Today is the feast day of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. Ora pro nobis.
Marie Françoise Thérèse Martin, known as the Little Flower of Jesus, was born January 2, 1873 at Alençon in Normandy, France, of very Christian parents. The Martins, who lost four of their little ones in early infancy or childhood, regarded their children as gifts from heaven and offered them to God before their birth. Thérèse was the last flower of this blessed stem, which gave four Sisters to the Carmel of Lisieux, still another to the Visitation of Caen.
The five sisters were left without their mother, a victim of cancer, when Thérèse was only four years old; but her two oldest sisters were of an age to take excellent care of the household and continue the Christian character formation of the younger ones, which their mother had initiated. Their saintly father was soon to see his little flock separated, however, when one after the other they left to enter religious life. He blessed each one and gave them all back to God, with humble gratitude to God for having chosen his daughters.
“Spiritual torment” was to be her lot for years to come, slackening only when she started preparing for her long-awaited First Communion. At the age of eleven, on 8 May 1884, she received her first “kiss of love,” a sense of being united with Jesus, of His giving Himself to her, as she gave herself to Him. Her Eucharist hunger made her long for daily Communion. Confirmation, “the Sacrament of Love,” which she received on June 14, 1884, filled her with ecstasy. Holidays in Trouville and Saint-Ouen-le-Pin were followed, however, by a retreat that triggered a crisis of scruples, lasting seventeen months.
Her sister, Marie, helped her to overcome it. But Marie in her turn entered the Lisieux Carmel on October 15,1886. This was too much for the adolescent Thérèse, who had now lost a third mother. She was nearly fourteen and already strikingly good-looking, quite tall, with magnificent eyes and long hair. She attracted notice on the beach in Trouville, where people nicknamed her “the tall English girl.” But she was tormented by an inner anguish that found relief only when, in November of 1886, she appealed to her four brothers and sisters in Heaven to intercede for her. Even then, she remained hypersensitive, weak-willed, “crying at having cried!”
Every time Thérèse even imagined that someone was criticizing her or didn’t appreciate her, she burst into tears. Then she would cry because she had cried! Any inner wall she built to contain her wild emotions crumpled immediately before the tiniest comment. How could she possibly enter the Carmel—something she had dreamed of since the age of nine as a way of living with Jesus—in this pitiful state? Thérèse wanted to enter the Carmelite convent to join Pauline and Marie but how could she convince others that she could handle the rigors of Carmelite life, if she couldn’t handle her own emotional outbursts?
A trip to Rome and a petition at the knees of the Holy Father Leo XIII gave her the inalterable answer that her Superiors would regulate the matter. Many prayers finally obtained an affirmative reply to her ardent request, and four months after her fifteenth birthday she entered Carmel with an ineffable joy. She could say then, I no longer have any desire but to love Jesus even to folly.
She adopted flowers as the symbol of her love for her Divine Spouse and offered all her little daily sacrifices and works as rose petals at the feet of Jesus. Divine Providence gave to the world the autobiography of this true Saint, whose little way of spiritual childhood was described in her own words in her Story of a Soul. She could not offer God the macerations of the great soldiers of God, only her desires to love Him as they had loved Him, and to serve Him in every way possible, not only as a cloistered nun, but as a missionary, a priest, a hero of the faith, a martyr. She chose all in spirit, for her beloved Lord. Later she would be named patroness of missions. Her spirituality does not imply only sweetness and light, however; this loving child of God passed by a tunnel of desolate spiritual darkness, yet never ceased to smile at Him, wanting to serve Him, if it were possible, without His even knowing it.
When nine years had passed in the Carmel, the little flower was ready to be plucked for heaven; and in a slow agony of consumption, Thérèse made her final offering to God. She suffered so severely that she said she would never have believed it possible, and could only explain it by her desire to save souls for God. She died in 1897.
The account of the eleven years of her religious life, marked by signal graces and constant growth in holiness, is given by Soeur Thérèse in her autobiography, written in obedience to her superior and published two years after her death. In 1901 it was translated into English, and in 1912 another translation, the first complete edition of the life of the Servant of God, containing the autobiography, “Letters and Spiritual Counsels”, was published. Its success was immediate and it has passed into many editions, spreading far and wide the devotion to this “little” saint of simplicity, and abandonment in God’s service, of the perfect accomplishment of small duties.
In less than 30 years, in April of 1923, Pope Benedict XV declared her Blessed, and in 1925 Pius XI canonized her and named her feast day October 3. St. Pius X called St. Therese of the Child Jesus one of the greatest saints of modern times. In less than a century, she had become one of the most popular saints throughout the world.
PRAYER IN HONOR OF ST. THERESE
O Father in Heaven, Who through St. Therese of the Child Jesus dost desire to remind the world of the merciful love that fills Thy heart, and of the childlike trust that we should have in Thee, we thank Thee for having crowned with so great glory Thine ever faithful child, and for giving her such wondrous power to bring unto Thee day by day a multitude of souls who will bless Thee eternally.
Little St. Therese, remember thy promise to do good on earth; shower down abundantly thy roses on those who invoke thee, and obtain for us from God the graces we hope for from His infinite goodness.
Image: Detail of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the photograph taken in the courtyard of the monastery of Lisieux Easter Monday, April 15, 1894. (7)
Research by REGINA Staff