In 16th century Spain, many Catholics believed that long hours of prayer and rigorous asceticism were required to grow in holiness. At first, Ignatius shared this mentality, but when he saw how it harmed his health, and therefore his ability to pray and to serve others, he began to preach moderation, and it remained a prominent theme in his advice to others. Here he instructs Sr. Teresa Rejadell, a Benedictine nun, on moderation and unrealistic expectations in prayer. His advice follows that which he had provided to Rejadell in an earlier letter. Here, Ignatius refers to “Cáceres,” or Lope de Cáceres, a former companion of Ignatius during his studies in Spain.
For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.
May the grace and love of Christ our Lord be always for our favor and our help.
I received two letters from you at different times. I sent what I consider an ample reply to the first, which you should have received by now. In the second you tell me the same as in the first, except for a few words to which I will reply only briefly.
You say that you find in yourself great ignorance, timidity, etc. (to know this is to know much). And that you think this is partly due to the many indefinite opinions you have received. I agree with you that one who is indefinite understands little and helps less—but the Lord, who does see, himself bestows his favor.
Any meditation in which the understanding has to toil wearies the body. There are other orderly and restful meditations which are peaceful for the understanding, are not laborious for the interior faculties of the mind, and can be made without interior or exterior strain. These do not weary but rest the body—except in two ways. One is if it prevents the natural sustenance and recreation which you owe to the body. By sustenance, I mean when one is so taken up by these meditations that he forgets to give the body its natural food, skipping the proper hours. By recreation—religious recreation—I mean leaving the mind free to rove at will amid matters good or indifferent, so long as they are not bad.
The second is something that happens to many people given to prayer or contemplation: because they exercise their minds much, they cannot sleep afterwards because they keep thinking about the matters they have contemplated and pictured. Hence, the enemy tries hard to preserve good thoughts so that the body will suffer from the loss of sleep. This must be altogether avoided. With a healthy body you will be able to do much; with a weakened body I am not sure what you will be able to do. A sound body is a great help for doing either much good or much evil: must evil in persons of depraved will and evil habits, much good in persons whose will is entirely given to God our Lord and trained in habits of virtue.
Thus, without my knowing what meditations and exercises you make and how long you spend on them, and apart from whatever Cáceres has told you, there is nothing fuller I can tell you beyond what I wrote you and here reconfirm: that you should above all keep in mind that your Lord loves you, as I have no doubt that he does, and that you should respond to him with the same love, paying no heed at all to any evil, foul, or sensual thoughts, to any timidity or tepidity, when they are against your will. For not to have all or some of these thoughts come is something that neither St. Peter nor St. Paul ever achieved. However, even if it cannot be done completely, we achieve a great deal by paying no need to any of them. For just as I am not going to be saved through the good angels’ good works, so I am not going to be damned through the evil thoughts and frailties that are brought before me by the bad angels, the world, and the flesh. God our Lord requires only that my soul be conformed to his divine majesty; so conformed, it makes the body act in conformity to his divine will, like it or not—wherein is our greatest struggle, and the good pleasure of the eternal and sovereign goodness. By his infinite kindness and grace may he hold us always with his hand.
Venice, September 11, 1536
Poor in goodness,
Original Source (English translation):
Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions, ed. John W. Padberg, et al. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996, “To Teresa Rejadell, Venice, September 11, 1536,” pg. 23–24.