From The Book of My Life
My confession to Father de Cetina soothed my soul. I felt prepared to do whatever it might take to reach God. Although my confessor did not pressure me in the slightest, I felt compelled to change many subtle habits. Father de Cetina did not seem to take these matters very seriously; he was far less concerned with technical details than he was with the love of God. But his emphasis on loving God inspired me all the more, because he gave me tremendous freedom and never coerced me.
I spent almost two months trying with all my might to resist God’s favors and gifts. The changes inside me began to show on the outside. The Lord was giving me the courage to endure things that people who knew me considered to be extreme. Even the sisters in my own house wondered if I was taking renunciation a little too far. Compared to the way I used to be, I can see why they were concerned. But compared to what I think my monastic vows truly require, these austerities fell short.
By resisting God’s gifts and favors, I gained something even better: direct knowledge of God himself. I used to think that I had to be in solitude to receive the blessing of his presence in prayer. I would seclude myself and hardly dare to stir. Then I found out that solitude has nothing to do with it. The more I tried to distract myself, the more the Lord enfolded me in his sweetness. His glory seemed to surround me everywhere I went; there was nowhere to hide from his grace.
My intense effort to repress these states was painful. But the Lord’s desire to bless me and reveal himself to me overpowered my best intentions to resist. During those two months, he made his gifts and favors more dramatic than ever before, eradicating any last shred of doubt that I had the power to resist them. I renewed my love for Christ’s sacred humanity. The foundation of my practice began to take shape, and the edifice of prayer settled into place. The austerities that my illnesses had prevented now became irresistible to me.
The holy man who heard my confession speculated that maybe the reason God gave me such poor health was because I had not done enough penance and so his Majesty had created some for me. Father de Cetina ordered me to do some austerities that made me exceedingly uncomfortable, but he assured me that they could do me no harm.
I did everything he told me. It felt as if the Lord himself were telling me what to do. God gave this man the ability to direct my soul and gave me the ability to obey him. I became so sensitive that every time I began to offend God, even in the smallest way, I felt it in my soul. If I was holding on to some petty luxury or comfort, I could not recollect myself in prayer until I had given it up. I fervently prayed for the Lord to hold me in his hands. Now that he had connected me with his servants, I beseeched him not to allow me to turn back. I felt that if I were to fall, it could damage the reputations of my spiritual guides.
Around this time, Father Francis Borgia, who had once been Duke of Gandia, came to Ávila. He had given up all his worldly wealth and status to enter the Society of Jesus. Father de Cetina and the holy gentleman I’ve told you about, don Francisco, arranged for me to speak with him. Father Borgia was renowned as a very advanced soul who had been given great gifts from God. He had sacrificed many things for God, and God had already repaid him, even in this lifetime. Since I was making such dramatic progress in prayer, they thought it would be helpful for me to discuss these things with him.
Well, after Father Borgia had listened to my account, he told me that my experiences definitely came from the spirit of God. “I see no reason for you to continue trying to push these gifts away,” he said. “I can see how this resistance has been an appropriate practice up to now, but it would be a mistake to continue it. The time has come to embrace all blessings. You should still begin each period of silent prayer by meditating on a phase of the Passion, but then if the Lord transports your spirit, you must let him take it. But you shouldn’t try to make this flight of the spirit happen on your own either.”
Since Father Borgia was so evolved, he knew the right medicine to give me and the advice that would be most useful. His counsel deeply consoled me. My friend don Francisco was also very relieved to hear that my experiences came from God. This helped him to help me in many different areas.
Right around this time, my confessor, Father de Cetina, was transferred away from Ávila. I was heartbroken. I was convinced that I would never find another guide like him and that I was bound to slide right back into my wicked ways. It felt like my soul had been banished to the desert. I was inconsolable and filled with anxiety. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
A relative of mine arranged for me to go and stay with her for a while, which indirectly led to my finding a new Jesuit spiritual director. First, the Lord brought me into friendship with a young widow of noble family, named doña Guiomar de Ulloa. Doña Guiomar was a devout practitioner of contemplative prayer and a very close friend of the Jesuits. I stayed at her house for many days, and she had me speak to her own confessor. Simply listening to the holiness of their conversation uplifted my soul.
My new spiritual director, Father Juan de Prádenos, began to guide me toward greater perfection. “Hold nothing back from God,” he told me. Father Juan led me with great gentleness and skill. My soul was still very fragile. I was not strong enough to give up some of my friendships voluntarily. I didn’t believe that I was offending God through these connections, but I was inordinately attached to them. It felt like it would be ungrateful of me to walk away from them.
“Pray about these relationships,” Father Juan said. “If you recite the Veni Creator, God will enlighten you about the best thing to do.”
One day, after I had spent a long time in prayer begging the Beloved to help me please him in every way, something happened that changed my life. I was just beginning the hymn when a rapture came upon me so suddenly that it almost carried me out of myself. It was the first time God had ever given me the gift of rapture, and it was so powerful that I could not possibly doubt what was happening.
In the midst of it, I heard these words: “From now on I no longer want you to speak with human beings but with angels.” I was terrified. The transport was so intense and the words resonated so deeply that I couldn’t help but be afraid. Yet once I adjusted to the novelty of the experience, the fear faded and I was filled with a sense of deep consolation.
These words have been fulfilled. Since that day, the only people I have been able to form close bonds of friendship with are those I believe are loving God and trying to serve him. If they’re not, it’s difficult for me to feel much affection for them or find any comfort in their presence. This has been something that is beyond my control. And it doesn’t matter whether these people are old friends or even relatives. If the person does not seem willing to love and serve God or isn’t interested in discussing the spiritual path, it is a painful cross for me to deal with them.
Ever since then, I have had the courage to give everything up to God. It seems to me now that all he ever wanted was my utter transformation. Commands were pointless. My spiritual director saw how attached I was to certain friendships, but he did not dare say that I should give them up. He had to wait until the Lord did it for me. I couldn’t give them up on my own either. I had tried, and the distress it caused me was so severe – especially in light of how innocent and good these relationships were – that I abandoned the effort.
But now the Beloved himself set me free and gave me the strength to do his work. I told my spiritual director what had happened, and I let everything go, just as I had been told. It did my guides a lot of good to witness the determination in me.
May God be forever blessed! In an instant, he gave me the freedom that I could never attain through all my hard work over so many years. I had often jeopardized my health by trying to force myself to give up things I was not ready for. But since he who is the all-powerful and true Lord of all did it for me, I felt no pain.