October 15, 2008

Saint Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) - Virgin & Doctor of the Church

1515-1582 – Solemnity - October 15

Saint Teresa of Jesus, was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515. She died in Alba, October 4, 1582. Her family origins have been traced to Toledo and Olmedo. Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant, Juan Sanchez de Toledo and Ines de Cepeda, originally from Tordesillas. Juan transferred his business to Avila, where he succeeded in having his children marry into families of the nobility. In 1505 Alonso married Catalina del Peso, who bore him two children and died in 1507. Two years later Alonso married the 15-year-old Beatriz de Ahumada of whom Teresa was born.

Early Life. In 1528, when Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children. Teresa was the "most beloved of them all." She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years (Maria de S. Jose, Libro de recreaciones, 8). Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, an early example of which trait occurred when at the age of 7 she left home with her brother Rodrigo with the intention of going to Moorish territory to be beheaded for Christ, but they were frustrated by their uncle, who met the children as they were leaving the city and brought them home (Ephrem de la Madre de Dios, Tiempo y Vida de Sta. Teresa--hereafter abbrev. TV--142-143).

At about 12 the fervor of her piety waned somewhat. She began to take an interest in the development of her natural attractions and in books of chivalry. Her affections were directed especially to her cousins, the Mejias, children of her aunt Dona Elvira, and she gave some thought to marriage. Her father was disturbed by these fancies and opposed them. While she was in this crisis, her mother died. Afflicted and lonely, Teresa appealed to the Blessed Virgin to be her mother. Seeing his daughter's need of prudent guidance, her father entrusted her to the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia in 1531.

Vocation. The influence of Dona Maria de Brinceno, who was in charge of the lay students at the convent school, helped Teresa to recover her piety. She began to wonder whether she had a vocation to be a nun. Toward the end of the year 1532 she returned home to regain her health and stayed with her sister, who lived in Castellanos. Reading the letters of St. Jerome led her to the decision to enter a convent, but her father refused to give his consent. Her brother and confidant, Rodrigo, had just set sail for the war on the Rio de la Plata. She decided to run away from home and persuaded another brother to flee with her in order that both might receive the religious habit. On Nov. 2, 1535, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila, where she had a friend, Juana Suarez; and her father resigned himself to this development. The following year she received the habit and began wholeheartedly to give herself to prayer and penance. Shortly after her profession she became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment. As a last resort her father took her to Becedas, a small village, to seek the help of a woman healer famous throughout Castile, but Teresa's health did not improve. Leaving Becedas in the fall of 1538, she stayed in Hortigosa at the home of her uncle Pedro de Cepeda, who gave her the Tercer Abecedario of Francis of Osuna to read.

"I did not know," she said, "how to proceed in prayer or how to become recollected, and so I took much pleasure in it and decided to follow that path with all my strength" (Libro de la Vida, the autobiography of St. Teresa--hereafter abbrev. V--4.6).

Instead of regaining her health, Teresa grew even more ill, and her father brought her back to Avila in July 1539. On August 15 she fell into a coma so profound that she was thought to be dead. After 4 days she revived, but she remained paralyzed in her legs for 3 years. After her cure, which she attributed to St. Joseph (V. 6.6-8), she entered a period of mediocrity in her spiritual life, but she did not at any time give up praying. Her trouble came of not understanding that the use of the imagination could be dispensed with and that her soul could give itself directly to contemplation. During this stage, which lasted 18 years, she had transitory mystical experiences. She was held back by a strong desire to be appreciated by others, but this finally left her in an experience of conversion in the presence of an image of "the sorely wounded Christ" (V 9.2). This conversion dislodged the egoism that had hindered her spiritual development. Thus, at the age of 39, she began to enjoy a vivid experience of God's presence within her.

However, the contrast between these favors and her conduct, which was more relaxed than was thought proper according to the ascetical standards of the time, caused some misunderstanding. Some of her friends, such as Francisco de Salcedo and Gaspar Daza, thought her favors were the work of the devil (V 23.14). Diego de Cetina, SJ, brought her comfort by encouraging her to continue in mental prayer and to think upon the humanity of Christ. Francis Borgia in 1555 heard her confession and told her that the spirit of God was working in her, that she should concentrate upon Christ's Passion and not resist the ecstatic experience that came to her in prayer. Nevertheless she had to endure the distrust even of her friends as the divine favors increased. When Pradanos left Avila in 1558 his place as Teresa's director was taken by Baltasar Alvarez, SJ, who, either from caution or with the intention of probing her spirit, caused her great distress by telling her that others were convinced that her raptures and visions were the work of the devil and that she should not communicate so often (V 25.4). Another priest acting temporarily as her confessor, on hearing her report of a vision she had repeatedly had of Christ, told her it was clearly the devil and commanded her to make the sign of the cross and laugh at the vision (V 29.5). But God did not fail to comfort her, and she received the favor of the transverberation (V 29.13-14). In August 1560 St. Peter of Alcantara counseled her: "Keep on as you are doing, daughter; we all suffer such trials."

Reformer. Her great work of reform began with herself. She made a vow always to follow the more perfect course, and resolved to keep the rule as perfectly as she could (V 32.9). However, the atmosphere prevailing at the Incarnation monastery was less than favorable to the more perfect type of life to which Teresa aspired. A group assembled in her cell one September evening in 1560, taking their inspiration from the primitive tradition of Carmel and the discalced reform of St. Peter of Alcantara, proposed the foundation of a monastery of an eremitical type. At first her confessor, the provincial of the Carmelites, and other advisers encouraged her in the plan (TV 478-482); but when the proposal became known among the townsfolk, there was a great outcry against it. The provincial changed his mind, her confessor dissociated himself from the project, and her advisers ranged themselves with the opposition. Six months later, however, when there was a change of rectors at the Jesuit college, her confessor, Father Alvarez, gave his approval. Without delay Teresa had her sister Juana and her husband Juan de Ovalle buy a house in Avila and occupy it as though it were for themselves (V 33.11). This stratagem was necessary to obviate difficulties with nuns at the Incarnation while the building was being adapted and made ready to serve as a convent. At Toledo, where she was sent by the Carmelite provincial at the importunate request of a wealthy and noble lady, she received a visit from St. Peter of Alcantara, who offered to act as mediator in obtaining from Rome the permissions needed for the foundation. While there she also received a visit from the holy Carmelite Maria de Yepes, who had just returned from Rome with permission to establish a reformed convent and who provided Teresa with a new light on the question of the type of poverty to be adopted by her own community. At Toledo she also completed in reluctant obedience to her confessor the first version of her Vida.

She returned to Avila at the end of June 1562 (TV 506-507), and shortly thereafter the apostolic rescript, dated Feb. 7, 1562, for the foundation of the new convent arrived. The following August 24 the new monastery dedicated to S. Jose was founded; Maestro Daza, the bishop's delegate, officiated at the ceremony. Four novices received the habit of the Discalced Carmelites. There was strong opposition among the townspeople and at the Incarnation. The prioress at the Incarnation summoned Teresa back to her monastery, where the Carmelite provincial Angel de Salazar, indignant at her having put her new establishment under the jurisdiction of the bishop, rebuked her, but after hearing her account of things, was mollified and even promised to help quiet the popular disturbance and to give her permission to return to S. Jose when calm had been restored. On August 25 the council at Avila met to discuss the matter of the new foundation, and on August 30 a great assembly of the leading townspeople gathered. The only one in the assembly to raise his voice against the popular indignation was Domingo Banez, OP. A lawsuit followed in the royal court, but before the end of 1562 the foundress, as Teresa of Jesus, was authorized by the provincial to return to the new convent. There followed the 5 most peaceful years of her life, during which she wrote the Way of Perfection and the Meditations on the Canticle.

Foundations. In April 1567 the Carmelite general, Giovanni Battista Rossi (Rubeo), made a visitation, approved Teresa's work, and commanded her to establish other convents with some of the nuns from the convent of the Incarnation at Avila. He also gave her permission to establish two houses for men who wished to adopt the reform. The extension of Teresa's work began with the foundation of a convent at Medina del Campo, Aug. 15, 1567. Then followed other foundations: at Malagon in 1568; at Valladolid (Rio de Olinos) in 1568; at Toledo and at Pastrana in 1569; at Salamanca in 1570; and at Alba de Tormes in 1571. As she journeyed to Toledo in 1569 she passed through Duruelo, where John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus had established the first convent of Discalced Brethren in November 1568, and in July 1569 she established the second monastery of Discalced Brethren in Pastrana.

These foundations were followed by an interval during which Teresa served as prioress at the Incarnation monastery in Avila, an office to which she was appointed by the apostolic visitator, Pedro Fernandez, OP. This duty she was loath to assume, and she had much opposition to face on the part of the community. However, with the help of St. John of the Cross, who served as a confessor for the nuns, she was able to bring about a great improvement in the spiritual condition of the community. On Nov. 18, 1572, while receiving Communion from the hands of John of the Cross, she received the favor of the "spiritual marriage." At the request of the Duchess of Alba she spent the first days of 1573 in Alba, and then went to Salamanca to put things in order at the foundation there. At the command of Jerome Ripalda, SJ, she started her Book of the Foundations the following August. On March 19, 1574, she established a foundation at Segovia, where the Pastrana nuns had been transferred because of conflicts with the Princess of Eboli. This marked the beginning of a second series of fonndations. The next was made at Beas de Segura in February 1575. There Teresa met Jerome Gratian, apostolic visitator of the order in Andalucia, who ordered a foundation in Seville. The bishop objected, however, and Teresa sent Ana de S. Alberto to Caravaca to make a foundation there in her name on Jan. 1, 1576, and that of the Seville convent was delayed until June 3 of the same year.

Crisis Between the Calced and Discalced. The entry of the Discalced Brethren into Andalusia was forbidden by Rossi, the general of the order, who opposed Teresa and Jerome Gratian in this matter. The general chapter at Piacenza in 1575 ordered the Discalced Brethren to withdraw from Andalusia, and Teresa herself was ordered to retire to a convent. The general put Jerome Tostado at the head of the Discalced Brethren. While the conflict raged between the Calced and Discalced Brethren, Teresa wrote the Visitation of the Discalced Nuns, a part of The Foundations, and her greatest book, The Interior Castle. The nuncio Nicholas Ormaneto, a defender of the Discalced Brethren, died June 18, 1578, and his successor, Felipe Sega, was less favorably disposed toward them. John of the Cross was imprisoned in Toledo. Against Teresa's will the Discalced Brethren held a chapter in Almodovar on Oct. 9, 1578. The nuncio annulled the chapter and by a decree put the Discalced Brethren under the authority of the Calced provincials who subjected them to some harassment. The King intervened, and four were named to advise the nuncio, among them Pedro Fernandez, OP. Angel de Salazar was made vicar-general of the Discalced Brethren while negotiations were afoot for the separation of the Discalced from the Calced Brethren and the erection of a Discalced province.

Teresa then turned to visiting her convents and resumed the founding of new ones. On Feb. 25, 1580, she gave the habit to foundresses of the convent in Villaneuva de la Jara. The brief Pia consideratione, dated June 22, 1580, ordered the erection of a distinct province for the Discalced. On March 3, 1581, the chapter of the Discalced was held in Alcala, and Jerome Gratian, who was favored by Teresa, was elected the first provincial. Teresa's last foundations were: at Palencia and Soria in 1581, at Burgos in 1582; the most difficult of all, Granada (1582), was entrusted to the Venerable Anne of Jesus.

Teresa's body was interred in Alba. Paul V declared her a blessed April 24, 1614, and in 1617 the Spanish parliament proclaimed her the Patroness of Spain. Gregory XV canonized her in 1622 together with SS. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Isidore, and Philip Neri.

Spiritual Doctrine. Among the writings of St. Teresa, three can be indicated as the depositories of her spiritual teaching: her autobiography, the Way of Perfection, and the Interior Castle. Readers must exercise some caution, however, and resist the temptation to hastily synthesize the doctrine in these books, because St. Teresa wrote from her personal experience at different stages of the spiritual life. For example, the doctrine of prayer found in the autobiography is not identical with that in the Interior Castle; more than a decade had elapsed between their composition, and Teresa had meanwhile attained a higher degree of spiritual maturity with its simultaneous expansion of experience. The autobiography, written primarily as a manifestation of her spiritual state for her directors, was later enlarged in scope and in audience. Chapters 11 to 22 inclusive--a later addition--are devoted exclusively to the discussion of prayer, although additional comments and examples are scattered throughout the remaining 28 chapters. Teresa depicts different stages of the life of prayer in metaphorical terms taken from the manner of securing water to irrigate a garden. The "first water" is laboriously obtained from a well and carried in a bucket to the garden; this is in reference to beginners who, liberated from the more flagrant mortal sins, apply themselves to discursive prayer of meditation, although they experience fatigue and aridity from time to time. After speaking at length of meditation in its stricter meaning, Teresa made a brief reference to "acquired" contemplation before beginning her discussion of the "second water." In this second stage, the gardener secures water through use of a windlass and bucket; here Teresa refers to the "prayer of quiet, a gift of God through which the individual begins to have a passive experience of prayer. The third method of irrigation is the employment of water from a stream or river; the application made by Teresa is to the "sleep of the faculties." Although Teresa considered this an important stage in the evolution of prayer when she wrote her autobiography, she later relegated it to a simple intensification of the "prayer of quiet" in the Interior Castle. The fourth method of irrigation is God given: the rain; Teresa employs this metaphor to describe a state of union in prayer in which the soul is apparently passive.

Her Way of Perfection Teresa addressed to her nuns, teaching them therein the major virtues that demand their solicitude, casting further light on the practice of prayer, and using the Pater Noster as a vehicle for teaching prayer at greater depth. This book is sometimes referred to as the apex of Teresa's ascetical doctrine. The Interior Castle is the principal source of mature Teresian thought on the spiritual life in its integrity. Chief emphasis is laid on the life of prayer, but other elements (the apostolate, for example) are also treated. The interior castle is the soul, in the center of which dwells the Trinity. Growth in prayer enables the individual to enter into deeper intimacy with God--signified by a progressive journey through the apartments (or mansions) of the castle from the outermost to the luminous center. When a man has attained union with God in the degree permitted to him in this world, he is "at the center" of himself; in other words, he has integrity as a child of God and as a human being. Each of the apartments of the castle is distinguished by a different stage in the evolution of prayer, with its consequent effects upon every other phase of the life of the individual.

October 1, 2008

Saint Therese of Lisieux, Virgin & Doctor of the Church

The Little Flower, of the child of Jesus & of the Holy Face
1873-1897 – Feast - October 1

Therese Martin was the last of nine children born to Louis and Zelie Martin on January 2, 1873, in Alencon France. However, only five of these children lived to reach adulthood. Precocious and sensitive, Therese needed much attention. Her mother died when she was 4 years old. As a result, her father and sisters babied young Therese. She had a spirit that wanted everything.
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. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her whole life to God. She took the religious name Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. 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. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: "My God, I love You!"
The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, Story of a Soul. She described her life as a "little way of spiritual childhood." She lived each day with an unshakeable confidence in God's love. "What matters in life," she wrote, "is not great deeds, but great love." She lived and taught a spirituality of attending to everyone and everything well and with love. She believed that just as a child becomes enamored with what is before her, we should also have a childlike focus and totally attentive love. Therese's spirituality is of doing the ordinary, with extraordinary love.

Therese saw the seasons as reflecting the seasons of God's love affair with us. She loved flowers and saw herself as the "little flower of Jesus," who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God's garden. Because of this beautiful analogy, the title "little flower" remained with St. Therese.
Her inspiration and powerful presence from heaven touched many people very quickly. Pope Pius XI canonized her on May 17, 1925. Had she lived, she would have been only 52 years old when she was declared a Saint.
"My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death," she said. "I will spend my time in heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses." Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese's signature. Countless millions have been touched by her intercession and imitate her "little way." She has been acclaimed "the greatest saint of modern times." In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a Doctor of the Church - the only Doctor of his pontificate - in tribute to the powerful way her spirituality has influenced people all over the world.

The message of St. Therese is beautiful, inspiring and simple.

Important Dates in the Life of St. Therese

1873. January 2. St. Therese born at Alencon.
1873. January 4. Baptized.
1877. August 28. Her mother's death.
1877. November. Arrives at Les Buissonnets, Lisieux.
1878. Her first confession.
1882. October 2. Pauline enters Carmel.
1883. May 13. Her miraculous cure by the Blessed Virgin.
1884. May 8. Her first Holy Communion.
1884. June 14. She is confirmed.
1886. October 15. Marie enters Carmel.
1887. May 29. Receives father's permission to enter Carmel.
1887. November 4-December 2. Pilgrimage to Rome.
1887. November 20. She speaks to Pope Leo XIII.
1888. April 9. She enters the Carmel of Lisieux.
1889. January 10. She receives the habit.
1890. September 8. She makes her profession
1890. September 24. She takes the veil.
1894. September 14. Celine enters Camel.
1894. December. She is ordered to write the story of her childhood.
1895. June 9. She offers herself as a victim to the Merciful Love of God.
1896. January 20. She gives Mother Agnes the first eight chapters of "A Story of a Soul."
1896. April 3. Her first hemorrhage.
1896. September 8. She begins to write chapter eleven of her autobiography—at the request of her sister Marie.
1897. June 3. Mother Marie de Gonzague orders her to continue her autobiography.
1897. July 2. She gives Mother Marie de Gonzague the rest of her manuscript.
1897. August 19. She Holy Communion for the last time.
1897. September 30. St. Therese dies.
1897. October 4. The Saint is buried.
1898. September 30. The first edition 2,000 copies, of "A Story of a Soul" is published.
1910. Rome authorizes the bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux to open the proceedings of the cause by examining the writings of St. Therese.
1911. September 6. The body of the Saint is exhumed from the ground of the Lisieux cemetery and placed in a vault.
1912. December 10. In Rome, her writings are approved.
1914. June 10. Pope Pius X signs the decree introducing the cause in Rome.
1921. August 14. Pope Benedict XV issues a decree stating that she practiced the Christian virtues in a heroic manner.
1923. February. Decree approving the miracles for the beatification. Sermon by Pope Pius XI.
1923. April 29. She is Beatified by Pope Pius XI.
1925. March 19. Decree approving the miracles for canonization. Sermon by Pope Pius XI
1925. May 17. She is canonized by Pope Pius XI.
1927. May 17. Statue of St. Therese is paced in the Vatican gardens.
1927. July 13. The Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus is extended to the Universal Church. Its date is October 1.
1927. December 14. By Pontifical Decree St. Therese is made equal Patron, with St. Francis Xavier of all Missions and Missionaries.
1929. September 30 Cardinal Charost Archbishop of Rennes and Papal Legate lays the foundation stone of the basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux.
1932. June 26-July 3. Theresian congress at Lisieux.
1937. July 7-11. National Eucharistic congress held at Lisieux.
1937. July 11. Opening and consecrating of the basilicas of St. Therese in Lisieux by the papal legate Cardinal Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII.
1944. May 3. Pope Pius XII makes St. Therese the secondary Patron of France equal to St Jeanne d'Arc.
1997. October 19. St. Therese proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II.

Prayer in the Life of St. Therese as a Carmelite

Regarding her becoming a Carmelite St. Therese stated that she was there to save souls and to pray for priests. She felt she should do this by suffering. The more she suffered the more she was attracted to it. Of course, prayer would give her the strength to suffer.
Since the life of a contemplative is a life of prayer and penance, in order to understand the prayer of St. Therese let us consider her penances and spirit of mortification. Before St. Therese entered Carmel she denied her will and did little penances or acts of mortification. In Carmel she spoke against extraordinary penances as not her way. Yet the penances and austerity she accepted and desired were quite great. She took the discipline (a little whip or scourge used to strike one's shoulders and back) and when it was discussed she said she wanted to feel as much pain as possible. She then "went on to tell Celine that although tears often came to her eyes she forced herself to smile in order, as she said, that her face might express the feelings of her heart—delight at suffering in unison with Jesus."
In Carmel St. Therese had much to suffer. Without complaining she accepted poor food, poverty, work and most painful of all, the cold. Some nights she never slept, she simply shivered the entire night. Her hands were covered with chilblains. In the summer she worked in an airless part of the laundry and this was by her own choice. Whenever she was mistreated, whether it was water accidentally splashed in her face in the laundry or the impatience of an elderly and sickly nun, St. Therese never complained. To this she added many hidden acts of self-denial that completely conquered her self-will and allowed God's will to reign in her, so much so, that during her last illness she could say that she had never done her own will.
It is necessary to understand that the prayer of St. Therese was coupled with a solid foundation of penance and mortification. Her prayer was one of a faithful soul, willing to carry her cross. Her prayer was the prayer of one who first accepted suffering, then desired it, then found peace and joy in suffering until she became a victim for reparation and the salvation of souls.
From her first days in Carmel St. Therese had much to suffer. Not the least of her suffering was dryness and aridity in prayer. This was especially acute during her retreats. Before her reception of the habit St. Therese made a retreat that was "in the desert" of dryness. During this retreat she wrote to Pauline of dryness and said that she was plunged in darkness. Yet she was glad for this darkness if, in making an offering of it, she could console Jesus. She found consolation in looking at the image of the Holy Face of Jesus. She advised Celine to gaze at His Holy Face and see His glazed and sunken eyes. She told her sister that then she would see that He loves us.
When St. Therese experienced painful dryness she considered it a trial to detach her from all that was not Jesus. When she seemed so poor and had nothing to offer God in prayer she offered Him little "nothings." Following St. Teresa of Avila St. Therese taught that when we have no wood to get the fire of our love going we can still cast on this fire a few straws. These acts of good intention are very pleasing to God. Then God will place much wood on the fire. St. Therese tells us that she experienced this.
After St. Therese received the habit her spiritual dryness became even worse. It became, as she said, her "daily bread." Yet she was quite pleased since this way all her desires for suffering were fulfilled. Even after receiving Holy Communion she was in this state of aridity and at that time she had the least consolation. This trial of aridity was, according to Father Jarmart, O.C.D., the author of "The Complete Spirituality of St. Therese," part of the Saint's Dark Nights. At first, he tells us, she was tried regarding the virtue of charity and later there was a more painful trial of her faith and hope, the other theological virtues. This aridity, along with other sufferings, especially her father's illness, seems to have made up the Dark Night of the Senses for the Saint.
Let us try learn at what "stage" of Prayer St. Therese was at during these years in Carmel, at least until her Dark Night of the Soul began. Later we shall consider her "offering" which was made during these years of dryness yet before the trial of faith began. Of course, it is not easy to state the stage of a soul's prayer and spiritual progress especially since we do not find in the Saint's writings a step-by-step description of her stages of prayer. We can guess that God lifted her to higher stages of prayer rather early in life.
St. Therese indicates by what she tells us about her prayer that from even before her entrance into Carmel and, surely during her first years there, she enjoyed what is called the Prayer of Simplicity, the prayer of Simple Regard, or rather the prayer of the awareness of the Presence of God. St. Therese simply spoke to God and lived in a state of prayer. She prayed with confidence and love. The prayer of St. Therese was a look of love, a gaze of adoration. Much of her prayer is of this nature. Later there will be what is called Ecstatic Prayer and then she will reach the heights of the Transforming Union. Yet even then her prayer has this characteristic of a conversation, of a gaze of love, of a child who allows its father to carry it.
Therefore, it seems that St. Therese lived constantly with an awareness of the Presence of God, not a "felt" awareness but rather one of faith and love. There is no indication in any of the Saint's writings that she read the treatise of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a French Carmelite who died in 1691 "Practice of The Presence of God" about the awareness of the Presence of God. It would seem, though, that, as a Carmelite, she would have read it. What is undeniable is that she lived this doctrine. Throughout her life St. Therese lived in a state of recollection. As the other French Carmelite nun, Blessed Elizabeth of the Blessed Trinity, lived adoring the Blessed Trinity within her, her "sister," St. Therese, lived with an awareness of being a child carried by God. Her heart and mind were constantly turned to God. This explains her statement that she had never gone three minutes without thinking of God. One of the other nuns once told the Saint that she was, as it were, "possessed" by God.

The Dark Night of the Soul

When her Dark Night of the Soul began St. Therese simply advanced along her spiritual journey. In darkness she continued to believe, pray, hope and live, aware of God. When God seemed to be hidden from her she never prayed less, she prayed even more. She preferred the darkness of faith, offering what she suffered so others could be given light. The Saint wrote that the clouds might cover the sun, yet not only does she not doubt the sun's existence, she continues to look, with a simple gaze of love, in the direction of the sun. She explains this to her sister Marie in a way that shows once again her great literary ability. St. Therese considers herself a "little bird" that has learned to look at the Sun (God) like the Eagles (the saints). She says she remains keeping her eyes fixed looking at the Sun, "deterred by no obstacle, storm and rain cloud-wrack may conceal its heavenly radiance, but I don't shift my view—I know that it is there all the time behind the clouds, its brightness never dimmed. Sometimes, to be sure, the storm thunders at my heart; I find it difficult to believe in the existence of anything except the clouds, which limit my horizon. It's only then that I realize the possibilities of my weakness; find consolation in staying at my post and directing my gaze toward one invisible light which communicates itself, now only to the eye of faith." The Saint understood her experience very well to be able to explain it so well. The above quotation from her letter to her sister Marie, which forms part of her autobiography, teaches that the "way of prayer" of St. Therese was essentially a gaze of love.
St. Therese, like a little child, spoke to God, listened to God, simply enjoyed being in the Presence of God and with love, gazed at God. This way of prayer developed until she reached the height of the Transforming Union. Yet before reaching this height the Saint was to enter the Dark Night, the Night of Faith. Here we are considering what the theologians call, "The Dark Night of The Soul." It seems to occur when the person leaves what is called the "Illuminative Way" and is about to enter the "Unitive Way." This Unitive Way is a name theologians give to the heights of holiness where the person is totally united to God. We know that the Saint said that this trial began just when she could suffer it. Sooner and she would, she said, not have been able to suffer this great trial. Her trial of faith, or Dark Night of the Soul seems to have begun instantly and the Saint was sure, right away, that it would last a long time. What was this darkness like? She told the prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, that if she wished to understand her trial she must imagine that she (St. Therese) had been born in a country covered with a very thick mist; had never seen nature in her "smiling mood," but had heard of all these experiences ever since childhood and knew that the country in which she lived is not her native country. Yet her country cannot be seen. There is complete darkness. To understand how painful this trial was to St. Therese we must remember how much Heaven meant to her and how, before the Dark Night, she could easily think about Heaven. The darkness was all around her, complete, as she said, yet she tells us there was no darkness in her devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
In this trial St. Therese continued to be faithful and continued to believe. She tells us that she made more acts of faith during this time than during her whole life. She even wrote beautiful poems about Heaven, of what she "willed" to believe. She even said that her soul was blindfolded. There were rays of light, yet afterwards the darkness was blacker than ever, especially during her last illness. The darkness took on the voice of "the unbeliever" to disturb her, telling her that the "land of Light she believed in didn't exist and that death would bring a greater darkness. The devil also tried to disturb her. She asked for a blessed candle and holy water.
What was the purpose of this trial? It seems to have been twofold; first, to perfect the Saint and secondly, for an apostolic purpose—that by the blackness she suffered, unbelievers would receive light. The Saint was quite conscious of both aspects. Of the first she said that her desire for Heaven was being perfected, that all that was "natural" in it was being removed. She also understood that this trial had an apostolic value—to give light to others. She offered her trial for this intention. She continued heroically to pray and faithfully live the Carmelite life during this trial, which was to last until her last agony. She made acts of faith, prayed, showed great charity to others, great patience in her illness and even continued to find ways to practice mortification. She thought of others and not of herself. She continued her prayers and penances for missionaries. During this time the Saint did not pray less, she prayed more. She never omitted the two hours of mental prayer the nuns did each day, the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours and she continued her fervent prayers throughout the day. When prayer was especially difficult she would recite one "Our Father" or a "Hail Mary" for she said the prayers ravish her, they nourished her soul with a divine food. In the dryness of the desert, St. Therese continued to pray.

St. Therese's Last Illness

During the night of Good Friday, 1897, St. Therese received the first warning of her last illness. As she laid down on her cot blood rushed to her mouth. The next morning she looked at her handkerchief and saw that it was filled with blood. In May she was freed from all her duties. in July she was taken to the infirmary. In August she received Holy Viaticum. Through September she suffered greatly until on the 30th of September she died. During these months she suffered terribly from consumption, suffocation and, perhaps especially, from the treatment of cauterization. During this illness she suffered from privation regarding the reception of Holy Communion. She also suffered greatly from her trial of faith. Yet through these months with her heroic abandonment to the Will of God St. Therese continued to progress in the way of perfection and the way of prayer.
During these months of illness St. Therese not only prayed, she asked her sisters to pray for her. She asked that they pray not for healing but for strength to suffer. St. Bernadette had made this same request. St. Therese even prayed that the good of her medicines, which she took in obedience, would be applied not to her but to missionaries. The Saint continued to pray for others. When her sisters were working in the laundry, in the heat of the summer, she prayed that God would console them and that they would work in love and peace.
One can learn a great deal about prayer from the example of the prayer of St. Therese during her last illness. Important statements about prayer made by St. Therese during her last illness are found in a notebook kept by Celine who wrote; "I arose several times during the night in spite of her objections. On one of these visits I saw my dear little sister with hands joined and eyes raised to Heaven 'What are you doing? You should be sleeping.' I said. She answered by saying, "I can't sleep, I'm suffering too much so I'm praying.' Then I asked what do you say to Jesus?' She answered, 'I say nothing, I love Him."' Here we can see that the loving gaze of St. Therese has simplified even further. In the development of her prayer life we see that the gaze of love has simply become love. It is no longer looking with love. It is simply to love. Here we see the perfection of the mystical life and the spiritual life; the perfection of charity. Now for St. Therese it is no longer a question of "praying." It is a question of love. Now the soul of St. Therese is transformed completely into an act of love. Word's aren't necessary anymore, just love. Love will speak, love will pray.
During last agony, on September 30, suffering greatly and still in the Dark Night of the Soul, the Saint uttered many fervent prayers of love. She prayed much to Our Blessed Mother. In the afternoon her sisters were moving her slightly, her arms were outstretched like a cross. The clock struck; it was three o'clock. At six o'clock the Angelus rang. St. Therese looked at the statue of Our Lady. Celine put some ice on her lips and St. Therese gave her a very special look, a look that said to Celine, "Go, I will be with you." Then a few minutes past seven St. Therese asked the Mother Prioress if she was experiencing the last agony. When told yes but that it may continue for a few more hours she answered, "Well. all right, all right. Oh, I wouldn't want to suffer for a shorter time!" Looking at her crucifix, she said, "Oh, I love Him. My God, I love You!"16 With this last prayer of love uttered still in the Dark Night of the Soul St. Therese spoke her last words, her last act of love. Then for a moment or two, the space of a Credo, her sisters saw that St. Therese was no longer aware of them. She was in ecstasy. In this ecstasy she died. Yet it was when she was still in the Dark Night that she uttered her last prayer of love, "My God, I love You."

St. Therese's Act of Oblation to the Merciful Love of God

One of the most significant aspects of the prayer of St. Therese is her "Act of Oblation to The Merciful Love of God." From the beginning it is best to understand that the offering St. Therese made on the Feast of The Most Blessed Trinity was an offering to accept the Merciful Love of God—it was not an offering to suffer. The "Little Flower" surely was a real victim soul, a soul dedicated to suffering in reparation for sin and for the salvation of souls. Yet this is not what she is expressing in her "Oblation."
During the Mass of the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, St. Therese realized how much Our Savior; Jesus Christ wishes to bestow His love on souls and that there were very few to accept this love. After receiving permission from the Prioress; St. Therese and her sister Celine; kneeling before the statue of Virgin of the Smile and recited their offering. St. Therese wrote down the prayer and kept it in her book of the Gospels. Her offering begins with an act of love to the Most Blessed Trinity and her desire to save souls, to deliver souls from Purgatory and to work for the glorification of the Church. She then expresses her desire to fulfill God's Will perfectly and reach the exact degree of glory God has willed for her.
St. Therese expresses her desire to be a saint. Since she believes that she is not able to be a saint on her own she asks for God's holiness. She then recalls that the Infinite Merits of Jesus are hers and she asks God to look at her through the eyes of Jesus, to look at her in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She then offers the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints and holy angels to God. She asks Our Lady to present her oblation to God. She expresses her desires with confidence. She asks that God take possession of her soul. She notes that she cannot receive Holy Communion as often as she would like so she asks that the Blessed Sacrament remain in her heart as in a tabernacle, between each of her receptions of Holy Communion.
St. Therese then expresses her desire to console God by reparation because so few are grateful. She prays that God will take away her freedom, which may cause her to displease Him. She adds that if she falls through weakness she asks God to heal and cure her of this fault instantly by His loving gaze. She then thanks God for all the graces she has received. She is especially thankful for having passed through the "crucible of suffering." She then states that "It is with joy that I shall look upon You on the last day, bearing the scepter of the Cross, since You have deigned to give me that most precious Cross as my portion. I hope to be like You in Heaven and see the Sacred Stigmata of Your Passion in my body."
St. Therese expresses her hope for Heaven yet professes that she is not working for merit but solely for love of God. Solely, she says to console "Your Sacred Heart and to save souls which will love You everlastingly." She says that, at the end of her life, she will appear without any merits; she, therefore, desires to be given God’s own justice and she trusts that in a single instant God can transform and perfect her soul. Now she expresses the actual offering. "To live in an act of perfect Love, I offer myself as a burnt offering to Your Merciful Love, calling you to consume me at every instant, while You let the floods of infinite tenderness within You flow into my soul, that so I may become a martyr to Your Love, O My God!...When that martyrdom has prepared me to appear before You, may it cause me to die and my soul hurl itself in that one instant into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love. At every heartbeat, O my Beloved, I wish to renew this offering an infinite number of times till the shadows retire and I can tell You of my love over and over again, looking upon Your face to face eternally."
Truly this offering is essentially an act of love by one who realized her vocation is love. It is interesting to note that the last words of this offering tell us a great deal about prayer, for eternity she wishes to tell God of her love.

Graces of Prayer

That St. Therese's spiritual life was without extraordinary phenomena compared to other saints has been stated by authors quite often. This basically is correct if we understand that what is meant is that "compared to other saints" she did not experience many of the mystical phenomena they experienced and that St. Therese's way of spirituality is a way that does not exclude, yet does not "require," extraordinary graces. Yet, it must also be remembered that there were some extraordinary graces in her life.
The first extraordinary grace in the life of St. Therese was the vision she had as a child of her father's future illness when she saw a man in their yard, with his face covered, who then disappeared. And she was miraculously cured when she saw Our Lady smile. During prayer St. Therese received other special graces. Even before she entered Carmel she experienced, she tells us, while she prayed on summer evenings, the flights of the spirit described by St. Teresa of Avila. This, of course, is a very extraordinary grace.
As a Carmelite she received similar graces. In 1889, while praying in the grotto of St. Mary Magdalene, she was blessed with a state of what is called "Quietude" which lasted for a week. She described this by saying that something like a veil had been put over earthly things. She knew it was a supernatural state and found it difficult to describe. In keeping with Carmelite tradition the Saint refers to this grace as "mystical," that is, caused by the Holy Spirit and not by her own doing. She understood that the purpose of this grace was to make her more detached.
On the Friday after her Act of Oblation, St Therese received a very extraordinary grace, the "wound of love." She was praying the Stations of the Cross when she felt pierced as it were by a dart of fire. This experience was so ardent that she thought she would die. She couldn't explain it. She felt plunged in fire, a fire full of sweetness. This lasted only a moment. Then she returned to her state of aridity. St. John of the Cross-in "The Living Flame of Love" teaches that not many souls are granted this favor. God gives it mainly to those who have followers. To these followers they transmit their virtue and spirit. Surely St. Therese was to have many followers of her Little Way!
Another grace of prayer St. Therese received was that, very often, she would receive inspirations or, as she called them: "lights." These lights were about understanding Sacred Scripture or the spiritual life. She said also that God inspired her, with what to say and do; she received these lights just when she needed them. They were especially helpful in instructing the novices. During the last months of her life these lights, which inspired her, were even prophetic. During this time she made many prophetic statements regarding her mission, her autobiography, the shower of roses and that she would be a saint!

St. Therese's Devotion to The Most Blessed Virgin Mary

Since St. Therese was a member of the order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel I'll begin considering her devotions by discussing her Marian devotion. St. Therese was, throughout her entire life, a child of Mary. Let us consider now the special character of St. Therese's devotion to Our Blessed Mother. St. Therese was especially devoted to Our Lady as the Mother of Jesus during His hidden years at Nazareth. She liked to contemplate the simplicity, poverty and prayerfulness of the Holy Family. In this the Saint was completely faithful to the Carmelite tradition. For the town of Nazareth is not far from the mountain of Carmel and the Carmelite life is a hidden life of prayer and work.
As a very small child St. Therese had great devotion to Our Lady. In the first essay she ever wrote she told of the Blessed Virgin Mary going to the temple as a child that she was remarkable among her companions for her piety and for her angelic sweetness. She related how everyone loved the child Mary, especially the angels, who regarded her as their little sister. St. Therese explained that she herself wanted to be a very good girl, that Our Lady was her dear Mother and that children usually resemble their mother.
After Pauline entered Carmel little Therese became very ill. She was delirious and suffering from hallucinations. One day during a severe crisis Marie knelt in prayer before a statue of Our Lady in Therese's sick room. Leonie and Celine joined in prayer Therese too, understandingly, turned toward the statue. She prayed with all her heart to her Mother in heaven, that she would have pity on her. All at once, Therese tells us, she saw the Virgin Mary smile upon her. She was instantly cured. The statue, from then on, became known as the Virgin of the Smile. St. Therese was to have this statue with her in the Carmel. Today it is above her remains in her shrine in the Carmelite chapel in Lisieux.
As mentioned earlier, on the day of St. Therese's First Holy Communion she was pleased to be chosen to recite the Act of Consecration to Our Lady. "That afternoon, it was I who recited the act of consecration to Our Lady; it was fitting that I, who had lost my earthly mother so young, should talk to my heavenly Mother in the name of the rest. And that is what I tried to do, talk to her; give myself up to her, like a child throwing its arms round its mother and asking for her protection I think she smiled down at me from Heaven, unseen; hadn't she smiled down visibly at me, and given life to the little flower that seemed to be fading away? And now she had brought her own Son to birth in me."
St. Therese also sought entrance into the Sodality of the Children of Mary. "The Blessed Virgin, too, kept good watch over the little flower that was dedicated to her; she didn’t want to see it tarnished with the stains of earth, so she took care to plant it high up, in her own mountain air, before it faded. That happy moment hadn't yet arrived, but already my love for my heavenly Mother was growing all the time; and I now went out of my way to prove...Soon after my first Communion I took a further step, and a new ribbon announced that I had become an 'aspirant' to fuller dedication as a Child of Mary; only I had to leave school before I actually joined the association And now, as I hadn't finished my schooling at the Abbey, I found I wasn't allowed to enter it on the strength of being an 'old girl.' That wouldn't have worried me much, only all my sisters had belonged, and I wanted to have the same right to call myself Our Lady's child as they had. So I pocketed my pride, and asked if I might join the Association at the Abbey. The headmistress didn't like to say no, but she made the condition that I must come round two afternoons in the week, so that they could judge whether I was worthy to be admitted...Well, if I went to the Abbey, it was only for Our Lady's sake. Sometimes I felt very lonely."
After her pilgrimage to Paris and Rome her fondest memories were the visit to Our Lady of Victories in Paris and to the home of the Holy Family, the Holy House of Loreto. "There was only one of them [the sights of Paris] that really took me out of myself and that was Notre Dame des Victorires. I can't describe what I felt, kneeling in front of the statue; I was so full of gratitude that it could only find its outlet (just as on my First Communion day) in tears. Our Lady gave me the assurance that she really had smiled at me, really had effected my cure; I knew that she really was watching over me, that I was her child—I began calling her 'Mamma,' because 'Mother' didn't seem intimate enough. Oh, I prayed so hard that she would go on looking after me and would make my dream come true before long by taking me under the protection of her stainless robe. I'd wanted that, from my earliest years and as I grew up I'd come to realize that, for me, Carmel was the only place where that shelter could be found."
After entering the Carmelites St. Therese's devotion to Our Lady increased. The day the Church celebrates Our Lady's Nativity, September 8, was chosen for the Saint's profession. She was very pleased about this choice. She prayed that Our Lady would instruct her in the way of perfection. She prayed especially for inspiration in guiding the novices. St. Therese placed the statue of the Virgin of The Smile next to her cell, in a small oratory. Often she brought her novices there to counsel them, in the presence of Our Lady. St. Therese encouraged her missionary "brothers" (the two priests in the foreign missions whom she prayed for and encouraged with letters) to entrust their apostolate to Our Lady. Before beginning a task St. Therese would pray to Our Blessed Mother. She prayed before writing her autobiography that it would be written according to the wishes of Our Lady.
St. Therese said that to pray to the Mother of God is very special. She explained this by saying that when we pray to the saints they make us wait awhile, they have to go and present their requests to God. Yet when we pray for something, asking Our Lady to intercede for us—we do not have to wait. The Saint added that in her troubles and anxieties she quickly turned to the Virgin Mary—and she always helped her.
During her last illness St. Therese's devotion to Our Lady was especially fervent. She said she knew how greatly the Virgin Mary had suffered. She asked Our Blessed Mother how to benefit from her sufferings. One day she told a novice that she liked to hide her pains from God to give Him the impression that she was always glad. But hid nothing from Our Lady; to her, she told everything. When she was suffering from her trial of faith St. Therese prayed to Our Blessed Mother. Regarding her last illness St. Therese prayed to Our Lady that little Therese would not be a burden to her sisters. One day Mother Agnes of Jesus (her sister Pauline) said death was distressing to those who had to look upon it. St. Therese spoke of Our Lady. She referred to how the Blessed Virgin held Jesus, after he died, in her arms. He was covered with so many wounds. St. Therese marveled that Our Lady could endure such suffering.
When St. Therese's suffering was very acute she turned to the statue of the Virgin of The Smile and prayed. She once said she could not pray but could only look at the Blessed Virgin Mary and say, "Jesus." Here we can see the spirituality of St. Therese. She looks at the statue of Our Blessed Mother and says the Holy Name of Jesus. In remembering Our Lady she does not forget Jesus and in remembering Jesus she does not forget Our Lady. For St. Therese it is simply Jesus and Mary.
One day she told her sister Pauline that she had prayed much to the Blessed Virgin during the night, thinking that Our Lady’s wonderful month of May was about to begin. During her last illness St. Therese turned to Our Lady. In the book known as the "Last Conversations" we read many Marian statements that the Saint made during these days of suffering. Several are quoted here. "I asked the Blessed Virgin that I be not so tired and withdrawn as I have been all these days; I really felt that I was causing you pain. This evening she answered me."
"I would, however, like to have a beautiful death to please you. I asked this from the Blessed Virgin. I didn't ask God for this because I want Him to do as He pleases. Asking the Blessed Virgin for something is not the same thing as asking God. She really knows what is to be done about my little desires, whether or not she must speak about them to God. So it's up to her to see that God is not forced to answer me, to allow Him to do everything He pleases." And, "However, I do want to go! I've told the Blessed Virgin so and she can do what she pleases with my little wish."
St. Therese believed that Our Lady who didn't have a Blessed Virgin Mary to love is therefore less happy than we are. One day St. Therese said, regarding having entrusted some intentions to Our Lady, "The Blessed Virgin really carried out my messages well; I'll give her some once more!" And another time she said, "When I think of how much trouble I've had all my life trying to recite the Rosary!" St. Therese asked Celine, her infirmarian, to pray much for her to Our Lady. St. Therese, who tried to offer everything she did in a spiritual way told Pauline, "Sometimes I wanted to have a real dinner and I took a grape, then a mouthful of wine [She could consume very little nourishment during her last illness] and these I offered to the Blessed Virgin. Then I did the same thing for the Child Jesus and my little dinner was finished."
Pauline recalls, "she was showing me the picture of Our Lady of Victories, to which she had pasted the little flower Papa had given her on the day she had confided her vocation to him; the root was detached from it and the Infant Jesus seemed to be holding it, while He and the Blessed Virgin smiled at her: [the Saint said] 'The little flower has lost its root; this will tell you I'm on my way to Heaven." Pauline tells us 'after gazing a long time on the statue of the Blessed Virgin [St. Therese said] 'who could ever invent the Blessed Virgin?’" Also from Pauline we learn of the following. One day, "when the Angelus was ringing [the Saint asked]: 'Must I extend my little hands?' I answered: 'No, you're even too weak to recite the Angelus. Call upon the Blessed Virgin by simply saying: 'Virgin Mary!' She said,. 'Virgin Mary, I love you with all my heart.’"
"I [Pauline] was telling her she suffered less during the silence [the Saint said,] 'Oh! just the opposite! I suffered very much, very much! But it's to the Blessed Virgin that I complained.’" St. Therese prayed, "O good Blessed Virgin, come to my aid!"40 In her time of her sickness and great suffering the Saint turned to her Mother. During her last agony St. Therese prayed to Our Lady and at six o'clock in the evening when she heard the bell for the Angelus looked toward the statue of the Virgin of the Smile. Some time before, in one of her poems, St. Therese had made the request that Our Blessed Mother would be with her at the eventide after her life and would once again smile at her.
It is therefore quite correct to say that St Therese's prayer was Marian, dedicated to the Mother of Jesus at Nazareth and Our Lady of Sorrows at Calvary. She also had a special devotion to The Virgin of the Smile. All through her life St. Therese remained a Child of Mary and prayed to Our Lady with childlike faith and confidence. The last words she ever wrote explained, in words written to Our Blessed Mother, that if she, Therese, were the Queen of Heaven and Our Lady was little Therese—she would want Mary to be the Queen of Heaven.