TERESA OF LOS ANDES
by Father Stephen Watson, OCD(1)
At a downtown Santiago park, on April 3 1987, a most solemn Mass was celebrated by Pope John Paul II. It was a "Mass of reconciliation" which included ceremonies beatifying an early 20th-century Chilean nun, Sister Teresa of the Andes. Indeed, it was a Papal Mass of Beatification. Pope John Paul II used the occasion to preach forgiveness and reconciliation to a nation fraught with violence and terrorism.
Then, six years later, on March 21 1993, the solemn canonization of Teresa of Los Andes took place in the Basilica of St. Peter. The leaflet for the liturgical celebration contained the following statement concerning the new Saint:
"The young woman who is today glorified by the Church with the title of Saint, is a prophet of God for the men and women of today. By the example of her life, Teresa of Jesus of Los Andes shows us Christ's Gospel lived down to the last detail."
"She is irrefutable proof that Christ's call to be Saints is indeed real, it happens in our time, and can be answered. She is presented to us to demonstrate that the total dedication that following Christ involves, is the one and only thing that is worth this effort and that gives us true happiness."
"Teresa of Los Andes with the language of her ardent life, confirms for us that God exists, that God is love and happiness, and that he is our fulfillment."
II. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Teresa of the Andes was born in Santiago, Chile, on July 13, 1900. At the font, two days later, she was christened Juana Enriqueta Josefina of the Sacred Hearts Fernadez Solar. Her parents Miguel and Lucia, and the rest of the family and friends, affectionately called her Juanita. From the time she entered the convent, following a traditional custom, they changed her name, calling her Sister Teresa de Jesus. After her death, when her fame as a valiant intercessor before the Lord began to spread, she was called "La Teresita Chileana" in order to distinguish her from Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Therese of Lisieux. Finally, she came to be called Teresa of the Andes, and this name has become general.
When one scans the life of Blessed Teresa for important dates, the first thing one becomes aware of is that her life was indeed very short. One is tempted to say what was once said about St. Therese of the Child Jesus: "Whatever are we going to write about her?" Then one remembers the inscrutable ways of God who can give as much to one person in a moment as to another in many years. As the psalmist says, "I understand more than the aged because I keep your precepts."
Like many before her, God called Blessed Teresa to himself in the very flower of her youth. She died before her 20th birthday. This is the first remarkable fact of Teresa's life. It is by no means unprecedented in the lives of the Saints. St. Stanislaus, for instance, was only eighteen years old when he died in Rome, nine months after joining the Jesuits. It would seem that God wishes to remind His people that it is not longevity that counts in His eyes, but fidelity. A short life or a long life, the truth is: all things are passing. We are created to praise and serve God. As Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) states: "The religious state, whose purpose is to free its members from earthly cares, more fully manifests to all believers the presence of heavenly goods already possessed here below."(2) This is especially true of the vocation of a Carmelite nun. For such a one to be taken at the very height of her youthful devotion is a precious sign for the Pilgrim People of God beckoning them onward to the vision of God "face to face."
At the age of 15, Juanita began to keep a diary at the urging of one of her teachers at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. In fact, it was more than a diary. It was The Story of the Life of One of His Daughters as she entitled it. In it Juanita divides her life into two parts: from the age of reason till her First Communion and from her First Communion until her entrance into Carmel. From the excerpts available to me, I gather that her Story is composed after the fashion of the Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. The little Flower was very popular at that time, as she is today. I know from other sources that Juanita not only knew of her, but had actually read the Story of a Soul. She very much identified with its spirit. Juanita also read Elizabeth of the Trinity and was greatly influenced by what she read.
Indeed, in reading through the excerpts from her diary, my impression is that Juanita would fit very well into a sort of spiritual triumvirate(3) with the Little Flower and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. She unites in herself the simplicity of St. Therese and Blessed Elizabeth's intensity. All three, by the way, share very much the same sort of cultural background, although Juanita would have had more in common with Elizabeth from this standpoint. The collection of excerpts from the diary of Blessed Teresa of the Andes provides us with precious insights into the workings of the Spirit in her heart.
III. HER CHILDHOOD
The first part of Juana's life up to her First Communion is noteworthy as revealing an otherwise ordinary girl with a remarkable appreciation of her Catholic faith. She had a normal upbringing surrounded by her family: her parents Migel Fernadez and Lucia Solar, three brothers and two sisters, her maternal grandfather, uncles, aunts and cousins. Her family lived comfortably. In fact, Juana says she was born in the midst of riches, the fourth of five children. She describes herself as very shy and sensitive, given to crying easily. This reminds us of the Little Flower.
Although Juana was seemingly treated with special affection by her family, she was not unaware of her faults. Because she was constantly told how pretty she was, she was a little prone to vanity. Perhaps Juana would have become spoiled and self-centered had she not made a concentrated effort to modify those unbecoming tendencies. The fact that she did was an indication of her true character which matured at an early age.
She wakened to the life of grace while still quite young. She affirms that God drew her at the age of six to begin to spare no effort in directing her capacity to love totally towards him. "It was shortly after the 1906 earthquake that Jesus began to claim my heart for himself."(4)
Juana was sent to a Catholic school for girls at the age of seven. She was greatly appreciative of this opportunity to be educated as a young Christian lady. Her ability to see and esteem things for their proper value is unusual for a girl her age. As an example of this, we can read in her diary how meaningful First Communion is for her.
At the age of ten she became a new person. What lay immediately behind this was the fact that she was going to make her first Communion. Understanding that nobody less than God was going to dwell within her, she set about acquiring all the virtues that would make her less unworthy of this grace. In the shortest possible time she managed to transform her character completely.
In making her first Communion she received from God the mystical grace of interior locutions, which from then on supported her throughout her life. God took over her natural inclinations, transforming them from that day into friendship and a life of prayer. Juana describes her First Communion as the most pure memory she will have for her whole life. "From that day, earth lost its attraction for me."
When Juana was 13 years old, she suffered an attack of appendicitis. While she was home recovering, she often felt very alone. One day she was given to understand by Our Lord that he, too, felt very much abandoned and lone in The Blessed Sacrament. As she relates, "He told me that I must keep Him company. It was then that He gave me my vocation since he told me He wanted my heart for Him alone, and that I was to be a Carmelite. From that moment I spent the entire day in an intimate conversation with Our Lord and I felt happy to be thus alone."
Juana's developing love of prayerful conversation with Jesus and Mary did not cause her to become distant with her family and friends. She was a profoundly affectionate person who loved life in the Academy of the Sacred Heart and the summers and holidays with her family. She especially enjoyed riding horses. "I have been doing a lot of riding and enjoy going into the hills. Here everyone is amazed that I don't get tired and they say that I'm a regular amazon." She also enjoys tennis. However, she really excels in swimming, where she out distances her companions. The natural beauty of the Andes causes Juana to thirst for the infinite. "I feel full of God. There is no separation between us. Wherever I go He is within me."
With God's abundant grace and the generosity of a young girl in love, she gave herself over to prayer, to the acquiring of virtue and the practice of a life in accord with the Gospel. Such were her efforts that in a few short years she reached a high degree of union with God.
Christ was the one and only ideal she had. She was in love with him and ready each moment to crucify herself for him. A bridal love pervaded her with the result that she desired to unite herself fully to him who had captivated her. As a result, at the age of fifteen she made a vow of virginity for nine days, continually renewing it from then on.
At the age of 16, Juana is more and more attracted to the idea of collaborating with the Lord in the work of saving the world. She is more than ever convinced of her vocation to be a Carmelite nun. But like all vocations, it is tested in various ways. She later suffers a terrible period of spiritual dryness, insensibility and abandonment. Along with this go certain trials of health. Through this she understands what it really means to be associated with Christ in the work of salvation. In this period, she suffers doubts about her vocation. She can not decide whether to be a Carmelite or enter the Congregation that educated her. She appreciates the value of both vocations and only wishes to go where she thinks she will be sanctified in the shortest time for, as she puts it, "Our Lord has given me to understand that my life will be short."
IV. ENTERING THE ORDER
In 1918 Juana is given approval to enter the Carmel of the Andes with which she had been in correspondence for some time. Not until January of 1919 does she pay her first visit to the Carmelite convent. She is delighted with the poverty of the convent and emphasizes this more than once. "What an impression was made on me when I saw the little convent. Its poverty speaks very well in its favor. As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it." But Juana has no delusions about the Carmelite vocation. She knows that love is exacting and there will be a bare wooden cross in her cell to remind her that she has come to the convent to sacrifice herself with Christ for humanity. "This complete abnegation(5) enchants me." she says.
From the time of this visit until her entrance into Carmel on May 7th, she was living at home after having left Sacred Heart Academy. It was a grace-filled time for her to be with her family. Although she was intensely happy having passed through a period of doubt and confusion about her vocation, she had a growing sense of the pain which the separation from her family would cause her and them.
This pain of separation did turn out to be a bit of a trauma. It is, perhaps, not unlike the pain St. Teresa of Avila described when she left her father's house. "I remember - and I really believe this is true - that when I left my father's house, my distress was so great that I do not think it will be greater when I die. It seemed to me as if every bone in my body were being wrenched asunder." As Juanita wrote to her father, " The tenderness of my daughterly heart will grow each day, my little father, and do not think that it will be extinguished in the convent. On the contrary, it will become greater because it will love without self-interest and in God."
On the 14th of October, she was clothed in the habit of the Carmelite Order and given the name of Teresa of Jesus. "If only you knew my happiness. It seems as if I only began to live on May 7th. You can not imagine the joy, the confidence and the simplicity that reigns. I find myself in my center."
Her community was quick to discover the hand of God in her past life. The young novice found in the Carmelite way of life the full and efficient channel for spreading the torrent of life that she wanted to give to the Church of Christ. It was a way of life that, in her own way, she had lived amongst her own and for which she was born. The Order of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel fulfilled the desires of Juanita. It was proof to her that God's mother, whom she had loved from infancy, had drawn her to be part of it.
Blessed Teresa's interior life was rich and deep. She dealt with Jesus heart to heart. With others she was joyous, communicative and playful. She had resolved early in life to be joyful. She was not suspicious of joy because for her God was infinite joy. In Carmel she certainly made her contribution to the spirit of joy, sisterhood, and simplicity that had attracted her there. "This is how we spend our life," she wrote, "praying, working, and smiling."
V. HER DEATH
During Lent of 1920, Sister was feeling ill but did not think anything of it, (and would bother no one about it). By Good Friday she was suffering a bad fever which turned out to be typhus. Once this was discovered the community did everything it could to restore her to health. It was already too late. On April 6th, 1920 she made her profession of religious vows. On April 12, in the evening, 3 months before her 20th birthday and 11 months after entering the Carmel, she finished her earthly pilgrimage.
The papers of Santiago reported her death exalting her virtues, a thing very uncommon. It wasn't long before the faithful were invoking her intercession. Miracles were reported. Her holiness was perceived as lovable, attractive and communicative. Above all, it is the holiness of youth given completely over to Jesus. Youth with its love for God's creation and particularly all that is truly human. Perhaps Blessed Teresa is given by God to the Church especially as a patron of youth. How well does Blessed Teresa's message to youth accord with the words of Pope John Paul II to young people in his 1985 World Day of Peace Message:
"The first appeal I want to address to you, young men and women of today, is this: Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid of your own youth and of those desires you have for happiness, for truth, for beauty and for lasting love! Sometimes people say that society is afraid of these powerful desires of young people and that you yourselves are afraid of them. Do not be afraid! When I look at you, the young people, I feel great gratitude and hope. The future far into the next century lies in your hands. The future of peace lies in your heats. To construct history, as you can and must, you must free history from the false path it is pursuing. To do this, you must be people with a deep trust in the grandeur of the human vocation - a vocation to be pursued with respect for truth and for the dignity and inviolable rights of the human person."
We ought to thank Blessed Teresa of the Andes for not being afraid of her youth and of those deep desires she had for God.
Her remains are venerated in the Sanctuary of Auco-Rinconada of Los Andes by the thousands of pilgrims who seek in her and find guidance, light and a direct way to God.
Saint Teresa of Jesus of Los Andes is the first Chilean to be declared a Saint. She is the first Discalced Carmelite Nun to become a Saint outside the boundaries of Europe and the fourth Saint Teresa in Carmel together with Saint Teresa of Avila, of Florence and of Lisieux.
1. Please refer to the OCDS Rule of
Life, Decree, Foreword, and Articles 2, 4, 5 and
2. God, the Joy of my Life, The diary of Teresa of the Andes. Translated and with a Biography by Michael D. Griffin, OCD. Teresian Charism Press, 1989. 3. Testamonies to Blessed Teresa of the Andes, compiled by Michael D. Griffin, OCD. Teresian Charism Press, 1991.
1. This lesson primarily contains the original text written by Father
Watson, but also contains text extracted from Communications OCD (En) #46.
2. LG 44.
3. (tri-um'ver-it) -n. 1. Government by triumvirs. 2. The office or term of a triumvir. 3. A body or group of triumvirs. 4. An association or group of three. [Lat. triumviratus < triumviri, board of three. -see triumvir. ].
4.Diary n. 3, P. 26.
5. (ab'ni-ga'shun) -n. Self-denial.
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