St. Teresa of Avila on “Were You There”

There is often a temptation to think, when we reflect upon the Passion, that we would have acted differently if we’d been there.
“If I had been there, I wouldn’t have denied Jesus.”
“If I had been there, I would have stayed awake in the Garden.”
“If I had been there, I would have yelled for Jesus instead of Barabbas.”
“If I had been there, I would yelled ‘free Him’ instead of ‘crucify Him.'”
“If I had been there, I would have stood by the Cross with St. John and the Blessed Mother.”

Here’s what St. Teresa de Jesus has to say about that:

You will ask me, sisters, how you can possibly do all this, and say that, if you had seen His Majesty with your bodily eyes at the time when He lived in the world, you would have done it willingly and gazed at Him for ever. Do not believe it: anyone who will not make the slight effort necessary for recollection in order to gaze upon this Lord present within her, which she can do without danger and with only the minimum of trouble, would have been far less likely to stand at the foot of the Cross with the Magdalene, who looked death (as they say) straight in the face. What the glorious Virgin and this blessed saint must have suffered! What threats, what malicious words, what shocks, what insults! For the people they were dealing with were not exactly polite to them. No, indeed; theirs was the kind of courtesy you might meet in hell, for they were the ministers of the devil himself. Yet, terrible as the sufferings of these women must have been, they would not have noticed them in the presence of
pain so much greater.

So do not suppose, sisters, that you would have been prepared to endure such great trials then, if you are not ready for such trifling ones now. Practise enduring these and you may be given others which are greater. Believe that I am telling the truth when I say that you can do this, for I am speaking from experience. You will find it very helpful if you can get an image or a picture of this Lord — one that you like — not to wear round your neck and never look at but to use regularly whenever you talk to Him, and He will tell you what to say. If words do not fail you when you talk to people on earth, why should they do so when you talk to God? Do not imagine that they will — I shall certainly not believe that they have done so if you once form the habit. For when you never have intercourse with a person he soon becomes a stranger to you, and you forget how to talk to him; and before long, even if he is a kinsman, you feel as if you do not know him, for both kinship and friendship lose their influence when communication ceases. (Way of Perfection, Ch. 26, para. 8).

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