St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
“Will you remember us?” she was asked when she lay dying. “Oh, I will come down… I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” Who said these daring words? They were uttered by a 24-year-old Carmelite Nun who was dying of consumption in the Lisieux Carmel. She became St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Thérèse Martin was born on January 2nd, 1873 at Alençon, France. She grew up in a loving and deeply religious family. All the children entered religious life, and the devout parents were recently beatified. When Thérèse was four and a half years old, her mother died. She changed from a sunny, lively child, into a timid and sensitive girl. Then when her favourite sister, Pauline, entered Carmel, she became even worse, and it took Our Lady’s smile to cure her of her resulting illness. Although she continued to grow in her love of God, Thérèse’s extreme sensitivity continued to hamper her until a special grace on Christmas Eve in 1886 changed her for good. At this point, she wanted to pursue her dream of entering the Lisieux Carmel, a dream she had cherished from the age of nine.
Wanting to enter at the early age of fifteen, she encountered much opposition, and in her determination, she even begged the Pope, Leo XIII, to grant her permission. Shortly after this, she did enter the Lisieux Carmel, on April 9, 1888. Here she found what she was looking for: a life of prayer and penance, accompanied by a tremendous peace. However, despite her desire was to become a saint, Thérèse discovered her weakness and inability to do so. Yet she believed that God wouldn’t inspire desires that He didn’t want to grant. So she needed to find a way. In reading the Old Testament, she came across these consoling words: “Whoever is a little one, let him come to me.” (Proverbs 9: 4), “God shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather together the lambs with his arm, and shall take them up in his bosom,” (Isaiah 4: 11) and also, “As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees they will caress you.” (Isaiah 66:12-13). And this led her to her discovery of the Little Way of spiritual childhood. She felt that her way of sanctity was surrender and trust in Jesus, like a child carried in its mother’s arms.
Through prayer, St. Thérèse perceived how Our Lord thirsts to pour His Love into our hearts, and often His Love is not welcomed. She longed to console Him by surrendering herself totally to His Love. On June 9, 1895, she made her oblation to Merciful Love with her novices. This act so increased her love that it caused her a veritable martyrdom. She wanted to suffer every martyrdom, to preach on all five continents, and to do everything for Christ. In reading St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12-13), she found her vocation, to be Love in the heart of the Church. In this discovery, she found her peace.
Sister Thérèse’s sister, Mother Agnes of Jesus, who was then Prioress, asked her to write down her childhood memories as a family souvenir. This became the basis of her autobiography, the Story of a Soul. After her death on September 30, 1897, this was published and it met immediate success.
St. Thérèse has been called the greatest saint of modern times, and her doctrine has been approved by many Popes. She was canonized on May 17, 1925; on December 14, Pope Pius XI proclaimed her Patroness of the Missions. And October 19, 1997 she was declared a Doctor of the Church.
Her feast day is celebrated on October1st.