Saint Thérèse Lisieux
By Sarah the Aspirant
St.Thérèse lived and died little known outside her family, friends and fellow sisters inside the Carmel of Lisieux, yet she ranks among the most beloved saints in the history of the Church. The young nun who died at twenty-four even received the title Doctor of the Church, and Pope St. Pius X described her as “the greatest saint of modern times.”
Zita and Louis Martin welcomed their last child, Thérèse on January 2, 1873, in Alencon, France. St. Thérèse grew up with her other four sisters in a very loving and religious family, though not without suffering. Their mother died when Thérèse was four, and Thérèse subsequently turned from a lively child (“a little imp” according to her mother) to an oversensitive young girl. Her father, to whom St. Thérèse grew very close, and her sisters showered love on her. Her two oldest sisters became her mothers, but this caused more heartache for St. Thérèse when the two became Carmelite nuns when she was six and ten years old. Throughout her childhood, St. Thérèse suffered from her over-sensitivity and scruples until her fourteenth year when she received an outpouring of grace to regain the firmness of mind she lost at age four. Promptly, St. Thérèse began advancing more surely in virtue. A year later, she felt called to leave the world and live solely for Christ inside Carmel, but there were many obstacles because of her young age. Eventually, her zealous prayers bore fruit and the superiors opened the convent to the fifteen year old.
Once in the cloister, St. Thérèse seriously undertook the noble task of becoming a saint, but she did so through the most ordinary and simple means, what she called “Little Way”, the “way of spiritual childhood.” She sought to love God totally in everything she did with childlike trust and abandonment, which required heroic faithfulness and constancy. She lived the religious life perfectly, following the Rule exactly, obeying her superiors, and practicing poverty. She suffered greatly from a cold without complaint and accepted whatever food was given her without comment. She was determined to turn everything into an act of love for God through a constant and generous self-denial in all things. True love is proven with sacrifice, but for St. Thérèse the sacrifice did not need to be externally great but only performed with great love. She wrote, “I was not like those grand souls who practice all kinds of penances from childhood. My mortification consisted in checking my self-will, keeping back an impatient word, doing little things for those around me without their knowing it.” For example, once a sister accidentally kept splashing St. Thérèse with water in the laundry, but instead of showing her exasperation, she bore it patiently for the love of Jesus. Little sufferings like this were very dear to her. She asked, “Can a victim of love find anything her Spouse sends terrible?” Her devotion to Mary assisted her in this little way of love. She was comforted that she and Jesus have the same Mother.
St. Thérèse allowed her charity to “shine before men” in a supernatural way. Although three of her biological sisters lived in the convent, she avoided their presence during recreation, which cost her dearly, and instead cheerfully spent time with sisters whom she naturally liked the least. St. Thérèse recounts that one sister, touched by her kindness, asked St. Thérèse what she found so admirable in her, and St. Thérèse wrote in answer, “It was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul, Jesus who makes attractive even what is most bitter.” St. Thérèse practiced heroic patience and kindness with all her fellow Carmelites and, when she became the assistant novice mistress, guided the novices with supernatural love and wisdom. St.Thérèse also showed great love towards all souls and Holy Mother Church through her prayers and penances.
Eventually, inspired by the love of God, she offered herself as a victim to God’s merciful love, in reparation of all the sinners who refused His Mercy, and God accepted that sacrifice. Towards the end of her life, her sufferings, bodily but much more spiritually, increased terribly. In the spring of 1896, when St. Thérèse was twenty-three, she contracted tuberculosis, and her health slowly declined so that by the fall of 1897 she was confined to bed. Meanwhile, God deprived her soul of all spiritual consolations, leaving her in absolute darkness, so that she attested, “my only consolation lies in not having any here below.” She accepted these sufferings with resignation as the will of God and the means to save souls. She said, “I could not have believed one could bear so much and can explain it only by my great desire to save souls. Thy will be done, my God, but have mercy on me; sweet Virgin Mary, aid me.” Still, she remained joyful and cheerful with her sisters and, more heroically, maintained her faith and trust in God’s love and mercy to the very end. On September 30, 1897, after choking in agony for two hours, she died holding the crucifix and uttering, “My God, I love you!”
Before she died, she had said, “I feel my mission is soon to begin, to make others love God as I do, teaching others my ‘little way.’ I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.” This prediction has proved true through the publication and distribution of her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, in which she illustrates her “Little Way” and of which was said, “The abundant fruit of salvation, remarkable and worldwide, that reading this so engrossing and touching work still daily produces, far exceed the results of efforts purely human.” St. Thérèse also promised, “After death I will let fall a shower of roses,” and she still sends roses in remarkable ways to her clients as proof of her powerful intercession.
St. Thérèse’s “Little Way” is an incredible gift for the Church. It proves that all souls can reach great holiness by changing the most mundane acts into a loving sacrifice for God. No soul can be disappointed in this saint’s friendship and in following her “Little Way.”