VATICAN CITY, 23 MAR 2011 (VIS) – In his general audience this morning, Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to St. Lawrence of Brindisi (born Giulio Cesare Rossi, 1559-1619), a Doctor of the Church.
The saint, who lost his father at the age of seven, was entrusted by his mother to the care of the Friars Minor Conventuals. He subsequently entered the Order of Capuchins and was ordained a priest in 1582. He acquired a profound knowledge of ancient and modern languages, thanks to which “he was able to undertake an intense apostolate among various categories of people“, the Pope explained. He was also an effective preacher well versed not only in the Bible but also in rabbinic literature, which he knew so well “that rabbis themselves were amazed and showed him esteem and respect”.
As a theologian and expert in Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers, Lawrence of Brindisi was an exemplary teacher of Catholic doctrine among those Christians who, especially in Germany, had adhered to the Reformation. “With his clear and tranquil explanations he demonstrated the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of faith called into question by Martin Luther, among them the primacy of St. Peter and his Successors, the divine origin of the episcopate, justification as interior transformation of man, and the necessity of good works for salvation. The success enjoyed by St. Lawrence helps us to understand that even today, as the hope-filled journey of ecumenical dialogue continues, the reference to Sacred Scripture, read in the Tradition of the Church, is an indispensable element of fundamental importance”.
“Even the lowliest members of the faithful who did not possess vast culture drew advantage from the convincing words of St. Lawrence, who addressed the humble in order to call everyone to live a life coherent with the faith they professed”, said the Holy Father. “This was a great merit of the Capuchins and of the other religious orders which, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, contributed to the renewal of Christian life. … Even today, the new evangelisation needs well-trained, zealous and courageous apostles, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel may prevail over the cultural trends of ethical relativism and religious indifference, transforming the various ways people think and act in an authentic Christian humanism”.
Lawrence was a professor of theology, master of novices, minister provincial and minister general of the Capuchin Order, but amidst all these tasks “he also cultivated an exceptionally active spiritual life”, the Pope said. In this context he noted how all priests “can avoid the danger of activism – that is, of acting while forgetting the profound motivations of their ministry – only if they pay heed to their own inner lives”.
The Holy Father then turned his attention to another aspect of the saint’s activities: his work in favour of peace. “Supreme Pontiffs and Catholic princes repeatedly entrusted him with important diplomatic missions to placate controversies and favour harmony between European States, which at the time were threatened by the Ottoman Empire. Today, as in St. Lawrence’s time, the world has great need of peace, it needs peace-loving and peace-building men and women. Everyone who believes in God must always be a source of peace and work for peace”, he said.
Lawrence of Brindisi was canonised in 1881 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Blessed John XXIII in 1959 in recognition of his many works of biblical exegesis and Mariology. In his writings, Lawrence “also highlighted the action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers”, the Pope said.
“St. Lawrence of Brindisi”, he concluded, “teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to become increasingly familiar with it, daily to cultivate our relationship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, finds its beginning and its fulfilment in Him”.
AG/ VIS 20110323 (650)
Published by VIS – Holy See Press Office – Wednesday, March 23, 2011
VATICAN CITY, 30 MAR 2011 (VIS) – In this Wednesday’s general audience, celebrated in St Peter’s Square, the Pope spoke about St. Alphonsus Maria of Liguori, bishop, Doctor of the Church and “outstanding moral theologian and master of spiritual life”.
“St. Alphonsus was born in 1696 to a rich and noble Neapolitan family”, and undertook a brilliant career as a lawyer, which he abandoned in order to become a priest in 1726.
The Holy Father explained that the saint “began his work of evangelisation and catechesis at the most humble levels of Neapolitan society, to whom he enjoyed preaching and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith”.
In 1732 he founded the religious congregation of the Holy Redeemer. Its members, “under the guidance of Alphonsus, were genuine itinerant missionaries, who travelled to the remotest villages exhorting conversion to the faith and perseverance in Christian life, above all by means of prayer”.
Benedict XVI recalled that St. Alphonsus died in 1787, was canonised in 1839 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1871. This title was granted for a number of reasons. Firstly, for his valuable teachings in the field of moral theology, which accurately expressed Catholic doctrine and on account of which Pius XII proclaimed him as “patron of all confessors and moralists”.
“St. Alphonsus”, continued the Pope, “never tired of repeating that priests were a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God, Who pardons and illuminates the minds and hearts of sinners that they might convert and change their lives. In our age, in which there are clear signs of a loss of moral conscience and – it is necessary to note with some concern – a certain lack of respect for the Sacrament of Confession, the teaching of St. Alphonsus remains valid”. (more…)
Saint Anthony of Padua from vatican.va
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Two weeks ago I presented St Francis of Assisi. This morning I would like to speak of another saint who belonged to the first generation of the Friars Minor: Anthony of Padua, or of Lisbon, as he is also called with reference to his native town. He is one of the most popular Saints in the whole Catholic Church, venerated not only in Padua, where a splendid Basilica has been built that contains his mortal remains, but also throughout the world. Dear to the faithful are the images and statues that portray him with the lily a symbol of his purity or with the Child Jesus in his arms, in memory of a miraculous apparition mentioned in several literary sources.
With his outstanding gifts of intelligence, balance, apostolic zeal and, primarily, mystic fervour, Anthony contributed significantly to the development of Franciscan spirituality.
He was born into a noble family in Lisbon in about 1195 and was baptized with the name of Fernando. He entered the Canons who followed the monastic Rule of St Augustine, first at St Vincent’s Monastery in Lisbon and later at that of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, a renowned cultural centre in Portugal. He dedicated himself with interest and solicitude to the study of the Bible and of the Church Fathers, acquiring the theological knowledge that was to bear fruit in his teaching and preaching activities. The event that represented a decisive turning point on his life happened in Coimbra. It was there, in 1220, that the relics were exposed of the first five Franciscan missionaries who had gone to Morocco, where they had met with martyrdom. Their story inspired in young Fernando the desire to imitate them and to advance on the path of Christian perfection. Thus he asked to leave the Augustinian Canons to become a Friar Minor. His request was granted and, having taken the name of Anthony, he too set out for Morocco, but divine Providence disposed otherwise. After an illness he was obliged to return to Italy and, in 1221, participated in the famous “Chapter of the Mats” in Assisi, where he also met St Francis. He then lived for a period in complete concealment in a convent at Forlì in northern Italy, where the Lord called him to another mission. Invited, in somewhat casual circumstances, to preach on the occasion of a priestly ordination, he showed himself to be endowed with such knowledge and eloquence that the Superiors assigned him to preaching. Thus he embarked on apostolic work in Italy and France that was so intense and effective that it induced many people who had left the Church to retrace their footsteps. Anthony was also one of the first if not the first theology teachers of the Friars Minor. He began his teaching in Bologna with the blessing of St Francis who, recognizing Anthony’s virtues, sent him a short letter that began with these words: “I would like you to teach the brethren theology”. Anthony laid the foundations of Franciscan theology which, cultivated by other outstanding thinkers, was to reach its apex with St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and Bl. Duns Scotus.
Having become Provincial Superior of the Friars Minor in northern Italy, he continued his ministry of preaching, alternating it with his office of governance. When his term as Provincial came to an end, he withdrew to a place near Padua where he had stayed on various other occasions. Barely a year later, he died at the city gates on 13 June 1231. Padua, which had welcomed him with affection and veneration in his lifetime, has always accorded him honour and devotion. Pope Gregory IX himself, having heard him preach, described him as the “Ark of the Testament” and subsequent to miracles brought about through his intercession canonized him in 1232, only a year after his death.
In the last period of his life, Anthony put in writing two cycles of “Sermons”, entitled respectively “Sunday Sermons” and “Sermons on the Saints” destined for the Franciscan Order’s preachers and teachers of theological studies. In these Sermons he commented on the texts of Scripture presented by the Liturgy, using the patristic and medieval interpretation of the four senses: the literal or historical, the allegorical or Christological, the tropological or moral, and the anagogical, which orients a person to eternal life. Today it has been rediscovered that these senses are dimensions of the one meaning of Sacred Scripture and that it is right to interpret Sacred Scripture by seeking the four dimensions of its words. St Anthony’s sermons are theological and homiletical texts that echo the live preaching in which Anthony proposes a true and proper itinerary of Christian life. The richness of spiritual teaching contained in the “Sermons” was so great that in 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title “Doctor Evangelicus”, since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from these writings. We can still read them today with great spiritual profit.
In these Sermons St Anthony speaks of prayer as of a loving relationship that impels man to speak gently with the Lord, creating an ineffable joy that sweetly enfolds the soul in prayer. Anthony reminds us that prayer requires an atmosphere of silence, which does not mean distance from external noise but rather is an interior experience that aims to remove the distractions caused by a soul’s anxieties, thereby creating silence in the soul itself. According to this prominent Franciscan Doctor’s teaching, prayer is structured in four indispensable attitudes which in Anthony’s Latin are defined as obsecratio, oratio, postulatio, gratiarum actio. We might translate them in the following manner. The first step in prayer is confidently opening one’s heart to God; this is not merely accepting a word but opening one’s heart to God’s presence. Next, is speaking with him affectionately, seeing him present with oneself; then a very natural thing presenting our needs to him; and lastly, praising and thanking him.
In St Anthony’s teaching on prayer we perceive one of the specific traits of the Franciscan theology that he founded: namely the role assigned to divine love which enters into the sphere of the affections, of the will and of the heart, and which is also the source from which flows a spiritual knowledge that surpasses all other knowledge. In fact, it is in loving that we come to know.
Anthony writes further: “Charity is the soul of faith, it gives it life; without love, faith dies” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi II, Messagero, Padua 1979, p. 37).
Vatican City –From Pope Benedict’s Wednesday General Audience from vatican.va
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to talk to you about a woman who played an eminent role in the history of the Church: St Catherine of Siena. The century in which she lived — the 14th — was a troubled period in the life of the Church and throughout the social context of Italy and Europe. Yet, even in the most difficult times, the Lord does not cease to bless his People, bringing forth Saints who give a jolt to minds and hearts, provoking conversion and renewal.
Catherine is one of these and still today speaks to us and impels us to walk courageously toward holiness to be ever more fully disciples of the Lord.
Born in Siena in 1347, into a very large family, she died in Rome in 1380. When Catherine was 16 years old, motivated by a vision of St Dominic, she entered the Third Order of the Dominicans, the female branch known as the Mantellate. While living at home, she confirmed her vow of virginity made privately when she was still an adolescent and dedicated herself to prayer, penance and works of charity, especially for the benefit of the sick.
When the fame of her holiness spread, she became the protagonist of an intense activity of spiritual guidance for people from every walk of life: nobles and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated men and women and religious, including Pope Gregory xi who was living at Avignon in that period and whom she energetically and effectively urged to return to Rome.
She travelled widely to press for the internal reform of the Church and to foster peace among the States. It was also for this reason that Venerable Pope John Paul ii chose to declare her Co-Patroness of Europe: may the Old Continent never forget the Christian roots that are at the origin of its progress and continue to draw from the Gospel the fundamental values that assure justice and harmony.
Like many of the Saints, Catherine knew great suffering. Some even thought that they should not trust her, to the point that in 1374, six years before her death, the General Chapter of the Dominicans summoned her to Florence to interrogate her. They appointed Raymund of Capua, a learned and humble Friar and a future Master General of the Order, as her spiritual guide. Having become her confessor and also her “spiritual son”, he wrote a first complete biography of the Saint. She was canonized in 1461.
The teaching of Catherine, who learned to read with difficulty and learned to write in adulthood, is contained in the Dialogue of Divine Providence or Libro della Divina Dottrina, a masterpiece of spiritual literature, in her Epistolario and in the collection of her Prayers.
Her teaching is endowed with such excellence that in 1970 the Servant of God Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, a title that was added to those of Co-Patroness of the City of Rome — at the wish of Bl. Pius ix — and of Patroness of Italy — in accordance with the decision of Venerable Pius XII.
In a vision that was ever present in Catherine’s heart and mind Our Lady presented her to Jesus who gave her a splendid ring, saying to her: “I, your Creator and Saviour, espouse you in the faith, that you will keep ever pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with me in Heaven” (Bl. Raimondo da Capua, S. Caterina da Siena, Legenda maior, n. 115, Siena 1998). This ring was visible to her alone. In this extraordinary episode we see the vital centre of Catherine’s religious sense, and of all authentic spirituality: Christocentrism. For her Christ was like the spouse with whom a relationship of intimacy, communion and faithfulness exists; he was the best beloved whom she loved above any other good. This profound union with the Lord is illustrated by another episode in the life of this outstanding mystic: the exchange of hearts. According to Raymond of Capua who passed on the confidences Catherine received, the Lord Jesus appeared to her “holding in his holy hands a human heart, bright red and shining”. He opened her side and put the heart within her saying: “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever” (ibid.). Catherine truly lived St. Paul’s words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Like the Sienese Saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves. And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God and by the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion. Catherine also belongs to the throng of Saints devoted to the Eucharist with which I concluded my Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (cf. n. 94). Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish our journey of faith, to strengthen our hope and to inflame our charity, to make us more and more like him.
A true and authentic spiritual family was built up around such a strong and genuine personality; people fascinated by the moral authority of this young woman with a most exalted lifestyle were at times also impressed by the mystical phenomena they witnessed, such as her frequent ecstasies. Many put themselves at Catherine’s service and above all considered it a privilege to receive spiritual guidance from her. They called her “mother” because, as her spiritual children, they drew spiritual nourishment from her. Today too the Church receives great benefit from the exercise of spiritual motherhood by so many women, lay and consecrated, who nourish souls with thoughts of God, who strengthen the people’s faith and direct Christian life towards ever loftier peaks. “Son, I say to you and call you”, Catherine wrote to one of her spiritual sons, Giovanni Sabbatini, a Carthusian, “inasmuch as I give birth to you in continuous prayers and desire in the presence of God, just as a mother gives birth to a son” (Epistolario, Lettera n. 141: To Fr Giovanni de’ Sabbatini). She would usually address the Dominican Fr Bartolomeo de Dominici with these words: “Most beloved and very dear brother and son in Christ sweet Jesus”.
Another trait of Catherine’s spirituality is linked to the gift of tears. They express an exquisite, profound sensitivity, a capacity for being moved and for tenderness. Many Saints have had the gift of tears, renewing the emotion of Jesus himself who did not hold back or hide his tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and at the grief of Mary and Martha or at the sight of Jerusalem during his last days on this earth. According to Catherine, the tears of Saints are mingled with the blood of Christ, of which she spoke in vibrant tones and with symbolic images that were very effective: “Remember Christ crucified, God and man….. Make your aim the Crucified Christ, hide in the wounds of the Crucified Christ and drown in the blood of the Crucified Christ” (Epistolario, Lettera n. 21: Ad uno il cui nome si tace [to one who remains anonymous]). Here we can understand why, despite her awareness of the human shortcomings of priests, Catherine always felt very great reverence for them: through the sacraments and the word they dispense the saving power of Christ’s Blood. The Sienese Saint always invited the sacred ministers, including the Pope whom she called “sweet Christ on earth”, to be faithful to their responsibilities, motivated always and only by her profound and constant love of the Church. She said before she died: “in leaving my body, truly I have consumed and given my life in the Church and for the Holy Church, which is for me a most unique grace” (Raimondo da Capua, S. Caterina da Siena, Legenda maior, n. 363). Hence we learn from St Catherine the most sublime science: to know and love Jesus Christ and his Church. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, she describes Christ, with an unusual image, as a bridge flung between Heaven and earth. This bridge consists of three great stairways constituted by the feet, the side and the mouth of Jesus. Rising by these stairways the soul passes through the three stages of every path to sanctification: detachment from sin, the practice of the virtues and of love, sweet and loving union with God.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn from St Catherine to love Christ and the Church with courage, intensely and sincerely. Therefore let us make our own St Catherine’s words that we read in the Dialogue of Divine Providence at the end of the chapter that speaks of Christ as a bridge: “out of mercy you have washed us in his Blood, out of mercy you have wished to converse with creatures. O crazed with love! It did not suffice for you to take flesh, but you also wished to die!… O mercy! My heart drowns in thinking of you: for no matter where I turn to think, I find only mercy” (chapter 30, pp. 79-80). Thank you.
VATICAN CITY, 16 FEB 2011 (VIS) – In his general audience today, held in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope focused his attention on St. John of the Cross, “spiritual friend to St. Teresa and, with her, reformer of the Carmelite religious family. Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pius XI in 1926, he is traditionally known as the ‘Doctor mysticus’, the Mystical Doctor”, the Holy Father said.
John was born to a poor family at Fontiveros near the Spanish town of Avila in 1542 and entered the Carmelite order at Medina del Campo. Ordained a priest in 1567, it was on the occasion of his first Mass that he met Teresa, “who explained to him her plan for the reform of the Carmelites”. In his renewal of his religious profession John took the name “of the Cross” and collaborated enthusiastically in the process of reform, something “which brought him great suffering”, and even led to his imprisonment following an unjust accusation. While preparing a journey to Mexico he fell seriously ill and died in December 1591. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675 and canonised by Benedict XIII in 1726.
St. John of the Cross, said Benedict XVI, “is considered one of most important lyric poets of Spanish literature. He wrote four major works: ‘Ascent of Mount Carmel’, ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘, ‘Spiritual Canticle’ and ‘Living Flame of Love‘.
“In his ‘Spiritual Canticle’ St. John outlines the soul’s journey of purification”, the Holy Father added. “The ‘Living Flame of Love’ continues in the same line, describing in greater detail the condition of union with God. … ‘Ascent of Mount Carmel’ outlines the spiritual itinerary from the point of view of a progressive purification of the soul, which is necessary in order to scale the heights of Christian perfection, symbolised by the summit of Mount Carmel”.
The Pope continued his catechesis by explaining how “the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ describes the ‘passive’ aspect; in other words, God’s contribution to the process of purifying the soul. Human effort alone, in fact, is incapable of reaching the deepest roots of a person’s bad inclinations and habits. It can halt them but not eradicate them completely. To do this, we need a special action by God which radically purifies the spirit and disposes it to the union of love with Him“.
“The rate of increase of faith, hope and charity goes hand in hand with the work of purification and with progressive union with God, until attaining transformation into Him. When this goal is reached, the soul is immersed in Trinitarian life itself. … This is why the Mystical Doctor held that there is no true union of love with God that does not culminate in Trinitarian union”.
The Pope completed his remarks by asking whether the life of St. John of the Cross has anything to say to everyday Christians, or whether it is an example only for the few select souls who can follow the path of purification and mystical ascesis. “The journey with Christ, travelling with Christ … is not an additional weight to the already sufficiently-heavy burden of our lives”, he said. “It is something totally different. … It is a light, a power which helps us carry our everyday burden. … Allowing ourselves to be loved by Christ is the light which helps us to carry the daily burden, and sanctity is not a task we must accomplish on our own, a very difficult task. … Let us ask God to help us become saints, to allow ourselves to be loved by God, which is the vocation and true redemption of us all”.
Published by VIS – Holy See Press Office – Wednesday, February 16, 2011
VATICAN CITY, 9 FEB 2011 (VIS) – Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis during this morning’s general audience to St. Peter Canisius, whom Leo XIII proclaimed as “the second apostle of Germany”, and who was subsequently canonised and proclaimed as a Doctor of the Church by Pius XI in 1925.
Born at Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 1521, Peter Canisius entered the Society of Jesus in 1543 and was ordained a priest in 1546. In 1548, St. Ignatius of Loyola sent him to complete his spiritual formation in Rome. A year later he moved to the Duchy of Bavaria where he became dean and rector of the University of Ingolstadt. Later he was administrator of the diocese of Vienna, Austria, where he practiced his pastoral ministry in hospitals and prisons. In the year 1566 he founded the College of Prague and, until 1569, was the first superior of the Jesuit province of upper Germany.
In this role he created a network of Jesuit communities in Germanic countries, especially schools, which became starting points for the Catholic Reformation. He participated in religious discussions with Protestant leaders, including Melanchthon, held in the city of Worms, acted as pontifical nuncio to Poland, participated in the two Diets of Augsburg in 1559 and in 1565, and attended the closing session of the Council of Trent. In 1580 he retired to Fribourg in Switzerland where he dedicated himself to writing and where he died in 1597. Peter Canisius also edited the complete works of Cyril of Alexandria and of St. Leo the Great, and the Letters of St. Jerome.
Among his most famous works were his three “Catechises”, written between 1555 and 1558. The first was aimed at students capable of understanding the basic notions of theology; the second at ordinary young people for their primary religious education; and the third at children with a medium- or secondary-school education.
“One characteristic of St. Peter Canisius”, said the Holy Father, was “that he was able to harmonise fidelity to dogmatic principles with the respect due to each individual. … In a historical period of deep confessional contrasts, he avoided severity and the rhetoric of anger, something fairly rare in discussions among Christians at that time, … and sought only to explain our spiritual roots and to revitalise faith in the Church”.
“In the works destined for the spiritual education of the masses, our saint insists on the importance of the liturgy, … the rites of Mass and the other Sacraments. However, at the same time, he is careful to show the faithful the importance and beauty of individual daily prayer to accompany and permeate participation in the Church’s public worship”, said Benedict XVI, pointing our that “this exhortation and this methodology maintain all their value, especially after being authoritatively re-presented by Vatican Council II”.
Peter Canisius “clearly teaches that apostolic ministry is incisive and produces fruits of salvation in people’s hearts only if the preacher is a personal witness of Jesus and knows how to become His instrument, closely bound to Him through faith in His Gospel and in His Church, through a morally coherent life and incessant prayer”. AG/VIS 20110209 (530)
Saint Peter Damian
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the Catecheses of these Wednesdays I am commenting on several important people in the life of the Church from her origins. Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant figures of the 11th century, St Peter Damian, a monk, a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform, initiated by the Popes of the time. He was born in Ravenna in 1007, into a noble family but in straitened circumstances. He was left an orphan and his childhood was not exempt from hardships and suffering, although his sister Roselinda tried to be a mother to him and his elder brother, Damian, adopted him as his son. For this very reason he was to be called Piero di Damiano, Pier Damiani [Peter of Damian, Peter Damian]. He was educated first at Faenza and then at Parma where, already at the age of 25, we find him involved in teaching. As well as a good grounding in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing the ars scribendi and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became “one of the most accomplished Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of medieval Latin”
He distinguished himself in the widest range of literary forms: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived of the universe as a never-ending “parable” and a sequence of symbols on which to base the interpretation of inner life and divine and supra-natural reality. In this perspective, in about the year 1034, contemplation of the absolute of God impelled him gradually to detach himself from the world and from its transient realties and to withdraw to the Monastery of Fonte Avellana. It had been founded only a few decades earlier but was already celebrated for its austerity. For the monks’ edification he wrote the Life of the Founder, St Romuald of Ravenna, and at the same time strove to deepen their spirituality, expounding on his ideal of eremitic monasticism.
One detail should be immediately emphasized: the Hermitage at Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross and the Cross was the Christian mystery that was to fascinate Peter Damian more than all the others. “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ”, he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117); and he described himself as “Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ” (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed the most beautiful prayers to the Cross in which he reveals a vision of this mystery which has cosmic dimensions for it embraces the entire history of salvation: “O Blessed Cross”, he exclaimed, “You are venerated, preached and honoured by the faith of the Patriarchs, the predictions of the Prophets, the senate that judges the Apostles, the victorious army of Martyrs and the throngs of all the Saints” (Sermo XLVII, 14, p. 304). Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the example of St Peter Damian spur us too always to look to the Cross as to the supreme act God’s love for humankind of God, who has given us salvation.
This great monk compiled a Rule for eremitical life in which he heavily stressed the “rigour of the hermit”: in the silence of the cloister the monk is called to spend a life of prayer, by day and by night, with prolonged and strict fasting; he must put into practice generous brotherly charity in ever prompt and willing obedience to the prior. In study and in the daily meditation of Sacred Scripture, Peter Damian discovered the mystical meaning of the word of God, finding in it nourishment for his spiritual life. In this regard he described the hermit’s cell as the “parlour in which God converses with men”. For him, living as a hermit was the peak of Christian existence, “the loftiest of the states of life” because the monk, now free from the bonds of worldly life and of his own self, receives “a dowry from the Holy Spirit and his happy soul is united with its heavenly Spouse” (Ep 18, 17; cf. Ep 28, 43 ff.). This is important for us today too, even though we are not monks: to know how to make silence within us to listen to God’s voice, to seek, as it were, a “parlour” in which God speaks with us: learning the word of God in prayer and in meditation is the path to life.
“His ‘Controversial Works’ or ‘Disputationes’ are still a valid point of reference for Catholic ecclesiology”, said the Holy Father. “They emphasise the institutional aspect of the Church, in response to the errors then circulating on that topic. Yet Bellarmine also threw light on invisible aspects of the Church as Mystical Body, which he explained using the analogy of the body and soul, in order to describe the relationship between the interior richness of the Church and her visible exterior features.
“In this monumental work, which seeks to categorise the various theological controversies of the age, he avoids polemical and aggressive tones towards the ideas of the Reformation but, using the arguments of reason and of Church Tradition, clearly and effectively illustrates Catholic doctrine.
“Nonetheless”, the Pope added, “his true heritage lies in the way in which he conceived his work. His burden of office did not, in fact, prevent him from striving daily after sanctity through faithfulness to the requirements of his condition as religious, priest and bishop. … His preaching and catechesis reveal that same stamp of essentiality which he learned from his Jesuit education, being entirely focused on concentrating the power of the soul on the Lord Jesus, intensely known, loved and imitated”.
In another of his books, “De gemitu columbae” in which the Church is represented as a dove, Robert Bellarmine “forcefully calls clergy and faithful to a personal and concrete reform of their lives, in accordance with the teachings of Scripture and the saints. … With great clarity and the example of his own life, he clearly teaches that there can be no true reform of the Church unless this is first preceded by personal reform and conversion of heart on our part”.
“If you are wise, then understand that you were created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation”, said the Pope quoting from one of the saint’s works. “Favourable or adverse circumstances, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, honour and offence, life and death, the wise must neither seek these things, nor seek to avoid them per se. They are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and to your eternal happiness, they are bad and to be avoided if they hinder this”.
The Pope concluded: “These words have not gone out of fashion, but should be meditated upon at length in order to guide our journey on this earth. They remind us that the goal of our life is the Lord. … They remind us of the importance of trusting in God, of living a life faithful to the Gospel, and of accepting all the circumstances and all actions of our lives, illuminating them with faith and prayer”.
Published by VIS – Holy See Press Office
TERESA OF AVILA: CONTEMPLATIVE AND INDUSTRIOUS
VATICAN CITY, 2 FEB 2011 (vatican.va) –
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], 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, I, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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), 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 itAdvertencias 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 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, 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.
Check out Teresa of Avila’s Discerning Hearts Page
VATICAN CITY, 6 APR 2011 (VIS) – In his general audience in St. Peter’s Square today, attended by more than 10,000 people, Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to St. Therese of Lisieux, or St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, “who lived in this world for only twenty-four years at the end of the nineteenth century, leading a very simple and hidden life, but who, after her death and the publication of her writings, became one of the best-known and loved saints”.
“Little Therese“, the Pope continued, “never failed to help the most simple souls, the little ones, the poor and the suffering who prayed to her, but also illuminated all the Church with her profound spiritual doctrine, to the point that the Venerable John Paul II, in 1997, granted her the title of Doctor of the Church … and described her as an ‘expert in scientia amoris’. Therese expressed this science, in which all the truth of the faith is revealed in love, in her autobiography ‘The Story of a Soul’, published a year after her death”.
Therese was born in 1873 in Alencon, France. She was the youngest of the nine children of Louis and Zelie Martin, and was beatified in 2008. Her mother died when she was four years old, and Therese later suffered from a serious nervous disorder from which she recovered in 1886 thanks to what she later described as “the smile of the Virgin”. In 1887 she made a pilgrimage to Rome with her father and sister, where she asked Leo XIII for permission to enter Carmel of Lisieux, at just fifteen years of age. Her wish was granted a year later; however, at the same time her father began to suffer from a serious mental illness, which led Therese to the contemplation of the Holy Face of Christ in his Passion. In 1890 she took her vows. 1896 marked the beginning of a period of great physical and spiritual suffering, which accompanied her until her death.
In those moments, “she lived the faith at its most heroic, as the light in the shadows that invade the soul” the Pope said. In this context of suffering, living the greatest love in the littlest things of daily life, the Saint realised her vocation of becoming the love at the heart of the Church”.
She died in the afternoon of 30 September, 1897, uttering the simple words, “My Lord, I love You!”. “These last words are the key to all her doctrine, to her interpretation of the Gospel”, the Pope emphasised. “The act of love, expressed in her final breath, was like the continued breathing of the soul … The words ‘Jesus, I love You’ are at the centre of all her writings”.
St. Therese is “one of the ‘little ones’ of the Gospel who allow themselves to be guided by God, in the depth of His mystery. A guide for all, especially for… theologians. With humility and faith, Therese continually entered the heart of the Scriptures which contain the Mystery of Christ. This reading of the Bible, enriched by the science of love, does not oppose academic science. The ‘science of the saints’, to which she refers on the final page of ‘The Story of a Soul’, is the highest form of science”.