To our venerated Brother, Monsignor Jesús García Burillo, Bishop of Avila.
1. Resplendens stella. «the monastery would be a star shining in great splendour» (Book of the Life 32:11). With these words, the Lord encouraged Saint Teresa of Jesus in founding Saint Joseph’s monastery in Avila, the beginning of the reform of Carmel, which, on the 24th of August, celebrates its four hundred and fifty years. On the occasion of this felicitous circumstance, I wish to unite myself to the happiness of the beloved diocese of Avila and of the Order of Discalced Carmel, of the People of God who are making pilgrimage to Spain and of all those in the universal Church who have found in the Teresian spirituality a secure light to discover that true renewal of our own life comes to us through Christ. In love with the Lord, this illustrious woman not only longed for but welcomed him in everything. Indeed, saints are not people who carry out great exploits based on the excellence of human qualities, rather they are aware, in humility, that Christ penetrates into their soul, and acts through their person. He is the true protagonist of all their actions and desires, inspiring each initiative and sustaining each silence.
2. To allow oneself, in this way, to be lead by Christ alone is possible for those who have an intense life of prayer. This consists, in the words of the Saint from Avila, in "being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him Who, we know, loves us.(Book of the Life 8:5). The reform of Carmel, whose anniversary fills us with interior delight, was born from prayer and tends to prayer. In promoting a radical return to the Primitive Rule, distancing herself from the mitigated Rule, Saint Teresa of Jesus sought to create a favorable atmosphere for a form of life that would assist personal encounter with the Lord, for which it is necessary «to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest» (Way of Perfection 28:2). Saint Joseph’s monastery came into existence precisely for the purpose that her daughters would have the best conditions for finding God and to develop a deep and intimate relationship with Him.
3. Saint Teresa proposed a new way of being a Carmelite in a world that was also new. They were «dangerous times (Book of the Life 33:5). And in them, to quote from this teacher of the spirit, «the friends of God should be strong, in order that they may support the weak» (ibid. 15:5). She also insists with eloquence: «The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again. . They would raze His Church to the ground. . No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance» (Way of Perfection 1:5). Does this not seem familiar, at the period of time in which we live, a reflection so brilliant and questioning, made more that four centuries ago by this holy mystic? The ultimate purpose of the Teresian reform and of the creation of new monasteries in the midst of a world with poor spiritual values, was to support apostolic work through
prayer; to propose a way of evangelical life that would be a model for those who sought a way of perfection, out of the conviction that all authentic personal and ecclesial reform happens each time by reproducing in us, in a better way, the «form» of Christ (cf. Gal 4:19). What the Saint and her daughters undertook was nothing else but this. It was not different for her Carmelite sons, whose only aim was «to progress far ahead in all the virtues» (Book of the Life 31:18). From this point of view, Teresa writes «I think [the Lord] prizes one soul which of His mercy we have gained for Him by our prayer and labour more than all the service we may render Him» (Book of Foundations 1:7). Faced with forgetfulness of God, the Holy Doctor encouraged praying communities, who would infuse with her fervour those who everywhere proclaim the name of Christ, who would intercede for the needs of the Church, who would carry to the heart of the Saviour the cries of all peoples.
4. As in the XVI century, so also today with its rapid change, it becomes necessary for confident prayer to be the soul of the apostolate, so that the redeeming message of Jesus Christ resounds with perfect clarity and vigorous dynamism. It is urgent that the Word of Life should vibrate in souls in a harmonious way, with rich and attractive notes. In this exciting task, the example of Teresa of Avila is a great help to us. We can state that in her time the Saint evangelized without any lack of enthusiasm, with an ardour that never waned, with methods far from inertia, with expressions glowing with light. This preserves all its freshness in the crossroads of the present time, where the urgency is felt for the baptized to renew their heart through personal prayer which, according to the dictates of the Mystic from Avila, is also centered on contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ, as the sole way to discover the glory of God (cf. Book of the Life 22:1; The Mansions 6:7). In this way it is possible to form authentic families, who discover in the Gospel the fire for their hearth; Christian communities alive and united, bound together with Christ as their corner stone and which have a thirst for a life of fraternal and generous service. It is also to be desired that this unceasing petition gives priority to a devotion for vocational pastoral work, that particularly underlines the beauty of consecrated life, which must be duly seen as a treasure of the Church, a torrent of grace, as much in its active as in its contemplative dimension. The strength of Christ will lead us at the same time to redouble efforts so that the People of God recover their vigour in the sole possible way: by forming space within themselves for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Ph 2:5), searching in every instance to live his Gospel radically. This signifies, above all, to consent that the Holy Spirit makes us friends of the Master and conforms us to Him. It also means to welcome his commands totally and to adopt among our criteria such things as humility in conduct, renouncing what is superfluous, not giving offence to others, instead behaving with simplicity and meekness of heart. Thus, those who surround us, will perceive the happiness that is born from our belonging to the Lord, and that we do not place anything before his love, being always ready to give a reason for our hope (cf. 1 P 3:15) and living, like Teresa of Jesus, in filial obedience to Holy Mother Church.
5. To this radicality and fidelity she invites us today, this most illustrious daughter of the Diocese of Avila. Welcoming her beautiful bequest, in this point of history, the Pope calls on all members of this particular Church, but in a loving manner the youth, to take seriously the common vocation to sanctity. Following in the footsteps of Teresa of Jesus, permit me to say something to those whose future lies ahead: Aspire also to belong totally to Jesus, Jesus only and always to Jesus. Do not be afraid to say to
Jesus as she did:«Lord, Yours am I, because for You was I born! What do you wish to do with me?» (Poetry 2). I also ask the Lord that you know as well how to respond to his calls, inspired by divine grace, with «determined determination», to offer «the little» within you, trusting that God never abandons those who leave everything for his glory (cf. Way of Perfection 21:2; 1:2).
6. Saint Teresa knew how to honour with great devotion the Most Holy Virgin, whom she invoked under the sweet title of Carmel. Under her maternal protection I place the apostolic work of the Church in Avila, so that, rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit, it may find opportune ways to proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm and courage. May Mary, the Star of evangelization, and her chaste spouse Saint Joseph make intercession so that that «star» which the Lord ignited in the universal Church through the Teresian reform may continue radiating the great splendour of the love and truth of Christ to all people. With this desire, Venerable Brother in the Episcopate, I send you this message, which I ask to be made known to the flock entrusted to your pastoral efforts and particularly to the dear Discalced Carmelite Nuns of St Joseph’s monastery in Avila, who perpetuate in time the spirit of their Foundress, and whose fervent prayer for the Successor of Peter pleases me always. To them, to you and to all the faithful in Avila, I impart with affection the Apostolic Blessing, a pledge of copious celestial favours.
Vatican, 16th July 2012
BENEDICT PP. XVI
MESSAGE OF THE OCD SUPERIOR GENERAL
FOR THE 450th ANNIVERSARY OF THE TERESIAN REFORM
This year we celebrate an anniversary of particular significance: the 24th of August will see the completion of 450 years since the foundation of St. Joseph’s in Avila, and therefore too, since the beginning of Teresa’s reform. The Holy Father himself has expressed his joy and the joy of the whole Church concerning this anniversary by sending, on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a message that is rich in teresian spirituality and doctrine.
At the thought of our religious family completing 450 years of life, the first sentiment that fills our hearts is gratitude to the Lord for his fidelity and his love, together with wonder at the great things that he has done in us. Truly, if Teresa has given herself to Jesus, Jesus has given much more to Teresa and continues to give himself to her whole family. Let us mutually remind ourselves not to forget ("Remember, O Israel!") how great a grace he has given in calling us to be part of this history, to make ourselves capable of being able to witness to it in the present and making it grow into the future, on a journey of unending foundation, which, -as Teresa herself has taught us – should never be considered to have reached an end. None of us could have reached this point, or taken on this responsibility, were it not gifted to us by God, and if in this, his merciful love and his gratuitous initiative were not manifested.
Another point for reflection comes from the consideration of the more recent stage of our history. In 1962 the Order celebrated the fourth centenary of its reform, right at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which in turn would have signaled in many ways the beginning of a new epoch in the history of the Church. These last 50 years are a stage of our journey which offers itself for our peaceful evaluation and spiritual discernment. We have changed a lot during these years, but the same call continues to vibrate in us and the same passion as sons and daughters of Teresa of Jesus. We are aware that not every change has expressed the creativity of the charism, nor every desire to preserve has been a manifestation of authentic fidelity. But we note especially that our reality, complex and at times contradictory, is today inhabited by new faces, by new generations born during these last fifty years, with new sensibilities and diverse experiences, coming from different parts of the world, wishing to express what they are and what they have, fragility and strength, poverty and richness, clarity and obscurity of vision, the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of mature age.
Teresa was 47 years of age when the first tolls of the bell of St. Joseph’s were sounding. At an age, which at that time much more so than ours, could be considered rather advanced, she set out on a completely new adventure, which foreboded risks and the unknown. We know that two things helped her overcome every human and reasonable resistance: the power coming from her experience of God and from the strength of her passion for a Church and a world in the throes of an upheaval of epochal proportions. Today too, these are the powers that can animate and recommit us on our journey, or, open for us a way into a landscape which at times seems like an empty and trackless desert in which we feel dispersed, or alternatively, like a dense forest, in which it is impossible to find any way forward.
Teresa was not able to rely on the support of many powerful friends or great economic resources. Her very condition as a woman was a cause of innumerable difficulties and
limitations. There were times when the project of a new foundation seemed simply unrealizable, and she complained to the Lord that he was asking impossible things of her (cf. Life 33, 11). The story of the first foundation is a tangle of labors, of doubts, of persecutions and of every kind of obstacle, but at the same time of consolations, of providential meetings, of unexpected help and especially of continually renewed interior certitude. Because of this, the account of it is transformed from an autobiographical narrative into a confession of lived faith, into an account of the history of salvation, the memory of which ought be handed on from generation to generation because we can continue to draw power and inspiration from it. Teresa gave Fr. García de Toledo, who was destined to receive the book of her Life, permission to change everything, except the account of the first foundation:
I beg your Reverence, for the love of God, if you think it well to tear up everything else that is written here, to preserve what concerns this monastery. Then, after my death, it should be given to the sisters here, for it will be a great encouragement in the service of God to those who come after us and will prevent this work that has been begun from falling to the ground and help it to prosper continually when it is seen what importance His Majesty must have attached to this house since He founded it through a creature as wicked and as base as I (Life, 36, 29).
It is with this spirit that we also, after 450 years, return to that founding experience, from which we are born. If the Lord has done so much for this work to be accomplished, he will continue to do so in order that it may not go to ruin, but rather progress ever more. Teresa would like to underline for us that if all of this has been possible, it is not because of the instrument that was used, an imperfect and poor woman such as herself, but by him who wished to use it. Far from being false humility, Teresa, as usual, speaks about "things which are very true" (Life 40, 3), especially in relation to something as important as the reform of Carmel. It is the work of the Lord, to whose service she is given, but not without doubts, anguish and opposition. But in the end, his grace is the stronger.
This work willed by God, this precious jewel with which he wished to adorn Teresa, and in her the whole Church (I refer to the famous vision narrated in her Life 33, 14), is now placed in our hands. What will we do with it? What will be our response to the appeal that reaches us from the autobiographical pages of our Holy Mother? We speak so much today about the crisis of religious life, about its difficulties – especially in the West – from the lack of vocations to the ageing of communities, but also and even more about a general loss of motivation and a crisis of identity. I do not wish to minimize these problems which we experience daily, and which those called to the service of authority experience all the more. Without doubt, the crisis that we are living through is epochal and we will not be able to come out of it without new insights and profound changes.
But the question that to me seems essential is this: where can these new insights come
from? Where can we get the strength to make the changes that the times require? I have observed during this period of economic crisis that a thought of Albert Einstein written in the aftermath of the great crisis of 1929 is winning a lot of followers. It is quoted in an innumerable number of web sites and blogs; it was also quoted in a letter sent to me by one of our sisters. Einstein wrote in 1935:
A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation, for all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born from the dark night. It’s in crisis that invention is born, as well as discoveries, and big strategies. Who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome. Who blames his failure to a crisis neglects his own talent, and is more respectful to problems than to solutions. Incompetence is the true crisis.
The greatest inconvenience of people and nations is the laziness with which they attempt to find the solutions to their problems. There’s no challenge without a crisis. Without challenges, life becomes a routine, a slow agony. There’s no merit without crisis. It’s in the crisis where we can show the very best in us. Without crisis, any wind becomes a tender touch. To speak about a crisis is to promote it. Not to speak about it is to exalt conformism. Let us work hard instead. Let us stop, once and for all, the menacing crisis that represents the tragedy of not being willing to overcome it.
These are certainly stimulating and hopeful words that invite us to grow and give of our best, without allowing ourselves to be overcome by fear or discouragement. It is possible that for the economy and for politics these words find their mark and indicate the way out of the crisis. Notwithstanding all of this, it seems to me that we cannot say the same in regard to the crisis in religious life and in the spiritual life. It is good to make an appeal to the human will and intelligence, to request and elaborate efficacious projects and to develop a creativity that makes us capable of confronting the present challenges, all of which makes sense and is indisputably reasonable. However, we need to realize that our own projects are not going to save us. We need to drink from a fount of living water that wells up from a more profound vein, where the human person does not make anything happen but allows it to happen, does not choose but accepts being chosen, where one’s own wisdom and power are not experienced but rather one’s foolishness and weakness. The way out is not found in seeking to turn back to the situation that preceded the crisis, nor in propelling oneself forward, but by entering deeply into the present crisis, descending to its very roots, to that level where things can be seen differently, where agitation and fear are put to rest and the prayer of the poor begins to rise up, more pure, more humble and more true. From here we can take on again the journey.
This downward way that Teresa has traveled and continued to travel to the very last day of her life, the way of the Paschal Mystery, where one can enter only after experiencing that all the other ways are blind alleys or tracks that get lost in nothingness. It is a journey that has prayer as a staff and forgetfulness of self as a knapsack, and thus resembles the journey of the disciples of Jesus, called to leave everything and follow him in whom they believe and from whom they hope for everything. It is a journey in which – as Bl. John Henry Newman wrote in his wonderful poem "The Pillar of the Cloud" – one does not wish to see the distant scene, but only that small step which we are called to take every day.
It is perhaps "the little that depends on us", that Teresa chose to fulfill at the time she became aware of the gravity of the situation that the Church and the world were in and of the mission that the Lord was entrusting to her. I know that it may truly seem very little, but it is precisely from the small and the little, not to mention the nothing, that God creates everything. We have a duty to be witnesses to this, with Teresa and like Teresa to set out from that far distant, yet very near 24th August 1562.
Fr. Saverio Cannistrà, ocd