Spiritual Guidance from Saint Teresa of Avila
The following was taken from The Way of Perfection by Saint Teresa of Avila. In these excerpts, Saint Teresa explains how to practice perfect charity, an example of true charity, and how to gain spiritual love for others. While Saint Teresa is writing to those living in a state of religious life, her spiritual wisdom can be applied to all.
How to Practice Perfect Charity
In short, we must always watch and pray, for prayer is the surest way to discover the devil’s snares and make him reveal himself. Be cordial with your sisters when they take their needful recreation, and stay with them the whole of the appointed time, although it may not suit your taste. I intended saying much of the other kind of love, but on second thoughts I do not think that it can flourish here, considering what life we lead; therefore, I leave the subject alone, hoping that, with the help of God, there will be no danger of there being any less supernatural affection among those in this house, although the sisters may not always be quite perfect. It is right for the nuns to compassionate one another’s needs, but beware lest this pity should be indiscreet, or contrary to obedience. Let no one know if the orders given by the Prioress seem harsh to you, unless you humbly say so to her yourself, otherwise you will do much harm. Make sure when it is right for you to sympathize with and to pity your sisters; you must always feel sorry for any conspicuous fault you see in one of them; charity is proved and tested in such a case by keeping patience and by not being shocked. Others bear thus with your faults, both those of which you are conscious and the many more of which you are ignorant. Pray constantly to God for your sister, and endeavour to practise perfectly the virtue contrary to her fault. Force yourself to do this, for you may thus teach her by deed, what by words or even by punishment, she could never attain to: whereas the sight of this virtue in another would make a great impression on her. This is good advice: do not forget it.
An Example of True Charity
Oh! what an excellent and sincere love does that nun show who sacrifices her own interests to that of her sisters; who makes great progress in all the virtues and in the perfect observance of the Rule! There is more true friendship in this than in all the tender speeches that can be uttered, and which are not, and must not, be used in this house; such as: ‘My life, my soul, my darling!’ and other expressions people use to one another. Keep endearing words for your Spouse; you will often be alone with Him and will need them all, since His Majesty permits their use. However, much you may repeat them to Him, they will not make you sentimental, and there is no need to address them to any one else. Such expressions are very womanish, and I do not wish you to be nor to appear so in any way, but rather valiant and manly. If you do your best, God will make you so strong that men will wonder at you. How easy this is to His Majesty Who created us out of nothing!
How to Gain Spiritual Love for Others
This is the kind of affection I wish we all possessed. Although in the beginning our love may be defective, yet our Lord will correct it. Let us consider the way to obtain perfect love. Although at first we mingle some tenderness with it, no harm will be done as long as it does not amount to particular friendship. It is necessary at times to show some tenderness in our loves and even to feel it; we must sympathize with many of our sisters’ trials and weaknesses, insignificant as they may be. Sometimes a trifling matter gives as much pain to one person as a heavy cross would cause another. Sensitive natures feel very keenly slight troubles at which others would laugh. If you are stronger-minded, still, pity your neighbours and do not be astonished at them. Perhaps the devil has taken more trouble to wound their feelings thus than he has to grieve you by severe trials and crosses. It may be that our Lord spares us these sufferings to give us trials of other kinds, when perhaps what seems, and is indeed a heavy cross to us, will appear but a light one to our sisters. We must not judge others by ourselves in such cases, nor compare ourselves to them at a time when, perhaps through no effort of our own, our Lord has given us greater fortitude; rather let us estimate ourselves by our weakest moments. There is need for this if we would know how to condole with our neighbours’ griefs.