This week we have seminarians here on retreat before their ordination to the deaconate. Father V. is basing the retreat on a wonderful book MAURICE & THERESE by New York Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Ahern.
It is one of the best books about St Therese of Lisieux, probably because it is some of her last writing. Here we see a more mature, developed saint. It is the collected correspondence between her and a humble young seminarian, Maurice Belliere. “I ask that a nun devote herself particularly to the salvation of my soul, and obtain for me the grace to be faithful to the vocation God has given me, that of a priest and a missionary...If I respond to my vocation I shall save other souls and that good nun to whom I entrust my own soul will have saved other souls as well.”
Though they never met in person, they exchanged twenty-one letters (11 from Maurice, 10 from Thérèse) that opened a window on the heart of St Therese that would have remained forever closed had Maurice not written to Mother Agnes of Jesus at the convent asking for a nun to pray for him. Mother Agnes knew exactly who the nun would be - her own beloved sister, who longed to be a missionary but whose poor health prevented such a physical possibility. “I shall always be happy to call myself your unworthy little sister,” Thérèse wrote in her first letter to Maurice. “I am asking Him that you may be not only a good missionary but a saint all on fire with the love of God and souls.”
In these letters the Saint reveals herself in ways that we do not find in her autobiography. She shows us her insight into her missionary consciousness, her love for the priesthood, her acute compassion for humanity, her extraordinary availability to souls, and her theology. In his accompanying text, Bishop Patrick Ahern leads us into the worlds of Maurice and Therese and revealing the full beauty of this saint's spirituality.
We find a very human woman who through the love of Jesus helps another human being find the love God. It is very intense and emotional. Her message throughout this lovely work is God is Love! A message as relevant today as yesterday- esp. in our sad modern world.
The exchange ended as the newly ordained priest left for
with the Missionaries of Africa on
Sept. 29, 1897, the eve of her death. Eventually, Father Maurice was sent as a
missionary to Nyasa in Africa (now Algiers ). Malawi
“I did not realize she had died, but since I have been here I have experienced a certain calm, a joy I did not know before, which has kept me from even a moment’s worry or regret. I was wondering to what I owed this happiness. Now I wonder no longer. The saint was near me with her comforting tenderness and strength.”
Father Maurice would die 10 years later in 1907, his missionary life marked by personal suffering. Bishop Ahern wrote: “Maurice deserves our attention not because he was great but because he was not… Thérèse makes the quest for holiness easy, in the sense that she makes clear that God asks. of us no more than we can give. . . She draws us, asking only that we trust in the God who is nothing but Mercy and Love.’ This is all she ever desired for Maurice.”