of
little faith, why didst thou doubt.?" (St. Matth.
XIV. 31.) Let us fear lest this reproof should
be addressed to us. However wildly the sea
of temptations may rage around us, let us go
bravely on, and not let a thought of fear or
1 mistrust enter our hearts. Rather let us confide
in God's great love for us, which keeps us safe
amid all perils. I have said all this because as
I wish your belief in the Catholic faith to be
pure from all error, and your love for God to
be without taint of tepidity, so I would have
your hope in Him to be free from all distrust
and fear. Believe me, God can overcome all
our doubts and temptations. May He grant
us the grace to be wholly converted to Him,
and to place all our hope in Him, for if we
gave ourselves to our Creator's care, there
would be no need of help from creatures.

1 1 o Blessed 'John of Avila

If at times doubts enter our mind, let us put
them from us and think of other things, for if
God does not give us the means to solve those
doubts, we should not trouble ourselves much
about them. I wish you and Don Pedro, to
whom this letter is addressed as well as to
yourself, to be very discreet in fasting and
bodily mortifications during this Lent, but to
be careful to practise the advice I have given
you. Let your memories observe strict absti-
nence, not only from all thoughts of created
things, but even from thinking of yourselves.
Forgetting all things, let us go to God, and
abide entirely in Him: let us fast from all
consolation in any creature, so that, as our souls
dwell in solitude, God may come and fill them,
because they are empty of^ all else. When you
place yourself in God's presence, endeavour
rather to listen to Him, than to speak to Him,
and strive more to love Him, than to learn
from Him.

May the same Jesus Christ, of Whom we
speak, be with you and with us all. Amen.

Letter XV III 1 1 1

JLettet tmx


My dearly loved Sister in Christ,

1 look upon the special
regard for your soul with which God inspires
me, as a sign of His favour, for not only does
the law of charity require this sympathy from
me, but 1 hope that my compassion for your
sorrows will ensure me a share in the joy you
are one day to receive from our Lord's hands.
May the Almighty be blessed in all things, and
may His judgments be adored, for His infinite
Wisdom knows how to turn to our advantage
what seems to us the loss of all things. This
He does to teach us our ignorance and
insufficiency, so that with full confidence, we
may abandon ourselves utterly to His care,
trusting that, although we know not how. He
will find a remedy for all our ills. You will
have much to struggle against, and your soul
will often be perturbed. Your past life will
appear to you to merit punishment, and when
you think how litde you profited by the con-
solations God sent, you will fear lest they, also,
may increase your guilt. Scruples will molest
you, and make you think yourself to blame for

112 Blessed John of Avila

all you suffer. The sadness which afflicts you
at the present time, the troubles which beset
you on every side, together with the ills you
fear in the future, will unite to crush your soul.
You will feel like the people of Israel felt, after
they had left Egypt, when they found themselves
hemmed in by high mountains, with the sea
before them, and their enemy in pursuit. Often
you will feel like David, when he cried: " I said
in the excess of my mind: I am cast away from
before thy eyes." (Ps. XXX. 23.) The devils
will say to you, as they did to him: "There is
no salvation for you in your God." You will
be brought to such a pass, that you will seem
to taste the anguish of death, although death
itself would appear less horrible, for you will
be terrified by a secret dread that God has
abandoned you. These trials will make your
soul so dry and hard that it will seem as dead
and as perverse as that of the wicked in hell.
You will cry, and not be heard: that in which
you sought and hoped to find relief, will only
make you more disconsolate. God will show
you no sign of love, but will seem to turn from
you in disdain. These and other trials, which
are usually suffered in this affliction, will make
you so disgusted with yourself, that you would
welcome death as a gain.

What then, ought you to do in such a case.?
Ought you to give up that hope which Christ
has so often bidden you hold fast? Should you
give way to that despair to which nature, and

Utter XVIII 113

the temptations of the devil would lead you?
or ought you not rather to find consolation in
the loving kindness of Him, Who, when He is
angry, is mindful of His mercies?

There is no need, my dear Sister, for any
great deliberation on this subject, but there is
much for you to do; there is nothing at which
to be dismayed, but great need of courage.
Do not feel miserable about the state you are
in, but rather, rejoice in God's love for you,
although you may not realise it at the time.
Do not depend upon your feelings; they are often
both misled and deceiving. Neither our confi-
dence in our justification, nor our doubts about
it affect the reality. "I do not judge myself,"
said St. Paul, " He that judgeth me is the
Lord." (i. Cor. IV. 3, 4.) Our folly is so great,
that it is often best for our souls to think that
God loves us but little, or not at all. When
we feel dry, sad, despondent and afflicted, so
that we seem to suffer the torments of hell, our
foolishness is more easily kept within bounds
than when we are made presumptuous by the
freedom and happiness which God's consolations
are wont to bring. Like a loving Father, lest
his children fall into negligence and false
security, He hides the love He bears them, so
that they may always preserve some holy fear
to keep them from becoming negligent and so
losing the inheritance he is keeping for them in
the kingdom of heaven. God knows how it

torments these souls to feel that He is dissatisfied
Vol, I. S

114 Blessed John of Avtla

with them, how they are tempted when they
think that He turns away from them; yet it is
His wish that they should pass through this
trial. Watching them and loving them as He
does, He dissimulates His tenderness, and keeps
them safe by teaching them this painful lesson.
He is the Father of all mercies, whose love for
His children surpasses that of all earthly parents;
He alone knows the full meaning of fatherhood,
and in comparison with Him, other fathers can
hardly be said to love or protect their children;
so that He has bidden us call no man on earth
our father but Him, our only refuge. So
strong is His affection, and so watchful His
care for our needs, that His Paternity cannot
be described in words. Yet this Father, ever
anxious for our good, allows us to suffer
persecutions from the devil and from other
sources, and not only watches in silence, but
Himself sends us more trials and temptations.

After some great sorrow, God usually grants
us happiness, as to Abraham He gave " Isaac,
the desired," which name signifies " laughter."
After a while, the Almighty plunged the
patriarch into grief again, by commanding him
to kill the son He had bestowed for his
consolation: so does God often deprive His
children of their happiness, bidding them sacrifice
it and live in sadness. The Apostles felt
perfectly safe and confident as they embarked
with Christ in their boat; yet they were terrified
when the storm arose which seemed likely to

Letter XV in 115

drown them, while He, on Whose protection
they depended, slept, and appeared to have
forgotten them. But our Lord had not forgotten
them: it was His command which raised the
tempest, and He was as watchful to deliver
them as to place them in danger. Why then
should you be troubled by the trials your
Saviour sends you.^ Why should you dislike the
medicine which has come from the hands of your
tender Father ."^ Do you think He is austere
enough to grieve you, and too weak to deliver
you from the afflictions sent by Him? Does He
lack mercy, that He will not pardon you, and
grant you greater graces than ever.'' Have
a strong faith in God's goodness, although
to your weak understanding. He seems severe.
For your soul, confidence in His mercy is as
far superior to distrust, as the certainty of faith
surpasses the ignorance of human reason.

God gives you these sufferings here, to save
you from those of eternity. He says of His
vineyard : " I keep it night and day, there is no
indignation in me against it." (Isaias. XXVII. 3.)
He does not permit the sun to injure it by day,
nor the moon by night: whether He consoles
or afflicts us, He keeps His holy watch over us,
and never so faithfully as when we think He
has abandoned us. Trust in God's judgment,
dear Sister, and not in your own, since He
understands what is best for you, and knows
the present and future state of your soul. Do
not weary yourself to death with anxiety, for,

11 6 Blessed yohn of Avila

as the Gospel says : " You cannot with all your
taking thought and caring add one cubit to
your stature." (Matth. VI. 27.) Why, then,
rely so much on yourself, since God bids you
confide in Him.'' Why struggle so to work
out your salvation in your own way, while,
after all, God's abundant mercy will avail us far
more than our imagined righteousness, when at
the last we stand before His judgment.

Close your eyes to all that affrights you and
trust in the Wounds of Christ, Who received
them for your sake, and you will find rest.
Till the horse ceases looking at the well, for fear
of falling in, it will draw no water from it ; and
so, the more hopeless you feel of a remedy for
your troubles, because you know not where to
look nor what to do for one, the more hopeful
is your state. This is because when human
counsel and strength fail, God stretches forth
His hand, and that is the hour he was waiting
for, in which best to show His mercy. This is
to show us that the remedy comes not from our
own power, but from the loving and gracious
will of God. Therefore the more our misfortunes
accumulate, the more ready and prepared our
souls are, to receive God's mercy, for the great-
ness of our misery moves His compassion, and
causes Him to show the more pity for us. " He
raises up the needy from the earth and lifts up
the poor out of the dunghill." (Ps. 112. 7.)
He will take from them the sackcloth of affliction
and clothe them with the robe of gladness, so

Letter XVIII ity

that they may confess His loving kindness and
mercy. Thus, those who live desolate will
praise Him, which greatly pleases Him, as He
says : " Call on me in the day of tribulation and
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt honour me."
(Ps. 49. 15.) Do not be disturbed if that time
seems long in coming, for delay is not refusal,
especially when the promise has been given by
the Truth Himself Your ears will surely one
day hear the words: "Arise, make haste, my
love, and come, for winter is now past, the rain
is over and gone, the flowers are appearing" —
flowers instead of thorns, and thy soul shall
cast away its mournfulness and bring forth
the fruit of love.

Remember that on the eve of their deliverance,
God's chosen people were afflicted more than
they had ever been; burden after burden was
laid upon their shoulders, and they were cruelly
scourged. So it is that after a night of tempest,
the day dawns brightest; after the storm comes
the fair weather, and when her travail is over,
the mother rejoices in the birth of her child.
You must believe that your trials are the heralds
of great joy, for no soul deserves to possess
peace and the delights of love, until it has been
wearied in combat, and tasted the bitterness of
spiritual desolation.

God is proving you; be faithful to Him, and
submit to all He sends you. Love Him,
although He chastises you, and follow Him,
although He turns away from you. If He

1 1 8 Blessed John of Avila

answers not, never cease crying to Him,
knowing that " you will not labour in vain, for
He is faithful and cannot deny Himself and
will not despise to the end the prayer of the
poor." (2. Tim. II. 13.) He will rise and
command the sea to be still, and He will give
back the living Isaac to you. He will turn
your mourning into joy, and after your many
fights will grant you abundance of peace. If
your merits do not deserve all this, you will
receive it from his bounty.

God asks you to learn to live among the
thorns, where there is no place to lay your head:
if you can do but little, you must compensate
by suffering much. You must walk resolutely
in the way of God, for the crown is lost only
by those who go astray and renounce it. As
for the remedy of your ills, God will give it;
when and how you know not. For the afflictions
you bear now you will have a fulness of joy,
for which you must bless His Majesty both
here and for ever in heaven.

Letter XIX 119

ILettet xix


I HAVE received your letter, and to tell you the
truth, if my many occupations did not often
prevent me from answering you, I should ask
you to write very frequently, as it is always
a great pleasure to receive news of yourself and
your family. But as I owe you so much
already, let me add this debt to the score, and
our Lord will repay you all.

You ask me to tell you how to become
a good Christian, and I am most glad to hear
your question, for to wish to be a good
Christian is to have already started well on the
road. But take care not to resemble the many,
whose knowledge of God's will, as it does not
make them follow it, only condemns them to
more severe punishment; for, as Christ tells
us; "That servant who knew the will of his
lord, and did not according to his will, shall be
beaten with many stripes." (St. Luke. XII. 47.)
Therefore, to ask to be shown the way of God
is to lay oneself under no small obligation, but
as I believe you wish to learn it with the full

1 20 Blessed yohn of Avila

intention of practising all that it involves, it is
my duty to direct you in it.

Good works are of two kinds. Some are
exterior, such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving;
abstaining from swearing, falsehood and mur-
muring; avoiding injuring or annoying people
and other things of a similar kind. Some also
are purely spiritual or interior, such as fervent
love for God and our neighbour, an intense
realisation of our own unworthiness, deep
gratitude for the Divine mercies, and such
a profound reverence for the Almighty that we
realise our own nothingness in the sight of His
greatness. There are also many other religious
sentiments which cannot be enumerated. Cor-
poral good works are the easiest to perform,
and a man is much to blame if he omits these,
for can any one be careful in greater matters
who neglects lesser ones? If we cannot restrain
our tongue, or control our bodies and employ
them in good works, can we complain that God
does not call us to higher things .f^

The Temple of God in Jerusalem had one
gate for the people and further on another
through which none but the priests might pass.
So, to hear Mass, to honour one's elders, to
abstain from speaking or acting wrongly, and
other duties of the same kind, are common to
all Christians, whether they be the friends of
God or not; but a heart full of faith and charity
is the special gift of His friends, and is the
distinguishing mark between the sons of per-

Letter XIX 121

dition and of salvation. As the Jews had to
walk through the first portal to reach the second,
so Christians pass by good actions to purity of
heart. Not that these works in themselves
make the heart holy, which can only be effected
by the gift of God's grace: but this, by His
great merey. He bestows on those who do their
best to serve Him, as far as their weakness will
allow them. What we need, above all other
things, is a new heart, but this is the last thing
we should think ourselves capable of obtaining
by our own power. No man has faith who
does not believe that he has received his being
from God; neither has he faith, who thinks
that any other than the Almighty can give him
strength to become good, for holiness is a higher
gift than mere existence. Those who imagine
they can attain to holiness by any wisdom or
strength of their own, will find themselves after
many labours, and struggles, and weary efforts,
only the farther from possessing it, and this in
proportion to their certainty that they of
themselves have gained it.

Humility and self-contempt will obtain our
wish far sooner than will stubborn pride.
Though God is so exalted. His eyes regard the
lowly, both in heaven and on earth, and we shall
strive in vain to please Him in any other way
than by abasing ourselves. The Son of God
came down from heaven and taught us by His
life and words the way to heaven, and that way
is humility, as He said : " He that humbleth

122 Blessed yohn of Avila

himself shall be exalted." (St. Luke XVIII. 14.)
Therefore, if you wish God to give you a new
heart, you must first of all amend your deeds,
and then lament your faults and accuse yourself
of your sins. Do not extenuate your defects,
but judge yourself justly ; let not your self-love
blind you, but when conscience accuses you of
wrong, do not forget it, but keep it before your
eyes and manifest it to Jesus Christ, your
Saviour and Physician. Weep for it before
Him, and He will comfort you without fail. No
force can prevail with a Father like the tears of
his child, nor is there anything which so moves
God to grant us, not justice, but mercy, as our
sorrow and self-accusation. Call upon the
Almighty, for He will not be deaf to your cries;
show Him your wounded soul: for you have
not to deal with One Who is blind; speak to
Him of all your miseries for He is merciful
and will heal them. Go to confession and Holy
Communion, and when you are united to your
Saviour, your soul will melt with devotion, and
you will say: "How great is the multitude of
thy sweetness O Lord, which thou hast hidden
for them that fear thee." (Ps. XXX. 20.) Be
sure too, to show to your neighbour the same
love which God has shown towards you. If
you are harsh to others, you will find God harsh
to you, for you know His fixed decree: " With
what measure you mete, it shall be measured to
you again." Do not be niggardly, then, to
other people, lest God treat you in the same

Letter XIX 123

way. He will pardon you many crimes for the
one offence you forgive your neighbour; He
will be long-suffering with you in return for
a little patience shown towards others; He will
reward you with abundant riches for the small
alms you bestow. Strive earnestly, therefore,
to keep the law of charity, for in that is your

In these few words you see the rule by which
you must live: watch carefully over your words
and actions. Practise prayer, and beg Christ
to grant you a newness and singleness of heart:
do nothing to injure others, but rather do them
all the good you can by word and deed, and
thus you will fulfil your duty both to God,
your neighbour and yourself. "This do and
thou shalt live." Know, however, that if
you are to be a friend of God, you must
prepare yourself for trials, for without them all
your virtue is like an unwalled city, which falls
at the first onslaught. Patience is the guardian
of all the other virtues, and, if it fail, we may
lose in one moment the labour of many days.
Our Master and Redeemer tells us: "In your
patience you shall possess your souls;" (St. Luke,
XXI. 19.) without it, we lose control over
ourselves, because anger, like wine, robs us
of our reason. Brace up your heart to suffer
afflictions, for without the battle there is no
victory, and the crown is only for the conqueror.
Think not that your burden is heavy; it is very
light, compared with what you deserve to have

1 24 Blessed 'John of Avila

to bear and with what Jesus Christ our Lord
bore for your sake; it is sHght indeed in
comparison to the reward it will bring you.
Remember, that we shall soon quit this world,
and then all the past will seem to us like a short
dream, and we shall see that it is better to have
laboured than to have rested here. Learn how
to profit by your sorrows, for they bring great
riches to the soul. (Wisdom III.) They cleanse
it from past sin; what fire is to gold, that
tribulation is to the just man, whose heart it
purifies. Trials only injure the wicked, for
instead of being grateful to God, they murmur
against Him. Their punishment does them no
good, because they turn their sufferings into
sins, and so lose where they might have gained,
earning hell by painful labour. Do not imitate
them, but let your courage increase with your
trials. God proves His sons by sorrow, and no
one will be crowned but he that has been through
the combat. St. James says: "Blessed is the
man who endureth temptation, for when he
hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of
life," (St. James I. 4.) which God promises to
those who love Him. If only we realised the
value of this crown, how gladly should we now
suffer afflictions! Would that we understood
how blessed, both now and hereafter, are the
tears we shed in this life. We should abase
ourselves to the dust here, so that we might
stand high in heaven, and should despise all
earthly pleasures, were they given us, in coni-

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