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Pope Francis prayed with relic of St. Therese of Lisieux before surgery

June 7, 2023 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis prayed before a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux at the beginning of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, and shortly before going to the hospital for an abdominal surgery, on June 7, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 7, 2023 / 04:37 am (CNA).

One of Pope Francis’ last gestures before undergoing abdominal surgery on Wednesday was to pray before a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux.

A relic of the French Carmelite nun, also known as St. Therese of the Child Jesus, was present on the platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica during the pope’s weekly general audience June 7.

Before beginning the audience, Francis venerated the relics of St. Therese in a moment of silent prayer. He also placed a single, white rose on the table in front of the reliquary.

Pope Francis was taken to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital for abdominal surgery under general anesthesia at the end of the morning audience, shortly after 11:00 a.m. Rome time, the Vatican said.

Relics of St. Therese’s parents, Sts. Louis and Zélie Guérin Martin, were also present at the meeting with the public June 7. The relics of all three saints will visit different churches in Rome through June 16.

Relics of St. Therese of Lisieux and her parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin, were on the platform in front of St. Peter's Basilica during Pope Francis' general audience June 7, 2023. The relics made a pilgrimage to Rome June 6-16, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Relics of St. Therese of Lisieux and her parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin, were on the platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica during Pope Francis’ general audience June 7, 2023. The relics made a pilgrimage to Rome June 6-16, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Pope Francis said Wednesday he intends to publish an apostolic letter on St. Therese of Lisieux, “patroness of the missions,” to mark the 150th anniversary of her birth.

“She was a Carmelite nun who lived her life according to the way of littleness and weakness: she defined herself as ‘a small grain of sand,’” he said in St. Peter’s Square.

“Having poor health, she died at the age of only 24,” he added. “But though her body was sickly, her heart was vibrant, missionary.”

“Here before us are the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, universal patroness of missions,” he said. “It is good that this happens while we are reflecting on the passion for evangelization, on apostolic zeal. Today, then, let us allow the witness of St. Therese to help us. She was born 150 years ago, and I plan to dedicate an apostolic letter to her on this anniversary.”

St. Therese of Lisieux was born on Jan. 2, 1873, in Alençon, France. Her mother died when she was four, leaving her father and older sisters to raise her. She received papal permission to enter the Carmelite Monastery at the young age of 15, where she lived until her death from Tuberculosis at the age of 24.

She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by St. Pope John Paul II in 1997 and is the patron saint of missions.

Pope Francis reflected on the saint’s life as part of a series of lessons on evangelical zeal.

“She is patroness of the missions, but she was never sent on mission,” Francis explained in his catechesis. “She recounts in her ‘diary’ that her desire was that of being a missionary, and that she wanted to be one not just for a few years, but for the rest of her life, even until the end of the world.”

St. Therese did this, he said, by becoming a spiritual sister to several missionaries, whom she accompanied through her prayers, letters, and sacrifices from within the monastery walls.

“Without being visible, she interceded for the missions, like an engine that, although hidden, gives a vehicle the power to move forward,” the pope said.

“Missionaries, in fact — of whom Therese is patroness — are not only those who travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works, and are good at proclamation,” he added. “No, a missionary is anyone who lives as an instrument of God’s love where they are.”

Pope Francis spoke about St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of missions, during his general audience June 7, 2023. Relics of St. Therese and her parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin, were present on the platform beside the pope for the audience. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis spoke about St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of missions, during his general audience June 7, 2023. Relics of St. Therese and her parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin, were present on the platform beside the pope for the audience. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Pope Francis recounted two episodes from St. Therese’s life that help to explain the source of her zeal and missionary strength.

The first happened during Christmas 1886, when Therese was almost 14 years old.

St. Therese was pampered as the youngest child of the family, he explained. But her father was tired after midnight Mass for Christmas and did not feel like being present when his daughter opened her gifts, so he said he was glad it was the last year she would receive gifts.

“Therese, who was very sensitive and easily moved to tears, was hurt, and went up to her room and cried,” the pope said.

“But she quickly suppressed her tears, went downstairs and, full of joy, she was the one who cheered her father,” he said. “What had happened? On that night, when Jesus had made himself weak out of love, her soul became strong: in just a few moments, she had come out of the prison of her selfishness and self-pity; she began to feel that ‘charity entered her heart’ — so she said — ‘with the need to forget herself’ (cf. Manuscript A, 133-134).”

“From then on, she directed her zeal toward others, that they might find God…”

The second event happened after St. Therese became a Carmelite. Pope Francis said the nun became aware of a hardened criminal, Enrico Pranzini, who was sentenced to death by guillotine for having murdered three people.

Therese had a special zeal for saving sinners, and so “she took him into her heart and did all she could: she prayed in every way for his conversion, so that he, whom, with brotherly compassion she called ‘poor wretched Pranzini,’ might demonstrate a small sign of repentance and make room for God’s mercy,” Francis said.

The day after his execution, she read in the newspaper that before laying his head on the chopping block, Pranzini had, “‘all of a sudden, seized by a sudden inspiration, turned around, grabbed a Crucifix that the priest handed to him and kissed three times the sacred wounds’ of Jesus,” he continued.

“Then his soul,” St. Therese wrote, “went to receive the merciful sentence of the One who declared that in Heaven there will be more joy for a single sinner who repents than for the ninety-nine righteous who have no need of repentance!”

Pope Francis said: “With so many means, methods, and structures available, which sometimes distract from what is essential, the Church needs hearts like Therese’s, hearts that draw people to love and bring people closer to God.”

“Let us today ask this saint, whose relics we have here,” he added, “let us ask this saint for the grace to overcome our selfishness and for the passion to intercede that Jesus might be known and loved.”


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Pope Francis: What is spiritual consolation? The saints explain

November 23, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis praying at the general audience on St. Peter’s Square / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 23, 2022 / 02:37 am (CNA).

Pope Francis used the example of several Catholic saints to explain the concept of spiritual consolation during his weekly audience on Wednesday.

“What is spiritual consolation?” he said Nov. 23. “It is a profound experience of interior joy, consisting in seeing God’s presence in everything. It strengthens faith and hope, and even the ability of doing good.”

The pope continued his teachings on the theme of discernment at his public audience in St. Peter’s Square, where he contrasted last week’s reflection on spiritual desolation with consolation, as experienced by several of the Church’s saints.

“The person who experiences consolation never gives up in the face of difficulties because he or she always experiences a peace that is stronger than any trial,” Francis said. Consolation “is, therefore, a tremendous gift for the spiritual life as well as life in general.”

Pope Francis arriving for the general audience on St. Peter's Square, Nov. 23, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis arriving for the general audience on St. Peter’s Square, Nov. 23, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

The pope began his explanation by drawing from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who wrote about rules for the discernment of spirits.

Francis said “consolation is an interior movement that touches our depths. It is not flashy but soft, delicate, like a drop of water on a sponge.”

He went on to describe consolation as not “a passing euphoria,” nor something which tries to force our will or inhibit our freedom. “Even the suffering caused, for example, by our own sins can become a reason for consolation,” he added.

St. Augustine was consoled when he spoke with his mother, St. Monica, about the beauty of eternal life, the pope said. And St. Francis of Assisi experienced perfect joy despite the difficult situations he had to bear.

“Let’s think of the many saints who were able to do great things not because they thought they were magnificent or capable, but because they had been conquered by the peaceful

sweetness of God’s love,” Pope Francis said. “This is the peace that St. Ignatius discovered in himself with such amazement when he would read the lives of the saints.”

The pope also quoted St. Edith Stein, who is also known by the name she took in religious life: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

A year after her baptism as a Christian, following her conversion from Judaism, St. Edith Stein wrote about her interior feeling of peace: “As I abandon myself to this feeling, little by little a new life begins to fill me and — without any pressure on my will — to drive me toward new realizations. This living inpouring seems to spring from an activity and it gives a strength that is not mine and which, without doing me any violence, becomes active in me.”

Francis emphasized the importance of action following consolation.

“Consolation is such peace, but not to sit there enjoying it, no, it gives you peace and draws you to the Lord and sets you on a path to do things, to do good things,” he said.

“In a time of consolation, when we are consoled, we get the desire to do so much good, always. Instead, when there is a time of desolation, we get the urge to close in on ourselves and do nothing. Consolation pushes you forward, in service to others, to society, to people.”

He recalled when St. Therese of the Child Jesus, at the age of 14, visited the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem in Rome.

The girl from Lisieux, France, “tried to touch the nail venerated there, one of the nails with which Jesus was crucified,” the pope said. “Therese understood her daring as a transport of love and confidence. Later, she wrote, ‘I truly was too audacious. But the Lord sees the depths of our hearts. He knows my intention was pure […] I acted with him as a child who believes everything is permissible and who considers the Father’s treasures their own.’”

This, Pope Francis said, is a “splendid description of spiritual consolation.”

“We can feel a sense of tenderness toward God that makes us audacious in our desire to participate in his own life, to do what is pleasing to him because we feel familiar with him, we feel that his house is our house, we feel welcome, loved, restored,” he added.

Consolation gives one the strength to continue in the face of difficulty, Francis said, pointing to St. Therese’s request to the pope to enter the Carmelite order even though she was too young.

According to the pope, St. Bernard teaches us about consolation and discernment, especially the pitfall of “false consolations.”

“If an authentic consolation is like a drop on a sponge, is soft and intimate, its imitations are noisier and flashier, like straw fires, lacking substance, leading us to close in on ourselves and not to take care of others,” Francis said. This is where discernment comes in.

“False consolation can become a danger if we seek it obsessively as an end in itself, forgetting the Lord,” he pointed out. “As St. Bernard would say, this is like seeking the consolations of God rather than the God of consolations.”

There is a risk of treating our relationship with God in a childish way, he concluded, “of reducing it to an object that we use and consume, losing the most beautiful gift which is God himself.”