St. Teresa of Avila’s advice to parents about their children’s companions from her own childhood experiences

October 24, 2021 • 5 min

From Life of St. Teresa of Avila written by Herself, page 8
By St. Teresa of Avila

I had some cousins; for into my father’s house no others were allowed an entrance. In this he was very cautious; and would to God he had been cautious about them!—for I see now the danger of conversing, at an age when virtue should begin to grow, with persons who, knowing nothing themselves of the vanity of the world, provoke others to throw themselves into the midst of it.

These cousins were nearly of mine own age—a little older, perhaps. We were always together; and they had a great affection for me. In everything that gave them pleasure, I kept the conversation alive—listened to the stories of their affections and childish follies, good for nothing; and, what was still worse, my soul began to give itself up to that which was the cause of all its disorders.

If I were to give advice, I would say to parents that they ought to be very careful whom they allow to mix with their children when young; for much mischief thence ensues, and our natural inclinations are unto evil rather than good.

So it was with me; for I had a sister much older than myself, from whose modesty and goodness, which were great, I learned nothing; and learned every evil from a relative who was often in the house. She was so light and frivolous that my mother took great pains to keep her out of the house, as if she foresaw the evil I should learn from her; but she could not succeed, there being so many reasons for her coming.

I was very fond of this person’s company, gossiped and talked with her; for she helped me in all the amusements I liked, and, what is more, found some for me, and communicated to me her own conversations and her vanities.

Until I knew her, I mean, until she became friendly with me, and communicated to me her own affairs—I was then about fourteen years old, a little more, I think—I do not believe that I turned away from God in mortal sin, or lost the fear of Him, though I had a greater fear of disgrace.

This latter fear had such sway over me, that I never wholly forfeited my good name—and, as to that, there was nothing in the world for which I would have bartered it, and nobody in the world I liked well enough who could have persuaded me to do it.

Thus I might have had the strength never to do anything against the honour of God, as I had it by nature not to fail in that wherein I thought the honour of the world consisted; and I never observed that I was failing in many other ways. In vainly seeking after it I was extremely careful; but in the use of the means necessary for preserving it I was utterly careless. I was anxious only not to be lost altogether.

This friendship distressed my father and sister exceedingly. They often blamed me for it; but, as they could not hinder that person from coming into the house, all their efforts were in vain; for I was very adroit in doing anything that was wrong.

Now and then, I am amazed at the evil one bad companion can do,—nor could I believe it if I did not know it by experience,—especially when we are young: then is it that the evil must be greatest. Oh, that parents would take warning by me, and look carefully to this! So it was; the conversation of this person so changed me, that no trace was left of my soul’s natural disposition to virtue, and I became a reflection of her and of another who was given to the same kind of amusements.

I know from this the great advantage of good companions; and I am certain that if at that tender age I had been thrown among good people, I should have persevered in virtue; for if at that time I had found any one to teach me the fear of God, my soul would have grown strong enough not to fall away. Afterwards, when the fear of God had utterly departed from me, the fear of dishonour alone remained, and was a torment to me in all I did. When I thought that nobody would ever know, I ventured upon many things that were neither honourable nor pleasing unto God.

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