Modern Saints of Carmel

Therese (3)St. Therese of Lisieux

Marie Frances Therese Martin Guérin was born in Alençon (France) on 2nd January 1873. Her parents were the now Saints Luis Martin and Celia Guerin. She was the last of the nine offspring from this holy marriage from which only five daughters survived: Marie, Pauline, Leonie, Celine and Therese. The first year of her life, she had to be raised in the country by a wet nurse because her mother could not feed her. Initially her life was very happy, but when she was only four years old her mother died of cancer. This affected little Therese very much, who changed from being a vivacious effusive child to being timid, quiet and hyper-sensitive, despite the fact that her father and sisters increased their tenderness towards her.

The family moved to Lisieux, near to her uncle and aunt, the Guérin family. When her sister Pauline entered Carmel in 1882, it was for Therese like losing her mother again. The following year she suffered from a “strange sickness”, with hallucinations and tremors. One day, while her sisters were praying for her, it seemed to her that the nearby simple statue of the Virgin smiled at her and she felt cured.

The following year she made her first communion and it was a cloudless day for her in which she dedicated herself to Jesus. Her soul related to God with spontaneity and love. In spite of this, influenced by the religious tendencies of the time, she spent some time suffering from terrible scruples. Her sister Marie tried to help her with solid teaching.

At Christmas in 1886, a few months after Marie entered Carmel, Therese received what she called the “grace of her conversion” by which she overcame her extreme sensitivity and began to find happiness in forgetting about herself and giving pleasure to others.

The following year, after obtaining her father’s permission to enter Carmel, she made a pilgrimage to Rome where, in an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked the Pope’s permission to enter Carmel despite her youth.

On 9th April 1888, Therese entered Carmel and took the name of Therese of the Child Jesus. To this name she later added “and of the Holy Face”, when her father suffered periods of hallucinations and had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was a sickness he bore with great faith, but his daughters suffered much because of it.

In Carmel, Therese went deeply into Sacred Scripture, mainly the Gospels where she saw the imprints of Jesus. Also in the Old Testament writings, she was deeply moved when the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the maternal love of God.  St John of the Cross was her spiritual teacher, and through his writings she entered more deeply into her journey of love.

After her period of formation, she began to train the young sisters, but without the official “title”, since her sister Celine was the mistress of novices. She also wrote to two missionaries. By means of these letters, she established with them a relationship that was not only fraternal, but truly of spiritual direction. In an age when many believers offered themselves as victims for God’s wrath, Therese offered herself to his Merciful Love, understanding that divine justice– like the rest of God’s attributes – is always shot through with mercy. With the years, her experience of God’s gratuitous and unconditional love continued to increase, and she felt herself called to live in the appreciation and trusting abandonment of a child in its mother’s arms. This led her to understand the value of the smallest of works carried out for love (and not for gaining merit), refined in daily love, and the slightest details. She came to understand that love is her vocation in the Church. She was a simple woman, who lived without doing extraordinary things, without ecstasies or miracles, experiencing dryness in prayer and misunderstanding, things which never took away her calm happiness and gave her a peace that continued to fill her heart more and more.

During Easter 1896, Therese coughed up blood, a symptom of tuberculosis. Three days after, began her trial of faith, which lasted until her death. It was a trial which produced in her a state of not being able to believe in eternal life and which she describes in frightening detail. She coped with this by making greater acts of faith and love. She died on 30th September 1897.

Her writings are her Letters, some Poems, tiny theatrical works for community feasts, some Prayers, the Last Conversations– notes her sisters made during her illness, and the Story of a Soul. This last writing, tells her story of salvation, in doing so it revolutionized the spirituality of the Church to the point of her being declared a Doctor of the universal Church. She is also universal Patron of the Missions.  Her feast is celebrated on 1st October.


St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

elizabeth 2

Elizabeth Catez was born 18th July 1880 near Bourges (France). Her sister Marguerite was born three years after. In 1887, her grandfather and her father both died and the two young children were left in the care of their mother, a very energetic and upright woman.

The young Elizabeth also had a very pronounced character, her childhood tantrums were fearsome. But at the same time, from a very early age, she tried to conquer her temperament. When her father died, the family changed house to near the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Dijon. The sound of the bells of the convent and the nuns’ garden exercised a great attraction on Elizabeth.

The day of her first communion, 19th April 1891, was an all important one for her: she felt she no longer had hunger as Jesus had fed her. That same afternoon she went to make her first visit to Carmel and the prioress explained to her the significance of her name in Hebrew. Elizabeth means “a house of God”. This made a deep impact on the young girl, who understood the profundity of these words. From then on, she was determined to be in her life God’s dwelling place, by controlling her temperament and forgetting about herself.

Despite her lively intelligence, the young Elizabeth received a poor general education, but she was very gifted in music and obtained a first prize in piano at 13 years. Her soul was sensitive to music and nature, beautiful things which reminded her always of God, and in which she saw reflected the harmony of their creator.

Elizabeth want to be a Carmelite, but her mother forbad it until she reached 21. When reading Saint Teresa, she felt greatly in harmony with her. She understood that contemplation meant to let God act, that mortification had to be interior and that friendship is an attitude of putting other people’s interests before one’s own. She was also greatly helped by reading the Story of a Soul, by which the young Therese of Lisieux, recently deceased, inspired her by her little way of trust in God.

elizabethOn 2nd August 1901, the postulant entered the Dijon Carmel and was given the name of Elizabeth of the Trinity. Mother Germaine was her prioress, her Mistress of Novices and finally became her admirer and disciple. Elizabeth lived a life that was completely ordinary, a life of faith, without revelations or ecstasies. However, this young girl immediately attracted the attention of the whole community by her faithfulness and commitment. In her turn, she submerged herself in reading and deepening her understanding of Scripture (mainly Saint Paul) and Saint John of the Cross. Under their guidance she found her own interior way and her faith matured.

Reading Saint Paul, she felt a deep call to be the Praise of the Glory of the Triune God, by living every moment of the day in constant thanksgiving. She came to be identified with this ideal, so much so, that at the end of her life she signed some letters with the name: “Laudem Gloriae”.

In Lent 1904, Elizabeth became ill and, after a painful and long sickness, she died on 9th November 1906. Her last words were, “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life”.

Her life and writings became surprisingly widespread. They consist of: her Diaries, her Letters, her Poems, some Prayers among which is her famous Prayer to the Trinity. There are also other writings: Heaven in Faith, which moved her to live heaven here on earth, by adoring God in faith and love, and what she wrote to her sister Marguerite, housewife and mother; The greatness of our Vocation, Last Retreat and Let yourself Love (dedicated to her prioress).

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Edith Stein 2

To approach the person of Edith Stein presupposes that we are meeting with a passionate searcher for the Truth, a trait which defined the whole of her life. She was born in Breslau (now Poland) into a Jewish family on 12th October 1891. Her mother, a strong woman of deep faith, educated her children in an atmosphere of respect and responsible liberty. Edith’s faith was to weaken as she attempted to make her own the beliefs handed on to her; not finding replies to her questions, she abandoned her faith in her adolescence.

She possessed an extraordinary intelligence and intuition, which made her a brilliant pupil in all her studies. Moved by an interior urge to seek the meaning of life, she studied psychology, a subject which disappointed her. She felt attracted to history, philosophy and German studies, which she undertook during the years she attended the university in the city where she was born.

In her process of search she came upon the work, Logical Investigations. Her teacher in this subject was to be her admired philosopher, Edmund Hesserl, the founder of phenomenology, a science which opened new perspectives on the knowledge of the essence of things. In the Gotinga University she devoted herself to deepening her knowledge of this science together with the study of other philosophers such as Scheler, Reinach, the married couple Conrad-Martius who were to become her great friends.

When the First World War broke out, she enlisted as a nurse in the Red Cross, since she became convinced that her life no longer belonged to her and she had to be committed to the “great happening”. She came in contact with the mystery of pain and death in a manner of the highest reality, which led her to accept as her own the sufferings of mankind.

She continued studying and preparing her doctoral thesis, for which she received the highest distinction, “summa cum laude”, on the subject Concerning empathy. She had the intention of receiving a university chair, but it was denied her because she was a woman.

Two happenings moved her deeply and would play a part in her change of faith to Christ: the attitude of serenity which she noted in Reinach’s wife when he died in combat; and her own reading of the Life of Saint Teresa of Jesus in the house of her friend Mrs Conrad-Martius.

From then on she continued her own itinerary of deepening her faith, which was toEdith Stein become a journey of progressive trustful abandonment into the hands of the One who revealed himself to her as the Truth and the source of all wisdom. Her desire for total commitment to the Lord in Carmel was preceded by some intensely busy years in which she continued teaching German in the Dominican sisters in Espira, giving conferences in pedagogical and philosophical institutions, studying and translating authors such as St Thomas Aquinas or Bl. Cardinal Newman, Professor in the Institute of Scientific Pedagogy in Munster . . . The strongly anti-Semitic atmosphere of the time (1933) finally forced her to abandon teaching.

It seemed to her that the time had arrived to begin her life in Carmel and after a painful meeting with her mother, who had never accepted Edith’s conversion, she entered the Cologne Carmel on 14th October 1933, where she was to remain until 31st December 1938, the date when she transferred to the Echt Carmel in Holland, to escape the suffocating persecution against the Jews and Catholics in Germany. She willingly took upon herself the “science of the Cross” to its ultimate consequences. She entered eternal “Life” on 9th August 1942 in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

She was beatified in 1987, canonized in 1998, named co-Patron of Europe in 1999, the one who knew how to combine in herself, the search for truth together with confident abandonment into God’s hands.

St. Teresa of the Andes

Teresa of the Andes 2

The dawn of the sometimes calamitous 20th Century was marked with the all-too-short life of a spectacular young champion of the joy of contemplation. Juanita Fernández Solar was born in Santiago, Chile on July 13, 1900. Her parents, Miguel Fernández and Lucía Solar, were very devout Catholics, although their family life was somewhat dysfunctional. Her father was very concerned to maintain the financial security of the family, and her mother had to raise the children nearly alone. The family was prosperous, and young Juanita would benefit from an excellent education. Even from her earliest years, she was a sweet, loving child who was drawn to prayer and kind treatment of her large family and her many friends. Like any pretty young girl growing up in a well-to-do family, she could have lost herself in a distracting tempest of nice clothing, hair styles, boyfriends, and entertainment. Instead, she fell hopelessly in love with Jesus.

She received her First Communion at the age of 10, which she described as the “fusion of Jesus with my soul.” She was delighted to learn that she could engage in friendly conversations with Jesus, and assumed at first that anyone who received the Eucharist could have similar locutions. She had attended Mass with her mother almost every day since she was 6 years old, and had also developed a warm devotion to Mary, as one whose life was totally centered on Jesus.

Juanita grew up as a healthy and exuberant teen-ager, filled with the joy of living. She loved swimming, tennis, and horseback riding. According to her brother, she rode her horse madly, “like an Amazon goddess.” He described her magnificent passion for living as almost too much to bear. But she also loved reading and reflection on the lives of the saints. She became familiar with Teresa of Avila, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and Therese of Lisieux, and began to fantasize about becoming a Carmelite, even though she had never met one! The night before her appendectomy at age 14, she decided that she had a call to Carmel. Her younger sister argued vigorously that she was wasting her life and talents by joining a cloistered community, but Juanita was not discouraged.

She began a correspondence with the prioress of the Convent of the Andes, who was surprised to discover the clarity with which this young woman could describe the Carmelite vocation. In a world that considered the vocation to the contemplative life utterly worthless, Juanita defended that dedication to selfless love with her customary passion and fire. She entered the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Los Andes in July of 1919. She took the religious name of Teresa of Jesus, in homage to her 16th century mentor. Right from the start, she was determined to use letter writing as a vehicle to share her insights into loving God and God’s beautiful world. The nuns of her community would later testify that Juanita was already a saint when she entered the convent. It seemed that her only desire was to make goodness and virtue attractive to others of her own generation. She had no doubts about the materialism of her society, but she decided to make love of God even more attractive by practicing it herself.

Teresa showed a remarkably modern Christo-centric attitude in her prayer. Everything she did was focused on her desire to conform her life to Jesus and his loving presence. She went so far as to declare that his great “foolish” love for her was driving her to the point of madness, as she looked for ways to return some of that passionate concern. Her presence in the community was always surrounded with joy and radiant happiness, to such a degree that the other sisters could not help catching her spirit.

It is ironic that such an intense life would also be so short. Teresa of the Andes did not even survive for a whole year in Carmel. She came down with typhus during her novitiate year, and it became evident that she would not survive. By special permission, she was able to take her vows early, so that she died as a professed Carmelite during Holy Week of 1920. Her sister Rebecca, who had argued so strongly against her entering the convent, decided that her vocation had been a blessing after all. She replaced Teresa in the Los Andes Carmel, and lived there until her own death. If imitation is the highest form of praise, this serves as a suitable epitaph.         by Leopold Gluckert OCarm

St. Mary of Jesus Crucified

Mary of Jesus Crucified



%d bloggers like this: