Modernity introduced a grave error into the spiritual lives of countless Catholics. It conditioned us to believe in a materialistic society in which spiritual things are deemed unimportant. It established a naturalistic mindset that denies supernatural action exists. Thus, at best, the spiritual life is considered a subjective feeling that we sense in times of trial. God may exist, but He does not intervene in history.
This mentality is not explicitly stated. Catholics are allowed to believe in miracles as long as they keep them to themselves. The Church is not forbidden to teach about supernatural interventions, but the “modern” Church tends to treat them as folkloric relics of the past. Most modern Catholics live their daily lives as if such things do not exist. They do not call on God, the Blessed Mother and the saints when they run into problems. Indeed, they are much more likely to call on the government.
A Book that Encourages and Inspires
Many Catholics embroiled in the Culture War are also entangled in this mentality. We are tempted to complain bitterly of the overwhelming forces arrayed against us. We are compelled to look for some “option” to escape the fight, which seems unjustly skewed to favor the other side.
In such moments of discouragement, it does us good to read works like the recently published book, Stronger than Steel: Soldiers of the Great War Write to Saint Therese of Lisieux (Angelico Press, 2021). This inspiring work is a collection of letters testifying to the supernatural intercession of the French Carmelite nun.
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Stronger than Steel consists of letters written by French and some English soldiers during World War I. Most are addressed to the Carmelite Convent in Lisieux, France, where Saint Therese lived and later died in 1896. The soldiers tell the stories of miraculous or extraordinary interventions of Saint Therese in the middle of battle.
These soldier letters come from fervent believers, skeptics and non-believers. They are from all walks of life and ranks. The variety of their experiences shows the extraordinary range of the saint’s actions. The letters are a mere sampling of thousands of letters that should be enough to convince the most hardened materialist.
The soldiers carried into battle medals, relics and images of the saint, even though she would only be beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925. They often asked the nuns for more devotional materials to satisfy the needs of their fellow soldiers. Not all experienced obvious miracles, but all sensed her aid and protective presence.
Breaking All the Rules
The letters break all of modernity’s distorted rules about religion. They smash through the materialistic and naturalistic narratives that refuse to acknowledge spiritual, supernatural action. The book proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does intervene in earthly affairs at the prayer of His saints. All these conclusions should inspire us to think in different terms facing the brutal battles of the Culture War of our days.
Proving the Point with Unlikely Evidence
As if to taunt materialists for their disbelief, the unnamed compiler of this collection chose the most unlikely witnesses and circumstances to prove the point. The book is almost merciless in forcing modern skeptics to surrender to the evidence.
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The first broadside is the choice of witnesses. The authors of these letters are the most unlikely people to proclaim devotion to a saint. These are battle-hardened veterans who mince no words and take no quarter. This is not a book of spiritual favors that can be mistaken for subjective or sentimental perceptions. These men were confronting the brutal reality of life and death daily in the trenches. Their problems (bombardment, gunfire and wounds) have nothing subjective about them.
The circumstances of these events are also unlikely. No one could expect that a young Carmelite nun would enter into the gruesome battlefields of the Great War. Saint Therese challenges the modern malice of sweeping supernatural action to the sidelines. She is on the front lines and acts. The soldiers overcome the cowardice of keeping silent about religion and proclaim her work to all willing to listen.
The Miracles that She Worked
However, the most unlikely of all are the miracles that Saint Therese works. She is everywhere, overwhelming soldiers through her presence and favors. We can take courage in marveling at her deeds.
The letters narrate many cases of protection and encouragement. Many report hearing a feminine voice on the battlefield telling her devotees: “Courage, don’t lose confidence.” Another affirms having seen her image in the sky.
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Numerous are the occasions when she appears. One soldier writes, “All of a sudden, I saw the little Sister Therese before me, just as she is on the image. She smiled at me and told me, ‘Don’t be afraid!’” Another soldier reports how she suddenly appears in the thick of the fight. “With her mighty hand, she abruptly stopped the enemy’s shooting, and not a single shell was released any longer.” The saint led one wounded infantryman by the hands through intense enemy fire to safety.
She has no fear of battle and communicates her courage. One gunner writes, “I saw her standing at the foot of a machine gun that was there. She was looking at me and blessing us all. ‘Don’t be afraid, I have come to protect you.’” Yet another gunner christened his machine gun “The Little Flower” and reports that he and his crew experienced “wonderful protection.”
Sister Therese shields soldiers who call on her when hit by bullets or shrapnel. They suffer no physical harm. One reports a shot having gone through all his clothes but which “stopped on the image of Sister Therese.”
These unlikely wonders and so many others are all documented with letters, pieces of shrapnel, bullets, military medals and other mementos that were sent to the shrine as ex-votos.
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Applying This Book to Our Times
This book should inspire all who fight in the trenches of the Culture War. For if Saint Therese can act in the unlikely theater of World War I’s horrific battles, she can also come to our aid in the brutal battle for what remains of our Christian civilization. She can come very concretely to help us in our efforts. The times are terrible and afflictive. That is all the more reason to break out of the secular cage that denies divine intervention.
The book also teaches us to stay engaged in our difficult fight. The Carmelite saint did not take the soldiers out of the war but gave them the means to continue to the end. We must also ask for courage for the long fight ahead.
Finally, we might ask why marvels like those narrated in this book do not seem to happen in our days. They can occur if we overcome the obstacles of the modernist mindset. We must believe with all our hearts. Sometimes it is only in the heat of battle that we come to believe. Perhaps the time has arrived for us to call on the angels and saints to hasten to our aid. If we do so with humble and contrite hearts, like the soldiers of the First World War, we will not be disappointed. We can be sure that such assistance will be “stronger than steel.”