Life of St. Teresa - F. A. Forbes

The End of Sorrow

"Our Lord said to me one day: 'Thinkest thou, my daughter, that meriting lies in fruition? No, merit lies only in doing, in suffering, and in loving.'"

In the end of June, 1578, St. Teresa, in obedience to the order of the Provincial, set out on a last visitation of her convents. At Malagon she was laid up with an attack of paralysis, but as soon as she was able to move continued her journey. At Toledo she fell ill again, but refused to rest. "I am so used to suffering," she said, smiling, "that I can bear it and still go on." After a week of weary travelling in a rough cart over mountainous country she reached Segovia; it was mid-August before she came to Valladolid, where she was again so ill that her life was despaired of.

But new foundations were being asked for in several places, and as long as the Saint had life and breath she must be about her Master's business. At Burgos there were trials without number. The Archbishop, after having given his consent to a foundation, suddenly drew back and opposed the project; Teresa was begged to come herself and try what she could do. She was in a burning fever, but would not on that account delay.

Go, my daughter, and fear nothing," her Divine Master said in answer to her prayer for guidance. "I am with thee."

It was bitter wintry weather when the little party, consisting of the Saint, her faithful Sister Anne of St. Bartholomew, her niece Teresita, and Father Jerome Gratian, started on their journey. The floods were out, and the whole country under water. The nuns had to get out of the cart and walk, or rather wade through the icy stream, for the road had altogether disappeared. It was Teresa, under the burden of her sickness and her seventy years, who encouraged them and kept up their hearts; but presently her foot slipped, and she was nearly carried away by the torrent. "Ah, Lord," she cried with loving familiarity, "why do You put such difficulties in our way?" "Do not complain, my daughter," was the answer; "it is thus I treat my friends." "Ah, my Lord," lamented the Saint, "that is why You have so few."

Presently they were able to get into the carts again, but these stuck in the mud, which made another long delay. At last in a torrential downpour of rain they reached Burgos, where a noble lady, Dona Caterina de Tolosa, had offered them hospitality. As may be imagined, the journey had not improved Teresa's condition. The Archbishop, approached once more on the subject of the foundation, declared that he would give his consent on condition that the nuns had a good house and means of subsistence; but a house could not be found.

In the meantime, the Carmelites had to go out to church. One day as they were walking along beside a dirty stream, Teresa gently asked a woman who was standing in the middle of the footpath to let them pass. For sole answer the woman called her a hypocrite, and pushed her into the gutter. The nuns were very angry, but the Saint bade them take no notice. "The good woman has spoken truly and acted justly," she said; "that is only what I deserve." Another day when she was kneeling in the church, some men who were passing in a hurry gave her such a push that they knocked her down. Teresa only laughed at her ill luck and made excuses for them.

At last a kind doctor of Burgos, who had been called in by Father Jerome Gratian to prescribe for the Saint, spoke of her to his friend Ferdinand de Malauga, who offered to lodge the little community in an attic near the chapel of the large hospital of which he was governor. This proposal, with its promise of privacy, Teresa gratefully accepted, to the regret of Dona Caterina, who would fain have retained her holy guests. The dwelling was poor, but it looked on to the chapel, and there were the sick in the hospital to visit and console. The patients could not have enough of the Saint. "When Mother Teresa is here," they would say, "all our pains get better; the very sight of her does us good."

Dr. Aguiar was still searching everywhere for a house. The only one for sale was described as most unsuitable in every way, but as soon as Teresa saw it she was delighted. The purchase was therefore concluded, the Archbishop seeming to approve; but as soon as the nuns had taken possession, he expressed his displeasure, and it was only after many anxious moments that his full consent was obtained. A month later the River Orlanzon, swelled by violent rains, overflowed its banks and flooded the whole district Trees were uprooted, houses disappeared; a sea of water surrounded the convent. Teresa, who had refused to join the crowds of people who had taken refuge on higher ground, remained to pray with her daughters. The cold was intense, for the water had invaded the lower part of the house, and every gust of wind threatened destruction. The nuns were half starving, for what food there was was under water. At last, when all seemed hopeless, the floods began to abate, and the people of Burgos, in great anxiety as to the fate of the Carmelites, came to the rescue. The doors of the house were broken open so that the water might escape, and the rubbish was cleared out.

In the end of August Teresa went to Valladolid, where she had intended to take a much needed rest, but here a new heartbreak awaited her. As Sister Anne afterwards said, "God willed that she should have nothing but suffering all along the road." Maria Bautista, her niece, and Prioress of the convent, displeased with the Saint's decision with regard to a difficult family affair, received her with marked coldness. She had been one of the most devoted of daughters, and Teresa's affectionate heart felt her behaviour keenly. Little did the young Prioress foresee that it was the last time that she would see her holy Mother's face on earth, or the bitter regret that her little fit of ill-humour would cause her in the days to come.

As for Teresa, half dead with weariness and pain, she went on without delay, her only thought being to console her companions in the discomforts they had to endure. At night they reached a miserable inn, where they could get no food. The Saint was faint with weakness, and Sister Anne tried in vain to get some eggs or something that an invalid could cat. Nothing could be procured but a few dried figs, which she brought to Teresa weeping. "Do not cry, clear sister," said the holy Mother; "the figs are very good; many poor people have not as much." The next day she was worse, and when she arrived at Alba the Prioress and the nuns, shocked at her appearance, made her go to bed at once. Teresa smiled. "It is true, my dear children," she said, "that I am very tired, but I have not been to bed so early for twenty years." Next day she arose in time for Mass and received Holy Communion. For a few days she insisted on following the community life, but at last had to declare herself vanquished.

They put her in a little room that looked on the chapel, where she lay and prayed in a happy silence. She was near her Lord, and that was all she desired. The sisters succeeded each other before the altar, praying, praying that God would spare that precious life; a heavy sorrow lay like a pall upon the house.

St. Teresa


In the sick-room a strange perfume exhaled from the body of the dying Saint, all the more wonderful because the doctors had prescribed rubbing with an ill-smelling oil which they hoped would relieve the pain. Everybody who entered noticed it; the whole room was scented as with jasmine, lilies, and roses. Teresa, who felt that the end was near, asked for the last Sacraments.

It was live o'clock in the afternoon, and the last rays of the setting sun were lighting up the shadows when they brought her the Bread of Life. As she turned to greet her Divine Lord, her face shone once more with that radiant light that her daughters had so often seen while she prayed; she was as one transfigured, young and beautiful as of old. "1 die the faithful daughter of the Church," she said after asking pardon of those who were present for all that might have given them pain, and begging their prayers.

The night was spent in great sulfuring, though not a murmur of complaint passed her lips. At dawn, Sister Anne of St. Bartholomew, knowing the Saint's love of cleanliness, clothed her from head to foot in spotless linen, and was thanked by a loving and grateful smile. Lying on her side with the Crucifix in her hand, Teresa remained for the rest of the day, silent and motionless, lost in a loving contemplation of her crucified Lord. A supernatural beauty and joy shone from her face; those who were near watched her in an awestruck silence; such a chamber of death seemed to them like the gate of Heaven.

To Sister Anne, who had been Teresa's faithful companion for so many years, the thought of what life would be without her brought an almost unbearable sorrow. As towards evening she raised her tear-dimmed eyes to pray for help and comfort, she beheld in a vision our Lord surrounded with angels looking down with loving glance upon Teresa, as Sister Anne had seen Him stand and look once before in the refectory at St. Joseph's. As she gazed the burden of her grief grew light; a divine consolation filled her heart, and she turned once more towards the bed. Even as she moved the Saint sighed once or twice softly and entered into the life that is eternal.

So died St. Teresa, and how can that blessed passing be more eloquently described than in the words of the Saint herself?

"How sweet at the hour of death to go before Him whom we have loved above all things! What happiness to think we are not going to a strange country, but to our own country, since it is to the home of that adorable Spouse whom we love so much, and by whom we are so much loved!"