On October 15, 1885, only a few months before her thirteenth birthday and on the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, Thérèse Martin officially enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer (now known as the "Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network"). Each month a volunteer would hand deliver a leaflet to the Martin family, so that little Thérèse could pray for the Pope's monthly intentions. She had, at a very young age, a heart open to the world, wanting to make a difference through her prayers.
About two years after signing up to be a member, Thérèse felt an increasing desire to save souls. She wrote in her autobiography:
"My one desire was to give my Beloved to drink; I felt myself consumed with thirst for souls, and I longed at any cost to snatch sinners from the everlasting flames of Hell."
Soon after the newspapers were all focused on a notorious criminal, Henri Pranzini. This man was charged for murdering two women and a child and showed no remorse for his actions. His soul was certainly in danger of being lost forever to the flames of Hell.
Saint Thérèse then narrates what happens next:
"How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Saviour and the treasures of Holy Church. Need I say that in the depths of my heart I felt certain my request would be granted? But, that I might gain courage to persevere in the quest for souls, I said in all simplicity: 'My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.'"
The day after his execution, Thérèse opened the newspaper and discovered that her request was granted "to the letter!" Pranzini, before he was beheaded, grabbed the crucifix from the priest and kissed it three times. Thérèse had received her sign and she felt confident that Pranzini was no longer destined for the flames of Hell.
Thérèse maintained this heart, open especially to sinners and the Pope's monthly intentions, throughout her whole life. When writing her autobiography she wrote, "I want to be a daughter of the Church as our holy Mother Saint Teresa was and to pray for the Holy Father’s intentions which I know embrace the whole universe. This is the general purpose of my life...this is how I am spiritually united to the apostles whom Jesus has given me as brothers."
Even though she was never granted the desire to be a missionary, she fulfilled that desire by being a missionary in her heart, praying for the many challenges of humanity that the Pope brought to mind.
This is our task today, to imitate Saint Thérèse (co-patron of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network) and open our hearts to the world, praying and making sacrifices for the many issues that plague our fallen world. The good news is that our prayers and sacrifices can do something, even change the hardest of hearts.
We must, however, have the heart of a child that trusts fully in the providential love of the Father. It is not by our merits that God changes hearts or situations, but by the blood of the Lamb that we can truly make a difference in the world and save souls.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, pray for us!