Saint Thérèse and 3 Other Young Saints to Inspire Teens
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Feast day: October 1
In every teen’s life, there are big decisions to be made. This is true in a saint’s life as well. In her teen years, Thérèse Martin decided to do what is not recommended by Church authorities today and was not even recommended by Church authorities of her time. She entered a cloistered convent, the Carmelites of Lisieux, France, at the age of fifteen.
This Carmelite monastery was in Thérèse ‘s town, and two of her elder sisters had already joined the community. The community refused her at first. The nuns were concerned, not only about her young age but also at the prospect of a third Martin sister entering their small community. Would the Martin sisters form a clique and create a disturbance?
Moreover, the local bishop had also refused permission. But Thérèse did not take these obstacles as the final answer. The opportunity arose to join her father and sister on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome. A highlight of the pilgrimage was an audience with Pope Leo XIII. When it was her turn to kneel and receive the Pope’s blessing, Thérèse asked him the fateful question that she held deep in her heart, “Holy Father . . . will you allow me to enter the Carmel when I am fifteen?”
“Well, my child, do whatever the superiors decide,” the Pope replied. Thérèse, still kneeling, clasped her hands together and rested them on the Pope’s knee. “Holy Father,” Thérèse pleaded, “If only you say ‘yes,’ everyone else would agree.” The Holy Father responded, saying, “Well, well! You will enter if it is God’s will.”¹
Not exactly a clear go-ahead! But it gave Thérèse courage. She was thrown back on trust in God’s will for her, whatever that may be. In time, opposition to her entrance faded. She was finally allowed to enter the Carmelite monastery at age fifteen. God answered the desire of her heart, the desire that was God’s will for her.
- Quotations in this paragraph are from The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
In every teen’s life, there are big decisions to be made. Shall I go to college? Would another kind of post-secondary education be better for me? What should I do next? What career should I prepare for? Should I take a job? Is God asking me to be a priest, a brother, or a sister? What should I do about that?
Take Saint Thérèse as your “patron saint of questions.” Bring your questions to your teachers, school counselors, and others in your community that could be helpful to you. Pray the prayer that Jesus taught us in the Our Father, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Pray: Yes, Lord, thy will be done in my life!
Venerable Matteo Farina
The teen years are never easy for anyone. From the outside, Matteo Farina rode the ups and downs of an ordinary teenage life. But inside, he held a powerful secret: he knew God loved him, and he loved God in return. His whole mission in life was to enter among his teen friends, as he wrote, “silent as a virus and infect them with an incurable disease: Love!”
Maybe Matteo was drawn to the image of a virus due to his frequent hospitalizations. Just before his thirteenth birthday, he began to suffer bad headaches and pain, was diagnosed with brain cancer, then endured several brain operations, as well as chemotherapy and other treatments.
But in-between hospitalizations, he lived the life of an ordinary teen: he went to school, hung out with friends, formed a band, and found a girlfriend. Matteo named their chaste relationship for the last two years of his life as “the most beautiful gift” the Lord could give him. He also had a passion for sports, music, and chemistry! He had plans to go into the field of environmental engineering.
After his cancer diagnosis, Matteo began to keep a journal and once wrote:
“When you feel that you can’t do it, when the world falls on you, when every choice is a critical decision, when every action is a failure. . . and you would like to throw everything away, when intense work reduces you to the limit of strength . . . take time to take care of your soul, love God with your whole being and reflect his love for others.”²
Matteo died at the age of nineteen, surrounded by his friends and family, on April 24, 2009, and was declared “Venerable” on May 5, 2020, by Pope Francis.
2. Quotation taken from The Catholic Telegraph.com, May 6, 2020, by Hannah Brockhaus of the Catholic News Agency (CNA).
The teen years are never easy for anyone. Do you ever feel “the world falling on you,” as Matteo wrote in his journal? Do you feel like you “would like to throw everything away”? At those times, how do you “take care of your soul”? How do you re-connect with God and with yourself? How do you find the power of God within you? Through music? Through journaling? Through walking in nature or running? Through solitude and silence? Build a repertoire of “soul-care” and be ready the next time you are at “the limit of strength.”
Blessed Chiara Luce Badano
Feast day: October 29
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is a question for the ages. There is no doubt that Chiara Luce Badano was a good person. Her parents, who had anxiously waited for a child for ten years, raised her carefully in a loving home. They encouraged her to share her toys with poor children. When she took an apple from a neighbor’s apple tree, her mother told her to take it back and apologize. (The neighbor accepted her apology, but later appeared at the Badano door with a whole crate of apples for the family!)
As a teen, Chiara was involved in school, in sports, and with friends. She loved music, dancing, singing, hiking, and swimming. She was especially good at tennis. It was during a tennis match that she felt pain in her shoulder—a pain that did not go away. Tests revealed that it was bone cancer.
Having previously joined the lay movement called Focolare, aimed at spreading God’s love among all people, Chiara accepted her cancer as her way of spreading God’s love to others—to friends who came to visit, to other patients, to nurses and doctors. Eventually, the cancer left her unable to walk.
Just before she died, she told her mother, “Oh, Mama, young people . . . young people . . . they are the future. You see, I can’t run anymore but how I would like to pass on to them the torch, like in the Olympics! Young people have only one life and it’s worthwhile to spend it well.”³
3. Quotation from an online article at Wikipedia.org from Young Face of Holiness: Modern Saints in Photos and Words, by Ann Ball (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2004).
In her final hours, Chiara went to confession and received the Holy Eucharist. She asked her family and friends to pray the “Come, Holy Spirit” prayer with her. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged her as “Blessed Chiara Luce” when a young Italian boy was suddenly healed of meningitis, which had been destroying his organs. His parents had asked Chiara’s intercession for him, and the doctors could not explain this sudden cure.
The Catholic Church celebrates Blessed Chiara Luce’s feast day on October 29.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did a bad thing (cancer) happen to a good person like Chiara Badano? Why do bad things happen to you, your friends, your relatives? How can we make sense of pain and suffering? We must first of all accept that following Jesus in the Christian way of life is not a life insurance policy. It is not a guarantee that all things will go well for us. After all, everything did not go well for Jesus! But what we do know, and base our faith on, is that God will always love us, from the first moment of our life until the last, and then for ever and ever, Amen!
No matter what happens to us, it is important to take this lesson from Blessed Chiara, a very wise teen: “Young people have only one life and it’s worthwhile to spend it well.” When something bad happens to you, ask God to help you, to show you his love. Even as you put one foot in front of the other, ask the Holy Spirit to help you make the next good choice. Then the next, and the next. Grab the torch of God’s love from Blessed Chiara, and run with it!
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Feast day: July 4
“To the heights!”
Pier Giorgio Frassati loved mountain climbing, and there were plenty of mountains to climb in his native Italy. On what would be his last climb, a friend took a picture of him clinging to the side of a mountain and looking up toward the summit. On the front of this black-and-white photo, Pier Giorgio had written, “Verso l’alto,” and this was the very picture that hung as a large banner from the façade of Saint Peter’s Basilica on the day of his beatification.
Pier Giorgio often used mountain climbing as a metaphor or symbol for the Christian life. We are always on a journey, always reaching for “the top,” the best we can be as people and as followers of Jesus Christ. This was Pier Giorgio’s goal—a goal he shared with his friends—as he always found ways to include the Mass, reading from the Scriptures, and praying the rosary on his mountain-climbing trips.
Pier Giorgio’s life was one filled with privilege. His father was the publisher of a significant morning newspaper in Italy, called La Stampa. His father also, after World War I, was appointed the Italian ambassador to Germany. His mother was an artist. The family did not lack money, and it was assumed that Pier Giorgio would get the best in life—in education, in social contacts, in travel, in cultural opportunities. And he took advantage of all of this, loving the arts, music, travel to other countries, taking in all the beauty of museums and cathedrals in the major cities of Europe.
But underneath all this, at the bottom of his heart, was a simple, steadfast, courageous devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the rock-bottom principles of faith: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Pier Giorgio focused his love on the poor of his own city, the city of Turin, Italy. This city was a magnet of manufacturing and industry, and so it was also a magnet for anyone who needed work. But the workers were not always treated well, and they often lacked food and health care. Pier Giorgio, as a member of Catholic Action and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, made it his business to find these suffering people and to help them as best he could.
His awareness of the plight of the poor led him to political action, as he joined the Italian political party based on Catholic Action and the social justice encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, “Rerum Novarum.” He participated in demonstrations and other public activities on behalf of workers.
Pier Giorgio’s service to the poor led to his death, as it is thought that he contracted polio from one of the sick persons he was helping to care for. Only six days after he first developed symptoms, he died. His family knew little of his charitable work, and they were surprised to find that hundreds of poor people of Turin followed his casket to the family plot. Fifty-six years later, in 1981, his body was exhumed and found to be perfectly intact, totally uncorrupted. His body was then transferred to the Cathedral of Turin.
Pier Giorgio was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1990, and named “The Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
Verso l’alto! To the heights! Pier Giorgio often made the distinction, in his talks with friends and in his various groups, between “living” and “just existing.” His key to life was to truly live and not just exist, not just drift on the surface of life, but to dig deeply into life. Pier Giorgio was active in many areas of life—in skiing, mountain climbing, socializing with friends. He collected rocks on his climbing trips and labeled them carefully when he returned home. He collected postcards from his own travels and the travels of others, and he saved them in several volumes of scrapbooks. Pier Giorgio did not just drift through life. He engaged his life, encountered his life, and enjoyed his life to the full.
But the life force beneath it all was love—love for God and love for others, especially love for those who had much less than he did. He made a pact with his friends: They pledged together to each do one act of charity of love for others, a day, no matter how small. Maybe you would like to join in such a pact with your friends?