By Lydia O'Kane
In a video message to participants taking part in an International Congress commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of St. Teresa of Ávila as a Doctor of the Church, Pope Francis spoke of how prayer made this great Saint an “exceptional woman”.
The Congress, which began on Monday, April 12, at the St Teresa of Ávila Catholic University, closes on Thursday, April 15.
The Pope said that St Teresa was outstanding in many ways. However, he underlined, “it should not be forgotten that her recognized relevance in these dimensions is nothing more than the consequence of what was important to her: her encounter with the Lord, her ‘determined determination,’ as she says, to persevere in her union with Him through prayer, her firm intention to carry out the mission entrusted to her by the Lord, to whom she offered herself with simplicity.”
St. Teresa's boldness, creativity and excellence as a reformer, said Pope Francis, “are the fruit of the interior presence of the Lord.”
Recalling the universal call to holiness spoken of by the Second Vatican Council, the Pope said, it is “not only for some ‘specialists of the divine’, but it is the vocation of all believers.”
Uniqueness of the Saints
“Union with Christ, which mystics like St. Teresa experience in a special way by pure grace, we receive through Baptism,” he said.
“The saints stimulate and motivate us, but it is not for us to literally try to copy them; holiness cannot be copied, because even that could lead us away from the unique and different path that the Lord has for each one of us.”
“What is important,” the Pope added, “is that each believer discerns his own way, each one of us has his own way of holiness, of encounter with the Lord.”
Union through charity
Pope Francis recalled that St. Teresa herself warned her nuns that prayer is “not to experience extraordinary things, but to unite us to Christ. And the sign that this union is real are works of charity.”
Path of Prayer
The Pope stressed that “St. Teresa teaches us that the path of prayer that made her an exceptional woman, and a person of reference through the centuries, is open to all who humbly open themselves to the action of the Spirit in their lives.”
Such a path, he said, “is not open to those who consider themselves pure and perfect, the Cathars of all centuries, but to those who are aware of their sins.”
“Prayer made St. Teresa an exceptional woman, a creative and innovative woman,” emphasized Pope Francis.
“From prayer she discovered the ideal of fraternity that she wanted to make a reality in the convents she founded.”
Faithful friends of God
In his video message, Pope Francis said that like the Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa, we live in hard times that require “faithful friends of God.”
He emphasized that “the great temptation is to give in to disillusionment, to resignation, to the dismal and unfounded presage that everything will go wrong.”
Some people, he said, “frightened by these thoughts, tend to shut themselves away, to take refuge in little things.”
Giving an example of this, the Pope recalled a convent where all the nuns took refuge in “little things” because they were all enclosed in little things, “as a refuge, in selfish projects that do not build up the community, but rather destroy it.”
On the other hand, Pope Francis continued, “prayer opens us up, allows us to taste that God is great, that He is beyond the horizon, that God is good, that He loves us and that history has not escaped from His hands.”
God gives us fullness and joy
We can be encouraged to do great things, stressed the Pope, “because we know that we are favoured by God. And together with Him, we are capable of reaching any challenge, because in reality it is only His company that our heart desires and that gives us the fullness and joy for which we have been created.”
Concluding his video message, Pope Francis invited participants to pray St Teresa's prayer:
"Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you; all things pass away, God does not change. Patience, all things come to pass. He who has God lacks nothing. God alone is enough."