In 2002 the Carmelites of Australia created "Therese 2002," a splendid Web site to prepare for the visit of the reliquary of St. Therese to Australia, to which they later added many photos of the visit. This historic site, archived in an Australian library, disappeared from the Web. Now, thanks to the Internet Achive's Wayback Machine,you can visit it before the reliquary arrives in Great Britain! Learn about St. Therese's life, spirituality, and mission; see reflections, photos, worship resources, coverage of the relics in Australia, Ireland, and the U.S.A. and much more. I thank the Australian Carmelites for creating this site and the Internet Archive for permission to link to it.
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At the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin, Cardinal Saraiva Martins, reading the Pope’s letter, described them as “laypersons, spouses, and parents.” Louis, spouse and parent, knew that the first duty of a good father is to be a good husband. Zelie wrote about him, “I am always very happy with him; he fills my life with tenderness and sweetness. My husband is a very holy man; I wish every woman had a husband like him" and later “Our feelings were always in unison, and he was always my support and my consolation.” In the years of their marriage (1858-1877), Louis was a most generous husband and father. Seeing the success of Zélie’s lace business, he gave up the craft of watchmaking for which he had trained for many years, sold his business to his nephew for a modest price, and handled the traveling and business end of the lace-manufacturing business. After Zélie’s death, he left his friends in Alencon to give his daughters the advantage of the influence of their maternal uncle, aunt, and cousins at Lisieux. At a time when the father was usually “master of the house,” he gave his older daughters a free hand in running the household and teaching their little sisters. He spared nothing to develop their talents, procuring art lessons and supplies and giving them every advantage in his power.
Louis Martin was a brave man. As a boy, he belonged to a boys’ military club. Exercising regularly, he grew into a tall, vigorous man. He swam well enough to save several persons from drowning, saved trapped persons from fires, and was so courageous on the streets that, if he was out later than usual, his daughters worried that he might be badly injured while trying to separate men who were fighting.
As a father, Louis created a disciplined structure for the daily life of every member of his family. In all weathers they attended morning Mass together. The children had to eat what was set before them. The girls hardly missed a day at school: in eight years Celine was absent only two days. He did not like to see them idle and encouraged them to develop various hobbies.
Yet his feminine side was well developed. When he was left a single parent, he became both father and mother to his daughters, who said “our father’s affectionate heart was enriched with a truly maternal love for us.” Many days he escorted the girls to and from school, listening patiently to the accounts of their days. Every evening he joined them after supper in their little salon, making toys for them, singing to them, telling them stories, reciting poems, and playing games before family prayers. " I am the Bobillon [that is, tender and kindly] with my children," he would say.
Louis had a profound respect for the spiritual lives of his daughters. He not only gave them the greatest freedom to fulfill their vocations but actively supported them in whatever they found God asking of them, "allowing the Creator to deal directly with the creature." He undertook journeys and expenses to allow them to make retreats and consult their spiritual directors. At a time when many men became furious if their daughters wanted to enter the convent, sometimes even preventing it, Louis gave his consent freely and donated large sums to the convent his daughters entered. When his oldest daughter, Marie, his favorite, confided her vocation to him,he said "Ah . . . but . . . without you! . . . I thought you would never leave me," yet he gave his permission at once.
When the family was visiting Alencon before Marie left them, and Leonie, abruptly and without asking permission, entered the Poor Clares, he permitted her to remain there and supported her generously.When the vicar-general of the diocese failed to support Therese when she appealed to the Pope for permission to become a Carmelite at fifteen, Louis, meeting him several days later in Rome, said forthrightly: “You know very well that you had promised to help me.” Later he was so impressed with Celine's artistic talents that he wanted to take her to Paris for lessons from the best artists. Yet, when she told him that she planned to become a Carmelite after he no longer needed her care, he said "Come, let's go together to the Blessed Sacrament to thank Him for the honor He does me in choosing His spouses in my home. If I possessed anything better, I would hasten to offer it to him." Therese said that the better thing he had to offer was himself. When he became paralyzed and had to accept being cared for in an institution and later by his family, he surrendered himself completely and was deeply touched by their devotion. He said to his brother-in-law, "In heaven, I'll repay you for all this."
He understood that his daughters were the children of God, Who entrusted him with their care, and he joined generously with his wife in their shared task “to bring them up for heaven.” Celine wrote of Louis’s prophetic role in the spiritual breakthrough Therese received later: “In granting her an incomparable Father whose goodness was a first picture of the goodness of Our Father in Heaven, Our Lord was preparing her to penetrate, more than anyone else, into the mystery of the divine paternity.”
And what does Louis Martin offer us as we reflect on our relationships with our own fathers? On May 9, 1897, Therese wrote to a young French priest missioned to China, Fr. Adolphe Roulland, to whom she was a spritual sister, praying especially for his apostolate:
“If, as I believe, my father and mother are in heaven, they must be looking at and blessing the brother whom Jesus has given me. They had so much wanted a missionary son! . . . since a missionary has become my brother, he is also their son, and in their prayers they cannot separate the brother from his unworthy sister. . .”
Does not Therese, in these words, offer Louis as a father to all of us? If, like Louis, our own fathers were good and loving, then, in the communion of saints, Louis can join them in pouring out on us the love of the heart of Christ. If, like many of the children Louis helped during his lifetime, we did not experience kindness from our fathers, or if we never knew them, Louis can be the vessel through which God pours out on us grace, tenderness, and healing.
Louis Martin offers the fathers of today a new model of masculinity and fatherhood. Uniting his love for God with his love for his wife and his daughters, he understood the essence of fatherhood: that his role as co-creator of the souls of his children to glorify God did not end with their birth, but continued throughout his life as he accompanied them to give them birth in eternity. He was a father, as he often repeated, “all for God’s greater glory.”
Today, on the feast of the Sacred Heart in 2009, Pope Benedict XV inaugurates at Vespers the year of the priest. St. Therese of Lisieux is uniquely suited to accompany us this year as we pray for the renewal of the priesthood. My booklet "Praying for Priests with St. Therese of Lisieux," published by the Catholic Truth Society, tells the story of her apostolate of prayer for priests. She consecrated her life to priests, to be "the apostle of the apostles." Beginning by believing that priests were "purer than crystal," she was quickly disillusioned, but she reacted generously. She embraced the vocation of praying for the spiritual renewal and the mission of priests. And she was drawn to that vocation by understanding the human weakness and sinfulness of priests.
In the Martin family, priests were held in great esteem. Therese's sister Celine said "They seemed like gods to us." Louis Martin had such reverence for priests that, though he entertained his confessor at dinner formally once a year and gave dinners for the clergy when his daughters made their religious professions, he did not otherwise invite priests to his home, thinking the honor too great for him. The clergy respected this reserve so much that, when Pauline spent two years making an alb for a local priest and he came out to Les Buissonnets to thank her, he hesitated at the door and finally turned away without knocking. Therese, as a child, knew priests mostly at the altar and in the confessional. In her early teens, she was moved to pray for sinners like the assasin Pranzini, not for priests.
But just before she entered the Carmelite monastery, Therese made a pilgrimage to Rome sponsored by several French dioceses. Seventy-five of the pilgrims were priests. In "Story of a Soul" Therese writes that their company helped her to understand the vocation of Carmel:
"The scond experience I had relates to priests. Having never lived close to them, I was not able to understand the principal aim of the Reform of Carmel. To pray for sinners attracted me, but to pray for the souls of priests whom I believed to be as pure as crystal seemed puzzling to me!
I understood my vocation in Italy and that's not going too far in search of such useful knowledge.I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, although their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile men. If holy priests, whom Jesus in His gospel calls "the salt of the earth," show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn't Jesus say too: "If the salt loses its savor, wherewith will it be salted?"
How beautiful is the vocation, O Mother, which has as its aim the preservation of the salt destined for souls! This is Carmel's vocation since the sole purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles. We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls, through their words and especially through their example. I must stop here, for were I to continue I would never come to an end!" (Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988, p. 122. Used with permission).
Therese consecrated herself more and more for priests, urging her novices to pray for them. Throughout the Year of the Priest I will write more about the priests Therese knew; about her apostolate of prayer for priests; about her special interest in the former Carmelite Hyacinthe Loyson, who had left the Church; and about her spiritual sisterhood with seminarian Maurice Belliere and missionary priest Adolphe Roulland. Read more about St. Therese's mission to priests. To begin the Year of the Priest I want to say that, if Therese lost her illusions about priests from seeing them eat too well or pray too little on a luxury pilgrimage, she still can accompany us as we face the much greater challenge of continuing to love Jesus and the Church in the face of the clergy sex abuse scandal, especially the most recent revelations of abuse by those representing the Church in Ireland. Therese never lost faith that the priesthood could be as Jesus envisioned it. And she prayed for priests not for their own sake, but for the sake of those God calls them to serve: "Our mission as Carmelites is to form evangelical workers who will save thousands of souls whose mothers we shall be."
For the Year of the Priest, let's pray that we may at once love our priest-brothers in their humanity and call them to fulfill their vocation. Let's take as our motto the words Therese wrote to her sister Celine on New Year's Eve 1889:
"Let us convert souls; this year, we must form many priests who love Jesus and who handle Him with the same tenderness with which Mary handled Him in His cradle."
On the vigil of the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 2009, I am happy to present the poem "To the Sacred Heart of Jesus." Therese wrote this poem either in June 1895 or in October 1895 at the request of her sister, Marie of the Sacred Heart. She does not understand the Heart of Jesus as demanding reparation, but as "burning with tenderness." In her daring climax, she chooses that Heart for her purgatory.
“To the Sacred Heart of Jesus”
At the holy sepulchre, Mary Magdalene,
Searching for her Jesus, stooped down in tears.
The angels wanted to console her sorrow,
But nothing could calm her grief.
Bright angels, it was not you
Whom this fervent soul came searching for.
She wanted to see the Lord of the Angels,
To take him in her arms, to carry him far away.
Close by the tomb, the last one to stay,
She had come well before dawn.
Her God also came, veiling his light.
Mary could not vanquish him in love!
Showing her at first his Blessed Face,
Soon just one word sprang from his Heart,
Whispering the sweet name of: Mary,
Jesus gave her back her peace, her happinesss.
O my God, one day, like Mary Magdalene,
I wanted to see you and come close to you.
I looked down over the immense plain
Where I sought the Master and King,
And I cried, seeing the pure wave,
The starry azure, the flower, and the bird.
“Bright nature, if I do not see God,
You are nothing to me but a vast tomb.”
I need a heart burning with tenderness
Who will be my support forever,
Who loves everything in me, even my weakness...
And who never leaves me day or night.”
I could find no creature
Who could always love me and never die.
I must have a God who takes on my nature
And becomes my brother and is able to suffer!
You heard me, only Friend whom I love.
To ravish my heart, you became man.
You shed your blood, what a supreme mystery!...
And you still live for me on the Altar.
If I cannot see the brilliance of your Face
Or hear your sweet voice,
O my God, I can live by your grace,
I can rest on your Sacred Heart!
O Heart of Jesus, treasure of tenderness,
You Yourself are my happiness, my only hope.
You who knew how to charm my tender youth,
Stay near me till the last night.
Lord, to you alone I’ve given my life,
And all my desires are well known to you.
It’s in your ever-infinite goodness
That I want to lose myself, O Heart of Jesus!
Ah! I know well all our righteousness
Is worthless in your sight.
To give value to my sacrifices,
I want to cast them into your Divine Heart.
You did not find your angels without blemish.
In the midst of lightning you gave your law!...
I hide myself in your Sacred Heart, Jesus.
I do not fear, my virtue is You!...
To be able to gaze on your glory,
I know we have to pass through fire.
So I, for my purgatory,
Choose your burning love, O heart of my God!
On leaving this life, my exiled soul
Would like to make an act of pure love,
And then, flying away to Heaven, its Homeland,
Enter straightaway into your Heart.
The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, tr. Donald Kinney, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996, pp. 117-120. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
To read this and all of Therese's 54 poems, please order a copy of the book "The Poetry of Saint Therese" by clicking on the icon below. This edition is the only English translation from the critical and complete edition of Therese's manuscripts of her poetry. Even if you have read some other translation, I urge you to read this one, which includes the original French text and English notes rich in interest.