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St. Thérèse of Lisieux

St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artwork Narrative:

Until recent times it was difficult to find a Catholic Church without a statue of Thérèse of Lisieux. While statues seem less in vogue since Vatican II, this saint remains one of the most popular in the Roman Church. On one level she accomplished next-to-nothing in her brief life. When she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, the prioress of her monastery wondered what she could possibly write in the obituary that would be sent to the other Carmelite monasteries. On a deeper level, Thérèse helped revolutionize modern Christian concepts of holiness.

She came from a bourgeois family and was a spoiled child. When two of her older sisters entered the local Carmelite monastery, she made up her mind to follow them. She received special permission to enter monastic life when she was only 15. Her remaining nine years were spent washing laundry, sweeping corridors and struggling to stay awake during meditation. After developing tuberculosis, she was appointed mistress of novices. The superior of the monastery also ordered her to write an account of her life, which has become one of the most widely read books on spirituality in modern times.

Thérèse described her vocation as simply LOVING -- loving God and the world. Whereas many Christians had often suspected that being holy meant only something dramatic in the past -- being eaten by lions, sitting for fifty years on top of a pillar, whipping oneself daily -- Thérèse believed that doing one’s ordinary work was quite enough, provided all was done with love. She strove in every way to identify herself with the people of her time. On a deeper plane this sharing was manifested in spiritual suffering, when she lost all sense of God’s presence in her life during her last few years. She continued to embrace everything with generous love, including her fatal illness, in spite of the spiritual aridity that she felt. This darkness and aridity finally lifted in her last few minutes, and she died in ecstasy. She is depicted with roses as a symbol of the prayers she promised after her death.

Her feast day is October 1.

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Poem by St Theresa

The Flower

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!

THÉRÈSE MARTIN was born at Alençon, France on 2 January 1873. Two days later, she was baptized Marie Frances Thérèse at Notre Dame Church. Her parents were Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin. After the death of her mother on 28 August 1877, Thérèse and her family moved to Lisieux.

Towards the end of 1879, she went to confession for the first time. On the Feast of Pentecost 1883, she received the singular grace of being healed from a serious illness through the intercession of Our Lady of Victories. Taught by the Benedictine Nuns of Lisieux and after an intense immediate preparation culminating in a vivid experience of intimate union with Christ, she received First Holy Communion on 8 May 1884. Some weeks later, on 14 June of the same year, she received the Sacrament of Confirmation, fully aware of accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit as a personal participation in the grace of Pentecost.

She wished to embrace the contemplative life, as her sisters Pauline and Marie had done in the Carmel of Lisieux, but was prevented from doing so by her young age. On a visit to Italy, after having visited the House of Loreto and the holy places of the Eternal City, during an audience granted by Pope Leo XIII to the pilgrims from Lisieux on 20 November 1887, she asked the Holy Father with childlike audacity to be able to enter the Carmel at the age of fifteen.

On 9 April 1888 she entered the Carmel of Lisieux. She received the habit on 10 January of the following year, and made her religious profession on 8 September 1890 on the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In Carmel she embraced the way of perfection outlined by the Foundress, Saint Teresa of Jesus, fulfilling with genuine fervour and fidelity the various community responsibilities entrusted to her. Her faith was tested by the sickness of her beloved father, Louis Martin, who died on 29 July 1894. Thérèse nevertheless grew in sanctity, enlightened by the Word of God and inspired by the Gospel to place love at the centre of everything. In her autobiographical manuscripts she left us not only her recollections of childhood and adolescence but also a portrait of her soul, the description of her most intimate experiences. She discovered the little way of spiritual childhood and taught it to the novices entrusted to her care. She considered it a special gift to receive the charge of accompanying two "missionary brothers" with prayer and sacrifice. Seized by the love of Christ, her only Spouse, she penetrated ever more deeply into the mystery of the Church and became increasingly aware of her apostolic and missionary vocation to draw everyone in her path.

On 9 June 1895, on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, she offered herself as a sacrificial victim to the merciful Love of God. At this time, she wrote her first autobiographical manuscript, which she presented to Mother Agnes for her birthday on 21 January 1896.

Several months later, on 3 April, in the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, she suffered a haemoptysis, the first sign of the illness which would lead to her death; she welcomed this event as a mysterious visitation of the Divine Spouse. From this point forward, she entered a trial of faith which would last until her death; she gives overwhelming testimony to this in her writings. In September, she completed Manuscript B; this text gives striking evidence of the spiritual maturity which she had attained, particularly the discovery of her vocation in the heart of the Church.

While her health declined and the time of trial continued, she began work in the month of June on Manuscript C, dedicated to Mother Marie de Gonzague. New graces led her to higher perfection and she discovered fresh insights for the diffusion of her message in the Church, for the benefit of souls who would follow her way. She was transferred to the infirmary on 8 July. Her sisters and other religious women collected her sayings. Meanwhile her sufferings and trials intensified. She accepted them with patience up to the moment of her death in the afternoon of 30 September 1897. "I am not dying, I am entering life", she wrote to her missionary spiritual brother, Father M. Bellier. Her final words, "My God..., I love you!", seal a life which was extinguished on earth at the age of twenty-four; thus began, as was her desire, a new phase of apostolic presence on behalf of souls in the Communion of Saints, in order to shower a rain of roses upon the world.

She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on 17 May 1925. The same Pope proclaimed her Universal Patron of the Missions, alongside Saint Francis Xavier, on 14 December 1927.

Her teaching and example of holiness has been received with great enthusiasm by all sectors of the faithful during this century, as well as by people outside the Catholic Church and outside Christianity.

On the occasion of the centenary of her death, many Episcopal Conferences have asked the Pope to declare her a Doctor of the Church, in view of the soundness of her spiritual wisdom inspired by the Gospel, the originality of her theological intuitions filled with sublime teaching, and the universal acceptance of her spiritual message, which has been welcomed throughout the world and spread by the translation of her works into over fifty languages.

Mindful of these requests, His Holiness Pope John Paul II asked the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which has competence in this area, in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with regard to her exalted teaching, to study the suitability of proclaiming her a Doctor of the Church.

On 24 August, at the close of the Eucharistic Celebration at the Twelfth World Youth Day in Paris, in the presence of hundreds of bishops and before an immense crowd of young people from the whole world, Pope John Paul II announced his intention to proclaim Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face a Doctor of the Universal Church on World Mission Sunday, 19 October 1997.

Born: January 2, 1873 at Alcon, Normandy, France

Died: 7pm Thursday, September 30, 1897 at Lisieux, France of tuberculosis

Canonized: May 17, 1925 by Pope Pius XI

Also known as: Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower, the Little Flower of Jesus