By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Pope Francis visited the Discalced Carmelite Monastery dedicated to St Joseph in Antananarivo on Saturday morning. After praying Midday Prayer with a group of 100 sisters from all over Madagascar, Pope Francis decided to leave his prepared text with them in order to speak to them from his heart.
Pope Francis began by recounting a story from the life of St Therese the Little Flower that many religious and contemplatives can relate to. While St Therese helps an elderly sister to get from one place in the convent to the other, helps to feed her, etc., the older sister repays her with continual complaints. The Pope repeated several times that, notwithstanding how St Therese was being treated by the older sister, “she kept smiling”.
“This is a story that reflects a small part of what happens in community life”, the Pope said. St Therese is a model because “with the strength of obedience she carried out this task with exquisite love” to the point that St Therese was able to say to Jesus that all the parties in the world could never make her happier than even one act of love for this older sister.
It's little acts of love
The Pope then turned to a temptation commonly faced by many contemplatives who truly feel called to help their brothers and sisters, but who almost never know how their lives of prayer and sacrifice actually help them. Pope Francis said it is through these “small acts of love” and the “courage to believe” that God is pleased with these little acts of love that “God saves the world”. Dreams of changing the world, or changing religious life for the better, begins “with these little acts of love”, the Pope said. And what is more, they make God present in our midst, he said.
Love and prayer
Pope Francis then focused on another aspect of contemplative life: the daily struggle against temptation. His recommendation to the sisters is to make known to another sister, or to a superior, what is going on inside. “This is the help; this is the defense that you have in community: one helps another in order to form a united front”, he said. Convent walls or grills are helpless in keeping spiritual worldliness from entering in. “Love and prayer” are enough, Pope Francis said. St. Therese herself, the Pope reminded the sisters, was tempted even on her deathbed to the point that she thought she had lost her faith. Her experience shows us that there is no end to the daily struggle to love, to the fight against temptation, and the pursuit of holiness.
Speaking from experience
In conclusion, Pope Francis revealed that St Therese herself “accompanies an old man”, referring to himself. “She has taught me a lot of things”. Then, the Pope admitted, “at times I am a bit neurotic and I send her away”, like her older sister did. The Pope then ended, saying:
“At times I listen to her, at times…I do not listen to her well enough. But she is a faithful friend. Because of this…I wanted to share my experience of a Saint and to tell you what a saint is capable of doing and the way to become a saint.”