Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin was born in Alençon, in France, on 2 January 1873. Her mother, who already had breast cancer, died when Thérèse was four, and the family moved to Lisieux. Thérèse became a nun at the Carmelite convent there at the age of 15, after a long battle against the superior, who insisted that 16, or even 21, would be a more sensible age. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. In 1895 Mother Agnès of Jesus, the prioress, had commanded Thérèse to write her memoirs. Writing “not to produce a literary work, but under obedience,” Thérèse took a year to fill six exercise books. She presented them to the prioress, who put them in a drawer unread. A year after Thérèse’s death, the memoirs were published in a small edition of 2,000: the first spark that ignited a “storm of glory” that swept the world. Miracles started to happen: conversions, cures, even apparitions. “We must lose no time in crowning the little saint with glory,” said the Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, “if we do not want the voice of the people to anticipate us.” The beatification process opened thirteen years after Thérèse’s death. She was canonized in 1925, the Pope having suspended the rule that forbids canonization less than 50 years after someone’s death. 100 years after Thérèse’s death, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, joining St Catherine of Siena and St Teresa of Ávila.The Story of a Soul is still in print in most languages. Thérèse’s “Little Way” means taking God at his word and letting his love for us wash away our sins and imperfections. When a priest told her that her falling asleep during prayer was due to a want of fervour and fidelity and she should be desolate over it, she wrote “I am not desolate. I remember that little children are just as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake.”We can’t all hug lepers or go off and become missionaries and martyrs. But we all do have daily opportunities of grace. Some of them may be too small to see, but the more we love God, the more we will see them. If we can’t advance to Heaven in giant strides, we can do it in tiny little steps. Our weakness is no excuse for mediocrity.
St Thomas More
St Thomas More (1477 – 1535)
He was born in London, the son of a judge, and himself became an eminent lawyer. He married twice, and had four children. He was a humanist and a reformer, and his book, Utopia, depicting a society regulated by the natural virtues, is still read today.Thomas More was a close friend of King Henry VIII. As a judge, he was famous for his incorruptibility and impartiality, and he was made Lord Chancellor – the highest legal position in England – in 1529.When Henry VIII demanded a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Thomas More opposed him. He resigned the chancellorship in 1532 and retired from public life; but he could not retire from his reputation, and so it was demanded that he take an oath to support the Act of Succession, which effectively repudiated papal religious authority. He refused, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. After the execution of John Fisher, he was tried on the charge of high treason for denying the King’s supreme headship of the Church, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He went to his execution, on 6 July 1535, with a clear conscience and a light heart; he told the spectators that he was still “the king’s good servant – but God’s first,” and carefully adjusted his beard before he was beheaded.He wrote a number of devotional works, some of the best of them while in prison awaiting trial. He fought his fight without acrimony, telling his judges that he wished that “we may yet hereafter in Heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation.”
St Hugh of Lincoln
St Hugh of Lincoln (1140 – 1200)
He was born near Grenoble in France and entered the Carthusian monastery of La Grande Chartreuse at the age of 25. In 1175 he was asked by King Henry II of England to become prior of a Carthusian house in England, and a decade later he was appointed bishop of Lincoln, a post which he accepted only when directly commanded to do so by the prior of La Grande Chartreuse. His diocese was the largest in England, and he spent the rest of his life in ceaseless work there. He delegated much authority. He was a friend (and critic) of successive kings, but also worked with his own hands on the extension of his cathedral. He gained a great reputation for justice, the care of the sick, and the support of the oppressed: he risked his life to help the Jewish community. He died in London on 16 November 1200 and was declared a saint in 1220, the first Carthusian to be canonized.