2 Doctors, 2 Ways, 1 Goal: Sts Teresa and Therese (Part I of III)
Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Virgin and Doctor of the Church
Many of you probably have seen the 1965 film entitled The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp and Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp. The first verse of the theme song goes like this:
Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every highway,
Every path you know.
Do you remember when the young Maria came into view over the hills with the mountains framing the background and the meadow abundant with spring flowers? As she ran forward, filled with life and freshness, singing with full voice and without labored breathing, mountain climbing looked like an easy goal. But we know better! Whether our goal is to climb a physical mountain or a spiritual mountain they are both strenuous and demand total focus.
The Goal of Every Pilgrimage
Pope Benedict XVI, during an Angelus address from the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo in August of 2007, stated,
The goal of every pilgrimage is the city of ‘solid foundations’, whose architect and builder is ‘God’: a goal that is not of this world, but of ‘heaven’.
Every pilgrimage, therefore, has a beginning and an end and the desired end of our earthly pilgrimage is the perfection of charity or heaven. To pursue a goal we must choose a path. Catechism #1696 states:
The way of Christ ‘leads to life’; a contrary way ‘leads to destruction.’
This pilgrimage of life can be compared to climbing a mountain. The final goal is to reach the summit and to get there one must choose a path. But to reach a good decision the mountain we set our sight on must be studied. How many possible paths are there and what criteria would determine the one that we would choose? The choice of a route will depend on various criteria from the goal and perspective of the climber: scenery, ease or difficulty of climb, safety risks, traffic and its altitude acclimatization characteristics. Much has been written on what to expect from particular mountain climbs and one can find charts rating the above criteria, as well as maps showing the possible routes. Some routes converge or cross others; some are well-traveled, others less so. Very detailed information for each route on a mountain is available so that the climber can be well prepared before and during the climb. It may, in some cases, be necessary to forge one’s own route.
Any climber who chooses a particularly challenging mountain needs a team and especially guides who are well-experienced. Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
Mountain climbing offers us a picture of life. Just as mountain climbers are wise to choose experienced guides, so too in life we can benefit from those who have already made the journey up the mountain and reached their goal.
Carmelite Doctors of the Church
During this month of October we celebrate two Carmelite Saints who scaled the heights of Mount Carmel: St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. These two women lived in different eras, were of different backgrounds, had distinctive temperaments, but both entered cloistered Carmelite convents, became canonized saints, were recognized as Doctors of the Church, shared the same goal but followed it through different paths.
Both of these saints experienced alienation when they lost their mothers at an early age: St. Thérèse, shortly before the age of four and St. Teresa while she was still a teenager. They each were strongly influenced by their fathers. Both suffered ill health. St. Thérèse never left the cloister once she entered and was basically unknown except by her family and close friends. St. Teresa spent a good deal of time outside the cloister recuperating from illness and then founding convents and was quite well known by many people.
Both of our saints had mountains to climb on their spiritual journey through life. Both experienced severe trials, setbacks, failures, and misunderstandings as they struggled to continue the upward climb. Both needed to keep the goal (or summit) constantly in view.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face)
St. Thérèse’s father had taken her to Switzerland before she entered Carmel where she viewed for the first time “its mountains whose summits were lost in the clouds”. She later wrote in her Story of a Soul:
When I saw all these beauties very profound thoughts came to life in my soul. I seemed to understand already the grandeur of God and the marvels of heaven…. I shall remember what my eyes have seen today. This thought will encourage me and I shall easily forget my own little interests, recalling the grandeur and power of God, this God whom I want to love alone. I shall not have the misfortune of snatching after straws.
The beauty that she experienced was a grace that aided her perseverance in all of life’s trials. Even though life presented her with many challenges she was still able to view and delight in the scenery as she journeyed to her goal.
Editor’s note: In our next post, we will look at Saint Teresa of Avila and the way our two Saints differed from each other.
This post originally appeared on the website of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles. Used with permission.
Art: Mirror of Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615 and sepia of Therese von Lisieux, unknown photographer, between 1888 and 1896; both PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons, original composite Liz Estler.