Here is the translation of Pope Francis’ letter to Fr. Saverio Cannistra, Superior General of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, on the occasion of the fifth centenary celebration of St. Teresa of Avila’s birth.
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To the Venerable Brother
Father Saverio Cannistra
Superior General of the Order of Discalced Carmelites
On the completion of the 500 years of the birth of Saint Teresa of Jesus, I wish to join you, together with the whole Church, in giving thanks by the great Discalced Carmelite Family – women and men Religious and Secular – for the charism of this exceptional woman.
I consider it a providential grace that this anniversary coincides with the Year dedicated to Consecrated life, in which the Saint of Avila shines as sure guide and an attractive model of total donation to God. It is a further reason to look at the past with gratitude, and to rediscover “the inspiring spark” that gave impulse to the founders and the first communities (Cf. Letter to the Consecrated, November 21, 2014).
How much good the testimony of her consecration continues to do all of us, born directly from her encounter with Christ, her experience of prayer, as a continuous dialogue with God, her community life, rooted in the maternity of the Church!
Saint Teresa is above all teacher of prayer. Central in her experience of prayer was the discovery of the humanity of Christ. Moved by the desire to share this personal experience with others, she describes it in a vivid and simple way, available to all, because it consists simply in “a relation of friendship … with Him whom we know loves us” (Life 8, 5). Many times her account itself is transformed into prayer, as if she wished to introduce the reader in her interior dialogue with Christ. Teresa’s was not a prayer reserved only to a place or a moment of the day; it flowed spontaneously in the most diverse occasions: “It would be arduous if prayer could only be done in separated places” (Foundations , 5, 16). She was convinced of the value of continuous prayer, although not always perfect. The Saint asks us to be perseverant, faithful even in the midst of aridity, personal difficulties or the pressing needs that call us.
Teresa has left us a great treasure to renew consecrated life today, full of concrete proposals, ways and methods of prayer that, far from shutting us in on ourselves or of leading us only to an interior balance, makes us start again from Jesus and they constitute a genuine school to grow in the love of God and of our neighbor.
Beginning from her encounter with Jesus, Saint Teresa lived “another life”; she became a tireless communicator of the Gospel (Cf. Life, 23, 1).
Desirous of serving the Church, and in the face of the grave problems of her time, she did not limit herself to being a spectator of the reality that surrounded her. In her condition of woman and with her difficulties of health , she decided – she says – “to do the little that depended on me … namely to follow the evangelical counsels with all the perfection possible and to try to have the few Sisters who are here do the same” (Way, 1, 2).Thus began the Carmelite Reform, in which she asked her Sisters not to waste so much time addressing to God “interests of little importance” while “the world is ablaze: (Ibid., 1, 5). This missionary and ecclesial dimension has always distinguished the Discalced Carmelite women and men.
As she did then, also today the Saint opens new horizons to us, she calls us to a great enterprise, to look at the world with Christ’s eyes, to seek what He seeks and to love what He loves.
Saint Teresa knew that neither prayer nor the mission can be sustained without a genuine community life. Therefore, the foundation she laid in her convents was fraternity: “All must love one another here, love each other and help one another mutually” (Ibid., 4, 7). And she was very attentive in admonishing her Religious about the danger of self-reference in fraternal life, which consists “all or almost all in denying ourselves and our ease” (Ibid., 12, 2) and putting what we are at the service of others. To avoid such a risk, the Saint of Avila recommended to her Sisters, first of all, the virtue of humility, which is not exterior neglect or interior timidity of soul, rather each one should know his/her own possibilities and what God can do in us (Cf. Relations, 28). The contrary is what she calls “false point of honor” (Life, 31, 23), source of gossip, of jealousies and criticisms, which seriously harms relations with others. Teresian humility is made of acceptance of oneself, awareness of one’s dignity, missionary audacity, gratitude and abandonment in God.
With these noble roots, the Teresian communities are called to become Houses of communion, capable of witnessing the fraternal love and maternity of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of the world, lacerated by divisions and wars.
Dear Brother, I do not want to end without thanking the Teresian Carmelite Community that entrusts the Pope with special tenderness to the protection of the Virgin of Carmel, and accompany with their prayer the great trials and challenges of the Church. I ask the Lord that your testimony of life, as that of Saint Teresa, will let shine the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and attract many young people to follow Christ closely.
To all the Teresian Family I impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, March 28, 2015
Francis[Translation by ZENIT]