God’s Work Cannot Be Undone

On her departure from Seville, a very difficult foundation, St. Teresa writes, “I was happy for having shared in the trials (Foundations 26:1).” Earlier, she wrote: “The Lord desired that no foundation be made without some trial in one way or another (Foundations 24:15).”  This insistence on the necessity of trials grew more recurrent as the foundations progressed, possibly because the trials became greater as the reformers attempted to move south into the region of Andalusia for the next two foundations in Beas and Seville, a region known for its intense heat and the general dislike of both the calced and discalced Fathers. 

Father Jerónimo Gracián served as apostolic visitatorFather Gracian of the new foundations. His life was marked by persecution and trial, and, despite having been expelled from the Order by a superior, he contributed much to the expansion of both calced and discalced Carmelites.

In fact, the crisis of authority in the new order was reaching a breaking point.  The reform at this time was still governed by the calced Fathers, and by the Apostolic See.  The tensions at the friars’ foundation in Pastrana had increased under the leadership of a man named Angel de San Gabriel (Angel of St. Gabriel), who St. Teresa describes as “a very young friar … who had no learning, very little talent, and no prudence for governing. He was without experience since he had recently entered. The manner in which he guided them was excessive as well as were the mortifications he made them perform. … It was clearly seen afterward that this young friar was the victim of much melancholy, and nowhere was he free of it.  Even as a subject, he’s a source of trouble, how much more so when he governs!” For someone who rarely spoke of others except in praise, these are strong words coming from the founder. She softens her criticism with the following words, “The humor has much control over him, for he is a good religious, and God sometimes permits this mistake of putting such persons in office so as to perfect the virtue of obedience in those He loves (Foundations 23:9).”

 St. Teresa is introducing us here to a man whom she saw as one of the chosen souls sent by God to assist the Order at this critical time:  Fr. Gerónimo Gracián of the Mother of God.  He had entered the foundation in Pastrana at the age of twenty-seven and had suffered through the novitiate under Fr. Angel.  He met St. Teresa for the first time in 1575, at Beas, and played a key role in the following foundations as well as the stabilization of the existing foundations as Apostolic Visitator.

Doñas Catalina and Maria of Jesus, and the Venerable Ana of Jesus:  Disciples of St. John of the Cross

Catalina and Maria Godínez were sisters of noble lineage, whose father had much wealth.  At the age of fourteen, Catalina, proud by nature and scornful of marriage, had a total conversion to the suffering Christ.  At the age of thirty-four, after the deaths of her parents, many years of serious illness and a miraculous cure, her long search for a monastery in which she could fulfill her calling to be a nun was finally realized in the foundation of Discalced Carmelites in Beas.  Her sister Maria, nine years younger, also entered there.  Both Catalina and Maria received spiritual direction from St. John of the Cross.  Both served the order as prioresses; Catalina served after Venerable Ana of Jesus in Beas, for whom The Spiritual Canticle of St. John of the Cross was written, and Maria in the later foundation at Cordoba.

While still in Salamanca, St. Teresa received letters from “a lady in that area (Foundations 22:1” and from the curate beneficiary asking her to establish a foundation in that town.  They already had a house, and a benefice from the town.  St. Teresa felt it would be wise to at least request permission of the apostolic commissary, Fr. Pedro Fernandez, although she felt sure he would not grant it, since he had ordered her not to make any more foundations.  The town was under the jurisdiction of an order of knights known as the Order of Santiago (St. James).  They had never granted permission for anything similar, so it was surmised, according to St. Teresa, that permission would not be granted, while it would not look like a refusal coming from the apostolic commissary.  Both Fr. Pedro Fernandez and St. Teresa were surprised when the knights accepted the foundation.  

It was Catalina who received the license for a monastery in the town from King Philip himself, after having been refused a license by the royal court.  King Philip II, known as “the Catholic king,” did much to favor the Discalced, especially during the terrible crisis of authority that resulted in the imprisonment of St. John of the Cross later in the foundations.

The foundation was made at the beginning of Lent in 1575, on the feast of St. Matthias with a solemn procession and much rejoicing in the town.  On that same day, both Catalina and Maria received the habit. 

Catalina’s Dream: Catalina of Jesus told St. Teresa of a dream she had twenty years earlier in which she had desired to find the most perfect order to join.  In the dream, she was walking along a very straight and narrow path, with dangerous steep banks on both sides.  She saw a friar, whom she later identified as Fr. Juan de la Miseria (John of the Passion) who was in Beas with St. Teresa.  He said to her, “Come with me, Sister,” and led her to a house where there were a great number of nuns with no other light than that which came from some candles they were carrying.  When the nuns lifted their veils, their faces were joyous, and they were the same Sisters as she later met at Beas.  The prioress took her hand and said, “Daughter, I want you here,” and showed her the Rule and Constitutions.  Catalina treasured this dream for twenty years, never losing her confidence that she would be a nun.  She wrote down the dream and later showed it to Father Bartholomew Bustamente, a Father of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  He knew of St. Teresa and the new foundations, and recognized some aspects of the dream as the Rule they lived by.  Catalina was the lady who wrote to St. Teresa inviting her to found a monastery in Beas.


Scorching Heat, Fevers, Bad Inn and Delayed Permissions:  The Foundation in Seville

The foundation in Seville met with many trials from beginning to end.  St. Teresa takes the time to describe some of the dangers and discomforts of travelling in carts pulled by mules on bad roads.  In fact, St. Teresa was reluctant to undertake the foundation in Seville, in southern Spain, because of the great distance and the heat.  But Fr. Gracián had at this time authority as an apostolic commissary, and he ordered St. Teresa to go to Seville.  The heat was so intense, she writes, that just going into the covered wagons was “like stepping into purgatory (Foundations 24:6).”  For a day or two, she had such a high fever that her travelling companions feared for her, throwing water on her face, but it did not help.  They stayed at an inn where the heat was intolerable, with only a tile roof, no window and a bed that was “like lying on sharp stones (Foundations 24:8).”

Crossing the Guadalquivir river proved to be hazardous, as the barge carrying their wagon was carried away by the current, and only the help of some people from a castle nearby saved them.  Next, they had the difficulty of getting their wagons over a bridge into the city, waiting two hours for the magistrate, who was not up yet, to grant a license, only to discover that the wagons were too large and needed to be sawed in some places.  By the time they got into the city, where they had hoped to have a quiet Mass, the church was full of people, being a feast of the Holy Spirit.  Once again, a layman intervened to find a private chapel where Fr. Julian could offer the Mass.  These were only the first of many troubles.

After arriving in Seville, St. Teresa learned to her dismay that the archbishop had not yet given permission for the foundation and did not allow them to take possession of the house that had been rented beforehand.  They lived there and had been allowed to offer a Mass, but they were not allowed to toll the bell, although St. Teresa was consoled that they were able to pray the Divine Office in the choir.   Apparently, both Fr. Gracián and Fr. Mariano, who assisted this foundation, had assumed that the archbishop would be pleased, and had not formally requested permission.  St. Teresa notes, however, that it may have been God’s providence that they did not request the license first, as she would have done, because the archbishop did not approve of new foundations, especially those established without an income.


Maria de San Jose

Maria (Salazar) of St. Joseph served as prioress in the foundations of  Seville and Lisbon.  She had been a servant of Lady Luisa de la Cerda, and was one of St. Teresa’s closest confidants. Her path of sanctification, like that of Father Gracián, included persecution and trial, and even expulsion from the Order.  More will be written of her in future letters.

They still did not have a house of their own, nor any money to buy one.  All of their money had been spent on the journey, which took at least three days. St. Teresa writes that they had nothing but their habits, some toques and tunics. A few women from Seville who had told Fr. Gracián they would enter the monastery thought it was too strict and enclosed, and so changed their minds. As far as we know, six nuns, Fr. Julian, Antonio Gaytán, and a Discalced friar named Gregorio Martínez, who received the habit from Fr. Mariano in Beas with the name Gregorio of Nacianceno  (meaning “I was born”) came with St. Teresa to Seville, where they met Fr. Gracián and Fr. Mariano. Some of the people who had come with them had to borrow from a friend of Antonio Gaytán to return.  In the middle of this turmoil, the calced Fathers, who had a monastery in Seville, came to see them to demand by what authority they had come there.  St. Teresa showed them the documents she had received from the Father General, and this pacified them.  She writes that if they had known how the archbishop was treating them, things may have been much worse, but everyone assumed that the archbishop favored them.  After fifteen days, he finally came to see them.  Saint Teresa told him of the trouble he was causing them, and in the end he agreed to everything the way she wanted it.

Helped Again by Family:  St. Teresa wrote that in Seville, which was a wealthy city, almost no-one helped them, and after almost a year there they still did not have a house of their own. Not wanting to leave the nuns alone there without a house, she prayed ardently to God about the matter, until God spoke to her with the words, “I have already heard you.  Leave it to Me (Foundations 25:4).” 

At that time, her brother Lorenzo de Cepeda, who had been in the Indies for over thirty-four years, came to Seville.  He took it upon himself to help the nuns acquire a house.  However, the resident did not want to leave, and the Franciscan friars nearby, presumably out of fear of losing alms, did not want them to move there. After a month of waiting, they moved into the house “in great fear, at night so that the friars would not be aware until we took possession.  Those who came with us said that every shadow they saw seemed to be a friar (Foundations 25:7).” 

Their troubles were not yet over.  Since her brother Lorenzo was the guarantor of the loan, and there was an error in the contract that required a steep sales tax, he was in danger of arrest and sought sanctuary elsewhere.  Due to his absence, the nuns were harassed.  Not until he provided collateral was it possible to negotiate, although still with some difficulties.

The nuns remained enclosed on the ground floor of the house, which had been privately owned so most people did not know it was a monastery and there were few alms.  Lorenzo hired workmen and worked himself for more than a month fixing up some rooms in the house for a chapel.  After all the work was done, St. Teresa wanted a quiet ceremony to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, and spoke of it to the good Fr. Garciálvarez who had been providing them with the Sacraments. After consulting with the Carthusian Fr. Fernando de Pantoja, the prior of a Carthusian monastery in Seville who helped them with alms, the two consulted with the archbishop, and all agreed that the Blessed Sacrament should be reserved with great solemnity, so as to make the monastery known in Seville.  This they did, and there was much rejoicing and celebration, although the taffeta hangings almost caught on fire from the fireworks.  To the embarrassment of the Saint, after kneeling to receive the blessing of the archbishop, he knelt before her to receive her blessing.  She left the next day for Malagon, to attend to business, much to the sadness of the nuns of Seville.



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