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The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

“My God! I love you!” – Last words of St. Therese of Lisieux

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On September 30, 1897, Therese Martin, Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus, quitted her 24-year-old body and entered into eternity. The “Little Flower,” (a name she called herself which became emblematic of her relationship with the great gardener, God) was the ninth child born to Louis and Zelie Martin. After a painful battle against tuberculosis, Therese followed four of her siblings and both of her parents into the eternal arms of Jesus. The remaining four Martin sisters (who were also Carmelite nuns and therefore Therese’s natural and religious sisters) submitted Therese’s writings to the convent chaplain so that the process of her canonization could begin. In 1925, she was canonized a Catholic saint. In 1997, Pope John Paul II named her the third female Doctor of the Church. There is hardly a Western Catholic alive who does not know the name of St. Therese and at least some details of her life. In the Catholic tradition, she is one of our most powerful and beloved examples of Christian witness.

Under the direction of her mother superior (and her natural sister, Pauline), Therese wrote three letters detailing the story of her conversion, the story of her soul, and the story of her life inside of Carmel. These three letters (written to different family members, at different times, and in different lengths) were written by Therese (in obedience to her superiors) because many suspected that she would be a candidate for canonization after death and these testimonials would aid in that process. A truly obedient little sister and Carmelite sister, Therese gave her sister Pauline permission to edit the letters as necessary. Upon Therese’s death, her sisters trimmed, edited, and reworked some of Therese’s writing. While the original documents and the edited documents say substantially the same things, they are adjusted for different audiences. The edited version of her writing was published and is widely read under the title The Story of a Soul.

“It would certainly have been impossible to publish Therese’s manuscript word for word at the time… in a period when so much importance was attached to perfect correctness of style and scrupulous respect for literary conventions, to publish the rough notes of a young and unknown nun would have meant making oneself ridiculous as well as betraying the author… Mother Agnes in fact rewrote Therese’s autobiography… There is no doubt that the content remains substantially the same, so does the basis of the doctrine, but the form differs to the extent that the temperament of Mother Agnes differed from that of Therese.” (Introduction to The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux)

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Therese and two of her natural and religious Carmelite sisters on laundry day.

In 1952, Fr. François de Sainte Marie, a Carmelite priest, undertook the work of compiling a facsimile of the original writings of St. Therese. The French Carmelites asked Msgr. Ronald Knox to translate that French document into English. “One delightful trait runs throughout, namely a delicious vein of humour making her most vividly human, and who could better interpret the humour of Saint Therese than Monsignor Knox?” (Foreword)

Like many “good” Catholics, I first approached St. Therese in The Story of A Soul. Unlike so many of my friends, I was completely turned off by the writings of this giant of Catholic culture. I found her writing to be saccharine sweet and disconnected from my reality. I presumed that I was simply not called to love her.

When my reading buddy and I finished Creed In Slow Motion, we wanted more Knox to read. We loved the friendly and humorous voice in which he writes. We had been watching Bishop Barron and Word On Fire’s Catholicism series, and I really wanted to know why a theologian I so deeply respect was so smitten with St. Therese, when I could not approach her. On a whim, we agreed to read Knox’s translation of St. Therese’s autobiography. We were richly rewarded. Therese is anything but saccharine and her writing is powerful. Knox gave me a Therese who had meat on her bones and fire in her belly. She was loving and delightful, but she was also prideful and utterly human. Thanks to Knox, I believe that I have made a new friend in the “Little Flower.”

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Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin

St. Therese was born very frail and her mother despaired of her maturing to full bloom. St. Zelie Martin had already buried four of her nine children and wrote to a friend, “I have no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers horribly…. It breaks your heart to see her.” Mercifully, Zelie was wrong. Therese had an iron will and an inherent passion to live. This strong will was rooted in a fierce pride. As a small child, Therese was delightful, but also stubborn. As Therese tells us, she had a very happy early childhood. When her mother died, however, Therese turned inward, becoming extremely sensitive and irritable. Her older sisters were loving and became surrogate mothers to her.

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“The extraordinarily wide circulation of The Story of a Soul, which has become part of the patrimony of the Church, may tend to make the reader forget that its original character was that of an intimate family document. Witnesses at the Canonization Process stressed this point…” (Introduction to The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux)

This autobiography is interesting because it was never intended for publication. Therese desired only to make a full confession of her life, her conversion, her struggles against sin, and her desire to serve the Lord. In her humility and honesty, we get a gorgeous theology which has become central to modern Catholic thought. Therese studied the lives of the great saints like St. Teresa of Avila and became discouraged. She bemoaned that she could never do great things for Jesus like Catherine of Siena or Joan of Arc did. The more she grew in holiness, the more she understood that God plants flowers of many varieties in His garden. While she could not be a strong and perfect rose, she could be a little flower that loved Jesus in small but complete ways. She writes of a childlike prayer life and notes that while her prayers may never be great, they will have to be good enough because Jesus said that children would inherit the kingdom of God. The “Little Flower” even jokes that while the Grand Teresa could approach our Lord and look up to Him, she the Little Flower would ultimately get closer to Jesus because her smallness would beckon Him to stoop and pick her up.

Thanks to this translation, her story is filled with warmth, humor, humility, and friendliness. As I read of her days in the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux, I was inspired to study her “little ways” more carefully. Her small sacrifices were often far harder to make than great sacrifices would have been, because they were done in secret. Her example is particularly powerful to me in this season of life.

 

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Therese as a young child

 

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My Sisters the Saints

“A beautiful and inspiring story of a woman’s deep faith and the saints who became her sisters along the path to her answered prayers.” -Mary Higgins Clark

In October 2014, I was struggling under the weight of a heavy cross to bear. I had lost three babies in miscarriage, was struggling against a neurological disease, and was trying to make my peace with the fact that trying to have more children was too dangerous for me. I was not in a great place. Amazon kept recommending My Sisters the Saints to me, presumably because I was doing a lot of book searches related to spiritual motherhood and St. Teresa of Avila.

“Feeling a mixture of anger and despair, I knelt in a nearby pew and let the darkness engulf me.” (p 9)

I was not sure what I would be getting into with this book. I have a, probably unfair, bias against modern books. I have been so disappointed by books drafted in my own time. So often they make great promises to connect with a modern reader and ultimately fail to have much substance. My expectations for this book were low.

In very little time, I was swept up in the compelling story, made even more compelling when I discovered that she was talking about the Carmelite monastery in my town. I read it in just a few sittings over three days. Campbell’s story forced me to confront some things in my own story. She addressed some fears I had and took me to places that I did not want to go.

That fall, I was angry with St. Teresa of Avila. I had just put down her Interior Castle and wasn’t very happy with her. She was the first female saint I had ever really and truly appreciated but she was writing to nuns and, while she satisfied my intellectual need for authentic theology, her writing made me feel unworthy and left out because I did not wear a habit.

I was frustrated with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. After more than a decade of loving the little nun and trying to adopt some of her spiritual wisdom, I was coming up empty and feeling as though she was actively pushing me away.

With the exception of Edith Stein, the other saints in this book did not appeal to me at all. I knew little about St. Faustina and what I knew wasn’t very exciting. I always grimaced at the mention of St. Therese of Lisieux. I knew that the church treasured her witness and had elevated her to the position of Doctor of the Church. And yet, I found her to be saccharine sweet, idealistic, and useless to a modern married woman like me.

As a Catholic revert (someone who is raised Catholic, leaves the church for a period of time, and then returns home), I was struggling to get over my Protestant concerns about Mary. I found her to be unapproachable because I was miserably confused about what to think of her.

“Like many Catholics born after the Second Vatican Council, which closed in 1965, I grew up viewing Mary with some ambivalence… I knew too little about Mary to feel genuinely close to her and felt too wary of Marian piety to learn more.” (p. 183)

Only Edith Stein appealed to me, and that was because I knew nothing of her except that she had been a Jew,  and that she was a theologian and a feminist.

“I realized that my lingering melancholy might be connected to the intimacy with God that I had abandoned shortly after arriving at college. For more than three years, I had given God the scraps of my time and attention, put Him last on my list of sources to turn to for answers and fulfillment.” (p. 9)

Campbell’s story is different than mine, but she and I have walked similar paths. In this powerful little book, I was reintroduced to these saints in a new way, as she was, through her crises. In each chapter, Campbell chronicles a significant life challenge that she experienced as she tried to renew her relationship with the Lord and walk with Him. In each chapter, she is suffering. But in each season, the Lord’s mercy invades her experience. Each time, the messenger of His mercy is the writing and example of a sister in heaven. I began to see that just as she moved into friendship with new saintly sisters, I too could look for the companion that God had ordained for the various legs of my journey.

“And though I felt a shaky sense of peace taking root in my heart, whatever was happening inside me was still not strong enough to curb my vanity and vices. It just made me enjoy them less.” (p. 23)

When the book opens, Colleen is broken. She is a college student who has gone off the rails. She has excellent and holy parents, but she has enjoyed the fruits of the world and is starving for spiritual nourishment. As the Spirit stirs in her heart, our Lord uses the writings of St. Teresa of Avila to conquer her spiritual and intellectual pride. In the writings of St. Teresa, Campbell returns home to Christ reluctantly and by degrees. Reading the mystic Doctor of the Church, Colleen’s rational self is converted so that she can give her heart permission to be converted as well. Interestingly, St. Teresa of Avila’s writings are what converted Edith Stein from Judaism. Like Colleen, I found solace in the sound theology of Teresa of Avila.

“Teresa’s example convinced me that my journey to understand who I was and how I should live as a woman was inextricably bound with my journey toward God.” (p. 24)

Upon her return to the faith, Colleen is challenged deeply. I could appreciate her laughter at Teresa of Avila’s complaint against God: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”. When we truly embark on this adventure, we can be sure of two things: suffering and divine support. His will does not not take us where His grace will not cover us. However, it is often to the very limits of our ability to trust in that grace.

On this journey, Colleen’s father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Colleen must watch her robust and saintly father suffer indignity and abuse from this merciless disease. During her father’s decline, Colleen is working at the White House as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, but her career is tearing apart her relationship with her fiance. In a radical trust fall of sorts, she must make some difficult choices that are seemingly unclear. Instead of reasoning her way through them, ultimately, she leans into the example of St. Faustina and prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet for months, “Jesus, I Trust In You.”

“Genuine spiritual motherhood lies in leading others to freedom, not dependence; in giving, not getting. But a woman cannot give what she does not first possess. Only in loving God can she find the strength and selflessness she needs to be a true spiritual mother.”

And then we get to her challenges with infertility. Her insights into Edith Stein’s writings fed my soul in a profound way. Two years and two readings later, I am still wrestling with those writings, but I know Edith’s writing continues to grow me and change me. They significantly altered my view of my vocation and gave me a peace that is still working its way deep into my soul.

Finally, Colleen journeys with Saint Mother Teresa through a very dark period of her father’s final days. And when she comes through that, she clings to the Blessed Mother as she transitions into a whole new way of life.

God has worked in my life in a way much like He has worked in Colleen’s. First, He converted my reason. Then, He converted my desire. After that, He converted my will. And now, He is working on my trust and total surrender. His mercy, patience, and grace astound me. His creativity delights me.

I owe Colleen a tremendous debt. Instead of combing the stories of the saints for spiritual answers, I am learning to study their lives for practical answers to my practical problems, which ultimately leads to spiritual answers to my spiritual challenges. In the lives of the saints, I see how the Gospel can be lived in any day and in any circumstances.

I cry every single time I see the name of her son. John Patrick. My littlest guy happens to bear the same name. Every time I see that line in the book, I cry tears of relief. I know that the Lord is listening and working in my life. I know that it was no accident that the Holy Spirit led me to this beautiful story.

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Saint Edward Catholic Church – North Augusta, South Carolina – Designed and painted by Joseph K. Beyer. Window fabricated by Artisans of Beyer Studio, Inc.
Posted in Book Lovers Community

The Quest for Shakespeare

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“Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was someone else.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

In 2008, Joseph Pearce tackled the daunting task of trying to decode the enigma of Shakespeare’s religious identity. An Englishman by birth, Pearce is acutely aware of how intriguing and important the Shakespeare religion debate is to English culture. In another period of history, the Bard’s religion would have been a mere footnote in a biography. Shakespeare’s life, however, coincided with a time of intense religious torment. As Pearce so carefully chronicles, most of Shakespeare’s family and friends were recusant Catholics, yet the Bard was a favorite of the anti-Catholic queen. Because of his proximity to those who hated Catholics and his relationship with prominent Catholics, Shakespeare’s religious identity has been the subject of heated debate since shortly after his death. The Bard, his plays, and the legends that surround him are regarded as sacrosanct in English culture.

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In The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome, Pearce makes the scholarly assertion that we can reasonably guess much more about Shakespeare’s beliefs than modern scholars would like us to believe. Over fifteen chapters, Pearce tells the story of Shakespeare’s life more or less chronologically. Using clues from the plays, accepted biographical details of Shakespeare’s life, historical facts about major events and major persons of the period, Pearce applies critical analysis to all of the major scholarship on the matter. With a friendly voice, a flair for storytelling, and a love of logic, Pearce carefully responds to the more reputable claims about Shakespeare’s character and beliefs.

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Pearce, a convert to Catholicism from racist agnosticism, has a clear bias towards Shakespeare being a Catholic. Even though I am a Catholic, however, I approached this book and his assertion with skepticism. I was a theatre minor in college, have been to Stratford-upon-Avon, travelled to the Stratford Festival in Canada several times, and generally love Shakespeare. I wanted to read this book mostly to learn more about the Bard and gain insight into his plays. While I learned very interesting things about some of the plays, Pearce didn’t spend much time with them. Instead, Pearce did what he is truly excellent at, he wrote a biography that researches the research. It is clear that Pearce has read nearly all of the most compelling scholarship on Shakespeare and in so doing, discovered a thread that runs throughout that body of work that he can illuminate for us.

Pearce’s defense of Shakespeare’s Catholicism is staggeringly compelling. Grounded not in nuance, but in historical facts, cultural prejudices, and keen knowledge of how resistance movements work (presumably from Pearce’s political past), Pearce treats us to a well defended thesis.

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Interestingly, Shakespeare’s alleged recusancy to Elizabethan Anglicanism is interesting but isn’t the most interesting aspect of this book for me. What I found far more intellectually satisfying was how Pearce pulls together so many other people and events that I was only vaguely familiar with and places them in their historical and intellectual context. I really enjoyed touring the period itself.

Classic Pearce, this is well researched and told beautifully. This fascinating story is an intellectually satisfying puzzle to play with. If I were not already committed to a specific path for my 2017 reading, this would easily have inspired a substantial rabbit trail to follow.

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Tolkien: Man and Myth

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Two weeks before Christmas in 1984, Joseph Pearce was sentenced to a 12 month imprisonment in London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison. This was his second prison sentence for publishing material that was designed to stir up racial unrest. In his autobiography, Pearce explains that at that time he was a white supremacist steeped in radical hatred.

“The worst thing about solitary confinement, and the thing about that that strikes fear into the hearts of most prisoners, is the lack of company, the absence of anyone with whom to share one’s thoughts… most prisoners are scared of solitary confinement because they do not know the comfort and company to be found in books, or more accurately, the comfort and company to be found in the authors of books… Authors long since released from this mortal coil, remain alive in their books. It is due to this delightful company of the dead that I look back with a good deal of fondness to the time that I spent in solitary confinement…” (Race With The Devil, Joseph Pearce p. 147)

While in prison, Pearce spent his time in solitary confinement “conversing” with dead authors by reading constantly and reading what the authors had read. “I wanted to like what Chesterton liked, even if I had always believed that I didn’t like it.” (Race With the Devil, p 187) Because of G. K. Chesterton, Pearce read C. S. Lewis. Because Lewis loved Middle Earth, Pearce found himself “wandering into Middle Earth” for the first time, and it changed him. God wastes no opportunity to pursue His children. Pearce is convinced that God changed his heart in large measure through the truth, goodness, and beauty in the writing of these English Christian authors.

“‘Not FACTS FIRST Truth first.’ These words, scrawled by G. K. Chesterton into a notebook sometime around 1910, should be pinned in a prominent position above the desk of anyone writing biographies… it is the failure of many modern biographers to shed light on their subject… the books may be well researched, but the facts bestow only knowledge, not understanding, and, still less, wisdom.” (Catholic Literary Giants, Joseph Pearce, p. 214)

Arguably the most famous biography of J. R. R. Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, was written by Humphrey Carpenter. In Pearce’s Tolkien: Man and Myth, however, we get what seems to be a much more soulful and telling biography of the beloved father of hobbits than what Carpenter delivers. After falling in love with Middle Earth while in prision, Pearce began a long and careful study of the man behind the myth and worked to write a biography that would be not only very well researched but also deeply truthful. Pearce was bothered by some of the literary criticism that Carpenter employs in J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. Pearce argues that Carpenter’s criticism is not only unfounded but that it reveals more about the postmodern philosophy of Carpenter than about the true faith of Tolkien. “Tolkien’s Christian faith is often ignored by critics or else, when alluded to, is dismissed as an aberration that has little or nor effect on his subcreation.” (Catholic Literary Giants, Joseph Pearce, p. 272) It is this concern that propelled Pearce forward to offer a biography of Tolkien that was more credible and more respectful of the subject himself.

In this biography, Pearce assumes a friendly tone and invites the reader to fall in love with Tolkien, just as he clearly has. Drawing from a deep well of study, Pearce includes countless letters, articles, quotes, and other primary source material to help us truly understand Tolkien and those with whom he exchanged ideas. We are treated to a personal look into the very interesting life of this unassuming giant of literature.

While Tolkien’s life was pretty wholesome, that did not stop his critics from making some lewd comments at his expense. If you are looking for a biography to share with teen readers, this is probably safer than most, but still may require a preview. Some critics saw sexual notes in Middle Earth which stunned Tolkien and are debunked by Pearce. Nonetheless, some of that conversation is included in this book.

Good natured, well researched, interesting, and respectful, this biography is a joy to read. My reading buddy and I cried at the end. (Why must biographies end with the deaths of beloved subjects!?) I am convinced that I not only understand the man better, but also the thinking behind his myths.

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Mother Teresa

This is article is in our modern Missionaries, Mystics, and Martyrs series. You can find all of our Christian biography articles here.

Of my free will, dear Jesus, I shall follow You wherever You shall go, in search of souls, at any cost to myself, and out of pure love of you.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

In 1910 Anjezë (Agnes) Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, Macedonia – one of many Serbians displaced by the constant political churning of the Ottoman Empire.  Nikollë and Dranafile Bojaxhiu, were middle class and Roman Catholic. When her father died, likely killed for political reasons, Agnes was only eight years old. Never wealthy but always willing to share with the poor, Agnes’ mother was very devout and believed passionately in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40 RSV-CE

Typical of young children, Agnes struggled against selfishness. At one point, her mother saw an opportunity to help shape her daughter’s character. When Agnes was being lazy in the care of an elderly woman, Dranafile explained that every time they treated the poor and lonely with dignity and love, they were living out the five finger Gospel: “You did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Dranafile counted each word on a finger illustrating that Agnes would always have a reminder of Christ’s command just by looking at the hands she should use to serve Him. This admonition rooted itself in Agnes’ heart and remained there for the rest of her life.

Every act of love is a work of peace no matter how small.” – Mother Teresa

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By the time Agnes was ten, she yearned to become a missionary and serve Christ wherever He called her. Inspired by the stories of great missionaries, Agnes shared this desire with her parish priest who liberally shared his library with her. With his help, and her mother’s blessing, Agnes joined the Sisters of Loreto in Rathfarnham, Ireland at the age of 18, because of their international missionary work. In Ireland, she began the process of becoming a nun while also learning English. A year later she began her official novitiate in Darjeeling, India where she would make her first vows as Sister Teresa and teach in a school for colonial and high caste Indian girls.

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For about 20 years, Sister Teresa was very happy as a teacher and mentor to the girls in the Loreto convent school in Entally, Calcutta. Over time, however, she was became more and more uneasy about the rampant poverty swelling in the streets outside her convent walls. Like the foundress of the Loreto Sisters, Mary Ward, Sister Teresa longed to go out into streets and minister to the poor, the forgotten, the dying and the orphans. The colonial structure in India, however, prevented nuns from leaving the convent and interfering in the local crisis.

In 1946, travelling from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Teresa was seized by a deeply mystical experience. At a train station, she heard our Lord clearly, articulately, say “ I thirst.” In the broken body of a homeless man Sister Teresa saw our Lord in a “most distressing disguise.” From that moment on, she was certain that the Lord was calling her to a call within a call. She was adamant that He was calling her to leave the cloister and meet Him in the people of the streets. She understood that she could do a very little to relieve their suffering, but that a very little was exactly what God desired.

Like Jesus we belong to the whole world living not for ourselves but for others. The joy of the Lord is our strength.” – Works of Love Are Works of Peace

The process by which Sister Teresa was able to remain a nun, but leave the Loreto Sisters and establish the Missionaries of Charity is very complex. It is a fascinating look into Catholic understanding of heavenly and earthly obedience, trust in God’s provision, and the safeguards that the Church employs to protect both God’s servants and the integrity of the Gospel. As much as I would like to try to explain this process, I am going to refrain from doing so in this article. It is done so beautifully in Mother Teresa with Olivia Hussey, as well as The Letters, with Juliet Stevenson.

I knew it was His will, and that I had to follow Him. There was no doubt that it was going to be his work. But I waited for the decision of the Church.” – Mother Teresa in an interview with Malcolm Muggeridge in 1969

Ultimately, Teresa was able to receive permission from the Church to leave Loreto and begin work as a Missionary of Charity. At first, the permission was provisional on a trial basis, then in 1950 it came in permanent form.

Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard.” Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography, Spink

From 1950 until her death in 1997, Mother Teresa continued to serve the poorest of the poor, and Christ in all of His distressing disguises. She, the sisters of her order, the Missionary Brothers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity have opened homes for the dying, orphanages, schools, and family counselling clinics all over the world. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – which she cared about not at all except that it would draw attention to the poor and the suffering and might inspire others to serve the poor in their midst.

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For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.” – Pope Francis, Holy Mass and Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was officially canonized by the Catholic Church on September 4, 2016. The canonization process is also a complicated but deeply fascinating process. To learn more about it, check out this cool video

What is necessary is possible.” – CS Lewis, Out of Silent Planet

Mother Teresa was so famous for so long and for such good reason, that many have written about her and several movies have been made trying to tell her story. Reticent to do anything other than pray and tend to the poor, Mother Teresa authorized almost no publicity, gave few interviews, and trusted even fewer with her secrets. Over the years, many journalists wrote about Mother and the Missionaries of Charity – some declaring her a living saint, and some wrote scathing critiques based on half truths. Mother ignored almost all of this. She was interested only in being obedient to God in all things and keeping His work central to her focus.

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Something Beautiful For God, by Malcolm Muggeridge

In 1969, Malcolm Muggeridge, a British WWII spy and post-war journalist, obtained a rare interview with Mother Teresa which aired as a documentary. Muggeridge became a lifelong friend of Mother Teresa and claims that he ultimately converted to Catholicism due, in part, to Mother’s persistent prayers for him. Muggeridge’s documentary is very hard to find today, but a beautiful book was published by Harper One’s “Lives of Faith” series containing the interview along with numerous photos and a number of other interesting bits and pieces. Something Beautiful For God is a treasure. The documentary is credited as being the first ambassador of Mother to the world. The spine by Harper One is a  peek inside of the lives of the Missionaries of Charity. The audio is very well done and narrated by Leonard Muggeridge as Malcolm, and Wanda McCaddon as Mother. (McCaddon was the narrator for the Corrie Ten Boom books as well.) In Something Beautiful for God, Muggeridge asked Mother many pointed and intelligent questions and it is hard not to be won over by her charming and humble answers.

Malcolm:
That is asking a lot isn’t it? You ask these girls to live like the poorest of the poor, to devote all their time and energy and life to the service of the poor.

Mother:
This is what they want to give. They want to give to God everything. They know very well that it’s to Christ the hungry and Christ the naked and Christ the homeless that they are doing it. And this conviction and this love is what makes the giving a joy. That’s why you see the Sisters are very happy. They are not forced to be happy; they are naturally happy because they feel that they have found what they have looked for.

Malcolm:
But one thing that would strike, I think, anybody looking on, is the magnitude of what you’re tackling and, apart from your own extraordinary faith and the marvelous faith of your Sisters, the smallness of your resources. Don’t you ever feel discouraged? Some people believe that these things should be done by great state organizations, they feel that a few loving souls trying to tackle such a thing is absurd. What do you think about that?

Mother:
If the work is looked at just by our own eyes and only from our own way, naturally, we ourselves can do nothing. But in Christ we can do all things. That why this work has become possible, because we are convinced that it is he, he who is working with us and through us, in the poor and for the poor.

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Works of Love Are Works of Peace by Michael Collopy

“Let us pray that this book will draw people to Jesus, help them to realize how much God loves them, and help them want to pray. Let it be for the glory of God and the Good of His people. God bless you.” – Mother Teresa

As a high school student, Michael Collopy saw Malcolm Muggeridge’s documentary Something Beautiful For God, and was deeply moved by it. He thought that Mother Teresa’s witness was powerful and wanted to know more. In 1982 he was beginning his career in professional photography and had the opportunity to meet Mother in San Francisco. From then on, they were friends and he became involved in the ministry of the Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco. Over ten years he took photos of their work both in San Francisco and all over the world and slowly compiled, with Mother’s permission, this absolutely gorgeous photo journey through the ministries of the Missionaries of Charity.

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This coffee table book is all in black and white. The photos are deeply moving and show us how distressing a disguise our Lord wears in the poorest of the poor. Sprinkled throughout are prayers, quotes, and stories from Mother and some of the sisters. At the end of the book are pages of details about the prayer life and routines of the Missionaries of Charity.

I have purchased this book many times since discovering it. It makes such a compelling and beautiful gift and I can not bear to not have a copy in my home for easy access.

Mother Teresa, starring Olivia Hussey

“I am just a pencil in the hand of God.” – Mother Teresa

Olivia Hussey has had an incredible career! In 1968, she gave an outstanding performance of Juliet, in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. In 1977, she played Mary the Mother of Jesus, in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. In 1982, she was gorgeous and graceful as Rebecca the Jewess, in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Ivanhoe. In 1989, she played the part of Therese in The Jeweler’s Shop, which is a film adapted from a play penned by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). But my favorite performance of her career is that of  Mother Teresa in the powerful 2003 film, Mother Teresa.

At over 100 minutes, this substantial film gives the viewers an emotional and sincere look into the complicated and noteworthy life of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. What a gift it is to have films like this which can help us to visualize the otherwise unfathomable depravity of the slums of Calcutta. But more than that, what a gift it is to have film that tried so hard to capture the radiant joy and the persistent obedience of Mother Teresa and all those around her who likewise were trying to serve Christ in all of His distressing disguises.

While the film is very bright, joyful, and hopeful, it may not be suitable for all children. Sensitive children may be overwhelmed by the poverty and the sadness of certain aspects. All of my children have watched it (5, 7, and 9), but as Catholics, they are routinely exposed to saint stories which contain some unsettling material. I strongly urge families to preview before showing to children younger than high school.

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Meditations from a Simple Path

This is one of my favorite little prayer books. A pocket-sized book, it is a treasury of meaningful short prayers that can encourage any spiritual life. The audio is particularly beautiful, and I often listen to it when I am struggling with insomnia in the middle of the night, or when I am struggling under the weight of something heavy and cannot find my own words for prayer.

In The Heart of the World

Slightly larger than the pocket-sized Meditations from a Simple Path, this is another gift-worthy little prayer book. This one is a collection of stories and prayers from Mother Teresa that I have used in ministry when opening a meeting, a retreat, or just praying with teens. I have also used this in my prayer life when I am looking for something that speaks the Gospel into our modernity with clarity and tenderness. Not too large for a purse or a glove box, it is a great book to keep in the car.

Mother Teresa: A Life Inspired by Wyatt North

Wyatt North is a Catholic biographer who writes of the lives of great Catholics and Christians. His writing is friendly, well-researched, and well-intentioned. This short but well-packed biography on Mother Teresa is a lovely introduction to those who have not read more scholarly or spiritual books about her. More substantial than a children’s biography, it is very accessible to younger readers and families. The audio was a great listen while I folded laundry and cleaned bathrooms.

 

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Missionaries, Mystics & Martyrs

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Brother Andrew with Corrie Ten Boom

Millions of people know who Brother Andrew is, I think. I, however, had never heard of him before last year. I came across his name when I read Corrie Ten Boom’s story in The Hiding Place. In the opening of The Hiding Place, the Sherills explain that they had discovered Corrie Ten Boom while doing research for their book project on Brother Andrew – God’s Smuggler. Somewhere in my subconscious, I made a note of that.

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Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) and Mother Teresa

Growing up Roman Catholic, I was much more familiar with John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe, and other modern missionaries, mystics, and martyrs who happened to be Catholic. My exposure to other incredible examples of modern non-Catholic Christian lives was woefully lacking. And, frankly, that is a shame.

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Jim Elliot

As an adult, I have discovered that my non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters are very familiar with Brother Andrew, Amy Carmichael, Eric Liddell, Elizabeth and Jim Elliot, and Corrie Ten Boom, but know very little to nothing at all of Miguel Pro or Jose Sanchez Rio. An equal shame.

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Jose Sanchez del Rio

At Plumfield and Paideia, we are sisters in Christ who stand together on the truth of the Nicene creed but who have completely different church affiliations. Between the three of us, we are a fair sample of the spectrum of orthodox or traditional Christianity in America today. It is our hope that at this website you will find three unique voices singing in harmony of the truth of the gospel and our devotion to Christ our King.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This summer, we have prayed about the kinds of stories that we thought God was calling us to share with each other and with families who are walking this journey with us. God laid heavily on my heart the need to do a series of Christian biography reviews.

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Elisabeth Elliot

So often we hear today that true Christianity is a thing of the past. That traditional Christianity is divisive, hurtful, and that it impinges on the freedoms of its followers. Most tragically, we hear again and again that Christian values are out of date and no longer relevant. At Plumfield and Paideia, we know that this is not true. We know that God is ever ancient; ever new. We know that the wisdom, the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of the Gospel is timeless, always necessary, and always the story of true freedom.

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Eric Liddell

In this new series, we want to point families to incredible true stories about ordinary men and women who serve an extraordinary God. In the real meaning of ecumenical Christianity, this series will explore the lives of modern day mystics, martyrs, and missionaries. We will read of the lives of men and women of the 19th, 20th and 21st century. Men and women whose lives we can relate to, learn from, and use as examples to inspire our children.

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Edith Stein

Through the testimony of the real life adventures of men like Brother Andrew and Karol Wojtyla, we will watch how God lifted and destroyed the barriers of the iron curtain. Through the lives of Mother Teresa and Amy Carmichael, we will witness true Christian social justice work among the poorest of the poor in India. Through the lives of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe, Jim Elliot, Edith Stein, Eric Liddell, and Jose Sanchez Rio we will weep over the beauty of their sacrificial witness and martyrdom.

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Maximillian Kolbe

As sisters in Christ, we will read biographies that are well-suited to family study, we will try to connect them with any videos or documentaries that exist, and we will do our best to let them testify to the timelessness of the message of the Gospel and the relevance of our faith in our modern times. It will take us several months to write all of these reviews, but by clicking on this link you will have one neat place to find them as we write them.

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Amy Carmichael
Posted in Book Lovers Community

The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton

“. . . a real life of anybody is a very difficult thing to write; and as I have failed two or three times in trying to do it to other people, I am under no illusion that I can really do it to myself.”

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And really, what he wrote isn’t in the style we have come to expect of an autobiography.  There is no timeline of events.  I didn’t keep track, but it may be the case that the date of his birth on the first page is the last date he offers.  There is very little comment on the details of his life, no juicy details of the lives of anyone else he knew.  He seems downright reluctant to air his, or anyone else’s, dirty laundry.  He doesn’t try to blame his parents or his teachers for anything.

“I am sorry if the landscape or the people appear disappointingly respectable and even reasonable, and deficient in all those unpleasant qualities that make a biography really popular.  I regret that I have no gloomy and savage father to offer to the public gaze as the true cause of all my tragic heritage; no pale-faced and partially poisoned mother whose suicidal instincts have cursed me with the temptations of the artistic temperament.  I regret that there was nothing in the range of our family much more racy than a remote and mildly impecunious uncle; and that I cannot do my duty as a true modern, by cursing everybody who made me whatever I am.  I am not clear about what that is; but I am pretty sure that most of it is my own fault.”

What did I learn about Chesterton from himself?  It seems almost by accident that he relates a bit of the thinking behind the writing of The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which would have been good information to have had before I read them.  

I get the impression that he may have been one of the few Christians who has actually considered others more important than himself.  This book is more a catalog of people he knew and who influenced him than it is about him.  He may truly have believed that the famous people who were his friends were much more interesting than he was.  Perhaps it’s just the journalist in him.  Even in his autobiography, he’s still reporting.  One chapter is devoted to his brother.  Some of the chapter titles are, “Figures in Fleet Street,” “Friendship and Foolery,” “Some Political Celebrities,” “Some Literary Celebrities,” and “Portrait of a Friend.” Six of sixteen chapters almost exclusively about people he knew rather than about himself.  It’s almost as if he sees himself more as an observer of people than as a celebrity himself.

Chesterton dearly loved a good argument, but he had the rare quality of being able to argue ideas with a man yet still consider that man his friend.

“My brother, Cecil Edward Chesterton, was born when I was about five years old; and, after a brief pause, began to argue. . . I am glad to think that through all those years we never stopped arguing; and we never once quarreled.”

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“I have always had a weakness for arguing with anybody; and this involved all that contemporary nihilism against which I was then in revolt; and for about five minutes, in a publisher’s office, I actually argued with Thomas Hardy.”

In the last chapter, Chesterton refers to, “taking a serene review of an indefensibly fortunate and happy life.”  He seems never to have stopped seeing his life as a gift and the world as place of wonder.   

“The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.”

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“I have said that I had in childhood, and have partly preserved out of childhood, a certain romance of receptiveness, which has not been killed by sin or even by sorrow; for though I have not had great troubles, I have had many.  A man does not grow old without being bothered; but I have grown old without being bored.”