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Aspiring to deep friendship with God

11 min • Digitized on July 17, 2021

From Minor Works of St. Teresa of Avila, page 134
By St. Teresa of Avila

By describing the special peace she asks for in the words, “Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth,” the Bride shows that our Lord has other ways of bestowing His peace and friendship. I will describe some of them so that you may see the difference and realise the sublimity of this kind. O great God and Lord of ours! How profound is Thy wisdom! Well might she say: “Let Him kiss me!” Yet it seems as if she might have concluded her petition here, for what is the meaning of “the kiss of His mouth”? Undoubtedly there is no superfluous letter in these words. I do not understand her reason, yet I will write something on the subject; as I said, it matters little if it is not the exact meaning so long as it profits us.

Our King confers His peace and friendship on the soul in many ways, as we see daily, both during prayer and at other times, but our peace with Him hangs by a single hair, as the expression is. Consider, daughters, the meaning of these words, so that you may utter them with the Bride, if our Lord should draw you near to Himself; if not, do not lose courage. Every kind of friendship with God will leave you rich in gain, unless of your own accord you forfeit it. But how deeply should we grieve and regret it if, through our own fault, we do not attain to such close friendship with Him, but content ourselves with a slighter intimacy.

Alas, Lord! Do we not remember how great are the reward and the goal? A reward which, when our friendship has attained to this grade, is bestowed on us by God even in this world! How many remain at the foot of the mountain who might have climbed to its summit! I have often told you in the other little works I have written, and I now repeat it: always make courageous resolutions, for then God will give you grace to act accordingly. Rest assured that much depends on this.

There are people who, though they have attained to friendship with God, for they confess their sins sincerely and repent of them, yet before two days are over, commit the same faults again. This is certainly not the friendship for which the Bride petitions. O daughters! try not to take the same fault to confession every time. It is true that we cannot help committing sins, but at all events let them not always be identical, lest they take root, for it would be hard to pull them up, and they may even send out many off-shoots. If we set a plant or a shrub and water it every day, it will grow so sturdy that we shall want a spade and a fork to tear it up. This appears to be the case with any fault, however small, that we commit daily, unless we amend it; though it is easy to uproot it when it has only grown for a day or even for ten days. We must pray to our Lord to grant us this amendment, for on our own account we can do little, except add to our sins instead of giving them up. Remember that this will be of no small consequence to us in the terrible judgment at the hour of death, especially to those whom the Judge made His brides during their lifetime.

O great and marvellous condescension! that God should invite us to endeavour to please our Lord and King! Yet how ill do those requite His friendship who so soon again become His mortal enemies! Great indeed is the mercy of God! Where can we find a friend so patient? When once such a severance has occurred between two companions it remains unforgotten and their friendship is never so close as before. Yet how often does such a breach occur between us and our Lord, and how many years does He await our return! Blessed be Thou, my Master, Who art so long-suffering in Thy pity for us that Thou seemest to forget Thine own greatness, and dost not, as Thou hast the right, chastise such faithless treason! The state of such souls seems full of peril, for though God’s mercy is manifest, yet sometimes we see them die without confession. May He, for His own sake, deliver us, daughters, from such danger!

A better sort of friendship is that of persons who are careful not to offend God mortally—indeed, as the world goes, it is a great thing for souls to have got so far. Though such people avoid grave faults, yet I believe they fall into them occasionally, for they care nothing about venial sins, although they commit many every day, and are thus on the point of mortally offending God. They ask: “Do you scruple about that?” (as I have heard many people say); “this fault will be effaced with a little holy water and the remedies of our holy Mother Church.” How very sad this is!

For the love of God, be most watchful: never let the thought of so simple a remedy make you careless about committing a venial sin, however small; what is good ought not to lead us into evil. If you remember this resource after you have fallen—well and good! It is a great thing to preserve so pure a conscience that there is nothing to hinder your asking for the perfect friendship desired by the Bride. Most certainly, the state described is not this amity, but a very dangerous one for many people, tending to self-indulgence and likely to lead to great tepidity, nor are they always certain whether their faults are venial or mortal. God deliver you from such a friendship! for these souls think they have not committed such grievous sins as they see in others. To hold others worse than oneself is a want of humility, while, perhaps, they may be far better, being deeply sorry and contrite for their misdeeds, and more firmly resolved than their critics to amend, so that in future, perhaps, they will offend God neither in light nor in grave matters. The first mentioned, as they think that they do no serious wrong, are much more lax in indulging themselves: they rarely say their prayers devoutly, as they do not trouble themselves about such details.

There is another kind of friendship and peace that our Lord bestows partially upon certain persons who wish not to offend Him in any way, yet who do not completely withdraw themselves from occasions of falling. They keep their set times for prayer and God grants them the gift of devotion and tears, yet they wish to spend good and regular lives without giving up their pleasures, which they think will conduce to their living in peace even in this world. But the events of life bring many changes and it will be hard for such souls to persevere in virtue; for, not having given up earthly joys and pleasures, they soon grow lax on the road to God, from which there are many powerful foes to turn us. This, daughters, is not the amity asked for by the Bride, nor that you wish for yourselves. Avoid every slight occasion of evil, however insignificant, if you are anxious for your soul to grow in grace and to live in safety.

I do not know why I tell you all these things, except to teach you the danger of not resolutely leaving all worldly things, by which we should free ourselves from many sins and troubles. Our Lord has so many ways of contracting friendship with souls that I should never finish telling about those I know, though I am only a woman. Of how many more, then, must confessors and those who study the subject be aware?

I am astonished at some souls, for there seems nothing to prevent their becoming the friends of God. I will mention one person of this sort whom I knew very intimately a short time ago.

She liked to receive Holy Communion very frequently; never spoke ill of anyone, and felt great devotion during prayer. She lived alone in continual solitude, for she had a house of her own, and she was so sweet-tempered that nothing that was said ever vexed her, which is a very great virtue, nor did she ever say anything wrong. She had never married, and was now too old to do so. She had suffered much annoyance from others, yet had kept her peace. These appeared to me signs of a soul far advanced in the spiritual life and in a high state of prayer, so that at first I had a very good opinion of her, for I never saw her offend God, and I was told that she carefully avoided doing so.

But, on knowing her better, I began to discover that she was peaceful enough as long as nothing touched her self-interest, but when that was in question, her conscience lost its sensitiveness and became extremely lax. She bore patiently what was said to her, but was jealous of her honour and would not willingly yield one jot nor tittle of her dignity or the esteem of the world, so wrapt up was she in this miserable sentiment. Her anxiety to know all the current gossip was so great that I wondered how she could remain alone for an hour; besides which she was very fond of comfort.

She gilded over all her actions so that they seemed blameless, and, according to her own account of some affairs, I thought it would have been wrong of me to judge otherwise, yet in certain matters it was notorious that she was in the wrong;—however, perhaps, she did not understand it. At first I liked her very much, and most people took her for a saint, yet afterwards I thought she ought to have owned that she herself was partly in fault as regards some of the persecutions she told me she had suffered. I did not envy her sanctity nor her mode of life; indeed, she and two other persons I have known who considered themselves saints, when I became intimate with them struck me with greater fear than all the sinners I ever met.

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