|CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX||A||B||C||D||E||F||G||H||I||J||K||L||M||N||O||P||Q||R||S||T||U||V||W||X||Y||Z|
Rev. A. Power, S.J.
St. Therese of Lisieux died on Thursday, September 30, 1897.
When the project of celebrating the Golden Jubilee of her entrance into Paradise was laid before his Holiness Pope Pius XII he cordially approved and rejoiced that this honour should be paid to her who was, he declared, 'the greatest Saint of modern times. The Jubilee year is being honoured at Lisieux and in Carmels all over the world.
And how amazing is the story of the spiritual triumphs of this young French girl during the past 50 years! Millions of people of every age and clime and religious creed have fallen under her influence reaching them especially through her Autobiography written off-hand in obedience to superiors a year or two before her death. It is now recognised as one of the world's great spiritual books, ranking with the Confessions of St. Augustine, the Imitation of Christ, the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. The authors of these famous volumes wrote when already mature in years and ripe in experience of men and books. Whereas Therese was a mere child of twenty-three with practically no knowledge of the world and its ways. Moreover, Augustine had to tell of years spent in heresy, waywardness and sin, Teresa of Avila had to confess to a long period of tepidity and carelessness. Angela of Foligno had also a sad story of infidelities to narrate. These, and many others, have interested mankind because they have wandered away from God before beginning to serve Him fervently. Their story was that of the soul in headlong flight from the pursuit of the Divine Lover.
A Difficult Task
But Therese of Lisieux had the far more difficult task of making attractive the story of a life of complete innocence, a life of entire surrender to God from the very beginning; a life too, that was spent, not in the glare of footlights or amidst the roar of worldly applause, but in the uneventful surroundings of a Norman town and for the last nine years in the hushed seclusion of a Carmelite Monastery. For a woman of twenty-three to write such a personal and intimate narrative of God's dealings with her soul, and do so without a trace of affectation, in a tone of convincing sincerity, with a candour and charm that disarm criticism, is surely a unique achievement both in the world of letters and in the annals of self-revelation. The book was published in October, 1898, and we are told that at once it produced a sensation-a great outburst of astonishment; copies were called for on every side and there began a circulation which has exceeded that of any other spiritual book of modern times.
And the secret of it all is that Therese had a great love story to tell, the tremendous love story that is the theme of the Bible and of all Christian Revelation, the romance that filled the Life of Jesus of Nazareth and His Mother Mary, and all the Saints, the romance that thrills us in the Confessions of St. Augustine, and in the 'Hound of Heaven, and that strikes a chord in every human soul and holds for each the promise of a divine Companionship which alone can make eternal existence tolerable.
As we reflect on the career of this French girl, that began some 70 years ago, and has been unfolding gradually under our eyes since the century began, and note the extraordinary swiftness with which her cult swept the globe, we may ask ourselves what are the qualities in her life, character, and teaching, that may seem to explain her phenomenal success in the spiritual order. For from the point of view of the worldling, who sets store chiefly on health and wealth, a successful career, abundance of friends, independence, amusements, art, literature, fame, a long life-she may be regarded as a complete failure. At school-age she entered on the austere life of a Carmelite nun-that is, a life of acute poverty, discomfort, absolute obedience, privation of home comforts, association with people at times trying, disagreeable or harsh; and in addition to the mental agony caused by the mental breakdown of her father she was stricken very soon with tubercular disease, which, after months of intolerable suffering caused her death at the age of twenty-four. In that short career, wealth, bodily pleasure, success, played no part.
Yet perhaps no woman since Catherine of Siena has influenced, and continues to influence, so many human lives as this French recluse! To us believers it is another striking illustration of the truth that the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die in order to produce fruit. It is-one may reverently say-the story of Calvary over again. The Man whose words and example have revolutionized human thought and human existence more effectively than any other, died on a Cross, executed as a public malefactor by the official representative of the most flourishing empire the world has ever known.
She Foresaw Her Own Triumph
In the story of St. Therese we may perhaps call attention to the following points as helping to explain the extraordinary impression she produced. It is an interesting and probably unique fact that as death approached she foresaw and foretold the spiritual triumph that would be hers after death, and the world-wide favour she would win. A few of her sentences uttered from her bed of pain have become household words in Catholic circles, such as her promise to send a 'Shower of Roses, or the words inscribed on the plain wooden cross erected over her grave in Lisieux cemetery: 'Je veux passer mon ciel a faire du bien sur la terre.
On July 16, 1897, Therese received Viaticum from the hands of a young priest who celebrated his first Mass in the Convent Chapel, and next day she made the following prophetic announcement to her sister, Mother Agnes, 'I feel that my mission is soon to begin, my mission to make the good God loved as I love Him, to teach souls my 'little way.' I will spend my heaven in doing good upon earth. There cannot be any rest for me till the end of the world, till the angels will have said 'time is no more.'
Events since that memorable date have proved the truth of her prophecy. The records of the 'Pluie de Roses published year after year tell how generously she has kept her word.
'As Little Children
Another fact about St. Therese that has won the absorbed attention of mankind is that she makes the road to God so simple, so accessible to all. Amidst the bewildering complexities of the world's most sophisticated age, this nun has given a new and world-wide publicity to the great fundamental truth announced in Palestine long ago, that the surest passport to the kingdom of heaven is to seek God with the humility, simplicity and unhesitating confidence of the child dealing with its parents. Unbelief and despair are the besetting evils of modern life. Blindness to the supernatural has settled down over so many millions like a blanket of dark clouds blotting out the light of faith which is as essential to the soul's well-being as sunshine to the life of the rose. Therese in her brief career had bitter experience of what this terrible spiritual darkness could be like. During her last months on earth the lights of heaven seemed to be completely extinguished for her. Yet her faith and trust in God never wavered. In the gloom she clung desperately to His Hand; and at the same time accepted this appalling abandonment and desolation in order to win strength for those overwhelmed by doubt and separated from God because they cannot believe or hope.
That Therese was right, that her heroic loyalty and pertinacity in leaning on God by acts of faith and trust when all sensible perception and enjoyment had departed was not in vain, has been overwhelmingly proved by the miraculous seal set upon her work, and the testimony of millions of people who have experienced the power of her intercession. She has fully justified her daring words, 'My mission is to make God loved by others as I love Him.
Spirit of Joy
'Splendid and holy causes are served by men who are themselves splendid and holy, writes a modern hero remarkable for his loyalty to a great cause. What wonderful joy Therese has brought into the lives of men and women and children since her death! Evidence of it is found in every page of the records collected at Lisieux.
The peace and joy she communicates are the fruit of the joy that ever reigned in her own soul and that breathes from her autobiography, in spite of her cruel sufferings.
Just as Jesus who warned his disciples to expect bitter persecution and the hatred ofmankind also said, 'My peace I leave you, such peace as the world does not give, and as St. Paul, when cruelly harassed and persecuted, cried out to his converts, 'Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice, so St. Therese in the highest part of her soul found immeasurable happiness in the possession of her Divine Lover, in the knowledge that she loved and was loved by Him. She promised to send down a 'rain of roses; and her plan was when she reached her Lover's home, to seize and rifle His treasures of grace and scatter them with lavish hands on her fellow creatures still toiling and suffering on earth and struggling to reach eternal happiness.
During the past 40 years countless acts of gratitude and innumerable letters sent to the Lisieux Carmel have formed a chorus of praise for favours bestowed-unprecedented in the history of mankind. They are records of personal favours of every imaginable kind, bodily cures frequently of a startling nature, spiritual blessings, conversions, the gift of prayer, success in missionary work, etc. But a characteristic note of every one of their testimonies is JOY. The writers speak of extraordinary visitations of consolation, interior peace, and happiness. Which all goes to prove that Therese has served as a unique and fascinating interpreter to mankind of the tenderness and love of the Heart of Jesus. She drew her inspiration from the Bible-both Old and New Testament. And she presents Christ's message of love so persuasively that the most stubborn and hardened hearts have been touched.
A fourth characteristic is her extraordinary apostolic or missionary zeal. Although she was a recluse shut up in a quiet Carmelite Convent, in spirit she ranged over the whole wide world, contemplating the painful toil of active workers on the foreign mission fields, and longing to bring them help and comfort. That she succeeded-in this the endless chronicles of the 'Shower of Poses prove. So marked has this influence been that Pope Pius XI took the unprecedented step of appointing this twenty-four-year-old Carmelite nun, Patron of the Foreign Missions, along with, and on the same level as St. Francis Xavier, who is generally considered the greatest Apostle since St. Paul.
The Lesson for Us
Now the supremely important lesson for us seems to be this: that St. Therese shows what the Apostleship of Prayer means, and what it can effect. She achieved her missionary triumphs by offering to God her fervent (though often utterly dry) prayers, her daily routine of work, and above all her sufferings, for the saving of souls. We make this same morning offering. Hers was made with an intensity of fervour and love that captivated the Sacred Heart and brought about the marvellous results we read of.
The highest point, so to say, of her apostolic vocation was reached when, on June 10, 1895, she made the heroic oblation of herself as a 'Victim of Love. Her fidelity to that offering was tested (during the two years that followed) in the severest way by appalling sufferings of body and soul; and she stood the test with superb courage. The story of these last months of anguish-the story of her 'passion and agonising death-is the most moving part of the record of her earthly career. But the glorious fruit that resulted is shown us in the chronicle of her supernatural activity from heaven during the fifty years that have elapsed since.
Lisieux has conquered the world!
The little Norman. town has emerged from long centuries of obscurity to become a household word on the lips of
mankind. Yesterday, scarcely known except to students of William the Conquerer; today, it is as familiar as Sydney or New York.
And why? Because a little French girl spent some years in that town loving God with a great passionate love; then told the world her love-story in enchanting language, and so completely won the heart of mankind by the magic of her song, that all needs must listen, and, listening, follow whither she leads.
And the path she treads soars upwards; upwards to the wind-swept heights where the human soul comes face to face with God.
The way is narrow and steep, but she is such a winsome guide, she so bestrews the path with flowers, she speaks in such persuasive tones of the sunlit mountain peaks where her own soul dwells, that none need fear to follow.
Her theme is fascinating because it is the theme that is nearest and dearest to us all, even though at times we realise it not.
Her theme is God and His love: and about that we all want to learn.
Every human soul is thirsting for God, since every soul is thirsting for happiness. And final and complete happiness God alone can give.
St. Therese, at the very dawn of reason, made the momentous discovery which many make but late in life, some not at all, that her soul belonged to God, was created for God, could be happy only in possessing Him.
Columbus-like, she discovered this new interior region of her soul, and spent her life absorbed in contemplating the beauty of that inner world, filled with the light that is God Himself.
The Palace of the Soul
God is found in the soul as in no other place whatever in the universe. God constructed the soul that He might reveal His beauty to it. Just as the eye exists for light, so the soul for God. The eye has no explanation without light; but, given light, its purpose is manifest at once.
So with the soul. It is a riddle to which God is the answer. The soul is made to be God's residence; the workshop of His activity; only in such a spiritual, intellectual, thinking substance can God display the wonders of His grace.
Most men are blind to these truths. They are too busy, too distracted by the external world, by the fascinating panorama of the ceaseless play of creatures, to give attention to the presence and activity of God within themselves.
And yet, the soul needs God: cannot exist or be happy without Him. And so, when anyone speaks persuasively, authoritatively, with the ring of sincerity about God, all must listen.
The poet charms the world by singing sweetly of nature's beauty or of human lovelinesss.
The saint sings sweetly of the Lord of Beauty and also enchants our souls. For if the beauty of the creature is so
irresistible, sways us so masterfully, will not the Beauty of Him, Who created all other beauty, draw our hearts like a magnet?
And so, little St. Therese is the poet of God; Hers, too, Is a love-song; and she has become a Queen of Hearts-a veritable ruler of mankind, by teaching us the sweet art of Love.
When Mary of Magdala met Jesus, and, under His piercing, pitiful look, woke up from the nightmare of sin to the daylight reality of God and His love-then, at last, she discovered that her soul was made for God, and she leaped up to new life in the sunshine of His presence.
Saul of Tarsus
When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus and for one ecstatic moment caught a glimpse of the radiant beauty of the divine Countenance, then he, too, realised the purpose of life; he knew that he was being asked by God to give up everything for the sake of love; and that glimpse conquered him for ever.
With the soft persuasiveness of childhood, St. Therese has brought home to multitudes of her fellow creatures the fact that God loves them, that He wants their love in return, that He created them expressly for this.
And thus she is the Apostle of Divine Love.
Her Place Amongst the Saints
How shall we estimate her place amongst the saints?
The story of her rise to fame is hardly to be paralleled in the annals of the Church.
Fifty years ago she died in obscurity, in a poor Carmelite Convent in Normandy, whispering indeed to her intimate
friends as she lay dying startling little prophecies of what the future had in store for her; but utterly unknown to the world at large.
Today there is, perhaps, no saint in the Calendar so well known in all the five continents.
Yet there are not found in the story of her life any of the unusual or startling incidents that mark the lives of many others who have scaled the heights of sanctity.
The Maid of Orleans
Jeanne D'Arc, when she was a girl of eighteen, struck men dumb by demanding to be made General-in-Chief of the armies of France, in order to save her country from ruin. And, amazingly, she compelled the French warriors of the day to grant her request, and, in justification of her audacity, led them to victory, and changed the course of history.
Then, her work being done, she died a death of shame, burnt as a witch in the market-square of Rouen. The blazing fires that sprang up on that May morning in 1431 and consumed the body of that innocent saint have served as a beacon to blazon her virtues to the world.
She died as Christ died, amidst hatred and execration; but, like Christ, she triumphed through death. Her martyrdom was the beginning of her apostolate, and today the world, both within the Catholic Church and without, echoes to the praise of the heroic French girl who dared everything for the sake of Love.
To the Maid of Orleans men's eyes were drawn by the very strangeness and novelty of her enterprise; by the picturesque, chivalrous story of her achievements; by the pitiful tragedy of her death.
The Maid of Lisieux
Not so with the Maid of Lisieux. She has accomplished the more remarkable feat of weaving out of the ordinary monotonous events of daily life-a story that fascinates the world.
Jeanne D'Arc, in obedience to angel voices that urged her to fight for France, donned her armour and led the French soldiers to victory, teaching them the while to avoid sin, to lead good lives and serve God.
Therese of Lisieux, obeying the voice of her Superior, wrote the story of her simple, uneventful life, and lo! the book became the instrument of her apostolate; the channel through which her influence was to flow out all over the earth.
'As Little Children
And what is the theme of this book?
In one sentence it is this Gospel lesson, 'Become as little children if you would become great with God. Little Therese shows us in actual, living reality what this teaching of Jesus means, and how it is to be carried out. Her mission in modern times is surely providential.
The modern world is full of pride of intellect, self-sufficiency, and rejection of the supernatural. It rejoices in linking itself up with the animal world on the one hand, and cutting itself off from God on the other. It rejects the divine sonship, but works feverishly to discover some clue that may triumphantly establish its descent from the ape.
Herald of New Life
Surely the Maid of Lisieux is a portent in the midst of such a world!
Just as the birth of the Babe at Bethlehem was a startling event in a world full of idolatrous temples, where vice was
enthroned and worshipped as a god; so the apparition of this saintly child, all aflame with love, in the midst of the cold rationalism and indifference of the nineteenth century, treading her way through the world with the simple grace and dignity of a queen, exacting the homage which men inevitably pay to beauty, purity, and truth, is an event that challenges attention.
The Shepherdess of Lourdes
God's ways are not our ways. When, after the orgy of philosophic denial and scoffing at religion, which culminated in the French Revolution, God wished to revive the age of miracles, the instrument He chose for the purpose was an unlettered shepherdess, a child pasturing her flock on the slopes of the Pyrenees. As the Angels came to simple folk at Bethlehemto herald Christ's birth and the inauguration of a new era of supernatural activity on earth; so, at Lourdes, Christ's Mother appeared to Bernadette to tell her of a new period of activity in the world of grace, which would result from revival of devotion to Mary; so that Lourdes would become a centre to which crowds would stream from the ends of the earth to find healing of body and soul.
'A Little Child Shall Lead Them
And so, in our iron age of highly developed commercialism, when lust for money and craving for pleasure so absorb man's energies that God is forgotten, His very existence denied, it was necessary that the value and meaning of simple faith and trust should once more be brought vividly home to men's souls, and the instrument God chose to effect His purpose was Teresa Martin; and through her simple thoughts and example God has spoken to the intellect and the heart of humanity.
ASCENT OF MOUNT CARMEL
It is surely a striking fact that the most popular and successful saint of the Church for the past seven centuries -since Anthony of Padua died in 1231-should be a Discalced Carmelite nun; a young, highly-gifted, warm-hearted affectionate girl to whom the Carmelite life-with its spirit of complete self-renunciation, its rigorous austerities, its constant prayer, its entire separation from the world-made such a strong appeal that she was full of eager impatience to be allowed to enter the cloister before the canonical age. Having entered, she spent nine years of entire contentment (though also of great suffering) in the monastery, and died with a prophecy on her lips about the marvellous work she would do for the Church-of the 'Shower of Roses she would send down from heaven to brighten and sweeten this cold, grey world. In the story of her life, written a few months before death by command of her Superior, she told her secret. And were there nothing to show but this record of a perfect life enshrined in that glorious book, 'L'Historie d'Une Ame, the Order of Carmel would still have an imperishable monument to point to as justifying its existence. Its members could say: 'See how the Carmelite idea works out in practice. See how applicable it is to modern conditions. See how it can satisfy a generous nature bent on scaling the mountain peaks of sanctity.
But, then, besides this record of the earthly career of St. Therese of Lisieux -this wonderful revelation of her interior life and of the intercourse of her perfect and innocent soul with its Maker-we have the further justification of the Carmelite idea in the startling approval given by the miracles of St. Therese.
Miracles are God's sign-manual whereby He sometimes shows His approbation of men and their doings and ideas. Mankind has, of course, ever found it essential to have means of distinguishing truth from falsehood, the genuine from
the forgery, real gold and jewels from glittering imitations.
And this is equally necessary in the world of ideas. We live amidst the clash of opposing doctrines, principles, systems-and we must have means to discover Truth, especially in the matter which of all others is most supremely important for each of us to be certain about-namely, the purpose of life and our final destiny.
We must, of course, use our own intellectual faculties in this as in other departments -they were given to us for that purpose. Our natural reason and power of distinguishing the genuine from the imitation must be called vigorously into play in our religious life as in ordinary daily business.
But in certain matters connected with the soul and its life after death, we find ourselves, in spite of all our investigations, groping in the dark, and must look for guidance to Him Who alone has full knowledge of the future. Such guidance He has at various times given by revealing His thoughts to chosen souls, whom He supernaturally enlightens, and sends as heralds and messengers of the Truth to the world.
God's Sign Manual
But these divine messengers must be furnished with credentials; their right to teach must be guaranteed by Him who sends them as His spokesmen. Now it is by miracles that this guarantee is given. It was to His own miracles that God's Chief Prophet and Apostle-Jesus of Nazareth-appealed in proof of His right to teach. And miracles have accompanied His messengers all down the ages, as Jesus Himself promised they would. The history of Catholicism has miracles woven into its very texture; not only during the life of its Founder-from His miraculous conception and birth, all through His public life, to His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven-but also all through the unfolding of His religion and its development in every part of the world.
Many Christian sects and non-Catholic bodies reject miracles-refuse even to listen to the evidence for them; whereas the Catholic Church consistently appeals to miracles as part of her credentials, and reminds us that her claim to find miraculous manifestations in connection with her saints is itself a proof that she is the Church founded by Christ, who so clearly promised that miracles would accompany the preaching of His Gospel.
The Church Not Afraid
The Catholic Church is not afraid of her principles. When confronted by the rationalists of the nineteenth century- who jeered at ecclesiastical miracles as the product of heated imagination or as downright trickery and fraud-the Catholic Church challenged the scientific world to come to Lourdes and examine the multitudinous cures taking place there for which no natural explanation could be found. In the beatification and canonisation of her saints, the Church habitually and regularly appeals to miracles as an irrefragable proof of the sanctity of her children.
Since the death of St. Therese in 1897, the Church has witnessed an unprecedented outburst of miraculous activity, a whole torrent of beneficent graces and favours granted through the intercession of this Carmelite nun. And just as this 'Shower of Roses is a guarantee that Soeur Therese is God's friend, so also are they a guarantee of God's approval of the Carmelite idea and the method of life pursued by those men and women who give themselves up to prayer and penance for the welfare of the Church and the Interests of Christ.
Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make
Another way of looking at the matter is this. The Carmelite idea is proved to be solid and reliable by the long experience of centuries, and by the number and kind of people who have flung themselves wholeheartedly into the Carmelite life, convinced that in doing so they were taking steps to secure the highest development of their spiritual nature.
For no one would be justified in taking up the life led in Carmelite monasteries unless morally certain that such life tends to the expansion and growth of the soul along the lines in which God intends the soul to progress.
At first sight, of course, it may seem that to enter the precincts of Carmel is like entering a prison; and, after all, a jail is not, one would imagine, an ideal place for furthering one's personal development, either of body or soul.
To become a Carmelite nun means cutting oneself off from intercourse with the intellectual world of literature, art and science, and from all the various means of mental expansion which are provided in books, pictures, works of art, architecture, drama, and music.
How can it possibly tend to the expansion of the soul to take such a step?
Moreover, it means also cutting off to a large extent the pleasure of affectionate intercourse with one's relations and intimate friends-the crushing of the heart by denying it the high and holy gratifications which arise from honourable human love.
Yet, see how eagerly Teresa Martin, in spite of her artistic and poetic temperament, in spite of her passionate and tender love for her father and sisters, yearned to be shut up within the Carmelite enclosure-never again to see the happy world whose beauty and charm she so thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed?
The Prisoner of Bethlehem
We may, perhaps, most easily find an answer to this paradox by turning our eyes to a scene that is a familiar subject of contemplation to every Carmelite nun-the Birth of Christ at Bethlehem.
There in the little country town, whilst bankers and usurers are busy counting their money in Jerusalem, and King Herod is planning new crimes to shield himself against possible rivals, and far away in the West Emperor Augustus is ruling his wide dominions, and Roman legions are tramping all round the Mediterranean-amidst the crash and roar and tumult of Roman civilisation-certain shepherds are speeding along the road to Bethlehem in search of a precious object.
And what do they find? A Woman and her new-born Baby in a stable. That is all.
Yet there, in that sacred stillness, a great world-revolution is being prepared. The whole future of civilisation lies enshrined in that lonely cave on that starry, frosty night.
The shepherds came with haste, for they had seen a heavenly vision and had listened to heavenly music, and their hearts were all aflame to find Him of whom the angels sang so sweetly; they had tasted His fragrance and must needs find Him who is the Source of all sweetness, and what they found was not a rich child, robed in silk, glittering with jewels, cradled in luxury; not the famous and powerful ones of this earth, seated on thrones, wielding a sceptre, issuing words of command to trembling millions. But they found just Mary and Joseph-two simple country folk, stamped with the badge of poverty, the greathallmark of the world's teeming millions. But in the care of these two people they find the world's Treasure-heaven's most precious Jewel, God's supremest gift to the race-the Child that is a Divine Person.
A Carmelite nun is ever seeking to find Jesus, to taste the sweetness of His Presence, to enjoy His blessed gifts, and also to entertain Him, to offer Him a loving welcome in the midst of a cold, disdainful world, engrossed in its own material affairs.
But the Carmelite contemplative is not merely hungering for her own spiritual ease or enjoyment-she is seeking Jesus and His gifts in order to communicate them to others. Charity and zeal for souls are the very breath of her life.
Think of the two great Carmelite women whose interior life is so fully made known to us by their own writings- Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux.
What is it that stamps them both at once as filled with the spirit of Jesus? It is their inexhaustible charity, their insatiable longing to help souls, to relieve misery and distress, to comfort the sorrowing, to rescue those in danger, especially in spiritual danger.
And see how God has answered their prayers in ways beyond their wildest dreams! Since through their writings (in both cases undertaken through obedience) they have exercised such extraordinary influence on the lives of millions of their fellow creatures.
Those writings -the story of their soul experiences-are all instinct with the fire of the love of God, and are the fine fruit of their souls' intimate communing with God; and so they fascinate the world.
For mankind is ever longing to get authentic news of God, and listens enraptured when the true singer and inspired messenger appears.
Had the Carmelite Order done nothing for the world but produce those two saintly women, and enriched it with their writings and their example, then the existence of the Order would be amply justified.
Why Not Lead an Active Life?
Sometimes one hears unkind remarks about Carmelite nuns. Why don't they lead an active life of charity? Why not bestir themselves to help their neighbour? Why shirk the responsibilities of life, of home duties and family ties? Why not help to build up the nation and work for the increase of its material welfare and prosperity?
Such remarks are the outcome and expression of that narrow outlook on life that makes men judge everything by a material standard. But the most precious things in life cannot be so judged or measured.
The world's greatest Thinker spent His time chiefly in teaching simple folk the truth about God and the value of the human soul, and in insisting upon the supreme importance of securing one's eternal salvation. Jesus of Nazareth set little store on this world's goods; nor did He aim at those more intellectual good things which men prize so highly-fame, success, high achievement, the inscribing one's name on the honour-roll of history. He did not directly contribute anything to the advancement of science, commerce, political method, and yet He was the world's supreme Benefactor by giving to it a treasure which gold and jewels could not buy- namely, the treasure of His own thought.
The Christian revolution was the out come of Christ's thought leavening the life of the world. And that rich treasure poured so lavishly from the soul of Christ was the result of His soul's intercourse with God.
His human lips spoke truths which He had learned not from men but from the Eternal Wisdom. 'I say to thee that we speak what we know and we testify what we have seen: (John iii, 11) 'He that comes from heaven is above all: and what he has seen and heard, that he testifies. (John iii, 32)
Now, it is in a similar way that the Carmelite enriches the world. She does not directly contribute to increase the world's stock of gold, but she does something infinitely better-she keeps it rich with the golden love of God. And here again I appeal to the story of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her father was wealthy and she could have led a comfortable and elegant life had she chosen to remain in the world. Her love for the beautiful in nature and art could have been gratified to the full.
She might have become a great writer, a great poet, and adorned her country's literature with another illustrious name.
Yet she deliberately turned away from all this, captivated by the beauty of Christ's thought and Christ's ideal, even though she saw clearly that His beckoning finger led to a path that was strewn with thorns.
Therese is an ideal Carmelite. In her we see what Carmelite methods and principles can produce when they find suitable material to work upon.
And why is it the Order can produce a saint like Therese? Because the Order is filled with the principles of Jesus. This Heavenly Carpenter alone has the secret and the cunning to shape souls to holiness. His thoughts must fructify in those that aim at loving God greatly.
And Carmel is a valuable asset to the world, just because it enshrines and guards so faithfully the thoughts and principles of Jesus of Nazareth.
Guarding His Secret
You may have heard of families in older countries that guard jealously for centuries the secret of some special process in the manufacture of cloth or dye or machinery or medicine. By means of this secret process they produce goods very valuable to mankind, and by faithfully preserving this knowledge they are benefactors of the race.
Well, Carmelites are people who guard carefully the secret of Christ's teaching. They keep His principles in full vigour by shaping their own lives rigorously according to them. And sorely does the world need people like this, since the Christian ideal has to struggle for existence amidst such adverse pagan surroundings.
As a barren desert is hostile to life, so the world is hostile to Christ's pri nciples; and as oases are essential for travellers across the desert, so spiritual oases are necessary in the blinding, sandy wastes of this infidel world to preserve for souls the blessed and nourishing waters of Christ's teaching.
A Carmelite convent is such an oasis. In all the great cities of the world these homes of silence and prayer and penance are found, where religious men and women seek close union with God in prayer, in order thereby to win grace and peace and eternal happiness for their fellow beings.
'LITTLE FLOWER OF JESUS
A flower is beautiful -so exquisitely beautiful that we know nothing to compare it to in this rough world of ours; rather it is the standard of comparison for other beautiful things. To Teresa Martin, with her artistic temperament, a flower was a perfect type of the soul clad in the wedding garment of God's grace.
The soul owes its supernatural beauty to the light and sunshine of grace that stream upon it from God's infinite Being. God is the central sun whose radiant loveliness the soul shares by basking in His presence. Just as the rose needs the material sun for its existence, and without the heat and light of the sun it withers and dies, so the soul must absorb this supernatural light and heat, which it receives from God, and if it is cut off from that light and heat, it, too, withers and dies. Like the flower, the soul cannot weave this garment of beauty for itself. God alone can clothe it.
Teresa Martin reflected that if her soul was a heavenly flower, Jesus was the Gardener to whose care it had been entrusted; consequently, her soul was His flower. His one ambition in her regard was to make the flower grow in grace and loveliness until it should be ripe for transplanting to the gardens of heaven.
Moreover, there is a third quality of an earthly flower that helped to make the simile more complete -namely, that it is so fragile, so weak.
The giant trees of the forest, which have braved the storms of ages, are types of strength, and seemed to her to represent the great apostles and saints of the Church, whose lives of activity have so astonished the world. But she was weak; she could not be like them. Then she noted the little flowers that grew close to the earth beside the great trees; and they seemed to her, in their delicate beauty, types of her soul. And so she called herself the Little Flower of Jesus.
Her canonisation means that the Church, using the teaching authority which Christ gave her, declares by a solemn sentence that Teresa Martin's soul is safe with God; declares that she has attained the end for which God created her, to be happy with Him for ever; that she is a model we can safely imitate, since we know that she has made a success of her life; she has surmounted all obstacles, has passed the final examination, and has been crowned by God.
Surely nothing ought to interest us so deeply as the news of the final success of a soul in the struggle for life eternal. For this struggle is also our supreme struggle. The business in which St. Therese succeeded so gloriously is our business; the path she trod is the path we also must follow. Death, which to her was the gate of life, we also must pass through; and we desire that when we pass these dark gates our eyes may rest (as hers did) on the radiant, approving smile of Jesus, our Judge.
Now, the attraction which St. Therese has for the world, the secret of her fascination, seems to lie largely in this, that she casts around all the stern truths and realities of life and death, of judgment and eternity, the charm of her own beautiful soul and personality.
Down at the root of all the unhappiness of life lies the element of fear. We are voyaging over a stormy sea; life is full of danger for body and soul. The future is uncertain. We seem to be the play-toy of incalculable forces, like sailors afloat on a boisterous ocean in a crazy craft. And looming ahead for each is the black storm cloud of death, that dread experience of which all are terrified.
When, lo! like a radiant vision, this child stands before us with words of grace on her lips, telling us how she conquered fear; how she transformed the sorrows and dangers of life into sources of golden gain for her soul, and how she made friends with Death.
How She Conquered Fear
For she, too, had been afraid. Her soul, too, had been oppressed with anxiety. But light shone in the darkness, the light of God's own teaching about the value of humility. She opened the Bible and read these words of the Book of Proverbs: 'Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me. (Prov. ix, 4.) She gazed long and lovingly at the arresting scene described in the Gospel where Jesus, holding a little child in His arms, utters this memorable sentence: 'Whosoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. A golden sentence that has burned itself into the hearts of mankind!
Jesus came into the world to conquer fear. The world was afraid, because it lay under the shadow of sin, and knew no way of escape. In order to drown fear men plunged ever deeper into orgies of dissipation, rushed more madly into the black night of self-indulgence, to escape the anguish of remorse and terror.
God alone could bring relief, and it needed some very drastic method, indeed, to remedy such an appalling and deeplyrooted evil. And this freezing terror that gripped men's souls was the fear of an angry God-the fear of what may befall the soul after death as the result of sin.
Now, if you really fear a person, only one thing can help you to conquer that fear-viz., to be persuaded that this person loves you. We see this in the case of the child. The child shrinks in terror from a stranger, but it is quite happy in its mother's arms, because it knows the mother loves it.
We are God's children, and to remove our fears He must display His affection visibly and sensibly. He must prove that He loves us. To do this was the mission of Jesus Christ.
A Drastic Step
I have said just now that to conquer our fears God must take some drastic step, must do something that will appeal to us with irresistible force in order to have no doubt about His love, and make us really trust Him. And certainly, He has done something very drastic and far-reaching indeed. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Mind of God, became Man, was born in a stable, came to us as a child, died for us on a cross, and rose from the dead, all to demonstrate the tenderness, the delicacy, the utter unselfishness of His love.
Now, what happened to Teresa Martin was this: She woke up to this great truth of God's love for her soul: she realised deeply that God was her Lover, that her soul was of priceless value to Him, and realising that, she put away fear. Jesus had cried out: 'Become as little children if you would be great with God, and she has shown us how this direction is to be carried out in actual practice.
This, then, is one element in the appeal she makes to mankind: she shows us how love can conquer fear.
Another element is her wonderful charity. Once she has tasted the sweetness of loving God -once she has discovered this great secret for conquering fear-she is all eagerness to share her treasure with others.
And, behold, this young nun, dying of tuberculosis, in an obscure convent in a remote little town, has a heart as big as the world, and wants to share her happiness with all mankind. And in her distress at her weakness and helplessness she turns to her Heavenly Lover and asks Him to find a way to realise this seemingly impossible ambition.
Secret of Her Influence
Now, how did God hear her prayer? What means did He employ to make her influence felt to the very ends of the earth? Chiefly two: First, at the bidding of her Superiors, she wrote the story of her life, the story of God's dealings with her soul, and that narrative became in a wonderfully short space of time one of the world's great books. I think it is safe to say that no spiritual book or life of a saint of modern times has exercised such a widespread influence for good, has been read with spiritual profit by so many people of all nations, as the 'History of a Soul, by Soeur Therese of Lisieux.
Through that book the little Carmelite Sister of Lisieux has preached to the world as few missionaries have ever preached; has touched hearts in a way to be paralleled only in the lives of great saints like St. Anthony of Padua, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Bernardine of Siena.
Shower of Roses
The second means by which God fulfilled her wishes was by granting extraordinary favours on behalf of those for whom she pleaded. The 'shower of roses that has so astonished the world since her death has been the means of drawing all hearts to her, because it has shown the marvellous spirit of charity that filled her soul.
The sorrows of the whole wide world she made her own. Every form of human suffering claimed her sympathy, to every appeal she turned a ready ear. She is the Sister of Charity of the whole wide world, equally at home assisting soldiers on the battle-fields of France and Flanders, comforting missionaries in the frozen lands of the Esquimaux or in the wilds of Central Africa, coming in person to relieve the wants of a starving religious community in Italy, bringing light and consolation to the Pope in his many anxieties, restoring health to poor sick folk in the last stage of cancer or tuberculosis.
Her charity it is, her marvellous tenderness, her power of loving and showing her love in a practical way by bringing help, that has endeared her to all.
And yet how gloriously she has triumphed!
And her triumph, which is so like the triumph of the Risen Christ, is another proof that God's Hand is with the
Catholic Church. For what other body in the world could dare to do what the Church has done in her case? Or, if they dared, could hope for any success in the attempt?
Civil States pile up monuments of bronze or marble to perpetuate their soldiers, statesmen, artists, philanthropists. Men tell with pride the story of David Livingstone, penetrating with missionary zeal into the heart of darkest Africa; of Florence Nightingale moving like an angel of comfort amongst the stricken soldiers of the Crimea; of other benefactors of mankind, whose external activity tells of generous and noble hearts beating within.
But what body in the world, except the Catholic Church, could honour a mere child as the Catholic Church has honoured St. Therese of Lisieux? In doing this the Catholic Church is giving actual, palpable evidence of her discernment of the supernatural beauty and qualities of the soul. The Church, too, honours and praises deeds of valour, lives of patriotism, great external achievements in the cause of humanity. But she alone has the divine instinct to recognise the greatness of humility and of love of God even in a child. She knows that the Carmelite nun in her cell may be as great a benefactor of mankind, may be as powerful an influence for good, as the soldier on the battlefield or the preacher in the pulpit. And the Church knows this because she knows the power of prayer-knows the irresistible might of love for God. And I say to you that this insight, this divine instinct, that makes the Catholic Church hold up for our admiration such lives as that of St. Therese of Lisieux, is a strong proof that theCatholic Church is God's Church, since in thus holding up as a model one whose whole life is a living demonstration of Christ's teaching about humility and the child-like spirit, the Church shows she is still guided by His Spirit, still animated by His principles, still setting store chiefly upon the supernatural treasures which Jesus told us should alone be the object of our solicitude during our pilgrimage here below.
@ DANIEL MANNIX
'The Man Who Got Even With God
JOHN HANNING, AMERICAN EX-COWBOY
By REV. MARIUS McAULIFFE O.F.M.
John Green Hanning began life at Kentucky, U.S.A., on January 12, 1849, and ended it fifty-nine years later as Brother Joachim, in the Trappist Monastery, Gethsemani near his old Kentucky home, on April 80, 1908.
Though it is yet too soon to have an infallible pronouncement that would number him amongst the canonised saints, still, I think you will agree that the story of his strange life is well worth telling. You will find the full account in the beautifully written biography published by The Bruce Publishing Co., under the rather challenging title of 'The Man Who Got Even With God.
'I Always Get Even
Many a youth has attempted to anticipate his entrance into man's estate by surrep titiously smoking his father's tobacco. Well, away back in old Kentucky, about the year 1864, eighteen-year-old John Hanning determined to prove to himself and the world that he was no longer a mere child by burning away, in one night, his father's tobacco, to the tune of several thousand dollars. This is how it happened. That day John Hanning, Senior, and John Hanning, Junior, had some hot words. Worse still, they allowed the sun to go down on their anger. Now eighteen-year-old John had, already, even at that age, built himself a kind of perverted philosophy of life. The leading principle of that philosophy was summed up in these words which he had often used, even in his schoolboy fights: 'I always get even. It told its own tale of the vindictiveness of his character.
With the growing darkness of the night John Junior's mind grew darker till he could see nothing but the blind necessity of getting even with his father.
He did get even.
That very night he set fire, and burned to the ground, the whole harvest of tobacco that was the fruit of a year's toil on his father's plantation. While the flames greedily devoured the dried leaves and the tobacco barns as well, John Hanning, fleeing from the home of his childhood, and from the anger of his father, had become a fugitive on the face of the earth.
A Child of Tears
One can easily imagine the desolation in the old homestead next morning when the dawn light revealed the full havoc of the fire. Many good neighbours would come to express their sorrow and to shake their heads forebodingly at the insane conduct of an ingrate son; the very same son who, only a year or so before had asked and been refused his father's permission to become a monk in the nearby Trappist Monastery.
They were sad days for the good old couple, especially for the boy's mother. After all, he was her boy. She was still his mother. The barn could be rebuilt, and a tobacco harvest would grow again next year, but what hope was there for the spiritual renewal of the son who had broken his parents' hearts and brought disgrace on an honoured name? Perhaps, too, the thought came that all this had happened because of his father's refusal to allow the boy to follow a vocation in a Trappist Monastery.
If only its these sad hours it were given to her, and indeed to all the others, to draw aside just a little of the veil that hid the future, what a day of joy and triumph would be revealed, when all America, and, for that matter, all the Catholic world, would read with pride and delight the life story of that same renegade, who now fled from the anger of an outraged father and hid from the meek gaze of a broken-hearted mother.
However, there was one star of hope still shining in the inky black sky of his mother's life, and that was her Catholic Faith. It told her of the power of a mother's prayers for an erring child. She would have remembered the words of the great Saint Ambrose to another mother, St. Monica: 'Woman, the child of such tears can never perish. The child of those tears of the mourning Monica is to-day that radiant figure in the Church whom we know as St. Augustine. Mrs. Hanning's Catholic Faith would tell her, too of another Woman, the fairest and purest of all creation, whose Mother's heart was pierced by the seven- pointed sword of sorrow. She knew that that other Mother's prayers were still as powerful before the face of God, as they were on that far-off day when the same God advanced the hour of wondrous power to please the Mother He loved.
Rock-like, then, in the very centre of her heaving heart, there stood the trusting faith that kept her from being overpowered by this tidal wave of disaster. The tragedy of tragedies in this vale of tears is to have never known, or to have lost, that childlike trusting faith in the power that rules our destiny.
A Renegade's Remorse
There is no need to dwell much on the misery of the unhappy youth facing the void of the world with a still greater void in his heart. Not even the fiendish delight in his vindictive heart could stifle the inevitable remorse that bitingly told him that he was that ugliest of human specimens, a renegade son. And there would have followed him, too, like the eyes of God, the haunting eyes of the mother whom alone, he undoubtedly loved.
His biographer tells us that during the next few months the fugitive lad slept under hedges, in haystacks, and in barns, earning a meal wherever he could. He soon learned the gentle art of begging at back doors and arousing the sympathy of cooks. He stole rides on hay wagons and mule cars. Above all, he walked and walked and walked. John Green Hanning was certainly being humiliated, but he was yet far, very far, from being made humble.
His type of pride actually feeds upon humiliations, and his type of heart grows harder and harder with every fresh rebuff, till you get that dangerous and much discussed psychological problem-namely, the anti-social personality, when the mind becomes a storehouse of dark and evil thoughts; very often then the well-known criminal type is evolved, whether he be anarchist or Antichrist.
At last he found his way to the Lone Star State and there, in wild Texas, down by the Rio Grande, for nine long years, John Green Hanning became lost to the world even in name. The rough riders of the prairies ask no man's history. He was simply known as 'The Kentuckian or 'Kentucky Jack, or again, 'The Quick One, because of the volcanic temper that sent his hand to a trigger or his fist to a man's jaw.
Down Rio Grande Way
It was a hard life, out in all weathers, from blistering sun to biting blizzards. It was often a lonely life, riding at night in the wilds, under the silent stars. But it had its compensations. Like the outdoor life of those great Australians, who even to this day pioneer the bush, it was carefree.
It was our own poet, Paterson, who expressed it lyrically:
He sees the vision splendid
Of sunlight plains extended
At night the wondrous glory
Of the everlasting stars.
There one meets nature in the raw, rough characters, but then as true as the unpolished diamond. They
sang their lilting love songs to that Mother Nature who cradled them in her chaste bosom, caressed them with her warm sun, refreshed them with the sparkling wine of her morning dews, while she returned their songs from her own choir of a thousand songsters of the bush.
Taken all in all, it was the very best type of life for a youthful prodigal. God alone knows what would have happened had he picked up a job in some big city, where the machine would have corroded a bitter heart and the doubtful entertainments that attract the lone dweller in a big city would have lured him to their iniquitous dens.
In the prairie it was all so different. Life was ever fresh and young. And so, while he grew into manhood, he never lost that gift which seems to be the natural, and even supernatural, test of greatness of character, namely, the heart of a boy.
It is our every-day experience that there is always hope for the man who has not lost his youth. Time heals many sorrows and rights many wrongs. One thing it cannot heal, and that is the gnawing
hunger of an exiled heart for home, and all that it means.
It was only natural, then, that the thoughts of the lonely cowboy should sometimes turn to his old home in Kentucky. Even mere curiosity would make him wonder how were mum and dad, and brothers and sisters. The longing to see the old place, to hear again a mother's gentle voice, would break in upon his inmost soul.
So it was only to be expected that he could stand the nostalgia no longer. Like the prodigal, he would return to his father's home and there beg an outraged father's forgiveness.
The Prodigal's Return
It is useless to describe the scene as the tumultuous joyful barking of an old favourite dog brought a wondering little grey-haired old lady to the door. There was the shock of recognition. Time seemed to stand still. It seemed as though an angel visitant had brought the answer to years of prayer. A joy probably unequalled on earth thrilled that mother's heart. The years rolled back and life was young again, while two hungry hearts devoured a love feast. The father's welcome was no doubt quieter, but none the less sincere and joyous, for this, a son that was lost and was found again.
A little bit of heaven had come to earth these days as brothers and sisters gathered round to hear stories of the wild life down Rio Grande way. Soon the lilt of cowboy songs was heard round the homestead. It was almost too good to be true, too happy to be lasting. Alas! Before that week was out all that note of jay was hushed and silent as if a corpse were brought into a festive hail.
This is how it happened.
Sunday morning came, and everybody in that good Catholic home made ready to share in that supreme joy of the faithful Catholic, which is nothing less than a taking part in the dread, mighty, holy mystery of faith, that lavish outpouring of divine love which is the Sacrifice of the Mass. It was then the bombshell burst that was to shatter all the joy and peace and delight of their new-found happiness. A man lay dead before their eyes. John Green Hanning had bluntly announced that he was not going to Mass that day or any other day as long as he lived, for the simple reason that he no longer believed. And that was that. The corpse at the feast was the soul of their son and brother, dead in sin.
Then, very tenderly, tearfully, came the half-sobbing voice of his mother, sounding strange in the tense silence, 'John, dear, won't you please come, just to satisfy me?' It's a long time, you know, John, since I had you by my side in public. Please come for mysake. Even he could not resist that appeal. He went to church, but not to pray. His sin-filled soul sneered at all that wonderful mystery of love that is for ever hidden from unbelieving eyes. He did not know that not only the heartsore mother beside him was praying, but also that the priest at the altar, speaking in the Name of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, was offering the great sacrifice of Calvary for all sinners, particularly for all there present, and that included sneering John Green Hanning.
However, he resumed the old life on the farm with that kind of forced gaiety such as one notices in people who have abandoned the faith of their fathers and with it the innocence and love of their happy childhood. We know on the authority of God Himself that some devils are cast out of a man only by prayer and fasting. His faithful mother was doing all that. It took two major events to hasten the day when stub. . born John would kneel humbly at the feet of a priest and pour out the story of his pride and sinfulness in sincere, heartfelt sorrow.
Cupid Takes a Hand
The first big event was the fact that John fell head, neck, and heels in love with a good Catholic girl called Mary. She was the type whose hidden greatness of soul will appear in all its grandeur only in the great day of eternity. She was definitely not one of those anaemic Catholic girls who are prepared to barter their faith for passion or auction their shallow love, in marriage, to the highest bidder. No, Mary was he kind whose very breath brings a blessing to any man. So, she told the loved, and very much loving John very plainly and very bluntly, that she was not prepared to marry any man, not even a John Green Hanning, while he was a renegade from his God. Then she proceeded to teach him some home truths, including a refresher course in the principles of the penny Catechism. And she added, just for good measure, that putting in an appearance at Mass on Sunday morning was not her idea of a good Catholic. John listened and said, meekly enough, that he understood. And so they became engaged, while John tried to come to some sort of terms with his rebellious conscience. He still went to Mass on Sunday, and still sat sullenly beside the patient, silently praying woman with the brave, undaunted smile of the true Christian mother.
God's Hour of Mercy
Then came the other world-shattering event in his life when the patient eyes, the praying lips, and the loving heart of that much-tried mother were stilled for ever in death. As John looked his last look on that lifeless form that might have been an angel in repose, his inmost heart thundered to his scoffing mind that only a God of infinite love could create such a masterpiece of human perfection on this cold earth.
At last there burst forth the torrents of a too late regret. It was the old story of which poets have sung, 'Loved in life too little, loved in death too well. God's hour had struck. Scoffing John Hanning's pride was overthrown, and his stubbornness had been melted in a flood of penitent tears. He had found the bitter sweet of a true sorrow while the angels, as well as his own beloved mother, joyously celebrated one of heaven's special feast days. For we know on the authority of God Himself that there is more joy in heaven upon one sinner doing penance than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.
Love is Repaid by Love
I told you of John's philosophy of life- always to get even. He now made up his mind to get even with God. Love is repaid by love alone, as all the saints tell us. John wanted to repay the love of God, and repay it to the very limit. It was just his way of getting even with that wondrous love that is God.
So,. one evening he gently told Mary that for some time he had been thinking of going back to his original vocation, and of giving his whole life to God as a holocaust of love in the Trappist Monastery called Gethsemani.
Of course, she laughed heartily at the very idea of explosive John in the role of meek, contemplative monk. But soon she was to realise that he was not speaking in jest. He now asked her to release him from the promise of marriage, while he went to have a try at being a monk. Like the thorough-going Catholic girl that she was, Mary readily gave the permission, though she did add these words of warning, 'John, if you fail, never come back to me. I'd never be the wife of an ex-monk, no, John, not even if he were the last man in the world!
So, to the consternation of the neighbourhood, with many shakings of the head and with many prayers and blessings, too, John entered Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky.
I doubt if anybody who knew anything about the life of a Trappist monk could ever expect him to remain longer than a few weeks.
It was June 4, 1885; John was then thirty-six years and six months.
Why The Contemplative Orders?
It is really surprising what wrong and even foolish ideas some people have about the usefulness of the Contemplative Orders of men and women. Perhaps it will come to them as something of a shock to read these words from no less an authority than Pope Pius XI. Addressing the Carthusians the Holy Father says that 'it is easy to understand how they who assiduously fulfil the duty of prayer and penance contribute much more to the increase of the church and the welfare of mankind than those who labour in the tilling of the Master's field. For unless the former drew down from heaven a shower of graces, divine graces, to water the field that is being tilled, the evangelical labourers would indeed reap from their toil a more scanty crop.
In other words, all supernatural fruitfulness depends on prayer and sacrifice. Hence, those who measure a man's worth merely by the amount of external activity he displayed have not the standards of God. They are shocked by the waste of young lives, often with brilliant talents, being buried as they say, in a Contemplative Order. They imagine they could do so much good in other active Communities, as teachers, nurses or missionaries. Unfortunately, such people have learned nothing from the Gospel story of the woman who poured out abox of precious ointment on our Lord's feet while the earthly minded Judas lamented the loss to the poor. They find it easy to understand the charity of the busy Martha, but they cannot grasp the idea of the still greater love of Mary seated beside Him, not even when Jesus assures us that 'Mary hath chosen the better part.
The same lesson of the fruitfulness of the Contemplative Vocation has been brought home to us in our own day by the life-story of the Saint Therese of Lisieux-The Little Flower of Jesus. It is not without a very Providential design that she has been given to our restless, turbulent, materialistic age as a model and Patroness of the toiling Missionaries. Now what was the secret of her life? I think you will find it in the following lines taken from her autobiography:
'Their loss is gain who all forsake To find Thy love O Jesus mine For Thee my ointment jar I break The fragrance of my life is Thine.
At a very early age she understood deeply St. Paul's teaching on the nature of the Chri stian Church. She grasped the fundamental fact that the Church is not a mere gathering of individuals professing a common faith and working for a common end. No! It is something far more wonderful than that. It is the Mystic Body of Christ-a real living organism made up of the countless millions of baptized souls vitally united with the real physical Christ as its Head-in some such way as the members of the human body, hands, feet, eyes, etc., are united to form one living organism drawing their power of life and movement from a common source. We know that what affects one member of the human body has repercussions on the other members. If one member suffers injury, the other members come to its assistance. So, only in much more wonderful way in the Church, we are members of one living organism bound to the Head Jesus Christ. With Him, and through Him, we share in a common life that unites us, even in this world, to the Blessed Trinity Itself. All this follows from those soul-stirring words of Our Lard in the fifteenth chapter of St.John's Gospel, where He says: 'Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches; he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. In the same chapter He comforts us with these astounding words that should be deeply engraved on the mind and heart of every Christian:
'If any man love Me he 'will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and We will make our abode with him.
Two very important truths flow from this doctrine, namely, that our personal lives have a hidden, though very serious effect on the well-being of the whole mystic Body of Christ. We can hurt our fellowmembers by our sins and our consequent bad example. On the other hand, ours is the great privilege, given to the very least of us, of being able to contribute in a very wonderful measure to its growth and perfection by our prayers and good works. Moreover, many who are incapable or unwilling to help themselves can by God's mercy be helped by other members of the body. Hence, over and above the life of prayer and exterior activity of some Orders you have, as Pope Pius XI pointed out to the Carthusians, the very necessary, very fruitful, though very hidden, work of the Contemplative Orders of men and women.
Of course we must bear in mind that what is written here applies equally to all individual contemplative men and women in the world. Only the great day of judgment will reveal the fruitfulness of those thou sands of hidden souls who, by cooperation with God's Grace, have been enabled to combine a life of wondrous prayer with their duties in the home, in the office, and in the factory.
The Religious community into which John Green Hanning now sought admission was a Contemplative one. They are known as Trappists and can trace their rule back fifteen hundred years. It is very interesting to note its cradle was none other than the famous Monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy, now bombed to ruins by the advance of a 'civilization that is too ignorant and materialistic to appreciate the meaning and necessity of so sacred a shrine.
The Lost Battalion
'Members of the Lost Battalion is a name given to Trappist monks. They are lost forever to the world and its ways. Of course, the world thinks they are mad. It is a blessed madness, though indeed, as the biographer of John Green Hanning points out, we hear of film stars, and financiers, and other worldly successful men going mad, but we do not find madness in a Trappist Monastery. No man who is content can go mad.
John Hanning now lost even his name. Henceforth he is to be known as Brother Mary Joachim. He will discard even his worldly clothes for the rough brown robe of a Trappist lay-Brother. This change of name and garment is to symbolise, and be a help to, the far greater change that must go on within his inmost soul if he is to become in reality a monk, a man living alone with the great God, a close follower and intimate personal friend of his Master and Model, Jesus Christ.
A Day in a Trappist Monastery
It was certainly a new and strange world for the ex-fire bug, the ex-rider of the plains, the ex-scoffer at God and at all religious belief.
His day now began at what you might call the ungodly hour of 2 a.m. Holy Mass and prayer occupied him for two hours. To make matters more difficult he now had to begin the long-drawn-out process of learning the art of praying without the help of a: prayer book; in fact, without the use of words. It would take a good deal of the oil of grace before the rusty hinges of his mind would work smoothly and throw open the gates leading to that inner knowledge, that subtle touch of the Holy Spirit, which alone is perfect prayer and is the reward of the faithful, patiently-seeking soul.
Indeed his very first lessons in acquiring the art of prayer began by the practice of two simple everyday forms of devotion, namely, The Rosary, and the Way of the Cross. The Rosary, often called the Layman's Breviary, taught him the long forgotten story of the life of Christ; while it bound him with a golden chain to the Queen of Heaven. Meditation on the way of the Cross brought home to him the great truths of the enormity of sin, the infinity of God's love for each one of us, while it reminded him of the necessity to carry the Cross daily in imitation of Christ.
But all that would not happen in a day or a week or a year. Actually, it would be the growth of a lifetime. Meanwhile, our Brother had to struggle against wandering thoughts and his own turbulent and untutored nature. Naturally, the habits of a lifetime would break in upon his solitude, and he would often find himself wandering in imagination down the Rio Grande, reliving the scenes of cowboy days and wondering how it fared with all his late companions.
So it would be something of a relief, at least in the beginning, when at 4 a.m. it was time to go out to the fields and, with some forty-five other lay-Brothers,. turn his thoughts to the very elemental work of milking the Monastery cows. At five, still a.m., he found that a cup of coffee and a piece of bread did duty for a breakfast. Then once more he was away to the fields till ten-thirty, when a halfhour's prayer and spiritual reading brought him to eleven oclock, and to the first full meal of the day, which was dinner. There was no meat, no eggs, no fish. There was a large serving of soup, with plenty of bread and vegetables. He was yet to learn that it would be the same menu even on Christmas Day. Midday brought an hour's welcome rest on his plank bed. At one p.m. he listened to a lecture or instruction from the Master of Novices. Here he was initiated to the thousand and one practices and ceremonies of which the outer world knows absolutely nothing, but which help to mould the man into the monk. There were more prayers, and he was off again to the farm till five p.m. Supper was served at six, after which came night prayers and repose. Then came the last act of the long day, when white-robed priests and brown-habited Brothers filed like so many ghosts along the silent cloisters to the dimly-lit Monastery Choir or Church, and there, with bowed head, many of them hoary with the years, they burst into a flame of song that was their last tribute to the Queen of Heaven as they chanted the 'Salve Regina, Hail Holy Queen. Soon Brother Joachim's sweet tenor voice was heard above the rest as he came at night to serenade, with chivalrous love, the Lady who had now become the Queen of his heart. As the last words echoed into a silence deeper than the tomb, one by one, the ghost-like figures moved along to their poor cells.
Ii had been a long day, a full day, and, of course, a happy day, of eighteen hours of prayer and work, and so Brother Joachim was glad when he could lay his healthily weary body down to rest and sleep the refreshing, dreamless sleep of the just.
One thing about his long day worth noting is that outside the time of prayer and instruction not once did he hear the sound of a human voice. All his needs were expressed in the sign language, that has been perfected during twelve centuries of Cistercian life. No wonder people had expressed doubts as to the ability of the fiery Kentuckian to stand the pace of the long years ahead, with no holidays, and no pay, save that which is above all earth's greatest rewards-namely, the knowledge that one's life is being burned out for the glory of God like a holy candle, lit before a sacred shrine, and, with it, 'the peace that surpasseth all understanding.
The Habit Does Not Make the Monk
However, that peace does not come easily, even to those who enter a monastery. Hence, we shall miss the whole beauty and meaning of the hidden years if we do not see behind the exterior life of our monk to the hidden struggle that must take place within the soul of every man who would aspire to the summit of spiritual perfection. It is easy enough to leave the world and put on the habit of a monk. It is quite another matter to leave behind one's self, to rule those treacherous impulses to evil that are in the heart of every one of us.
Besides, after the initial fervour of conversion there comes the inevitable day of trial, when old habits of thought and feeling re-assert themselves. Then, to add to the trials, prayer loses its sweetness and becomes dry and difficult. We have the authority of Our Lord in the Gospel to warn us that when the evil spirit has been driven out of a man he takes seven other spirits more wicked than himself and returns, so that the last state of that man is made worse than the first. Brother Joachim was now made to realise the truth of the old saying, that 'the habit does not make the monk. To his amazement and dismay he found that he still had the terrible temper that set fire to his father's tobacco barns.
He was to have many a humiliating fall from grace before he could emerge captain of his soul. For example, there was the day when something or another roused him to fury, and he actually went for a pitch fork with which to avenge some fancied wrong, done by a fellow-novice. The good old Father Abbot, Dom Benedict, was too skilled a director of souls, and too shrewd a psychologist not to realise that he was dealing with a quiescent volcano, so he tried by every known strategy to break and mould our Brother to become a strong man of Christ. He laid penance after penance upon Brother Joachim for every fresh outburst. Every mistake was a golden opportunity to teach humility to this fire-eater. It happened that on one occasion when Joachim was sent to help in the kitchen, where the meals for guests were prepared, he was told to bake some meat slowly. He did, very slowly. He baked it for four days before he remembered. Of course, he had to go along and acknowledge his fault. Here is how it is described by his biographer:
'What is it? snapped the Abbot
'Meat, snapped back Joachim.
'It doesn't look like it, growled the Abbot.
'I burned it, growled Joachim.
'Eat it, barked the Abbot.
Joachim was silent. He looked up at the Abbot, then down at the mess that was like greasy charcoal, then up at the Abbot again. After a moment, he got up from his knees, and, as he was bowing to the Abbot, managed to squeeze out between tightly closed teeth, 'Yes, Reverend Father. It took him a full six months to eat the mess,. but eat it he did, every shred of it. Expert training surely for a man with a homicidal temper.
The Volcano Erupts
But there was one day that led almost to complete disaster, and nearly ruined all
the good work. That day the good Father Abbot overdid things a bit. It happened that Joachim had not had an outburst for some time, and Dom Benedict knew he would be inclined to feel too secure, so he was determined to find something with which to test his patience.
It came along soon enough when Joachim was shaving the Abbot, who had had a stroke. The Abbot was picking at him more than usual, noting this fault and that, and digging up every trifle. He did not notice that Joachim was getting redder and redder, and that a dangerous fire was flashing from Southern eyes. At last, the storm broke. Joachim, holding the open razor within an inch of the Abbot's throat, half shouted, 'Say one word more and I'll slash you from ear to ear. Not one word more did the terrified Father Abbot speak while Joachim stamped out of the room. It might have been the end had he had a less understanding Abbot, and had he not returned within a short time to kneel a very penitent and humbled man to ask forgiveness and a heavy penance. But that day Joachim did not get even. Very gently Dom Benedict said, 'Brother, for your penance this time you will go to Holy Communion in the morning. The greatness of soul displayed by the Abbot finished his training in humility.
During all this spiritual struggle two things stood to our trainee monk. The first was a deep conviction that told him he had been a great sinner, and that he needed a lot of penance to atone for the past. The other asset was a growing love for God in the person of Jesus Christ. Long hours of meditation on the sorrows, humiliations, and sufferings of the Son of God kindled a corresponding love in his own heart, as Joachim realised, what we all too often forget, that Jesus suffered all these things for him. Then there was the daily union of his soul with the same Jesus in the Sacrament of love, the Holy Eucharist. So, as he went out to the fields he brought in the solitude of his soul the words and example of the Son of God, and he soon learned to see in his humble toil of a lay-Brother the same work that had been transformed into prayer by the touch of the Carpenter of Nazareth. He was being trained to see what we in the world too often forget-namely, that each act of the day is, as it were, a Sacrament uniting us with Christ. In the neat phrase used by his biographer, Brother Joachim was learning that 'The spiritual life is not something but somebody.
Here is where it is possible for each of us to become genuine Contemplatives, if we only realised that no matter what our daily occupation is, no matter how exacting our routine, or distracting our activity, we still can, with a little extra thought and care, achieve, as John Hanning did, a very delightful intimacy with God in the very midst of our worldly duties.
Cardinal Newman, with characteristic clarity, sums up this question of sanctity in the midst of worldly occupations in these enlightening words: 'It is difficult, he says, 'to realise both truths at once, and to connect both truths together; steadily to contemplate the life to come, yet to act in this. . . . But it is possible to do all things whatever we are about to God's glory; we may do all things heartily, as to the Lord, and not to man, being both active yet meditative. . . . The true Christian will feel that the true contemplation of that Saviour lies in his worldly business; that as Christ is seen in the poor, and in the persecuted, and in children, so is He seen in the employments he puts upon his chosen whatever they be; that in attending to his own calling he will be meeting Christ; that if he neglect it he will not on that account enjoy His presence at all the more, but while performing it he will see Christ revealed to his soul amid the ordinary actions of the day, as by a sort of Sacrament. Thus he will take his worldly business as a gift from Him and will love it as such. . . . The highest Christian of all is he whose heart is so set on things above, that things below as little excite, agitate, unsettle, distress, and seduce him as they stop the course of nature, as they stop the sun and moon, or change Summer and Winter.
It was no wonder, then, that his soul deepened and his inmost character underwent a great transformation. And, with it, would grow an ever-deepening peace. His outbursts of temper became fewer and his heavenly consolations more numerous. The 'old man was fast dying, and the 'new man was being born. The grain of wheat in the ground was corrupting, so that the new corn, the wheat of Christ, might be fashioned into a host fit for heaven.
Only God Himself can tell what wonders of grace go on within the sanctuary of a soul when long years of prayer and penance have made pure and perfect the living temple of God. Often such a humble, purified soul is given, while still in this vale of tears, a foretaste of the perfect peace and unalterable joy of the Blessed.
One little incident of his closing years gives a glimpse of his hidden relationship with God. On one of the rare occasions when a visit of a relative was permitted, his two sisters called to the Monastery bringing a little baby in arms, who was just then recovering from pneumonia. It happened that while they were walking some distance from the Monastery gate, quite suddenly, the hot summer's day broke into a torrential downpour of rain. Imagine the terror of the sister for her little babe. Brother Joachimtook the little baby, saying, 'Don't worry. Give me the baby and you two run. You are going to get soaked. Lester and I will come after. He will not get wet. The sisters ran, but they got well and truly soaked. A few minutes later, to their utter amazement, along sauntered the laughing Joachim in the midst of the terrible downpour, with the baby nestling in his arms, and not a drop of water had fallen on either him or the child. It was too much for the baby's mother, 'Jack, Jack, she cried, 'he's dry! Her brother's laughing comment was, 'You women make me sick. Haven't you got any faith? Of course he's dry. Didn't I tell you he wouldn't get wet? And as his sister was now crying tears of joy for the holiness of her brother, and for the safety of her child, Joachim mockingly said, 'A fine mother you are. I save the child from a downpour and now you drench him with your tears. So he laughed off the miracle, as such it undoubtedly was.
Twenty years of such a life seems a long time. But viewed from the standpoint of eternity, as Joachim was taught to measure things, they seemed a mere nothing. Where men who measure a man's greatness by the gold standard saw just a brown-robed lay-Brother, the angels of God saw a masterpiece of grace in the making. All he himself knew was an ever-increasing longing to behold forever the God Whose love was daily growing stronger within him. For those who live as he did death comes in gay attire, holding in her friendly hand an invitation to a banquet that will never end. For his type the day of death is the grandest day of all life. Then will begin the real life, for which man was created, and for which he must forever crave.
A Solitary Speaks
And now, perhaps, you would like to pass a few brief minutes in his company, and hear this solitary, so near to God, speak his inmost heart. Here, then, are some gems of thought that enriched his letters to his family.
His Views on Religious Life
To one of his sisters who sought his opinion on a religious vocation, he wrote as follows: 'I always bear you in my heart and in a special manner in my prayers, Holy Communions, etc.,
pleading with our dear Lord to bless you; but I never dreamed of the extraordinary grace that you mention. It would be the greatest blessing, honour and dignity you could receive. To become spouse of Christ, queen of heaven,, and mother of God are dignities beyond expression. And you would become all three: spouse, because betrothed to Him by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; Queen of heaven, because the spouse of the King is Queen; mother of God, because you cause Him to be born in the hearts and souls of others by your prayers and good works. . . . If you only knew the great dignity to which Our Lord has called you, you would need no counsel. . . . Experience alone can teach the great peace of soul the religious life gives during life; and its assurance of a happy death. Out of a community of about seventy who were here when I came, there are only three left. I have seen many of them die, and all died sweetly. All were aged men. The youngest of the three is about seventy years of age, and is perfectly blind (perhaps you think I am, too, for I am writing in the dark), but he is perfectly happy. He has become familiar with the Monastery, and can go where he pleases; besides, in such a large community there is always someone ready to give him special attention. He is cared for like a tender mother would care for her child; for charity, brotherly love, is one of the virtues we hold most dear. He had splendid sight when I came, but he has become blind of late years. He is a priest, and says Mass daily; I often serve him. I am not allowed to speak to him, but I will have you remembered in his prayers and 'mementos.' I speak of him that you might contrast his life with what it would be in the world, where everyone is seeking pleasure and flying from cares and trouble. As I have said, brotherly and sisterly love is one of the chief virtues of a religious, and to assist one another in bearing his cross is a delight. But how different it is in the world! Besides its many dangers of sin, let one become dependent and life becomes insupportable.
The Value of Suffering
'Sorrow, he writes, 'is the substance of man a natural life. But as under every stone there is moisture, so under every sorrow there is joy. Sorrow is but the minister of joy. We dig into the bosom of sorrow and find the gold and precious stones of joy. Sorrow is a consideration of time, but joy is the condition of eternity. .
Life is but a dream, eternity an everlasting reality of happiness or suffering. . . . Never be discouraged, against all your trials battle bravely for the joys which await you; for you have a place in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and He has prepared a throne for you in heaven, the beauty and splendour of which infinitely surpasses the conception of man. I am so happy that I cannot express my joys.
Thoughts on the Mass
In another letter he gives the following very beautiful expression to his thoughts on the Mass: 'Tempestuous oceans and towering mountains, murmuring brooks and silent valleys, dark forests and
smiling plains, fields of waving corn and blooming meadows, singing birds and roaring lions, the earth clothed in its floral beauty, the cerulean hue and bright sunbeams of the firmament, the flying clouds and the majestic, rolling thunder, the vivid lightning and the mysterious, quiet reflection of the nightly world of stars and beyond the stars-there, 'the abode of the blessed with their candles of praise, and the angels, those indescribably beautiful exalted spirits, those morning stars and first fruits of creation, those princes of heaven, whose brightness outshines and dims all earthly splendour, as the sun eclipses the stars- and, finally, the Virgin Mother of God, the glorious Queen of angels and saints, from whose pure heart issues, and shall issue forth, the ecstatic, joyous chant of the 'MAGNIFICAT' . . . .all these in united praises cannot render to God the glory of one single Mass! Yes, one single Mass procures God more glory and praise than all the worship of all the citizens of heaven and earth can offer Him throughout eternity.
The man who wrote those words had certainly travelled a long way on the spiritual road from the day when he sneered and scoffed at the same Holy Mass.
A Last Letter
And here is one of his very last letters, written on January 18, 1908, just three months before his death: 'My dear Little Sister,- 'I am in possession of your letter of the 8th inst., and feel so thankful to God
that you are cheerful and contented. Earth becomes a paradise to one who is perfectly conformed to the holy will of God. Cultivate a great love for this virtue in your heart, and you will experience a joy which hitherto you have not known. Everyone has to suffer in this world, but, Oh how sweet it is to suffer for One Whom we love.
When once you have tasted the sweetness of this divine love, you cannot afterwards be contented without it. It is the only true happiness that we can have. Others may seem to be happy and joyous, but, if you could read the secret of their hearts, you would judge quite otherwise. Therefore, try to win them to love and serve God; for their trials depress them, and not knowing how to suffer for the One Whom they should love,, they are rendered miserable and deserve compassion. Thus your work will become like that of an angel, or, rather, like that of Jesus Christ Himself. Through the hours of the day, from the pearly dawn until the starry night, and through the quiet watches of the night, in heartfelt prayer I am pleading with sweet Jesus through His Blessed Mother, for my dear brothers and sisters and all their families-all of whom are His treasures and whom He loves with an eternal love-to the end that we may praise His Holy Name and share His joys in heaven. Continue to frequent Communion; it will be your greatest comfort in life and at the hour of death. Nourish your precious soul with It, for It is infinitely more necessary than is food for the body. Kiss dear Josie and Sim and all their family, and Ella, little Babe, and John for me. I pray for you and all your good intentions. With a heart full of love for each and every one of you.-Lovingly,
'P.S.- I become more and more happy every day. It is my opinion that life will soon end for me in this world.
The man who wrote that letter had sounded the hidden depths of divine love, and even of human love, too. All his letters breathe the same note of joy and happiness and perfect peace.
His intuition was correct. Death was near. It came, peacefully, after a brief illness, on Thursday, April 30, 1908. Trappists need no coffins. They who live so close to Mother Nature are quite content to have their poor bodies laid on the pure brown earth. And so, in the quiet graveyard of Gethsemani Abbey, near his old Kentucky home, the ex-fire bug, the ex-rough rider of the plains, the ex-scoffer of the Mass, awaits the Resurrection.
Meanwhile, a wondering world is fascinated by the story of his life, and many will tell you of the seemingly miraculous answers to the prayers addressed to him in heaven.
Nihil obstat: P. JONES, Censor Deputatus.
@ DANIEL MANNIX, Archiepiscopus Melbournensis 1943
Copyright 1999-2023 Catholic Support Services all rights reserved