Along with the universal Church, the parishes of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe begins the month of October leading up to All Saints Day (Nov 1), a Holy Day of Obligation, by celebrating the memorials of St Thérèse (Lisieux) of the Child Jesus, the Guardian Angels, and St Francis of Assisi. Knowing that there are anywhere from eight to ten thousand canonized saints, depending on the source of information, one might wonder why a particular saint is chosen for this honor over another. The answer isn’t quite that simple but provides the student with a deeper understanding of the Gospel message as lived and taught by those Holy Ones.
A good example takes place on October 1, when St Thérèse is memorialized. It is also the feast day listed for several other saints including Remigius, the Archbishop of Rheims, France from approximately AD462 to 530. St Remi is included in The Golden Legend compiled by Dominican Friar Jacobus de Voragine in the thirteenth century retelling of saintly lives and legends that may or may not have any basis in truth. The importance of this work as one of the first books ever printed, is its inspiration to future artists and lovers of saintly images. And of course, during the first nine hundred years of the Church, most canonizations took place by popular vote, not by the lengthy process in practice during the modern era.
One of the few verifiable facts about St Remi is that he was elected Bishop of Rheims because of his overwhelming popularity at the age of twenty-two. The people believed in him by his saintly example and astute judgment. They thus elected him into a region over-populated by pagans. He stood up to the challenge and launched a widespread evangelization program that eventually brought Clovis, the King of the Franks, to the Church, where he was baptized by the bishop on Christmas Eve in 496. Christianity began to spread throughout the region, thanks to vast land grants from Clovis, and Rheims became the point of coronation for future kings of France. Remi remained in the bishopric around seventy years until his death.
The Golden Legend tells that as Remigius’s body was being carried to the appropriate Cathedral of Sts Timothy and Apollinaris, the procession passed in front of the Church of St Christopher. There, the bier became so heavy, it could not be moved further. The funeral party turned to prayer and asked the Lord if it was His desire to have the saint buried at St Christopher, where there were already a thousand relics of saints. The weight was lifted, the body laid to rest, and almost immediately people began to report miracles at the site. When the time came to move Remi’s remains to a new crypt, they were again unmovable, but after a prayer service, they were miraculously moved “by angels” to the new crypt. Something similar took place years later when St Remigius was given a permanent place in a silver casket, and the miracles continued no matter where he laid at rest. The Church in France memorializes this saint on October 1.
So, why Thérèse and not St Remi for the universal Church? For a saint to be chosen for celebration universally, they must demonstrate a particularly strong message that is instructive or relevant to the entire Church. This is very similar to the requirements for a saint to become a Doctor of the Church: 1. Holiness that is exceptional even for a saint. 2. A deep message and insight. 3. A body of writing that can be recommended to all the Church. The honorary title is bestowed only by a pope, and St Thèrése was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997, the third woman and thirty-third name on the list.
Good and saintly people were involved in the Little Flower’s life, and all were amazed by the depth of understanding for a sickly girl barely in her twenties and the personal visions she had of Jesus the Lord. There was no mistaking her exceptional holiness which is documented in her autobiographical work, Story of a Soul.
On her deathbed she promised a shower of roses from the sky, and for a period of time roses were occasionally seen adrift in the air or sometimes there was just the fragrance of the flowers. It was a sign of hopefulness in God’s promise. The clamoring for her canonization began almost immediately upon her death. When her book became available two years later in 1899, inappropriately edited by her sister, it was a best selling Christian book, and gained even greater popularity when the original writings were restored in 1972. Perhaps the most wonderful thing that can be said of Thèrése’s story is that it expresses a simple intimacy with the Lord, a closeness that goes almost beyond description. Story of a Soul is especially popular among young adults, as is the image of this saint who died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four.
Outside a small area, St Remigius is barely known, but that doesn’t diminish in any way his holiness. There in his region, he is remembered with deep reverence on October 1 every year. The Little Flower and her message are known throughout the world. But if St Remi is celebrated by the Church in France at the beginning of October, when do they honor St Thèrése? That would be the last Saturday in September no matter the date. She died on September 30.
God dispatched all His people into the world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just in speaking but in living, as well. For some the sheer expression and experience of reaching out to the Lord left a mark of hope and inspiration for generations to come. Some are patrons of states and jobs, of ministries and geographic homelands, even namesakes of local parishes, but all represent the promise of faith in God.
Next: The Mindfulness of St Francis