(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said the life of St Teresa of Avila, characterized by “total self-giving to God,” is a “great treasure” that can help to renew consecrated life today.
The pope spoke of the witness of St Teresa in a letter, issued Saturday, to the Superior General of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, Fr Xavier Cannistrà, to mark the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the saint’s birth.
St Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun and mystic and a reformer of the Carmelite Order, was born 28 March 1515.
Also known as St Teresa of Jesus, her writings are among the classics of Christian spirituality and mysticism. Her most known spiritual work is The Interior Castle. Pope Paul VI named her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
In his letter to the Carmelite Superior General, the Pope said St Teresa left “a great treasure to renew consecrated life today, full of concrete proposals, ways and methods to pray” that always lead one back to Jesus and “constitute a genuine school to grow in love for God and neighbour.”
The Pope described St Teresa as “primarily a teacher of prayer.”
“Teresa’s prayer was not reserved only to one space or to one time of day; it arose spontaneously in the most diverse occasions,” he said. “She was convinced of the value of continuous prayer, even if it was not always perfect.”
“The saint asks us to be steadfast, faithful, even in times of dryness, personal difficulties or urgent needs that call us,” he continued.
The Pope added that St Teresa knew the importance of authentic community life and that “neither prayer nor mission” can be sustained without it.
Consequently, she built monasteries characterized by fraternity and warned her sisters of the danger of individualism, as well as gossip, jealousy and criticism “which severely damage relationships with others,” the Pope said.
“With these noble roots, Teresian communities are called to become houses of communion,” said the pope, “capable of witnessing to fraternal love and to the motherhood of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of the world, torn by divisions and wars.”
Below is the Vatican Radio translation of the Pope’s letter to Carmelite Father Xavier Cannistrà:
On the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Teresa of Jesus, I wish, together with the whole Church, to give thanks to the great family of Discalced Carmelites—religious men and women and secular members—for the charism of this remarkable woman.
I consider it a providential grace that this anniversary coincides with the Year of Consecrated Life, in which the saint of Avila shines as a sure and attractive model of total self-giving to God. It is one more reason to look to the past with gratitude and to rediscover "the inspiring spark" that gave impetus to the founders and to the first communities (cf. Letter to all consecrated people, 21 November 2014).
How much goodness does the testimony of her consecration—born directly from the encounter with Christ, her experience of prayer as continuous dialogue with God, and her community life, rooted in the motherhood of the Church—do for us!
1. St Teresa is primarily a teacher of prayer. The discovery of Christ's humanity was central to her experience. Moved by the desire to share this personal experience with others, she describes it in a vivid and simple way, accessible to everyone, because it consists simply in "a relationship of friendship ... with he who we know loves us" (Life, 8, 5 ). Many times this same narrative becomes prayer, as if she had wanted to introduce the reader into her interior dialogue with Christ. Teresa’s prayer was not reserved only to one space or to one time of day; it arose spontaneously in the most diverse occasions: "It would be extremely difficult if you could only pray in secluded places" (Foundations, 5, 16). She was convinced of the value of continuous prayer, even if it was not always perfect. The saint asks us to be steadfast, faithful, even in times of dryness, personal difficulties or urgent needs that call us.
Teresa left us a great treasure to renew consecrated life today, full of concrete proposals, ways and methods to pray, that, far from closing us in on ourselves or leading us only to inner balance, always make us start again from Jesus and constitute a genuine school to grow in love for God and neighbour.
2. Since her encounter with Jesus, St Teresa lived "another life"; she become a tireless communicator of the Gospel (cf. Life, 23, 1). Eager to serve the Church, and in the face of serious problems of her time, she did not limit herself to being a spectator of the reality around her. In her position as a woman and with her health difficulties, she decided, she said, "to do what little depended on me ... that is to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as possible and to ensure that these few nuns who are here do the same" (The Way, 1, 2). Thus began the Teresian reform, in which she asked her sisters not to lose time negotiating with God "interests of little importance," while "the world is in flames" (ibid., 1, 5). This missionary and ecclesial dimension has always marked the Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites.
As she did then, even today the saint opens new horizons for us, she calls us to a great undertaking, to see the world with the eyes of Christ, to seek what He seeks and to love what He loves.
3. St Teresa knew that neither prayer nor mission can be sustained without authentic community life. Therefore, the foundation that she laid in her monasteries was fraternity: "Here everyone must love one another, care for each other and help one another" (ibid., 4, 7). And she was very careful to warn her sisters about the danger of individualism in fraternal life, which consists "all or almost all in the denial of ourselves and of our own comforts" (ibid., 12, 2) and to place ourselves at the service of others. To avoid this risk, the saint of Avila recommended to her sisters, first of all, the virtue of humility, which is neither outward neglect nor inner shyness of the soul, but each knowing their own abilities and what God can do in us (cf. Relations, 28). The opposite is what she calls "false point of honour" (Life, 31, 23), a source of gossip, jealousy and criticism, which severely damage relationships with others. Teresian humility consists of self-acceptance, awareness of one’s own dignity, missionary courage, gratitude and trust in God.
With these noble roots, Teresian communities are called to become houses of communion, capable of witnessing to fraternal love and to the motherhood of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of the world, torn by divisions and wars.
Dear Brother, I do not want to end without thanking the Teresian Carmelite communities that entrust the Pope, with special tenderness, to the protection of the Virgin of Carmel, and accompany, with their prayers, the great trials and challenges of the Church. I ask the Lord that your witness of life, like that of St Teresa, allows the joy and beauty of living the Gospel to shine and attracts many young people to follow Christ closely.
To the whole Teresian family, I warmly impart my Apostolic Blessing.