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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know XV - XIII



XXI-XIX: Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII-XVI: Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah 




St. Therese of Lisieux
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15-St. Therese of Lisieux (1873 AD – 1897 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
St. Therese of Lisieux is another Carmelite Saint.  Born Marie Francois Therese Martin, she enters the convent at the early age of 15. While still at home with her father, she tells him about her wish to enter a convent. They both break down in tears. Composing himself, her father picks up a flower from the ground and says to her that in the same fashion that God cares for the flower, likewise he cares for us as well. St. Therese recalls this conversation and says that when she hears her father speaking, it is like he is telling her life story. She takes the flower as a symbol of her, as she later becomes known as The Little Flower. Initially, of course, her application to enter the convent is rejected because of her young age. Determined to join the Order, St. Therese travels to Rome with her father where she is granted a private audience with the Pope along with the rest of the pilgrims from Lisieux. There, she kneels at the feet of the Holy Father and begs him to let her enter the convent. Pope Leo XIII defers the matter to the superior of the convent. Finally, she is accepted into the convent at the young age of 15. While in the convent, St. Therese embraces the “little way,” or the faithful obedience to Christ in the smallest and most menial tasks. Her outlook on the path to holiness was based on two understandings. First, God’s love is expressed through His mercy and forgiveness. Second, all attempts to become perfect are futile. The first precept, removes any fear a person may have of God. St. Therese sees fear as a stumbling block in our path to be closer to God. Hence, trusting in His endless love and mercy grants us the joy and strength we need to persevere in our fight. She has a special devotion to Jesus the Child who dispels any unreasonable fear of an omnipotent God. The second principle leads a soul to trust in God’s mercy and not depend on her virtues and righteousness regardless how far she travels on the journey towards holiness.  The “little way” makes us more attentive to everyone around us, rather than traveling far seeking grand designs and ambitious undertakings to satisfy God. After much suffering and pain, St. Therese dies at the age of 24 with a fervent spirit of faithfulness and a heart burning with love for Christ. 


St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross
14-St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (1891 AD – 1942 AD) [Martyr] Originally, her name is Edith Stein. She is born to a Jewish family, but she becomes an atheist by the age of 16. St. Teresia is a remarkably intelligent woman. She completes her PhD in Philosophy by the age of 25. Six years later, after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein converts to Catholicism in 1922. St. Teresia wishes to join the Carmelites but is prevented by her Spiritual Director whose inclination was that she goes out in the world and engages the field of education for the benefit of all women. She takes on a teaching position at the Institute of Pedagogy in Munster in 1932. However, state-imposed anti-Semitic laws are passed in 1933, and St. Teresia is stripped of her teaching position. In that same year, she joins the Discalced Carmelite Order in Cologne. For fear of the growing anti-Semitism, the Order transfers her to their Monastery in Netherlands. In 1942, the Dutch Conference of Catholic Bishops sends a letter to all Catholic parishes to be read publically condemning the horrors of Nazism. This prompts the Nazi regime to retaliate by arresting all Jewish converts to Catholicism who are previously exempt.  At the age of 50, she is rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, where she is gassed, along with her sister who is also a convert. St. Teresia’s courage to embrace the faith and her willingness to die for the sake of Truth is truly inspiring. Her work on the writings of St. John of Cross (The Science of the Cross: Studies on St. John of the Cross) confirm her understanding of suffering and pain, "One can only gain a scientia crucis (knowledge of the cross) if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: 'Ave, Crux, Spes unica' (I welcome you, Cross, our only hope)." May the Lord grant us the same courage and insight as this wonderful Saint. 


St. Terese of Avila
13-St. Teresa of Avila (1515 AD – 1582 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
St. Teresa is the founder of the Order of the Discalced Carmelite for women. This holy woman enjoys a great sense of humour. She asks God for a Spiritual Director and a man who will help her establish the Order for men as well. Shortly after, St. John of the Cross, who was noticeably short, shows up. She playfully calls him “half a friar.” He becomes her Spiritual Director. St. Teresa is a mystic who writes prolifically on prayer. Although her spirituality is almost identical to St. John’s, she notes some slight differences in the stages that a soul passes through prior to reaching a union with God. She outlines these stages in her book, The Interior Castle. Rather than seeing the road to heaven as an exterior undertaking or an external endeavour, she describes it as an internal journey where a Christian must explore his soul like a castle.  We must look deep down in this castle’s innermost chambers to find the pearl that resides inside, which is Christ. God created the human soul in “His own image” (Genesis 1:27).  Therefore, there is nothing “comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul” (Interior Castle, Book I, Chapter i, 1).  This interior castle consists of numerous chambers that are divided into Seven Dwelling Places. The more progress we make in our spiritual life of prayer, the closer we reach the Seventh Dwelling Place where Christ resides and where the complete union happens. In the first two Dwellings, the soul contends against Mortal Sin. There is nothing more frightful, “black, foul smelling, filthy and wretched” than a soul that is in “Mortal Sin” (Interior Castle, I, i, 3). She has lost all its glory and magnificence that God has bestowed on her. As the soul engages in spiritual warfare to gain back its beauty, which is done through spiritual prayer and the Sacraments, the Devil wages endless battles against her. For St. Teresa, the deciding factor that determines the outcome of each spiritual battle a soul engages is humility. There is no greater virtue than humility because it is only through “humility” that “the Lord allows Himself to be conquered with regard anything we want from Him” (Interior Castle, IV, ii, 9).  When the soul reaches the Third Dwelling Place, a purgative and dry process lays ahead of the soul that is very similar to St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul. Like St. John, St. Teresa says that these periods are meant to cleanse us and purge us of our sinful habits. She also makes a distinction between the cleansing of the senses and the cleansing of the sprit, which occurs in a later Dwelling. Finally, when the soul reaches the Seventh Dwelling Place, which very few souls achieve, a complete union or spiritual marriage with God takes place. God takes the soul as a bride, granting her the wondrous beauty, love and splendid majesty of the Creator.  St. Teresa is an excellent guide for the weakest of all beginners to the most trained and skilled of all believers.

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