“I especially counsel you to practice mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centres on the life and passion of our Lord. By often turning your eyes on him in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with him. You learn his ways and form your actions after the pattern of his.” St. Teresa of Avila
There is a Carmelite Cloister not too far from my home. I drive out there occasionally when it is permitted for me to visit. I cannot simply drop by unannounced, so I ask for permission. My friends sometimes accompany me on the drive out or I drive out alone, so I have time talk to the Nuns. The Sisters are great people and live a life of devotion. One of the sisters needed a lift out to the convent before she entered permanently, so I was her chauffeur. It gave me a chance to get to know the nuns and that friendship in Christ has continued to this day. They even help me edit my articles. It is their simplicity which fascinates me. I have visited many monasteries and convents, but this is one of the few that has struck me with its fidelity.
“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifices to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” St. Therese de Lisieux
I have visited Lisieux in France. I made a small pilgrimage to this out of the way place on a day trip from Paris. I just needed to see it and it was incredibly worthwhile. Ste. Therese was such a simple soul, yet she had great strength in Christ, and it would not be shaken despite her frailty and health. Her determination to enter the convent at an early age brought her to Pope Leo XIII to ask for permission and it was granted. She came from such a devout family, and I even saw the place where her parents were buried. It is an intense story that someone so simple, who never traveled, should have become patroness of the missions.
“In tribulations, turn to God with confidence. You will obtain strength, light and knowledge. In joys and successes, turn to God with fear and sincerity. You will escape all snares and be free of everything false.” St. John of the Cross
This was the determination of the Martyrs of Compiegne. The Carmelite Sisters I know told me the story of these great nuns who were executed one by one at the guillotine in France ten days before Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror. Even though the religious habit was outlawed at that time; however, the Nuns still had them. At one point before their execution, the had asked permission to wash their lay clothes, so they were given permission to wear their habits while the clothes were drying. The guards at the prison had no idea that the nuns were to be executed the next morning at a very early hour. As the Nuns were being brought to their execution, it made a sensation on the streets to see them being taken to execution that way.
By a set of circumstances, they were robed with them on the day of their execution; the crowd stood in silence and shock that these sisters were suffering this fate, and with such dignity. Even in the way they walked to their death, the crowd knew something was different about them. They seemed to be walking to their wedding despite walking to their death. They knew they would be going to meet the Lord. The Sisters sang “Veni Creator Spiritus” with conviction and the crowd was a witness to such devotion. From the youngest to the oldest they were killed, and they even asked the Prioress for permission to die as they made their last journey.
“I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way. Your Arms, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.” St. Theresa of Lisieux
We cannot reduce such events to stories and folklore for it is exactly the opposite. It is a great witness for each one of us. Even more than 300 years later as there is a move to canonize these women, we must remember that this event speaks not only of religious freedom but, for me, it is another reminder that Christ really is our rock, our fortress and not only someone we stop by and visit on Sundays for mass. So many great Catholics have died for their faith, and they still are doing so. We must continue to pray and seek holiness despite so many obstacles. The Reign of Terror ended soon after the deaths of the nuns. It is important to remember that the Catholic Church survives because Christ promised us it would.
“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” St. John of the Cross