Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph
November 28, 2016
[Wisdom 3:1-6, 9; Romans 14: 7-9, 10b-12; John 14: 1-6]
Long ago, St. Teresa of Avila, also known as St Teresa of Jesus, wrote a poem of extraordinary beauty and astonishing depth. In rough English translation it runs as follows: "Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you; all things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. The one who has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices."
In the midst of life's many challenges and difficulties, worry and anxiety are constant temptations. St. Teresa, too, knew more than her fair share of troubles, especially as she went about the work of reforming her Carmelite order. Yet from the very midst of the hardships arose this poem expressive of deep peace: "Let nothing frighten you; patience obtains all things; God alone suffices."
Roughly five hundred years later, another Teresa of Jesus, affectionately known to us as Mother, was called by the Lord to the Carmelite life. As her life of obedience unfolded, she found herself charged not with the reform of the Order but with a responsibility that might well have seemed equally daunting: the uprooting from one country and the re-establishment in another of one of its Carmels. We can well imagine that the challenges and obstacles she faced as she moved an entire community of Sisters from Macau to Edmonton would have been formidable, to say the least. Yet what St. Teresa once wrote in poetry found a new expression in the steadfast and confident determination of Mother Teresa: "Let nothing frighten you; patience obtains all things; God alone suffices." This serene confidence marked her life. She was in no way naive; she looked upon life as it is, with full awareness of its difficulties and pain. Yet her equanimity did not waver, and I know that in the more than twenty years of her presence here at this Carmel she encouraged many people to be of the same mind and heart. "Let nothing frighten you."
In a society where God is increasingly eclipsed from both public discourse and private thought, such inner peace is inexplicable; people look on uncomprehending. Yet for people of faith, its wellspring is clear: we belong to the Lord. As St. Paul teaches, "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's." We belong to the Lord entirely. We are his children; he holds us in his hand and simply will not abandon us. God wills to provide us with all that we truly need. These words are true. As the Word of God they are entirely trustworthy. The more we allow ourselves to be seized by the truth of God's never-failing love and providence, the more there arises in our hearts a peace that is beyond the world's understanding and that no difficulty can shake. Not even the prospect of death.
The stark reality and seeming finality of death can instill fear and terror in the human heart. Even the disciples were afraid as Jesus approached his own death. In the Gospel passage for this morning, we hear Jesus summon his disciples to let their fear give way to faith. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." Then he goes on to explain that through his death he will accomplish the mission he received from the Father. "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" By his dying and rising Jesus has made death the gateway to eternal life for his faithful people. So, "let nothing trouble you;" not even death. It has been conquered by the death and resurrection of the Lord, to whom we belong, in whose hands we remain, and who wills us to be with him forever in the house of the Father. "God alone suffices;" in his presence, the Book of Wisdom tells us, the heart rests in deepest peace.
Now, we know from elsewhere in Sacred Scripture that, in the house of the Father, the great wedding feast of the Lamb has been prepared. Well, having personally feasted at the banquet prepared by Mother Teresa each time I was here as a guest, I know with certainty that if there is half as much food in heaven as there is in the dining room of this Carmel, no one there will go hungry. And neither shall we be hungry here, if we allow faith in God to be the ordering principle of our lives, just as it was for Mother. As the saint from whom she took her name once taught, nothing is lacking to the one who clings to God in faith and love.
The death of Mother Teresa marks the end of an era here in this Archdiocese, and especially in the life of this particular Carmel, and we cannot help but greet this moment with a degree of sadness. We loved her greatly. Yet the legacy of Mother Teresa, her bequest to us of deep faith and confident patience, inspires us with hope. We give profound thanks to God for the gift that she has been to the Carmel and to all of us, and now unite in offering the Eucharistic sacrifice for the eternal and joyful repose of her soul.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
November 28, 2016