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Letter XX 125

parison with the heavenly joys for which we
hope. Soon the vanity of this world will be
unmasked, and the kingdom of God will be
revealed. Live here as a stranger — your body
on earth, but your heart above — so that when
our Lord calls you, He may not find you
sleeping, but ready to go with Him, and to
hear the sweet words : " Well done, thou good
and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of
thy Lord." (St. Matth. XXV. 21.)

letter xx


You ask me in your letter to tell you in what
charity consists, so that you may conform
your life to it, for as the Apostle says to the
Corinthians: "If I should deliver my body to
be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me
nothing." (i Cor. XIII. 3.) You set me no
easy task, and it would need St. Paul himself,
whose words led you to make the demand,
to answer it worthily. There is nothing of
greater importance than charity, and in it consists
the perfection of the Christian religion, as the
same Apostle teaches us : " He that loveth
his neighbour hath fulfilled the law." (Rom.
XIII. 8.) For this reason pray to the Holy

126 Blessed John of Avila

Spirit, Whose special attribute is charity, to
give you light to understand what it is, as He
did to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost
when He infused it into their hearts, since He
and no other can teach it us. For how can
a mortal man speak the language of heaven,
which is only understood by the Blessed, whose
whole affections are occupied in loving God,
and whatever else He desires them to love?
How can I, who come of Adam's race, and
inherit a tendency to seek myself in all things,
speak to you of that love which is fixed on God
alone, and entirely forgets its own interests?
We even perform many religious duties with
a view to our own profit, so that often, however
holy the work may be, it is prompted by
self-love alone. For as water flows to the same
place whether it pass through a golden or an
earthenware conduit, so, whether our actions be
good or bad, our motive tends through them
towards our own interests.

May Jesus Christ, Who always sought God's
honour, and Whose love made Him come down
to earth, not to do His own will, but the will of
His Father Who sent Him, loose my tongue,
for I should not dare to speak on such a subject
but at your desire, which urges me to endeavour
to tell you something of what I have read.

The best way to possess true charity and
understand what it is, is to consider how the
Blessed in heaven practise it, because the more
closely we imitate them, the more perfect shall

Letter XX 127

we be in that virtue. The love which the
saints bear towards God transforms their will,
so that it becomes one with His : that is, they
can wish, or not wish, only what He does ;
because, as St. Denis says, one effect of love is
to make the will of those that love one, and
God's whole love and will are centred upon His
own glory and essence, which is supremely
perfect. It therefore follows that the love of
the saints is that single-minded affection and
will, with which they long, with all their strength,
that God may be in Himself as good, and
glorious, and adorable as He is. Seeing Him
to possess all these perfections, they feel an
ineffable joy, which is the fruit of the Holy
Ghost. It will give us some idea of what this
happiness is, if we consider how a good son
rejoices in seeing his father rich, powerful, wise,
beloved and respected by all, and honoured by
the king. Indeed, some children are so dutiful,
that no troubles or misfortunes of their own
can destroy the pleasure they feel in their
parents' prosperity, which they consider of the
first importance. Now if this human joy for
a parent be so great, what must be the jubilation
or the saints, transformed as they are by
heavenly love, at beholding that God is so holy,
perfect, and rich in excellence. They see that,
as Creator of the universe. He, by one single act
of His will, gave all things their beauty and
being, and upholds them in existence, so that
not a single leaf can rustle in the wind but by

128 Blessed John of Avila

His consent. Behold the joy " such as eye
hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it
entered into the heart of man.*' (i. Cor. II. 9.)
This, then, as far as it is possible for us to
understand it, is the "charity" of the just in
heaven. From this overflowing river which
gladdens the city of God, comes, as a streamlet,
their love for their neighbour. Their one
longing and joy is to see the God they love so
fervently, possess all glory and honour, and
hence they ardently desire that the Blessed,
their companions, may be as full of beauty, and
felicity, as they are themselves, because God is
thus honoured in them. For this reason they
delight more in the perfections of the greatest
saints than in their own, because they see that
they give God the higher praise, thus showing
how far they are above the envy which springs
from self-love. But, perhaps you will say, they
may feel some sorrow at finding themselves in
a lower degree of sanctity than others, since it
prevents them from giving so much honour to
their Creator as they might have done. You
must remember, however, that the first effect
of their love of God is to unite their wills with
His, so as to accord fully with His desires:
thus they are content with what they possess,
seeing that it is His will that one soul should
exceed another in glory. The city of God is
embellished by having diversity of rank among
the saints, as a violin produces sweeter music
for having many strings of different notes, than

Letter XX 129

it could do, had it but one. As tjie Blessed

perceive, that by there being different mansions

and degrees of glory in the triumphant Church,

it gains in beauty and that thereby their Lord's

honour is increased, they are not troubled

by being in a lower state themselves than others

of their company: for they, with their paler

tints, and the others with their richer colours,

blend together in their united manifestation of

the infinite love and beauty of their Creator.

This is the river which St. John saw in the

Apocalypse, issuing from the throne of God

and of the Lamb: from this the Blessed drink,

and, inebriated with love, sing their everlasting

Alleluia, praising and blessing our Lord God.

This is, as it were, the enamel, which decorates

those precious stones of which is built the

Temple of the heavenly Jerusalem. Now, my

dear sister, such is the sanctuary you must

make in your heart as a dwelling-place for God,

as Moses was commanded to see and make the

Tabernacle according to the pattern that was

shown to him on the mount. (Exod. XXV. 40.)

If you intend to pass through this life in

perfect charity and love of God, you must, as

far as possible, constantly desire that He may

be in Himself as good, as holy, and as full of

excellence, as indeed He is. It must be a

continual joy and feast to your soul to consider

God's attributes, and think how He contains in

Himself all power and perfection, and how,

though all creatures possess their being from
Vol. L ^

130 Blessed John of Avila

Him and cannot exist without Him, yet He
has no need of them. This must be the end
you should strive to attain, and in this, as
St. Thomas says, consists perfect charity. The
feeling of tender devotion towards God which
beginners call charity, although holy, is not of
so high a degree of purity as that which unites
souls with their Beloved. Holy Scripture
frequently invites us to this love, as in the 96th
Psalm we find, " rejoice ye just, in the Lord."
St. Paul too writes : " Rejoice in the Lord,"
and not content with enjoining it once, he
repeats the counsel saying "again I say rejoice."
David also cries: "Delight in the Lord, and
He will give thee the requests of thy heart."
(Ps. XXXVI. 4.) This is the joy the most
holy Virgin felt when she sang: " My spirit
hath rejoiced in God my Saviour;" and which
our Lord Himself experienced, when, as St. Luke
writes, Jesus " rejoiced in the Holy Ghost."
(X. 21.) The royal prophet also tells us:
" My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the
living God." (Ps. LXXXIII. 2.) The " heart"
here signifies the will, and this happens when it
is actually engaged in loving and desiring that
God may possess those good things which are
indeed His. Sometimes this joy so overflows
the soul, that the body itself is inflamed with
devotion towards its Creator. It is so excellent
and divine, that the Church, which is guided
by the Holy Ghost, invites us to practise it in
the Invitatory of Matins, exclaiming: "Come

Letter XX 131

let us praise the Lord with joy: let us joyfully
sing to God our Saviour." (Ps. XCIV. i.) If
you would prove its excellence, practise it, and
you will find the soul cannot satisfy herself
without praising God. Seeing that God possesses
all that she desires Him to have, she immediately
breaks forth into thanksgiving to Him. This
is the same effect which follows with the Blessed
in heaven, according to the Psalm: "Blessed
are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord, they
shall praise thee for ever and ever." (Ps.
LXXXllI. 5.) So ardently did St. Augustine's
heart burn with this love, that he ejaculated:
" If Thou O Lord, wert Augustine, and I God,
I would make Thee God, and myself Augustine."
There is no need for further instances to prove
the excellence of this love, which is manifestly
that which draws a man out of himself, and
unites him to the Deity.

Therefore, my dear Sister, let your actions
and devotions be directed to the glory and
honour of God, Who deserves that all His
creatures should serve and adore Him for His
own goodness alone, without looking for any
recompense for themselves. Though it is right
and holy to perform our good works with the
hope of future reward, yet perfect charity rather
seeks the honour and glory of our Lord God,
and this should be our chief intention. We
may sometimes, however, consider the blessings
to be reaped for ourselves, so as to animate our
fervour in good works ; thus you may say with

132 Blessed yohn of Avila

David : "I have inclined my heart, for the
reward, to do thy justifications for ever." (Ps.
CXVIIl. 112.)

But perhaps you will ask " How can the
soul, which is often sad and tepid, have strength
to constantly rejoice and exult in the Lord?
How can it always feel such perfect and
sovereign love?" As I have already told you,
charity consists in the unwavering desire that
God should possess in Himself all the perfections
proper to Him, and this the heart can wish for,
although it may be dry and sorrowful; just as
a son can hope for his father's happiness,
however unfortunate he is himself. I allow
that for this there is need of the grace of God,
but that He never refuses to those who
endeavour to walk in this way. If He wishes
to communicate more intimately with the soul.
He also gives it a joy and exultation which is
the fruit of the Holy Ghost. When His
Majesty bestows this favour upon us, let us
thank Him for it; but when He does not
vouchsafe to do so, let us persevere in striving
to bless, worship, and adore Him as He
deserves. It is in that act of the will that
charity consists, and it is a great error to think
that unless it is accompanied by feelings of joy,
it is worthless. The devil knows this, and is
always trying to make us feel lukewarm and
dry, so that we may give up this holy practice.
Persevere in it, and stop your ears to his
temptations, or you will never gain the crown

Letter XX 133

in heaven which those who are advanced in this
holy love wear even on earth. Keep constant
watch that you do indeed make God's honour
your real end, for so great is the bias towards
self-love inherited with fallen nature, that
sometimes you will find yourself seeking self,
even when acting with this intention: by rejoicing
at your affection for Him, because of its reward
in heaven, or because of the consolation it
brings to your soul, or for other selfish motives,
which would mar the perfection of your charity.

Now that you see how your love for God is
to be modelled on that of the saints in heaven,
I will explain the love of your neighbour which
should spring from it. It consists in loving
his virtues, and desiring them for him, that God
may be glorified in him. Your pleasure should
augment in proportion as his sanctity increases
and you should regret his sins as offences
against his Creator. For since the love of God
consists in wishing him well, and rejoicing in
His perfections, so fraternal charity is an act of
the will by which we wish well to others,
rejoice in their true good, and feel sorry for
their faults. This is a great grace our Lord
bestows upon whom He chooses. The love for
God and man, then, both concur to the one end
that God may be praised and worshipped.

This shows how far he fails in charity who
grieves to see others make more progress in
perfection than himself. Though our hearts
should be deeply wounded at seeing that we do

134 Blessed John of Avtla

not serve God as we ought and might, yet they
should be consoled by seeing others render
Him the homage in which we are wanting.
To feel regret at this can only spring from
self-love, for, if we desire only God's glory, we
can but rejoice at seeing others give it to Him.
Now, dear Sister, you see what you must do
in the Paradise of the Church militant, in which
God placed you when He called you to His
love and grace, if you would hope to receive
the reward that will be given to the Church
triumphant in glory, in which I beseech our
Lord that we may all worship and praise and
enjoy Him for all eternity. Amen.

Letter XXI 135

letter xxi


How busily employed you must be during this
holy season in preparing a lodging for the
Guest Who is coming to you! I fancy I can
see you, as solicitous as Martha, and yet as
peaceful as Magdalen, preparing to give to your
coming Saviour the service both of soul and
body; and He is worthy of both, for He is
your God. O blessed time, which brings before
our minds the truth that God came in the flesh
to dwell amongst us, to enlighten our darkness
and to direct our feet in the way of peace, so
that being made His brethren, we might share
in His inheritance!

Earnestly indeed may you long for Christ's
advent, and prepare your heart to be His
dwelling-place, for men wished for His coming
ages before His birth, so that the Prophet styles
Him " the Desired of all nations." (Aggeus,
II. 8.) Jesus gives Himself to none but those
who anxiously look for Him. Choice food is
thrown away on such as cannot taste it, and so
those who long not after God's presence, cannot
value Him as they ought. Our Lord hears
"the desire of the poor" (Ps. IX. 17.) and

136 Blessed John of Avila

bends His ear to listen to the sighing of their
hearts after Him, for that is all He cares for in
the children of men. When their sighs reach
Him, He comes into their souls; nor can He
refuse Himself, for, as He tells us in the
Canticle (IV. 9.) "Thou hast wounded my
heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded
my heart with one of thy eyes and with one
hair of thy neck." What can be more tender
than that which is wounded by a glance of the
eye, or more weak than what is bound by
a single hair.? How can men say that God is
difficult to find, or rigorous in His treatment
of us, or hard to bear with? Bitterly should we
blame ourselves for caring to look on anything
but on Him, and for not closing our eyes upon
creatures so as in spirit to contemplate God.

The archer shuts one eye when shooting, the
better to hit the target, but we will not turn
our sight from creatures to be able to follow
and wound our Lord with love. The soul
that wishes to find God, must withraw its
affections from all else and place them entirely
in Him, for God is love, and it is only by love
that He can be ensnared. He will have nothing
to do with those who have it not, and if they
say they know Him as they ought, St. John
will tell them that they speak not the truth.
(i. John, IV. 8.) But our Lord, who is
wounded by a glance, is bound by a single hair,
for that which is conquered by love is kept by
recollection and contemplation.

Letter XXI 137

In order that men might feel confidence that
they can find God, and certainty that He will
not desert them afterwards, He made Himself
one of them and laid Himself in the arms of
a Virgin, bound hand and foot in swaddling
bands, so that He could not flee from those
who came in quest of Him. O Thou celestial
Bread, descended from the Bosom of the Father,
Who dost remain on Thine altars throughout
the world, inviting all to come and feast on
Thee, and enjoy Thee! Who could refrain
from seeking Thee, and receiving Thee into
his bosom — Thee Who dost but ask that man
should hunger for Thee, to bestow Thyself on
him? What dost Thou require of the soul,
but only that it should sigh after Thee and,
confessing its sins, should beg Thee to come
and dwell within it? How miserable are those,
who, when this Bread descends close to their
very doors, prefer rather to die of hunger than
to stoop to pick it up. O sloth, what evil dost
thou work! What riches does not such blindness
lose for souls! What treasures does not their
slumber steal away from them! God has
promised that " every one that asketh, receiveth;
and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that
knocketh, it shall be opened." (St. Matth.
VII. 8.) What but our own negligence is to
blame if we lose His mercies? Shall we cling
to our infirmities, now that God comes to cure
them? He stands at the door of our hearts,
begging and imploring of us — " Open to me

138 Blessed John of Avila

my sister, my love! " (Cant. V. 2.) — and we, so
engrossed by our vanities that we will not rise
to let Him in, leave Him there with the cry
upon His lips. Come hither, my soul, and tell
me, in the name of God, what is it that hinders
thee from giving thyself entirely to Him? For
what dost thou care if it be not for this Spouse
of thine. ^ Why dost thou not love Him dearly.
Who has such a mighty love for thee.f* It was
solely out of affection for thee that He came to
dwell on earth, and to gain thy profit by His
own loss. Why art thou placed in this world,
save to live in mutual love with the King of
heaven } Dost thou not understand how every-
thing on earth will pass away? What is all
that thou dost see, or hear, or touch, or taste —
what are all those amongst whom thou dost
live.'' — they are in truth but as cobwebs, which
cannot clothe thee, nor shield thee from the
cold? Where art thou when thou art not
with Jesus Christ? What dost thou think of,
or value, or seek for, outside of Him alone.
Who is the only perfect good? Let us arise
and shake off this evil dream; let us awake, for
it is day, and Christ Who is the light, is come;
let us do the works of day, who were wont to
do the works of darkness. Oh! that we might
so bitterly repent of the time we spent in
ignorance of God, that the memory of it might
spur us on to speed the more swiftly after Him.
Would that we might run, and fly to Him,
and that we might burn with an ardour such as

Letter XXI 139

to transform us into Him. What should not
we poor creatures do, when we see our Creator
become man solely because of His love for us!
What passion was ever so strong as to convert
the lover into the likeness of his beloved? God
showed that we were dear to Him when He
made us after His own image, but far stronger
was the proof He gave of His love, when He
made Himself in the image of man. He abased
Himself to. raise us to His level; He became
man to make us as gods; He descended from
heaven that He might raise us to dwell there
with Him, and above all. He died to give us
life. And shall we lie slumbering, and make
Him no return for this great love.''

Enlighten mine eyes, O Lord, that they may
not sleep in death, and do Thou, Who hast
granted us these mercies make us duly grateful
for them, lest the very greatness of Thy gifts
should turn to our deeper condemnation.
Open my eyes, O Lord, that I may see Thee
descending from the bosom of the Father into
that of Thy Virgin Mother, so that I may
thank Thee as I ought, and humble myself
before Thee. Let me look on Thee, lying
with a manger for Thy cradle, sobbing with the
cold and oppressed by poverty, that I may be
willing to surrender all luxuries for Thy sake.
Let Thy cries resound in my ears, and soften
my heart, so that it may be as wax in Thy hands.
Do not permit God to weep, and man to be
indifferent to His tears, for I know not which

140 Blessed yohn of Avila

of these two things is to be most dreaded.
Seal up, O Christ, Thy words in my soul, that
it may sin not against Thee: gather up the
Blood Thou sheddest for me, and pour It into
my heart; let my love be wholly Thine as a
return for all Thy sufferings for me. It was
for me Thou didst seek; for me Thou didst
fight; for me Thou didst bear the mockings,
and all that cost Thee so dear: let me be all
Thine, since Thou hast ransomed me so dearly.
God Who is about to be born has no house
nor cradle ready for Him, so do you prepare
your heart for His dwelling-place. Let it be
warm with love, for the Babe is chilled; but
still, if it be only tepid, the shivering Infant
will bring it greater heat. The more He suffers
from the cold for us, the more strongly does
He prove His love, and so deserves our love
still more. In the rigorous winter weather
which He bore for us, He chose to wear no
clothes to protect Him; but naked was He born,
and naked died upon the Cross for us, because,
both in His birth and death. He manifested the
greatest excess of love. You must have ready
a crib, then, in which to rock him to sleep,
which symbolises the repose of contemplation.
See that you treat Him well, for He is the Son
of a mighty King and of a Virgin, and loves to
dwell in the breasts of virgins, for the food that
pleases Him is mortified and crucified nature.

He has many poor brethren, and those who
love Him must love them too, for His sake.

Letter XXII 141

Give them your alms, for they are the brothers
of your Creator.

When our Lord comes to be born in your
soul, keep careful guard over Him, and may
He protect and save you for His mercy's sake.

iLettet xxii


I WROTE to you in Advent about the great mercy
our Lord showed in deigning to visit us, and
the happiness of the soul to whom He comes.
I hope that in His mercy He has come to you,
and that you have received Him with faith and
love. Offer yourself, then, wholly, as a per-
petual sacrifice to Him Who has deigned to be
your loving guest ; and since you have toiled
like the Magi in seeking the Divine Child,
imitate them in their faith and in their gifts to
Him when they found Him. Contemplate God
Himself, humbly lying in a crib within a stable,
where human reason would never have led the
Kings to look for Him. The star, which is
faith, stopped above the cave, and declared by
its resplendent rays, as by so many tongues,
that here, concealed from man's understanding,

142 Blessed *John of Avila

He lay hid, Who is above all our science and
understanding. So does the star which is faith,
teach us to believe the more firmly where there
appear least grounds to do so. For if these
travellers had been led by their reason instead
of by the star, they would have sought the
new-born King in a royal palace as the most
suitable abode for Him. Our Lord gives a
great grace to those to whom He manifests
the star of the light of faith, so that, like the
Magi, they may find Him hidden in the swad-
dling clothes and amidst the poverty of His
Birth, or, as did the good thief, in the ignominy
and death of the cross. If the three Kings had
believed our Lord to be but an earthly sovereign
however great, they would merely have paid
Him the respect due from one man to another,
but faith revealed to them the Incarnate God
concealed beneath the appearance of a new-born
Babe, and they adored Him, prostrate on the
ground, confessing their own nothingness in
His presence.

Take care not to appear empty-handed before
our Lord, and think not that you are giving
Him anything, if you give not your love.
Nothing but God can make you happy, nor
can anything you offer Him but yourself satisfy

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