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Our Heavenly Patroness : Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus
Born at Alençon, France on January 2, 1873
Died at Lisieux, France on September 30, 1897
Canonized by Pope Pius XI 1925
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, one of the most instantly popular saints of the twentieth century, was canonized less than thirty years after her death at the age of twenty-four.
A principle reason for her great appeal to ordinary Catholics was her "Little Way" to holiness -- her example of achieving sanctity, not through undertaking great deeds, but through personal devotion and dedication. The young nun's autobiography, L'histoire d'une âme (Story of a Soul), written at the command of her prioress, was much admired for its deep spiritual wisdom and beauty. The book presented people with a compelling example of spiritual maturity and piety achieved by an ordinary young girl. An anecdote, that she had promised to send roses as a sign of her intercession led to the affectionate nickname, the "Little Flower". Her shrine at Lisieux, France, is still one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Europe.
Thérèse was born in Alençon on January 2, 1873 to Louis Martin and Azélie-Marie Guérin. When Thérèse was only four, her mother died, and so her father moved the family to Lisieux, where the five children were watched by their aunt. An older sister, Mary, ran the household and the eldest, Pauline, made herself responsible for the religious upbringing of her sisters.
Pauline later entered the Carmel, an order of contemplative nuns, at Lisieux and Thérèse began to be drawn in the same direction. When Thérèse was fourteen another sister joined Pauline in the Carmel. During the following year, Thérèse told her father of her wish to become a Carmelite, and he agreed; but both the Carmelite authorities and the bishop of Bayeux refused to hear of it because of her young age. A few months later she was in Rome with her father and a French pilgrimage. At the public audience, when her turn came to kneel for the Pope Leo XIII's blessing, Thérèse broke the rule of silence on such occasions and asked him, "In honor of your jubilee, allow me to enter Carmel at fifteen". Pope Leo was clearly impressed by the young girl, but he upheld the decision of the immediate superiors. At the end of the year the bishop gave his permission, and in 1888 Thérèse entered the Carmel at Lisieux, taking the name of Theresa of the Child Jesus.
One of the principal duties of a Carmelite nun is to pray for priests, a duty that Sister Theresa performed with fervor. Although she was physically frail she carried out all the practices of the austere Carmelite rule. Yet, photographs taken by her sister within the cloister show Sister Theresa in high spirits in the costume of Joan of Arc for a drama the nuns staged, working happily in the kitchen with other nuns, and in the familiar portrait (above).
In 1893 Sister Theresa was appointed to assist the novice mistress. In 1894 her father died, and soon after her sister Céline, who had been looking after him, becoming the fourth Martin sister to enter the Lisieux Carmel. Eighteen months later, Sister Theresa heard, "as it was, a far-off murmur announcing the coming of the Bridegroom": it was a hemorrhage at the mouth from tuberculosis. Although she had hoped to serve as a missionary, her disease advanced, and the last eighteen months of her life was a time of physical suffering and spiritual trials.
In June 1897 she was removed to the infirmary of the convent where she died on September 30. She was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1923. He canonized her in 1925. In 1927 she was named the heavenly patroness of all foreign missions, and of all works for Russia.
Source: Butler's Lives of the Saints Concise Edition. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985.
When Suffering is Sweet: by St. Therese of Lisieux
It has come to this that I can no longer suffer because all suffering is sweet. Besides, it is a mistake to worry as to what trouble may be in store; it is like meddling with God's work. We who run in the way of love must never allow ourselves to be disturbed by anything.
If I did not simply suffer from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient; but I look only at the present moment forget the past; and I take good care not to forestall the future. When we yield to discouragement or despair it is usually because we give too much thought to the past and to the future.
Pray for me; often when I cry to heaven for help it is when I feel most abandoned. But when I turn to God and his saints and thank them notwithstanding. I believe they want to see how far I shall trust them. But the words of Job have not entered my heart in vain: "Even if God should kill me, I would still trust him" (Job13:15)
I admit it has taken a long time to arrive at this degree of self-abandonment; but I have reached it now, and it is the Lord himself who has brought me here.
Trust in the Lord by St. Therese of Lisieux
The moment I began counseling and instructing the souls entrusted to me, I saw at a glance that the task was beyond my strength. Quickly taking refuge in the Lord's arm, I imitated those babies who, when frightened, hide their faces on their father's shoulder. 'You see, Lord', I said, 'that I am too small to feed your little ones, but that if, through me, you will give to each what is necessary and suitable, then fill my hands. Without leaving the shelter of your arms or even turning my head, I will distribute your treasures to the souls who come to me asking for food. When they find it to their liking, I shall know that it is not to me that they owe it, but to you. If on the contrary, the complain, finding fault with its bitterness, I shall not be disturbed. I will try to persuade them that it comes from you, and will take care to give it to them.'
The knowledge that it was impossible to do anything of myself greatly simplified my task. Confident that the rest would be given me over and above, the one aim of my interior life was to unite myself more and more closely with God.
My hope has never been deceived. Each time I needed food for the souls in my charge, I have found my hands filled. Had I acted otherwise and relied on my own strength, I should very soon have been forced to surrender.
The Little Way
She knew as a Carmelite nun she would never be able to perform great deeds. "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." She took every chance to sacrifice, no matter how small it would seem. She smiled at the sisters she didn't like. She ate everything she was given without complaining--so that she was often given the worst leftovers. One time she was accused of breaking a vase when she was not at fault. Instead of arguing she sank to her knees and begged forgiveness. These little sacrifices cost her more than bigger ones, for these went unrecognized by others. No one told her how wonderful she was for these little secret humiliations and good deeds.
Thérèse continued to worry about how she could achieve holiness in the life she led. She didn't want to just be good, she wanted to be a saint. She thought there must be a way for people living hidden, little lives like hers. "I have always wanted to become a saint. Unfortunately when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.
"We live in an age of inventions. We need no longer climb laboriously up flights of stairs; in well-to-do houses there are lifts. And I was determined to find a lift to carry me to Jesus, for I was far too small to climb the steep stairs of perfection. So I sought in Holy Scripture some idea of what this life I wanted would be, and I read these words: "Whosoever is a little one, come to me."
It is your arms, Jesus, that are the lift to carry me to heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up: I must stay little and become less and less."
Thérèse's "little way" of trusting in Jesus to make her holy and relying on small daily sacrifices instead of great deeds appeals to thousands of Catholics and others who are trying to find holiness in ordinary lives.
Poem by St Theresa
All the earth with snow is covered,
Everywhere the white frosts reign;
Winter and his gloomy courtiers
Hold their court on earth again.
But for you has bloomed the Flower
Of the fields, Who comes to earth
From the fatherland of heaven,
Where eternal spring has birth.
Near the Rose of Christmas, Sister!
In the lowly grasses hide,
And be like the humble flowerets, --
Of heaven's King the lowly bride!