Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Model of the Gospel's Perennial Youth"

Juana Enriqueta Josefina de los Sagrados Corazones Fernandez Solar, "Juanita" to her family and friends, was born to Lucía Solar Armstrong and Miguel Fernández Jaraquemada, wealthy aristocrats, in Santiago, Chile, on July 13, 1900, the third daughter of a family of seven children. Juana was drawn to God early on, around the age of 6, according to her diary: "when Jesus began to take my heart to be His own". She was no "saint" personality-wise at first, displaying evidence of pride, vanity, self-centeredness, and stubbornness, some of it influenced by her many illnesses.  She notes in her diary, which she kept until November, 1919: “God alone knows what it cost me to overcome this pride or vanity that took possession of my heart as I grew older. My character was timid, my heart sensitive…but my disposition was extremely gentle; I never used to get mad at anyone”, although she was quite aware of her fierce temper and predisposition to anger. In time, by God's grace, she developed a remarkable determination to overcome these shortcomings.
Juana was educated under the supervision of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. She was confirmed in 1909 and received First Communion the next year.  With a child's comprehension of what it meant for God to dwell in her, she worked for a whole year to prepare herself for this important day in her life, September 11, 1910, “the centenary year of my country.” That very day, she notes, she "experienced His dear voice for the first time... Since that first embrace, Jesus did not let me go but took me for Himself."
Nevertheless, Juanita, coming as she did from a large family, joined in normal activities similar to any child growing up: games of hide-and-seek and catch-the-flag, kite-flying, swimming, horseback riding, even referring in her diary to a “flirtation”, though not a serious one, with a boy. She speaks, in her diary, of the challenges of adolescence: “October 3. [1917] I don’t know what to do with regard to mortifications, since the priest told me I shouldn’t do any, but I’ve such an unusual craving to eat caramels. Today I had such hunger that I ate all those I could and the ones that tasted best. It pains me to see that this is the way I am. Truly I don’t know what to do…” When she was 18 she wrote about her emotions and even depression: “April 10. I’m in a terrible state... Angry. With desires to be mischievous. Mad at the nuns. Without taste for prayer, because I encounter dryness in it. I feel despondent...And Jesus told me today that it was because I was attached to creatures. I want to be loved by them. I cry because I don’t know what is happening to me and I have no one to counsel me or help me. Mother Izquierdo was angry and that is tormenting me…
Juana felt called, as early as age 14, to devote her life to God as a Carmelite. She had read the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux [herself canonized a saint five years after Juana’s death] that year, and continued reading the works of the great Carmelites: Teresa of Avila, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and even some of John of the Cross. The next year, 1915, she took a vow of virginity for 9 days, with her confessor's permission, renewing it periodically as he deemed it appropriate. She shared her determination to become a Carmelite with her younger sister, Rebecca, who, after Juana’s death, also followed Juana into the Los Andes Carmel, in November, 1920. In the fall of 1917 Juana wrote to Mother Angelica, Prioress of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Spirit in the town of Los Andes (Santa Rosa de Los Andes), expressing her desire to become a Carmelite, and again in the fall of 1918, asking to be admitted. 
The Prioress concurred, and Juana’s mother accompanied her on the morning express train to the Monastery on January 11, 1919. The admiration between Juana and the Carmelite community was mutual. At the end of March Juana wrote to her father, who was away, asking his permission to enter the Carmelites. She anguished over it, but was relieved when her mother received a note from Don Miguel, hinting that, though he wasn't opposed to it, he wanted to give it further thought. Three days later, he gave his permission despite his misgivings about the choice. 
On May 7, 1919, Juana entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Spirit at Los Andes as a postulant, taking the name Teresa of Jesus. On May 14, 1919 she wrote: "...I’m now in Carmel 8 days. Eight days of heaven. I feel divine love in such a way that there are moments when I believe I'm unable to endure it. I want to be a pure host and continually sacrifice myself for priests and sinners." That inner happiness continued until her premature death. Her wish to "sacrifice myself" was certainly answered in the short time she remained alive, for she underwent immense suffering, not only physically, but interiorly: homesickness; worry for her family, especially her brother, Miguel; doubts concerning faith; spiritual dryness, etc.  She was clothed in the Carmelite habit on October 14, receiving the white veil [see left photo above], and began her novitiate.  
Already at the beginning of 1920, Teresa fell ill with typhoid fever.  Early in March she predicted to her confessor, Fr. Avertano, that she would die within a month. On Holy Thursday, April 1, and most of Good Friday, April 2, she participated in choir, but because of a high fever she was sent to bed by the Novice Mistress. Her condition worsened over the next four days. Her mother arrived, and Teresa was given the Last Rites on April 6, and received Communion for the last time on April 7. With death imminent, Teresa was dispensed from the remaining time of her canonical novitiate and allowed to make her vows as a Carmelite the same day. [Note: Teresa didn’t actually receive the dark veil, though she’s wearing one in the right photo above. At that time it was customary to have photographs taken before a woman entered the monastery, since photographic equipment wasn’t allowed in the monastery. One copy of the photos was sent to the monastery, and one copy was sent to the woman’s family as a memento. The habit which Teresa is wearing was borrowed from Sister Carmel of St. Francis Xavier, OCD, a nun at the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph, in Santiago.] Five days later, on April 12, she died, three months shy of her 20th birthday. Her funeral and initial burial in the monastery cemetery took place two days later, April 14.
In March, 1986, two years after her last sibling, Luis, died, Teresa was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II. In April, 1987 he declared her Blessed, and on March 21, 1993 he canonized Blessed Teresita, as the people of her country affectionately refer to her, a Saint of the Church. Teresa is the first Chilean to be declared a saint, as well as the first Discalced Carmelite nun outside the boundaries of Europe to be named a saint. She is the fifth saint in the Carmelite Order with the name “Teresa”, along with Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and Teresa Margaret of Florence). 
The present Sanctuary of Santa Teresa de Los Andes is located near the city of Los Andes in the area of Auco, from where you can see the whole Valley of Los Andes. Every year in October there is a traditional pilgrimage, attended by more than 160,000 people who come to venerate the Chilean saint. The trip is a long, hard walk of some 27 km, from the old Chacabuco ranch, which once belonged to Teresa’s grandfather, to the Sanctuary of Santa Teresa, during which the pilgrims pray, sing and dance. The Cathedral is dedicated to La Virgen del Carmen, and in the Crypt lie the remains of St. Teresa de Los Andes. The new Convent of the Discalced Carmelite Sisters, which was moved from Los Andes, is nearby. This great spiritual center, through the simplicity of its buildings and the natural beauty of the place, reflects the virtues of Teresa of Los Andes: simplicity, humility, happiness and peace.
St. Teresa of the Andes possessed an enormous capacity to love and to be loved, joined with extraordinary intelligence. God allowed her to experience his presence. Knowing him, she loved him; and loving him, she bound herself totally to him, even in the midst of many interior trials. The Church holds her up as a preeminent model for children and young adults, particularly women: a real person to whom they can relate. 

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