Summary of The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila

Resources Used:

Teresa of Ávila. The Way of Perfection. Second Edition. London: Thomas Baker, 1919.

Prayer

1: Genuine prayer and self-indulgence do not mix.

“The first chapter of our Rule bids us ‘Pray without ceasing’: we must obey this with the greatest perfection possible for it is our most important duty; then we shall not neglect the fasts, penances, and silence enjoined by the Rule. As you know, these are necessary if the prayer is to be genuine; prayer and self-indulgence do not go together (24).”

“The King of glory will not come into our souls, so as to be united to them, unless we strive to obtain the highest virtues” (91). 

2: The indwelling presence of God. 

“We are not forced to take wings to find Him but have only to seek solitude and to look within ourselves” (159).

“Let us realise that we have within us a most splendid palace built entirely of gold and precious stones—in short, one that is fit for so great a Lord—and that we are partly responsible for the condition of this building, because there is no structure so beautiful as a soul filled with virtues, and the more perfect these virtues are the more brilliantly do the jewels shine. Within this palace dwells the mighty King Who has deigned to become your Father, and Who is seated on a throne of priceless value—by which I mean your heart” (163).

“If we took care to remember what Guest we have within us, I think it would be impossible for us to give ourselves up so much to worldly vanities and cares, for we should see how vile they are in comparison with the riches within us” (164).

“It is very profitable for us to remember Who resides within our hearts” (169).

3: Say your vocal prayers well!

“We ought to attend to how we say our prayers” (141).

“I have already explained that we cannot speak both to God and to the world at the same time. Yet what else are we doing if, while we pray, we listen to other people’s conversation or let our thoughts dwell unchecked on whatever subject occurs to them?” (142)

“He speaks to our hearts when our hearts speak to Him” (143).

“I find that the best remedy is to keep my mind fixed on Him to Whom my words are addressed” (144).

“To prove to you that vocal prayer, made perfectly, brings with it no small profit, I may tell you that it is quite possible, while you are reciting the Pater Noster or some other prayer (if you say it well), that God may raise you to perfect contemplation” (145).

“It is very helpful to read a book of devotion… so as to learn how to collect the thoughts and to pray well vocally, thus, little by little, enticing the soul by coaxing and persuasion, so that it may not take alarm” (153).

It is essential to say vocal prayers well because “many people who practise vocal prayer are, without their knowing how, raised by God to a high state of contemplation. This is why I am most anxious that you should say your prayers well” (176).

“Now you see, my friends, that to make vocal prayer with perfection is to consider and to realise to Whom it is offered, who it is that makes it, and what is asked for” (262).

4: Importance of “Recollection”

“‘Recollection’, because by its means the soul collects together all the faculties and enters within itself to be with God” (160).

“Those who are able thus to enclose themselves within the little heaven of their souls where dwells the Creator of both heaven and earth, and who can accustom themselves not to look at anything nor to remain in any place which would preoccupy their exterior senses, may feel sure that they are travelling by an excellent way, and that they will certainly attain to drink of the water from the fountain, for they will journey far in a short time” (161).

5: Importance of Meditation

Meditation… is the first step to obtain them all (the virtues): it is most essential for all Christians to begin this practice” (89).

“For more than fourteen years I could not meditate without a book” (97).

“Therefore, sisters, practise mental prayer, and if you cannot manage that, then vocal prayer, reading, and the colloquies with God” (103).

“The words of the Gospel, which came from our Lord’s most sacred mouth, have always been dear to me and arouse a more fervent devotion in me than the most carefully written and learned books” (126).

“If while I utter a prayer I carefully consider its meaning and pay more attention to what I am saying to God than to the words themselves, this is both mental and vocal prayer” (131).

6: How to Begin Prayer

“Before prayer, endeavour to realise Whose Presence you are approaching and to Whom you are about to speak” (135).

“Address Him sometimes as a Father or as a Brother, or again as a Master or as your Bridegroom: sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, for He will teach you what He wishes you to do” (160).

Never address your words to God while you are thinking of something else—whoever does so, knows nothing of mental prayer” (136).

“You know that, first of all, you must make your examination of conscience, say the Confiteor and make the sign of the cross—then, my daughters, as you are alone, seek for some companion—and where could you find a better one than the Master Who taught you the prayer you are about to say? Picture this same Lord close beside you. See how lovingly, how humbly He is teaching you—believe me, you should never be without so good a Friend” (148).

“Always begin and finish your prayer with the thought of your own nothingness, however sublime your contemplation may be, and even though our Lord may impart Himself to you and offer you proofs of His love” (242).

“Do you know when the gazing on a representation of Christ is a good and holy practice in which I take great pleasure? It is when our Lord is absent and makes us feel His loss by aridities” (210).

“I am not now asking you to meditate on Him, nor to produce great thoughts, nor to feel deep devotion: I only ask you to look at Him… He never takes His eyes off you! See: He is only waiting for us to look on Him” (149).

“You will find that He suits Himself to whatever mood you are in. He longs so keenly for our glance that He will neglect no means to win it (if you are happy, think of Him at His Resurrection… if you are said, think of Him during His Passion)” (150).

7: Prayer of Quiet

“The will alone is captive” (179) and “the soul is intoxicated with delight and joy that there no longer seems anything left to long for” (179).

“This prayer is a supernatural state to which no effort of our own can raise us, because here the soul rests in peace—or rather, our Lord gives it peace by His presence… all the faculties are calmed… the spirit realises that it is close to its God, and that if it drew but a little nearer to Him, it would become one with Him by union (prayer of union)” (177-8).

8: Contemplation

“This is a divine union in which our Lord takes His delight in the soul while the soul rejoices in Him” (91). “A gift of God” (97), “beyond our natural powers” (146).

“Contemplatives have heavy crosses to bear… they prize afflictions as other people prize gold and jewels, knowing that sorrows will make them rich” (224).

“An ardent and constant desire for heaven is a sure sign in contemplatives that the favours they receive come from God and that their contemplation is genuine, for He is drawing their souls to Him” (261).

Poverty

When I have least I am most free from anxiety, and God knows that, as far as I can tell, it grieves me far more when I am well cared for than when I am in want” (10).

“Poverty comprises many virtues. It is a vast domain. I affirm that whoever despises all earthly goods holds dominion over them” (12).

“True poverty, undertaken for the sake of God, bears with it a certain dignity in that he who professes it need seek to please no one but Him” (12).

“True enough, if poverty is real it guards purity and all the other virtues better than do fine buildings” (13).

“Let us not look for luxuries, daughters: we are well enough off here—it is only one night in a bad inn—thank God!” (250).

Detachment

“If we cling to our Creator alone and care nothing for created things, His Majesty will infuse the virtues into us, so that, doing by degrees all that is in our power, we shall have little left with which to struggle, for our Lord will defend us against the devils and the whole world as well” (52).

“We must keep watch over ourselves carefully in the most insignificant matters: when we are attached to anything we must turn our thoughts from it and fix them on God (59).

“A valuable aid towards this is the constant remembrance of the vanity of all things and of how quickly they pass away, that we may withdraw our affections from what is worthless and fix them on what is eternal” (59).

“Our natures are always the same, and unless we use the greatest care and each one of us makes it her most urgent business constantly to cross her self-will, many things will keep us from the holy liberty of spirit which we seek in order that our souls may rise to their Creator, unimpeded by any earthly, leaden weight” (59).

“If we do not yield ourselves to Him as entirely as He gives Himself to us He does what suffices by leaving us to mental prayer and visiting us now and then, as servants working in His vineyard” (93).

“As Christ does not force our will, He only takes what we give Him, but He does not give Himself entirely until He sees that we yield ourselves entirely to Him” (165).

The chief point is that we should resolutely give Him our heart for His own and should empty it of everything else, that He may take out or put in whatever He pleases as if it were His own property” (165).

Mortification

“Our first effort must be to cease loving our bodies; some of us are naturally self-indulgent, therefore this is no easy work” (61).

“Be convinced, sisters, that you came here to die for Christ, not to indulge yourselves for Him” (61).

“The body possesses this defect—the more you give it, the more it requires. It is wonderful how fond it is of comfort, and what pretexts it will offer to obtain it, however little needed; it deceives the unfortunate soul, and prevents its making progress” (64).

“Learn, then, to suffer some little thing for the love of God without everyone’s knowing it” (65).

“Believe me, daughters, when once we begin to subdue our wretched bodies, they do not trouble us so much. It is enough for you to see to what is needful. Do not desire anything extra, unless it is absolutely necessary” (66).

“Unless we resolve, once for all, to resign ourselves to death and ill-health, we shall never do anything” (66).

“Why then do we draw back from interior mortification, which is the mainspring of all the rest, by which they become more meritorious and perfect and are finally performed with sweetness and peace?” (68).

“This interior mortification, as I said, is acquired little by little through never following our own will or liking even in the most trifling matters, until we have subdued the body to the spirit. I repeat, that this is entirely or at least mainly accomplished by renouncing all care for ourselves and our own pleasure” (68).

“Trust me, this is the safest view to take, therefore we must learn to cross our will in everything; although we may not succeed at once, yet little by little, by the help of prayer, as I said, without knowing how, we shall reach the summit” (69).

“Let us force ourselves to do penance in this life. How sweet death will be to her who has expiated all her sins and who needs no purgatory!” (250).

Humility

The great spiritual advantage of not excusing yourself when unjustly blamed, “unless it will cause grave offense or scandal by not telling the truth” (83).

“Not to exculpate ourselves when unjustly accused is a sublime virtue, and very edifying and meritorious” (82).

“Whoever is really humble ought to wish sincerely to be despised, persecuted, and condemned for serious offences without any just cause… For indeed it requires great humility to see oneself blamed without cause, and to be silent; we thus imitate our Lord” (83).

“When there is need, His Majesty will find you an advocate: if not, it will be because you do not require one” (87).

Humility is the real measure of spiritual development.

“Let each one examine whether she is truly humble, and she will learn what progress she has made” (71).

“No queen can defeat Him so soon as can humility. It drew Him from heaven into the Virgin’s womb, and with it we can draw Him by a single hair into our souls. And doubtless, the greater our humility, the more entirely shall we possess Him, and the weaker it is, the more reluctantly will He dwell within us. For I do not and I cannot understand how humility can exist without love, or love without humility, nor can either of these virtues be held in their perfection without great detachment from all created things” (88-89).

“Reflect that true humility consists in being willing and ready to do what our Lord asks of us: it always makes us consider ourselves unworthy to be reckoned among His servants” (99).

The best sign that any one has made progress is that she thinks herself the last of all and proves it by her behaviour, and that she aims at the well-being and good of others in all that she does. This is the true test—not sweetness in prayer, ecstasies, visions, and other divine favours of the same kind. The value of these latter we cannot estimate rightly until the next life, but the former are current coin, a constant revenue and a perpetual inheritance, not mere part-payments which, when acquitted, cease—I speak of great humility and mortification, and implicit obedience” (105-106).

“We fancy we do not wish for honour and that we are indifferent to everything of the kind—yet, let any one offer us the slightest affront, and our feelings and behaviour will at once betray that we are not humble” (239).

Humility is essential for prayer.

“Humility… is the principal aid to prayer” (96).

Humble souls never seek spiritual consolations.

“Other souls, receiving no spiritual consolations, are humble, for they doubt whether it is not through their own fault and are most anxious to improve” (98).

“Always try to be humble, sisters; believe that you are unworthy of these gifts and do not seek them” (233).

“Humility would not lead you to refuse a favour from the king, but would make you accept and take pleasure in it although you recognised how little it was your due” (160).

True humility produces peace and trust in God.

“Beware, daughters, of a certain kind of humility suggested by the devil which is accompanied by great anxiety about the gravity of our past sins” (240).

“However deep humility may be, it neither disquiets, wearies, nor disturbs the soul, but is peaceful, sweet, and serene. Although the sight of our wickedness grieves us and proves to us that we deserve to be in hell and that in justice all mankind should hate us, so that we hardly dare to beg for mercy, yet if it is a right humility this pain is accompanied by suavity, content, and joy, and we do not wish to be without it; indeed, it ought to be prized since it results in self-knowledge. It dilates, instead of troubling or depressing the soul, making it more capable of serving God. The other sorrow which distresses the mind renders it uneasy, completely subverting it and causing great pain, so that there is no possibility of calming the thoughts. You may feel certain that this is a temptation and not humility, with which it has no connection. I believe that this is a plot of the devil to make us think we are lowly, and at the same time to lead us to distrust God. If you are ever in this state, turn your thoughts, as far as possible, from your own misery and meditate on the mercy of God, His love for us, and all that He suffered for our sake” (241).

Humility realizes that everything is a gift from God.

“When God gives us some virtue, we must understand that it is only a loan and that He may take it away again, as indeed often happens, not without a wise providence” (234).

“The truth is that if we serve God with a lowly heart, He will succour us at length in our needs. But if we are not really humble, He will let us slip at every step, as they say, and He thus shows great kindness, for He does so to make us value His grace and thoroughly to realise that we possess nothing which we have not received” (235).

“A truly humble soul mistrusts its own good qualities: it believes in them more readily and values them more highly when it finds them in another” (239).

The strong should “remember what they used to feel while they were still weak, and should reflect that if they have improved it is not their own doing” (47).

Perseverance

With perseverance, we are guaranteed to win the battle.

“We ought to feel no doubt that, unless we allow ourselves to be defeated, we are sure to succeed” (139).

“Then take my advice; do not loiter on the road, but struggle manfully until you perish in the attempt, for you only came here for battle. Resolve firmly to die rather than miss the end of your journey” (121).

“How must one begin? I maintain that this is the chief point; in fact, that everything depends on people having a great and a most resolute determination never to halt until they reach their journey’s end, happen what may, whatever the consequences are, cost what it will, let who will blame them, whether they reach the goal or die on the road, or lose heart to bear the trials they encounter, or the earth itself goes to pieces beneath their feet” (125).

Perseverance is essential for prayer.

“It is essential, I think, to begin the practice of prayer with a firm resolution of persevering in it” (137).

Friendship

Holy friendship seeks the highest good of the other, to see them “rich in virtue” (45).

“There is no thought of self in this affection; its only wish and care is to see its favourite enriched with divine graces” (43).

“They reflect whether this cross is good for their friend’s soul and whether it increases her virtue; they watch how she bears it; begging God to give her patience, that she may merit by her trials” (44).

Holy friendship is very helpful to grow in holiness.

“The company of God’s friends is a good way of keeping near Him: it is of the greatest advantage, as I know from experience; for, after God Himself, I owe it to such persons that I am not in hell. I was most anxious that they should intercede for me with God, and used to beg them to do so” (46).

“It is a great sign of love to relieve others of their labour in the offices of the convent and to take it on ourselves, also to rejoice and to thank God for our sisters’ spiritual progress as if it were our own” (49).

Obedience & Doing God’s Will

“My whole aim in writing this book has been to incite us to yield ourselves entirely to our Creator, to submit our will to His, and to detach ourselves from all created things” (193).

“The one thing which by the grace of God we can do is to utterly resign our will to His: all else only hinders the soul that He has raised to this state: humility alone can help us here, and that not a humility won by means of our intellect but one gained by a pure intuition of the truth by which we perceive, in an instant, our own nothingness and the greatness of God with greater clearness than we could have learnt in many years by the use of our reason” (195-6).

“You need not fear that He will give you riches, or pleasures, or great honours, or any earthly good—His love for you is not so lukewarm—He places a higher value on your gift and wishes to reward you generously, since He has given you His kingdom even in this life. Would you like to see how He treats those who make this petition unreservedly? Ask His glorious Son, Who in the garden uttered it truthfully and resolutely. See whether the will of God was not accomplished in the trials, the sufferings, the insults, and the persecutions sent Him, until at last His life was ended on the cross. Thus you see, daughters, what God gave to Him He loved best: this shows what His will means. These are His gifts in this world, and He grants them in proportion to His affection for us. To souls He cherishes most He gives more—and fewer to those less dear to Him, according to their courage and the love He sees they bear Him. For fervent love can suffer much for Him, while tepidity will endure but little. For my part, I believe that our love is the measure of the cross we can bear” (191-2).

“let not the promises you made to so great a God be only words of empty compliment, but force yourselves to suffer whatever God wishes” (192).

“What power, sisters, lies in this gift of the will! Made with full determination, it is able to draw the Almighty to become one with our baseness and to transform us into Himself, thus uniting the creature with its Creator” (194).

“We sinners have so accustomed ourselves and our thoughts to run after pleasure (or pain, as it might more fitly be called), that the poor soul no longer understands itself, and needs many stratagems to make it stay with its Bridegroom; yet, unless we succeed in doing this, we shall accomplish nothing” (153).

Trials & Temptations

“God guides those He loves by the way of afflictions; the dearer they are to Him, the more severe are their trials” (101).

“I feel certain that God gives by far the heaviest crosses to His favourites” (101).

How to overcome trials & temptations.

“Often recall His weariness and how much harder His labours were than your own” (151).

“Whatever consolations and signs of love our Lord may give you, avoid all occasions of evil and never feel safe against a relapse” (242).

“Constantly to bear in mind how heinous a thing it is to offend God” (254).

“This journey gains such vast treasures that no wonder the cost should seem dear. Some day we shall discover that all we have paid was nothing compared with the prize it has purchased for us” (124).

“We must be careful to break our own will in whatever we do; we must take care that our words are edifying, and must avoid places where the conversation is irreligious” (254).

“The firmer are our resolutions the less ought we to confide in our own strength, for all our confidence must rest on God” (254).

“You know that the foundation of all must be a good conscience; you ought to make every effort to free yourselves even from venial sin and to do what is most perfect” (34).

Do not grow careless: we must never feel perfectly safe in this life” (258).

“By constantly conquering yourselves in little things you may train yourselves to gain the victory in great matters” (84).

“Whoever watches such persons narrowly will find that they are never careless, for God upholds them, so that, whatever they might gain by it, they would not willingly commit a venial fault—as for mortal sin, they dread it like fire” (252).

“Give us, O our good Master! some safeguard against surprise in this most dangerous warfare. The weapons which we may use, daughters, and which His Majesty has given us, are love and fear. Take this advice: it is not mine, but your Teacher’s. Try to keep them by you on your journey. Love will quicken your footsteps and fear will make you look where you set your foot down, lest you should trip against the many stumbling-blocks on that road by which all men must pass in this life. Thus armed, you will be secure from pitfalls… They are two strong fortresses from whence war is waged on the world and the devils” (245).

Ways to detect the devil’s deceptions:

“Prayer is the surest way to discover the devil’s snares and make him reveal himself” (48).

“The evil one may secretly injure us seriously by making us believe that we have virtues which we do not possess—this is most pestilent” (233).

“Let us now come to the time of trial—for we can only test ourselves by watching our actions narrowly—and we shall soon detect signs of the devil’s deceptions” (237).

“Another very treacherous temptation is a feeling of confidence that we shall never relapse into our former faults or care for worldly pleasures again” (242).

The Eucharist

“If, while Jesus lived in the world, the mere touch of His garments healed the sick, who can doubt that when He is dwelling in the very centre of our being He will work miracles on us if we have a living faith in Him?” (208).

“Take pleasure in remaining in His society: do not lose this most precious time, for this hour is of the utmost value to the soul, and the good Jesus desires you to spend it with Him; take great care, daughters, not to waste it” (209).

“When you have received our Lord, since He really dwells within you, try to shut the eyes of your body and to open those of your soul; look into your hearts. I have told you, and shall tell you, again and again, if you do this whenever you you go to Holy Communion—I do not mean once or twice, but every time you communicate—and if you strive to keep your conscience clear so that you may frequently enjoy this grace, His coming will not be so hidden but that, in many a way, He will reveal Himself to you in proportion to the desire you have of seeing Him” (211).

“When you hear Mass, but do not go to Holy Communion, you may make an act of Spiritual Communion, which is exceedingly profitable. Recollect yourselves in the same manner: this impresses a deep love for our Lord on our minds; for if we prepare our souls to receive Him, He never fails, in many ways unknown to us, to give us His grace” (213).

“Our kind Master sees that, unless the fault be our own, this heavenly Bread renders all things easy to us and that we are now capable of fulfilling our promise to the Father of allowing His will to be done in us” (217).

Comments

  1. Camarada J says:

    Reblogged this on My Boat On The Rain and commented:
    One part of this made me cry.

  2. Gregory Smith says:

    Oops! Just replied to your blog!

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Nguru Gerald says:

    Very enlightening summary. For ever grateful

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: