XV

PERFECT UNION

TERESA was now 43 years of age and she seemed to have reached the very heights of sanctity, but her work on earth was not yet accomplished. Father Snow says: "Although the Mystic Marriage is the highest state of union a soul can attain in this life, still God is able to communicate Himself more and more to the soul and the soul can more and more advance in holiness and merit. Now Teresa lived seventeen years and nearly four months after the Mystic Marriage. During this long period of closest union with her divine Spouse she lived the same life of constant prayer, suffering, participation in the Passion, and work for God. Who shall put a limit to her perfection and her holiness?"

The mighty favour which had been bestowed upon her brought no outward change: indeed to the eyes of men her life appeared only to become daily more and more "hidden with Christ in God". The terrible time of trial, when she had been called upon, as it were, to face the shame of Calvary was at an end and henceforth it seemed as though our Lord were once more withdrawing her from the public gaze to watch and pray with Him in the shelter of Gethsemane. There is comparatively little to record of the remaining seventeen years of her life. Their outward course was calm and uneventful, and of her true and inner life she rarely spoke. She was fully conscious of the great transformation which had taken place within her soul. Her perfect union with God had brought her an absolute peace and certainty which no assault could ruffle. His holy Will was hers and nothing could any more disturb her. St. Alphonsus compares those in this state to a man above the clouds who sees the storm raging below him without being touched by it. Even though the passions may appear, he says, the soul sees them without being either saddened or tormented by them. And St. Teresa speaks of the soul as appearing to be divided, the lower part may be full of troubles and occupations, while the higher part remains in utter peace. This seems also to have been the experience of Teresa (see letter 264, p. 230). She wrote frequently to Father Snow and Father Powell and tried at first to explain to them the change she felt to have come over her, but as the years drew on she spoke less and less of the inner life of her soul: it was too deep for sound! "Oh the more God teaches us, the less we can say", she exclaimed. "That is why Mary was so silent. Her soul and heart were too full to speak, and I think she would not have lived if she had tried to speak."

Her letters become more and more simple and even commonplace. She does indeed implore for help in times of darkness and desolation. She calls upon them to join with her in thanksgiving when our Lord once more turns His face towards her, she refers continually to His urgent desire to have His sacred Head honoured, but, for the rest, she writes mostly of the details of her daily life, asking prayers for special intentions, inquiring about events in Liverpool, sending messages to her friends, or a "pat to Donna", Father Snow's dog, etc.

Father Snow had arranged for her to go to Edinburgh, to the Convent of Mercy, of which his sister was at that time Reverend Mother. Here he knew she would find peace, and he asked specially that she should be left as far as possible alone and in no way made much of or brought forward, and his wishes were most loyally carried out.

St. Catherine's was a large and flourishing convent, and for the next twelve years Teresa found it a very happy home. She went once for a few weeks at the request of Father Forbes Leith, S.J., to help in the school at Selkirk; stayed several times at the branch houses of the convent at Dalkeith and Linlithgow; paid three visits to her sisters at Neston; and went once to stay with a friend at Clacton-on-sea, but for the most part her life was one of hidden prayer and service. She taught for the Sisters in the schools, gave instructions, visited the poor, waited on visitors, helped in the house, and made herself of use in any way she could. Several times she made application for a post as mistress, but these all fell through, so she waited on, content to carry out from day to day the Will of God. She had full opportunity of exercising her vow of poverty, for, earning no salary, she was utterly dependent on the charity of others. She often acknowledged with gratitude presents of clothing from her friends in Liverpool or Clitheroe, but good Father Snow seems to have been her main support, and she never tired of thanking him, turning to him in all her needs with the simplicity of a child.

She arrived at the convent in November, 1887, and was received most cordially by Rev. Mother and all the nuns. Soon after her arrival, Rev. Mother wrote to her brother: "I am delighted with her and so are the community, and we are most grateful to you for sending her and allowing her to stay. She is so nice and homely that we quite take her into our confidence and she lives with us almost as one of ourselves. One feels at once as if she could be so thoroughly trusted and as if she sees everything in such a right light. Her judgment seems so sound and her ideas and views so large and she is very free from all those little narrownesses and cranky views which some pious people seem to have. I think that is the great difference between 'pious people' and saints or real sanctity."

Teresa usually occupied a little room partitioned off the organ gallery overlooking the chapel, where, to her delight, she could pass the night in secret commune with our Lord in the tabernacle. Much of her time was spent in a pantry in which meals were constantly being prepared for visitors, and in this way her continual abstinence from food passed unobserved. St. Teresa says that after the Mystical Marriage ecstasies and other such phenomena tend to grow less frequent, and this was so with Teresa, though at times (especially during Lent and Advent) she would often be as of old, so weak that she used literally to have to be carried in and out of the chapel. Most of Holy Week she lay motionless on her bed like one dead, but it was only the sister who attended her on these occasions who knew the true meaning of her condition. She bore witness to the bleeding from her head and body. When she washed Teresa's feet, she saw wounds which she described as purple swellings like small plums on the instep. Teresa would never allow her to see her side, though she sometimes gave her pieces of cloth to burn which were stained with blood and had a most sweet perfume. She saw no marks upon the hands. Once when Teresa was unwell and sister brushed her hair, she noticed that she winced a little and, looking closer, saw that there were marks like thorns upon her head and that they were bleeding. One day she went into Teresa's room and found her lying back in her chair quite unconscious, her eyes cast up and her mouth open. On her tongue lay the sacred Host. This happened more than once and Rev. Mother wrote to Father Snow: "One of our sisters saw her receive Communion the other night just before ten o'clock. I told her not to talk of it, but stamped it on her mind so that she could tell it if required to do so at any time. She, Miss H., is much the same as when you saw her, suffering a good deal at times but always bright and not ill, though often suffering... She is always suffering for someone or something."

And so the hidden life went on. In one of her earlier letters from Edinburgh, after describing her various activities, she says:

[254] "None of these things seem to distract me in the slightest. Our dear Lord makes me feel so clearly the abiding presence of the thrice adorable Trinity, and our dear Lord draws me so completely into Himself that He only seems real to me, and other things which I feel and see and touch are as though they were only empty shadows. I don't know if you will be able to understand from my description what I mean to impart, yet I don't know how to explain myself more clearly or thoroughly. Then there is also in the soul a feeling to give to God a love and homage that is in some way proportionate to the love and favours which He has given to the soul, and our dear Lord makes me feel as though I could pay that debt, for I feel as though my love was His love, yet this does not explain what I mean. I will say that His sacred Heart and mine were as it were one heart. I hope you will see what I mean. It is something real, not a feeling or a fancy. If you understand me, please write and say so, and tell me also what I can do more to return thanks to Him who has done so much for me, the Almighty God to such a worm as I am."

Again she wrote:

[263] "I feel that our dear Lord wishes me to work for him awhile in Scotland and I am so much stronger in myself and He helps me so wonderfully in all I do, or rather He does it all. Oh, how good He is to me His poor little worm. When I consider what He has done for me, I am struck dumb as it were with wonder, admiration, and gratitude, and am inundated with His love and offer myself to Him and with Him in sacrifice. Sometimes I have wished you were near to tell me how to act and what to do to render Him a becoming homage and to entertain Him as I ought, I mean as the saints have done. Yet poor and miserable as my return is, He makes me feel how it pleases Him, and I think He is glad I have nothing but my poor wretched self to offer so that all is His, for I have nothing; and I forget myself and look only to Him and His wonderful condescension and familiarity, for no one could imagine that the Almighty God could so empty Himself and make so free with nothing, and I could never have believed such things. Oh He is truly a God of love, the Essence and overflow of love, oh my Love, Love uncreated, Love inexhaustible, Love incomprehensible, Love of Jesus my Love, how could I see anything but Thy love and other infinite perfections?

"I have just come from church and will try and finish what I had to leave. Rev. E. Powell did write and I tried in some way to answer, but I don't know whether he could make out anything from what I said. You know as well as him how stupid I am about spiritual things through my great wickedness, but you I felt understood everything, and I never felt uneasy because I was so certain that it was our dear blessed Lord who had said all these things and wrought such wonders, and I never for an instant doubted the author of this unspeakable favour. I was and am so certain that it is my Spouse and my only Treasure, my own dear Jesus. So all He said were words of truth and I never thought how they might sound to others. If it were not so true, it would to me look like blasphemy it is such an inconceivable condescension, and you and rev. E. Powell must know that better than anyone but myself, for you know so well what I always have been. And so I feel you do really praise and thank Him for me and all that He has done for me, for I always ask Him, in the way I know he loves best, to give you both especially every good gift and make you partakers in the favour He in His love has bestowed on your poor child His unworthy Spouse.

"I do wish to glorify Him and do something to praise and thank Him this year for all He has done for me and I will try and begin, and if you would write me out some things, I would really try and persevere in doing them better and better. You see I am the same as ever, wishing much and doing little. With very many thanks for your care and goodness to me and begging your prayers and blessing.

"I remain dear rev. Father                      
"Your obedient and devoted child    
"in the s. Head and loving Heart
"TERESA HIGGINSON      
"Enfant de Marie."

In this letter she refers to a correspondence she had had with Father Powell, who had taken exception to a phrase in her account of the Mystical Marriage, in which she compared her union with our Lord to that of His divine and human natures in one Person. He had consulted Mons. Weld and Father Wilberforce on the matter, and had then asked her for a further explanation of her words, which she gave as follows:—

[261] "In grateful love and to the glory of the thrice holy Trinity and Jesus my dearly beloved Spouse, I write in obedience about the union which He accomplished (in His infinite love and of which I am most unworthy) between Himself the all holy One and me His own poor little one. When our dear Lord said to me that our union was as the union of the two Natures in the one Person of Himself and as the soul and body are one person, I understand that as the divine Nature did not mix or commingle with the human Nature (only making it divine or belonging to the Person of God the Son), yet at the same time it raised the slightest act of Jesus Christ to infinite value, each act being a divine act and each atonement an infinite atonement, so henceforth each act of mine will be of more value before God and each little sacrifice made in union with Him is most efficacious, not through any merit of mine, but on account of the union He has established between us. And perhaps you will understand me better if I use the words of St. Paul which express something of what I experience: 'Now Christ liveth in me.' And as the soul is the life of the body so, far more truly, is Jesus the life of my soul and body and I am one with Him more closely than words can convey. For instance, I realise that when I speak to the sick and poor and dear sinners, that He speaks through my poor words and comforts and consoles and softens and enlightens them, and I rejoice that they hear His sweet voice speaking to their hearts and souls.

"Oh that I could give some faint idea of what the soul experiences in this, the closest union possible between God and any human soul, and I say all the united sorrows of every human being united into one, if it went on from the beginning to the end of time, would be nothing when compared to one moment of such union.

"If I am not sufficiently explicit, write and I will say more, yet in my idea the more we say the less we explain."

She also wrote to Father Snow:

[264] "The union our dear b. Lord established between Himself, the Uncreated Light and Life, and my poor soul is so substantial and real that it seems to me we cannot (see) where it begins or ends, just like a little drop of rain mingling with the mighty ocean no one could discern again which was the drop of rain. And I realise how truly He is the Light and Life and support and nourishment of my poor soul and body — not that He is in every part of the soul the same — no. He appears to rest in the inner chamber of the soul and there hold His court, as it were, regulating, governing and holding all things in a wondrous peace, and the powers of the soul do not seem to me to act as it were. For instance the soul sees in a mystic light, not with her understanding certainly, for she does not understand what she sees, and she knows things in God which she cannot remember by her memory because all is fixed so clearly without any image intellectual or imaginary or substantial, yet it is the most perfect vision that my divine Spouse has ever revealed to me. Blessed be His holy Name for ever and ever.

"I am so very ignorant on all spiritual things through my own wickedness that I may be talking rubbish to those who are wise upon these subjects, yet this is what I feel is the case in me and find a separation of the soul and spirit if this can really be — I mean if the spirit can be divided from the soul, for to me it appears very evident. I have wondered whether this abiding presence of our Lord, my Light and my Life, my God and my All will always be so perfectly felt. If so, I cannot ever suffer again as I have hitherto, neither have I any wish either to suffer or to rest, only what He wishes I will. Yet I remember how our dear Lord Himself and our holy Mother suffered, and I know too, if He should again separate or hide Himself, what I would endure. May His holy Will be done in all things."

Father Snow, who had made so close a study of mystical theology since he had undertaken the guidance of Teresa's soul, had from the first been perfectly satisfied as to her meaning and wrote to Father Powell:

"ST. MARY'S AUGHTON ORMSKIRK.
"29 12 87           

"MY DEAR FR. POWELL,

"Both St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross use language similar to that of Miss Higginson in speaking of the Mystical Marriage. St. Teresa says: 'More cannot be said than that the soul becomes one with God. It is like water descending from heaven into a river or spring where one is so mixed with the other that it cannot be discerned which is the river and which is the rain water.'

"St. John of the Cross says: 'The soul becomes divine and by participation God.' 'As by natural marriage these are two in one flesh, so also in the spiritual marriage between God and the soul there are two natures in one spirit and love, as we learn from St. Paul who made use of the same metaphor saying, 'He who is joined to the Lord is one Spirit', 1 Cor. 6.17.

"St. Teresa quotes on the same subject the words of our Lord in His prayer for His apostles (St. John 17): 'Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name whom Thou hast given me, that they may be one as we also are. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in Me, that they may all be one as Thou Father in Me and I in Thee. That they also may be one in Us. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them that they may be one as We also are One.'

"These words surely imply a comparison to the Hypostatic Union or else to a still closer union — the union of the divine Persons of the Father and the Son in one Substance. There is of course much more to the same purpose in the writings of both saints.

"I wish you had spoken to me about it before asking Miss Higginson to explain her words. Believe me yours affecly.

"ALFRED SNOW.

"P.S. — Eusebius Amort thinks that if revelations are very theological, they ought to be suspected. — Faber."

These explanations appear to have fully satisfied the critics, and Father Wilberforce wrote to Father Powell: "Many thanks for your beautiful words on the union of the soul with our Lord. It is a high and most wonderful mystery, and when the saints are favoured with the union of the Mystic Nuptials, it is the completion in the highest way of that mystical union between Him and every soul in grace. May His Name be ever praised for all His graces and for all He has done in the soul of His Spouse. She must be very faithful after such a grace."

The Mystical Marriage produced another effect m the soul of Teresa (one also remarked on by her great namesake) about which she consulted Father Snow.

[265] "Do you know that since the feast of St. Raphael that agonising pain I used to have so dreadfully has gone and I don't seem to have any great desires as I used to have, neither have I that extreme thirst for suffering and great desire for death — and I seem to have no power to wish for anything only just whatever it pleases the adorable Trinity (Who seem to dwell in the inner chamber of the soul) to give me.

"I think (which may be a great imperfection) I am becoming very much attached to the poor body and look to those things far more than ever I did which give it ease and comfort, for I feel a power from within (at least so it seems to me), which makes or inclines me to do any thing and everything which would prolong my existence here, I think that so I may give Him greater service and a little more glory. This may be a temptation or a delusion, but so it is. Pray, dear rev. Father, do pray for your poor child that I may be as faithful as I ought to be, and that I may never through my own wickedness (drive) the All holy God from His sanctuary."

This feeling that she must take more care of the body caused her considerable anxiety and she wrote again:

[267] "In speaking of the feeling I spoke about, I do not refer to that sweet peace and sublime quiet which fills the soul, and in which the brightness of eternal life teaches the soul the hidden secrets of the King her divine Spouse and makes her understand the truth that God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are substantially united to her and dwell in unity of essence in the inner chamber of her soul, filling her with a most perfect knowledge of the power of God, of herself, and the nothingness of all created things. It seems to me that at times the thrice holy Trinity treat the soul as though she were Their guest, condescending to lavish caresses upon her in what would seem extravagant to relate. Oh what a firm confidence rises up in the soul and how she fears without alarm to do anything to lose this sensible presence. But this is not what I wrote of, for though I feel forgetful of myself and look only to His adorable Will, yet there arises in me at times a feeling that I must take care of the body as well as the soul, I mean that I feel I must take more care of it, and little mortifications I used to practise, I feel they are better left undone. For example, I always made it a rule if the body wanted anything to give it the opposite — when I felt very worn and needed more rest, I would take less, or none at all: If one part of the body called for more sympathy through pain etc. I always tried to make it bear the weight of the rest of the body. If my eyes ached and I wished to close them, I would do all I could to keep them open. These are all little trifles, but such like things were all this poor little worm had to offer. But now I feel I should take more rest that so I may be better able to work with greater profit and be better fitted to do the things He intends me for. This feeling comes on me very forcibly at times; it seems to me that I pay little attention to mortifications etc. though I have not as yet broken through anything I have been accustomed to do thinking I was safe (even though a kind of reproof was given to me for not doing) I made up my mind not to change anything unless you told me to, fearing that the Devil might be trying to make me lose in one way what the dear good God, my divine Spouse Jesus, gave me in another."

Father Snow soon reassured her on this matter. With regard to the question of food, in a letter written after her death he says: "She was nourished by the blessed Sacrament and took no food whatever. She sat at table with others and appeared to take simple food, but she was very carefully watched, and nothing was seen to pass down her throat. But after the Mystical Marriage, the highest state of union on earth, there is a change, and souls feel that the body requires nourishment to enable them to do what God requires of them and they have a doubt as to whether this feeling is a temptation to sensuality. Teresa had this doubt and consulted me. The whole question is treated by St. John of the Cross. I told Teresa she might safely take what she thought necessary. Thenceforth she took food — a little tea and bread and butter, and about midday a plate of mashed potatoes."1

In the first rapture of her Mystical Marriage it had seemed to her that suffering could never again come near her, but she soon learnt that the more closely she was united to her divine Spouse, the more intense was her agony when He saw well to hide His presence from her. In January, 1888, she wrote: [268] "I have found out that the soul can suffer most terribly, even though the thrice holy Trinity are actually united to her, for we are having a mission at St. Patrick's and I felt urged to offer myself to suffer for them, that God would give grace and blessing to the work, and on Wednesday and Thursday nights the blessed Trinity seemed to withdraw (though I know they did not), yet They hid Themselves and inundated my poor trembling soul with fearful agony. Oh what a void is felt when They retire — though the soul is at peace, yet how terribly she suffers and she sees how her strength is increased and how much more she can endure for love of Him whose holy Will she adores. Yet I felt as though I must cry out for mercy and, with my agonising Jesus, felt that I too must ask for the bitterness of that fearful chalice to pass away. Oh my God, my God, Thy holy Will be done in all things; I am all Thine do with me as Thou pleasest."

Our Lord accepted the offering and the Mission at St. Patrick's surpassed all expectations.

As Lent drew near she was again overwhelmed with dread of what lay before her. Her words re-echo those of St. Paul when he thrice besought the Lord that the sting of the flesh might depart from him. "And He said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

[272] "Today", she writes, "I am full of fear and dread and trembling in expectation of what has to come. I had hoped to be more courageous, but I am really as bad if not worse than ever and have been on several occasions, but if it is His holy Will that I shall always be so cowardly, then I say He knows what is best. He knows I feel it very keenly, not being as valiant as I would wish to be, and I am sure you will be astonished to see I am no different in spite of all that my dear divine Spouse has done for me. Oh Jesus, my dear Jesus, be a Jesus to me and save me. Remember by how many rites and titles I am Thine. I am the work of Thine hand made after Thy true image, and who can dispute that Thou art my Father. I am the temple Thou hast chosen out of thousands and sparkling everywhere with the ruby drops of Thy most precious Blood. I am the Spouse of Thy choice and therefore one with Thee, and Thou hast given me the keys of the inner chamber and shown me Thy hidden secrets. Thou hast placed my lips on Thy Breasts and I have drawn forth sweet nectar; Thou hast fondled and caressed me, and wilt Thou allow me to be another's — to be a castaway? Ah my Lord, behold the bond of our union, the pledge that I am all Thine own and Thou (God almighty though Thou be) art all mine for ever, for Thou hast said it and Thy word is truth. Oh my dear Mother Mary, sustain and strengthen me with thy aid, for you understand so perfectly what I suffer. The brightness is taken from the sun and the beauty from the flowers, for He has withdrawn His sweet countenance and all is gloom and weariness, and emptiness is seen in everything that the eye can rest upon. Every sound seems to tell most that He is gone and is not here. Oh what a sepulchre is the soul without Him, her only Love, her Light, Support and only Treasure. My God, my God! why hast Thou forsaken me? Oh I know Thou hast undergone this cruel separation too. Thou hast suffered this unspeakable agony felt more terribly by Thee than this is felt by me, but I am but dust and ashes and Thou art the Almighty God, and may Thy holy Will be perfectly accomplished in me, for behold me all Thine own my God, do what Thou wilt with me. I am but a poor weak trembling little bird in Thy Almighty Hand, and in virtue of Thy greatness Thou canst but pity and compassionate and help me to accomplish all Thou shalt appoint. I did not mean to write these things in this letter, but as I have done so, I leave them and send them, they will make you understand better what a vile coward I am, yet He knows I do not mistrust Him or for one moment doubt His fidelity to me. Ah no! it is as He knows, He has made me to know Him and love Him so intimately that I fear through my own weakness and cowardice I may do anything that would cause Him to leave me altogether and I fear that I may prove unfaithful.

"Oh my dear Father do pray constantly and fervently for me, for I feel you know and understand what I am and you know I never forget you. Many times in the day I beg of Him by all the love He bears me, and in virtue of our union I ask Him in my own right as His Spouse to give you and dear rev. E. Powell all that I wish, or He would wish you to have. You may think it strange for me, a poor miserable worm, to speak thus to our dear Lord, but He likes it and suggests it and He has granted me so many things I have asked in this way. Oh praise Him and thank Him each day more and more for me."

(Note by Father Snow: "With regard to a passage in this letter, see St. John of the Cross, 'A spiritual Canticle', stanza 27, vol. 2, p. 146, and read the introduction.")

Her dread of Lent was fully justified and at Easter she wrote:

[276] "It pleased our dear b. Lord that I should have a very hard and dry Passion this Lent, but oh how abundantly He makes up for any little pang. He is indeed a loving Spouse."

Soon after Easter, 1888, Father Powell wrote offering Teresa a post in his school at Lydiate, but she refused it, saying:

[280] "I presume you will have seen rev. A. Snow and he will have explained more fully than I did about me going to Lydiate; it was indeed good and kind of you to offer me it. But I should have been gaining in every way and would have had nothing to offer our dear b. Lord my divine Spouse and only Treasure, and I have such a strong feeling that He wishes me to remain in Scotland for the present, though not at the convent. I think He will very shortly find me a school. I have no doubt you may think it ungrateful of me, but you know I must do as far as I can His divine Will, and you can little think how hard it was for me to say No, for all my natural inclinations went with it, for, besides having everything spiritual and temporal, I should be so near Rev. A. Snow, but I wish only His adorable Will — though I often feel exiled as it were, and for the present I feel He does not wish me to have any settled place. May His holy Name be blessed for ever and ever."


1. Letter from Father Snow to Father O'Sullivan.