“Spare Me from a Faith that is Lukewarm!”
During the visit of the Holy Father to the United States, one of the groups he mentioned with gratitude on a number of occasions was American women religious. Among them is the community of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It was a privilege to go with him to visit the Little Sisters at the Jeanne Jugan residence near The Catholic University of America. He not only offered his thanks for their work, but he shared words of encouragement for them to be witness to the world of the beauty and fruitfulness of a life of prayer and service.
Then in New York, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to all women in consecrated life in these words: “I would like to express my esteem and my gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say ‘thank you,’ a big thank you . . . and to tell you that I love you very much” (Address at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, September 24, 2015).
Our Holy Father’s words come to mind especially today as the Church celebrates the feast of the Carmelite sister and Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Teresa of Avila and 45th anniversary of Pope Paul VI naming her a Doctor of the Church.
Teresa’s passion for Our Lord, her plea that she be saved from a faith that is lukewarm echoes the gift that the witness of consecrated women have been in the life of the Church. For so many of us, their witness and their joy helped nourish the seeds of our faith in the classroom, during a hospital stay and in innumerable parish ministries.
The ministry of consecrated life rooted in the communal life of prayer is a witness to us all of the contemplative nature of the Christian life. All of us are called to be people rooted in the prayer and worship of the Church. Pope Paul VI, in his address conferring the title of doctor on Teresa of Avila, pointed to the importance of her teaching on prayer and the witness of consecrated life to the beauty of contemplative prayer.
Throughout the Church we are also celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life, so this day is also an opportunity to thank God for the enormous contribution of all women religious to the life of the Church here in the Archdiocese of Washington and across the globe. In a special way today, we celebrate as well the Carmelite Sisters in Port Tobacco, Maryland, sisters of Saint Teresa who in a very dedicated way bring the needs of the archdiocese to prayer and reveal to us the gifts of contemplative prayer, and the gift of the Poor Clare Sisters and their ministry of Perpetual Adoration in the District.
Pope Paul VI reminds us in the witness of Saint Teresa, and of all sisters who live the contemplative life, that contemplation is part of all of the baptized life. The witness of Saint Teresa of Avila “comes to us just when we are tempted by the great notice and the great business of the world outside to yield to the frenzy of modern life and to lose the real treasures of our souls in the effort to win the seductive treasures of the earth. It comes to us children of our own time, when we are losing not only the habit of conversing with God but also the sense of the need and duty to worship and call on him” (Sunday Angelus, September 27, 1970).
With the example of Teresa of Avila to guide us, let us be evangelizers who live our faith fully and passionately in a way we bear public witness to the coming of the kingdom that will bring about the full glory and completion of the Church.