St. Teresa of Avila explains how people don’t fully give themselves to God and yet expect to have Him fully

December 12, 2021 • 5 min

From Life of St. Teresa of Avila written by Herself, page 77
By St. Teresa of Avila

CHAPTER XI.

WHY MEN DO NOT ATTAIN QUICKLY TO THE PERFECT LOVE OF GOD. OF FOUR DEGREES OF PRAYER. OF THE FIRST DEGREE. THE DOCTRINE PROFITABLE FOR BEGINNERS, AND FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO SENSIBLE SWEETNESS.

In which she sets forth how it is that we do not love God perfectly in a short time. She begins by expounding by means of a comparison four degrees of prayer, of the first of which she treats here; this is most profitable for beginners and for those who find no taste in prayer.

I speak now of those who begin to be the servants of love; that seems to me to be nothing else but to resolve to follow Him in the way of prayer, who has loved us so much.

It is a dignity so great that I have a strange joy in thinking of it; for servile fear vanishes at once, if we are, as we ought to be, in the first degree.

O Lord of my soul, and my good, how is it that, when a soul is determined to love Thee—doing all it can, by forsaking all things, in order that it may the better occupy itself with the love of God—it is not Thy will it should have the joy of ascending at once to the possession of perfect love?

I have spoken amiss; I ought to have said, and my complaint should have been, why is it we do not? for the fault is wholly our own that we do not rejoice at once in a dignity so great, seeing that the attaining to the perfect possession of this true love brings all blessings with it.

We think so much of ourselves, and are so dilatory in giving ourselves wholly to God, that, as His Majesty will not let us have the fruition of that which is so precious but at a great cost, so neither do we perfectly prepare ourselves for it.

I see plainly that there is nothing by which so great a good can be procured in this world.

If, however, we did what we could, not clinging to anything upon earth, but having all our thoughts and conversation in Heaven, I believe that this blessing would quickly be given us, provided we perfectly prepared ourselves for it at once, as some of the saints have done.

We think we are giving all to God; but, in fact, we are offering only the revenue or the produce, while we retain the fee-simple of the land in our own possession.

We resolve to become poor, and it is a resolution of great merit; but we very often take great care not to be in want, not simply of what is necessary, but of what is superfluous: yea, and to make for ourselves friends who may supply us; and in this way we take more pains, and perhaps expose ourselves to greater danger, in order that we may want nothing, than we did formerly, when we had our own possessions in our own power.

We thought, also, that we gave up all desire of honour when we became religious, or when we began the spiritual life, and followed after perfection; and yet, when we are touched on the point of honour, we do not then remember that we had given it up to God. We would seize it again, and take it, as they say, out of His hands, even after we had made Him, to all appearance, the Lord of our own will. So is it in everything else.

A pleasant way this of seeking the love of God! we retain our own affections, and yet will have that love, as they say, by handfuls. We make no efforts to bring our desires to good effect, or to raise them resolutely above the earth; and yet, with all this, we must have many spiritual consolations.

This is not well, and we are seeking things that are incompatible one with the other. So, because we do not give ourselves up wholly and at once, this treasure is not given wholly and at once to us. May it be the good pleasure of our Lord to give it us drop by drop, though it may cost us all the trials in the world.

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