The Passion and Martyrdom of John the Baptist


The month of October is special for several reasons. First, it is a month that is traditionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Second, the Nigerian Church celebrates every October 1 the Solemnity of Our Lady, Queen and Patroness of Nigeria. Third, the Church honours two great Carmelite women saints: Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. I wish to reflect on these two remarkable saints at our Adoration.

Saint Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa was born on March 28, 1515, at Avila in Spain, third of nine children to Don Alonzo Sanchez de Cepeda and Dona Beatriz de Ahumada. Teresa grew up to be a beautiful and attractive woman who was conscious of her beauty. Teresa lost her mother at the age of 13. Teresa became lonely and deeply afflicted because of her mother’s death that she prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to be her mother. Seeing her daughter’s need for a mother, Teresa’s father entrusted her to the care of Augustinian nuns in 1531.


On November 2, 1535, Teresa entered the Carmelite monastery of the Incarnation at Avila against the consent of her father though he eventually resigned himself to this fact. Teresa became seriously ill shortly after profession. Her father took charge of ensuring that she received the best healthcare but all efforts to restore her to health proved abortive. Teresa fell into coma for four days in August 1539. After she came out of coma, Teresa’s legs were paralyzed for three years. But Teresa was eventually cured of her illness; she attributed her cure to the intercession of St. Joseph. From this moment onwards, Teresa struggled immensely with her spiritual life, experienced much dryness in prayer until she was 39 when she began to fully enjoy the presence of God. She endured having her religious experience being labeled as the work of the devil and had spiritual directors who could not help her to discern her religious and mystical experience.


Teresa was one of the greatest Spanish reformers. About 180 nuns lived in a convent with a relatively comfortable lifestyle. Teresa felt that the atmosphere was not conducive for deep spiritual life. She began to nurse the idea of a small size convent of about 12 nuns living in strict enclosures. Teresa opened her first Discalced Carmelite convent of St. Joseph in 1562. Teresa and three others received the habit of the Discalced Carmelite to the chagrin of the Carmelites of the Incarnation. The Father General of the Carmelite Order visited Teresa and her fellow Discalced Carmelites and was impressed with what he saw. He asked Teresa to found two new convents and Teresa later on founded more convents. With the help of St. John of the Cross, Teresa was able to institute reform with great improvement in the spiritual condition of the community. She would later travel round to implement reform in other communities of the Carmelite.


The Calced Carmelites are the ‘unreformed’ while the Discalced are the ‘reformed.’ In 1580, the Discalced Carmelites were given the status of a province. Teresa died in Alba, Spain, on October 4, 1582. She was beatified by Pope Paul V on April 24, 1614, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. In 1970, Pope Paul VI declared Teresa a Doctor of the Church. Teresa’s feast day is on October 15.

Saint Therese of Lisieux

Saint Therese of Lisieux was born in Alencon, France, on January 2, 1873, the youngest of five surviving children, to Louis Martin and Azelie-Marie Guerin. Therese mother died when she was only 4 years old. At 10 years old, Therese contracted a strange illness and suffered from convulsions, hallucinations, comas, etc., for 3 months. Theresa prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and she was cured instantly. On December 25, 1886, Therese experienced what she called her ‘conversion.’ This consisted of a change within her and a deep longing for God. Therese desired to suffer for God and made plans to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux. At 14, Therese applied to join the Carmelite convent. Her two sisters Pauline and Marie had already joined the Carmelite convent at Lisieux. Therese’ application was turned down; she was told to wait until she turned 21. On a pilgrimage to Rome with her father and sister Celine, Therese asked Pope Leo XIII to allow her to enter the convent at the age of 15. Pope Leo XIII told her she would enter the convent at 15 if it was the will of God. On April 19, 1888, at 15, Therese entered the Carmelite convent where she spent the rest of her life.


St. Therese was famous for her spirituality of the ‘Little Way’ which she re-popularized. It comprised of that childlike attitude of relating and approaching God. As Pope Saint Pius XI defined the ‘Little Way,’ “it consists in feeling and acting under the discipline of virtue as a child feels and acts by nature” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 78). Therese felt it was her mission to propagate the ‘Little way,’ which is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of confidence and total abandonment to God. Therese’ autobiography spread widely after her death and she was acclaimed for her sanctity and uniqueness. Therese was acclaimed to have achieved sanctity not through extraordinary things but through a simple lifestyle and did ordinary things to the greater glory of God. Therese points out in her autobiography that her vocation is to ‘love.’ She writes: “Beside myself with joy, I cried out: ‘Jesus, my love! I ‘ve found my vocation, and my vocation is love” (Divine Office, Vol. III, 305*). Therese wanted to go to the missions but could not due to her poor health. She devoted her time praying for those in the missions.


Therese died in Lisieux on September 30, 1897. She was beatified in 1923 by Pope Benedict XV and canonized on May 17, 1925, by Pope Pius XI who proclaimed her principal patron of all missionaries. Blessed Pope John Paul II declared Therese a Doctor of the Church in 1997 as part of the celebration marking the centenary of her death in 1897. Therese is known as the ‘Little Flower.’ She is often associated with roses but her life consisted of thorns because of the sufferings she endured.


These two great saints of different background have inspired the Church for centuries. Both are declared Doctors of the Church though with different intellectual capacity. It shows that each one of us can become a saint by being faithful to our Christian calling. Let us conclude with the prayer of Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing worry you; Nothing dismay you; Everything passes; God does not change. If you have patience you can do anything. Those who have God want for nothing; God alone is enough.”

GSI Admin

GSI Admin

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