Audiences 2005-2013 19011
Dear Brothers and Faithful,
We are celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in which all believers in Christ are asked to unite in prayer in order to witness to the deep bond that exists between them and to invoke the gift of full communion.
It is providential that in the process of building unity prayer is made central. This reminds us once again that unity cannot be a mere product of human endeavour; it is first and foremost a gift of God which entails growth in communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Second Vatican Council says: “Such prayers in common are certainly a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity, and they are a genuine expression of the ties which still bond Catholics to their separated brethren. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18,20)” (Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio UR 8).
The path that leads to the visible unity of all Christians lies in prayer, because, fundamentally, it is not we who “build” unity but God who “builds” it, it comes from him, from the Trinitarian Mystery, from the unity of the Father with the Son in the dialogue of love, which is the Holy Spirit; and our ecumenical commitment must be open to divine action, it must become a daily invocation for God's help. The Church is his and not ours.
The theme chosen for this Year’s Week of Prayer refers to the experience of the first Christian Community in Jerusalem, as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles; we have listened to the text: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Ac 2,42).
We must consider that in the past, at the very moment of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon people of different languages and cultures. This means that from the very first the Church has embraced people from different backgrounds and yet, it is that the Spirit creates one body precisely from these differences.
Pentecost, as the beginning of the Church, marks the expansion of God’s Covenant to all creatures, all peoples and all epochs, so that the whole of creation may walk towards its true goal: to be a place of unity and love.
In the passage cited from the Acts of the Apostles, four characteristics define the first Christian community of Jerusalem as a place of unity and love. St Luke, moreover, does not only want to describe something from the past. He presents this community to us as a model, as a norm for the Church today, since these four characteristics must always constitute the Church’s life.
The first characteristic is its unity, its devotion to listening to the Apostles’ teaching, then to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. As I have said, still today these four elements are the pillars that support the life of every Christian community and constitute the one solid foundation on which to progress in the search for the visible unity of the Church.
We first have devotion to the teaching of the Apostles, that is, listening to their testimony to the mission, to the life, and to the death and Resurrection of the Lord. This is what Paul calls simply the “Gospel”. The first Christians received the Gospel from the lips of the Apostles, they were united by listening to it and by its proclamation because, as St Paul says, “the Gospel... is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rm 1,16).
Still today the community of believers recognizes the reference to the Apostles’ teaching as the norm of its own faith. Hence every effort to build unity among all Christians passes through the deepening of our faithfulness to the depositum fidei passed on to us by the Apostles. A steadfast faith is the foundation of our communion, it is the foundation of Christian unity.
The second element is fraternal communion. At the time of the first Christian community, as it is in our day too, this is the most tangible expression especially for the external world, of unity among the Lord's disciples. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christians had all things in common and those with possessions and goods sold them to share the proceeds with the needy (cf. Ac 2,44-45).
This sharing of goods has found ever new forms of expression in the history of the Church. Distinctive among these are the brotherly relations and friendships established between Christians of different denominations.
The history of the ecumenical movement is marked by difficulties and uncertainties but it is also a history of brotherhood, of cooperation and of human and spiritual sharing, which has significantly changed relations between believers in the Lord Jesus: we are all working hard to continue on this path.
Thus the second element is thus communion. This is primarily communion with God through faith; but communion with God creates communion among ourselves and is necessarily expressed in that concrete communion of which the Acts of the Apostles speak, in other words sharing.
No one in the Christian community must be hungry or poor: this is a fundamental obligation. Communion with God, expressed as brotherly communion, is lived out in practice in social commitment, in Christian charity and in justice.
The third element: essential in the life of the first community of Jerusalem was the moment of the breaking of the bread in which the Lord makes himself present, with the unique sacrifice of the Cross, in his unreserved gift of self for the life of his friends: “this is my body which will be given up for you... this is the cup of my blood.... It will be shed for you”. “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia EE 1). Communion in Christ’s sacrifice is the crowning point of our union with God and thus also represents the fullness of the unity of Christ’s disciples, full communion.
In this Week of Prayer for Unity our regret about the impossibility of sharing the same Eucharistic banquet — a sign that we are still far from achieving that unity for which Christ prayed — is particularly acute. This sorrowful experience, which also gives our prayers a penitential dimension, must become the reason for an even more generous dedication on the part of all so that, once the obstacles that stand in the way of full communion have been removed, the day will come when we can gather round the table of the Lord to break the Eucharistic bread together and to drink from the same cup.
Lastly, prayer — or as St Luke says prayers — is the fourth characteristic of the early Church of Jerusalem described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Prayer has always been a constant attitude of disciples of Christ, something that accompanies their daily life in obedience to God’s will, as the Apostle Paul’s words in his First Letter to the Thessalonians also attest: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1Th 5,16-18 cf. Ep 6,18).
Christian prayer, participation in Jesus’ prayer, is a filial experience par excellence as the words of the “Our Father” testify — the “we” of God’s children, brothers and sisters — a family prayer that addresses our common Father. Therefore, adopting an attitude of prayer also means opening ourselves to brotherhood.
Only in the “we” can we say “Our Father”; so let us open ourselves to brotherhood which comes from being children of the one heavenly Father and from being disposed to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Dear brothers and sisters, as disciples of the Lord we have a common responsibility to the world. We must undertake a common service; like the first Christian community of Jerusalem, starting with what we already share, we must bear a powerful witness supported by reason and spiritually founded on the one God who revealed himself and speaks to us in Christ, in order to be heralds of a message that guides and illumines people today, who all too often lack clear and effective reference points.
It is therefore important to increase day by day in reciprocal love, striving to surmount those barriers between Christians that still exist; to feel that real inner unity exists among all those who follow the Lord; to collaborate as closely as possible, working together on the issues that are still unresolved; and above all, to be aware that on this journey we need the Lord’s assistance, he will have to give us even more help for, on our own, unless we “abide in him”, we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15,5).
Dear friends, we are once again gathered in prayer — particularly during this Week — together with all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God: let us persevere in prayer, let us be a people of prayer, entreating God to grant us the gift of unity so that his plan of salvation and reconciliation may be brought about for the whole world. Many thanks.
To special groups:
I now greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear friends, I invite you to pray for Christian unity. May all of you who with youthful freshness, with anguished self-giving or with joyful spousal love seek to love the Lord in the daily fulfilment of your duty contribute to the edification of the Church and to her evangelizing activity. Pray, therefore, that all Christians may accept the Lord’s call to the unity of faith in his one Church.
* * *
I offer a warm welcome to the students and staff of the Bossey Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies. I thank the choir from Finland for their praise of God in song. To all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from Australia, Canada and the United States, I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Lord.
Paul VI Audience Hall26011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to talk to you about Joan of Arc, a young Saint who lived at the end of the Middle Ages who died at the age of 19, in 1431. This French Saint, mentioned several times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is particularly close to St Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Italy and of Europe, of whom I spoke in a recent Catechesis. They were in fact two young women of the people, lay women consecrated in virginity, two committed mystics, not in the cloister, but in the midst of the most dramatic reality of the Church and the world of their time. They are perhaps the most representative of those “strong women” who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly bore the great light of the Gospel in the complex events of history. We could liken them to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to the Crucified Jesus and to Mary his Mother, while the Apostles had fled and Peter himself had denied him three times.
The Church in that period was going through the profound crisis of the great schism of the West, which lasted almost 40 years. In 1380, when Catherine of Siena died, there was not only a Pope but also an antipope; when Joan was born, in 1412, there was a Pope as well as two antipopes. In addition to this internal laceration in the Church, were the continuous fratricidal wars among the Christian peoples of Europe, the most dramatic of which was the protracted Hundred Years’ War between France and England.
Joan of Arc did not know how to read or write, but the depths of her soul can be known thanks to two sources of exceptional historical value: the two Trials that concern her. The first, the Trial of Condemnation (PCon), contains the transcription of the long and numerous interrogations to which Joan was subjected in the last months of her life (February-May 1431) and reports the Saint’s own words. The second, the Trial of Nullity of the Condemnation or of “rehabilitation” (PNul), contains the depositions of about 120 eyewitnesses of all the periods of her life (cf. Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 3 vol. and Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 5 vol., ed. Klincksieck, Paris, 1960-1989).
Joan was born at Domremy, a little village on the border between France and Lorraine. Her parents were well-off peasants, known to all as good Christians. From them she received a sound religious upbringing, considerably influenced by the spirituality of the Name of Jesus, taught by St Bernardine of Siena and spread in Europe by the Franciscans.
The Name of Mary was always associated with the Name of Jesus and thus, against the background of popular piety, Joan’s spirituality was profoundly Christocentric and Marian. From childhood, she showed great love and compassion for the poorest, the sick and all the suffering, in the dramatic context of the war.
We know from Joan’s own words that her religious life developed as a mystical experience from the time when she was 13 (PCon, 1 p. 47-48). Through the “voice” of St Michael the Archangel, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself in the first person to the liberation of her people. Her immediate response, her “yes”, was her vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily participation in Mass, frequent Confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified One or the image of Our Lady.
The young French peasant girl’s compassion and dedication in the face of her people’s suffering were intensified by her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of this young woman’s holiness was precisely this link between mystical experience and political mission. The years of her hidden life and her interior development were followed by the brief but intense two years of her public life: a year of action and a year of passion.
At the beginning of 1429, Joan began her work of liberation. The many witnesses show us this young woman who was only 17 years old as a very strong and determined person, able to convince people who felt insecure and discouraged. Overcoming all obstacles, she met the Dauphin of France, the future King Charles VII, who subjected her to an examination in Poitiers by some theologians of the university. Their opinion was positive: they saw in her nothing evil, only a good Christian.
On 22 March 1429 Joan dictated an important letter to the King of England and to his men at arms who were besieging the city of Orléans (ibid. , pp. 221-222). Hers was a true proposal of peace in justice between the two Christian peoples in light of the Name of Jesus and Mary, but it was rejected and Joan had to gird herself to fight for the city’s liberation which took place on 8 May. The other culminating moment of her political action was the coronation of King Charles VII in Rheims on 17 July 1429. For a whole year, Joan lived with the soldiers, carrying out among them a true mission of evangelization. Many of them testified to her goodness, her courage and her extraordinary purity. She was called by all and by herself “La pucelle” (“the Maid”), that is, virgin.
Joan’s passion began on 23 May 1430, when she fell into enemy hands and was taken prisoner. On 23 December she was led to the city of Rouen. There the long and dramatic Trial of Condemnation took place, that began in February 1431 and ended on 30 May with her being burned at the stake.
It was a great and solemn Trial, at which two ecclesiastical judges presided, Bishop Pierre Cauchon and the Inquisitor Jean le Maistre, but in fact it was conducted entirely by a large group of theologians from the renowned University of Paris, who took part in the Trial as assessors. They were French clerics, who, on the side politically opposed to Joan’s, had a priori a negative opinion of both her and her mission. This Trial is a distressing page in the history of holiness and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church which, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is “at once holy and always in need of purification” (Lumen Gentium LG 8).
The Trial was the dramatic encounter between this Saint and her judges, who were clerics. Joan was accused and convicted by them, even condemned as a heretic and sent to the terrible death of being burned at the stake. Unlike the holy theologians who had illuminated the University of Paris, such as St Bonaventure, St Thomas Aquinas and Bl. Duns Scotus, of whom I have spoken in several Catecheses, these judges were theologians who lacked charity and the humility to see God’s action in this young woman.
The words of Jesus, who said that God’s mysteries are revealed to those who have a child’s heart while they remain hidden to the learned and the wise who have no humility (cf. Lc 10,21), spring to mind. Thus, Joan’s judges were radically incapable of understanding her or of perceiving the beauty of her soul. They did not know that they were condemning a Saint.
Joan’s appeal to the Pope, on 24 May, was rejected by the tribunal. On the morning of 30 May, in prison, she received Holy Communion for the last time and was immediately led to her torture in the Old Market Square. She asked one of the priests to hold up a processional Cross in front of the stake. Thus she died, her gaze fixed upon the Crucified Jesus and crying out several times the Name of Jesus (PNul 1 p. 457 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 435). About 25 years later the Trial of Nullity, which opened under the authority of Pope Calixtus III, ended with a solemn sentence that declared the condemnation null and void (7 July 1456; PNul, II, pp. 604-610). This long trial, which collected the evidence of witnesses and the opinions of many theologians, all favourable to Joan, sheds light on her innocence and on her perfect fidelity to the Church. Joan of Arc was subsequently canonized by Benedict XV in 1920.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Name of Jesus, invoked by our Saint until the very last moments of her earthly life was like the continuous breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart, the centre of her whole life. The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc which so fascinated the poet Charles Péguy was this total love for Jesus and for her neighbour in Jesus and for Jesus. This Saint had understood that Love embraces the whole of the reality of God and of the human being, of Heaven and of earth, of the Church and of the world. Jesus always had pride of place in her life, in accordance to her beautiful affirmation: “We must serve God first” (PCon 1 p. 288 cf. Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica, CEC 223). Loving him means always doing his will. She declared with total surrendur and trust: “I entrust myself to God my Creator, I love him with my whole my heart” (PCon 1 p. 337). With the vow of virginity, Joan consecrated her whole being exclusively to the one Love of Jesus: “it was the promise that she made to Our Lord to preserve the virginity of her body and her mind well” (PCon, I, pp. 149-150).
Virginity of soul is the state of grace, a supreme value, for her more precious than life. It is a gift of God which is to be received and preserved with humility and trust. One of the best known texts of the first Trial concerns precisely this: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there’” (ibid., p. 62; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 2005).
Our Saint lived prayer in the form of a continuous dialogue with the Lord who also illuminated her dialogue with the judges and gave her peace and security. She asked him with trust: Sweetest God, in honour of your holy Passion, I ask you, if you love me, to show me how I must answer these men of the Church” (PCon, 1 p. 252). Joan saw Jesus as the “King of Heaven and of the earth”. She therefore had painted on her standard the image of “Our Lord holding the world” (ibid., p. 172): the emblem of her political mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice which Joan carried out in charity, for love of Jesus. Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision, as a century later another great Saint, the Englishman Thomas More, was to testify.
In Jesus Joan contemplated the whole reality of the Church, the “Church triumphant” of Heaven, as well as the “Church militant” on earth. According to her words, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing” (ibid., p. 166). This affirmation, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context of the Trial of Condemnation, before her judges, men of the Church who were persecuting and condemning her. In the Love of Jesus Joan found the strength to love the Church to the very end, even at the moment she was sentenced.
I like to recall that St Joan of Arc had a profound influence on a young Saint of the modern age: Thérèse of the Child Jesus. In the context of a completely different life, spent in the cloister, the Carmelite of Lisieux felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and participating in Christ’s suffering for the world’s salvation. The Church has brought them together as Patronesses of France, after the Virgin Mary.
St Thérèse expressed her desire to die, like Joan, with the Name of Jesus on her lips (Manoscritto B, 3r), and she was motivated by the same great love for Jesus and her neighbour, lived in consecrated virginity.
Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous witness St Joan of Arc invites us to a high standard of Christian living: to make prayer the guiding motive of our days; to have full trust in doing God’s will, whatever it may be; to live charity without favouritism, without limits and drawing, like her, from the Love of Jesus a profound love for the Church. Thank you.
To special groups:
I am pleased to greet the student groups from Hong Kong and the United States of America, as well as the group of Army Chaplains from Great Britain. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s abundant Blessings.
And now a special greeting to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Today is the liturgical Memorial of Sts Timothy and Titus, disciples of St Paul. Dear young people, like these faithful servants of the Gospel, I ask you to make your adherence to Jesus ever stronger and more convinced, in order to be true witnesses in this society. I also ask you, dear sick people, after their example, to make Christ’s sentiments your own, in order to find comfort in the One who continues his work of redemption in every person’s life. And may you, dear newlyweds, discover every day in conjugal life the mystery of God who gives himself for the salvation of all, so that your love may be ever more true, enduring and supportive of others.
Paul VI Audience Hall20211
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the course of the Catecheses that I have chosen to dedicate to the Fathers of the Church and to great theologians and women of the Middle Ages I have also had the opportunity to reflect on certain Saints proclaimed Doctors of the Church on account of the eminence of their teaching.
Today I would like to begin a brief series of meetings to complete the presentation on the Doctors of the Church and I am beginning with a Saint who is one of the peaks of Christian spirituality of all time — St Teresa of Avila [also known as St Teresa of Jesus].
St Teresa, whose name was Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, was born in Avila, Spain, in 1515. In her autobiography she mentions some details of her childhood: she was born into a large family, her “father and mother, who were devout and feared God”, into a large family. She had three sisters and nine brothers.
While she was still a child and not yet nine years old she had the opportunity to read the lives of several Martyrs which inspired in her such a longing for martyrdom that she briefly ran away from home in order to die a Martyr’s death and to go to Heaven (cf. Vida, [Life], VIE 1,4); “I want to see God”, the little girl told her parents.
A few years later Teresa was to speak of her childhood reading and to state that she had discovered in it the way of truth which she sums up in two fundamental principles.
On the one hand was the fact that “all things of this world will pass away” while on the other God alone is “for ever, ever, ever”, a topic that recurs in her best known poem: “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices”. She was about 12 years old when her mother died and she implored the Virgin Most Holy to be her mother (cf. Vida, VIE 1,7).
If in her adolescence the reading of profane books had led to the distractions of a worldly life, her experience as a pupil of the Augustinian nuns of Santa María de las Gracias de Avila and her reading of spiritual books, especially the classics of Franciscan spirituality, introduced her to recollection and prayer.
When she was 20 she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation, also in Avila. In her religious life she took the name “Teresa of Jesus”. Three years later she fell seriously ill, so ill that she remained in a coma for four days, looking as if she were dead (cf. Vida, VIE 5,9).
In the fight against her own illnesses too the Saint saw the combat against weaknesses and the resistance to God’s call: “I wished to live”, she wrote, “but I saw clearly that I was not living, but rather wrestling with the shadow of death; there was no one to give me life, and I was not able to take it. He who could have given it to me had good reasons for not coming to my aid, seeing that he had brought me back to himself so many times, and I as often had left him” (Vida, VIE 7,8).
In 1543 she lost the closeness of her relatives; her father died and all her siblings, one after another, emigrated to America. In Lent 1554, when she was 39 years old, Teresa reached the climax of her struggle against her own weaknesses. The fortuitous discovery of the statue of “a Christ most grievously wounded”, left a deep mark on her life (cf. Vida, VIE 9).
The Saint, who in that period felt deeply in tune with the St Augustine of the Confessions, thus describes the decisive day of her mystical experience: “and... a feeling of the presence of God would come over me unexpectedly, so that I could in no wise doubt either that he was within me, or that I was wholly absorbed in him” (Vida, VIE 10,1).
Parallel to her inner development, the Saint began in practice to realize her ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order: in 1562 she founded the first reformed Carmel in Avila, with the support of the city’s Bishop, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, and shortly afterwards also received the approval of John Baptist Rossi, the Order’s Superior General.
In the years that followed, she continued her foundations of new Carmelite convents, 17 in all. Her meeting with St John of the Cross was fundamental. With him, in 1568, she set up the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo, not far from Avila.
In 1580 she obtained from Rome the authorization for her reformed Carmels as a separate, autonomous Province. This was the starting point for the Discalced Carmelite Order.
Indeed, Teresa’s earthly life ended while she was in the middle of her founding activities. She died on the night of 15 October 1582 in Alba de Tormes, after setting up the Carmelite Convent in Burgos, while on her way back to Avila. Her last humble words were: “After all I die as a child of the Church”, and “O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another”.
Teresa spent her entire life for the whole Church although she spent it in Spain. She was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622. The Servant of God Paul VI proclaimed her a “Doctor of the Church” in 1970.
Teresa of Jesus had no academic education but always set great store by the teachings of theologians, men of letters and spiritual teachers. As a writer, she always adhered to what she had lived personally through or had seen in the experience of others (cf. Prologue to The Way of Perfection CV 1), in other words basing herself on her own first-hand knowledge.
Teresa had the opportunity to build up relations of spiritual friendship with many Saints and with St John of the Cross in particular. At the same time she nourished herself by reading the Fathers of the Church, St Jerome, St Gregory the Great and St Augustine.
Among her most important works we should mention first of all her autobiography, El libro de la vida (the book of life), which she called Libro de las misericordias del Señor [book of the Lord’s mercies].
Written in the Carmelite Convent at Avila in 1565, she describes the biographical and spiritual journey, as she herself says, to submit her soul to the discernment of the “Master of things spiritual”, St John of Avila. Her purpose was to highlight the presence and action of the merciful God in her life. For this reason the work often cites her dialogue in prayer with the Lord. It makes fascinating reading because not only does the Saint recount that she is reliving the profound experience of her relationship with God but also demonstrates it.
In 1566, Teresa wrote El Camino de Perfección [The Way of Perfection]. She called it Advertencias y consejos que da Teresa de Jesús a sus hermanas [recommendations and advice that Teresa of Jesus offers to her sisters]. It was composed for the 12 novices of the Carmel of St Joseph in Avila. Teresa proposes to them an intense programme of contemplative life at the service of the Church, at the root of which are the evangelical virtues and prayer.
Among the most precious passages is her commentary on the Our Father, as a model for prayer. St Teresa’s most famous mystical work is El Castillo interior [The Interior Castle]. She wrote it in 1577 when she was in her prime. It is a reinterpretation of her own spiritual journey and, at the same time, a codification of the possible development of Christian life towards its fullness, holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit.
Teresa refers to the structure of a castle with seven rooms as an image of human interiority. She simultaneously introduces the symbol of the silk worm reborn as a butterfly, in order to express the passage from the natural to the supernatural.
The Saint draws inspiration from Sacred Scripture, particularly the Song of Songs, for the final symbol of the “Bride and Bridegroom” which enables her to describe, in the seventh room, the four crowning aspects of Christian life: the Trinitarian, the Christological, the anthropological and the ecclesial.
St Teresa devoted the Libro de la fundaciones [book of the foundations], which she wrote between 1573 and 1582, to her activity as Foundress of the reformed Carmels. In this book she speaks of the life of the nascent religious group. This account, like her autobiography, was written above all in order to give prominence to God’s action in the work of founding new monasteries.
It is far from easy to sum up in a few words Teresa’s profound and articulate spirituality. I would like to mention a few essential points. In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water. Then we should not forget the human virtues: affability, truthfulness, modesty, courtesy, cheerfulness, culture.
Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida VIE 8,5). St Teresa’s idea coincides with Thomas Aquinas’ definition of theological charity as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum”, a type of human friendship with God, who offered humanity his friendship first; it is from God that the initiative comes (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II 23,1).
Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.
Rather than a pedagogy Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy” of prayer: she teaches those who read her works how to pray by praying with them. Indeed, she often interrupts her account or exposition with a prayerful outburst.
Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.
She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending the “Holy Roman Catholic Church”, and was willing to give her life for the Church (cf. Vida, VIE 33,5).
A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine which I would like to emphasize is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole of Christian life and as its ultimate goal. The Saint has a very clear idea of the “fullness” of Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the route through The Interior Castle, in the last “room”, Teresa describes this fullness, achieved in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.
Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.
This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.
Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.
To special groups:
I am pleased to greet the groups who have come from England, Norway, Nigeria and the United States of America. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s abundant Blessings.
Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. The day before yesterday we celebrated the liturgical Memorial of St John Bosco, priest and educator. Look to him, dear young people, as to an authentic teacher of life and holiness. Dear sick people, learn from his spiritual experience to trust in the Crucified Christ in every circumstance. And may you, dear newlyweds, have recourse to his intercession so that he may help you to take on generously your mission as spouses.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Audiences 2005-2013 19011