Pope Francis reminds the world that St. Thérèse of Liseux’s ‘little way’ can help us reclaim hope

Photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2023—On this Catholic “feast day” of St. Teresa of Avila—the 16th-century namesake of the 19th-century St. Thérèse of Lisieux—Pope Francis has published one of his most inspiring apostolic letters. This tribute to the wisdom of St. Thérèse comes two weeks after her own October 1 feast day and more than ten months after the 150th anniversary of her birth—an anniversary that Francis names in the title of his new letter.

This new letter ranks as one of Francis’s most timely and most inspiring messages to the world, so we are recommending that our readers check it out.

The Catholic News Service (as published in America magazine) began its story this way:

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, long one of Pope Francis’ favorite saints, teaches Christians “the little way” of love, self-giving, concern for others and complete trust in the mercy of God, the pope said in a new document. “At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way,” he wrote. “In an age that casts aside so many of our brothers and sisters, she teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another.”

But we all can read the entire letter Francis wrote, translated into many global languages, at the Vatican website.

In that text, Francis also explains why he chose this particular date:

St. Thérèse is one of the best known and most beloved saints in our world. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, she is loved by non-Christians and nonbelievers as well. In addition, she has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most significant figures for contemporary humanity. We would do well to delve more deeply into her message as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of her birth in Alençon (2 January 1873) and the centenary of her beatification in 1923. Yet I have not chosen to issue this Exhortation on either of those dates, or on her liturgical Memorial (her October 1 feast day), so that this message may transcend those celebrations and be taken up as part of the spiritual treasury of the Church. Its publication on the liturgical Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila is a way of presenting St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face as the mature fruit of the reform of the Carmel and of the spirituality of the great Spanish saint.

Our recommendation to our magazine readers, this week, is:

Enjoy this fresh wisdom from Francis because it might bring fresh light into your life as well.

Around St. Francis’ feast day, check with local congregations for pet blessings

Pet blessings have become a popular local custom

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4—This is the annual feast day for St. Francis of Assisi—but the 40-year trend of hosting pet blessings now is scattered throughout the autumn in congregations nationwide.

The most elaborate annual pet blessing, each year, is held at St. John the Divine in New York City. The landmark church hosted its first blessing of the animals in 1985, which is credited with touching off a wave of such blessings nationwide that continues to grow nearly 40 years later. This year, the church held its blessing on October 1 and posted a video of the entire service on its website. (That video is more than 2 hours long—but you can find the blessing near the end.)

Many Catholic and Protestant congregations across the U.S. host versions of a St. Francis blessing service either on the actual feast day or on a convenient autumn weekend. Many churches held services October 1 and many others will offer blessings on October 8.

Dates vary widely. So, if you are interested, check local listings.

Who was St. Francis?

St. Francis of Assisi not only founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of St. Clare, but he also created the first Nativity scene. St. Francis insisted that animals are an integral part of God’s creation.

As with many famous saints, St. Francis’ life began in wealth. Born to a cloth merchant in Assisi in 1181, Francis lived in luxury until war called him away from home, in 1204. It was immediately following the war that Francis received a vision. He soon lost his desire for a worldly life and returned to Assisi as a peasant. Francis’ father disowned him for his choice to follow Christ, and the saint-to-be began both begging and preaching on the streets. Francis created an order that would, in 10 years, number more than 5,000.

St. Francis was canonized less than two years after his death.

St. Francis wasn’t the first to raise the question of animals in heaven—and he wasn’t the first to affirm his belief, either! (It’s a common theme in Psalms that all creatures of God, whether human or beast, have a duty to praise God.) Nor was St. Francis the last to preach this message. Although some evangelical Christians believe that our pets are barred from heaven, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was famous as an early advocate for humane treatment of animals. Wesley preached that we will see our pets in heaven.

Most importantly today for the millions who are concerned about global warming, St. Francis challenged everyone to protect nature, preaching that we are, after all, God’s stewards on earth.

Legends about St. Francis paint a portrait of a man whose donkey wept upon his death; who blessed a wolf and commanded him to stop harming townspeople and their flocks; and who garnered rapt attention from birds when he told his companions that he would “preach to” his “sisters the birds.” It’s said that during his sermon, not one bird flew away.

St. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God. In his Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis refers to “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon” and even “Sister Death.” The saint called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters.” This time of year, many congregations sing the hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, which was based on Francis’ Canticle.


Whether you’re honoring St. Francis or your own pet today, there are plenty of activities to choose from! Those wishing to remember the saint can pray the Canticle of the Sun; learn more about the fantastic festival in Assisi today; or cook up an Italian feast. (Catholic Culture has additional ideas.)

Aside from taking your pet for a walk or to a pet-blessing service, animal lovers can raise money for a local animal shelter; make Fido an herbal flea collar; or even take a lesson in pet communication. (TLC has more.)


Meskel: Ethiopian, Eritrean Christians recall discovery of ‘true cross’ with ancient festival

Meskel festival

Celebrating the Meskel festival. Photo by Peter Chou Kee Liu, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28: Across Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian communities, bonfires on the eve of Meskel remind families of an ancient story: the vivid dreams and forthcoming discovery of the true Cross by Queen Helena, in the fourth century. On Meskel, the faithful attend religious services, gather with family and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. (Watch a one-minute video of Meskel celebrations on YouTube. Or, try the video from Absolute Ethiopia.)

Ethiopia petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

The traditional story tells that St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire. After adding incense, smoke rose high into the sky then returned to the ground to touch the precise spot where the true Cross was located. Then, a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.


The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years. Although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, Ethiopians certainly enjoy the festival today. Colorful processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday.

Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and spicy hot peppers complement plates mounded with food, as family-honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from the Cook’s Hideout.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

Assumption / Dormition of Mary: Christians commemorate the Blessed Virgin / Theotokos

Virgin Mary assumption

Domenichino’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin’, in Basilica Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome. Photo by Slices of Light, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15: It’s been more than 70 years since Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith, and today, Catholics are part of the observance that both branches of Christianity—West and East—acknowledge, in an event that is known as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary / the Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul.

NOTE: Eastern Orthodox Christians began preparing for this day on August 1, with the start of the two-week Dormition Fast.


While no evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. The church points to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those “fallen asleep” after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. Though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for centuries, it wasn’t until November 1, 1950 that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.


In the East: Eastern Christians believe that the Virgin Mary died a natural death, and that her soul was received by Christ upon death. Three days following, Mary’s body was resurrected, and she was taken up into heaven, bodily.

In the West: The Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Within Protestantism, views often differ. 


To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

No details specify the day or year of Mary’s Assumption, though it is believed that when Mary died, the Apostles flocked to her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ descended, and carried her soul to Heaven.

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Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans, more embrace harvest season of ‘first fruits’

Close-up of grains growing, sideways

Grains growing in a field. Photo by fietzfotos, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, AUGUST 1: As August begins and grains turn golden in the fields, Christians and Pagans (and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland) mark the feast of Lammas. An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and in some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day”; historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing.

Did you know? The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

In the Neopagan and Wiccan faiths, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and is the first of three harvest festivals. Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnasadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnasadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries.

Watch a video of traditional Morris dancing, in Oxford, at this YouTube link.

Interested in making a Lammas loaf? Try this recipe, from Recipes for a Pagan Soul:

4 cups all purpose/bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and raisins together. Separately, fork-blend eggs and buttermilk, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until sticky batter is formed. Scrape batter onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. Shape batter into a ball, then place in a round, non-stick casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake uncovered in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1-1/4 hours.

Wait 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove bread from casserole, then cool on wire rack. If desired, cut loaf into quarters and then slice thinly.

Trinity Sunday: Western Christians honor Trinity, Orthodox mark Pentecost

Trinity Sunday window

A stained-glass window with a visual representation of the Holy Trinity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 4: It’s been one week since Pentecost, and for Western Christians, this marks Trinity Sunday: a time to recognize a central and unfathomable mystery of the Christian faith. Believers hold that all members of the Blessed Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—are equal, uncreated and infinite, and a celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is celebrated across Western liturgical churches.

Though the Holy Trinity is honored every Sunday, the early church observed no specific day in honor of this holy mystery until Thomas Becket (1118-70 CE) helped spread the idea of an observance of such a day, saying that the day of his consecration would be held as a new festival for the Holy Trinity. Even still, a day set aside solely for recognizing this mystery continued to vary in several regions until Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church, in 1334 CE.


White shines from the décor and vestments of most Western churches today, as the faithful ponder the one God that is three Persons. For many centuries, Christian leaders have taught that this mysterious truth must be believed by true followers of the faith, as a joyous Gospel passage proclaims that God’s nature has been revealed: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

It’s said that no mortal can truly grasp the concept of the Holy Trinity, but efforts can be made! Try picking a shamrock today, or a viola tricolor; light a candle with three flames; or decorate a home altar with symbols of the Trinity. CatholicCulture.org has more ideas.

Note: Trinity Sunday falls the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian Church each year, and on Pentecost Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

Ascension of the Lord (Ascension of Jesus): Christians observe ‘ascensio’ feast

Feast of the Ascension window

Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 18: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. (Note: In some denominations, this feast is observed on the nearest Sunday—this year, May 21.)

On this date, Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

Did you know? In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of the Lord is ranked as a solemnity and is a Holy Day of Obligation; in the Anglican Communion, Ascension Day is a Principal Feast.


On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop.