Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
August 20, 2001
The relics of a great saint
St. Thérèse has spent her heaven doing great things on earth
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
At the end of September the bones of the woman whom Pope St. Pius X called "the greatest saint of modern times" will come to Edmonton.
During her lifetime, St. Thérèse of Lisieux was not recognized as saintly or even as anyone out of the ordinary. Little did anyone at that time suspect that her ordinariness was her greatest strength.
While other saints have done great deeds and been known widely when they were still alive, St. Thérèse lived an obscure life and died at the age of 24.
Very few people knew her and of those who did, virtually no one suspected she was a saint.
But Thérèse had promised before her death, "I will spend my heaven doing great things on earth." And so she did.
After the death of a Carmelite nun, it was customary to circulate to other Carmelite monasteries around the world a brief biography of the nun who had died. As Thérèse neared her death on Sept. 30, 1897, some of the nuns wondered what could possibly be said about her, her life had been so uneventful.
However, Thérèse had been ordered by her prioress, her own elder blood sister Pauline, to write the story of her life.
This story, combined with a few brief writings she had done, also under obedience, were circulated to the other monasteries.
Soon requests for more copies of the writings began coming to the Lisieux monastery. In 1902, they were published as The Story of a Soul. Over the last century, this little book of spiritual reminiscences has been a publishing phenomenon — being translated into numerous languages and selling millions of copies.
Meanwhile, stories of miraculous healings due to Thérèse's intercession began to come to the Lisieux Carmel. The cause for her sainthood was opened - she was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925.
This young woman who died in obscurity was declared a saint so soon after her death that her four sisters were all able to be present at the canonization ceremony.
Without a doubt, she was the most popular saint during the 20th century. So many people could relate to her spirituality of doing simple things with great love. Her book and other writings described a way of drawing close to Jesus that was not built on mystical ecstasies but on being wholly attentive to the Master's presence in the events of daily life.
In 1997, on the centennial of her death, Pope John Paul declared St. Thérèse to be a doctor of the Church, alongside such towering figures as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Teresa of Avila.
Thérèse's writings were deemed to have made a contribution of major significance to the unfolding of the Church's teaching. That they did, even though they are of a nature vastly different than the scholarly works of the great theologians and mystics.
None of this would have happened had Thérèse not been ordered to write her life story. As novice mistress at the monastery, she would tell her novices "To have beautiful and holy thoughts and to write books on lives of the saints do not count so much as answering as soon as you are called."
Such a woman, to the extent that she wrote at all, would have a functional style, far different than the sentimental and over-blown prose so common in her day. Indeed, had Thérèse known she was writing for an audience much, much wider than a few Carmelites in France, it would seem unlikely that she could have maintained the joyous, unselfconscious style that permeates her writing.
In the weeks ahead, as we prepare for the visit of St. Thérèse's reliquary to Edmonton, in this series of articles I will tell the story of her life and highlight some of her teachings.
We will find a woman who had the love of God in her bones. And perhaps that is why, 104 years after her death, we take the time to venerate those bones that are the last direct physical reminder of a great woman who once walked humbly and unknown in one corner of our earth.
(First in a series of articles)
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