Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux: October 1st, October 3rd in the Traditional Calendar

The saint who was born Therese Martin in Alcenon, France at the end of the nineteenth century is one of the most beloved saints of our time. Now known as St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower, and St. Therese of the Child of Jesus, she is the patron of illness, specifically AIDS sufferers and those with tuberculosis; florists; France; missionaries; and those who have lost parents.

Born to faithful Catholic parents, Blesseds Louis and Azelie-Marie, Therese was one of nine children, only five of which lived beyond childhood; all of these were girls, and Therese was the youngest. The sisters were very close, and in time, all of them would become nuns.
Therese’s early years, according to her writings, were ones of innocent bliss. At the tender age of four, however, her dear mother died. Therese’s remarkable sisters, strong in their faith, took up their mother’s mantle, and Therese looked upon them as second mothers. However, five years later, the family suffered another parting when Pauline, the eldest daughter, left home to become a Carmelite nun. About this time, Therese began to have the stirrings of a desire to join the religious life, herself.

Four years later, Marie, Therese’s second eldest sister joined the Carmelites, as well. By this time, Therese was certain of her vocation and longed to join the convent with all her heart, but she waited until the following year to tell her beloved father of her desire. Louis Martin, already bereft of his wife and two daughters, was heartbroken at the thought of Therese, his precious baby, leaving him. Yet, he readily consented, a holy man in his own right who was only too willing to give all that he had—even his entire family—to God. But, it wasn’t that simple. No girl as young as Therese had ever entered Carmel. She was forced to wait as the decision to admit her or not was debated among the Church authorities in Lisieux.

A few months later, Therese’s father took her and her sister Celine on a pilgrimage to Notre Dame in Paris and from there to celebrate Pope Leo XIII’s jubilee in Rome. Therese was introduced to the Pope at her audience with him as “a girl who wants to join Carmel at fifteen.” Hoping to beg the Holy Father himself to permit her admission at such a young age, Therese was devastated when Pope Leo told her simply, “If the good God wills, you will enter,” before she was ushered on to another room. Still, Therese’s great disappointment did not have to be born long. By the end of the year, she received permission from her Bishop to enter the Carmel at Lisieux.

From the moment she entered the convent, Sr. Therese of the Child of Jesus astounded all with her remarkable character, her “majestic” bearing, and her burning desire to serve God. But, Therese never considered herself remarkable. Rather, she saw herself as quite childlike, plagued by childish temptations and impulses to sin, and utterly dependent on God. “I do as a child who has not learned to read,” she wrote of herself. “I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands.” And again, she said, “I am a very little soul, who can offer only very little things to the Lord.”

Yet, it was in these “very little things” that her sainthood lay. No sin was too small to be conquered, no mercy or act of compassion too small to bestow, and her diaries and letters--often written under direct command of her superior, for Therese thought her writings of little consequence--were to warrant her the title of Doctor of the Church. St. Therese’s writings have been inspirational to millions, particularly those who have suffered, as she did, what St. John of the Cross termed a “dark night of the soul.”

Sr. Therese of the Child of Jesus spent nine and a half years in the Carmel at Lisieux. Though always of poor health, she gratefully kept the austerities of the Carmelite. The prioress said of young Therese, “A soul of such mettle must not be treated like a child. Dispensations are not meant for her.” But, Therese’s health continued to deteriorate through the years. Meanwhile, she was plunged into her dark night of the soul. She could no longer sense God’s presence, and she suffered dreadfully. Yet, in her small way, Therese continued to turn every fiber of her being over to Jesus and served him with all her might. Sr. Therese was to become mistress of novices, a role she performed with profound compassion and wisdom. She continued to write at the demand of her superior almost right up to her death, though she dreaded the task.

Therese succumbed to tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-four. At the moment of her death, the cloud of her dark night was lifted, and Therese stretched out her hands with a look of bliss upon her face and uttered her final words: “My Jesus, I love you.” This was the message of her whole life.

When her writings were published posthumously, Therese’s “little way” was instantly recognized by the Catholic world as a valuable teaching. So profound was its message and so remarkable was the little nun who gave it that the Pope dispensed with the rules which prevent canonization from beginning until fifty years after death. Only twenty-six years after St. Therese parted this world, she was beatified by Pope Piux XI, and he pronounced her a saint in 1925.

Her feast day is October 1st.

Here are just a few ideas for how to honor and celebrate this amazing saint in your home:
  • St. Therese was deeply passionate about bringing souls to Christ, and she prayed fervently for missionaries. She even corresponded with a young missionary priest, though such a thing was almost unprecedented for a Carmelite nun. Consider giving a donation to a favorite missionary cause, and do take time to pray for the mission fields all over the world.
  • If you personally know someone who does not have a relationship with God, consider sharing the Gospel message with them. Commit this person to St. Therese’s intercession in prayer.
  • Therese’s “little way” teaches us that it is in the small, everyday places that God often finds us and where we can best serve him. Therese once wrote of finding God in a jam sandwich! Consider serving some jam sandwiches for lunch today, especially if you have young children. It’s the perfect time of year to crack open a jar of homemade jam, if you were canning this summer, but any kind will do.
  • I’m going to be making this Rose Cake from Catholic Cuisine in honor of the Little Flower, as St. Therese is sometimes called, to serve at a mother’s ministry that I am co-leading at our parish. Our first session is on Therese’s feast, so we are dedicating our group to her intercession. Our theme will be “Meeting God in the Little Ways,” a very appropriate theme for mothers. As a mom, I certainly share St. Therese’s conviction that I am only capable of serving God in the little things.
  • Read aloud from any of St. Therese’s remarkable writings. Her thoughts are rather like Holy Scripture: deeply profound, and yet simple enough for the littlest child. Why not choose an excerpt or two to add to your family devotions on October 1st?
  • In the morning, commit your day to St. Therese’s intercession. Then, strive your hardest to live her “little way.” Be conscious of all those little temptations you usually ignore or routinely give in to; resist them, and lift them up as sacrifices to Jesus. Find little ways to bless those around you today, and perform small, good deeds without seeking to be noticed or acknowledged for them.
  • Celebrate St. Therese’s French heritage by whipping up a meal from her native country’s excellent culinary repertoire. Despite its undeserved reputation for being fussy and expensive, much traditional French cooking is actually quite economical and easy to make. Why not serve some French toast for breakfast? Or maybe whip up a simple cheese soufflĂ© (surprisingly c’est du gateau) with a salad of fresh greens and a baguette for a light supper? Uncork a bottle of your favorite wine, and bon appĂ©tit!


  1. I am a baptized member of the United Methodist Church, but I have had these Catholic experiences slipping into my daily prayer life. I am not ready to make the leap, and I just keep praying that God will lead me wherever it is He wants me, but I appreciate the information I have found on your blog.


    1. I am praying for you, Anonymous! I was named after St. Therese, and have learned a great deal from her throughout my life. She and St. Teresa of Avila were both Doctors of the Church. I am praying that you have come "home" to the Catholic Church, and if not yet, that you will soon. I encourage you to check out the stories of Dr. Scott Hahn, and his wife, Kimberly. They were militants against the Catholic Church, but after studying (which we encourage wholeheartedly), they came home. Scott wrote a book entitled "Rome Sweet Home." He is a leading spokesperson in the Catholic Church now, and very inspiring. God bless you!

  2. Hi, Bethany~
    I just had to let you know that while all my other plants have given up on blooming for the year, my one little white rosebush was absolutely covered in blooms today! And that's despite the fact that it's been in the 40's here at night all week. I didn't understand why, until I read your post today.


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