Saint Thérèse de Lisieux

(January 2, 1873 – September 30, 1897)

Or more properly Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte Face

(“Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face”), born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, was a Roman Catholic nun who was canonized as a saint, and is recognized as a Doctor of the Church.

She is also known by many as

“The Little Flower of Jesus.”

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Who was St. Thérèse

Early life

St. Thérèse of Lisieux was born in Alençon, France, the daughter of Louis Martin, a watchmaker, and Zélie-Marie Guérin, a lacemaker. Both her parents were very religious. Louis had attempted to become a monk, but was refused because he knew no Latin. Zélie-Marie had tried to become a nun, but was told she didn’t have a vocation. Instead, she vowed that if she married, she would give all her children to the Church. Louis and Zélie-Marie met in 1858 and married only three months later. They had nine children, of whom only five daughters — Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Céline and Thérèse — survived to adulthood. Thérèse was their youngest child. Zélie’s lace business was so successful that Louis sold his watchmaking shop to his nephew and handled the traveling end of her lacemaking business.

Zélie died of breast cancer in 1877, when Thérèse was only four years old, and her father sold the business and moved to Lisieux, in the Calvados department in Normandy, where Zélie’s brother Isidore Guérin, a pharmacist, lived with his wife and two daughters.

Thérèse studied at the Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame du Pré. When she was nine years old, her sister Pauline, who had acted as a “second mother” to her, entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux. Thérèse too wanted to enter Carmel, but was told she was too young. At 15, after her sister Marie also entered the same Carmelite convent, Thérèse renewed her attempts to join the order, but the priest-superior of the monastery would not allow this on account of her youth. Her father took Thérèse on a pilgrimage to Rome. During a general audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked him to allow her to enter at 15, but the Pope said: “Well, my child, do what the superiors decide.”

Shortly thereafter, the Bishop of Bayeux authorized the prioress to receive Thérèse, and in April 1888 she became a Carmelite nun. In 1889 her father suffered a stroke and was taken to a private sanitorium, the Bon Sauveur at Caen, where he remained for three years. He returned to Lisieux in 1892, and died in 1894. Upon his death, her sister Céline, who had been caring for their father, entered on 14 September 1894 the same Carmelite monastery that her three sisters were already in; her cousin, Marie Guérin, entered in 1895. Léonie, after several failed attempts, became Sister Françoise-Thérèse, a nun in the Order of the Visitation at Caen.


The Little Way

Thérèse is known for her “Little Way.” In her quest for sanctity, she realized that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts or “great deeds” in order to attain holiness and to express her love of God. She wrote, “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.” This “Little Way” also appeared in her approach to spirituality: “Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises, in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles in the way and a host of illusions round about it, my poor little mind soon grows weary, I close the learned book, which leaves my head splitting and my heart parched, and I take the Holy Scriptures. Then all seems luminous, a single word opens up infinite horizons to my soul, perfection seems easy; I see that it is enough to realize one’s nothingness, and give oneself wholly, like a child, into the arms of the good God. Leaving to great souls, great minds, the fine books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because ‘only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet’.”

Passages like this have also left Therese open to the charge that hers is an overly sentimental and even childish spirituality. Her proponents counter that she sought to develop an approach to the spiritual life that was understandable and imitable by all who chose to do so, regardless of their level of sophistication or education.

This is evident in her approach to prayer: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy; in a word, something noble, supernatural, which enlarges my soul and unites it to God….I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…. I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands.”


Declining health and death

1897 she was moved to the monastery infirmary, where she died on September 30, 1897, at age 24. On her death-bed, she is reported to have said, “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.”


Autobiography

Thérèse de LisieuxSt. Thérèse is known today because of her spiritual memoir, L’histoire d’une âme (“The Story of a Soul”), which she wrote upon the orders of two prioresses of her monastery. She began the work in 1895 as a memoir of her childhood, under orders from her sister Pauline, known in religion as Mother Agnes of Jesus. Mother Agnes gave the order after being prompted by their eldest sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. While Thérèse was on retreat in September 1896, she wrote the second part, a letter to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. In June 1897 Mother Agnes became aware of how sick Thérèse was; she immediately asked Mother Marie de Gonzague, who had succeeded her as prioress, to allow Thérèse to write another memoir with more details of her religious life. It was published posthumously, and was heavily edited by her sister Pauline. (Aside from considerations of style, Mother Marie de Gonzague had ordered Pauline to alter the first two sections of the manuscript to make them appear as if they were addressed to Mother Marie as well.) It became the religious best-seller of the 20th century. Since 1973, two centenary editions of Thérèse’s writings, including “Story of a Soul,” her letters, poems, prayers, and the plays she wrote for the monastery recreations have been published.


Recognition

Funerary monument in the Church of Saint Francis, in Évora (Portugal). Thérèse’s final years were marked by a steady decline that she bore resolutely and without complaint. On the morning of Good Friday, 1896, she began bleeding at the mouth due to a pulmonary hæmoptysis; her tuberculosis had taken a decided turn for the worse. Thérèse corresponded with a Carmelite mission in what was then French Indochina, and was invited to join them, but because of her sickness, she could not travel there.

In July In 1902, the Polish Carmelite Father Raphael Kalinowski (later Saint Raphael Kalinowski) translated her autobiography “Story of a Soul” into Polish. Pope Pius X signed the decree for the opening of her process of canonization on June 10, 1914. Pope Benedict XV, in order to hasten the process, dispensed with the usual fifty-year delay required between death and beatification. On August 14, 1921, he promulgated the decree on the heroic virtues of Thérèse and gave a long speech about Thérèse’s way of confidence and love, recommending it to the whole Church. Thérèse was beatified in April 1923 and canonized on May 17, 1925 by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death. Her feast day was celebrated on October 3 until the calendar revision of 1970, when it was moved to October 1.

Thérèse of Lisieux is the patron saint of AIDS sufferers, aviators, florists, illness, and missions. She is also considered by Catholics to be the patron saint of Russia, although the Russian Orthodox Church officially recognizes neither her canonization nor her patronage.

In 1927 Pope Pius XI named Thérèse a patron of the missions. In 1944 Pope Pius XII named her co-patroness of France with St. Joan of Arc. By the Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia (“The Science of Divine Love”) of October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Universal Church, one of only three women so named (the others being Teresa of Avila (Saint Teresa of Jesus) and Catherine of Siena). Thérèse was the only saint to be given recognition as a Doctor of the Church during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.

A movement is under way now to canonize her parents, who were declared “Venerable” in 1994 by Pope John Paul II. In 2004 the Archbishop of Milan accepted the unexpected cure of a child with a lung disorder as attributable to their intercession. A date for the beatification of Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin, however, has not yet been set. Some interest has also been shown towards promoting for sainthood Thérèse’s sister, Léonie, the only one of the five sisters who did not become a Carmelite nun. Léonie Martin, in religion Sister Françoise-Thérèse, died in Caen in 1941, where her tomb in the crypt of the Visitation Monastery can be visited by the public.

Together with St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is perhaps the most popular Catholic saint since Apostolic times. As a Doctor of the Church, she is the subject of much theological comment and study and, as an appealing young girl whose message has touched the life of millions, she remains the focus of much popular devotion.

Her autobiography has inspired many people, including the Italian writer Maria Valtorta. For many years Thérèse’s relics have toured the world; thousands of pilgrims have thronged to pray before them.


Quotations

“I am a very little soul, who can offer only very little things to the Lord.”

“I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth.”

“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”

“I feel in me the vocation of the priest. With what love, O Jesus, I would take You in my hands when, at my voice, You would come down from heaven. And with what love would I give You to souls! But alas! while desiring to be a Priest, I admire and envy the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the Priesthood.”

“O Jesus, my Love, my vocation, at last I have found it … my vocation is Love! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love.”

“Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our father’s love — difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness — Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events — to the heart that loves, all is well.”

St. Therese of Lisieux – Patron Saint of St.Theresa Catholic Church