Message from Pope Francis to the Discalced Carmelite Order
To the Reverend Father Saverio Cannistrà
Superior General of the Order of Discalced Brothers
of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carme
On the 500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Teresa of Jesus, I wish to unite myself, together with the entire Church, to the great family of the Discalced Carmel -religious women and men and seculars- in their act of thanksgiving for the charism of this exceptional woman.
Pope Francis kisses the staff of Saint Teresa during the reception of Camino de Luz
This Wednesday (11//03//2015) in the Vatican, Pope Francis received the Camino de Luz pilgrimage in a festive and pastoral atmosphere. From 15th October last year, the pilgrimage carried the original staff of Saint Teresa to 30 countries in the 5 continents. Led by Fr Antonio González, the four pilgrims, who made Camino de Luz possible, handed Teresa's staff to the Pope, who kissed it and held it some moments while he prayed aloud, and with an unmistakable Argentinian accent said, "The old woman" walked with this?”
I consider it a providential grace that this anniversary coincides with the Year of Consecrated Life, in which the Saint from Ávila shines like a sure beacon and role model of total surrender to God. It is yet another reason to look on the past with gratitude and rediscover "the inspiring spark" that has driven founders and their first communities (cf. Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People, November 21, 2014).
How beneficial to us is, even to this day, the testimony of her consecration, born from a direct encounter with Christ, her experience of prayer as a continual dialog with God, her life in community grounded in the maternity of the Church!
- Saint Teresa is above all a teacher of prayer. The discovery of the humanity of Christ was central to her experience. Moved by the desire to share this personal experience with others, she writes about it in a vital and uncomplicated style, accessible to everyone, because it consists simply in "an intimate sharing between friends....with Him who we know loves us" (Life 8, 5). Many times that same phrase becomes a plea, as if wishing to draw the reader into her interior dialog with Christ. Teresa's prayer was not reserved for any single moment or part of the day; it sprang spontaneously during the most varied circumstances: "It would be a hard thing to bear if we were able to pray only when off in some corner" (Foundations 5, 16). She was convinced of the value of continual prayer, even if it were not always perfect. La Santa asks us to faithfully persevere, even in the midst of dryness, personal difficulties, or urgent needs that claim us.
To renew consecrated life today, Teresa has left us a great treasure full of concrete proposals, ways and methods to pray, that, far from closing us off into ourselves or merely providing a path to seek inner balance, makes us begin over again, always from Jesus as a starting point. It is an authentic school in growth of love of God and neighbor.
- As a result of her encounter with Jesus Christ, Saint Teresa lived "another life" (cf. Life 23, 1). Wishing to serve the Church, and in view of the grave problems of her day, she did not limit herself to simply observing the reality that surrounded her. From her circumstances as a woman and with the limitations of her health, she says: "I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelic counsels as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same" (Way 1, 2). That is why she began the Teresian reform, in which she asked her sisters not to waste time "discussing with God matters that have little importance" when the "world is all in flames" (Way 1, 5). This missionary and ecclesial dimension has always characterized the Discalced Carmel.
As she did then, so also today la Santa opens up new horizons for us, calls us to a great endeavor, to see the world with the eyes of Christ, to seek what He seeks and love what He loves.
- Saint Teresa knew that neither prayer nor mission could be sustained without authentic community life. For this reason, the foundation of the monasteries she created was fraternity: there, "all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped" (Way 4, 7). She placed great importance on warning her religious about the dangers of self-concern in fraternal life, which properly "lies in losing concern about ourselves and our own satisfaction" (Way 12, 2) and placing ourselves entirely at the service of others. To avoid this risk, the Saint from Ávila exhorts her sisters, above all, to practice the virtue of humility, which is neither to belittle oneself exteriorly nor interiorly shrink the soul, but for each to know what one can do and what God can do in her (cf. Spiritual Testimonies 30). The opposite is what she calls "accursed honor" (Life 31, 23), source of gossip, jealousy, and criticism that seriously harms relationships with others. Teresian humility is made of the stuff of self-acceptance, awareness of ones' own dignity, missionary courage, gratitude, and abandonment in God.
From these noble roots, Teresian communities are called to become houses of communion that witness to fraternal love and the maternity of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of our world torn by division and war.
Dear brother, I do not want to end without thanking the Teresian Carmels that entrust the Holy Father with special tenderness to the patronage of the Virgin of Carmel, and who accompany with their prayer the great challenges and threats the Church faces. I ask our Lord that the example of his life, like that of Saint Teresa, translucent in the joy and beauty of living the Gospel, may call many young people to follow Christ closely.
I impart my Apostolic Blessing on all the Teresian family.
From the Vatican, March 28, 2015