To the Discalced Carmelite Nuns Upon the Approval of Their Fundamental Legislation
Beloved daughters of Saint Teresa of Jesus:
It gives me pleasure to address all of you during this year in which the Church celebrates the 4th Centenary of the death of Saint John of the Cross. This is a time of special grace for the whole family of Carmel. For those who approach him as Father and Teacher of the Teresian Reform, this is a time that allows them to renew a living contact with the person and writings of the Mystical Doctor.
Throughout my pontificate, I have taken the opportunity to show my affection for all the Discalced Carmelite Nuns and to highlight the importance of their charism, whether it were in visiting certain monasteries, or in beatifying those outstanding Sisters of yours, whom the Lord has granted me to elevate to the honors of the altar. Among those who spring to mind are the Blesseds: Mary of Jesus Crucified, Elizabeth of the Trinity; the Martyrs of Guadalajara – Maria Pilar, Teresa, and Maria Angeles; Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and Teresa of Jesus (of the Andes). By these beatifications, I have sought to present to the whole Church, the witness of your contemplative life, and to place before your eyes examples of sanctity that can guide your steps in this hour of history.
Moreover, in various circumstances, particularly on the occasion of the 4th Centenary celebration of the saintly death of your Founder, St. Teresa of Jesus, I have taken the opportunity to reaffirm my thoughts upon your way of contemplative life. This can be seen in a special way in my letter of 31 May 1982. In it I reiterated my delight in all that has about it the silent manner, working in favor of the Church – “its bishops, priests and missionaries, of whom you are hidden helpers, silent but necessary.” At the same time, I strongly urged you to live every moment of your vocation with the greatest generosity, in prayer and penance, in the silence of the cloister, under the maternal protection and example of the Virgin Mary, Mother and Patron of Carmel (cf. AAS 74, 1982, pp. 836-841).
Recently, in my Apostolic Letter Maestro en la fe (14 December 1990), issued for the 4th Centenary celebration of the death of Saint John of the Cross, I urged you to orientate your life towards acquiring the “pure love” of intimacy with God. According to the Mystical Doctor, it is that precious good, which from the midst of contemplative solitude, sparks life to the mission of the Church (cf. no. 20 and the Spiritual Canticle, strophe 29, nos. 2-3).
Now I address with affection, all the Discalced Carmelite Nuns on the occasion of the approval of a new text of Constitutions. Conscious of the great importance of your specific vocation, both for the family of Carmel and for the whole Church, the Holy See has submitted your legislation to a special discernment, in order to safeguard the spiritual heritage of Saint Teresa. Thus is brought to conclusion a long process by the Holy See.
As is known, the Holy See, in replying to a petition of a group of monasteries, approved on 8 December 1990, a text of the Constitutions for the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. These were prepared according to the guidelines indicated in the Letter written in my name by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Agostino Casaroli, on 15 October 1984. These gave liberty to other monasteries of the Order who wanted to adopt them as a way of life.
Taking into account the desires of the remaining monasteries, the same Holy See, has approved as well, another text of Constitutions for the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. The Congregation for the Institute of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life has prepared this text, taking into account the opinions of the monasteries, united under the Superior General of the Order.
Both texts, equally approved by the Church, seek to be faithful interpretations of the Teresian charism. This remains unaltered, as well as the style of life proposed by the Holy Mother St. Teresa in her Constitutions and other writings. The differences do not refer therefore, either to the substance of the Teresian Carmelite contemplative charism, or to the necessary and constant return to the primitive inspiration. They correspond rather to the diverse modalities of interpreting adaptation to the changed conditions of the times, (cf. Perfectae caritatis no.2), and formulation of legislation for religious institutes, the approbation of which is the exclusive competence of the Holy See. We are dealing with different appreciations that are born from the same wish to be faithful to the Lord, which the Holy See has sought to respect. In the same way it respects the liberty of each monastery to opt for one or the other of the approved constitutional texts.
In this particular moment of your history and legislation, permit me to manifest to you a desire that lies in the heart of the Father and Pastor of the universal Church. I desire that the approbation of the two texts of the Constitutions, by which I have tried to respond to the express desires of the different monasteries, keep alive the spiritual unity of all the Teresian Carmel, in the midst of its legitimate historical traditions, and the new circumstances, places and cultures, in which it embodies its charism.
All of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns joined with the Discalced Carmelite Friars, form in the Church the one and same Order of the Discalced Brothers and Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. All hold common the same Rule, the same Teresian Carmelite charism, and the same spiritual patrimony, transmitted by the Holy Parents Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross. All together invoke as Mother, the Virgin Mary who, as is well expressed in the iconography of the Order, shelters under her mantle, one side and the other, the sons and daughters of Carmel.
Moreover, you all participate, each following their own and legitimate forms of life approved by the Church, in the same spirituality and mission of the Teresian Carmel, which today enjoys such appreciation in the Church. This charism radiates out to other forms of consecrated life, and to groups of Christian laity who live this charism in the world. You hold before you this luminous band of saints, that gives honor to the great Carmelite family and spurs you on in the climb to the top of the holy mountain of Carmel. Because of this, an intense mutual love must unite you in your vocation. The words of Saint Teresa to the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Seville, must be applied to all the members of the Order: “So my daughters, all of you are daughters of the Virgin and sisters. Try to love one another a lot.” (Letter, 13 January 1580, par. 5).
In the same spirit of unity and communion, I exhort the Discalced Carmelites to aspire with all their mind, strength and heart, to this plenitude of the spiritual life which shines in the Saints of the Order. Their heavenly prayers for this grace for all of you begins to have effect in the effort that all the Teresian Carmel has made in the last decades, to know, deepen and transmit its own spirituality within the Church.
Moreover, I cannot fail to allude to the service which the Superior General ought to offer to all the monasteries of the Order, be it directly or through means of his collaborators. We mean a service, generous and disinterested, inspired by communion in the same spirit. The Superiors ought to promote this in order to help the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, according to the desires of Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus, in the fulfillment of their vocation. There must be respect always for the autonomy of the monasteries that their own legislation grants them.
Dear daughters of Saint Teresa, I exhort all of you to persevere with “a great and very resolute determination” (cf. Way of Perfection, 21,12) in the faithful fulfillment of your law which the Church offers to you as a rule of evangelical life and a way of sanctity. This is reached through complete gift of self to Christ, the Crucified and Risen Spouse, on Whom you ought to hold your eyes fixed always, according to the constant exhortation of your Mother Foundress (cf. Way of Perfection 2:1; 26:4-6; Interior Castle VII, 4,8).
Your monasteries are spread throughout the world like oases of prayer and of special consecration to God in the silence of the cloister. There are new nations that hope for the presence of the contemplative life, as I recalled in the Encyclical Redemptoris missio (no. 69, a). Give testimony to the beauty and missionary fruitfulness of your hidden life with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3). Show the value of prayer of intercession and of silent immolation before the Eucharist, center of the universal Church and of the individual Churches, in order to be, as St. Therese of Lisieux so ardently desired – love in the heart of the Mystical Body. Continue offering to the Christian community this example of straightforward and joyful shared life, which is proverbial amongst the daughters of Saint Teresa.
The Church has a need of your contemplative charism, in the task of the New Evangelization, and in facing the immense spiritual and material needs of humanity. At this magnificent and crucial point in history, the desires of Saint Teresa on beginning her Reform, ring out as pressing and timely. She urged them to live contemplation in service of the Kingdom of Christ: “This is why He gathered you here. This is your vocation. These must be the business matters you’re engaged in. These must be the objects of your petitions.” (Way of Perfection 1:5; 3:5,10). You are “the vanguard of the Church marching toward the Kingdom” (Allocution to the enclosed Nuns in Avila, 1 November 1982, 5), as well as witnesses to the living God for the world of today.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. I ask her intercession, while entrusting to the Virgin Mary, Mother of Carmel, the spiritual unity of the Order, and your fidelity to your vocation. With all my heart I impart to all the Discalced Carmelite Nuns a special Apostolic Blessing.
The Vatican, 1 October 1991, the feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, the thirteenth year of my pontificate. Signed: Pope John Paul II