October 1: Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor—Memorial
Patron Saint of foreign missions and missionaries, AIDS patients, air crews, florists, flower growers, and sick people
Invoked against illness, tuberculosis, and loss of parents
Canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925
Liturgical Color: White
How sweet was the first embrace of Jesus! It was indeed an embrace of love. I felt that I was loved, and I said: “I love Thee, and I give myself to Thee for ever.” Jesus asked nothing of me, and claimed no sacrifice; for a long time He and little Thérèse had known and understood one another. That day our meeting was more than simple recognition, it was perfect union. We were no longer two. Thérèse had disappeared like a drop of water lost in the immensity of the ocean; Jesus alone remained—He was the Master, the King! …And then my joy became so intense, so deep, that it could not be restrained; tears of happiness welled up and overflowed…all the joy of Heaven had come down into one heart, and that this heart, exiled, weak, and mortal as it was, could not contain it without tears. ~Saint Thérèse reflects on her First Holy Communion
For more than a century, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as “The Little Flower,” has captivated countless minds and hearts. Her simple and pure heart burned with a deep love for our Lord, and that love overflowed into the lives of many. She daily inspired those who knew her, and she continues to inspire those who read her story.
Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin was born on January 2, 1873, in Rue Saint-Blaise, Alençon, France, to Marie-Azélie Guérin (Zélie), and Louis Martin, a jeweler and watchmaker. Her mother, who often called Thérèse her “little angel,” died from breast cancer only a few months before Thérèse’s fifth birthday. But those early years with her mother had such an impact upon Thérèse that, in many ways, her mother remained with her, in her heart and mind, throughout her life. The love that mother and daughter shared was eternal.
Her father, Louis Martin, who called Thérèse his “little queen,” daily manifested his profound love for her, and she looked up to him as her “king.” As a child, Thérèse would spend hours with her father as he worked in the garden, desiring to be near him as often as she could. She would regularly accompany him on daily walks that always included a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at the nearby convent in Lisieux. She loved being in his presence and found the satisfaction of the love of God in his fatherly embrace. At age sixty-six, Louis suffered from two strokes, resulting in paralysis. He spent the next three years in a hospital and the final two years of his life at home in the care of his family. His daughters Céline and Léonie were his primary caregivers at home until June 24, 1893, when Léonie entered the Visitation Convent in Caen in a second attempt at religious life. Céline faithfully cared for their father during the last year of his life with the help of their uncle, a maid, and a male assistant until his death on July 29, 1894.
Thérèse had four living sisters and four siblings who died at an early age (three as infants and Hélène at age five). Her living sisters all entered religious life, three of them entering the same Carmelite convent in Lisieux as Thérèse. Marie became a Carmelite in Lisieux, taking the name Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. Pauline became Mother Agnes of Jesus in the Lisieux Carmel. Léonie became Sister Françoise-Thérèse, Visitandine at Caen. Her life of saintly virtue is currently under study for possible canonization. Céline also became a Carmelite in Lisieux, taking the name Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face.
The relationship that Thérèse had with her sisters was both typical and unique. The girls played together and sometimes fought with one another. Yet, the depth of their love and affection for one another transfigured what was otherwise a normal sibling relationship. Thérèse adored her sisters and loved being with them, and her love was reciprocated.
Thérèse’s entire family shared tender, affectionate, and unwavering love for one another. Their home was a true “school of love,” and the lessons of love were learned and lived in their home each and every day. In many ways, Thérèse learned about the love of God first and foremost through the love she experienced within her family.
Just before her fifteenth birthday, after overcoming many obstacles, Thérèse received permission from the Bishop of Bayeux to be received into the Carmelite convent. She formally entered as a postulant on April 9, 1888, at the age of fifteen. She embraced religious life and lived it with fervor and devotion, making her temporary vows on January 10, 1889, and her final vows on September 24, 1890. For the next seven years, Sister Thérèse lived the hidden and holy life of a Carmelite nun.
Just three years before she was to die, Sister Thérèse began to write her autobiography when she was twenty-one years old, under obedience to her sister Pauline who had recently been elected as Mother Superior, Mother Agnes of Jesus. This autobiography, The Story of a Soul, captures the beauty and profundity of her family life, offers beautiful insights into her vocation as a Carmelite nun, and reveals how devoted she was to Jesus, longing to be with Him forever in Heaven, even from the earliest moments of her childhood.
The first manuscript in The Story of a Soul includes Sister Thérèse’s childhood memories, as well as those from her first years as a religious sister. At age twenty-three, Sister Thérèse contracted tuberculosis and spent more than a year suffering greatly. It was during this time that Sister Thérèse added two more manuscripts to her autobiography. One was written for her sister Marie, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, who desired to hear more about Sister Thérèse’s spirituality. The final manuscript detailed her life as a religious sister and was written at the request of Mother Agnes of Jesus. Sister Thérèse wrote the final manuscript during the last year of her life after she contracted tuberculosis. She never finished this manuscript due to her diminishing health, but her sister, Sister Agnes of Jesus, kept a detailed notebook of Sister Thérèse’s last months, which was printed in a separate book called, Her Last Conversations. Also available in print is Letters of Sister Thérèse of Lisieux, much of which was first published under the title, General Correspondence. Lastly, Sister Thérèse was an avid writer of poetry, prayers, and plays, many of which are published in various formats.
Sister Thérèse died on September 30, 1897, surrounded by three of the Martin sisters as well as all of her religious sisters in the Carmelite convent of Lisieux. Her final words were, “Oh!… I love Him!… My God, I…love…Thee!”
As we honor this saint who has captivated the hearts and minds of so many, ponder the importance of family life. Some families are broken and divided; others are graced as schools of love. Saint Thérèse was blessed to be raised in a family that formed her deeply in the love of God and others. She was widely unknown outside of her family and religious community when she died, but God shared her precious soul with the world through her detailed autobiography and numerous letters. Allow her soul to touch yours by getting to know her through her writings. Seek her intercession so that she can fulfill her promise that her “Heaven will be spent doing good on earth.”
Saint Thérèse, as a child you fell in love with God while living within the school of love that was your family. Your love grew so intense that God took you to Himself at a young age, to be with Him forever. Please pray for me, that I will discover the same intensity of love that you did, so that I will also share in the glory in which you now share. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Taken from Lessons from Saint Thérèse: The Wisdom of God’s Little Flower: