As thousands gathered for Mary’s final visit to Fatima Oct. 13 and witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos knelt, unaware of the spectacle as she gazed upon a vision of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Radiant, the visage of the patroness of the Church’s oldest religious order dedicated to Mary provided a personal inspiration for Lucia that she later described in her memoirs, writing, “I remembered Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and in that moment I felt the grace of a vocation to the religious life and the attractiveness of the cloister of Carmel. I took as my protection my dear Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”
St. was a fitting protectress. For just as the prayer life of Carmel was the nurturing ground for her to write her doctrine of the “Little Way of Spiritual Childhood,” so the contemplative life of Carmel would inspire now-Servant of God Lucia in her mission to spread devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. From the cloister, the two became Mary’s messengers for the modern world.
To strengthen them for their future call, Lucia and Thérèse received similar graces, including Mary’s “smile” during childhood.
“I saw the Mother smile!” Lucia exclaimed, describing the presence of Mary within her soul on the eve of her First Holy Communion. “And I heard the sound of her voice: ‘My daughter, the grace that is given to you today will remain forever alive in your heart, producing fruits of eternal life.’”
For 10-year-old Thérèse, Mary manifested her presence through a statue of Our Lady of Victory, placed at the foot of Therese’s bed. Incapacitated for weeks from an inexplicable illness of hallucinatory anxiety and depression, Thérèse finally looked toward Mary’s image and prayed.
“All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared very beautiful to me,” she wrote. “But what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was the ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin. At that moment, all of my pain disappeared.”
Through this and other memories and insights in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Thérèse revealed her “Little Way” of sanctity and described the dispensation of grace through her favorite image of nature. “And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden,” she wrote. “He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones, and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at his feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.”
In obedience to God’s will, Lucia knelt in the Cova da Iria June 13, 1917, and listened as Mary enunciated her mission: “Pray the Rosary every day and learn to read. Jesus wants to use you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. To those who accept this, I promise them the salvation of their souls, and they will be loved by God like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne.”
Confirming Lucia’s mission, during his visit to Fatima in 1982, Pope St. John Paul II renewed Mary’s request for devotion to her Immaculate Heart and reiterated her maternal plea for repentance, conversion and prayer, especially the prayer of the Rosary, saying, “The Lady of the message seems to read the signs of the times — the signs of our time — with special insight. The Rosary prayer embraces the problems of the Church, of the See of St. Peter, the problems of the whole world.”
Upholding what he called “another solution” for the ills of modern society, in 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse a doctor of the universal Church.
“She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the ‘Little Way,’ which, by returning to the essentials leads to the secret of life: the divine love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture.”
Since its inception in ancient times on Mount Carmel, those chosen for the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary have witnessed in prayerful vigilance to the “secret” of divine love. Chosen for our time, St. Thérèse and Sister Lucia continue to intercede as Mary’s messengers.
Jennifer Sokol writes from