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June 9 Terese of Liseux - The Story of a Soul

At the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1886, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love, instead of keeping herself happy. She became one of the most popular saints of the 20th Century with her book - an account of her short life being translated into many language.

After stubbornly refusing to leave the Pope's feet at a general audience, at 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her whole life to God. Living a hidden, simple life of prayer, she was gifted with great intimacy with God. Through sickness and dark nights of doubt and fear, she remained faithful to God, rooted in His merciful love.


Today the teenager Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin would make an act of oblation with her sister Céline. In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You Lord to count my works. According to biographer, this gave her great joy which reminded her how she felt when a Franciscan preacher, had assured her that her faults did not cause God sorrow. In the Oblation she wrote, "If through weakness I should chance to fall, may a glance from Your Eyes straightway cleanse my soul, and consume all my imperfections – as fire transforms all things into itself" After her untimely death she would become known internationally as Terese of Lisieux, and even though she lived a cloistered life and was outwardly unremarkable, struggling with fragile health and dying at the age of 24, she was a mystical powerhouse and posthumously recognized for its exemplary spiritual accomplishments. She was named a doctor of the universal church by Pope John Paul II in 1997, a rare accolade even among saints, only 36 have be given the title in the 2000 ear history of the church and of among them only 4 women. Of the 4 female doctors , St Hildergard of Bingen, St Catherine of Siena, St Teresa of Avila with St Terese of Liseux is the youngest.

Born Terese Martin into a wealthy and devout family, of nine children. Sadly four were to die in infancy and her mother died when she was barely 4½ years old. All these traumas were distressing, but losing her mother was a severe blow and later she would consider that "the first part of her life stopped that day". Anxious and troubled, something transformative happened to her at the age of 13 on Christmas Eve which she called her "complete conversion." It seems to have been some experience of the Child Jesus that was a turning point of her life and she became determined to become a Carmelite nun.

The Carmelites lived a life of prayer and contemplation, and had a very rich tradition within the church of producing mystical classics and saints. Dating back to the 12th Century they wanted to emulate the first Christian hermits on Mount Carmel at the site that claimed to have been the location of Elijah's cave, in northern Israel. They were founded by the Englishman St. Simon Stock , their original Rule was given by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Though there is no documentary evidence to support it, Carmelite tradition suggests that a community of Jewish hermits had lived at the site from the time of Elijah until the Carmelites were founded and Jews and Christians, had lived "praiseworthy lives in holy penitence" in an uninterrupted succession. This has been proven impossible to historically substantiate. During the Crusades the monastery often changed hands, frequently being converted into a mosque. In 1799 the building was finally converted into a hospital, by Napoleon, but in 1821 the surviving structure was destroyed by the pasha of Damascus.

However, the Carmelite Order grew to be one of the major Catholic religious orders worldwide, and the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was first given to St. Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The devotion of wearing the scapular had spread into the whole church, practiced by many, most recently Pope John Paul II who refused to remove it when the doctors were operating on his to save his life after an assassination attempt (see pod of May 13). The Carmelites philosophy or ‘charism’ was that the quality of prayer determined the quality of the community life and therefore the quality of the service which is offered to others. When the Carmelites were forced to leave Mount Carmel, they changed their practice from being hermits to friars. In simple terms this meant that they didn’t wait for people to come to them for help and counsel but they went out to them. This was mirrored in the Church by the rise of mendicant orders who adopted a lifestyle of poverty, traveling, and living in urban areas for purposes of preaching, evangelization, and ministry, especially to the poor moving away from the previously established monastic model. The stable, isolated community was changed to a poor, often itinerant lifestyle.

Inevitably as the Carmelites spread around the world, were successful and attracted more vocations they became wealthier and more their lifestyle became more lax, further away from their original rule. Attempts to reform the order from within would happen from time to time to varying degrees of success. However it was in Spain in the 16th Century, their Siglo de Oro, the zenith of the Spanish empire and a flourishing of culture and mysticis, that two incredible figures Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross managed to a lasting and partial reform the Carmelites, forming the ‘Discalced’ branches, meaning without shoes as a sign of their embrace of poverty. Therese Martin was determined to enter a Discalced community but was seen as being too young and was gently told to wait by Bishops and over superiors. Determined, she was on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome for the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. On 20 November 1887, during a general audience with Leo XIII, Therese, in her turn, approached the Pope, knelt, and asked him to allow her to enter Carmel at 15. The Pope said: "Well, my child, do what the superiors decide… You will enter if it is God's Will" and he blessed Therese. She refused to leave his feet, and the Swiss Guard had to carry her out of the room

Finally at the early age of 15, she became a nun and joined two of her older sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux). Therese entered the Carmel of Lisieux with the determination to become a saint but after six years as a Carmelite she realised how small and insignificant she felt and very far off from the unfailing love that she would wish to practice. She is said to have understood then that it was from insignificance that she had to learn to ask God's help .In spite of her hidden life, and Terese’s express wish to remain unknown, when a Carmelite nun dies, her sisters usually write a short biography for other Carmels. We briefly recount her childhood, her desire for the Carmel and her entrance, the different stages of her religious life, the services rendered to the community and finally, her illness and her death. In this milieu, they call this document a circular because it "circulates" so to speak in monasteries, although everyone receives her own copy. Terese’s sister Pauline had been elected prioress of Carmel and gave Therese the work of guiding novices would fall primarily to Therese. As it became clear that her death was approaching, Pauline was concerned with the drafting of her circular so redeployed her to write an account of her soul. Therese ceased any activity to only write her "little assignment" and wrote with great difficulty in a black notebook. All this together is made into 12 chapters, and the book had a title in the making: A love song or passage of an angel.

It was eventually called, unpresumptouosly, The Story of a Soul, it was essentially a collection of her autobiographical manuscripts, printed and distributed a year after her death to an initially very limited audience. The impact was significant, and in 1902, the Polish Carmelite Father Raphael Kalinowski translated her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, into Polish. The book quickly spread around the world and as early as 1912 Father Thomas N. Taylor, a teacher at the Diocese of Glasgow seminary, wrote a short hagiography on Thérèse. Taylor went on to become a significant proponent of devotion to "The Little Flower" in Scotland and as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Carfin, Lanarkshire, he built a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes and included a small shrine honouring St. Thérèse with a statue donated by the Legion of Mary. Carfin became a site of pilgrimages.

She was canonized (declared a saint) on 17 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death, five years and a day after Joan of Arc (see podcast of Apr 29) . At the time, Pope Pius XI revived the old custom of covering St. Peter's with torches and tallow lamps. The New York Times ran a front-page story about the occasion titled, "All Rome Admires St. Peter's Aglow for a New Saint". According to the Times, over 60,000 people, estimated to be one of the largest crowds inside St. Peter's Basilica witnessed the canonization ceremonies and, in the evening, 500,000 pilgrims pressed into the lit square. She rapidly became one of the most popular saints of the twentieth century. Devotion to Therese has developed around the world. According to some biographies of Édith Piaf, in 1922 the singer — at the time, an unknown seven-year-old girl — was cured from blindness after a pilgrimage to the grave of Therese. Her relics have been on an international pilgrimage since 1994 including to South Africa in conjunction with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Pope Francis has a great devotion to her, often carrying a Story of A Soul with him on his travels and he has said "When I have a problem I ask the saint, not to solve it, but to take it in her hands and help me accept it." Her two parents Zélie and Louis Martin were the first spouses to be proposed for canonization as a couple and the first to be canonized together in 2015.


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