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On Eternal Health

Teresa de Cartagena

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To what supper does my suffering strive to bring me? I believe without a doubt that it is the one of which it is written: “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

Divine generosity invites all to this blessed feast, but suffering grabs the infirm by their cloak and makes them enter by force. And so it says in the parable that our Lord gives in the Gospel about that man who prepared a great feast and invited many guests, and when it was time to eat, he sent out his servant to inform them that everything was ready. Being occupied with various tasks, or rather with nonsense, they excused themselves from coming; and so the indignant host told his servant, “Go out then to the plazas and markets. Make all the infirm, lame, and weak people that you find come and fill up my house.” And he did not say, “Tell them to come,” like with the first guests, but rather, “Make them come.” And so it seems that the infirm are brought by force to the magnificent feast of eternal health, because their suffering grabs them by the cloak and makes them enter through the door of good works; for if we do not enter through that door, we will not be able to reach the greatest heights of honor, which is to be seated at the table of divine generosity. O blessed convent of the infirm! Of them, I say, who enter willingly where suffering brings them by force, and do not choose to remain in the street.

Therefore if suffering afflicts us, let us persevere for the sake of the goodness and honor it promises us; and I know of no greater honor nor dignity in this life than the perfection and virtue that infirmity purifies and refines … Sufferings and afflictions love us, let us love them; health and prosperity reject us, let us reject them for God’s sake … It seems to me there are six dishes of which all of us who endure suffering should partake: distressed sadness, enduring patience, bitter contrition, honest and frequent confession, devout prayer, and perseverance in good works. And of these six dishes, and those like them, we may eat without fear; and though they may seem somewhat bitter to our taste, it is necessary that they be so. For few sick people enjoy their diet, but it is beneficial and fortifying nonetheless. So let us desire what is bitter, since what is sweet does not want us; for what human senses perceive as bitter on the palate becomes sweetness for the soul.

Teresa de Cartagena

And I do not know why we infirm should want anything from this world that surrounds us, since we will not find anything in it that wishes us well. Its pleasures detest us, health abandons us, friends forget us, relatives resent us, and even a mother becomes angry with her sick daughter, and a father abhors a son who takes up space in the house with his interminable suffering. And it is no wonder that this should be so, for the sick person comes to abhor and resent himself. Let us not suffer such hunger for worldly things but reach for what is closest at hand, that which is spiritual and healthy for the soul … So let us forsake what forsakes us, and desire only him who desires us, and love only him who gives us these sufferings, so that we might abandon the world and love him who loves us. And that is, without a doubt, the true Father, the loving Father, the only one who never resents our crosses. It is he who heals our infirmities, who keeps us from stumbling and delivers us from danger, who will crown us with great mercies. He will bring our desires to good ends and will renew our youth like an eagle. So let us who are dying of hunger for bodily health in this foreign land search instead for him with fervent desire, for in him we will find true repose, in which our temporal, human sadness will become eternal, spiritual joy. But in the aforementioned things, patience should reign, for if patience does not rule the convent of the infirm, all our suffering will be fruitless.

The cause of our sufferings and travails can be attributed to our own sins and the very condition of our human weakness, but on another level it is possible and necessary to observe that if sickness only came because of sinfulness or weakness, neither would the just be subject to it nor would the unjust ever be free of it. But we know this is not so, for though we are all sinful and human, some of us are inflicted with infirmities and plagues while others, in fact the majority, spend their lives free from such adversity. Therefore we cannot doubt that there is a more immediate cause for sickness, and that is the intention or healthy end to which God orders our sufferings, which we cannot deny is good and ultimately for our great benefit, for whoever desires our good loves us. And whoever, in addition to desiring and wanting our good, gives us the ability to realize it – his great love for us shines forth all the more. And what else are infirmities and bodily sufferings, if we consider them carefully or rather tolerate them virtuously, but a sure way to seek and find the most direct path to our salvation? Because there is no straight path to paradise other than the endurance of anguish and tribulation, and by this narrow path we find our wide, spacious, eternal rest … And if the saints could not bypass this path to get to heaven, how do we sinners expect to follow them without enduring trials?


Source: Translated from Arboleda de los enfermos (Real Academia Española, 1967) by Catherine Addington, a doctoral student of Spanish at the University of Virginia.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Fleurs View Full Painting

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Teresa de Cartagena was a fifteenth-century Cistercian nun and writer from Burgos, Spain, who lost her hearing in early adulthood. Her first known work, Grove of the Infirm, is a spiritual reflection on deafness.

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