The two Teresas today

As we make our way through this month of the Holy Rosary, we are also mindful that this month gives us the celebrations of two saints who share the same name (when translated into English) — Teresa. We began on October 1 with the memorial of St. Therese of Lisieux and two weeks later, on October 15, we celebrate St. Teresa of Avila.

Both of these saints were nuns of the Carmelite order. Both were greatly devoted to Christ — the saint of Lisieux’s religious name was “Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face,” while the saint from Avila was “Teresa of Jesus.” Both had to deal with their own personal problems and difficulties in the convent. Both prayed for the Church far outside the walls of their convents. Both of these saints can speak to us in the crises that we face today.

St. Therese wrote about the Church in words that challenge all of us, laity and clergy, to grow in charity: “I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the Apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more.” Christ’s love knows no end, but the love in our own individual hearts can diminish. We need Christ’s help to fan the flame of love in our hearts.

St. Therese was conscious of her own sinfulness and her need for Jesus’ mercy: “I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit, my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Savior Jesus, because I know that He loves the Prodigal Son.” So, we shouldn’t think that we’re hopeless. God is always waiting to forgive us and help us change, to be the people of love He intended us to be.

Writing next to an illustration of the Eucharist, St. Therese commented, “I cannot fear a God Who made Himself so small for me! I love Him! In fact, He is nothing but love and mercy!”

More than 300 years earlier lived St. Teresa of Avila. A famous poem of hers should help us in moments of fear and distress: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”

Writing about living in Christ, St. Teresa stated, “If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, He will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves Him and always keeps Him near. Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led Him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of His love; for love calls for love in return.”

Early in her life as a nun in Avila, St. Teresa had a serious illness, which left her in a coma for four days. She saw it as a symbol of her own sinful resistance to carrying out God’s will. “I wished to live but I saw clearly that I was not living, but rather wrestling with the shadow of death; there was no one to give me life, and I was not able to take it. He who could have given it to me had good reasons for not coming to my aid, seeing that He had brought me back to Himself so many times, and I as often had left Him.”

What the saint of Avila wrote centuries beforehand does not negate what the saint of Lisieux wrote about God’s mercy. Instead, the earlier saint is pointing out what God does (in His merciful love for us, since He wants us to be saved) to indicate to us when we are drifting away from Him.

Teresa of Avila reminded her fellow Sisters about how important to God a repentant soul is: “He [Our Lord] prizes one soul which of His mercy we have gained for Him by our prayer and labor more than all the service we may render Him.” Both saints offered much prayer, fasting and other sacrifices to God for the Salvation of souls, for individual people and for the whole world.

Even before she entered the convent, Therese was interceding with God for the souls of others. Henri Pranzini was an unrepentant murderer, sentenced to death in France. Therese became aware of this (from the news coverage). “Everything led to the belief that he would die impenitent. I wanted at all costs to keep him from falling into hell, and to succeed I employed all means imaginable, feeling that of myself I could do nothing. I offered to God all the infinite merits of Our Lord.” She also spent a lot of time praying for him and after he had been executed, she read in the newspaper what had happened on the day he died. She herself wrote that as Pranzini was about to put his head on the guillotine, “he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him, and kissed the Sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him Who declares that in Heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over 99 who have no need of repentance!” 

St. Therese also prayed and sacrificed a lot for atheists around the world, whom she called her “brothers.” She offered her final illness for their Salvation, as well as for the spread of the Catholic faith throughout the world.

May these two great saints, our sisters, help us to grow in our own prayer, to imitate the love and mercy of Christ, and to spread His Good News around the world. 

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