St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower”
Therese Martin was the last of nine children born to Louis and Zelie Martin on January 2, 1873, in Alencon, France. However, only five of these children lived to reach adulthood. Precocious and sensitive, Therese needed much attention. Her mother died when she was 4 years old. As a result, her father and sisters babied young Therese. She had a spirit that wanted everything.
At the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1886, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love, instead of keeping herself happy. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her whole life to God. She took the religious name Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Living a hidden, simple life of prayer, she was gifted with great intimacy with God. Through sickness and dark nights of doubt and fear, she remained faithful to God, rooted in His merciful love. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: “My God, I love You!”
The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, “Story of a Soul”. She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood.” She lived each day with an unshakable confidence in God’s love. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds, but great love.” Therese lived and taught a spirituality of attending to everyone and everything well and with love. She believed that just as a child becomes enamored with what is before her, we should also have a childlike focus and totally attentive love. Therese’s spirituality is of doing the ordinary, with extraordinary love.
She loved flowers and saw herself as the “little flower of Jesus,” who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God’s garden. Because of this beautiful analogy, the title “little flower” remained with St. Therese.
Her inspiration and powerful presence from heaven touched many people very quickly. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925. Had she lived, she would have been only 52 years old when she was declared a Saint.
“My mission – to make God loved – will begin after my death,” she said. “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.” Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese’s signature. Countless millions have been touched by her intercession and imitate her “little way.” She has been acclaimed “the greatest saint of modern times.” In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a Doctor of the Church – the only Doctor of his pontificate – in tribute to the powerful way her spirituality has influenced people all over the world.From The Society of the Little Flower, https://www.littleflower.org/therese/
“The Little Way”
Thérèse died unknown by the world; it was by her writings that she became an inspiration and a source of help to countless people across the globe. The accounts of her life that she had written were collected together and sent to other Carmelite communities on 30th September 1898, exactly a year after her death. It quickly became apparent that demand to read her extraordinary writings would be very high, and within 35 years three million copies of the work had been produced. In 1997 – a century after Thérèse’s death – Pope John Paul II declared her a ‘Doctor of the Church’. In this she joins the ranks of some of the Church’s greatest thinkers: St Jerome, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas… they are not names with which we would immediately associate Thérèse. The title ‘Doctor of the Church’ signifies that a saint’s message has a particular importance and universal relevance. In a sense, the people of the Church had decided this long before it was officially proclaimed by the Holy Father. Thérèse has a message for us all.
Holiness Is For All: Thérèse’s message is for all because, at its heart, it contains a simple but profound truth: holiness is for all. This conviction is at the heart of Thérèse’s famous ‘Little Way’. In proclaiming this message Thérèse prepared the ground for a teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which spoke of the universal call to holiness (Lumen Gentium, nn. 39-42). The genius of Thérèse’s message is that it teaches us how we can each achieve holiness in our lives. We cannot all be heroes; we cannot all be famous saints, martyrs, people who stand out; but we can become holy: this is the purpose of the ‘Little Way’.
The Little Way: When asked what she meant by the ‘little way’, she answered, “It is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” At the center of this way is the willingness to make small sacrifices to God. Most people do not have the opportunity to do great acts in their lives, but each of us can offer small daily sacrifices of love to God. In this way, Thérèse teaches that each of us can achieve holiness, simply by willingly offering each act of love to God. “There is only one thing to do here below”, she wrote, “to offer Our Lord the flowers of little sacrifices”. Love is at the center of her writings: love for God expressed in acts of love to the people we encounter. Thérèse did not only speak of this Little Way: she lived it. In Carmel she had much basic and simple work to do. She did it willingly and offered it to God. Thérèse tried to treat all the other sisters equally, even going out of her way to be kindest to those whom she did not like. She wrote prayers and poems; she devised plays for the enjoyment of the sisters. All of this she did with a spirit of love for God.
Spiritual Childhood: Thérèse knew what it meant to be a child before God. She understood the meaning of Jesus’ words, “Unless you become like little children you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mark 10:15). She had absolute confidence in God, complete trust in His goodness. She often used images of childhood to express our relationship with God: “to keep little means not to lost courage at the sight of our faults. Little children often tumble, but they are too small to suffer grievous injury” or “little children do not know what is best. Everything is right in their eyes. Let us imitate them.” Thérèse certainly knew her faults, but – thanks to her path of spiritual childhood – remained untroubled by them: “I suppose I ought to be distressed that I so often fall asleep during meditation and thanksgiving after Holy Communion, but I reflect that little children, asleep or awake, are equally dear to their parents.” When asked what it means to remain a child, Thérèse answered, “to acknowledge one’s own nothingness, to expect everything from God and not to be upset by one’s failures.”From: http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/celebrating-st-thereses-feast/