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Pope helps St. Teresa of Avila’s nuns to face closing convents

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican on April 10, 2024

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 04/19/24

"Allow yourselves to be touched by the love of Christ and union with him, so that his love can pervade your entire existence,” the Pope said.

“The contemplative vocation is not about tending embers, but rather about fanning into flame a fire that can continue to burn and provide warmth to the Church and the world,” Pope Francis said as he received the superiors and delegates of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, who gathered in Rome on April 18, 2024, to work on reforming their constitutions.

In a long address in Spanish, the Pope invited them to anchor themselves in the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila, so as to fearlessly face the changes in the way they organize their community life.

The Pope expressed concern at the emergence of “defensive terms when reflecting on whether to preserve or close a monastery, on structures of community life, on vocations.” 

“Defensive strategies are often the fruit of a nostalgic longing for the past – that does not work, nostalgia does not work,” he insisted. “Evangelical hope goes in the other direction: It grants us joy in contemplating our history up to the present, but also empowers us to look ahead to the future, with those roots that we have received. And that is called preserving the charism, the dream of moving forward, and that really works.”

A reform rooted in the tradition of St. Teresa of Avila

The congregation of the Discalced Carmelites, which grew out of the Carmelite reform at the end of the 16th century, numbers some 10,000 women and 4,000 men. The term “discalced” comes from the spiritual tradition that, as a sign of austerity, they were called to remain barefoot in sandals.

Faced with a decline in vocations, particularly in Spain where the order originated, the Carmelites have had to make the painful decision to close some convents. Some nuns find it difficult to transfer to a new community, as they in principle are supposed to remain for life in the Carmelite convent assigned to them. The discussions on the new constitutions are aimed in particular at harmonizing the rules governing the suppression and merger of communities. 

“Your lives embody the tension between separation from the world and immersion in it,” Pope Francis told the nuns, adding they are “far from seeking refuge in interior spiritual consolations or a prayer divorced from reality.”

Placing his address in the tradition of the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the Pope explained that “the path of contemplation is inherently a path of love”.

The importance of love and “evangelical hope”

“It serves as a ladder that raises us up to God, not to separate us from the world but to ground us more deeply in it, as witnesses of the love we have received,” he explained. The sense of contemplative vocations is to “allow yourselves to be touched by the love of Christ and union with him, so that his love can pervade your entire existence and find expression in all that you say and do.”

The Pope paid tribute to the “wisdom” and “ardent faith” of St. Teresa of Avila, who was “convinced that the mystical and interior union by which God binds the soul to himself, ‘sealing’ it, as it were, by his love, permeates and transforms our whole life, without ever withdrawing us from our daily responsibilities or suggesting a flight into spiritual matters alone.”

“In this way, the contemplative life will not risk degenerating into a spiritual inertia that withdraws from the tasks of daily life,” Francis said. Calling for a move away from “illusions based on human calculations,” the Pope stressed that Carmelite nuns must savor “evangelical hope” by surrendering themselves to God and “learning to read the signs He gives us to discern the future, having courage to make certain bold and risky decisions, even without knowing where they will eventually lead.”

“Look to the future with evangelical hope, with unshod feet, that is, with the freedom born of abandonment to God. Look to the future with roots in the past. May your complete immersion in the Lord’s presence always fill you with the joy of sisterhood and mutual love,” the Pontiff concluded. 

Pope FrancisReligious LifeSaints
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