Proper of the Saints and Feasts |
Thursday, October 3:
Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Virgin and Doctor of the Church
Double Feast. White Vestments
The youngest of nine children, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus was one of four of the daughters who survived infancy. Five of the other children born to Theresa's parents Louis Martin Guerin and his wife Zelie-Marie had died in their infancy. Theresa was sent to the Benedictine monastery in Lisieux where she became known for her total suppression of her own will in favor of what Jesus wanted, offering every little sacrifice she could. Frail from birth, Therese, or Theresa, had been healed of a serious illness in 1883 through the intercession of Our Lady, and decided then and there she would become a Carmelite Nun. However her age prevented her from pursuing this immediate goal. Undaunted and persistent that Jesus wanted this, she even approached the Holy Father Pope Leo XIII during a group audience with him in Rome on pilgrimage, asking him to allow her to enter the convent. He was somewhat taken aback by her forwardness but replied gently, "Whatever your bishop advises, you follow, my child." This news from such a powerful prelate forced Theresa to bite her lip for she thought surely the Pope would allow this. Saddened she returned to France where she waited until old enough to be admitted which she was in 1888 and given the name Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face. Five years later at the age of 20 she was chosen mistress of novices. Three years later in 1986 Tuberculosis set in. Once this was known, Theresa's older blood sister, Mother Agnes of Jesus insisted that Theresa write down her memoirs for posterity. This she did and after her death this work entitled The Story of a Soul was widely circulated. In it, Theresa emphasized her doctrine on the "little way" of spiritual childhood stressing that she wanted to save souls to help priests save souls by prayer, sacrifice, and suffering. Her "little way" means loving and trusting in God as a child, held in His loving arms as she writes, "From the age of three, I never refused our good God anything. I have never given him anything but love. I just want to love God. I want to do hard things for Him. I want to pray for priests and for sinners. I want to shine like a little candle before His altar." She exemplified two of the greatest virtues, humility and total dependence on the Will of God. She even prayed that God would hear her prayer and save so many souls by offering herself in total reparation, including letting God give away any graces she would earn to any soul who needed it. As she lay dying in the convent in 1897, she pressed her precious crucifix to her heart and peering Heavenward replied, "I love Him! My God, I love You!" Shortly afterwards the tuberculosis took its toll and Theresa died on September 30, 1897 at only 24. True to her promise that she would let fall from Heaven a "shower of roses," she became known far and wide as the "Little Flower" with many miracles of intercession attributed to her throughout the world so that in 1925 Pope Pius XI canonized her proclaiming, "St. Theresa of the Child Jesus is the greatest saint of modern times." In 1944, at the height of World War II when France was being pummelled by German howitzers, Pope Pius XII proclaimed her patroness of France along with Saint Joan of Arc. French aviators and soldiers took up the battle cry encouraged by her intercession and many attribute the fall of Germany to storming Heaven. Theresa also shares a title with Saint Francis Xavier as patroness of Foreign Missions. Though Theresa never had the opportunity to set step outside of Europe, she had a longing to go to a Carmelite mission in Hanoi, Vietnam in the late 19th Century. On September 19th of 1996, Pope John Paul II officially proclaimed St. Therese a Doctor of the Church, making her the third female saint to be so honored.
Few Saints have aroused so much admiration and enthusiasm immediately after their death; few have acquired a more astonishing popularity everywhere on earth; few have been so rapidly raised to the altars as was this holy young Carmelite. Marie Françoise Therese Martin was born January 2, 1873 at Alençon in Normandy, France, of very Christian parents. The Martins, who lost four of their little ones in early infancy or childhood, regarded their children as gifts from Heaven and offered them to God before their birth. Theresa was the last flower of this blessed stem, which gave four Sisters to the Carmel of Lisieux, still another to the Visitation of Caen. The five sisters were left without their mother, a victim of cancer, when Therese was only four years old; but her two oldest sisters were of an age to take excellent care of the household and continue the Christian character formation of the younger ones, which their mother had initiated. Their saintly father was soon to see his little flock separated, however, when one after the other they left to enter religious life. He blessed each one and gave them all back to God, with humble gratitude to God for having chosen his daughters.
From childhood Theresa had manifested a tender piety which her naturally lively temperament could not alter. Her mother’s death affected her profoundly, however, and at the age of nine she was visited with a severe trial in the form of an illness the doctors could not diagnose, and which seemed incurable. She was instantly restored to her ordinary good health by the Virgin Mary, in answer to her desolate sisters’ prayers; Therese saw Her statue become animated, to smile at her with an ineffable tenderness as she lay on her bed of suffering.
Before the age of fifteen Theresa already desired to enter the Carmel of Lisieux, where her two eldest sisters were already nuns; a trip to Rome and a petition at the knees of the Holy Father Leo XIII gave her the inalterable answer that her Superiors would regulate the matter. Many prayers finally obtained an affirmative reply to her ardent request, and four months after her fifteenth birthday she entered Carmel with an ineffable joy. She could say then, “I no longer have any desire but to love Jesus even to folly.”
She adopted flowers as the symbol of her love for her Divine Spouse and offered all her little daily sacrifices and works as rose petals at the feet of Jesus. Divine Providence gave to the world the autobiography of this true Saint, whose little way of spiritual childhood was described in her own words in her Story of a Soul. She could not offer God the macerations of the great soldiers of God, only her desires to love Him as they had loved Him, and to serve Him in every way possible, not only as a cloistered nun, but as a missionary, a priest, a hero of the faith, a martyr. She chose “all” in spirit, for her beloved Lord. Later she would be named patroness of missions. Her spirituality does not imply only sweetness and light, however; this loving child of God passed by a tunnel of desolate spiritual darkness, yet never ceased to smile at Him, wanting to serve Him, if it were possible, without His even knowing it.
When nine years had passed in the Carmel, the little flower was ready to be plucked for heaven; and in a slow agony of consumption, Therese made her final offering to God. She suffered so severely that she said she would never have believed it possible, and could only explain it by her desire to save souls for God. She died in 1897, was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925. And now, as she foretold, she is spending her heaven in doing good upon earth. Countless miracles have been attributed to her intercession.
Sources: Lives of the Saints for Every Day of the Year. (Reprint of the work of John Gilmary Shea, with Appendix including recently canonized Saints) (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1955. Third Edition: Tan Books and Publishers: Rockford, Ill., 1995); Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).
Friday, October 4:
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Confessor, Mystic and Religious Founder
Double Major Feast, white vestments. FIRST FRIDAY
Few saints are as beloved as Saint Francis of Assisi who founded the Franciscans in the 12th Century. No order ever grew so fast. Francis was born Francis Bernardone in 1181 to a wealthy wool dyer who encouraged Francis to follow in his footsteps. Francis was well on his way toward this avocation, spending his youth recklessly at times with an adventurous spirit, impulsively enlisting in the war between Assisi and Perugia. One night, while sleeping on the battlefield in full gear, Francis had a mystical dream in which he saw himself returning to Assisi and entered the church of St. Damian where he heard three times Christ's words to repair His Church depicted by a crucifix that had been shattered. This dream was so pronounced that Francis, upon awakening, resigned his commission in the military, then renounced his patrimony by defrocking to the waist in front of his father, bishops and the well-to-do aristocrats of Assisi as well as the townsfolk as a gesture that he was stripping himself of all worldly possessions and consecrating himself to God by turning to a life as a mendicant preacher. Around 1207 Francis put on the robes of a penitent and sought to lead a contemplative, secluded life. At first he had taken Our Lord's words literally, constructing with his own hands a one room portiuncula church that still stands today inside the large church at the base of the hills leading to the town of Assisi. While reading a passage from Luke 9: 3-5 on the mission of the Apostles, Francis knew his mission was to gather a group of like-minded men for the purpose of preaching the gospel to all, especially those who could not read. Thus, he began the Order of Friars Minor and Pope Innocent III orally approved the first Rule, but not until Francis and his men had walked all the way from Assisi to Rome in hopes of gaining an audience with his holiness only to be turned away. In a mystical dream, Innocent was shown what would happen if he turned down Francis' request and what Francis' mission truly was. Innocent sent for Francis who already was half way back to Assisi to give him word that yes, the Holy Father had approved his Holy Rule. Francis, overjoyed, shared the news with his compadres and they began to preach the gospel everywhere, fostering numerous vocations as men sought to join this holy friar, with only a brown robe, cinctured rope and sandals as their possessions. Francis had always longed to be a martyr and yearned, like his counterpart and friend Saint Anthony to go the Morocco and preach to the heathens. Francis did go to Morocco, Egypt and then Palestine and five of his Franciscans were martyred by the Muslims, but not Francis who returned to Assisi where he, along with Saint Clare founded the Poor Clares, an order of Franciscan women dedicated to a life of contemplative, cloistered life in supporting the Friars through their sacrifices and prayers. Because his order had grown so fast, not all were the "cream of the crop" and many began to fudge here and there relaxing the rigors of the rule in respect to holy poverty. Therefore Francis, not wanting to lose them and realizing not all were cut out for a life of strict poverty, began working in 1220 on a second Rule for just this purpose establishing two branches of the Franciscan Friars, catering to the more relaxed rule, while maintaining the purity of the strict rule. On September 14, 1224 with his health suffering greatly from numerous physical afflictions from the rigorous schedule he had maintained and almost blind, Francis received an extraordinary gift from Jesus - the mark of the stigmata, the holy wounds of Christ while in contemplation on Mount Alverno in Italy. It was the first authenticated case of a stigmatist in the history of the Church. He was, as it were, wounded in love, and here he composed his famous "Canticle of the Sun" as well as the beautiful St. Francis' Prayer for Peace that he is most widely known for. This dedicated saint, referred to this day as "The Most Holy Father," died on October 4, 1224 at the relatively young age of 45 years old and was mourned the world over. The Franciscans remain the largest body of religious in the Church today.
Francis, the son of a merchant of Assisi, was born in a poor stable, his birth already prophesying the Saint who would preach poverty to a world seduced by luxury. Though chosen by God to be for the world a living manifestation of Christ’s poor and suffering life on earth, in his youth he was generous, always of equal humor, and much appreciated by his friends; he was fond of splendors, fine clothing, and good company, and easily won the affection of all who knew him. More than once various holy persons foretold for him a future of glory, but in veiled terms. Francis did not understand these predictions, and supposed he would become the leader of a large militia.
His military life ended when Jesus told him he was destined to fight another kind of combat, one against the demon and sin; that the grandeurs predicted were spiritual, not temporal — and to return home. He became inspired with a great esteem for poverty and humiliation. The thought of the Man of Sorrows, who had nowhere to lay His Head, filled him with holy envy of the poor, and constrained him to renounce the wealth and the worldly station which he had come to abhor. And he gave a farewell feast for his friends. One day, while on horseback, he met a leper begging alms who inspired him with repugnance, and he took a path to avoid him. Then, repenting, he turned his horse around and returned to embrace him and give him a generous alms, as was his custom for all beggars. He continued on his way, but looked back once, and nowhere on the plain could the stranger be seen, though there were no trees, no refuges anywhere. He was from that day a completely transformed person.
He decided to use his wealth to care for the poor and the sick, and dedicate himself in person to the same works. When he prayed one day in the little chapel to do only what God willed of him, the Saviour spoke again to him, repeating three times the mysterious words: “Go, Francis, and repair My house which is falling in ruin.” He then undertook to repair the old church of San Damiano where he had heard these words, retiring for refuge to a grotto. He was regarded as a fool by the people, when he returned to the city in the clothing of a poor beggar. This was indeed the folly of the Cross.
Francis renounced his heritage definitively, to beg thereafter his daily sustenance and what he needed for the repair of the church, and left the city singing the praises of God. He repaired two other churches. The love of God which was burning brightly in the poor man of Assisi began to give light and warmth to many others also, and it was not long before several came to join him. One of them was a very wealthy man of Assisi, the second a Canon of the Assisi cathedral, and the third the now Blessed Brother Gilles. They adopted the absolute poverty of Francis, and the foundations of the Franciscan Order were laid. They were first called the “penitents of Assisi.” No counsels could make Francis change his resolution to possess nothing at all. God revealed to him then that he was to found a religious Order.
Pope Innocent III, when Francis with his first twelve companions journeyed to Rome, after first rebuffing them, recognized him as the monk God showed him in a vision, supporting on his shoulders the Church of Saint John Latran, which was growing decrepit. He received the profession of Francis and his twelve companions, and in 1215 they were formally constituted as a religious Order, which then spread rapidly throughout Christendom.
In 1216, Saint Francis after assembling his religious, sent them out to preach in France, Spain, England and Germany, where they established monasteries, lasting proofs of the efficacy of their missions. A second general Chapter was held in 1219 on the feast of Pentecost, and the little Brothers gathered from all over the world at Saint Mary of the Angels, the church which Francis and his first twelve disciples had received only nine years earlier. Cabins of reeds and tents were put up all over the countryside. The Cardinal who visited them exclaimed, with tears in his eyes, “O Brother, truly this is the camp of the Lord!” They were more than 5,000 in number. Saint Francis exhorted his brethren: “My Brothers, above all, let us love the Holy Church; let us pray for her exaltation, and never abandon poverty. Is it not written, ‘Trust in the Lord, and He Himself will sustain you’ ”?
Francis, after visiting the Orient in a vain quest for martyrdom, spent his life like his Divine Master — now in preaching to the multitudes, now amid the desert solitudes in fasting and contemplation. His constant prayer was “My God and my All!” During one of these retreats on Mount Alverno, he received on his hands, feet, and side the imprints of the five wounds of Jesus. With the cry, “Welcome, sister Death!” he passed to the glory of his God, October 4, 1226, at the age of 44 years.
Reflection: The prayer of Saint Francis, “My God and my All!” explains both his poverty and his wealth.
Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).