We can only speculate about how much direct influence Sr. Teresa of Jesus, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, spiritual leader, and religious reformer, actually had on Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, the nineteenth-century French girl who died before she was twenty-five. We do know that as a member of the Discalced Carmelites, Thérèse would have been familiar with Holy Mother Teresa’s writings. We also know that Thérèse adorned the wall of her cell with Teresa’s picture and one of Teresa’s favorite verses: “Forever will I sing the mercies of the Lord.” Thérèse employed these words at the beginning of her Story of a Soul, in which she occasionally makes direct reference to St. Teresa.
St. Thérèse lived a life of selfless sacrifice. St. Teresa had mystical experiences, produced numerous written works, and reformed an ancient religious order. The Church has declared that both women exemplify holiness of life, but these activities were not at the root of their sanctity-fervent love for Christ made these women holy.
Both Teresa and Thérèse knew that this same love could sanctify others as well. They taught that anyone could become a saint, because love for Jesus is the source of holiness. As St. Thérèse wrote, no one should despair of reaching “the summit of the mount of love.” St. Teresa believed any person was capable of experiencing the perfect union with Jesus that she called “the Spiritual Marriage.” Both women chose beautiful images and poetic phrases when they reflected on the glories of loving Jesus.
As such, Sts. Teresa and Thérèse offer a special perspective on the nature of holiness. They reveal that sanctity is a divine romance, that holiness is an invitation to fall in love with Jesus. Through their uniquely feminine sensitivities, these holy women communicate the passionate and emotional joy of loving the Lord.
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