RITE OF BEATIFICATION
HOMILY OF CARDINAL JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS
Roman Amphitheatre at Fiesole, Florence
Your Eminences and Most Reverend Excellencies,
Today, we are celebrating Mass for the Beatification of Mother Maria Teresa Scrilli in the evocative setting of this Roman Amphitheatre. The exemplarity of the heroic virtues of a woman from Tuscany, who in an age of great cultural turmoil could say a total "yes" to the Lord, is thus recognized by the mandate of the Holy Father Benedict XVI.
God drew her to the desert and spoke to her heart to make her his bride for ever. Consequently, the experience of the new Blessed, Maria Teresa Scrilli, Foundress of the Institute of the Sisters of Our Lady of Carmel, was one of holiness.
The First Reading from Hosea and the Gospel of Matthew, the liturgical texts we have just heard, emphasize this spousal relationship between God and his people, between God and the Church, between God and every consecrated soul.
Indeed, as the Servant of God John Paul II wrote in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata:
"Beyond all superficial assessments of its usefulness, the consecrated life is important precisely in its being unbounded generosity and love, and this all the more so in a world which risks being suffocated in the whirlpool of the ephemeral. Without this concrete sign there would be a danger that the charity which animates the entire Church would grow cold, that the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be blunted, and that the "salt' of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization. The Church and society itself need people capable of devoting themselves totally to God and to others for the love of God.
"The Church can in no way renounce the consecrated life, for it eloquently expresses her inmost nature as "Bride'" (Vita Consecrata, n. 105), that is, Christocentric, hence, also the intimate essence of her holiness. These are the two most outstanding dimensions of Mother Scrilli's spirituality.
The holiness of the new Blessed developed within a spousal spirituality. This is the very dimension that is strongly stressed by the oracle of Hosea we have just heard in the First Reading (2: 16).
Indeed, the Prophet wishes to emphasize in the believer's life the experience of rediscovering, recovering a livelier, more existential dimension in the relationship between God and Israel, as a relationship of reciprocal belonging.
In addition, the matrimonial image highlights the personal and interpersonal aspect of the dialogue between God and his people. The Lord renews this relationship with his people "for ever".
It is based on the theme of the Covenant between God and his people, descriptions of which recur throughout the Bible as a pact of nuptial love.
It is not the stipulation of a juridical agreement but an "intimate relationship" created between God and his people.
This kind of relationship is not exclusive to the Church, the Bride of Christ; God has established such relations with each of his faithful, each one of us.
It is marked by three dimensions. First of all, it is freely-given love. It recalls God's initiative, the One who goes in search of his bride.
It is then faithful love; Hosea describes God searching for his bride, lost among other lovers, to bring her back to fidelity.
It is also a tender and intimate love: "I will betroth you to me... in steadfast love, and in mercy" (Hos 2: 19).
To express this deep and tender love, God sums up all the categories of human love, not only spousal love but also brotherly love, the love of friendship.
Yet, in the etymological sense these categories do not suffice: no one can fully describe the height, length, breadth or depth of this divine love (cf. Eph 3: 18), which is identified with God himself, for "God is love" (cf. I Jn 4: 8).
The liturgical passage in Hosea ends like this: "I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord" (Hos 2: 20).
In the complexity of biblical language the meaning of this word "to know" is very different from what it is in our common language; it instantly evokes "intimacy", the profound and total communion between two people.
This spousal dimension takes us to the heart of the Christian mystery: the Lord loves us with an eternal love and has made a nuptial covenant with us. With the Incarnation he came to earth to choose his "beloved"; but we are awaiting his return when he will come to take the Church-humanity, his Bride, to the Kingdom of Heaven.
To understand better the biblical dimension of the Christian spirituality and holiness practised by the Blessed, it will suffice to listen again to her Autobiography:
"I no longer considered I was my own mistress, but was guided solely by that impulse I felt within my spirit, moved by my sweetest Love who overwhelmed me. O my Bridegroom! I said: and who will prevent me from pleasing you? There is nothing that would seem more powerful than this, so may it please you to show me the way" (Autobiography, 45).
Another important dimension of Christian holiness is the Christocentric aspect, since it basically consists in identification with Christ, in unification with him and thus, in conformity to his will.
The new Blessed also understood and profoundly lived this dimension of holiness. Indeed, identification with the Lord and full conformity to his will is one of the pillars of her intense spirituality.
In her Institute's first Rule and Constitutions, she recommended to her companions: "We are on this earth only to do God's will and to lead souls to him" (Rule and Constitutions 1854-1855, 7).
In the various parts of Mother Scrilli's Autobiography where she reveals to us the mysterious map of the paths of the Spirit, the immense spaces that kindled passion and joy, suffering and loving embraces, her desire is even clearer: "I compared myself, given to God, to gold in the hand of the goldsmith, to the candle in the hand of the craftsman moulding it, ready to take any shape that pleased him" (Autobiography, 45).
These sayings from her youth, prior to her entry into the Carmelite Convent of St Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi in Florence, are followed by other affirmations in the troubled beginnings after the foundation of the Institute when she said: "Lord, on my own I can do nothing; and even if I could, I would not want to, for I desire nothing save that your will be done in me, over me and around me... voluntas tua, fiat. If the Institute is to continue through my work, help me and fiat; if I must leave it and come to you, fearing that with my death it might cease to exist, fiat; if it is your will that I live on and, troubled and powerless, see all that I have done and achieved falling apart... fiat. Yes, my God! I will ceaselessly repeat that what you desire may be done, fiat..." (Autobiography, 90).
In Bl. Mother Scrilli's spirituality, attachment to God on the way of the Cross emerges as a cornerstone. All her writings simply but most effectively express this conviction. She says: "Suffering for love". Indeed, she continues:
"In prayer, pondering on the great offences to God, my suffering was so great that I asked him most insistently to deign to let me suffer; that by so doing, in making myself a victim for him, I might compensate for [his suffering] as I desired..." (Autobiography, 61).
Her love through suffering and her desire to make reparation for the offences being made to the Lord were sustained by continuous meditation on Christ's Passion.
In several personal notes made at a spiritual retreat, she listed among her resolutions:
"1. to consider oneself a pilgrim on earth.
These assertions reveal Mother Scrilli's complete self-understanding and her grasp of the mystery of death and resurrection with which every believer is marked by Baptism; but those who aspire to perfection must make them in a special way the programme of their life, their journey of holiness, their process of inner transformation.
In the divine economy, the revitalizing power of the charism of every Founder or Foundress is in some way connected with the life of the Institute itself, whose authentic originality is preserved and developed in its own specific charism.
To respond to the concerns of her time, Mother Scrilli desired to give particularly to the poorest girls a full human training from the cultural, academic and religious point of view, which would correspond with the needs of their specific life as women by preparing them for dignified employment. In this perspective, one can understand the contemplative-educative charism that Mother Scrilli lived and bequeathed to her daughters.
In addition to the three usual vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, she asked them to make a fourth vow: "to offer themselves to be useful to their neighbour through the Christian and civic moral instruction to be imparted to the female sex" (Rule and Constitutions, 1854-55, 1).
In addition, Mother Scrilli, witnessing "heroically" to Christian hope and to the capacity for rising from suffering, invited them to consider "education as a service", "a personalized relationship" and "an ability to be in contact" with others and with the Other.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI wrote in his first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: "The lives of the saints are not limited to their earthly biographies but also include their being and working in God after death. In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather, become truly close to them" (n. 42).
As a wise virgin, Bl. Maria Teresa Scrilli persevered until her death by watching and waiting in faithfulness to her Lord.
As we face the situations of our time, her experience serves for us, often straying pilgrims on this earth, as an incentive to persevere in fidelity to God's plan for our life and to be attentive and caring to our brothers and sisters, travelling companions of the same ecclesial experience, while we repeat with her: "I love you, my God, in your gifts; I love you in my nothingness, for I understand your infinite wisdom in spite of it: I love you in the many different and extraordinary events with which you have accompanied my life. I love you in all things, in suffering and in peace, for I do not seek, nor have I ever sought, consolations from you, but you yourself, O God of consolations" (Autobiography, 62).
These words contain a true programme of Christian spirituality and at the same time point out to us the only way to attain holiness, to which as baptized persons we are all called.
May we be accompanied by the rich legacy, the precious, eternally timely message of the new Blessed, Maria Teresa Scrilli.
Let us entrust to her intercession in particular all the Carmelite Sisters of the Institute of Our Lady of Carmel, and the entire Diocese of Fiesole.
Here, in Montevarchi, the Blessed indeed acquired her earthly origin and also her education and formation, built up in the spring of this local Church, which, like vital sap, has culminated today in her Beatification, in which we like to contemplate her sharing in the glory of the angels and saints.