Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint, called her the
"Little Flower", and found in her short life, more inspiration for own
lives than in volumes by theologians.
Yet Therese died when she was 24, after having lived as cloistered
Carmelite for less than ten years. She never went on missions, never
founded a religious order, never performed great works. The only book of
hers, published after her death, was an brief edited version of her
journal called "Story of a Soul." (Collections of her letters and
restored versions of her journals have been published recently.) But
within 28 years of her death, the public demand was so great that she
Over the years, some modern Catholics have turned away from her because
they associate her with over- sentimentalized piety and yet the message
she has for us is still as compelling and simple as it was almost a
Therese was born in France in 1873, the pampered daughter of a mother
who had wanted to be a saint and a father who had wanted to be monk. The
two had gotten married but determined they would be celibate until a
priest told them that was not how God wanted a marriage to work! They
must have followed his advice very well because they had nine children.
The five children who lived were all daughters who were close all their
Tragedy and loss came quickly to Therese when her mother died of breast
cancer when she was four and a half years old. Her sixteen-year-old
sister Pauline became her second mother -- which made the second loss
even worse when Pauline entered the Carmelite convent five years later.
A few months later, Therese became so ill with a fever that people
thought she was dying.
The worst part of it for Therese was all the people sitting around her
bed staring at her like, she said, "a string of onions." When Therese
saw her sisters praying to statue of Mary in her room, Therese also
prayed. She saw Mary smile at her and suddenly she was cured. She tried
to keep the grace of the cure secret but people found out and badgered
her with questions about what Mary was wearing, what she looked like.
When she refused to give in to their curiosity, they passed the story
that she had made the whole thing up.
Without realizing it, by the time she was eleven years old she had
developed the habit of mental prayer. She would find a place between her
bed and the wall and in that solitude think about God, life, and
eternity. When her other sisters, Marie and Leonie, left to join
religious orders (the Carmelites and Poor Clares, respectively), Therese
was left alone with her last sister Celine and her father.
Every time Therese even imagined that someone was criticizing her or
didn't appreciate her, she burst into tears. Any inner wall she built to
contain her wild emotions crumpled immediately before the tiniest
Therese wanted to enter the Carmelite convent to join Pauline and Marie
but how could she convince others that she could handle the rigors of
Carmelite life, if she couldn't handle her own emotional outbursts? She
had prayed that Jesus would help her but there was no sign of an answer.
On Christmas day in 1886, the fourteen-year-old hurried home from
church. In France, young children left their shoes by the hearth at
Christmas, and then parents would fill them with gifts. By fourteen,
most children outgrew this custom. But her sister Celine didn't want
Therese to grow up. So they continued to leave presents in "baby"
As she and Celine climbed the stairs to take off their hats, their
father's voice rose up from the parlor below. Standing over the shoes,
he sighed, "Thank goodness that's the last time we shall have this kind
Therese froze, and her sister looked at her helplessly. Celine knew that
in a few minutes Therese would be in tears over what her father had
said. But the tantrum never came. Something incredible had happened to
Therese. Jesus had come into her heart and done what she could not do
herself. He had made her more sensitive to her father's feelings than
She swallowed her tears, walked slowly down the stairs, and exclaimed
over the gifts in the shoes, as if she had never heard a word her father
said. The following year she entered the convent. In her autobiography
she referred to this Christmas as her "conversion."
Therese is known as the Little Flower but she had a will of steel. When
the superior of the Carmelite convent refused to take Therese because
she was so young, the formerly shy little girl went to the bishop. When
the bishop also said no, she decided to go over his head, as well.
Her father and sister took her on a pilgrimage to Rome to try to get her
mind off this crazy idea. Therese loved it. It was the one time when
being little worked to her advantage! Because she was young and small
she could run everywhere, touch relics and tombs without being yelled
at. Finally they went for an audience with the Pope. They had been
forbidden to speak to him but that didn't stop Therese. As soon as she
got near him, she begged that he let her enter the Carmelite convent.
She had to be carried out by two of the guards!
But the Vicar General who had seen her courage was impressed and soon
Therese was admitted to the Carmelite convent that her sisters Pauline
and Marie had already joined. Her romantic ideas of convent life and
suffering soon met up with reality in a way she had never expected. Her
father suffered a series of strokes that left him affected not only
physically but mentally. When he began hallucinating and grabbed for a
gun as if going into battle, he was taken to an asylum for the insane.
Horrified, Therese learned of the humiliation of the father she adored
and admired and of the gossip and pity of their so-called friends. As a
cloistered nun she couldn't even visit her father.
This began a horrible time of suffering when she experienced such
dryness in prayer that she stated "Jesus isn't doing much to keep the
conversation going." She was so grief-stricken that she often fell
asleep in prayer. She consoled herself by saying that mothers loved
children when they lie asleep in their arms so that God must love her
when she slept during prayer.
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.
When Pauline was elected prioress, she asked Therese for the ultimate
sacrifice. Because of politics in the convent, many of the sisters
feared that the family Martin would taken over the convent. Therefore
Pauline asked Therese to remain a novice, in order to allay the fears of
the others that the three sisters would push everyone else around. This
meant she would never be a fully professed nun, that she would always
have to ask permission for everything she did. This sacrifice was made a
little sweeter when Celine entered the convent after her father's death.
Four of the sisters were now together again.
Therese 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
"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."
She worried about her vocation: " I feel in me the vocation of the
Priest. I have the vocation of the Apostle. Martyrdom was the dream of
my youth and this dream has grown with me. Considering the mystical body
of the Church, I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the
key to my vocation. I understood that the Church had a Heart and that
this Heart was burning with love. I understood that Love comprised all
vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and
places...in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my
delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love...my vocation, at last I
have found it...My vocation is Love!"
When she was asked what she meant by remaining a little child, Therese
explained, “It means that we acknowledge our nothingness; that we expect
everything from the good Lord, as a child expects everything from its
father; it means to worry about nothing, not to build upon fortune; it
means to remain little, seeking only to gather flowers, the flowers of
sacrifices and to offer them to the good Lord for His pleasure.It also
means not to attribute to ourselves the virtues we practice, not to
believe that we are capable of anything, but to acknowledge that it is
the good Lord who has placed that treasure in the hand of this little
child that we may use it when he needs it, but it remains always God’s
own treasure. Finally, it means that we must not be discouraged by our
faults, for children fall frequently”.
When an antagonist was elected prioress, new political suspicions and
plottings sprang up. The concern over the Martin sisters perhaps was not
exaggerated. In this small convent they now made up one-fifth of the
population. Despite this and the fact that Therese was a permanent
novice they put her in charge of the other novices.
Then in 1896, she coughed up blood. She kept working without telling
anyone until she became so sick and only after a year everyone knew it.
Worst of all she had lost her joy and confidence and felt she would die
young without leaving anything behind. Pauline had already had her
writing down her memories for journal and now she wanted her to continue
-- so they would have something to circulate on her life after her
Her pain was so great that she said that if she had not had faith she
would have taken her own life without hesitation. But she tried to
remain smiling and cheerful -- and succeeded so well that some thought
she was only pretending to be ill. Her one dream as the work she would
do after her death, helping those on earth. "I will return," she said.
"My heaven will be spent on earth." She died on September 30, 1897 at
the age of 24. She herself felt it was a blessing God allowed her to die
at exactly that age. She had always felt that she had a vocation to be a
priest and felt God let her die at the age she would have been ordained
if she had been a man so that she wouldn't have to suffer.
After she died, everything at the convent went back to normal. One nun
commented that there was nothing to say about Therese. But Pauline put
together Therese's writings (and heavily edited them, unfortunately) and
sent 2000 copies to other convents. But Therese's "little way" of
trusting in Jesus to make her holy and relying on small daily sacrifices
instead of great deeds appealed to the thousands of Catholics and others
who were trying to find holiness in ordinary lives. Within two years,
the Martin family had to move because her notoriety was so great and by
1925 she had been canonized.
Cardinal Pacelli, the Legate of Pope Pius XI, during the canonization
said, “St. Therese of Child Jesus has a mission, a doctrine. But like
everything else about this Carmelite saint, her doctrine is humble and
simple and it is summed up in these two words – “Spiritual Childhood” or
in their equivalent “the Little Way”.
Therese of Lisieux is one of the patron saints of the missions, not
because she ever went anywhere, but because of her special love for the
missions, and the prayers and letters she gave in support of
missionaries. This is reminder to all of us who feel we can do nothing,
that it is the little things that keep God's kingdom growing.
Fr. Rathan Almedia
Phone : (Mobile) 9448815328
email : firstname.lastname@example.org