Celebrating the Foundress of Discalced Carmelites, St Teresa of Avila

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Celebration at Miri Carmel of the
5th Centenary of the birth of St Teresa of Jesus
1515 – 28th March – 2015

“I was born for You Lord, what do You want of me?” – St Teresa

The whole of the Carmelite family all over the world had been preparing for the celebration of the 5th Centenary of the birth of our Foundress St Teresa of Jesus or commonly known as St Teresa of Avila. She was born in Avila, Spain, on 28 March 1515. With the wise guidance of our Father General and his collaborators, we began in 2011. Each Carmelite community was encouraged to study all the four books written by our holy Mother St Teresa, with the sole aim of deepening our appreciation and knowledge of her works. Thus in 2011, we studied the “Way of Perfection”, in 2012, “Life”, in 2013, “Foundation” then in 2014 the “Interior Castle”. And this year, 2015, we studied her other works such as her letters.

Themed “I was born for You, Lord, what do You want of me?” this celebration of the 5th centenary of St Teresa’s birth, seeks to rediscover and appreciate the depth of her dependence on God and her total trust in Him, come what may. This theme was actually taken from one of her many poems, entitled “In the Hands of God” or more commonly known as “I was born for you.” Throughout the poem’s 12 stanzas St Teresa sings of her purpose in life like one in love, like one who lives on the will of another. The entire lyric is both a prayer and a poignant meditation on her complete surrender to God: Since God is all things to her, she will be all things for Him. Whether He gives dryness or consolation in the Saint’s prayer, whether He wills her to be at rest or to “die working,” whether He grants light or darkness, she is prepared to accept all from her “sweet Spouse.” Only one who knows why she’s been born can speak so, and mean it. Inspired by this poem, our Sr Sheila composed a song based on it, and it became the theme song of our celebration here.

Officially, the centenary year began on 15 October 2014, and continued through 15 October 2015. During this year our Carmelite Order moved from a more internal to a more public celebration of her life and teaching. Thus, we, the Carmelite Sisters and our OCDS (the secular Carmelite brothers and sisters) of Miri began our celebration with a Triduum. Rev Fr Jeffrey Athanasius, a Carmelite priest from Singapore came to give some talks on our holy Mother St Teresa. This enabled us to share her legacy with our brothers and sisters in Miri Diocese. During his talks, Fr Jeffrey emphasized that her legacy was not only for the Carmelite family but for the whole Church and that the life and works of St Teresa can only be best understood within and in relation to the Church.

On the first night, Fr Jeffery spoke on St Teresa and the Church. Perhaps one of the most outstanding virtues of St Teresa is her great love for the Church. Though she lived in a cloister, the missionary works of the Church was one of her main concerns. Thus, much of her prayers and sacrifices were dedicated to this cause. In order to ensure that her prayers were effective, she did her very best to live out the evangelical counsels and be the best friend of Jesus. Her exclamation at her death bed, “At last, I am happy to die as a daughter of the Church,” speaks volumes of her great love and sacrifices for the Church.

On the second night, Fr Jeffery touched on St Teresa and the Scriptures. He highlighted the fact that during St Teresa’s time, the Bible was not readily available to everyone and was written in Latin, a language she did not know. Nevertheless, no obstacles would stop this saint from her thirst for the Word of God. The many sermons that she had heard and the many books that she had read provided her with the scriptural knowledge that nourished her spiritual life and which eventually found their way into her many writings.

On the final night of the Triduum, the audience was enlightened on St Teresa and the Mass. According to Fr Jeffery, she received most of her mystical graces in the Mass especially during Holy Communion. One of it was the grace of becoming the Foundress of the Reformed Carmel. Fr Jeffrey pointed out that St Teresa would make full use of the time of thanksgiving after communion to thank and converse with God because, according to her, God gave her great graces at that time. Thus the audience was challenged to do the same.

The long awaited 15 October finally arrived. In order to create an ambiance suitable to our celebration, a life-sized statue of St Teresa was placed near the entrance of our Chapel for the veneration of the faithful. The highlight of the event was a solemn Mass at 5.30 that evening which was presided over by our dear Bishop, Rt Rev Richard Ng and concelebrated by seven priests. During the Mass we were privileged to witness the Solemn Profession of Sr Marie Pauline of the Sacred Heart, who entered this monastery on 5 March 2011. At the end of the Mass the faithful and clergy were treated to a double-celebration dinner at our chapel’s compound.

For us, Carmelites, this celebration has been a fruitful one as the theme, “I was born for You Lord, what do You want of me?” has helped enkindle in our hearts a greater love for Our Holy Mother St Teresa and it has also challenged us to ask the same question, “I was born for You Lord, What do You want of me?” Although St Teresa lists many possibilities of what God may ask of her, St Teresa’s purpose in life is to do one thing, which in practice is many things: the will of God. Thus, as we remember our Foundress’s birth, we pray, above all else, for a rebirth or reinvigoration of her spirit and teaching among us who would call ourselves her sons and daughters.

Sr Mary Philomena , OCD
Carmelite Monastery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Miri, Sarawak

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