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From Mary to Mary, From Mother to Daughter, From Teacher to Disciple

the statue of the Aparecida

Rafael Fonsêca, pré-noviço carmelita

From Mary to Mary, From Mother to Daughter, From Teacher to Disciple

The Marian spirituality of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face

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We are living in important times for the Church, both in our nation and in the world. In the month of October the Church will turn its gaze again towards Fatima in Portugal for the closing of the 1st centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to the three shepherd children; in Brazil, we will celebrate the 3rd centenary of the finding of the statue of the Aparecida by the three fishermen, whom the Mother of the Lowly  visits and lifts them up through this image. “And he continues to do great things for us”![1] These events provide the opportunity to look again at Marian spirituality, by looking again at the Marian aspects in the lives of those men and women who now share in the communion of the saints, with her who is “full of grace”, the blessed one.

In this same month of October we celebrate the Feast of St. Thérése of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Virgin, Religious and Doctor of the Church, the faithful witness and proclaimer of the wonders that God has done for all humankind. That being the case, we would like to weave a number of thoughts about the presence of the Virgin Mary in the life and mission of the little Thérése, the little flower of Carmel who still continues to spread the perfume of her spirituality among us, allowing us more and more to desire to choose all, and to aspire to holiness.

 The first point is indicated in the title of this brief reflection: Mary – a name that is present all the time in the life of the young girl. It is a simple name, popular in Hebrew and sometimes spelt as Myriam, a name that suggests many meanings, from rebellion, lady, lover, to raised on high, pure, princess, all fitting in well with the many names that we give to our most tender Mother.[2]  A Myriam In the First Testament, goes from slavery to freedom, accompanies directly the first Passover and sings the wonders of new life, in the way that God took care of his people, led them into a foreign land and gave them a guarantee of freedom. She is the prophet of liberty, a model for women who continue to praise her and to thank her![3]

In the Second Testament, the fruitfulness of God is revealed in the women who was willing to become a mother, to rescue a humanity that had lost its dignity, when it lost the beauty that was the full communion with which he created and tested everything, and as well as that, was mother and handmaid, with the power to grow, or to lower herself, to glory in herself, or make herself little, exalt herself, or hide herself.

The third Myriam, is Marie Françoise Thérése Martin, a Mary that was born on the 2nd of January 1877 in Alençon, in France, the daughter of another Mary,[4] and who was baptised two days later in a church dedicated to Our Lady, with her older sister Mary as her God-mother. This might be thought of as a “God-cidence””[5] or a “God-happening”, with the repetition of so many Marys in Thérése’s life telling us that the name that God gives us shows us what our mission is to be. These Marys all become part of God’s plan in order to show the world that it is possible to be like their biblical antecedents, in the way that they are signs of innocence, tenderness, virtue, kindness, and also of resistence and of defense of faith, of a life that is in conformity with Christian teaching, with no manipulation, adaptations or inventions of the kind that lead to a faith that is emotional, and cut off from the reality of the world in which we live. To be Mary means to place one’s trust totally in the will of God, being open to  what God wants, and willing to modify the difficult things in the world around us.

The meaning of that may be seen more clearly when we look at Mary’s own vocation: The angel approached her and said, Hail, full of grace! Hail Mary! Ave Maria! Hail Myriam! This is a clear sign that God knows us by our name[6] and calls us by our name to fulfil our mission. That’s the way it was with Myriam, with Marie Zelie, with Marie Françoise Thérése and with every Mary who is willing to speak for God in the world:  even though their name might not be written in the civic or baptismal registers they have it written on their hands, in their hearts and now have to stamp it on life itself.

The second aspect that we wish to examine is the relationship of maternal affection that nourished Thérése throughout her whole life in her relationship to her Mother in heaven. She wrote in the introduction to The Story of a Soul, that before she began to work she would kneel down in front of the statue of Mary (the same one that gives us so many assurances of the love the Queen of Heaven has for our families) and she would ask her to guide her hand so that she would not write even one line that might not be pleasing to her.

The statue to which she was referring became known as Our Lady of the Smile, because, when she was ill, and was very down because her mother had died,  it was before the Blessed Mother, that was invoked as Our Lady of Victories, that St. Louis Martin brought the family to ease the pain of that darling girl. In front of it, Thérése began to regain her strength and felt the touch of her Mother and Queen. In her own words: 

The sickness which overtook me certainly came from the demon: infuriated by your entrance into Carmel, he wanted to take revenge on me for the wrong our family was to do him in the future. But he did not know that the sweet Queen of heaven was watching over her fragile little flower, that she was smiling upon her from her throne in heaven and was preparing to stop the storm the moment her flower was to break without any hope of recovery..[7]

 It is clear that, while still afflicted, she knew that there was still someone who would take care of her and bring her back to health very soon, that she could count on the help of the one who was her Mother.

Regarding the Virgin Mary’s smile, she said:

(she) prayed with all her heart that she take pity on her. All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so attractive¸ Her face was suffused with an ineffable benevolence and tenderness, but what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was “ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin”. At that instant all my pain disappeared, and two large tears glistened on my eyelashes, and flowed down my cheeks silently, but they were tears of unmixed joy. Ah! I thought, the Blessed Virgin smiled at me, how happy I am.![8]

 

This tenderness of a child that Thérése had for the Blessed Virgin is, no doubt, an echo of what she learned in her own home, from the tenderness of her biological mother towards her children. She was such a wonderful mother that her image led her child to think about how good God is. Today, many of us set up resistances to the Mother of God because we did not have a happy relationship with the ones who were given to us as our earthly guardians. Our common sense would tells us, that whoever listens to his mother, will not go wrong, because a mother’s heart is incapable of deceit. If we were more open to listening more, we would have a better relationship with her and as a result, we would feel that it is an honour to have a heavenly Mother. On the other hand, if we are not capable of loving our mothers on this earth, let us ask the Virgin Mother to give us her heart and let us know that she is close to us.

There is nothing more beautiful for her than to consecrate her life to the Order of the Brothers of Mary, the Carmelites, the place where the little flower was well planted, and where she would grow, and develop her vocation to love. There she will develop the little way, the simple way that leads right up to heaven. This way is one that may also be seen from a Marian perspective, since Mary was the one who in her hiddenness fulfilled the will of God. Mary, the faithful disciple, the woman who heard the word and kept it is Thérése’s mother and teacher in the school of littleness, of not desiring great things unless “God is being loved even more” in the way that she loves him.

 Mary is Thérése’s teacher, and Thérése feels honoured to be her daughter. The third aspect that we want to write about is Christian love, the devotion that the little flower had for the Flower of Carmel. While still a child, she was standing in front of Mary’s altar, which she was getting ready for the Marian month, as she said, I was adorning the altar to the best of my ability, Everything was so small: candlesticks and pots of flowers, so that two matches, acting as candles, made everything perfectly clear ", that the little girl did her pious exercises, remembering even her faults and having a perfect contrition”.

Since her first communion, Thérése sought to live her vocation as a laywoman, even though she had known since the age of two that she wanted to be a nun.[9] She joined the Association of the Blessed Virgin or simply the "Daughters of Mary". as her sisters had done, and she was also a member of the confraternity of the Holy Angels. Although facing difficulties with formation, feeling alone because she did not have the company of the sisters who were in Carmel, it was there that she came to know her Mother and the Blessed Sacrament.[10]

She used to say in one of her prayers, "Oh, Mary, if I were the Queen of Heaven and you were Thérése, I would like to be Thérése so that you would be the Queen of Heaven!" This is the conclusion of one who understood that she had a mother in heaven, a mother who takes care of her and is a queen, a mother who shelters and protects, who guides and teaches her where to walk. This perhaps is a relationship of dependence that, because we are deluded by our pride and self-sufficiency, we are not capable of nurturing.

Finally, it remains for us to say as Thérése did: "and next to you, Morning Star, I will find a foretaste of heaven", and,  "Oh, Immaculate Virgin! You are my sweet Star that Jesus gives me, and you join me to him. Oh Mother! Let me rest under your veil, for today and just today!" Let us learn from this little great one, to experience the love of the tender Mother who takes us in her arms and leads us to meet her Son Jesus, our Beloved, our only good!

 


[1] Cf. Lk 1, 49.52

[2] Source: https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_(nome); https://www.nomesbiblicos.com/maria/,

[3] Cf. Ex 15, 21

[4] St. Thérése’s mother was called Marie Azélie, whom we know today as St. Zélie Martin.

[5] An expression used by Fr. Leo, SCJ to talk about God’s intervention in human history, changing it and guiding it.

[6] Cf. Is 43,1

[7] Manuscript A, 86

[8] Manuscipt A, 94.

[9]  Manuscript A, 21

[10] Manuscript A, 125.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister." 

 



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