Fausto Gomez OP
When I informed a brother Dominican and friend that I had begun my 21 days quarantine (September 11 – October 2, 2021) at Pousada Marina Infante Hotel, he advised me: “Make a retreat; it is convenient for you.” Certainly, it would be convenient, but I was not then in the mood. Nevertheless, I had decided earlier that it would be three weeks of introspection and peace. Besides my usual duties as a Dominican, a book I read helped me much.
The book is the historical novel entitled El Castillo de diamante (The Castle of Diamond) written by an outstanding writer, a well-known lay Catholic, Juan Manuel de Prada (2017). The author narrates faithfully, creatively and elegantly the divine and human adventures of two strong women: Teresa de Ávila and Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Éboly. While the first –Teresa, the mature Carmelite nun- longs passionately for God, who satiates; the second –the young, beautiful and arrogant Ana- passionately desires power, which embitters.
Through the 455 pages of the book, there are inspiring thoughts that touched my soul. Mother Teresa is in Toledo. She had been asked by her Prioress of the Monastery of La Encarnación of Avila to travel there to console Doña Luisa de la Cerda, a rich and influential woman who has lost her husband. The nun carries with her a few things in a bag: the Breviary, an image of St. Joseph, a chessboard given by her father, and a few disciplines –Teresa explains- “to do penance every time the comfortable life in the palace of Doña Luisa made her forget the sufferings at Golgotha.”
Among the servants of the Doña there was one very lively and inquisitive, Isabel. Teresa thought that she might be a good candidate for her first foundation of discalced Carmelites in Avila. To her, she narrates her second and transforming conversion in the Monastery of La Encarnación while looking intensely to an image of Christ very wounded and tied to a column. She tells Isabel: “In reality, the whole life consists in looking to His Majesty. If you are joyful, look at him as risen and in glory. If you are burdened with many works and sad, look at him tied to the column, or nailed to the Cross. You look yourself in him, with those beautiful eyes you have, and He will forget his pains to console yours. And He will give you all kinds of graces…”
Pedro de Alcántara, her dear Franciscan and spiritual director, went to Toledo to bring to Mother Teresa the news she expected most: papal approval of her first reformed monastery (15 more will follow) of Carmelite nuns in Avila. At that time, Teresa was debating in her heart whether to have or not to have an assigned rent or just depend on donations for her monasteries. She asked the saint about it. Saint Peter of Alcántara urges her to found without rent: “Christ counsels us poverty… Where there is no poverty, the gate of heaven becomes as narrow as the eye of a needle; and the same is true for the camel” and for persons.
Mother Teresa goes back from Avila to Toledo to found another reformed Carmelite monastery. As often, it was hard work and plenty of trust in His Majesty: license denied already a few times, no funds, no permissions from the powerful cannons of the cathedral. Even her friend Doña Luisa is against the new foundation. She tells Mother: “Do not be stubborn; if you continue like that, you will be left alone.” Mother Teresa: “Alone, but not overcome. The one who really loses is the one who gives up.” Teresa never gave up!
Princess Ana wants Teresa to use her place for the new foundation: Pastrana (Guadalajara, Castille). Mother is against it; but once the Lord told her to go, she went there immediately. She comments to Isabel, already her nun: “To reach perfection does not consist in obtaining mercies, neither in having the gift of tongues or the spirit of prophecy, but in conforming our own will to God’s will, in such a way that anything that He wants we want also, and accept it joyfully, whether it is tasteful or bitter.”
When in the palace of the Prince Guy Gomez – closest councilor of the king – and her wife Princess Ana in Pastrana, Teresa and Isabel suffered much with the nocturnal long celebrations of the palace: songs, dances, poems… One night they could not sleep at all, due to the noise of the dancers and the music. “Let us dance,” Teresa smiling asked Isabel: “Facing an unfortunate situation, it is better to laugh than to cry, so that the devil will be angry.” Mother Teresa tells Sor Isabel that she is Prioress of the Monastery of Pastrana, the young nun felt scared and incapable. Teresa consoles her: “Everything becomes easy when there is love. Love is the only medicine that heals the wrinkles of the soul.”
Mother Teresa was disillusioned with the monastery the Princess had built and more so with the Princess who wanted to control Teresa and her nuns as if they were her property. So one night Teresa took her nuns out of Pastrana.
The Princess fought a last battle: after reading Teresa’s Book of Life, Ana Mendoza decided to accuse her – she did – before the Inquisition as an illumined one and a heretic. Her husband loved the Book and praised it. The arrogant Princess reacted: This is a worthless book “for many reasons”; moreover, “all her spiritual reflections are more boring than the sermon of a Dominican.” It was an outstanding Dominican theologian, Domingo Bañez, who, after reading the book, praised it and approved it for publication.
(Mother Teresa died in 1582, in Alba de Tormes (Salamanca) and the Princess of Éboli in 1582, in her Palace of Pastrana, where she was under a sort of house arrest for her intrigues in the court of Philip II.)