St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Throughout the Gospels, the word “immediate” is used several times to describe when people decide to follow Jesus or do what he tells them.
For example, when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, it says in Matthew 4:20: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux was like that.
She discovered her primary vocation at an early age. At 14, she was told she was too young to enter the Carmelite convent.
Undeterred and confident in her vocation, however, Thérèse petitioned first her bishop and then Pope Leo XIII. Through her insistence, her request was granted, and she entered the convent on April 9, 1888, at the age of 15.
As a Carmelite nun, Thérèse did struggle with her vocation, as she had many desires to serve the Lord in ways that were unavailable to her: priesthood, martyrdom and missionary work, to name a few.
But through fervent prayer, she discovered her calling: love. She found her place at the foot of Jesus, as his little child. Thérèse realized that she was not meant for great things, so she did little things with great love.
Before she died of tuberculosis at the young age of 24, she found Christ in everything and everyone and served Christ in everything and everyone. This became known as “the little way.”
St. Bernadette was not particularly clever or witty. In fact, some thought she was too dull to learn. By age 14, she still had not received her first holy Communion. When Our Lady, who appeared to her in a small grotto 18 times near Lourdes, France, told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” she did not even know what it meant. But, more importantly, Bernadette was faithful.
She worked hard to help her poor family, despite bad health. She did everything the Blessed Virgin Mary asked of her without question.
She never wavered in recounting the apparitions despite persecution. When she later entered the convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Nevers, she endured harsh treatment, particularly from the novice-mistress. Bernadette accepted it and performed menial tasks cheerfully and humbly.
During her time at the convent, Bernadette also suffered from tuberculosis, a chronic illness that caused her a great amount of pain. Our Lady had told Bernadette that she would not be happy in this life, but only in the next. Bernadette thus embraced trials and suffering as her vocation. Once, in reply to a superior demanding to know why she was lying down, Bernadette replied through the pain: “I am doing my stint. I must be a victim.”
St. Padre Pio
Through all the sickness he endured, the miracles that surrounded him, the fame he achieved and the suffering he bore, Padre Pio was unwavering in his dedication to Christ and to his vocation.
Despite being severely ill as a child, at age 15, Padre Pio entered the friary of the Capuchin monks. During his seminary formation, he was frequently so ill he had to leave the Capuchin community and return home for months, unable to eat solid foods and suffering from exhaustion and migraines.
Just a year after his ordination, in 1911, Padre Pio first complained about the physical signs of the stigmata — the wounds of Christ. Also in his early years, fellow monks would often hear a ruckus that lasted hours in Padre Pio’s room. Padre Pio admitted to being physically attacked and mentally tormented routinely by the devil.
As word of his stigmata spread, as well as the other miracles associated with him — reading souls, knowing the sins of those whose confessions he was hearing, the ability to bilocate — the Vatican was forced to respond, investigating him twice and denying that the miracles around him had anything to do with divinity. At times, he was banned from celebrating Mass publicly, hearing confessions or writing letters to the outside world. All the while, Padre Pio continued his unwavering obedience to the Holy See.
Before Padre Pio’s death in 1968, Pope Paul VI showed his full support of the Capuchin monk. In 1982, the cause for his sainthood began, and in 2002, he was canonized by Pope John Paul II.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
St. Maximilian said “yes” to God in the most dramatic way possible — with his life.
At 13 years old, he entered the Franciscan friary in 1907 and professed his final vows in 1914.
After witnessing demonstrations against the pope, St. Maximilian was inspired to organize the Militia Immaculata (Army of Mary), which strived to convert the masses and fight against the Church’s enemies.
At the onset of World War II, St. Maximilian hid as many as 2,000 Jews in his friary in Poland. He was arrested in 1941 and was transferred to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. After three were found missing from the camp, the remaining prisoners were lined up and 10 were chosen to be starved to death. One of the prisoners picked to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, protested, crying out “My wife! My children!” Kolbe stepped out of line, volunteering to take his place.
Each day while being starved in his cell, St. Maximilian remained faithful, celebrating Mass and singing hymns. After two weeks without food or water, out of the 10 who were taken to die, only Kolbe was still alive. Out of impatience, he was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid.
St. Maximilian was canonized as a martyr of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life he saved, was in attendance.