ST. ALEXANDER'S, BOOTLE
THE letters quoted in the last two chapters extend over the period from June 1879 to 1881, and are but a few from the wonderful series (about 125 in number) written in obedience to her confessor, which form so intimate an autobiography of Teresa's soul during these years. They deal with many and varied subjects, and most of them are in direct response to some question from Father Powell. At one time he told her to write of the Passion in which she so often accompanied our Lord; at another he asked her to describe the Dolours of our Lady. He bade her write of the mystery of the blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, Purgatory, the state of the soul after death. Others again of the letters deal with the history of her own soul and describe the various ways in which Almighty God revealed Himself to her and instructed her. Again and again she seems to have lost all control over herself and to have fallen into ecstasy as she wrote. The sentences are unfinished and the writing trails away illegibly. Sometimes, if human language seemed utterly inadequate to express the truths of God, she would wait till after Communion, when our Lord would tell her what to say, or our Lady herself would instruct her.  "Thank our b. Lady for me", she once wrote, "for helping me to make you understand. I told the very same that I wrote and she told me you would understand, that that was the right way to express the state of my soul."
Important as these letters are to a true knowledge of their writer, it is impossible to give them all in a short account of her life. In order not to interrupt further the thread of the narrative, a number of them will be quoted in a later chapter, as showing the mystic height at which she dwelt, while her feet trod the crowded thoroughfares of one of our great modem cities. How little indeed could those with whom she lived guess at the inner history of the quiet, unobtrusive, little woman who came and went so humbly, to church or school, or on her errands to the poor! Now and then a ray of light would as it were, flash out, but her confessor alone knew the burning flame of divine love which consumed her soul. And truly it is almost bewildering to turn from the letters wherein, by the "magic wand of obedience", she reveals the inmost secrets of her heart to the simple, even commonplace story of her daily life.
In the autumn of 1879, Father Powell offered her a post in his own school, which she joyfully accepted. It was at St. Alexander's, Bootle, that she had first begun to teach, and she wrote to him, September 20, 1879:
 "I shall be pleased to begin work on the first of October as you desire me, though naturally I would prefer you to be there when I commenced so that you could give us your special blessing, but that you will do wherever you are, I am sure. I feel sure that you know how unable I am to do anything and that is really the secret of my apparent success; for as a helpless child looks to its mother for all it wants, so I, the most miserable and helpless child of God, look to Him and my good Mother and depend on them for all and they always give me more than I could ever expect. So any good result is theirs and the glory thereof. Oh how grateful I am to Him for this inability to do anything, for what He undertakes is perfectly accomplished. He is infinite Wisdom and can and will open the heart and ears of His little ones. The only thing I fear is that I may be a stumbling block to them, but I know you will pray fervently for them and me."
The spirit in which she entered on her new duties may be seen from the following letter:
 "Which is the worst street in the parish? I have promised our b. Lady to say the 15 mysteries of the Rosary for 15 days (I mean an extra 15) and do all that you would allow me for their benefit, and I have asked her to receive them as a special gift for her divine Son and prove to all by the change she makes in them that she is the all-powerful Mother of God.
"When you have time, will you kindly make me out a fresh order of the day? Did you receive a letter from me the Sunday or Monday before you went away?
"I renew my entire obedience to you in all things and as far as you permit I will be a servant to the people, for it is my only wish to help to save their immortal souls."
A few days later she wrote again:
 "I have been through all the houses in Mordan St. and 27 of the people have promised to come to confession and many of those have been today and nearly all are entering or re-entering the Holy Family Confraternity. So you see we are now bound in another debt of gratitude to Mary our dear Mother and I know you will join with me in praising and thanking her and her divine Son for their goodness and mercy towards us... Our dear little ones are coming a little more regularly to school and are trying to be good pious children. Ask their guardian angels to let me know quickly each child's character and see his little faults that with his help I may correct them, and pray that I may do my duty to them in every respect and may never scandalise them in word, look or action."
Teresa at first lodged for a few weeks with a Mrs. Carter, and then went to stay with Mrs. Nicholson, a convert who kept a little shop almost adjoining St. Alexander's. The tiny back room which Teresa occupied looked on to the wall of the church and here it was, at a little table in the window, that she wrote most of her wonderful letters to Father Powell. Mrs. Nicholson was a widow and her daughter, Ellen, a girl of about fourteen was attending a training school, studying to become a teacher. This child was greatly attracted to Teresa and when at home loved to spend as much time with her as possible. Her quick eyes noted many strange occurrences, but they caused her little surprise for, as she explained later, being but a recent convert, she thought in her innocence that all Catholics were affected in such ways!
Teresa was often ailing and her mysterious illnesses were a sore puzzle to her friends. Strangers were sometimes inclined to attribute them to hysteria, but those who knew her best were all agreed that she exhibited none of the symptoms common to that complaint. Rather they were impressed by her calmness, her retiring disposition, her strength of will (none ever dared to take a liberty with her) and her tremendous self-control. She was never in any way excited or emotional and her whole conduct was distinguished by that utter sanity which is so marked a feature of her writings. And yet her friends could not but be surprised by her strange attacks of weakness — as at Wigan she would be quite prostrate in the mornings and only after receiving Communion would she recover and be able to carry out her duties for the day. Then too, her frequent ecstasies, her terrible sufferings, her excessive penances and fasts, the attacks of the Devil, etc. could not always be disguised, and when any of these things came to the notice of others, her humiliation was such, as she herself expressed it, as almost to annihilate her. Her letters show the intense longing she had to keep hidden the mighty gifts God showered down upon her. Indeed so overwhelming was this desire that she began to consider it a fault, showing a want of conformity to the Will of God. On one occasion she wrote:
 "Perhaps it would be as well to have a bottle of medicine from Dr. Raverty, it might stop any further talk or unnecessary uneasiness. I always feel at these times that I would be glad to hide myself anywhere out of the way. I trust it is not a want of resignation, for I say continually:
"Jesus my true and only Good I wish for naught but Thee
Behold me all Thine own my God, do what Thou wilt with me."
I have asked our b. Lord not to let anyone notice anything different in me but He permits it, perhaps to humble me a little. May His holy Name be blessed for ever and ever."
The blood was often seen to flow from her wounds at this time, especially from the thorn marks on her brow. Miss Catterall, one of her fellow-teachers, tells how she met her one day coming out of church. Drops of blood were trickling from her head and the white scarf she wore round her neck was stained with it. Miss Catterall quietly advised her to change before going into school and she has never forgotten the look Teresa gave when she realised what had occurred.
In July, 1880, Teresa wrote:
 "Last Friday my head bled several times and was noticed by the children and Miss Shuttleworth also (and she said she thought I was doing something to my head because it was Friday), and today at holy Mass both my head and hands bled more than they have done since Good Friday, and my sister's little girl called the attention of others to the fact. I don't think they suspect anything. They thought I had cut my head and forehead, but I was inclined (and did for a few minutes) ask our b. Lord to give me extra pain and stay the outward flow, but in an instant I remembered what you said and bowed my head in obedience to His holy Will. May His holy Will be perfectly accomplished in me and all of us. I cannot express the dread I have of anything of the kind. It does not disturb the peace of the soul and yet I feel there is a want of confidence and over solicitude on my part. Do you give me penance according as you may judge fit. I wrote on Friday afternoon but the paper was soiled and stained with blood so I thought under the circumstances it would not be wrong to rewrite what I had to say."
 "I must tell you that when I bathed in the holy well (St. Winefred's Well) I noticed that both my feet and hands bled and I was tempted not to go in any more after the first time, but I put on, or rather went in the second and third time in stockings and yet a person who was present said, 'You have cut your foot, see how it is bleeding!' And then I feared that I had done wrong and I humbly beg pardon if I have, for I love Him with a love which He Himself has given me, and I prefer any torments rather than slight or offend Him in anything whatever, and the excess of His love brings such a clear brightness into the soul that I see my ingratitude and selfishness so forcibly that at times it seems unbearable. I beg of Him to help me to overcome this feeling of repugnance and ask Him that I may lose all sight of self and see Him only and wish only what He desires, for it has pained me much to see myself trying to hide those things (which are all His pure gift) when it seems to be His holy Will that others should see and know them."
 "Since Father Harrington warned me respecting these favours, I have been very full of fear and I have continually begged of Him to take away all rather than allow me to offend in them, though they are dearer to me than anything else save Himself. I conjure Him to take them back if I will cease to glorify Him therein. I have always had great fear respecting them but lately it has greatly increased I have asked Him again and again how He, the God of Wisdom, can thus throw pearls of such price to swine. Oh Thou Who hast died for me have pity on me! And our dear b. Lord has instructed me to look not to myself but to Him alone. If I do as He instructs, I shall walk securely on the waters, but if to my own misery, I shall, like St. Peter sink beneath the waves. Oh He has impressed His infinite power, wisdom and love so clearly in the soul it would seem as though I was inundated with it. You told me to say the 'Magnificat' for my penance and such a delight in the works which God has done for me and I have experienced such a light and glory therein that I have trembled with fear for myself. Oh that I could hide myself entirely in His sacred Heart, but if such be His holy Will that others are to know, may His holy Name be blessed and praised therein. I trust He will give me strength not to be cowardly now, who is my only support."
 "I have at the same time such an overpowering dread and terrible fear of that which I know to be God's Will in my regard. I mean that I shrink from the very thought of others knowing and seeing that which our dear Lord has done for me, and when I know as well as you what I am before God, and see on the other hand the precious jewels which He has given to this wretched miserable worm, and seeing that others knowing may make little of these inestimable favours, and perhaps think that they are mine whereas they are all His and I have nothing to do with them, I tremble with fear. Oh Jesus, my beloved Jesus have mercy on me! Save me through Thy most Precious Blood and grant that these great helps that Thou hast given me to Heaven I turn not into stumbling blocks. You see oh my Father how ungenerous I am, for though Jesus my dear crucified Spouse has increased the pain which is customary for me to suffer, as if to remind me more and more that I am His and that He is near and mindful of me (for it is His pledge of love for me), yet I look to my own nothingness and wickedness instead of at His infinite power and strength. I have thought that I cared not what others thought and said so long as I did that which I considered right, but I have deceived myself in this respect, for I find to my sorrow that I do; and yet I would not, if it were in my power to, check one drop of blood from trickling, or hide anything intentionally, since you have told me not, though I must own I never felt anything half so hard to bear. I find myself really cowardly and selfish for I see now very clearly that I think first of self and God afterwards, for when anyone makes any remark about any one of these favours, I feel as though I should sink into nothingness and I get quite ill, and then such a joy and delight that God's great desire should be accomplished that I know not how properly to express myself."
In the summer of 1880, when at home for the holidays, Teresa was very frequently in ecstasy and evidently her family were more than usually upset about her, for on her return to Bootle she wrote to Father Powell:
 "While I was at home most of the time, I had no control over myself at all and I think they are a little alarmed about me. At first they thought I went to sleep and then thought I was fainting, and dear Mama asked me this morning if the doctor told me that I had fits for she said, 'There is something very strange the matter with you.' She says I go quite stiff but I have asked our dear b. Lord not to let them be uneasy about me and I feel sure He will do as I ask Him, at least He always has done so before. Mama seems afraid that it should get out that I have fits but I have given myself entirely into His hands as you desired me — I care not what anyone thinks, in fact I am very pleased they do think so, but Ellen Nicholson notices things very quickly and asks questions which are rather difficult to answer.
"The holy Tabernacle has now for some time appeared as I may say like a burning bush — I mean that besides that brilliant sun of light it seems as though flames also burst forth from it, and our dear b. Lord no longer veils Himself as at times He does and it seems to me a continual miracle that I am able to do the things I do (I mean when I am not in church), for whether in school or in conversation with others, although I join in with them, it does not at all distract me."
Teresa remained at Bootle for nearly eight years — from 1879 to 1887 — and in the course of this time the retiring, shabby little teacher became a very storm-centre of controversy and abuse! We have seen the trials and sufferings which preceded her Mystical Espousals at Wigan, and now this faithful "Spouse of the Crucified" found herself called upon to follow her Lord from the beloved shelter of Gethsemane to all the publicity and shame of the heights of Calvary. As Father Snow explains: "Each degree of union in the life of a mystic has to be prepared for by new favours and new sufferings. The greater the perfection and the higher and closer the union to which God calls a soul, so much the greater will be the sufferings — purifications, the theologians call them — and the longer the period they must be endured... Her Mystical Espousals took place on the feast of the sacred Heart, 1874, the Mystical Marriage on the 24th October, 1887. Notwithstanding the wonderful graces our Lord had given her during her whole life, this long period of over thirteen years was a time of preparation and purification for the Mystical Marriage which is the highest degree of union which a soul can attain upon earth." He then quotes St. Teresa:
"St. Teresa, in Chapter I of the sixth Mansion of the 'Interior Castle' describes the many troubles, both interior and exterior, the soul has to endure in preparation for the Mystical Marriage. She says: 'I wish to begin with the least, and this comes from the clamour which certain persons make with whom she lives (and from some with whom she never spoke, though during the course of her life they may have heard something of her), for they exclaim that she pretends to be very holy, that she goes to extremes and does extravagant things in order to deceive the world and make others appear to be worse who are better Christians without these extravagances. Those whom she considers her friends withdraw themselves from her and are the very persons who offend her most: they are confident that these things come from the Devil and that she will meet with the same end that such and such a one met with who was ruined; that through her virtue will decay and that she deceives her confessor. They accordingly go to them and advise them, placing before them the example of some who by this very means have been ruined. A thousand other such scoffs and examples of this kind they make use of.'"
"Everything here described by the first St. Teresa", continues Father Snow, "took place with regard to our St. Teresa, only more so. The 'clamour' was greater than that described and greater than St. Teresa herself had to endure. It would take me hours to write the whole history of those times. At present it will be enough for me to say that the number of those who regarded her as a holy woman were few, and the number who regarded her as a 'lying hypocrite' were many."1
There are but few references to all this clamour in Teresa's letters and these are generally in direct reply to some question from her director. Throughout it all the one sure anchor to which she clung was obedience, and in 1881, she made a formal renewal of her vows:
 "I, Teresa Helena Higginson, call all heaven and earth to witness the solemn promises I renew in presence of the adorable Trinity, of Jesus Christ in His sacramental presence, of Mary my Queen and my Mother, St. Joseph and all the saints of Paradise, of my dear good holy Angel guardian and the nine choirs of angelical beings, and in the fulfilment of which I hope through His cross and passion to live and die.
1. — I renew the vow of perpetual chastity and consecrate my whole being to Thee, oh my beloved Jesus, even as Mary offered herself to the Eternal Father in the Temple, so do I.
2. — In union with Thy obedience unto death I give myself entirely into Thy sacred hands, oh my Lord and my God, that Thou mayest do with me what Thou wilt; and also to my spiritual director to be governed by Him in all things and led by him to Thee. Moreover I promise never to express a wish for anything but to give up always my will to that of others even in the smallest things (without it is something against Thy glory and the greater good of souls).
3. — I promise firmly to detach myself from all earthly things, places and persons, and use them only so far as they give glory to Thy holy Name, my Spouse and my only Treasure. I am also determined never to purchase anything for the use of the body, only that which I am bound to do in obedience or what is absolutely necessary, and these necessaries to regard them as only lent for a while for my use and not alter or give them away as if they were mine to do as I liked with them, for Thou knowest oh Lord I have nothing but my sins and iniquities.
"And as a safeguard to these vows I propose to mortify every sense of my body and never allow myself to gratify curiosity, but that which I would naturally seek is that which I am determined not to take and if I have a dislike to anything (if it be not imperfection) that I will take in abundance. And when I am sick and worn out then I will strive to say nothing and wait upon others as cheerfully as I can. Then I am determined never to take a drink when thirsty without I am told. Never to eat or drink more than is absolutely necessary and then those things to which I have the greatest aversion. Never to express a like or dislike and never in any way to speak of myself without it be to condemn or in necessity. Then, if I should feel pleasure in a person's company, strive to meet them as little as possible and if I have the chance of a conversation, go instead and kneel before Thee in the most holy Sacrament of Thy infinite Wisdom and Love. Then, oh my Jesus my only Love, I am resolved to spend all the time I can in prayer and I am determined never to rest more than one and half hour each day (without I am very sick and am told to take more rest). I promise also to strive to choose that which I feel is most perfect; to keep the body in subjection in all things and the powers of the soul in good training and the affections centred in Thee, so that in all things I may see Thee and all things in Thee.
"Then, oh my God, I give Thee all the indulgences I might gain, all the good Thou dost in me, together with Masses, alms, prayers, and good works offered for me after death for the poor suffering souls in Purgatory. And now, oh my beloved Jesus, I offer myself to Thee wholly and entirely, do with me what Thou wilt for I am all Thine, oh my loving Jesus, even as Thou art all mine. And I promise firmly to do all in my power to make known the burning desire of Thy most sacred Heart to have Thy sacred Head honoured as the Seat of divine Wisdom, and I will do my very best to spread this devotion and I yearn to shed my blood in testimony of it and to Thy greater glory. And now, oh my beloved Jesus, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest how I love Thee, and I renew all the promises I have ever made to Thee, those I have not mentioned with those that I have and I beg of Thee to draw all hearts to Thee by the Wisdom of Thy sacred Head and the Love of Thy sacred Heart.
"Jesus my true and only Good I wish for naught but Thee
Behold me all Thine own my God, do what Thou wilt with me.
"In the holy Name of Jesus and in obedience to rev. Edward Powell my spiritual director I renew the above promises made in childhood and renewed continually since, though without permission from any one to do so.
"Renewed this 5th day of June (Whitsunday) in St. Alexander's Church, Bootle.
"Enfant de Marie."
LDS et hon BVM et St. J.
One of the things that caused Teresa the greatest pain in all her trials was the trouble in which they involved her friends, more especially her directors. In July, 1880, she wrote to Miss Ryland:
"Pray very fervently for me just now that with open arms I may embrace all that it is His holy Will to send me, and even when bowed down and crushed beneath the cross I may with grateful heart repeat: 'Lord it is good for me to be here. Lord I am Thine, do with me what Thou wilt.' And do not forget one either who through me has to do a great many things that are most repulsive to human nature, the rev. E. Powell, who like a faithful follower of our divine Master braves all for duty's sake and love of God. You know I am always a source of trouble and a heavy cross to the poor priest whom Almighty God chooses for my director, but to none so heavy as to my present wise and good director."
For her own part, keenly as she felt it, she accepted all this persecution with gratitude and even joy, and continually asked prayers for her calumniators whom she sincerely regarded as her greatest benefactors. In fact, she recognised it as in some sense the answer to her own prayer, for she wrote in 1882 to Father Powell:
 "I asked our dear Lord too when I found the opinion many formed of me that He would open their eyes that they might see me as I really was, and I think in this He has heard my prayer, not that I think anyone could ever imagine how ungrateful I have been to Him my Spouse and only Treasure, the Lord and Master of my house, Ah no ! but at least they see I am not what they or others had taken me for. May His holy Name be praised for ever!"
And again she said:
 "You asked me what were my feelings when I read the anonymous letter. Well I told you at what I was hurt, but I felt that our dear Lord was not content in giving me Himself but that He would also give me a little Christmas present to reassure me that He is a faithful Spouse. For He never forgets me on these days, and even when He is carried round to scatter His favours and blessings upon us all in general, yet He always sends me a little token of His love as a message to tell of His constancy, at least so I regard the things which have always been done and said to me by His holy anointed Priest on the nights of the procession of the most holy Sacrament. I cherish those little things as a bouquet from Him and I know through His Precious Blood that they are everlasting flowers."
1. Letter from Father Snow to Father O'Sullivan.