St. Teresa of Los Andes, Pray For Us!

St. Teresa allowed her life to be transformed by her love for Christ.

St. Teresa of Los Andes around 1919.
St. Teresa of Los Andes around 1919. (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In 1993, Pope John Paul II canonized Chile’s first saint, a young woman born in 1900. Her baptismal name had been Juana Solar, but when she joined the Discalced Carmelites at the age of 18, she took the name Teresa of Jesus. Less than 11 months later, she died of a brief and painful illness.

As noted by the future St. John Paul II at her canonization, her biography took only a few moments to summarize. She had been born into a wealthy and devout family in Santiago. A lively and vivacious girl, her life had consisted of church, birthday parties, family outings, school and dances. A brief stint at university was followed by her entrance to the convent at Los Andes, and then her early death a few months before her 20th birthday.

“Externally this [short life] is all there is to this young girl from Santiago de Chile,” Pope John Paul II said. “It is all rather disconcerting and a great question arises in us, ‘What was accomplished?’ The answer to such a question is equally disconcerting: living, believing, loving.”

The Supreme Pontiff knew that a world in the midst of the Information Revolution would be greatly baffled by the Church’s glorification of a young woman who seemed to have done so very little in her very brief years. She had not launched a major company, invented a new technology or founded her own religious order. She had very simply lived, but she had allowed her life to be transformed by her love for Christ.

As a young girl, Juana had a very strong temper and a fierce pride. She could be selfish and often drove her siblings to tears with her sharp tongue and belligerent moods. This changed when she was only 10 years old. Then, as she prepared to receive her First Communion, she suddenly realized that God himself would reside within her when she consumed his precious Body and Blood. She wrote in her diary that during Communion, there would be a “true fusion” between Jesus and her soul. As this realization permeated her young heart, she quickly realized that as she was then, she could not be worthy of such a union, and she asked God to help her.

Juana’s inclinations and tendencies did not change immediately, but daily she begged God for the grace to curb her temper, increase her humility, and direct her eyes from her own desires to his holy will. She viewed it as a tremendous battle, in which she must be victorious for love of God. Family and friends were amazed by the transformation of their feisty little Juana. She still loved to sing and dance, and her childhood continued happily, but increasingly she felt called to devote her life wholly to Christ. The devotion to God that had first stirred within her in the months before receiving the Eucharist continued to blossom. Her diary kept during these years reads: “I am God’s. He created me and is my beginning and my end.”

When she was 18, Juana joined the Discalced Carmelites at Los Andes. There she bade farewell to her family, childhood, and the name she had known her whole life, becoming Teresa of Jesus. In letters to her family, Teresa called the convent a “heaven on earth.” Her time there lasted less than a year, but even in that brief interval, the other nuns could see the radiant joy and love of Teresa. She admitted to her confessor that she felt as though she would die young, but she felt no fear at an early death, knowing that a life lived for God would lead to a happy death and an “eternity immersed in love.”

During Holy Week the following year, Teresa died. Her illness was painful, brutally so, but her death itself was indeed a happy one. She was granted the special privilege of taking her religious vows early due to her imminent death, and she received final absolution and Last Rites.

She was not given even two decades on this earth, yet she used every possible moment to love God, and thus she loved those around her abundantly. As John Paul II remarked at her canonization 73 years later: “Teresa expressed her love through every action of her life.”

While so many of us take for granted the miracle of receiving Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity at Mass each week, she, at the age of 10, understood that such a gift required a radical transformation of her heart. Not only did she realize this, but she set herself to the gargantuan challenge of asking God for this transformation and allowing his grace to flood her soul, purging her own petty vices. This feat alone would have marked her as extraordinary, but God was not done working through Teresa. She willingly gave him her life, radiating his love out to everyone she met, until he called the “Little Flower of Los Andes” home.

St. Teresa of Los Andes, pray for us!

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