On his recent visit to Madagascar, Pope Francis – the
world second largest island country, off the coast of East Africa – on Saturday
September 7th, during midday prayer, in the monastery of our Sisters in Antananarivo, he gave a
spontaneous speech to the Sisters which is a REAL GEM.
“You will be given
a copy of the text I prepared, so that you can read and ponder it quietly. But
right now I would like to speak to you from the heart.
The reading from the First Book of Kings (2:2b-3) was addressed to Joshua. It begins with an appeal to be
courageous: “Be strong and show yourself a man!” Courageous. To follow the
Lord, we always need courage, a bit of courage. It is true that the Lord does
the heavy work, yet courage is required to let him do it.
something that has helped me greatly in my life as a priest and as a bishop.
Late one evening, two nuns, one very young and the other very old, were walking
from the chapel, where they had just prayed vespers, towards the refectory. The
old nun had difficulty walking and the young nun tried to help her, but the old
nun was irritable.
She said: “Don’t
touch me! Don’t make me fall!” God knows, maybe sickness made the old nun a bit
irascible. Smiling, the young nun accompanied her. Eventually they arrived in
the refectory and the young nun tried to help her sit down, and the old nun
said: “Stop it, you’re hurting me, you’re hurting me here…”, but in the end,
she sat down. A young person experiencing all this surely would have loved to
send her packing! But that young woman smiled, took a piece of bread, prepared
it and gave it to her. This is not some edifying story; it happened. The old
nun was called Sister Saint Pierre, and the young nun, Sister
Therese of the Child Jesus.
A true story, and
one that gives us a glimpse into community life; it shows the spirit with which
one can live in community. Charity in little things and in big things. That
young woman could have thought, “Tomorrow I will go to the Prioress and ask if
she could send someone stronger to help this old woman because I can’t do it”.
But she didn’t think like that. She believed in obedience: “I have been given
this job and in obedience I will do it”.
With the strength
born of obedience, she did this work with exquisite charity. I know that all of
you, cloistered nuns, have come here to be close to the Lord, to seek the way
of perfection; but the way of perfection can be found in these small steps
along the path of obedience. Small steps of charity and love. Small steps that
look like nothing, yet small steps that attract, that “seduce” God; little
threads that “disarm” God. This young woman was thinking about the thread with
which she can disarm God; she was thinking about the cords – the cords of love
– which are the small acts of charity. Small, very small, because our little
soul cannot do great things.
Be strong! Have
the courage to take little steps, the courage to believe that your littleness
makes God happy and brings salvation to the world. – “No, but I think religious
life should be changed, it should be made more perfect and more divine, and for
this I want to become a Prioress, a Superior, in order to bring about the
change!” I’m not saying that some of you think like this… But the devil
instils these thoughts. If you want to transform and save the world with Jesus
– and not just the monastery and religious life – it begins with these little
acts of love and self-sacrifice, which “trap” God and bring him close to us.
Let’s go back to
the story of the young nun and the old nun. One of those nights, before dinner,
while they were going from the chapel to the refectory – they used to leave the
chapel ten minutes early, to walk slowly to the refectory – Therese heard the
sound of music from outside the convent, the sound of a party and dancing…
And she imagined a party where young men and women were dancing, a nice family
party, like a wedding or a birthday. She thought about the music and everything
else, and she felt something inside. Maybe she felt: “It would be nice to be
there”. I don’t know. But immediately, and firmly, she said to the Lord that
she would never, ever trade any of her kindnesses to the old nun for that worldly party.
Those kindnesses made her happier than all the dances in the world.
surely approach you in many hidden guises. Together with your Prioress and the
monastic community, learn how to discern the voices of worldliness, so that
they don’t make their way into the cloister. Worldliness is not like a
cloistered nun; rather, it is like a goat that wanders in and leads you away
from the cloister… When thoughts of worldliness come to you, close the door
and think of small acts of love: these are what save the world. Therese chose
to take care of the old nun and to keep moving ahead.
What I’m going to
tell you now is not to frighten you, but it is a reality. Jesus himself said
it, so allow me to say it too. To enter the monastery, each of you had to
fight; you did so many good things and you conquered the worldly spirit, sin,
and the devil. Perhaps, on the day you entered the monastery, the devil stopped
at the monastery door, dejected, and said: “I have lost a soul”, and then left.
But then he went and sought the advice of another devil, one older and more
astute, who surely told him: “Just be patient, wait…” This is the devil’s
typical way of acting. Jesus says so. When a devil loses a soul, he leaves and
comes back later and sees that beautiful, orderly and wonderful soul, and he
wants to return to it.
What does Jesus
tell us? That devil then goes and looks for seven others worse than he is and
comes back with them to enter the orderly house.
But they don’t
enter loudly, like thieves; they enter politely. These “polite” devils ring the
bell and say: “May I come in? Could
you help me with this or that?” Then they are allowed in. They are po- lite
devils, they come into the house, settle in and then, Jesus says, the end of
that man or woman is worse than the beginning. – But didn’t you realize that
this was an evil spirit? – “No, he was so polite, so nice! And now, no, I’m
going home because I can’t take it any more”. Now it’s too late; you let him
enter too deeply into your heart. Didn’t you realize, couldn’t you have talked
to the Prioress, couldn’t you have talked with the Superior or with some of the
Sisters in the community?
The tempter does
not want to be discovered; that is why he disguises himself as a noble,
educated person, and even at times as a spiritual father… Please, Sister,
when you feel something strange, talk right away! Speak up! Make it known. If
Eve had spoken up in time, if she had gone to the Lord to tell him: “This snake
is telling me such and such; what do you think?” If only she had spoken up on
time! But Eve did not speak up, and then disaster struck. So this is my advice:
when there is some- thing that troubles your tranquility, speak up immediately,
speak on time. I do not say your peace, but even before peace, your tranquility.
This is the help, the defense you have in community, that each of you helps the
other to form a united front, to defend holiness, to de- fend the glory of God,
to defend love, to defend the monastery.
feel well protected from spiritual worldliness and from the devil because we
have double grill and a curtain!” The double grill and the curtain are not
enough. You could have hundreds of curtains! Charity and prayer are required.
The charity needed to ask in time for advice from the Sisters and from the
Prioress. But also say a prayer to the Lord: “Lord, is it real, what I am
feeling; what the serpent is telling me, is it true?” The young Therese, as
soon as she felt something inside, spoke about it with her Prioress, the
Prioress, who didn’t like her! – “But how can I go to the Prioress if she
snarls at me every time I go to her!” Yes, but the Prioress is Jesus. – “But,
Father, the Prioress is not a good person, she’s bad”. Let the Lord decide
that; for you, the Prioress is Jesus. – “But the Prioress is a bit old, things
are not working well…”. Let the chapter decide; if you want to bring this
forward, say it at the chap- ter, but you have to report to the Prioress,
because she is Jesus. There should always be transparency of the heart! You
always win by speaking up.
So then, Therese,
who knew that the Prioress did not like her that much, would go to her anyway.
Well, we have to realize that not all Prioresses get the Nobel Prize for
sympathy! But they are Jesus. The path of obedience is one that submits you to
love, that makes us sub- missive to love.
Then, Therese got sick. She fell ill
and little by little she thought she was losing her faith. The poor thing, who
in her life knew how to deal with the “polite” devils, was, at the time of her
death, at a loss; she couldn’t cope with the devil that was besetting her. She
would say: “I can see him circling around me”. The darkness of the last days
and months of life. When it comes to temptation and spiritual warfare, charity
does not go into retirement: you have to keep fighting to the end, to the very
Even when you are
surrounded by darkness. Therese thought she had lost her faith! So she called
for the nuns to sprinkle holy water on her bed and to bring blessed candles…
In the monastery, the battle continues to the end. But it is a beautiful battle,
for in this cruel but magnificent battle, when it is real, peace is never lost.
I’m sure you are
going say: “This Pope is a bit ‘folksy’; instead of talking theology, he talked
to us like children. Would that you were all children, at least in spirit. With
that aspect of being a child that the Lord loves so dearly!
I would like to
finish the story of Therese and that old woman. That same Therese now
accompanies an old man. I would like to give a testimony about this, because
she has accompanied me at every step of the way. She taught me how to walk.
Sometimes I am a little
irritable and I send her away, as Mother Saint Pierre did. Sometimes I listen
to her; sometimes my troubles keep me from listening carefully… But she is a
faithful friend. That is why I didn’t want to talk to you in the abstract; I
wanted to share with you my experience with a saint, and in doing so, to tell
you about what a saint can do and about the path to becoming saints.