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St. Teresa de Jesús ‘de los Andes’ (1900-1920)
Welcome to INSPIRING LIVES, a series on the lives of Saints in the catholic church from around the world. In this series we bring you those saints who are canonized by Pope John Paul II. Saints are holy people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Each saint the Church honors responded to God's invitation to use his or her unique gifts. These saints are examples of great holiness and virtue, and they invite us to follow their paths to holiness. Their unique stories inspire us to be rooted in our faith. God calls each one of us to be a saint. As Pope Francis þ wrote on 21 November 2013, ‘to be saints is not a privilege of the few, but a vocation for everyone’. God calls each one of us to be a saint.
Today we shall listen to the inspiring life of St. Teresa of Jesus of Los Andes. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on 21st March 1993. Her feast is celebrated on 13 July and she is the patron of young people. She is the first Chilean to be beatified or canonized.
The young woman whose story we listen today, has been 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 an irrefutable proof that Christ's call to be Saints is indeed real.
St Teresa shows us that Christ’s call happens in our time, and can be answered. The Church presents her to us to demonstrate that it is the only effort that is worth, to follow Christ with the total dedication. And it 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 fulfilment.
St Teresa was born to Miguel Fernandez Solar and Lucia Solar, in Santiago de Chile on 13 July 1900. She was baptized with the name Juana Enriqueta Josefina of the Sacred Hearts. Those who knew her closely called her Juanita, the name by which she is widely known even today. She had a normal upbringing surrounded by her family, her parents, three brothers and two sisters, maternal grandfather, uncles, aunts and cousins.
Juanit’s family was well-off and were faithful to their Christian faith, living it with faith and constancy. She was educated in the college of the French nuns of the Sacred Heart. Her brief but intense life unfolded within her family and at college. When she was fourteen, under God's inspiration, she decided to consecrate herself to him as a religious in the Discalced Carmelite Nuns.
Juanita’s desire to become a religious was realized on 7 May 1919, when she entered the tiny monastery of the Holy Spirit in the township of Los Andes, some 90 kilometers from Santiago. She was clothed with the Carmelite habit on 14 October the same year and began her novitiate with the name, Teresa of Jesus.
Long before she died, Teresa knew that she would die young. The Lord revealed this to her. A month before she was to depart from this life, she related this to her confessor. She accepted all this with happiness, serenity and confidence. She was certain that her mission to make God known and loved would continue in eternity.
After many interior trials and indescribable physical suffering caused by a violent attack of typhus that cut short her life, she passed from this world to her heavenly Father on the evening of 12 April 1920. She received the sacraments of the sick with utmost fervour, and on 7 April, because of danger of death, she made her religious profession. She was three months short of her 20th birthday, and had yet 6 months to complete her canonical novitiate and to be legally able to make her religious profession. She died as a Discalced Carmelite novice.
Externally this is all there is to this young girl from Santiago de Chile. It is all rather disconcerting and a great question arises in us, ‘What did she accomplish?’ The answer to such a question is equally disconcerting: living, believing, loving.
When the disciples asked Jesus what they must do to carry out God's work, he replied, ‘This is carrying out God's work: you must believe in the one he has sent.’ For this reason, in order to recognize the value of Juanita's fife, it is necessary to examine the substance within, where the Kingdom of God is to be found.
Juanita 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. She wrote in her diary: ‘It was shortly after the 1906 earthquake that Jesus began to claim my heart for himself.’
Juanita possessed an enormous capacity to love and to be loved joined with an extraordinary intelligence. God allowed her to experience his presence. With this knowledge He purified her and made her his own through what it entails to take up the cross. Knowing him, she loved him; and loving him, she bound herself totally to him.
Once Juanita understood that love demonstrates itself in deeds rather than words, the result was that she expressed her love through every action of her life. She examined herself sincerely and wisely and understood that in order to belong to God it was necessary to die to herself in all that did not belong to him. Her natural inclinations were completely contrary to the demands of the Gospel. But where she differed from the general run, was to carry out continual warfare on every impulse that did not arise from love.
At the age of ten Juanita 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.
At her first Communion she received from God the mystical grace of interior locutions, which from then on supported her throughout her fife. God took over her natural inclinations, transforming them from that day into friendship and a fife of prayer. Four years later she received an interior revelation that shaped the direction of her life. Jesus told her that she would be a Carmelite and that holiness must be her goal.
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 9 days, continually renewing it from then on.
The holiness of her life shone out in the everyday occurrences, wherever she found herself: at home, in college, with friends, the people she stayed with on holidays. To all, with apostolic zeal, she spoke of God and gave assistance. She was young like her friends, but they knew she was different. They took her as a model, seeking her support and advice.
She was cheerful, happy, sympathetic, attractive, communicative and involved in sport. During her adolescence she reached perfect psychic and spiritual equilibrium. These were the fruit of her asceticism and prayer. Her life as a nun, from 7 May 1919, was the last rung on the ladder to holiness. Only eleven months were necessary to bring to an end the process of making her life totally Christ-like.
Her community was quick to discover the hand of God in her 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. 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.
Today thousands of people venerate her remains in the Sanctuary of Auco-Rinconada of Los Andes, and seek her guidance, light and a direct way to God.
You have been listening to INSPIRING LIVES, a weekly series based on the lives of Catholic Saints from around the world, brought to you by Vatican Radio’s English Service for South Asia.
By P.J. Joseph SJ
FRIDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2014