The least among you all is the greatest
An argument started between the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child and set him by his side and then said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.’
John spoke up. ‘Master,’ he said ‘we saw a man casting out devils in your name, and because he is not with us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘You must not stop him: anyone who is not against you is for you.’
The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back: blessed be the name of the Lord
One day the Sons of God came to attend on the Lord, and among them was Satan. So the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Round the earth,’ he answered ‘roaming about.’ So the Lord asked him, ‘Did you notice my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil.’ ‘Yes,’ Satan said ‘but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he? Have you not put a wall round him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.’ ‘Very well,’ the Lord said to Satan ‘all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.’ So Satan left the presence of the Lord.
On the day when Job’s sons and daughters were at their meal and drinking wine at their eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job. ‘Your oxen’ he said ‘were at the plough, with the donkeys grazing at their side, when the Sabaeans swept down on them and carried them off. Your servants they put to the sword: I alone escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘The fire of God’ he said ‘has fallen from the heavens and burnt up all your sheep, and your shepherds too: I alone escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘The Chaldaeans,’ he said ‘three bands of them, have raided your camels and made off with them. Your servants they put to the sword: I alone escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘Your sons and daughters’ he said ‘were at their meal and drinking wine at their eldest brother’s house, when suddenly from the wilderness a gale sprang up, and it battered all four corners of the house which fell in on the young people. They are dead: I alone escaped to tell you.’
Job rose and tore his gown and shaved his head. Then falling to the ground he worshipped and said:
‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I shall return.
The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!’
In all this misfortune Job committed no sin nor offered any insult to God.
Source: Jerusalem Bible
Catechism of the Catholic Church
1716 The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. They take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven.
1717 The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
Turn your ear to me, O Lord; hear my words.
Lord, hear a cause that is just,
pay heed to my cry.
Turn your ear to my prayer:
no deceit is on my lips.
Turn your ear to me, O Lord; hear my words.
From you may my judgement come forth.
Your eyes discern the truth.
You search my heart, you visit me by night.
You test me and you find in me no wrong.
Turn your ear to me, O Lord; hear my words.
I am here and I call, you will hear me, O God.
Turn your ear to me; hear my words.
Display your great love, you whose right hand saves
your friends from those who rebel against them.
Turn your ear to me, O Lord; hear my words.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French: Sainte-Thérèse de Lisieux), born Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897), also known as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, O.C.D., was a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun who is widely venerated in modern times. She is popularly known as “The Little Flower of Jesus” or simply “The Little Flower”.
Thérèse has been a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics and for others because of the “simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life”. Together with Saint Francis Xavier, she is one of the most popular saints in the history of the church. Pope Saint Pius X called her “the greatest saint of modern times”.
Thérèse felt an early call to religious life, and overcoming various obstacles, in 1888 at the early age of 15, she became a nun and joined two of her elder sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years as a Carmelite religious, having fulfilled various offices such as sacristan and assistant to the novice mistress, and having spent her last eighteen months in Carmel in a night of faith, she died at aged 24, following a slow and painful fight against tuberculosis.
Her feast day is 1 October (3 October in the extraordinary form). Thérèse is well known throughout the world, with the Basilica of Lisieux being the second-largest place of pilgrimage in France after Lourdes.
She was born in Rue Saint-Blaise, Alençon, in France on 2 January 1873, the daughter of Marie-Azélie Guérin, (usually called Zélie), and Louis Martin, a jeweler and watchmaker. Both her parents were devout Catholics who would eventually become the first (and to date only) married couple canonized together by the Roman Catholic Church (in 2015).
Louis had tried to become a canon regular, wanting to enter the Great St Bernard Hospice, but had been refused because he knew no Latin. Zélie, possessed of a strong, active temperament, wished to serve the sick, and had also considered entering consecrated life, but the prioress of the canonesses regular of the Hôtel-Dieu in Alençon had discouraged her enquiry outright. Disappointed, Zélie learned the trade of lacemaking. She excelled in it and set up her own business on Rue Saint-Blaise at age 22.
Louis and Zélie met in early 1858 and married on July 13 of that same year at the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Alençon. At first they decided to live as brother and sister in a perpetual continence, but when a confessor discouraged them in this, they changed their lifestyle and had nine children. From 1867-70 they lost 3 infants and five year old Hélène. All five of their surviving daughters became nuns:)
‘A dreamer and brooder, an idealist and romantic, [the father] gave touching and naïve pet names [to his daughters]: Marie was his diamond, Pauline his noble pearl, Céline the bold one..But Thérèse was his petite reine, little queen, to whom all treasures belonged”.
Zélie was so successful in manufacturing lace that by 1870 Louis had sold his watchmaking shop to a nephew and handled the traveling and bookkeeping end of his wife’s lacemaking business.
Birth and infancy
Soon after her birth in January 1873, the outlook for the survival of Thérèse Martin was very grim. Because of her frail condition, she was entrusted to a wet nurse, Rose Taillé, who had already nursed two of the Martin children. Rose had her own children and could not live with the Martins, so Thérèse was sent to live with her in the forests of the Bocage at Semallé.
On Holy Thursday, 2 April 1874, when she was 15 months old, she returned to Alençon where her family surrounded her with affection. “I hear the baby calling me Mama! as she goes down the stairs. On every step, she calls out Mama! and if I don’t respond every time, she remains there without going either forward or back.” (Madame Martin to Pauline, 21 November 1875) She was educated in a very Catholic environment, including Mass attendance at 5:30 AM, the strict observance of fasts, and prayer to the rhythm of the liturgical year. The Martins also practiced charity, visiting the sick and elderly and welcoming the occasional vagabond to their table. Even if she wasn’t the model little girl her sisters later portrayed, Thérèse was very sensitive to this education. She played at being a nun. Described as generally a happy child, she was emotional too, and often cried: “Céline is playing with the little one with some bricks… I have to correct poor baby who gets into frightful tantrums when she can’t have her own way. She rolls in the floor in despair believing all is lost. Sometimes she is so overcome she almost chokes. She’s a nervous child, but she is very good, very intelligent, and remembers everything.” At 22, Thérèse, then a Carmelite, admitted: “I was far from being a perfect little girl”.
From 1865 Zelie had complained of breast pain and in December 1876 a doctor told her of the seriousness of the tumour. Feeling the approach of death Madame Martin had written to Pauline in spring 1877, “You and Marie will have no difficulties with her upbringing. Her disposition is so good. She is a chosen spirit.” In June 1877 she left for Lourdes hoping to be cured, but the miracle did not happen..”The Mother of God has not healed me because my time is up, and because God wills me to repose elsewhere than on the earth.” On 28 August 1877, Zélie died, aged 45. Her funeral was conducted in the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Alençon. Thérèse was barely 4 1/2 years old. Her mother’s death dealt her a severe blow and later she would consider that “the first part of her life stopped that day”.
She wrote: “Every detail of my mother’s illness is still with me, specially her last weeks on earth.” She remembered the bedroom scene where her dying mother received the last sacraments while Thérèse knelt and her father cried. She wrote: “When Mummy died, my happy disposition changed. I had been so lively and open; now I became diffident and oversensitive, crying if anyone looked at me. I was only happy if no one took notice of me… It was only in the intimacy of my own family, where everyone was wonderfully kind, that I could be more myself.”
Three months after Zélie died, Louis Martin left Alençon, where he had spent his youth and marriage, and moved to Lisieux in the Calvados Department of Normandy, where Zélie’s pharmacist brother, Isidore Guérin lived with his wife and their two daughters, Jeanne and Marie. In her last months Zélie had given up the lace business; after her death, Louis sold it. Louis leased a pretty, spacious country house, Les Buissonnets, situated in a large garden on the slope of a hill overlooking the town. Looking back, Thérèse would see the move to Les Buissonnets as the beginning of the “second period of my life, the most painful of the three: it extends from the age of four-and-a-half to fourteen, the time when I rediscovered my childhood character, and entered into the serious side of life”.In Lisieux, Pauline took on the role of Thérèse’s Mama. She took this role seriously, and Thérèse grew especially close to her, and to Céline, the sister closest to her in age.
Thérèse was taught at home until she was eight and a half, and then entered the school kept by the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of Notre Dame du Pre in Lisieux. Thérèse, taught well and carefully by Marie and Pauline, found herself at the top of the class, except for writing and arithmetic. However, because of her young age and high grades, she was bullied. The one who bullied her the most was a girl of fourteen who did poorly at school. Thérèse suffered very much as a result of her sensitivity, and she cried in silence. Furthermore, the boisterous games at recreation were not to her taste. She preferred to tell stories or look after the little ones in the infants class. “The five years I spent at school were the saddest of my life, and if my dear Céline had not been with me I could not have stayed there for a single month without falling ill.” Céline informs us, “She now developed a fondness for hiding,she did not want to be observed, for she sincerely considered herself inferior”.On her free days she became more and more attached to Marie Guérin, the younger of her two cousins in Lisieux. The two girls would play at being anchorites, as the great Teresa had once played with her brother. And every evening she plunged into the family circle. “Fortunately I could go home every evening and then I cheered up. I used to jump on Father’s knee and tell him what marks I had, and when he kissed me all my troubles were forgotten…I needed this sort of encouragement so much.” Yet the tension of the double life and the daily self-conquest placed a strain on Thérèse. Going to school became more and more difficult.
When she was nine years old, in October 1882, her sister Pauline, who had acted as a “second mother” to her, entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux. Thérèse was devastated. She understood that Pauline was cloistered and that she would never come back. “I said in the depths of my heart: Pauline is lost to me!” The shock reawakened in her the trauma caused by her mother’s death. She also wanted to join the Carmelites, but was told she was too young. Yet Thérèse so impressed Mother Marie Gonzague, the prioress at the time of Pauline’s entry to the community that she wrote to comfort her, calling Thérèse “my future little daughter”.
At this time, Thérèse was often sick; she began to suffer from nervous tremors. The tremors started one night after her uncle took her for a walk and began to talk about Zélie. Assuming that she was cold, the family covered Therese with blankets, but the tremors continued; she clenched her teeth and could not speak. The family called Dr. Notta, who could make no diagnosis. In 1882, Dr. Gayral diagnosed that Thérèse “reacts to an emotional frustration with a neurotic attack”.
An alarmed, but cloistered, Pauline began to write letters to Thérèse and attempted various strategies to intervene. Eventually Thérèse recovered after she had turned to gaze at the statue of the Virgin Mary placed in Marie’s room, where Thérèse had been moved. She reported on 13 May 1883 that she had seen the Virgin smile at her. She wrote: “Our Blessed Lady has come to me, she has smiled upon me. How happy I am.” However, when Thérèse told the Carmelite nuns about this vision at the request of her eldest sister Marie, she found herself assailed by their questions and she lost confidence. Self-doubt made her begin to question what had happened. “I thought I had lied – I was unable to look upon myself without a feeling of profound horror.” “For a long time after my cure, I thought that my sickness was deliberate and this was a real martyrdom for my soul”. Her concerns over this continued until November 1887.
In October 1886 her oldest sister, Marie, entered the same Carmelite monastery, adding to Thérèse’s grief. The warm atmosphere at Les Buissonnets, so necessary to her, was disappearing. Now only she and Céline remained with their father. Her frequent tears made some friends think she had a weak character and the Guérins indeed shared this opinion.
Thérèse also suffered from scruples, a condition experienced by other saints such as Alphonsus Liguori, also a Doctor of the Church and Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. She wrote: “One would have to pass through this martyrdom to understand it well, and for me to express what I experienced for a year and a half would be impossible”.
Complete conversion: Christmas 1886
Christmas Eve of 1886 was a turning point in the life of Thérèse; she called it her “complete conversion.” Years later she stated that on that night she overcame the pressures she had faced since the death of her mother and said that “God worked a little miracle to make me grow up in an instant … On that blessed night … Jesus, who saw fit to make Himself a child out of love for me, saw fit to have me come forth from the swaddling clothes and imperfections of childhood”.
That night, Louis Martin and his daughters, Léonie, Céline and Thérèse, attended the midnight mass at the cathedral in Lisieux— “but there was very little heart left in them. On 1 December, Léonie, covered in eczema and hiding her hair under a short mantilla, had returned to Les Buissonnets after just seven weeks of the Poor Clares regime in Alençon”, and her sisters were helping her get over her sense of failure and humiliation. Back at Les Buissonnets as every year, Thérèse “as was the custom for French children, had left her shoes on the hearth, empty in anticipation of gifts, not from Father Christmas but from the Child Jesus, who was imagined to travel through the air bearing toys and cakes.” While she and Celine were going up the stairs she heard her father, “perhaps exhausted by the hour, or this reminder of the relentless emotional demands of his weepy youngest daughter”, say with some irritation “Therese is far too old for this now. Fortunately this will be the last year!” Thérèse had begun to cry and Céline advised her not to go back downstairs immediately. Then, suddenly, Thérèse pulled herself together and wiped her tears. She ran down the stairs, knelt by the fireplace and unwrapped her surprises as jubilantly as ever. In her account, nine years later, of 1895 : “In an instant Jesus, content with my good will, accomplished the work I had not been able to do in ten years.” After nine sad years she had “recovered the strength of soul she had lost” when her mother died and, she said, “she was to retain it forever”. She discovered the joy in self-forgetfulness and added, “I felt, in a word, charity enter my heart, the need to forget myself to make others happy—Since this blessed night I was not defeated in any battle, but instead I went from victory to victory and began, so to speak, “to run a giant’s course” (Psalms 19:5).
According to Ida Görres, “Thérèse instantly understood what had happened to her when she won this banal little victory over her sensitivity, which she had borne for so long; …freedom is found in resolutely looking away from oneself.. and the fact that a person can cast himself away from himself reveals again that being good, victory is pure grace, a sudden gift..It cannot be coerced, and yet it can be received only by the patiently prepared heart”. Biographer Kathryn Harrison: “After all, in the past she had tried to control herself, had tried with all her being and had failed. Grace, alchemy, masochism: through whatever lens we view her transport, Thérèse’s night of illumination presented both its power and its danger. It would guide her steps between the mortal and the divine, between living and dying, destruction and apotheosis. It would take her exactly where she intended to go”.
The character of the saint and the early forces that shaped her personality have been the subject of analysis, particularly in recent years. Apart from the family doctor who observed her in the 19th century, all other conclusions are inevitably speculative. For instance, author Ida Görres, whose formal studies had focused on church history and hagiography, wrote a psychological analysis of the saint’s character. Some authors suggest that Thérèse had a strongly neurotic aspect to her personality for most of her life.
Imitation of Christ, Rome, and entry to Carmel
Before she was fourteen, when she started to experience a period of calm, Thérèse started to read The Imitation of Christ. She read the Imitation intently, as if the author traced each sentence for her: “The Kingdom of God is within you… Turn thee with thy whole heart unto the Lord; and forsake this wretched world: and thy soul shall find rest.” She kept the book with her constantly and wrote later that this book and parts of another book of a very different character, lectures by Abbé Arminjon on The End of This World, and the Mysteries of the World to Come, nourished her during this critical period. Thereafter she began to read other books, mostly on history and science.
In May 1887, Thérèse approached her 63-year-old father Louis, who was recovering from a small stroke, while he sat in the garden one Sunday afternoon and told him that she wanted to celebrate the anniversary of “her conversion” by entering Carmel before Christmas. Louis and Thérèse both broke down and cried, but Louis got up, gently picked a little white flower, root intact, and gave it to her, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it until that day. Thérèse later wrote: “while I listened I believed I was hearing my own story”. To Therese, the flower seemed a symbol of herself, “destined to live in another soil”. Thérèse renewed her attempts to join the Carmel, but the priest-superior of the monastery would not allow it on account of her youth.
For her journey to Mgr Hugonin, Bishop of Bayeux, to seek permission to enter Carmel at Christmas 1887 Thérèse had put up her hair for the first time, a symbol for being “grown-up”. A photograph taken in April 1888 shows a fresh, firm, girlish face..The familiar flowing locks are combed sternly back and up, piled in a hard little chignon on the top of her head.
During the summer, French newspapers were filled with the story of Henri Pranzini, convicted of the brutal murder of two women and a child. To the outraged public Pranzini represented all that threatened the decent way of life in France. In July and August 1887 Thérèse prayed hard for the conversion of Pranzini, so his soul could be saved, yet Pranzini showed no remorse. At the end of August, the newspapers reported that just as Pranzini’s neck was placed on the guillotine, he had grabbed a crucifix and kissed it three times. Thérèse was ecstatic and believed that her prayers had saved him. She continued to pray for Pranzini after his death.
In November 1887, Louis took Céline and Thérèse on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome for the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. The cost of the trip enforced a strict selection, a quarter of the pilgrims belonged to the nobility. The birth, in 1871, of the French Third Republic had marked a decline of the conservative right’s power. Forced onto the defensive, the royalist bourgeoisie perceived a strong Church as an important means of safeguarding France’s integrity and its future. The rise of a militant nationalist Catholicism, a trend that would, in 1894, result in the anti-Semitic scapegoating and trumped-up treason conviction of Alfred Dreyfus was a development that Thérèse did not at all perceive. Still a sheltered child, Thérèse lived in ignorance of political events and motivations.
She did notice, however, the ‘social ambition and vanity’, adding “Céline and I found ourselves mixing with members of the aristocracy; but we were not impressed..the words of the Imitation, ‘do not be solicitous for the shadow of a great name’, were not lost on me, and I realised that real nobility is in the soul, not in a name”. On 20 November 1887, during a general audience with Leo XIII, Thérèse, in her turn, approached the Pope, knelt, and asked him to allow her to enter Carmel at 15. The Pope said: “Well, my child, do what the superiors decide…. You will enter if it is God’s Will” and he blessed Thérèse. She refused to leave his feet, and the Swiss Guard had to carry her out of the room.
The trip continued: they visited Pompeii, Naples, Assisi; then it was back via Pisa and Genoa. The pilgrimage of nearly a month came at a timely point for her burgeoning personality. She “learnt more than in many years of study”. For the first and last time in her life, she left her native Normandy. Notably she, “who only knew priests in the exercise of their ministry was in their company, heard their conversations, not always edifying—and saw their shortcomings for herself”.
She had understood that she had to pray and give her life for sinners like Pranzini. But Carmel prayed especially for priests and this had surprised her since their souls seemed to her to be “as pure as crystal”. A month spent with many priests taught her that they are “weak and feeble men”. She wrote later: “I met many saintly priests that month, but I also found that in spite of being above angels by their supreme dignity, they were none the less men and still subject to human weakness. If the holy priests, ‘the salt of the earth’, as Jesus calls them in the Gospel, have to be prayed for, what about the lukewarm? Again, as Jesus says, ‘If the salt shall lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?’ I understood my vocation in Italy.” For the first time too she had associated with young men. “In her brotherless existence, masculinity had been represented only by her father, her Uncle Guérin and various priests. Now she had her first and only experiences. Céline declared at the beatification proceedings that one of the young men in the pilgrimage group “developed a tender affection for her”. Thérèse confessed to her sister, “It is high time for Jesus to remove me from the poisonous breath of the world…I feel that my heart is easily caught by tenderness, and where others fall, I would fall too. We are no stronger than the others”. Soon after that, the Bishop of Bayeux authorized the prioress to receive Thérèse. On 9 April 1888 she became a Carmelite postulant.
The Little Flower in Carmel
The monastery Thérèse entered was an old-established house with a great tradition. In 1838 two nuns from the Poitiers Carmel had been sent out to found the house of Lisieux. One of them, Mother Geneviève of St Teresa, was still living when Thérèse entered… the second wing, containing the cells and sickrooms in which she was to live and die, had been standing only ten years… “What she found was a community of very aged nuns, some odd and cranky, some sick and troubled, some lukewarm and complacent. Almost all of the sisters came from the petty bourgeois and artisan class. The Prioress and Novice Mistress were of old Norman nobility. Probably the Martin sisters alone represented the new class of the rising bourgeoisie”.
The Carmelite order had been reformed in the sixteenth century by Teresa of Ávila, essentially devoted to personal and collective prayer. The nuns of Lisieux followed a strict regimen that allowed for only one meal a day for seven months of the year, and little free time. Only one room of the building was heated.The times of silence and of solitude were many but the foundress had also planned for time for work and relaxation in common—the austerity of the life should not hinder sisterly and joyful relations. Founded in 1838, the Carmel of Lisieux in 1888 had 26 religious, from very different classes and backgrounds. For the majority of the life of Thérèse, the prioress would be Mother Marie de Gonzague, born Marie-Adéle-Rosalie Davy de Virville. When Thérèse entered the convent Mother Marie was 54, a woman of changeable humour, jealous of her authority, used sometimes in a capricious manner; this had for effect, a certain laxity in the observance of established rules. “In the sixties and seventies of the [nineteenth] century an aristocrat in the flesh counted for far more in a petty bourgeois convent than we can realize nowadays… the superiors appointed Marie de Gonzague to the highest offices as soon as her novitiate was finished… in 1874 began the long series of terms as Prioress”.
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Thérèse’s time as a postulant began with her welcome into the Carmel, Monday, 9 April 1888.She felt peace after she received communion that day and later wrote, “At last my desires were realized, and I cannot describe the deep sweet peace which filled my soul. This peace has remained with me during the eight and a half years of my life here, and has never left me even amid the greatest trials”.CITEREFSaint_ThérèseTaylor_(tr.)2006
From her childhood, Thérèse had dreamed of the desert to which God would some day lead her. Now she had entered that desert. Though she was now reunited with Marie and Pauline, from the first day she began her struggle to win and keep her distance from her sisters. Right at the start Marie de Gonzague, the prioress, had turned the postulant Thérèse over to her eldest sister Marie, who was to teach her to follow the Divine Office. Later she appointed Thérèse assistant to Pauline in the refectory. And when her cousin Marie Guerin also entered, she employed the two together in the sacristy.
Thérèse adhered strictly to the rule which forbade all superfluous talk during work. She saw her sisters together only in the hours of common recreation after meals. At such times she would sit down beside whomever she happened to be near, or beside a nun whom she had observed to be downcast, disregarding the tacit and sometimes expressed sensitivity and even jealousy of her biological sisters. “We must apologize to the others for our being four under one roof”, she was in the habit of remarking. “When I am dead, you must be very careful not to lead a family life with one another…I did not come to Carmel to be with my sisters; on the contrary, I saw clearly that their presence would cost me dear, for I was determined not to give way to nature.”
Although the novice mistress, Sister Marie of the Angels, found Thérèse slow, the young postulant adapted well to her new environment. She wrote, “Illusions, the Good Lord gave me the grace to have none on entering Carmel. I found religious life as I had figured, no sacrifice astonished me.” She sought above all to conform to the rules and customs of the Carmelites that she learnt each day with her four religious of the novitiate.
She chose a spiritual director, a Jesuit, Father Pichon. At their first meeting, 28 May 1888, she made a general confession going back over all her past sins. She came away from it profoundly relieved. The priest who had himself suffered from scruples, understood her and reassured her.A few months later, he left for Canada, and Thérèse would only be able to ask his advice by letter and his replies were rare. (On 4 July 1897, she confided to Pauline, ‘Father Pichon treated me too much like a child; nonetheless he did me a lot of good too by saying that I never committed a mortal sin.’) During her time as a postulant, Thérèse had to endure some bullying from other sisters because of her lack of aptitude for handicrafts and manual work. Sister St Vincent de Paul, the finest embroiderer in the community made her feel awkward and even called her ‘the big nanny goat’. Thérèse was in fact the tallest in the family, 1.62 metres (approx. 5’3″). Pauline, the shortest, was no more than 1.54m tall (approx.5′).
Like all religious she discovered the ups and downs related to differences in temperament, character, problems of sensitivities or infirmities. After nine years she wrote plainly, “the lack of judgment, education, the touchiness of some characters, all these things do not make life very pleasant. I know very well that these moral weaknesses are chronic, that there is no hope of cure”. But the greatest suffering came from outside Carmel. On 23 June 1888, Louis Martin disappeared from his home and was found days later, in the post office in Le Havre. The incident marked the onset of her father’s decline. He died on July 29, 1894.
Novitiate (10 January 1889 – 24 September 1890)
The end of Thérèse’s time as a postulant arrived on the January 10, 1889, with her taking of the habit. From that time she wore the ‘rough homespun and brown scapular, white wimple and veil, leather belt with rosary, woollen ‘stockings’, rope sandals”. Her father’s health having temporarily stabilized he was able to attend, though twelve days after her ceremony her father suffered a stroke and was taken to a private sanatorium, the Bon Sauveur at Caen, where he remained for three years before returning to Lisieux in 1892. In this period Thérèse deepened the sense of her vocation; to lead a hidden life, to pray and offer her suffering for priests, to forget herself, to increase discreet acts of charity. She wrote, “I applied myself especially to practice little virtues, not having the facility to perform great ones … In her letters from this period of her novitiate, Thérèse returned over and over to the theme of littleness, referring to herself as a grain of sand, an image she borrowed from Pauline…’Always littler, lighter, in order to be lifted more easily by the breeze of love.’ The remainder of her life would be defined by retreat and subtraction”.
She absorbed the work of John of the Cross, spiritual reading uncommon at the time, especially for such a young nun. “Oh! what insights I have gained from the works of our holy father, St. John of the Cross! When I was seventeen and eighteen, I had no other spiritual nourishment…” She felt a kinship with this classic writer of the Carmelite Order (though nothing seems to have drawn her to the writing of Teresa of Avila), and with enthusiasm she read his works, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, the Way of Purification, the Spiritual Canticle, the Living Flame of Love. Passages from these writings are woven into everything she herself said and wrote. The fear of God, which she found in certain sisters, paralyzed her. “My nature is such that fear makes me recoil, with LOVE not only do I go forward, I fly”.
With the new name a Carmelite receives when she enters the Order, there is always an epithet – example, Teresa of Jesus, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Anne of the Angels. The epithet singles out the Mystery which she is supposed to contemplate with special devotion. “Thérèse’s names in religion – she had two of them – must be taken together to define her religious significance”. The first name was promised to her at nine, by Mother Marie de Gonzague, of the Child Jesus, and was given to her at her entry into the convent. In itself, veneration of the childhood of Jesus was a Carmelite heritage of the seventeenth century – it concentrated upon the staggering humiliation of divine majesty in assuming the shape of extreme weakness and helplessness. The French Oratory of Jesus and Pierre de Bérulle renewed this old devotional practice. Yet when she received the veil, Thérèse herself asked Mother Marie de Gonzague to confer upon her the second name of the Holy Face.
Sisters of the Reparation of the Holy Face Sisters of the Holy Face Oratory of the Holy Face Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus Veronican Sisters of the Holy Face Missionary Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus Holy Face Brothers
During the course of her novitiate, contemplation of the Holy Face had nourished her inner life. This is an image representing the disfigured face of Jesus during His Passion. And she meditated on certain passages from the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 53). Six weeks before her death she remarked to Pauline, “The words in Isaiah: ‘no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty,…one despised, left out of all human reckoning; How should we take any account of him, a man so despised (Is 53:2-3) – these words were the basis of my whole worship of the Holy Face. I, too, wanted to be without comeliness and beauty..unknown to all creatures.”On the eve of her profession she wrote to Sister Marie, “Tomorrow I shall be the bride of Jesus ‘whose face was hidden and whom no man knew’ – what a union and what a future!”. The meditation also helped her understand the humiliating situation of her father.
Usually the novitiate preceding profession lasted a year. Sister Thérèse hoped to make her final commitment on or after 11 January 1890 but, considered still too young for a final commitment, her profession was postponed. She would spend eight months longer than the standard year as an unprofessed novice. As 1889 ended, her old home in the world Les Buissonnets, was dismantled, the furniture divided among the Guérins and the Carmel. It was not until 8 September 1890, aged 17 and a half, that she made her religious profession. The retreat in anticipation of her “irrevocable promises” was characterized by “absolute aridity” and on the eve of her profession she gave way to panic. “What she wanted was beyond her. Her vocation was a sham”.
Reassured by the novice mistress and mother Marie de Gonzague, the next day her religious profession went ahead, ‘an outpouring of peace flooded my soul, “that peace which surpasseth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) Against her heart she wore her letter of profession written during her retreat. “May creatures be nothing for me, and may I be nothing for them, but may You, Jesus, be everything! Let nobody be occupied with me, let me be looked upon as one to be trampled underfoot…may Your will be done in me perfectly … Jesus, allow me to save very many souls; let no soul be lost today; let all the souls in purgatory be saved..” On September 24, the public ceremony followed filled with ‘sadness and bitterness’. “Thérèse found herself young enough, alone enough, to weep over the absence of Bishop Hugonin, Père Pichon, in Canada; and her own father, still confined in the asylum”. But Mother Marie de Gonzague wrote to the prioress of Tours, “The angelic child is seventeen and a half, with the sense of a 30 year old, the religious perfection of an old and accomplished novice, and possession of herself, she is a perfect nun”.
The Discreet life of a Carmelite (September 1890 – February 1893)
The years which followed were those of a maturation of her vocation. Thérèse prayed without great sensitive emotions, she multiplied the small acts of charity and care for others, doing small services, without making a show of them. She accepted criticism in silence, even unjust criticisms, and smiled at the sisters who were unpleasant to her. She prayed always much for priests, and in particular for Father Hyacinthe Loyson, a famous preacher who had been a Sulpician and a Dominican novice before becoming a Carmelite and provincial of his order, but who had left the Catholic Church in 1869. Three years later he married a young Protestant widow, with whom he had a son. After excommunication had been pronounced against him, he continued to travel round France giving lectures. While clerical papers called Loyson a “renegade monk” and Leon Bloy lampooned him, Thérèse prayed for her “brother”. She offered her last communion, 19 August 1897, for Father Loyson.
The chaplain of the Carmel, Father Youf insisted a lot on the fear of Hell. The preachers of spiritual retreats at that time did not refrain from stressing sin, the sufferings of purgatory, and those of hell. This did not help Thérèse who in 1891 experienced, “great inner trials of all kinds, even wondering sometimes whether heaven existed.” One phrase heard during a sermon made her weep—”No one knows if they are worthy of love or of hate.” But the retreat of October 1891 was preached by Father Alexis Prou, a Franciscan from Saint-Nazaire. “He specialized in large crowds (he preached in factories) and did not seem the right person to help Carmelites. Just one of them found comfort from him, Sister Thèrèse of the Child Jesus…[his] preaching on abandonment and mercy expanded her heart”.
This confirmed Thérèse in her own intuitions. She wrote, “My soul was like a book which the priest read better than I did. He launched me full sail on the waves of confidence and love which held such an attraction for me, but upon which I had not dared to venture. He told me that my faults did not offend God.” Her spiritual life drew more and more on the Gospels that she carried with her at all times. The piety of her time was fed more on commentaries, but Thérèse had asked Céline to get the Gospels and the Epistles of St Paul bound into a single small volume which she could carry on her heart. She said, “But it is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my hours of prayer, for in them I find what is necessary for my poor little soul. I am constantly discovering in them new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings.”
More and more Thérèse realised that she felt no attraction to the exalted heights of “great souls”. She looked directly for the word of Jesus, which shed light on her prayers and on her daily life. Thérèse’s retreat in October 1892 pointed out to her a “downward” path. If asked where she lived, she reflected, must not she be able to answer with Christ, “The foxes have their lairs, the birds of heaven their nests, but I have no place to rest my head.” (Matthew 8:20). She wrote to Céline (letter 19 October 1892), “Jesus raised us above all the fragile things of this world whose image passes away. Like Zacchaeus, we climbed a tree to see Jesus and now let us listen to what he is saying to us. Make haste to descend, I must lodge today at your house. Well, Jesus tells us to descend?” “A question here of the interior,” she qualified in her letter, lest Céline think she meant renouncing food or shelter. “Thérèse knew her virtues, even her love, to be flawed, flawed by self, a mirror too clouded to reflect the divine.” She continued to seek to discover the means, “to more efficiently strip herself of self”. “No doubt, [our hearts] are already empty of creatures, but, alas, I feel mine is not entirely empty of myself, and it is for this reason that Jesus tells me to descend.”
Election of Mother Agnes
On 20 February 1893, Pauline was elected prioress of Carmel and became “Mother Agnes”. She appointed the former prioress novice mistress and made Thérèse her assistant. The work of guiding the novices would fall primarily to Thérèse. She repeated how important respect for the Rule was: “When any break the rule, this is not a reason to justify ourselves. Each must act as if the perfection of the Order depended on her personal conduct.” She also affirmed the essential role of obedience in religious life. She said, “When you stop watching the infallible compass [of obedience], as quickly the mind wanders in arid lands where the water of grace is soon lacking.”
Over the next few years she revealed a talent for clarifying doctrine to those who had not received as much education as she. A kaleidoscope, whose three mirrors transform scraps of coloured paper into beautiful designs, provided an inspired illustration for the Holy Trinity. “As long as our actions, even the smallest, do not fall away from the focus of Divine Love, the Holy Trinity, symbolized by the three mirrors, allows them to reflect wonderful beauty. Jesus, who regards us through the little lens, that is to say, through Himself, always sees beauty in everything we do. But if we left the focus of inexpressible love, what would He see? Bits of straw … dirty, worthless actions”.”Another cherished image was that of the newly invented elevator, a vehicle Thérèse used many times over to describe God’s grace, a force that lifts us to heights we can’t reach on our own”. Her sister Céline’s memoir is filled with numerous examples of the teacher Thérèse. “Céline: – ‘Oh! When I think how much I have to acquire!’ Thérèse: – ‘Rather, how much you have to lose! Jesus Himself will fill your soul with treasures in the same measure that you move your imperfections out of the way.” And Céline recalled a story Thérèse told about egotism. ‘The 28 month old Thérèse visited Le Mans and was given a basket filled with candies, at the top of which were two sugar rings. ‘Oh! How wonderful! There is a sugar ring for Céline too!’ On her way to the station however the basket overturned, and one of the sugar rings disappeared. ‘Ah, I no longer have any sugar ring for poor Céline!’ Reminding me of the incident she observed; ‘See how deeply rooted in us is this self-love! Why was it Céline’s sugar ring, and not mine, that was lost?' Martha of Jesus, a novice who spent her childhood in a series of orphanages and who was described by all as emotionally unbalanced, with a violent temper, gave witness during the beatification process of the ‘unusual dedication and presence of her young teacher. “Thérèse deliberately ‘sought out the company of those nuns whose temperaments she found hardest to bear.’ What merit was there in acting charitably toward people whom one loved naturally? Thérèse went out of her way to spend time with, and therefore to love, the people she found repellent. It was an effective means of achieving interior poverty, a way to remove a place to rest her head”
In September 1893, Thérèse, having been a professed novice for the standard three years, asked not to be promoted but to continue a novice indefinitely. As a novice she would always have to ask permission of the other, full sisters. She would never be elected to any position of importance. Remaining closely associated with the other novices, she could continue to care for her spiritual charges. In 1841 Jules Michelet devoted the major part of the fifth volume of his History of France to a favourable presentation of the epic of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans. Felix Dupanloup worked relentlessly for the glorification of Joan who, on 8 May 1429 had liberated Orléans, the city of which he became bishop in 1849. Thérèse wrote two plays in honour of her childhood heroine, the first about Joan’s response to the heavenly voices calling her to battle, the second about her resulting martyrdom.
1894 brought a national celebration of Joan of Arc. On 27 January, Leo XIII authorized the introduction of her cause of beatification, declaring Joan, the shepherdess from Lorraine ‘venerable’. Thérèse used Henri Wallon’s history of Joan of Arc – a book her uncle Isidore had given to the Carmel – to help her write two plays, ‘pious recreations’, “small theatrical pieces performed by a few nuns for the rest of the community, on the occasion of certain feast days.” The first of these, The Mission of Joan of Arc was performed at the Carmel on 21 January 1894, and the second Joan of Arc Accomplishes her Mission, exactly one year later, on 21 January 1895. In the estimation of one of her biographers, Ida Görres, they “are scarcely veiled self-portraits”. On 29 July 1894, Louis Martin died.
The discovery of the “little way”
Thérèse entered the Carmel of Lisieux with the determination to become a saint. But, by the end of 1894, six full calendar years as a Carmelite made her realize how small and insignificant she was. She saw the limitations of all her efforts. She remained small and very far off from the unfailing love that she would wish to practice. She understood then that it was on this very littleness that she must learn to ask God’s help. Along with her camera, Céline had brought notebooks with her, passages from the Old Testament, which Thérèse did not have in Carmel. (The Louvain Bible, the translation authorized for French Catholics, did not include an Old Testament). In the notebooks Thérèse found a passage from Proverbs that struck her with particular force: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me” (9:4).
From the Book of Isaiah 66:12-13, she was struck by another passage: “you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you. As one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you.” She concluded that Jesus would carry her to the summit of sanctity. The smallness of Thérèse, her limits, became in this way grounds for joy, more than discouragement. It is only in Manuscript C of her autobiography that she gave to this discovery the name of little way, petite voie.
I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.
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 Therese is the foundation of her spirituality. Within the Catholic Church Thérèse’s way was known for some time as “the little way of spiritual childhood,”] but Thérèse actually wrote “little way” only three times, and she never wrote the phrase “spiritual childhood.” It was her sister Pauline who, after Thérèse’s death, adopted the phrase “the little way of spiritual childhood” to interpret Thérèse’s path. Years after Thérèse’s death, a Carmelite of Lisieux asked Pauline about this phrase and Pauline answered spontaneously “But you know well that Thérèse never used it! It is mine.” In May 1897, Thérèse wrote to Father Adolphe Roulland, “My way is all confidence and love.” To Maurice Bellière she wrote, “and I, with my way, will do more than you, so I hope that one day Jesus will make you walk by the same way as me.”
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.
Offering to merciful love
At the end of the second play that Thérèse had written on Joan of Arc, the costume she wore almost caught fire. The alcohol stoves used to represent the stake at Rouen set fire to the screen behind which Thérèse stood. Thérèse did not flinch but the incident marked her. The theme of fire would assume an increasingly great place in her writings. On 9 June 1895, during a mass celebrating the feast of the Holy Trinity, Thérèse had a sudden inspiration that she must offer herself as a sacrificial victim to merciful love. At this time some nuns offered themselves as a victim to God’s justice. In her cell she drew up an ‘Act of Oblation’ for herself and for Céline, and on 11 June, the two knelt before the miraculous Virgin and Thérèse read the document she had written and signed. In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask you lord to count my works.. According to biographer Ida Görres the document echoed the happiness she had felt when Father Alexis Prou, the Franciscan preacher, had assured her that her faults did not cause God sorrow. In the Oblation she wrote, “If through weakness I should chance to fall, may a glance from Your Eyes straightway cleanse my soul, and consume all my imperfections – as fire transforms all things into itself”.
In August 1895 the four Martin sisters were joined by their cousin, Marie Guerin, in religion, Sister Marie of the Eucharist. Léonie, after several attempts, became Sister Françoise-Thérèse, a nun in the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary at Caen, where she died in 1941.
At age 14, she understood her vocation to pray for priests, to be “an apostle to apostles”. In September 1890, at her canonical examination before she professed her religious vows, she was asked why she had come to Carmel. She answered “I came to save souls, and especially to pray for priests”. Throughout her life she prayed fervently for priests, and she corresponded with and prayed for a young priest, Adolphe Roulland, and a young seminarian, Maurice Bellière. She wrote to her sister “Our mission as Carmelites is to form evangelical workers who will save thousands of souls whose mothers we shall be.”
In October 1895 a young seminarian and subdeacon of the White Fathers, Abbé Bellière, asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a nun who would support – by prayer and sacrifice – his missionary work, and the souls that were in the future to be entrusted to him. Mother Agnes designated Thérèse. She never met Father Bellière but ten letters passed between them.
A year later Father Adolphe Roulland (1870–1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions requested the same service of the Lisieux Carmel. Once more Thérèse was assigned the duties of spiritual sister. “It is quite clear that Thérèse, in spite of all her reverence for the priestly office, in both cases felt herself to be the teacher and the giver. It is she who consoles and warns, encourages and praises, answers questions, offers corroboration, and instructs the priests in the meaning of her little way”.
The final years
Thérèse’s final years were marked by a steady decline that she bore resolutely and without complaint. Tuberculosis was the key element of Thérèse’s final suffering, but she saw that as part of her spiritual journey. After observing a rigorous Lenten fast in 1896, she went to bed on the eve of Good Friday and felt a joyous sensation. She wrote: “Oh! how sweet this memory really is! … I had scarcely laid my head upon the pillow when I felt something like a bubbling stream mounting to my lips. I didn’t know what it was.” The next morning her handkerchief was soaked in blood and she understood her fate. Coughing up of blood meant tuberculosis, and tuberculosis meant death. She wrote, “I thought immediately of the joyful thing that I had to learn, so I went over to the window. I was able to see that I was not mistaken. Ah! my soul was filled with a great consolation; I was interiorly persuaded that Jesus, on the anniversary of His own death, wanted to have me hear His first call!”
Thérèse corresponded with a Carmelite mission in what was then French Indochina and was invited to join them, but, because of her sickness, could not travel. As a result of tuberculosis, she suffered terribly. When she was near death, “Her physical suffering kept increasing so that even the doctor himself was driven to exclaim, “Ah! If you only knew what this young nun was suffering!” During the last hours of Thérèse’s life, she said, “I would never have believed it was possible to suffer so much, never, never!” In July 1897, she made a final move to the monastery infirmary. On August 19, 1897, she received her last communion. She died on 30 September 1897, aged 24. On her death-bed, she is reported to have said, “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.” Her last words were, “My God, I love you!”
Thérèse was buried on 4 October 1897, in the Carmelite plot, in the municipal cemetery at Lisieux, where her parents had been buried. Her body was exhumed in September 1910 and the remains placed in a lead coffin and transferred to another tomb. In March 1923, however, before she was beatified, her body was returned to the Carmel of Lisieux, where it remains. The figure of Thérèse in the glass coffin is not her actual body but a gisant statue based on drawings and photos by Céline after Thérèse’s death. It contains her ribcage and other remnants of her body.
To the right and to the left, I throw to my little birds the good grain that God places in my hands. And then I let things take their course! I busy myself with it no more.Sometimes, it’s just as though I had thrown nothing; at other times, it does some good. But God tells me: ‘Give, give always, without being concerned with the results’.
Together with Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the most popular Roman Catholic saints since apostolic times. She is approachable, due in part to her historical proximity. Barbara Stewart, writing for The New York Times, once called Thérèse “…the Emily Dickinson of Roman Catholic sainthood”.
As a Doctor of the Church, she is the subject of much theological comment and study, and, as a young woman whose message has touched the lives of millions, she remains the focus of much popular devotion. She was a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century because of the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life.
Thérèse was devoted to Eucharistic meditation and on 26 February 1895, shortly before she died wrote from memory and without a rough draft her poetic masterpiece “To Live by Love” which she had composed during Eucharistic meditation. During her life, the poem was sent to various religious communities and was included in a notebook of her poems.
Thérèse lived a hidden life and “wanted to be unknown”, yet became popular after her death through her spiritual autobiography. She also left letters, poems, religious plays, prayers, and her last conversations were recorded by her sisters. Paintings and photographs – mostly the work of her sister Céline – further led to her becoming known.
Thérèse said on her death-bed, “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence”, and she spoke out against some of the claims made concerning the Lives of saints written in her day, “We should not say improbable things, or things we do not know. We must see their real, and not their imagined lives”. The depth of her spirituality, of which she said, “my way is all confidence and love”, has inspired many believers. In the face of her littleness she trusted in God to be her sanctity. She wanted to go to heaven by an entirely new little way. “I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus”. The elevator, she wrote, would be the arms of Jesus lifting her in all her littleness.
The devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was promoted by another Carmelite nun, Sister Marie of St Peter in Tours, France in 1844. Then by Leo Dupont, also known as the Apostle of the Holy Face who formed the “Archconfraternity of the Holy Face” in Tours in 1851. Therese joined this confraternity on April 26, 1885. Her parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, had also prayed at the Oratory of the Holy Face, originally established by Dupont in Tours.This devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was based on images of the Veil of Veronica, as promoted by Dupont, rather than the Shroud of Turin, which image first appeared on a photographic negative in 1898.
On 10 January 1889, she was given the habit and received the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus. On 8 September 1890, Thérèse took her vows. The ceremony of taking the veil followed on the 24th, when she added to her name in religion, “of the Holy Face”, a title which was to become increasingly important in the development and character of her inner life. In his “A l’ecole de Therese de Lisieux: maitresse de la vie spirituelle, “Bishop Guy Gaucher emphasizes that Therese saw the devotions to the Child Jesus and to the Holy Face as so completely linked that she signed herself “Therese de l’Enfant Jesus de la Sainte Face”—Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face. In her poem “My Heaven down here”, composed in 1895, Therese expressed the notion that by the divine union of love, the soul takes on the semblance of Christ. By contemplating the sufferings associated with the Holy Face of Jesus, she felt she could become closer to Christ. She wrote the words “Make me resemble you, Jesus!” on a small card and attached a stamp with an image of the Holy Face. She pinned the prayer in a small container over her heart.
Thérèse wrote many prayers to express her devotion to the Holy Face. In August 1895, in her “Canticle to the Holy Face,” she wrote:”Jesus, Your ineffable image is the star which guides my steps. Ah, You know, Your sweet Face is for me Heaven on earth. My love discovers the charms of Your Face adorned with tears. I smile through my own tears when I contemplate Your sorrows.”
Thérèse emphasised God’s mercy in both the birth and the passion narratives in the Gospel. She wrote, “He sees it disfigured, covered with blood!… unrecognizable!… And yet the divine Child does not tremble; this is what He chooses to show His love”.
She composed the “Holy Face Prayer for Sinners”, “Eternal Father, since Thou hast given me for my inheritance the adorable Face of Thy Divine Son, I offer that face to Thee and I beg Thee, in exchange for this coin of infinite value, to forget the ingratitude of souls dedicated to Thee and to pardon all poor sinners.” Over the decades, her poems and prayers helped to spread the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.
Autobiography – The Story of a Soul
St. Thérèse is best known today for her spiritual memoir, L’histoire d’une âme (The Story of a Soul). It is a compilation of three separate manuscripts. The first, in 1895 is a memoir of her childhood, written under obedience to the Prioress, Mother Agnes of Jesus, her older sister Pauline. Mother Agnes gave the order after being prompted by their eldest sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart.
The second is a three-page letter, written in September 1896, at the request of her eldest sister Marie, who, aware of the seriousness of Thérèse’s illness, asked her to set down her “little doctrine”. In June 1897, Mother Agnes asked Mother Marie de Gonzague, who had succeeded her as prioress, to allow Thérèse to write another memoir with more details of her religious life, (ostensibly as a help in the later composition of an anticipated obituary).
While on her deathbed Thérèse made a number of references to the book’s future appeal and benefit to souls. She authorized Pauline to make any changes deemed necessary. It was heavily edited by Pauline (Mother Agnes), who made more than seven thousand revisions to Therese’s manuscript and presented it as a biography of her sister. Aside from considerations of style, Mother Marie de Gonzague had ordered Pauline to alter the first two sections of the manuscript to make them appear as if they were addressed to Mother Marie as well. The book was sent out as the customary “circular” advising other Carmels of a nuns death and requesting their prayers. However, it received a much wider circulation, a copies were lent out and passed around.\
Since 1973, two centenary editions of Thérèse’s original, unedited manuscripts, including The Story of a Soul, her letters, poems, prayers and the plays she wrote for the monastery recreations have been published in French. ICS Publications has issued a complete critical edition of her writings: Story of a Soul, Last Conversations, and the two volumes of her letters were translated by John Clarke, O.C.D.; The Poetry of Saint Thérèse by Donald Kinney, O.C.D.; The Prayers of St. Thérèse by Alethea Kane, O.C.D.; and The Religious Plays of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by David Dwyer and Susan Conroy.
Development of the cultus of St. Thérèse
Céline Martin entered the Lisieux convent on 14 September 1894. With Mother Agnes’ permission, she brought her camera to Carmel, and developing materials. “The indulgence was not by any means usual. Also outside of the normal would be the destiny of those photographs Céline would make in the Carmel, images that would be scrutinized and reproduced too many times to count. Even when the images are poorly reproduced, her eyes arrest us. Described as blue, described as gray, they look darker in photographs. Céline’s pictures of her sister contributed to the extraordinary cult of personality that formed in the years after Thérèse’s death”.
In 1902, the Polish Carmelite Father Raphael Kalinowski (later Saint Raphael Kalinowski) translated her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, into Polish. As early as 1912 Father Thomas N. Taylor, a teacher at the Diocese of Glasgow seminary, wrote a short hagiography on Thérèse, two years before the case for her canonization would be opened. Taylor went on to become a significant proponent of devotion to “The Little Flower” in Scotland. As pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Carfin, Lanarkshire, he built a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes and included a small shrine honoring St. Thérèse with a statue donated by the Legion of Mary. Carfin became a sight of pilgrimages.
The canonization of Saint Thérèse in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
The impact of The Story of a Soul, a collection of her autobiographical manuscripts, printed and distributed a year after her death to an initially very limited audience, was significant. Pope Pius XI made her the “star of his pontificate”.] Pius X signed the decree for the opening of the process of canonization on 10 June 1914.
Pope Benedict XV, in order to hasten the process, dispensed with the usual fifty-year delay required between death and beatification. On 14 August 1921, he promulgated the decree on the heroic virtues of Thérèse declaring her “Venerable”. She was beatified on 29 April 1923.
Therese was canonized on 17 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death. Thérèse was declared a saint five years and a day after Joan of Arc. However, the 1925 celebration for Thérèse “far outshone” that for the legendary heroine of France. At the time, Pope Pius XI revived the old custom of covering St. Peter’s with torches and tallow lamps. According to one account, “Ropes, lamps and tallows were pulled from the dusty storerooms where they had been packed away for 55 years. A few old workmen who remembered how it was done the last time — in 1870 — directed 300 men for two weeks as they climbed about fastening lamps to St. Peter’s dome.” The New York Times ran a front-page story about the occasion titled, “All Rome Admires St. Peter’s Aglow for a New Saint”. According to the Times, over 60,000 people, estimated to be the largest crowd inside St. Peter’s Basilica since the coronation of Pope Saint Pius X, 22 years before, witnessed the canonization ceremonies. In the evening, 500,000 pilgrims pressed into the lit square.
She rapidly became one of the most popular saints of the twentieth century. Her feast day was added to the General Roman Calendar in for celebration on October 3. In 1969, 42 years later, Pope Paul VI moved it to October 1, the day after her dies natalis (birthday to heaven).
Thérèse of Lisieux is the patron saint of aviators, florists, illness(es) and missions. She is also considered by Catholics to be the patron saint of Russia, although the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize either her canonization or her patronage. In 1927, Pope Pius XI named Thérèse co-patron of the missions, with Saint Francis Xavier. In 1944 Pope Pius XII decreed her a co-patron of France with Saint Joan of Arc. The principal patron of France is the Blessed Virgin Mary.
By the Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia (The Science of Divine Love) of 19 October 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II declared her the thirty-third Doctor of the Church,, the youngest person, and one of only four women so named, the others being Teresa of Ávila (Saint Teresa of Jesus), Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Siena.
Devotion to Thérèse has developed around the world. According to some biographies of Édith Piaf, in 1922 the singer — at the time, an unknown seven-year-old girl — was cured from blindness after a pilgrimage to the grave of Thérèse, who at the time was not yet formally canonized.
Canonization of her parents
Zelie and Louis Martin were the first spouses to be proposed for canonization as a couple and the first to be canonized together. In 2004, the Archbishop of Milan accepted the unexpected cure of Pietro Schiliro, an Italian child born near Milan in 2002 with a lung disorder, as a miracle attributable to their intercession. Announced by Cardinal Saraiva Martins on 12 July 2008, at the ceremonies marking the 150th anniversary of the marriage of the Venerable Zelie and Louis Martin, their beatification as a couple took place on 19 October 2008, in Lisieux.
In 2011 the letters of Blessed Zélie and Louis Martin were published in English as A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, 1863–1885. On 7 January 2013, in Valencia, Spain, the diocesan process opened to examine a “presumed miracle” attributed to their intercession: the healing of a newborn girl, Carmen Pérez Pons, who was born prematurely four days after their beatification and who inexplicably recovered from severe bleeding of the brain and other complications.
On 21 May 2013, the diocesan process to examine the miracle closed and the dossier was sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. Louis and Zélie Martin were canonized on 18 October 2015.