Spotlight on Spiritual Maternity: St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Congregation for the Clergy
On a pilgrimage to Rome, when she was only 14 years old, Thérèse came to understand her vocation to be a spiritual mother for priests. In her autobiography she describes that after meeting many holy priests on her trip to Italy, she understood their weaknesses and frailty in spite of their sublime dignity. “If holy priests…show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid?” (A 157) In one of her letters she encouraged her sister Céline, “Let us live for souls, let us be apostles, let us save especially the souls of priests. … Let us pray, let us suffer for them, and, on the last day, Jesus will be grateful.” (LT 94)
In the life of Thérèse, Doctor of the Church, there is a moving episode which highlights her zeal for souls, especially missionaries. While she was very ill and had great difficulty walking, the nurse advised her to take a little walk in the garden for a quarter of an hour each day. She obeyed faithfully, although she did not find it effective. On one occasion, the sister accompanying her noticed how painful it was for her to walk and remarked “You would do better to rest; this walking can do you no good under such conditions. You’re exhausting yourself.” The saint responded, “Well, I am walking for a missionary. I think that over there, far away, one of them is perhaps exhausted in his apostolic endeavors, and, to lessen his fatigue, I offer mine to God.”
God gave a clear sign of accepting Thérèse’s desire to offer her life for priests when the mother superior gave her the name of two seminarians who had asked for spiritual support from a Carmelite nun. The future Abbot Maurice Bellière was one of them. Just a few days after the death of Therese, he received the habit of the “White Fathers” as a priest and missionary. Adolphe Roulland was the other seminarian whom she accompanied through her prayers and sacrifices until his ordination.
This testimony first appeared in the 2007 publication Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity, published by the Congregation for the Clergy. Reprinted with permission.