(Left to right, top row: St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Bl. Hilary Januszewski; middle row: Bl. Alfonso Maria Mazurek, St. Raphael Kalinowski, Bl. Isidore Bakanja, Bl. Maria Teresa Scrilli, St. Joaquina Vedruna de Mas, St. Albert of Trapani, St. George Preca; bottom row: St. Nuno Alvarez Pereira, St. Mary Baouardi of Jesus Crucified, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Bl. Francis Palau y Quer, Bl. Titus Brandsma, St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes.)
There is always a challenge in celebrating this feast day. The lives of the Carmelite saints and the blessed can become overwhelming. The journey to the interior castle or ascent of Mt. Carmel led to mystical union with God for John of the Cross and Teresa of Jesus. Theresa’s “little way” enabled her to love deeply members of her community that treated her poorly at times. Titus Brandsma stood up to the Nazis and spoke God’s truth leading him to death in a concentration camp. It seems that these and so many others lived a larger than life existence. We attribute to saints visions and powerful spiritual experiences of the Lord; heroic lives leading to great accomplishments and adventures. Because of all of this, the saints can be powerful intercessors, but seem beyond us.
Sainthood begins not in miracles, but in an insight Teresa of Jesus discovered. She wrote, “I am Yours; I was born for You: What is Your will for me?” That stirred her heart and led her and others to seek God. If those words are true, it also means God could say to others “I am yours.” He is seeking and longing for them. They were created not simply to do something, but for relationship with the living God. Therefore, time is given to be present and available to the Lord, to be still and listen for that quiet gentle breeze that Elijah heard on Mt. Horeb. The fear he experience from a king and queen faded as he was embraced by God. Then Elijah discovered God’s will – a return to Israel as a prophet to speak with boldness the word God placed within him.
That is where sainthood begins, with taking seriously the love and devotion of God and realizing we were created not for passing pleasure or colors that fade. We were created for relationship with the living God, a gradual growing in relationship and love that drives out fear and ends up seeking Him more and more, and then, asking Him “what is Your will for me?” A Catholic sister once said, “To know the will of God is to do things you never thought you would do and go places you thought you would never go.” So, Teresa and John launched a reform of Carmel in the face of ridicule and hardship. The sisters of Compiegne refuse to bow under an oppressive revolutionary government and renounce their faith in Christ, but before going to a guillotine ask, “Permission to die, Mother?” leaving a crowd silent. To say to God, “I am Yours” leads to a life seeking only Him, Thus, Therese faces the darkness of faith and continues to believe, trust, and live the love of Jesus even though it seems so distant from her. Look at any Carmelite blessed or saint and the words of Teresa are lived again and again.
Sainthood is not for the few. It is a universal call from God to all His people, without exception. It is the call to being with Him stirring in a person’s heart and soul. There is a growing awareness that not only are we noticed, but He constantly seeks and pursues each human being with love and devotion. For those who quiet their life in order to listen to His voice they can respond again and again, “I am Yours; I was born for you: What is Your will for me?” The journey to sainthood begins.