Tomorrow is the last day before we start the Saintly Sixteen round. Yesterday, as I suspected, Gregory won out over Martin of Tours. Today, Therese of the Lisieux takes on Mary of Bethany. Who comes up with these? Lent Madness indeed!
Therese of Lisieux (1873 — 1897, yes only 24 when she died) was born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in Alencon, France to Zelie and Louis Martin. Her father had once tried to become a monk but was refused because he didn’t know Latin; both her parents were extremely pious (the Wikipedia account states that they had at first planned to live platonically until a confessor dissuaded them of that notion; they went on to have 9 — count ’em! — 9 kids, sadly 4 of whom died). After her mother’s death from breast cancer when she was 4 1/2 the family moved to Lisieux in Normandy (that’s why she’s Therese of Lisieux, not Therese of Alencon).
At a very early age Therese felt a call to be a nun (her four sisters all eventually became nuns also). In 1887 she and her family joined a pilgrimage to Italy, culminating with an audience with Pope Leo XIII. When it was Therese’s turn she approached the Pope, knelt, and asked him to allow her to enter Carmel at 15. The Pope said: “Well, my child, do what the superiors decide…. You will enter if it is God’s Will” and he blessed Thérèse. She refused to leave his feet, and the Swiss Guard had to carry her out of the room. On April 9, 1888 at age 15 she became a Carmelite postulant, entering the Lisieux Carmel. Before going, her father plucked a white flower, roots and all, and gave it to her (that’s where her nickname “The Little Flower” comes from). Therese understood this to mean that she would now grow and flower in other soil (reminds me of a friend from my EfM group back in PA who had a love/hate relationship with the saying “bloom where you are planted” since she moved so many times).
In the Carmel, Therese learned to love and appreciate little details of life, seeing each as a gift from God. The annoying habit one nun had of making clicking noises Therese inwardly turned into the rhythm of a song. She turned her frustration with herself because she couldn’t stay awake in chapel as an understanding that just as parents love their children when they are asleep so too did God love her while sleeping.
She succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the young age of 24. On her death-bed, she is reported to have said, “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.”Her last words were, “My God, I love you!” She left behind writings which were collected into a book The Story of a Soul which is how she became known. Posthumously (of course), she was beatified; she also became co-patron saint of France along with Joan of Arc, Martin of Tours (yes, the yesterday guy), and St. Remigius. There is a wonderful film about her life, Therese, which came out in 1987.
Martha of Bethany only appears twice in the Bible, Luke 10:38-42, John 11-12. In the first she is a little whiny because she is doing all the work while her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching. She complains about this to Jesus and he gently rebukes her (that passage has always driven the worker bees among us just a bit nuts. As retaliation, how many churches have a St. Martha’s Guild which is dedicated to doing all the work no one else wants to do!). In the second, Jesus comes to their brother’s Lazarus’ house after he has already died and Martha chides Jesus this time — if only you had been here earlier our brother wouldn’t have died. To quote Fr. Roger Tobin — this ends up being a huge “set-up” for one of the biggest “come-backs” in the Gospels: the raising of Lazarus. In response to Martha’s chide, though, Jesus asks her if she believes in the resurrection which ultimately sets her up to take on Peter’s role in the other three Gospels proclaiming “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:23-27).
Musings: While I have devoted quite a bit more to Therese of Lisieux’s story today (because I think people probably know less about her) I am casting my vote for Martha. I love her spunk in sparring words with Jesus and I especially appreciate that it’s Martha, not Peter, who proclaims Jesus as Messiah in John’s Gospel. Part of the radical nature of Christ’s ministry was his inclusion of all people, despite the customs of his time. Martha was clearly part of his inner circle of friends — possibly even a disciple? Today’s voting may end up being close, but I cast my lot with the worker bee Martha. Whoever wins today will have to hold her own against Harriet Tubman. The Saintly 16 round will be tough!
To vote, go here and scroll to the bottom for the “vote” button.