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Praying for Priests with Thérèse of Lisieux

by Maureen O’Riordan

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society

CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY PUBLISHERS TO THE HOLY SEE


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Contents An invitation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 St Thérèse’s Apostolate of Prayer for Priests . . . . . . . . .5 Maurice Bellière . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 A Novena to St Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face written by herself . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 Adolphe Roulland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48 Proclaiming A Year for Priests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .60 Further information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63

visit: www.thereseoflisieux.org


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An invitation St Thérèse of Lisieux loved the priesthood deeply. At twenty-three she wrote “I feel in me the vocation of the PRIEST. With what love, O Jesus, I would carry You in my hands when, at my voice, You would come down from heaven. And with what love would I give You to souls!” Although she could not fulfill that vocation, she consecrated herself for priests, calling herself “an apostle to apostles.” When she was asked to pray especially for two young missionaries, she was overjoyed. She was delighted to help souls through the missions of the two young men who, unlike her, could fulfil their vocations to the priesthood. To one she wrote “He will listen to the desires of my soul by rendering fruitful your apostolate.” In Thérèse’s time a “missionary” went to a far country to preach the gospel to those who had never heard it. Today, as Pope Benedict XVI tells us, we must also proclaim the gospel to our own cultures: “Many men and women continue to walk away from the Lord's abode into a wilderness of individual isolation, social fragmentation and loss of cultural identity. Within this perspective, one sees that the fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus. In helping individuals to recognize and


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experience the love of Christ, you will awaken in them the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, embracing the life of the Church.”1 Thérèse calls us to be apostles to those both far and near. Her Jesus does not say only “Go and teach all nations,” but also “Come here where I am,” here in your families, your jobs, and your cities. Thérèse did not pray for priests for their sake only, but out of love for the souls they were to touch. She prayed for the priest in solidarity with Jesus in the Eucharist, with Mary, with the Church, and with the world. She offered herself for priests, and, as an expression of that gift, offered every aspect of her life as fuel for their apostolic ministry. God may not call each of us to consecrate our lives for priests in precisely the way God called Thérèse. But Thérèse can lead us to participate in her partnership with priests, rooted in her only desire: “to love Jesus and to make Him loved.” How generously can we answer the invitation she gives us below? ‘If you wish, let us convert souls; this year, we must form many priests who love Jesus! and who handle Him with the same tenderness with which Mary handled Him in His cradle! . . .’1a Maureen O’Riordan


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St Thérèse’s Apostolate of Prayer for Priests Thérèse Martin, the youngest of the nine children of Zélie Guérin, a lacemaker, and Louis Martin, a watchmaker, was born in Alençon, northern France, on January 2, 1873. When she was four years old, her mother died of breast cancer, and she moved with her father and sisters to Lisieux. At fifteen she entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux, and died there of tuberculosis in 1897, at age twenty-four. She wrote a memoir, Story of a Soul, recounting the mercies God had shown her. It became a spiritual classic, and devotion to Thérèse spread rapidly, fuelled by the countless miracles attributed to her intercession. Her “way of confidence and love” captured the imagination of the world. She was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925. In 1927, she was declared co-patron of the missions with St Francis Xavier. In 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her a doctor of the Church. In 2008 her mother and father were beatified as a couple. Vocation to pray for priests St Thérèse had an apostolic soul; she entered Carmel “to save souls.” She was fourteen when she understood her vocation to consecrate herself for priests. Before that she


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had not thought priests particularly in need of prayer. Her family held priests in such reverence that, Thérèse’s sister Céline said, “they seemed to us like gods.” In November 1887, Thérèse went with Céline and their father on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome to honour the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. Seventy-five of the pilgrims were priests. Thérèse writes: ‘Having never lived close to priests, I was not able to understand the principal aim of the Reform of Carmel. To pray for sinners attracted me, but to pray for the souls of priests whom I believed to be as pure as crystal seemed puzzling to me! . . . I understood my vocation in Italy and that’s not going too far in search of such useful knowledge. . . . ‘I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, though their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile . . . men. If holy priests, whom Jesus in His Gospel calls the “salt of the earth,” show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn’t Jesus say too: “If the salt loses its savour, wherewith will it be salted?” ‘How beautiful is the vocation, O Mother, which has as its aim the preservation of the salt destined for souls! This is Carmel’s vocation since the sole purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles.


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We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls through their words and especially their example. . .’2 The apostle of the apostles Thérèse calls these priests “saintly,” yet she understands that they are “weak and fragile men.” When she speaks of “their extreme need for prayers,” she is not referring to a grave scandal such as we have experienced: priests who engaged in sexual abuse and their superiors who enabled it. She probably saw that some of the priests on this firstclass pilgrimage were too fond of luxury, spoke without charity, or appeared to pray little. Yet we can learn from her generous reaction. Far from remaining disillusioned, she accepted their humanity and threw herself into praying for them. She wrote that she was “chosen by God to be the apostle of apostles . . .”3 She ardently desired to cause priests to fulfill their vocation, and she shared this apostolate with Céline. Soon after Thérèse became a Carmelite, their adored father, suffering from cerebral arteriosclerosis, was confined to a psychiatric hospital. Thérèse wrote to Céline: ‘Oh, Céline, let us live for souls . . . let us be apostles . . . let us save especially the souls of priests; these souls should be more transparent than crystal . . . Alas, how many bad priests, priests who are not holy enough . . . Let us pray, let us suffer for them, and, on the last day, Jesus will be grateful. We shall give Him souls! . . .’4


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Later the same year: ‘There is only Jesus who is; all the rest is not . . . Let us love Him, then, unto folly; let us save souls for Him. Ah! Céline, I feel that Jesus is asking both of us to quench His thirst by giving Him souls, the souls of priests especially.’5 Again she wrote on New Year’s Eve 1889: ‘Céline, if you wish, let us convert souls; this year, we must form many priests who love Jesus! and who handle Him with the same tenderness with which Mary handled Him in His cradle! . . .’6 In July a year later: ‘Céline, let us pray for priests; ah, pray for them. May our life be consecrated for them. Jesus makes me feel every day that He wills this from the both of us.’7 “Let us pray for priests” On October 14, 1890, she wrote: ‘Dear Céline, I always have the same thing to say to you. Ah! let us pray for priests; each day shows how few the friends of Jesus are. . . . It seems to me that this is what He must feel the most, ingratitude, especially when seeing souls who are consecrated to Him giving to others a heart that belongs to Him in so absolute a way.’8 Of the time her father spent in the hospital, Thérèse writes: ‘Yes, suffering opened wide its arms to me and I threw myself into them with love. I had declared at the feet of Jesus-Victim, in the examination preceding my


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Profession, what I had come to Carmel for: “I came to save souls and especially to pray for priests.”’9 Throughout her religious life Thérèse prayed fervently for parish priests, missionaries, and priests in trouble. On July 8, 1891 she wrote to Céline about ex-priest Hyacinthe Loyson, a former Carmelite who had left the Catholic Church. He married, founded a “Catholic Gallican Church,” and went throughout France looking for converts: ‘Dear Céline, he is really culpable, more culpable than any other sinner ever was who was converted. But cannot Jesus do once what He has not yet ever done? And if He were not to desire it, would He have placed in the heart of His poor little spouses a desire that He could not realize?. . . No, it is certain that He desires more than we do to bring back this poor stray sheep to the fold . . . . Let us not grow tired of prayer; confidence works miracles. And Jesus said to Blessed Margaret Mary: “One just soul has so much power over my Heart that it can obtain pardon for a thousand criminals.” . . . It is not our merits but those of our Spouse, which are ours, that we offer to our Father who is in heaven, in order that our brother, a son of the Blessed Virgin, may return vanquished to throw himself beneath the mantle of the most merciful of Mothers. . . .’10 To Catholic France Loyson was a notorious figure. The press called him “the renegade monk,” but Thérèse called him “our brother.” She prayed for him all her life, and her


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sister Pauline said “This conversion filled her whole life.” On August 19, 1897, she offered her last Communion for Hyacinthe Loyson, who died at Paris, February 9, 1912, murmuring “My sweet Jesus!”11 Mother of souls Thérèse did not pray for priests in isolation, but for the souls they would influence. Céline reports that Thérèse called the apostolate of prayer for priests “bulk buying,” because, if she got the head, she would get the members too. On August 15, 1892, Thérèse wrote to Céline: ‘In days gone by, Jesus said to His disciples when showing them the fields of ripe corn: “Lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already ripe enough to be harvested,” and a little later: “In truth, the harvest is abundant but the number of labourers is small, ask then the master of the harvest to send labourers.” What a mystery! . . . Is not Jesus all-powerful? Are not creatures His who made them? Why, then, does Jesus say: “Ask the Lord of the harvest that he send some workers”? Why? . . . Ah! it is because Jesus has so incomprehensible a love for us that He wills that we have a share with Him in the salvation of souls. He wills to do nothing without us. The Creator of the universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls redeemed like it at the price of all His blood. Our own vocation is not to go out to harvest the fields of ripe corn. Jesus does not say to us: “Lower your eyes,


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look at the fields and go harvest them.” Our mission is still more sublime. These are the words of our Jesus: “Lift your eyes and see.” See how in my heaven there are empty places; it is up to you to fill them, you are my Moses praying on the mountain, ask me for workers and I shall send them, I await only a prayer, a sigh from your heart! . . . ‘Is not the apostolate of prayer, so to speak, more elevated than that of the word? Our mission as Carmelites is to form evangelical workers who will save thousands of souls whose mothers we shall be . . . Céline, if these were not the very words of our Jesus, who would dare to believe them? . . . I find that our lot is really beautiful; what have we to envy in priests? . . .’12 When Thérèse wrote this letter, Céline was a laywoman, taking care of her elderly father, now released from the asylum. Thérèse did not restrict this apostolate to contemplative nuns. We can all participate in it. To pray for priests and to love them Thérèse eagerly shared the apostolate of prayer for priests with her novices. She asked them to recite every day a prayer for priests written by Thérèse Durnerin. The prayer shows that Thérèse understood the priesthood as fervently Eucharistic and Marian: ‘Oh! Give us priests! Priests filled with the fire of true children of Mary, who will give Jesus to souls with the


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same tenderness and care with which you carried the little Child of Bethlehem in your arms! In the Host, oh, Mother, your Jesus is even poorer than in the crib! He no longer has hands as tender as yours to touch Him. . . . Give Him a generation of priests formed in your school, in the tenderness of your virginal love.’13 Sister Marie-Madeleine, one of Thérèse’s novices, said that Thérèse taught her novices that God would call them to account for the priests they could have saved but did not through negligence and lack of fidelity. Thérèse’s consecration of her life for priests found its most tender, intimate expression and its deepest apostolic fulfillment when she was asked to serve as a “spiritual sister” for a young seminarian and a young priest. In the next two chapters Thérèse herself tells the story of this grace. Her letters show that she not only prayed fervently for the two young men but also loved them tenderly.


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