Sodality of Charity
Life of the Ven. Mary of Jesus of Agreda
By Fr. José Jiménez y Samaniego, OSF
Edited and abridged by
Father J. A. Boullan
The life of the servant of God, Mary of Jesus, offers the most perfect model of a soul rising from virtue to virtue, according to the words of the prophet, even to the summit of perfection; and her character demands from us an attentive study and meditation. There is much to learn in these pages for whomsoever desires to follow the path of holiness without looking back. They offer a unique example of the spiritual life in its perfection.
It may, perhaps, be objected that only a small number of privileged souls receive such great favors, or are called by the way of ecstasies, visions, and the most eminent gifts of infused knowledge. However this may be, it remains not the less incontestable that a great many are called to perfection and to contemplation, if not infused, at least acquired; and that both lead to the highest perfection, as it is expressly taught by the great mystical doctor, St. Teresa, in her Treatise on Perfection, Chapter 18. Another of her admirable works, The Interior Castle cannot be too highly recommended to the reader. As for those who are incredulous in regard to the divine communications and celestial favors which are mentioned in this Life, let them remember that the Church does not reject them: she examines them with care, but she is not incredulous. Without doubt to believe on slight grounds is folly. “He that is hasty to give credit, is light of heart.” (Ecclesiasticus 19:4) Nevertheless, it would be temerity to refuse credence to facts which the most learned and pious men do not hesitate to pronounce worthy of all confidence. God, in the impenetrable designs of His mercy, has permitted us to be a witness of prodigies that yield in nothing to any of the wonders recorded in the life of Mary of Jesus. For ourselves, we profess openly that nothing has been more useful to our soul than our belief in the miracles of God in His saints.
It seems evident to us that we have reached the times which the venerable Grignon de Montfort speaks of in his Treatise on the True Devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin: “At the end of the world, and very soon, the Most High, with His Holy Mother, will form for themselves great saints, who will as much surpass the greater number of other saints as the cedars of Lebanon surpass little trees as it has been revealed to a holy soul, and as we read in the writings of St. Vincent Ferrer.”
Thus three saints affirm that in the present age, which is the age of Mary, the Holy Ghost will pour out upon souls the gifts of wisdom for the operations of miracles of grace. These souls, in imitation of Mary of Jesus of Agreda, will become living copies of Mary, and will lose themselves in the abyss of her interior, to love and glorify Jesus Christ. Mary of Jesus is the great model to follow, and the doctrine of her writings is the way and the truth which lead infallibly to Jesus Christ. The works of this servant of God are destined to be the book of life for the great souls of whom we speak.
To observe the decree of the Sovereign Pontiff, Urban VIII, of happy memory, of the 5th of July, 1634, we protest that all the visions, revelations, miracles, and other extraordinary favors recorded in the “Life of Mary of Jesus” have no other authority than that given by the testimonials reported by us.
The venerable Mother, Mary of Jesus, who wrote The Mystical City of God, was born at Agreda, a city of old Castile in Spain, on the 2nd of April, 1602. Her parents were Francis Coronel and Catharine d’Arana, both noble, and of great virtue.
She was baptized on the eleventh of the same month, and by a special disposition of Providence, she was named Mary, to which she afterwards added that of Jesus, which was the name given by the early Christians to the Mother of the Saviour, whom they called Mary of Jesus. Her Mother, convinced that her daughter was destined by God for great things, guarded her with watchful care.
Before the little Mary was capable of profiting by the lessons of her parents, God began to instruct her in a wonderful way. With the earliest use of her reason she had an exalted vision, in which her understanding was enlightened by divine illuminations, and her will confirmed. This supernatural vision was the beginning of knowledge to the child; from it she learned to know God as the creator of the universe, the preserver and vivifier of all that has existence. Human miseries were made manifest to her in herself; and the consciousness she attained of them, humbled her to the very depths of her nothingness. Human nature in its first state of innocence was revealed to her, and she discovered the ravages that sin had made in man. She was attracted by the goodness and the infinite beauty of God, and absorbed in His love, and she conceived a very great fear of offending God and of losing His grace. Thus the spiritual edifice of this soul was established on the solid foundations of love, humility and fear.
From this time, having the perfect use of her reason, which was aided by the light and knowledge acquired in the vision, she began to exercise her powers of reflection. The Lord communicated to her, also, an infused knowledge of the articles of the faith which she should believe; of the commandments of the law of grace, and those of the holy Church which she should observe; of the nature and the qualities of the persons with whom she should associate, and of her conduct towards them.
Favored with such admirable lights, she resolved to employ all her faculties to love God and keep His commandments; and she lived in great serenity of mind and tranquility of conscience, not allowing herself to be scandalized by the conduct of others, and acting in all things with the simplicity of the dove.
But God, having resolved to raise the edifice of the spiritual life of this child to a sublime elevation, willed to consolidate it by the sure counterpoise of afflictions. He suspended, therefore, His caresses, and the effects of His presence. This affliction was very great. She sought her beloved, but was not able to find Him, and, penetrated by grief, she wept and lamented. This absence of the Lord continued during several years, for she received no other extraordinary favors, until some days after taking the religious habit.
Meanwhile the Lord gave her only that interior illumination which is usually enjoyed by souls who follow the way of perfection.
The sorrowing child feared to have offended the Lord, and that His absence was intended as a chastisement. The humble sentiments she entertained for herself led her to regard all with whom she associated as her superiors, and this humility, being deeply grounded in her heart, made her timid in their presence. She found neither repose nor consolation but in retreat. Worldly conversation, although it is permitted, rendered her melancholy, and, under these appearances, she came to be considered a useless creature.
Her parents were pained to observe these timid and somber dispositions in their daughter. Her mother suspected them to be the effects of an idle or slothful nature, and, under this impression, she treated her with severity, and reproved her with harshness. The father followed the example of his wife. This was designed by Providence, in order to preserve the humility of the child. In these afflictions she sought after God. “My divine Master and adorable Lord,” she cried, “my father and my mother have forsaken me! Cast a favorable look upon Thy helpless child!” But all the gates of consolation were shut, and her heart was in bitterness.
The Lord accompanied these spiritual pains by others of her body, which gave a timely mortification to the flesh, so that it should not resist the spirit; and she was exercised by almost continual disorders or maladies. These indispositions began from her sixteenth year, for her intense sufferings disturbed her health. With great submission to the Divine will, she made a wise use of her afflictions to deepen her humility, and of her maladies to exercise her patience. She was much encouraged by the remembrance of the passion of our Saviour, which she often called to mind: and when the Lord said to her: “I have suffered far more for thee,” she forgot all her pains.
Her parents did not neglect to imbue her mind with the principles of Christian doctrine. Her pious mother undertook to instruct her, and was agreeably surprised to find that this child, so useless in worldly matters, was so capable to learn and so inclined to devotion. From this, she inferred that in her little Mary some divine secret lay concealed. She took her to the churches, taught her how to frequent the sacraments, and to practice mental prayer.
The Lord enlightened the youthful Mary more and more, by that interior knowledge of which we have spoken. In relating the effects which she experienced from it, she says: “It consoled me in my afflictions – corrected me in my disorders – checked me in my imperfections, and animated me in my tepidity.” She usually received, with this enlightenment, two divine favors: one was an interior voice, which said to her heart: “Come to me, my spouse. Leave terrestrial things. Purify yourself. Direct your actions to please me, for I am that I am. Hasten, my dove, to fulfill the desires that I awaken within you.” The other was an interior reprehension of her defects and vices; for, if she received any satisfaction with complaisance, the Lord shed so much bitterness within her soul that she became dissolved in tears.
By favor of this spiritual intelligence, she desired, passionately, to practice the virtues. She exercised herself chiefly in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and, especially, in charity; for her will was captivated by the love of God. She neglected no occasion – not even the least – to practice the moral virtues, and she always cherished the highest esteem for virginal purity. Even in her eighth year, the pious child had a strong inspiration that it would be an agreeable offering to the Son of the Virgin to consecrate to Him her virginity, and, taking the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and some other saints for witnesses, she made a vow of perpetual chastity. From this time the divine spouse increased his favors, although he continued, apparently, absent. In this state she remained until the twelfth year of her age.
She had addressed herself to her confessor, to learn how she could better serve God. He was a spiritual and interior man, who, perceiving the fervor of the child, taught her how to practice mental prayer. God, as if He had awaited the instructions of man, revealed Himself to this loving soul. He placed her in the oraison of quietude, and she felt, with a most sweet tranquility, the presence of God. The Lord elevated her to such a state that she herself said: “I lived without living, because Thou, Lord, livedst in me.” She remained some years in this state, with considerable progress in the divine life.
The Lord had inspired her to preserve the secrets of her interior, but it was not possible that those who associated with her should not perceive something of what she concealed. They observed her equanimity of spirit in afflictions, her joy in contempt. “It is all I ask,” said she one day to her mistress, “that they should despise me.” They remarked, also, that, from her earliest years, she had deprived herself of a part of her food, for the poor. Her mother took her with her to visit the poor, and she manifested great joy when she was allowed to dispense the alms.
The report of her virtues spread through the city. In the general esteem excited by her uncommon merit, some persons had the curiosity to watch her in her retreat, where they saw her in the practice of penances almost impossible at her age. They witnessed her great modesty – her extraordinary recollection – the devotion with which she approached the sacraments – and were edified. Her confessor, notwithstanding his prudence, could not always preserve silence, and sometimes communicated his thoughts to devout persons, and thus she reached the twelfth year of her age.
Entry into Religion
After having completed her twelfth year, which is the age required for permission to enter in religion, she declared anew to her parents, her vocation. They, doubting nothing, resolved to satisfy her desires, and wished her to take the habit of the bare-footed Carmelites, when, oh, impenetrable secrets of Divine Providence! there happened as follows:
The pious Mother of the young Mary employed three or four hours, daily, in oraison. One day, the Lord spoke with her, and said that it was His will she should build in her house a monastery for nuns, where she and her daughters should make their profession, and that her husband should become a religious of the Order of St. Francis, where his two sons already were. The Lord spoke in the same manner to her confessor, the venerable Father John de Torrecille, and the obedient lady going to the convent to communicate to him what had passed, the servant of God came to meet her, saying: “My daughter, I know already the object of this visit.”
All difficulties and opposition, being at length overcome, the Ordinary and the regular Superiors consented to the foundation. When the fervent Mary heard of this remarkable disposition of the Lord, with regard to her parents, her joy was immense. She encouraged her Mother, and incited her to perseverance. The foundation was retarded during three years, and she ceased not to pray the Lord to shorten the time. Finally, on the 16th of August, 1618, the new monastery was commenced, and on the day of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, the first Mass was solemnly chanted in the new Church. The Monastery was placed under the Order of St. Clara, and the foundresses required that the sisterhood belonging to it, should be bare-footed, although the Order of the Conception of this province wore shoes.
On the 13th of January, 1619, the mother and her two daughters, with three sisters, who had come from the Convent of St. Louis of Buigos, to be foundresses, entered the humble monastery in perpetual enclosure, and formed there a community. Our Mary, on taking the habit, assumed the title of Mary of Jesus. She was at that time sixteen years of age.
While the parental mansion was being converted into a monastery, the embarrassments of the workmen, and the crowds of people who came about it, had somewhat disturbed her mind. This was permitted by Divine Providence, that her soul might be better established in humility, from the experience of her own weakness. By the help of His grace she repaired these distractions in a little time, yet she did not cease to weep for them as bitterly as if they had been the greatest sins. And, now she began to act as if she had but just commenced life. She reflected how worthy God is to beloved and served, and she represented to herself the sublimity of interior actions. She pondered seriously upon her own fragility, and the great dangers to be encountered in spiritual life. She therefore resolved to follow faithfully the path of virtue, with courageous, humble, and submissive firmness.
Although under the pressure of an inextinguishable fear, which is the offspring of love and humility, she persevered throughout her life in this resolution. This fear, which the highest illumination could not dissipate, would have proved a hindrance to the flight of her spirit towards God, if the Lord had not tempered it by an absolute confidence in the virtue of obedience according to the words: “He who hears you, hears Me; he who obeys you, obeys Me.” In order to preserve herself with assurance, in obedience to her superiors and confessors, she yielded to the inspiration to show them clearly all her interior – not only that of her sins and imperfections, but also of the least temptations.
The foundations upon which the spiritual edifice of this creature were elevated, were then, love, humility, fear and obedience. She made a general confession not only to ease her conscience, but that her confessor might guide her with security. She applied herself entirely to the holy exercise of oraison in a manner so admirable, and so useful, that she never made it without striving to discover her faults, in order to correct them at once. She commenced by meditation, considering the truths and mysteries which faith inculcates, purifying and ornamenting her soul by their lights, so that she might become the worthy tabernacle of the Lord.
The rule which she followed was to put herself in the lowest place, and to persevere in it until the Lord should elevate her to a higher degree. The divine spouse, to whom fidelity and true humility are so agreeable, delayed not her entrance into the prayer of recollection, where she annihilated herself, forgot the earth, and, as if in a glowing furnace, was purified. From this He raised her to a higher eminence, in which the fire of divine love began to burn with great spiritual sweetness. All this happened in the first month of her novitiate.
The most frequent subject of her oraison during this time, was the passion of our Lord Jesus. She bore, always, the image of Jesus Christ crucified, vividly engraved on her heart, and she was sensible of its wondrous effect for the preservation of her interior purity. This holy exercise produced the most salutary effect, upon her soul, and brought forth rich fruits.
She divided her time according to her obligations. The remaining hours were employed in reading spiritual books, in mental or vocal prayers, and other exercises of devotion and penitence. Not a moment was wasted. She slept only enough to support life. Without ceasing, she had on her lips these words of David: “What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things he hath rendered unto me?” (Psalm 115:12) Often her confessor refused to permit the penances which she wished to practice, and she submitted in obedience, believing, always, that the opinion of her confessor was just.
Mary of Jesus passed, in this manner, the years of her novitiate, with great spiritual progress. On the 2nd of February, 1620, the day of the Purification of Our Lady, she made her profession with her pious mother. Her sister was still too young. Having entered into her religious vows, she continued her spiritual life with renewed fervor. After many entreaties, she obtained the most retired chamber of the convent, and it became the field of her spiritual combats.
The Lord, having chosen to make her the historiographer and the disciple of His Most Blessed Mother, elevated her spirit, from degree to degree. But the harbinger of all grace was affliction. This was the only door by which she entered into divine favor. Before receiving the extraordinary graces which Divine Providence destined for her, the demon had permission to afflict her, outwardly, in a surprising manner. The infernal dragon left no means untried. When the servant of God offered up devotions, in the silence of the night, the demon extinguished the light, and sought to disturb her by frightful imaginings. He appeared to her under various forms of horrible animals. Sometimes he presented himself in that of a rotten corpse, at others, as a living man. He maltreated her in her person, and tormented her in every way to interrupt her exercises. But God imparted to her such courage, that she despised all these attacks, and entirely disregarded the enemy.
The Lord favored her, during these combats, with sensible caresses. When she received Holy Communion, in partaking of the holy elements, she enjoyed a taste of inconceivable savor. Many times she saw the Blessed Sacrament surrounded by a miraculous splendor. These favors were succeeded by varied divine apparitions. The Queen of Angels appeared to her, the first time, with Her adorable Son in Her arms, invested with splendor and glory. She sank prostrate at His feet, with profound humility; but the merciful Mother raised her up, and the most sweet Jesus received her within His arms. This apparition gave her strength to support every pain. The august Queen of Heaven was the object of her first vision.
The Lord continued to distinguish His servant by these favors. On the festival of Pentecost, a beautiful dove, all radiant, appeared to her, and rapt her, as if in ecstasy. On another occasion, our Redeemer appeared in the deplorable condition to which He was brought at His Passion. But the combats of the demon succeeded to these sensible favors, and, finally, the Lord gave more ample permission to the enemy.
The demon, perceiving that he was despised by our humble maiden, attacked her, by the permission of the Lord, with greater cruelty. He augmented her maladies, and added extraordinary torments. She was thrown into a state of such extreme debility, that she seemed, constantly, as if in a dying condition. At the same time, he vexed her by horrible fancies, and every species of tribulation. And, as he had discovered that the torment of this soul was the dread of offending God, he attacked her at this point, exciting her fears by insinuations that she was in the road to perdition. He tortured her in other ways, which the following words of the saint will explain: “He tormented me with pains which cannot be mentioned, singularly strange for a soul who had throughout life cherished purity.”
The fury of the demon was not satiated. He undertook now to afflict her by means of creatures. The convent was so contracted in its dimensions, that her exercises could not be concealed from the other nuns. Some observed her with admiration, others from curiosity. The mother foundresses, seeing the servant of God continually ill, though she did not keep her bed, resolved to suspend her practices. The demon induced them, under the pretext of compassion, to do as we shall relate.
In order to interrupt her holy exercises, they obliged her to remain in their presence, and even caused her to be watched at night. They forbade her to communicate to her confessor what was passing within her, and she was allowed only half a quarter of an hour for confession. She was punished by being deprived of Holy Communion, and with harsh words. If, being reproved, she did not justify herself, they were displeased; and if she said anything in the hope of satisfying them, they imposed mortifications. And, besides, the Lord hid His presence from her! Thus circumstanced, she was destitute of all consolations, for prayer, confession, and communion were allowed her only under restrictions. The demon took advantage of all this to destroy her. But this opposition, and these pains, could not check the servant of God in the way of perfection. In her temptation she had recourse to purity of intention. With regard to the sisters, she accepted their censures without excusing herself, and prayed for them. She was always admirable in her obedience to her superiors, and forming, from their opposition, a means of obtaining merits for herself, she prayed in spirit while striving to satisfy them. Thus she pursued the path of her spiritual life in treading underfoot the snares of hell.
Her Raptures and Penances