St. Teresa of Avila’s illness leads her to a Book on Prayer and Recollection

October 31, 2021 • 3 min

From Life of St. Teresa of Avila written by Herself, page 19

The change in the habits of my life, and in my food, proved hurtful to my health; and though my happiness was great, that was not enough. The fainting-fits began to be more frequent, and my heart was so seriously affected that every one who saw it was alarmed; and I had also many other ailments.

And thus it was I spent the first year, having very bad health, though I do not think I offended God in it much. And as my illness was so serious—I was almost insensible at all times, and frequently wholly so—my father took great pains to find some relief; and as the physicians who attended me had none to give, he had me taken to a place which had a great reputation for the cure of other infirmities. They said I should find relief there.

That friend of whom I have spoken as being in the house went with me. She was one of the elder nuns. In the house where I was a nun, there was no vow of enclosure.

I remained there nearly a year, for three months of it suffering most cruel tortures—effects of the violent remedies which they applied. I know not how I endured them; and indeed, though I submitted myself to them, they were, as I shall relate, more than my constitution could bear.

I was to begin the treatment in the spring, and went thither when winter commenced. The intervening time I spent with my sister, of whom I spoke before, in her house in the country, waiting for the month of April, which was drawing near, that I might not have to go and return.

The uncle of whom I have made mention before, and whose house was on our road, gave me a book called Tercer Abecedario, which treats of the prayer of recollection. Though in the first year I had read good books—for I would read no others, because I understood now the harm they had done me—I did not know how to make my prayer, nor how to recollect myself. I was therefore much pleased with the book, and resolved to follow the way of prayer it described with all my might.

And as our Lord had already bestowed upon me the gift of tears, and I found pleasure in reading, I began to spend a certain time in solitude, to go frequently to confession, and make a beginning of that way of prayer, with this book for my guide; for I had no master—I mean, no confessor who understood me, though I sought for such a one for twenty years afterwards: which did me much harm, in that I frequently went backwards, and might have been utterly lost; for, anyhow, a director would have helped me to escape the risks I ran of sinning against God.

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