Friday, September 30, 2016

A SPIRITUAL PRODIGY


Homily for Oct. 1st, 2016: Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux.

          The young woman whom we commemorate today – she died at only 24 – was a spiritual child prodigy. Born Thérèse Martin on the 2nd of January 1873 to deeply devout Catholic parents in northwestern France, she was the youngest of five sisters and her father’s little “queen,” as he called her. Her mother’s death when Thérèse was only 4 plunged her into terrible grief which would last into adolescence. At age 9 Thérèse received a second blow, when her older sister Pauline, who had been a second mother to her, entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, where the family was living. Thérèse decided that Carmel was the place she too wanted to be – “but not for Pauline, for Jesus.” So certain was Thérèse of her vocation, that she started to ask permission to enter Carmel when she was only 14. It finally came, in a letter from her bishop, on January 1st, 1888, a day before her fifteenth birthday. Three months later she was received into the community where she had longed to be from age 9. 

Thérèse soon discovered the shadow side of Carmelite life. “Of course one does not have enemies in Carmel,” she wrote, “but still there are natural attractions, one feels drawn towards a certain sister, whereas you go a long way round to avoid meeting another.” Thérèse resolved to counter these difficulties by going out of her way to be kind to the Sisters who most irritated her. Over time this would become what she called her “little way.” Since she could not do great things, she would do little things as an offering to God. One of those little things was her request to remain a novice. To her life’s end she had to ask permission to do things her fellow Sisters could do on their own.

For the last 18 months of her short life, Thérèse was suffering from tuberculosis, for which there was then no real treatment. She also suffered spiritual darkness, like a later sister with her name, now St. Teresa of Calcutta. Death came on the evening of Sept. 30th, 1897.

A year later the account of her short life which she had been commanded to write was published in a limited edition of 2000 copies, under the title, The Story of a Soul. Translated over time into 40 languages, it would produce what Pope Pius XI said at Thérèse’s canonization in 1925, before half a million people “a storm of glory.” People read Thérèse’s story, invoked her intercession, and found their prayers answered. Words she had spoken toward the end of her life came true: “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” Today we pray, therefore: “Ste. Thérèse, pray for us. Amen.”