The First Degree of Prayer

St. Teresa makes use of these four ways of drawing water to explain the four degrees of prayer.

The first degree is that of beginners and includes vocal and discursive meditation. The second degree borders on the supernatural and she calls this prayer the prayer of quiet. The next degree is mystical and she refers to this as a “sleep of the faculties”. The final degree of prayer is totally mystical and is called the prayer of union.

The first way of watering the garden, the way of beginners, is to draw water from the well and this way of watering involves a lot of work. It is the discursive work of the intellect. These are things that we can do ourselves with God’s help.

“They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their sense. Since they are accustomed to being distracted, the recollection requires much effort. They need to get accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to solitude and withdrawal – and to thinking on their past life.”

” These things make up the beginning of fetching water from the well, and please God that it may be found. At least we are doing our part, for we are already drawing it out and doing what we can to water these flowers…God is so good that when for reasons His Majesty knows… the well is dry and we, like good gardeners, do what lies in our power, He sustains the garden without water and makes the virtues grow.”

St. Teresa exhorts beginners to begin with determination and to persevere in prayer. Dryness and difficulty at prayer will come and to not let this cause us to give up prayer. She advises us to not become distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distressing thoughts. ..For, clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means.

(from The Book of her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

The Four Waters

The garden can be watered in four ways.
(taken from The Book of Her Life, Chap 11 ~St. Teresa of Jesus)

You may draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work).

Or you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts in such a way that it is obtained by turning the crank of the water wheel. (I have drawn it this way sometimes – the method involves less work than the other, and you get more water.)

Or it may flow from a river or stream. (The garden is watered much better by this means because the ground is more fully soaked and there is no need to water so frequently – and much less work for the gardener.)

Or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain. (For the Lord waters the garden without any work on our part- and this way is incomparably better than all the others mentioned.)

Good Gardeners

“Beginners must realize that in order to give delight to the Lord they are starting to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of abominable weeds. His majesty pulls up the weeds and plants good seed. Now let us keep in mind that all of this is already done by the time a soul is determined to practice prayer and has begun to make use of it. And with the help of God we must strive like good gardeners to get these plants to grow and take pains to water them so that they don’t wither but come to bud and flower and give forth a most pleasant fragrance to provide refreshment for this Lord of ours. Then He will often come to take delight in this garden and find His joy among these virtues.” (Autobiography of St. Teresa of Jesus, chapter 11:6)

Suffering, the way to heaven

“From the crib to the cross, suffering, poverty and lack of appreciation were his lot. He had directed his whole life to teaching people how different is God’s view of suffering, poverty and lack of human appreciation from the foolish wisdom of the world. After sin, suffering had to follow so that, through the cross, man’s lost glory and life with God might be regained. Suffering is the way to heaven. In the cross is salvation, in the cross is victory.
God willed it so. “ (From the writings of Blessed Titus Brandsma)

Blessed Titus Brandsma was born in the Netherlands in 1881. As a young man he joined the Carmelite Order and was ordained in 1905. He studied in Rome earning a doctorate in philosophy. He taught in Holland at various schools and was a professor of philosophy and history of mysticism at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. He was also a journalist. He fought against Nazi ideas and for the freedom of Catholic education and the Catholic press for which he was arrested in 1942. While in various prisons and concentration camps he was able to bring comfort and peace to the other prisoners. He was killed in Dachau after much suffering and humiliation at the hands of his tormentors.

Through the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma, may God grant us the courage to proclaim the dignity of every human being and the freedom of the Church.


Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat and Blessed Mary Pilar, Teresa and Mary Angeles were among the thousands that were martyred during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938). During this conflict many priests and whole religious communities were put to death because of their faith.

Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat was born in Barcelona. Even in her childhood she was devoted to God receiving Communion everyday. She was known for her kindness and goodness toward others and was of firm character. In 1904 she entered the novitiate of the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus and made her temporary profession in 1907. In 1920 she was assigned to the motherhouse in Barcelona and on July 19, 1936, the entire community was forced to give up the school and flee. She was arrested and shot on July 23rd because she was a religious.

Blessed Mary Pilar, Teresa and Mary Angeles were Carmelite nuns from a convent in Guadalajara, Spain. They were martyred on July 24, 1936, after witnessing to their faith and offering their lives for the Church.

Most of us will never be called to be martyrs like those of the Spanish Civil War. For us our lives will be one of a long slow martyrdom. We will spend our lives trying to become true lovers of God by having little regard for our own life and honor. Easier said than done!

St. Teresa reminds those of us who practice this Carmelite spirituality that “the whole matter, or a great part of it, lies in losing concern about ourselves and our own satisfaction. The least that any of us who has truly begun to serve the Lord can offer him is our own life.” Offering the Lord our own life means dying to self. She goes on to say, “It is clear that if you are a true religious or a true person of prayer and aim to enjoy the delights of God, you must not turn your back on the desire to die for God and suffer martyrdom. For don’t you know yet, Sisters, that the life of a good religious who desires to be one of God’s close friends is a long martyrdom? A long martyrdom because in comparison with the martyrdom of those who are quickly beheaded, it can be called long; but all life is short, and the life of some extremely short.”

“So, let us try hard to go against our own will in everything.” ~(Way of Perfection 12:2)

Mother of Divine Grace

“The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” (Lumen gentium, 61)

On July 23, Carmelites celebrate the memorial of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph #971:

“All generations will call me blessed”: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church rightly honors “the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.

SUB tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen.

WE fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.


“Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Generosity is the fruit of love and at the same time the generator of love. This virtue means we give of ourselves and we do so without calculating what it might cost us to do so. Someone who is generous is not hindered by selfishness and therefore is capable of giving themselves to the service of others and to God.

To become generous:
-forget yourself
-forget your own plans, ideas, interests, convenience
-forget your own rights
-forget your pain and weariness

To become generous:
-learn to do all with your whole heart
-do your duty
-do what will give glory to God

“To love is to give everything. It is to give oneself.”
(St. Therese’s poem: “Why I Love you, O Mary!”)

Always be more disposed toward giving to others than giving to yourself, and thus you will not be envious of or selfish toward your neighbor. This is to be understood from the viewpoint of perfection, for God is angered with those who do not give precedence to his good pleasure over that of humans.


Elijah was a man of God who zealously fought for the worship of the one true God. Recall how on top of Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah engaged in a great contest of faithfulness to the one true God against the prophets of a false god. (1 Kings 18:16-40) “How long will you straddle the issue,” he cried. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.” (1Kings 18:21)

The first Carmelites settled on Mount Carmel near the spring known as the “fountain of Elijah”. The Carmelites have looked at this fiery prophet as a model of their life. Like the prophet Elijah they were to live a life of prayer, detachment, with pure hearts and with a mind and heart open to the experience of God.

Today Carmelites still look to the prophet Elijah’s challenge of the status quo and thirst for justice. Asking for a double portion of his spirit, zeal and sense of mission as did Elisha (2 Kings 2:9), Carmleites are part of a long line of prayerful people that can no longer “straddle the issue”. In the midst of this struggle against false gods, with the realization of their powerlessness and nourished in the presence of God in their lives, Carmelites make these constant themes of their lives and therefore identify with Elijah.

Elijah struggled and found himself almost despairing without the strength to continue on. It is at this time that the Lord revealed himself to Elijah. Having had enough he lays down and falls asleep under a broom tree. He is told by an angel to get up and after eating and drinking travels forty day to the mountain of God. Here God reveals himself not in an earthquake, not in a strong heavy wind, not in fire…but in “a tiny whispering sound”. (1Kings 19:1-12)

Carmelites spend their time in silence and solitude seeking union with God ever open to the revelation of His presence. Like the prophet Elijah they stand before God and say, “I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts.” (1 Kings 19:14)