The theme of the meditations that the Papal Household preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, gave to John Paul II and his aides in the Roman Curia this Advent was: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3): Reflections on Christian holiness in the light of the experience of Mother Teresa of Calcutta."

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, Brothers and Sisters:

The beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta last October 19 highlighted the fact that there is only one authentic greatness in the world: holiness. Looking at the multitude that filled every corner of St. Peter's Square and the Via della Conciliazione at the moment that the blessed's image was unveiled and the choir was singing the Alleluia, this truth was all together evident. What other person in the world has been so honored? Such a large crowd, which gathered spontaneously, without our being ordered to do so, as so often happens with totalitarian regimes, but simply out of admiration and love for the person.

It was a confirmation of the truth of Pascal's well-known thought. There are in the world three possible orders or levels of greatness: the order of bodies, in which wealthy people, extraordinarily beautiful people or those of an imposing physical presence stand out; the order of intelligence and genius, in which artists, writers and scientists are distinguished; and the order of holiness in which, after Christ, the Virgin and the saints are outstanding (Pensees 793Br.).

Almost an infinite distance, Pascal writes, separates the second order from the first, but an infinitely infinite distance separates the third from the second order, the order of holiness from that of genius. "One drop of holiness," musician Gounod said, "is worth more than an ocean of genius." The glory of holiness does not end with time, but lasts eternally. The theory of the saints, which we have before us in the facade of this chapel reminds us precisely of this, and accompanies us in this meditation, encouraging us to follow them.

In the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Holy Father says that holiness "is the perspective in which the whole pastoral endeavor of the Church should be situated." This holiness, he explains, is above all an objective that Christ has made possible for us with his redeeming death, and that we have received at baptism, but, he adds, "the gift is translated in turn into a "commitment" that must govern the whole of Christian life."1

On other occasions I have reflected on the holiness of Christ as a free gift to be appropriated through faith, effecting what I like to call the "coup of audacity" in the spiritual life; this time, in the wake of Mother Teresa, I would like to emphasize the holiness of Christ as a model to "imitate" in life.

To this end, a thought of Mother Teresa is quoted in the invitation card to these Advent homilies. It says: "Today the Church needs saints. This calls for our combating our attachment to comforts that lead us to choose a comfortable and insignificant mediocrity. Each one of us has the possibility to be a saint, and the way to holiness is prayer. Holiness is, for each of us, a simple duty."

At the source of holiness

In Mother Teresa's life we discover what is the initial act from which the daring enterprise of holiness stems, the "first stone" of the building. For our consolation, we discover that this act can occur at any age in life. In other words, it is never too late to begin to be saints. St. Teresa of Avila lived quite an ordinary life for many years, not without compromises, when the change took place that made of her what we know.

The same happened in the life of her namesake, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Until the age of 36 years, she was a religious of the Congregation of Loreto, certainly faithful to her vocation and dedicated to her work, but nothing led to foresee something extraordinary in her.

It was during a train trip from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual spiritual retreat that the event that changed her life occurred. God's mysterious voice addressed a clear invitation to her: Leave your order, your previous life, and put yourself at my disposition for a work that I will indicate to you. Among Mother Teresa's daughters, that day — September 10, 1946 — is remembered with the name of "day of inspiration."

Today, thanks to the documents that came to light during the process of beatification, we know the exact words Jesus said to her: "I want Indian religious, Missionaries of Charity, who will be my fire of love among the poorest, the sick, the dying, the children of the streets. I want you to bring me the poor. ... Will you refuse to do this for me? And also: There are convents with many religious who take care of rich and privileged people, but for my indigents there is absolutely none."

At that moment, the experience of Abraham was renewed in Mother Teresa's life, to whom one day God said: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). The "Go!" addressed to Abraham is different from the order given later to Lot to go from Sodom (see Genesis 19:15). Nothing shows that Ur of the Chaldeans had a particularly corrupt environment and that Abraham could not be saved by staying where he was. In his "Roman Triptych," the poetic text published this year, the Pope reflects on Abraham's probable sentiments before the divine proposal: "Why must I go from here? Why must I leave Ur of the Chaldeans?"2

We know that Mother Teresa asked herself the same questions. It was an interior laceration. She confided to Archbishop Perier: "I have been and continue to be very happy as a religious of Loreto, to leave what I love and expose myself to new hardships and sufferings which will be great." Turning to Jesus she said: "Why can't I be a perfect Loreto religious? ... Why can't I be like all the others? ... What you ask me is too great for me ... Look for a more worthy and generous soul."

Also repeated here is something constant in the Bible. Moses said: "I am not eloquent" (Exodus 10), and Jeremiah: "I am only a youth ..." (Jeremiah 1:6). But God knows how to distinguish when the objections of those he calls stem from a resistance of the will, or when they stem, instead, from fear of being deceived or of not being up to the mission. So he is not offended by their requests for explanations.

He was not surprised by Mary's question, "How shall this be?" while he reprimanded Zechariah and left him dumb for the same question (see Luke 1:18). Mary's question did not stem from doubt, but from the legitimate desire to know what she should do to accomplish what God was asking of her.

In the end, Mother Teresa, like Mary, said her full "fiat" to God, "yes." She said it with the deeds we know and she said it with joy. The Greek word translated into Latin as "fiat" is genoito. It is in the optative mood, not concessive as "fiat": It does not express simple assent or resignation to something occurring, as if saying: "If it cannot be done any other way, I agree, Fiat voluntas tua! " On the contrary, it expresses desire, impatience, joy to have something occur. This is why it is called the optative mood. "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7): a word that Mother Teresa never tired of stressing to her daughters but above all that she showed all her life with her smile.

2. The seed of the pomegranate

On this point, the fundamental act is clear, that "first stone" on which Mother Teresa's, and all Christian holiness, is founded: it is the response to a call, and obedience to a divine inspiration, discerned and recognized as such. Simone Weil, who was not a saint but absolutely admired holiness, spoke of the "consent that the soul gives in these moments to God, as something imperceptible, amid all the carnal inclinations, a miniscule seed of the pomegranate, which still decides its destiny for ever."3

All the great holy undertakings of the Bible and of the history of the Church hinge on a "yes" said to God at the moment he reveals his will personally to someone. From Abraham's faith-obedience, Scripture has the whole subsequent history of the Chosen People depend: "by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:18); from Mary's faith-obedience, God willed to have the beginning of the new and eternal covenant depend.

In his autobiographical book Gift and Mystery, the Holy Father, John Paul II, writes: "In the autumn of 1942 I made my 'final decision' to enter the seminary"4: the cursive in the text indicates many explanations that are not given, but are intuited. That decision was also preceded by a call; it was the decision to respond to an invitation, as every priestly vocation is. Now we know what God has built on that decision, on that "Here I am, I will go," pronounced long ago in 1942.

I can imagine the amazement and wonder of Mother Teresa at the end of her life when she recalled that train trip. What God was able to do with her little and long-suffering "Yes"! What a grandiose plan he already had in mind that she did not know! I cannot think of her soul at the end of her life without singing an amazed and overwhelmed: "Magnify my soul, Lord ... because the Almighty has done great things in me."

At the beginning of this year the Missionaries of Charity gave me the honor of preaching the Spiritual Exercises in preparation for the General Chapter held in Calcutta — in reality, they were the ones who preached Exercises to me with their extraordinary seriousness, poverty, and incessant prayer.

It seemed to me from the first moment that, from heaven, Mother Teresa was advising that the first Chapter held after her death should be the occasion for a moving choral Magnificat to God from her daughters for that which he did in her life and continues to do in theirs. I said this with simplicity to those present and, after the Chapter had closed, Sister Nirmala, the Mother General, confided that the General Chapter had been, above all, precisely this.

In the life of each one of us, as in Mother Teresa's life, there has been a call; otherwise we would not be here. Our "Yes" was, also, perhaps, a "Yes" in the dark, without knowing where it would lead us. Years later, we should not be afraid to acknowledge what God has been able to build on that little "Yes," despite our resistances and infidelities, and we, too, should intone a moving and grateful "Magnify my soul" to the Lord.

"Go Forth From Your Country ..., " Part 2

[Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, Brothers and Sisters ... ]

Good inspirations

But now we should recall that maxim of the ancients in regard to devotion to the saints: Imitari non pigeat quod celebrare delectat: we must not fail to imitate what we like to celebrate.5 Mother Teresa's case reminds us of something essential for our sanctification: the importance of obeying inspirations. This is not something to be practiced only once in life. God's first and decisive call is followed by many other discreet invitations that we call good inspirations. All our spiritual progress depends on our docility to these inspirations.

It is easy to understand why fidelity to inspirations is the shortest and surest way to holiness. This is not the work of man; it is not enough to have a very clear program of perfection to be able to carry it out gradually. There is no identical model of perfection for all. God does not make saints in series; he does not like cloning. Each saint is a new invention of the Spirit. God can ask of one saint the opposite of what he asks of another. To take examples close to our time: What do Escrivá de Balaguer and Mother Teresa have in common? Yet, for the Church, both are saints.

Therefore, we do not know from the beginning what, specifically, is the holiness God wills for each one of us: Only God knows it and he reveals it along the way. By doing so he avoids man's limiting himself to following general rules that are valid for all. He must understand what God is asking of him and only of him. Let us think what would have happened if Joseph of Nazareth had limited himself to following faithfully the then known rules of holiness, or if Mother Teresa had obstinately observed the canonical rules in force in religious institutes.

What God wants from each one in particular is discovered through the events of life, the word of Scripture, the advice of a spiritual director; but the principal and common means is, precisely, the inspirations of grace. These are the interior requests of the Spirit in the depth of the heart through which God not only makes known what he is asking, but at the same time communicates the necessary strength to realize it if the person accepts.

Good inspirations have something in common with biblical inspiration, leaving to one side, of course, the authority and extent which are essentially different. "God said to Abraham ...", "God spoke to Moses": this speaking of the Lord was not, from the point of view of phenomenology, different from the one that takes place in inspirations of grace. God's voice, also in Sinai, did not resound in the exterior, but within the heart in the form of clarity, impulses originated by the Holy Spirit. The Ten Commandments were not inscribed in stone by God's finger, but in Moses' heart, who then wrote them in stone. "Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21); they were the ones who were speaking, but moved by the Holy Spirit; they repeated with their mouth what they heard in their heart.

All faithfulness to an inspiration is recompensed by ever more frequent and strong inspirations. It is as if the soul was in training to come to an ever-clearer perception of the will of God and a greater facility to fulfill it.

Discernment of spirits

The most delicate problem in regard to inspirations has always been to discern those that come from the Spirit of God from those that come from the spirit of the world, one's own passions, or the evil spirit.

The topic of discernment of spirits has undergone a notable evolution over the centuries. In the beginning, it was regarded as the charism that served to distinguish between words, prayers and prophecies pronounced in the assembly, which ones did or did not proceed from the Spirit of God. Then, it served especially to discern one's "own" inspirations and to direct one's choices. The evolution is not arbitrary; it is, in fact, the same gift although applied to different objects.

There are criteria of discernment that we could call objective. In the doctrinal field, for Paul these are summarized in the recognition of Christ as Lord: "No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says 'Jesus be cursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3); for John they are summarized in faith in Christ and in his Incarnation: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you will know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God" (1 John 4:1-3).

In the moral area, a fundamental criterion comes from the consistency of the Spirit of God with himself. The latter cannot ask for something that is contrary to the divine will, as expressed in Scripture, in the teaching of the Church, and in the duties of one's own state. A divine inspiration will never request acts that the Church considers immoral, no matter how many arguments to the contrary that are capable of being suggested in these cases; for example, that God is love and, therefore, everything that is done for love is of God.

If a religious disobeys his Superiors, even for a laudable objective, it would certainly not be an inspiration of grace, because the first inspiration that God sends is a precise circumstance. It was above all to respond to this need that St. Ignatius of Loyola developed his doctrine on discernment.

He invites us to observe the intentions — the "spirits" — that are behind a choice and the reactions that the latter causes.6 It is known that what comes from the Holy Spirit brings with it joy, peace, tranquility, gentleness, simplicity, light. Instead, what comes from the evil spirit brings sadness, disturbance, agitation, disquiet, confusion, darkness. The Apostle clarifies it by contrasting the fruits of the flesh — enmities, discord, jealousy, dissension, divisions, envies — with those of the Spirit which are, however, love, joy, peace ... (see Galatians 5:19-22).

In practice, it is true, things are more complex. An inspiration can come from God and, despite this, cause great disturbance. But this is not due to the inspiration, which is gentle and peaceful, as is everything that comes from God; it stems, rather, from resistance to the inspiration. A serene river also, when it meets obstacles, causes whirlpools. If the inspiration is accepted, the heart finds itself immediately in profound peace. God recompenses each little victory in this area, making the soul feel his approval, which is the purest joy in the world.

To allow oneself to be guided by the Spirit

The concrete fruit of this meditation must be a renewed decision to entrust ourselves in everything and for everything to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as in a sort of "spiritual direction."

If it is important for every Christian to accept inspirations, it is vital for those who have tasks of governance in the Church. Only in this way is the Spirit of Christ itself allowed to guide his Church through his human representatives. It is not necessary that all passengers in a ship have their ear attuned to the radio on board to receive directions, warnings of icebergs, or meteorological conditions, but it is indispensable that those who are in charge do. From a courageously accepted "divine inspiration" of Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council was born and many more prophetic events occurred in more recent times.

It is this need of the guidance of the Holy Spirit which has inspired the words of the Veni Creator: Ductore sic te praevio vitemus omne noxium: "with you as guide we shall avoid all evil." In his "Roman Triptych," the Holy Father takes up this word when, speaking of the moment of choosing the Successor of Peter, he puts in the mouth of those present the prayer: "You who penetrate everything — show us!"

We must all abandon ourselves to the interior Teacher who speaks to us without the noise of words. As good actors, we must listen carefully, on great and small occasions, to the voice of this hidden prompter, to recite our part faithfully in the theater of life.

It is easier than one thinks, because he speaks to us within, he teaches us each thing, he instructs us on everything. "But the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie" (1 John 2:27). It is enough sometimes to glance within, to have a movement of the heart, a moment of recollection and prayer.

With the words of a very well known liturgical prayer we ask God , through the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the gift of recognizing and following his divine inspirations as she followed them: Actiones nostras, quesumus Domine, aspirando preveni et adjuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat et per te cepta finiatur. 7 "Inspire our actions, Lord, and accompany them with your help, so that all our activity has its beginning in you, and its fulfillment in you. Through Our Lord Christ."


  1. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 30.
  2. John Paul II, Roman Triptych, III. Mount in the Region of Moriah, 1 (Vatican Press Library), 2003, p. 35.
  3. S. Weil, Intuitions pré-chrétiennes, Paris, 1967 (Italian translation, "La Grecia e le intuizioni prechristiane," Turin, 1967, p. 113.s.).
  4. John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, Vatican Press Library, Rome, 1996, p. 21.
  5. Florilegium Frisingenese, n. 371 (CCL, 108D).
  6. Cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, Fourth Week (Ed. BAC, Madrid, 1963, pp. 262 ff.).
  7. Prayers of Thursday following Ash Wednesday.

[Translation by ZENIT] ZE03120920




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