Thérèse of Lisieux, as you may know, is one of only three women to have been made a Doctor of the Church. Her mother died when Thérèse was 4. One by one, her four older sisters left for the cloister. She became emotionally clingy.
A key moment in her spiritual development occurred on Christmas Eve of 1886. She called it her “second conversion.”
The French custom at that time was for children to leave their shoes by the fireplace for the parents to fill with candy. As the youngest of the Martin daughters, Thérèse — 13 at the time — was the last to keep up the ritual. Returning from midnight Mass that night, her father, tired and uncharacteristically cranky, passed the pair of filled shoes and remarked: “Well, fortunately this is the last year.”
Thérèse overheard and began to run up to her room. Her impulse was to burst into tears and make a scene. Instead, halfway up the stairs she paused, willed herself to smile, turned, marched back to the parlor, embraced her father and opened the presents with good cheer and thanks.
“On that night of light the third period of my life began, the most beautiful of them all, the most filled with graces from heaven,” she wrote in her spiritual biography, “The Story of a Soul.” “I felt a great desire to work for the conversion of sinners, a desire that I had never felt so strongly. … In a word, I felt charity enter into my heart, the need to forget myself in order to please others, and ever afterward I was happy!”
Happy in spite of almost constant aridity, a frightful dark night of the soul, and an agonizing death from complications of tuberculosis — with no pain medication — at the age of 24.
Brother Joseph Schmidt, FSC, author of two penetratingly insightful books about Thérèse, points out that Thérèse turned that night from a neurotically needy schoolgirl to a mature woman with a profound capacity for authentic love. He maintains that Thérèse journeyed through what today we’d call codependence, and that her recovery was based on a recognition of the utter nonviolence of God’s love.
Here’s an excerpt from “Walking the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux”:
“Thérèse’s spirituality in particular shines the Gospel light on the violence hidden in Jansenism, perfectionism, and Pelagianism. These errors poisoned the spirituality of Thérèse’s day and continue in various forms to contaminate religion in our own time. … Specifically, she rejected violence, not violently but by being more and more available to the source of love. She resisted violence and subverted it, serenely bearing its pain, resisting its contamination, opening herself more fully to God’s love, and quietly living and teaching her little way of love.”
She renounced violence against herself, noting: “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.”
She learned how to refrain from being manipulative, passive-aggressive, withholding, phony, or critical: all forms of violence toward others.
Thérèse’s path was not terribly glamorous. She was stuck in a freezing cold, cloistered convent with bad food, no spiritual peer, and a nun behind her in chapel who made a horribly annoying sound, “like two shells rubbing together,” apparently by clicking her rosary against her teeth. Thérèse trained herself by the strictest discipline not to turn around and glare at the woman. What purpose would that small act of emotional violence have served except to telegraph to the nun that Thérèse found her substandard?
Our paths aren’t terribly glamorous either. We live in a culture that mocks our faith and is saturated with violence. We have abortion, we have massacres of schoolchildren, we have nuclear weapons that are capable of destroying the planet.
And what is the antidote? Love. The antidote is to treat the crotchety old neighbor, the borderline personality and your neurotic superior, who may very well be your spiritual inferior, with love. That is the orientation of heart from which all peace-making efforts must spring. Like Thérèse in her cloister, we get to be hidden in plain sight. We get to make the smallest moment of our lives sacramental. We offer our little acts of self-denial, our prayer, our sorrows, our sacrifices, our tears, our vigils, for some, our solitary incarceration, and let Christ do with them what he wills.
In this era of rampant self-promotion, it’s also worth remembering that millions of people know Thérèse now, but no one knew about her when she was alive. Even after her death within the convent, the general tone was: She’s a saint?
But read Brother Joseph’s book. It will give you a whole new appreciation of the crazy paradox that this bourgeois French schoolgirl became one of the most important spiritual figures of our time. It will give you a whole new sense that your own outwardly meager, mostly unseen, tragicomic journey will somehow, someday, bear fruit. It will make you really, really grateful for central heating and pain medication.
And on Christmas Eve, the holiest of holy nights, may charity enter our hearts as well.
Mary of the Angels was born in Turin on Jan. 7, 1661, the last of eleven children of the Count John Donatus Fontanella di Baldissero and of Countess Mary Tana di Santana. When she was fourteen, her father had already died; and she had to overcome resolutely the opposition of her mother in order to enter the monastery of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of St. Christine, which had been founded on April 30, 1639, by the princes Of Savoy. On Nov. 19, 1675, she gave up her name of Marianna and was clothed in the religious habit; on Dec. 26, 1676, she made her religious profession. Long years of indescribable sufferings, borne with heroic serenity, refined her spirit even to mystical transformation in God. The renown of her holiness imposed itself on the esteem and confidence of her sisters in Carmel and her fellow-citizens. She obtained papal dispensation to be elected prioress at the age of thirty-three, and was confirmed in the same office three more times. She was also entrusted with the office of mistress of novices; and in 1702 she founded a new Carmel at Moncalieri.
She revealed her charity for her neighbor and for her country by continual prayer, by her life of immolation, by her delicacy and care in receiving and consoling everyone. Members of royalty were among her admirers and confidants. She obtained from the Lord the end of the war and the liberation of Turin in 1696. Ascribing that grace to the intercession of St. Joseph, she had the joy of having him proclaimed a patron of the city, with a solemn triduum at St. Christine’s. A few years later she turned to the Bl. Virgin to obtain again the liberation of Turin from the imminent danger of siege and invasion on the part of the French troops. On Sept. 7, 1706, the united forces of Duke Victor Amadeus and Prince Eugene of Savoy gained a decisive victory, as the blessed had foretold.
To celebrate this victory, the famous votive temple at Superga was built.
Mary of the Angels lived as a true daughter of St. Teresa of Jesus, zealously upholding the full observance of the rule and the counsels. She was distinguished by an unsullied purity — such as to be compared with St. Aloysius Gonzaga, to whom she was related on her mother’s side — by her intense love of suffering, by her apostolic zeal, by her continual suffrages for the souls in purgatory, by a very tender devotion to the Bl. Virgin and to St. Joseph. She was enriched by God with extraordinary charisms. She died at Turin on Dec. 16, 1717, leaving behind many letters and some spiritual autobiographical accounts (unedited).
The canonical processes were begun in 1722. On May 5, 1778, Pius VI proclaimed the heroicity of her virtues; and on April 25, 1865, Pius IX declared her a blessed. Her body rests at Turin in the church of St. Teresa, the work of the architect Juvenal Delponte, under a magnificent altar, opposite the monumental chapel of St. Joseph, the masterpiece of Philip Juvara. Her liturgical feast is celebrated by the Discalced Carmelites on Dec. 16, with the rank of an optional memorial.
Saint John was born, probably in 1540, in Fontiveros, near Avila in Spain. His father died when he was very young and he had to move with his mother from one place to another, while he tried as best he could to continue his education and, at the same time, to earn a living. In Medina in 1563 he was clothed in the Carmelite habit and, after a year’s novitiate, was given permission to follow the unmitigated Carmelite Rule.
He was ordained priest in 1567, after studying philosophy and theology at Salamanca, and, in the same year, he met Saint Teresa of Jesus who, a little while before, had obtained permission from the Prior General Rossi to found two communities of contemplative Carmelite Friars (later called the Discalced) in order that they might help the communities of nuns that she had established. A year later – during which he travelled with Teresa – on the 28th November 1568, John became part of the first group of Reformed Carmelites at Duruelo, changing his name from John of St. Matthias to John of the Cross.
He occupied many different positions within the Reform. From 1572 to 1577 he was general confessor for the monastery of the Incarnation in Avila (not then reformed but where Saint Teresa was Prioress). In carrying out his duties, he became involved in an unpleasant dispute within the monastery, a dispute for which he was considered in some way responsible. As a result, he was seized and spent about eight months imprisoned in the Carmelite house in Toledo, from where he escaped in August 1578. During his time in prison, he composed many of his poems for which, later on, he wrote commentaries in his celebrated spiritual masterpieces.
After Toledo, he was appointed superior in a succession of houses, until, in 1591, the Vicar General, Nicolas Doria, (the Reform having, by this time, gained a certain autonomy) dismissed him from all his positions. In the final years of his life, this was not the only “trial” which came to him who had given everything to the Reform, but he bore all his trials as a saint. He died between the 13th and 14th December 1591 in Ubeda, aged 49 years.
He communicated his spirituality essentially by word of mouth and it was only written down as a result of persistent requests. The central theme of his teaching, which has made him renowned both within and without the Catholic Church, concerned the union through grace of man with God, through Jesus Christ: he described a spiritual journey from the very beginning up to the most sublime level, which consists of the stages of the purgative way, the illuminative way and the unitive way or, in other words, the stages for beginners, for the proficient and for those who are close to perfection. As Saint John says – in order to arrive at the All which is God, it is necessary that man should give all of himself, not like a slave but inspired by love. Saint John’s most celebrated aphorisms were: “In the evening of your life you will be judged by your love” and, “Where there is no love, put love and then you will find love”.
Canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 27th December 1726, he was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pius XI on 24th August 1926
Maria Maravillas Pidal y Chico de Guzman was born in Madrid on November 4, 1891 to the Marquess and Marchioness of Pidal. Her father, at the time, was the Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See and was well noted for his efforts to help the Church and religious Orders.
She was baptized at the age of eight days old in the parish of St. Sebastian. Maria was attracted to virtue from early childhood and, in her own way, made a vow of chastity at the age of five. She received a privileged education from her maternal grandmother particularly in the study of languages and general culture, and devoted herself to charitable works with the poor and marginalized. Maria was confirmed in 1896 and made her first communion in 1902.
After coming into contact with the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, she entered the Carmelite novitiate at El Escorial, Madrid in 1920, and in 1924 together with three sisters founded the Carmel in Cerro de los Angeles (Madrid), where several years earlier a monument to the Sacred Heart had been erected and the Nation consecrated by King Alfonso XIII. Living nearby during the construction of the convent in a provisional house in the district of Getafe, Maria made her solemn profession on May 30th 1924. She became prioress of the community in June of 1926 and on October 31st of the same year, the new Carmel in Cerro de los Angeles was inaugurated. It quickly filled with vocations and Mother Maravillas took this as a sign from the Lord to multiply ‘Our Lady’s houses’ of Carmel. In 1933, a Carmelite Bishop invited her to found another house in Kottayam, India which eventually grew into numerous other foundations throughout India.
The Spanish Civil War erupted in July of 1936 and the sisters at Cerro de los Angeles were arrested and taken to Getafe where they lived for fourteen months in a small apartment under house arrest. The community was allowed to leave Madrid in September 1937 and settled in the ancient, abandoned ‘desert’ of las Batuecas (Salamanca) and there founded another Carmel at the request of Bishop of Coria-Caceres. In 1939 Mother Maravillas returned to Madrid and began the reconstruction of the then destroyed Carmel of Cerro de los Angeles.
Soon to follow were numerous new Carmels throughout Spain. She moved to the Carmel of La Aldehuela (Madrid) in 1961 and while there founded colleges for poor young people of the area. She built a suburb of prefabricated houses, church, community hall, recreation grounds, and bought a house in Madrid for Carmelite nuns needing medical attention. In 1972 Maria obtained approval from the Holy See for the Association of St. Teresa as a means of uniting the monasteries founded by her and others that had attached themselves.
She died in peace in the Carmel of La Aldehucla on December 11, 1974 at the age of 84. As she died she kept repeating “What happiness to die a Carmelite!” A perfume of spice emanated from her body. She was beatified on May 19, 1998 by Pope John Paul II and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in Madrid 2003
Father Raphael of Saint Joseph Kalinowski, was born at Vilna, 1st September 1835, and at baptism received the name Joseph. Under the teaching of his father Andrew, at the Institute for Nobles at Vilna, he progressed so well that he received the maximum distinction in his studies. He then went for two years (1851-1852) to the school of Agriculture at Hory-Horky. During the years 1853-1857, he continued his studies at the Academy of Military Engineering at St Petersburg, obtaining his degree in Engineering, and the rank of Lieutenant. Immediately afterwards he was named Lecturer in Mathematics at the same Academy. In 1859, he took part in the designing of the Kursk-Kiev-Odessa railway.
In 1863 the Polish insurrection against their Russian oppressors broke out. He resigned from the Russian forces, and accepted the post of Minister of War for the region of Vilna, in the rebel army. On 24th March 1864, he was arrested and condemned to death, a penalty that was mitigated to 10 years hard labour in Siberia. With an admirable strength of spirit, patience, and love for his fellow exiles, he knew how to instill into them the spirit of prayer, serenity and hope, and to give material help together with a word of encouragement.
Repatriated in 1874, he accepted the post of tutor to the Venerable Servant of God, Augusto Czartoryski, living mostly in Paris. His influence on the young prince was such, that Augusto discovered his true vocation as priest and religious. He was received into the Salesians by their founder, Saint John Bosco, in 1887. On the other hand, Joseph Kalinowski entered the Discalced Carmelites at Graz in Austria, and received the religious name of Brother Raphael of Saint Joseph. He studied theology in Hungary, and was ordained Priest at Czerna near Krakow, 15th January 1882.
Afire with apostolic zeal, he did not spare himself in helping the faithful, and assisting his Carmelite brothers and sisters in the ascent of the mountain of perfection.
In the sacrament of Reconciliation, he lifted up many from the mire of sin. He did his utmost for the work of reunification of the Church, and bequeathed this mission to his Carmelite brothers and sisters. His superiors entrusted him with many important offices, which he carried out perfectly, right until the time of his death.
Overcome by fatigue and suffering, and held in great respect by all the people, he gave his soul to God, 15th November 1907, at Wadowice in the monastery founded by himself. He was buried in the monastery cemetery, at Czerna, near Krakow.
During his life and after death, he enjoyed a remarkable fame for sanctity, even on the part of the most noble and illustrious of people, such as the Cardinals Dunajewski, Puzyna, Kakowski and Gotti. The Ordinary Process for his eventual beatification, was set in motion in the Curia of Krakow during the years 1934-1938, and later taken to Rome where in 1943 was issued the Decree concerning his writings. His cause was introduced in 1952. From 1953-1956 the Apostolic Process was carried out, and the Congregation proceeded to the discussion on his virtues.
Pope John Paul II, on the 11th October 1980, promulgated the Decree on the heroicity of his virtues. After the approval of the miraculous healing of the Reverend Mis, the Holy Father beatified Father Raphael Kalinowski at Krakow on 22nd June 1983.
As the fame of his miracles was increasing, the Curia of Krakow in 1989, set in motion the Canonical Process to investigate the extraordinary healing of a young child. The discussions of the doctors, theologians and cardinals, were brought to a happy conclusion. On the 10th July 1990, the Holy Father John Paul II, approved the miracle for the canonization.
In the Consistory of 26th November 1990, Pope John Paul together with the Cardinals, decided to canonize Blessed Raphael Kalinowski. They set the ceremony for Sunday, 17th November 1991.
Pope John Paul II, today canonizes him, and presents him as a model to all Christians in the universal Church.
Maria Scrilli was born on 15 May 1825 in Montevarchi, Arezzo, Italy, into an influential family. She was the second daughter of parents who had been hoping for a son and heir. Her mother’s disappointment and lack of affection on this account affected her deeply.
In adolescence, a serious illness confined Maria to bed for nearly two years. She recovered miraculously after invoking the intercession of the holy Martyr, Fiorenzo. During her long convalescence she realized the Lord was calling her to the consecrated life.
She therefore decided to enter the Carmelite Convent of St Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi in Florence, although her parents were strongly opposed to it. She returned home after only two months, but the time had nevertheless served to confirm her certainty that God was calling her to do something more.
While seeking to discern the Lord’s plan for her, Maria opened a small school at home where she devoted herself to educating young girls. She provided a moral, civil and religious education, inculcating in them a holy fear of God and the love of virtue. Several other equally zealous young women joined her. Their outstanding spirit of sacrifice attracted the admiration of the Chief Magistrate and of the Superintendent for Schools, who put them in charge of the Scuole Normali Leopoldine.
Gradually, Maria came to understand that she should found a religious institute devoted exclusively to the education of children from the earliest age through adolescence.
On 15 October 1854, after obtaining the approval of her Bishop and of Duke Leopold II of Habsburg, Grand Duke of Tuscany, she and her three companions were clothed with the Carmelite habit, and Maria founded the Institute known today as the Sisters of Our Lady of Carmel. For her name in religion, she chose “Maria Teresa of Jesus”.
The Sisters were so full of love of God and apostolic zeal that the number of their pupils and aspirants rapidly increased. In spring 1856, at the request of the Municipality of Foiano, Mother Maria Teresa sent several Sisters there to run the girls’ school; their work was deeply appreciated.
Unfortunately, political turmoil, anticlericalism and freemasonry, all widespread at that time, put an end to the new institution almost as soon as it began. The political leaders of Montevarchi, who frowned upon the Carmelites’ presence, confiscated their school in 1859 via the law of partial suppression and obliged them not to wear the religious habit.
But the Sisters would not admit defeat, and the Foundress opened a house and private school in Montevarchi. Due to lack of space in the new premises and to avoid further difficulties, several Sisters and Mother Maria Teresa lived at her family home.
In 1862 individual citizens were deprived of the right to earn a living – let alone to run a private school -, and the Religious had to close their school and return to their respective families.
Mother Maria Teresa moved to Florence in 1878. With the Archbishop’s blessing she could at last reconstitute her community. She opened a boarding school for poor girls which enriched Florentine society with many young women of sound principles. After so many misfortunes, it seemed that everything had turned out for the best, but the Sisters’ troubles were not yet over.
Perhaps because of their austere life and unhealthy living conditions, many Sisters died, including the Foundress. Years of suffering and adversity, borne with holy resignation, had undermined her health. She died near Florence on 14 November 1889, at the age of 64.
Again, it seemed that all was over. The Institute had only two Sisters, a novice and a postulant.
A former boarder, Clementina Mosca, had seemed to be a promising vocation, but she had entered the Dominican Convent at Sodo. Shortly after the death of Mother Scrilli, however, on 1 December 1898, Clementina decided to enter the tiny Carmelite Institute. Then, when the new Superior died, she became superior and under her leadership the Institute gradually began to flourish.
In 1919 new houses were opened, the Constitutions were drafted, and the Institute had many vocations and obtained diocesan approval “ad experimentum”. On 27 February 1933, it received Papal Approval.
During the World Wars, the Sisters were asked to extend their apostolate to the wounded. Later ministry included assistance to prisoners and the elderly.
Mother Maria Teresa’s charism lives on in her Institute in the nations where it is present today: Italy, the United States, Canada, Poland, India, Brazil, the Czech Republic and the Philippines.
Pope John Paul II declared Mother Maria Teresa of Jesus Venerable on 20 December 2003, and Pope Benedict XVI recognized the miracle required for her Beatification on 19 December 2005.