St. Teresa Margaret at the time of her death, portrait by Anna Piattoli

The Dark Night of St. Teresa Margaret

Lest anyone think that because Saint Teresa Margaret received the great grace of “Deus caritas est” her spiritual life was easy, these few lines will show some of her struggle. These words come from the testimony of her last spiritual director Fr. Ildephonse.[1] The essence of her struggle is very understandable to those who have studied St. John of the Cross. She was standing in front of the most blinding light, thus she believed she was in utter darkness. She experienced what the love of God was, how love can/must be repaid by love, and how utterly helpless we are to love God as He deserves. The more she loved Him, (and her love was GREAT), the more she believed she did not love at all. Fr. Ildephonse believes that this struggle was the real cause of her death – her suffering was so great that living became impossible.

In the letter of December 19, 1768 the Saint is under attack: “I am telling you in strict confidence, sure of your discretion, that I find myself in pain because I am not doing anything to correspond to the demands of love. I feel that I am continually being reproached by my Sovereign Good and yet, I am very sensitive to the slightest movement contrary to the love and knowledge of Him. I do not see, I do not feel, I do not understand anything interiorly or exteriorly which could impel me to love. Everything is an obstacle and prevents me from throwing myself unreservedly into the arms of God, and I am so aware of this fact that I scarcely know how to occupy my mind - even the very things which could help me to love present obstacles to me and I strive hard to avoid these. I have no other remedy than to work in complete faith, but on account of my cold-heartedness this also is painful to me. However, thanks to a continual vigilance over the inferior faculties and over the suggestions of the common enemy (the devil) I think that these things are helping to make me a little less imperfect. For the rest, no one can imagine how terrible it is to live without any love when one is actually burning with the desire for it.” Page 56*.

“This is a torture to me, let alone the fact that it requires such an effort to apply myself to the things of God,” she confessed later. “I fear that God is very displeased with my Communions; it seems that I have no desire to ask His help because of the great coldness which I experience ... It is the same with prayer and, of course, in all the other spiritual exercises. I am continually making good resolutions but I never succeed in attaining some way of successfully overcoming these obstacles which stand in my way and prevent me from throwing myself at His feet.” Page 57*.

“I try as much as I can not to remain in my failings but to demand instant pardon from God, for I recall that it is time for me to give myself completely to Him ... I ask His pardon for being so distant from Him and I then renew my oblation ... I do all this rapidly and several times a day, but, in spite of it, I often allow myself to be overcome by the extreme coldness I feel. Then comes weakening and lack of confidence - I begin to feel that I shall never attain the heights towards which I tend because the battle within me is so great and I have so little courage in the face of battle ... I try to help myself by making as good a resolution as I can, especially when I feel the greatest repugnance; but in spite of all this, at the first ill wind I find myself thrown on the ground. When I have resolved to conquer my repugnances manfully, the greatest occasions for practicing the newly made resolutions immediately present themselves - but I lose my courage and the enemy wins the day ... I cannot explain to you the paradoxes which I feel exist within myself. Sometimes I feel the greatest repugnance for performing even the least act of virtue and I have to do myself the greatest violence in order to perform the act; at other times I want nothing else than to conform myself perfectly with the Heart of Jesus and then I force myself to practice those virtues which I know will make me especially beloved of that Heart. At these latter times I try to renew my resolution to suffer and to be silent, but I do not succeed very well and yet I feel something within me which helps me to remain faithful to God ...” Page 57*.

“The tempest has become extremely violent and I feel myself being so knocked about that I scarcely know what to do if this continues. Everywhere there is darkness and danger. My soul is so dark that the very things which used to afford me some spiritual consolation are only a source of torture to me ... I must do violence to myself in order to perform each interior and exterior spiritual exercise ... Finding myself in this state of supreme weariness I commit many failings at each step ... My mind is in such turmoil that it is open to temptations of every sort, especially to those of despair ... I have a great fear of offending God grievously ... I see that I do wrong and at the same time try to follow the inspiration to do good and then I feel remorse for my infidelity; and to top it all, I am not succeeding in conquering myself because my repugnance is so great ...” Page 58*.

The good Father again mentions “the terrible agonies which she often spoke of to me, saying that she could no longer live without being able to love God as much as she desired, considering death a great consolation; she therefore asked my permission to ask for it without trying to lessen or escape her sufferings in this life.” She was, he says, “almost continually transformed by this love wherein, knowing most clearly the excellence and infinite merit of her Beloved, her love seemed to appear weaker and weaker in her eyes as it actually increased.” “The cruelest torturer of her soul,” he remarks, was her love which, in the very same measure that it increased, hid itself from the eyes of her spirit. She loved, yet believed she did not; in the measure love grew in her soul, in the same measure augmented the desire of loving, and the pain of thinking that she did not love.” Page 61*.

The testimony of Father Ildephonse is particularly touching on this point: “She made God the most varied offerings in order that He finally make her worthy of loving. Among these different propositions is one which, as I know, became a daily and favorite one: it would not matter to her if she were condemned to hell for all eternity as long as the Lord would grant her the grace to love Him there as much as she wanted to, and then even more than that. I know this with certainty. She repeated this idea several times in my presence putting all her ardor into it; and oddly, she did it at the same time that she was accusing herself of lukewarmness in love. Prompted by the desire never to allow her to lose any of the beauty of her humility I told her that everyone ought to be moved by the same sentiments. Shrewdly I asked her of a sudden: ‘Now, supposing that (eternity in hell), what do you think will happen to us if we cannot see God for all eternity and have to suffer from all the horrible torments of the senses?’ Resolutely, without any reflection, she answered: ‘I think that love would make all things tolerable for us, perhaps even sweet, for love can compass everything ...’” Page 62*.

Father Ildephonse reflecting on her death remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her.”

[1] All quotes are taken from God is Love (1964 edition) unless marked with an '*' in which case they are taken from From the Sacred Heart to the Trinity.