I’ve always struggled a bit with the Catholic Church’s use of relics. After all, one of the corporal works of mercy is to bury the dead, which apparently applies in all cases except when one is a saint. Instead of being buried, the remains of saints’ bodies are put on display and separated into pieces so that people around the world can venerate them. I’ve never quite understood the logical disconnect there. However, I am not God, and God in his wisdom chooses to make use of relics as a vehicle of healing.
This is clearly the case when it comes to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I Would Like to Travel the World: Thérèse of Lisieux: Miracle-Worker, Doctor, and Missionary by Archbishop Guy Gaucher is a new English version of a work originally published in French in 2003. Archbishop Guacher directed the compilation of the complete works of St. Thérèse, an undertaking that helped pave the way for her to be declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997.
The first part of this work focuses on some of the modern miracles that have been attributed to St. Thérèse. These miracles include both physical and spiritual healing. This was what she wanted before she died. Her work wasn’t done.
Part two explains the process by which St. Thérèse was declared a Doctor of the Church. In 1932, Pius XI refused to consider a petition to give her that honor due to her gender! (He had previously denied St. Teresa of Avila on the same grounds.) It would take another sixty-five years and a pope who had a much greater appreciation for the feminine genius for her to receive the title. She was the third female Doctor of the Church (after St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena who were both given that honor in 1970). It was only a hundred years after her death, the shortest span in which anyone had been declared a Doctor of the Church.
St. John Paul II stated:
Thérèse is a woman, who in approaching the Gospel knew how to grasp its hidden wealth with that practicality and deep resonance of life and wisdom which belong to the feminine genius. Because of her universality, she stands out among the multitude of holy women who are resplendent for their Gospel wisdom. (95)
The last section of the book focuses on St. Thérèse’s role as a missionary. In life on this earth, she was a cloistered nun, but she always wanted to be a missionary. Pope Paul XI declared her the Patroness of the Missions in 1927. Her relics had the opportunity to travel around the world in a way she never did in her earthly life. From 1994 through 2003, her relics traveled to twenty-seven countries, where great crowds gathered to pray and venerate her, including many people who had not been to church in a long time. There were many healings and conversions as a result.
Regarding relics, St. Gregory the Great declared that saints’ remains could accomplish miracles, and that God is the “one who acts through these signs.” (116) Archbishop Gaucher adds, “To venerate the ashes of someone or his remains is to acknowledge that this person’s influence doesn’t end with death . . . In faith, we proclaim that these people are more alive than we are in our earthly condition.” (275)
As an aside, it just so happened that a relic of St. Jude was visiting my area soon after I finished reading this book. St. Jude hears a lot from me on a daily basis, and after reading of all the miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Thérèse after people visited her relics, I decided that St. Jude was worth going to venerate. Did I obtain a miracle? No. But I trust that God heard my prayers and that St. Jude will keep interceding for me. Ultimately, that faith is what matters most.
I Would Like to Travel the World: Thérèse of Lisieux: Miracle-Worker, Doctor, and Missionary isn’t designed for those with little familiarity with St. Thérèse. It doesn’t tell much about her life or why she is a saint. However, for those who want to learn more about the miracles attributed to her throughout the world, this is an interesting book.