What does holiness look like?
Throughout the life of the Church, holiness has shone through the face of young people like St. Teresa of Los Andes, whose short life reflected the great joy that is the fruit of a heart given to God.
St. Teresa was baptized Juana Enriqueta Josefina Fernandez Solar on July 13, 1900, in Santiago, Chile. She grew up in a loving, faith-filled family, with her parents, two sisters and three brothers, surrounded also by her great-grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins. Those who knew her well called her Juanita.
In her diary, Juanita revealed that by the age of six she was already feeling called by God. She wrote, “It was shortly after the 1906 earthquake that Jesus began to claim my heart for himself.”
A year later, Juanita entered Sacred Heart School in Santiago, a school run by the Sisters of Sacred Heart of St. Madeleine-Sophie Barat. She desired to make her First Communion but was told she was too young. For a year, Juanita prepared herself through prayer and little sacrifices to Jesus, and then through Confession.
She wrote, “During that time the Virgin helped me to purify my heart from all imperfections.” Finally, after much insistence on her part, she was allowed to receive the Sacrament.
Juanita knew that she had some undesirable traits. She was proud, conceited, stubborn and angered easily. But she had a great desire for God, and as she matured and the grace of God worked in her heart, she developed self-discipline and made a conscious effort to overcome these traits, supported especially by her daily reception of Holy Communion.
Soon afterward, Juanita read and was greatly impacted by “The Story of a Soul,” the autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun known as The Little Flower. While recovering from appendicitis surgery, and suffering with bad health, Juanita heard a call from Christ to give herself to him and enter the Carmelite convent.
During the next few years, before getting permission to enter Carmel de Los Andes from her father, Juanita lived among her loved ones, encouraging them in their relationship with Jesus and Mary.
One writer says, “While having a very intense spiritual life, Juanita lives as a young girl of her time. She likes to be with her family and friends. She enjoys sport very much, especially swimming and tennis which she discovers with enthusiasm. She enjoys the beauty of the sea and of the mountains. . . She has a very deep contemplation of the mystery of God in silent prayer. . . Though she suffers often because of her poor health and of spiritual purifications in her heart coming from God’s grace, Juanita is joyful and likes to joke.”
Juanita’s letter to her father seeking permission to enter the convent revealed to him that since her childhood she understood that only God could make her completely happy forever, and that she wished to belong to him totally in a life dedicated to prayer and penance.
Juanita would find that life after entering the monastery May 7, 1919, and receiving the name Teresa de Jesús. She was 19 years old.
The convent offered the simple lifestyle Teresa desired and the joy of living in a community of women completely devoted to God. Toward the end of her short life, Teresa began an apostolate of letter-writing, sharing her thoughts on the spiritual life with many people.
At one point, Teresa shared with her confessor that she would die within the month. Soon after, she was diagnosed with a severe case of typhus. As a novice in danger of death, she was allowed to take her final vows, which she did with great joy though suffering greatly. She died a short time later, during Holy Week.
Teresa had accepted all this with happiness, serenity and confidence, certain that her mission to make God known and loved would continue in eternity.
Teresa was right. From the moment of her death, hundreds of pilgrims came to the convent to venerate the young girl whose holiness was known even to those who had never met her. Devotion to her grew as more and more people reported graces from her intercessions.
Teresa was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1993, and is Chile’s first saint. Some 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes each year.
St. Teresa of the Andes is the patron saint of young people and an important model for them, giving witness to the understanding that true happiness lies in God, who is infinite joy. Teresa was known for the infectious joy of God in her heart that radiated in her face and in her many letters.
St. Teresa’s story is proof that sanctity does not require a long life or an early death – only a life, whatever its length, lived with and for the Lord. For young people in today’s world, St. Teresa of Los Andes shows them that saints can and do look like them. St. Teresa of Los Andes, pray for the youth of our Diocese and inspire them, like you, to love the Lord.
References: Teresadelosandes.org; kilmacudcarmel.ie/teresaandes.html; vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19930321_teresa-de-jesus_en.html