Who was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux?
Thérèse Martin was born in Alençon, France on January 2nd 1873 to Zélie Guérin, a lacemaker, and Louis Martin, a jeweller and watchmaker. She was the youngest of five sisters all of whom entered religious life (four other siblings did not survive into adulthood). In 1888, at the age of fifteen, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux where she became known as Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She spent her entire adult life in the convent and remained a novice throughout.
She never went on missions, never founded a religious order, and never performed what are called ‘great works’. The only book of hers, published after her death, is an edited version of the journal which her sister Pauline (by this stage known as Mother Agnes of Jesus) had asked her to write. Begun in 1895 and never intended by Thérèse for publication, the journal was discovered by the sisters in the convent after her death on 30 September 1897 and its importance was soon realised. In the journal, published as the “Story of a Soul“, Thérèse outlined her ‘little way‘, a path which describes being a disciple of Christ by seeking holiness in the ordinary and the everyday.
Within 28 years of her death, the public interest in her was so great that she was canonized.
Since then generations of Catholics have admired and loved this young saint, known affectionately as the ‘Little Flower‘, and followed her ‘little way‘.
Why is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux so important?
In her quest for sanctity, she believed that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts, or great deeds, in order to attain holiness and to express her love of God. She wrote,
“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.”
This ‘little way‘ of Thérèse is the foundation of her spirituality. Thérèse wrote, “My way is all confidence and love.”
“Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles, surrounded by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires. I close the learned book which is breaking my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons; perfection seems simple; I see that it is enough to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself, like a child, into God’s arms. Leaving to great souls, to great minds, the beautiful books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because ‘only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.'”
Through this she developed an approach to the spiritual life that people of every background can understand and adopt. This is evident in her approach to prayer;
“For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus… I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers… I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me.”