Remembering St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus

Editor’s Note: October 1 is the Feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

“I will spend my heaven doing good on earth” (St. Thérèse of Lisieux).

Photography © by Andy Coan

How is it that those of us living today know anything at all about this young obscure nun, Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, who lived for nine years within a nondescript French convent more than a hundred years ago?

Why are her relics still traveling around the world today, where people on every continent wait in long lines for hours to kneel by them for a few moments and pray? What was written in those three manuscripts her superiors requested that she write, that are still on the bestseller list in 2010?

The answer lies in her relationship with God and how God permitted that her writings about that relationship were spread throughout the entire world after her death.

Here are some highlights of the life of Saint Therese. On January 2, 1893, Therese Martin was born in Alencon, France. She was the last of the nine children – only five lived, however – of Louis and Zelie Martin. Her short life lasted a mere twenty four years. She entered the cloistered discalced Carmelite nuns at age fifteen and remained there until her death from tuberculosis on September 30, 1897.

Living a hidden, simple life of prayer, she was gifted with a deep understanding of the importance of the little things in life. Her spirituality is so very appealing. It is called the Way of Spiritual Childhood or the Way of Confidence and Love.

Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is regarded the Catholic bestseller of the Twentieth Century. Considered by many to be the most popular saint of the 20th century, St. Therese was declared a saint in 1925 and a Doctor of the Church in 1997, on the hundredth anniversary of her death.

Her inspiration and powerful presence from heaven have touched many people very quickly. She transformed an age still recovering from the dire effects of Jansenism, which denied free will, maintained that human nature is incapable of good, and proclaimed an angry, unmerciful God. In her three manuscripts which became known as her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she wrote about a God of love, a kind father who delights in His children. She wrote about how she lived each day with an unshakable confidence in God’s love. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds, but great love.” Therese’s spirituality is one of doing the ordinary with extraordinary love.

Many people, places and causes have adopted her as their patroness. She is known as the patroness of missions and missionaries along with St. Francis Xavier; the co-patroness of France along with St. Joan of Arc; patron saint of Alaska and Russia; patroness of aviators, florists, and all who suffer the loss of their parents.

Her last words were, “My God, I love You!”

Pope St. Pius X acclaimed her “the greatest saint of modern times.”

“My mission – to make God loved – will begin after my death,” she said. “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.” Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese’s signature by many people throughout the years.

St. Thérèse: A Sister to Us All

by Sister Carmelina, O.C.D.

“At that time, I could understand ‘Flower Children’ more than ‘the Little Flower.’”

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Most people who know of St. Therese, “The Little Flower,” are acquainted with the popular image of a young Carmelite nun, standing bathed in a heavenly light, with a serene smile, holding a crucifix surrounded by cascading roses. This vision of peace will likely elicit the thought or impression that here is a saint that ‘walked the flower strewn path’ to holiness, somehow immune to the all too human weaknesses and brokenness that we sinners have to endure in our sin-pressed existence.

That is how I felt as a ‘boomer’ growing up in the 50s and 60s. I could understand the “Flower Children” more than “The Little Flower.” I could not have been farther from the reality; Subsequent study opened my eyes to the splendor of the “Little Way” and its practicality even for a “60s girl.” The way of confidence and love is the inspired spirituality for our cynical and materialistic era. This “Little Way or “Spiritual Childhood” is possible for everyone, if we only have the humility to see it.

St. Therese distilled the Gospel message, “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3) into practical, lived terms that everyone can understand. Her own life experiences of immense suffering and struggle were the means by which God led her to this profound Gospel expression. She went from being a high strung and emotionally volatile child to an overly sensitive and withdrawn child at the death of her mother; was saved from a near nervous breakdown caused by separation anxiety at losing her two older sisters (maternal surrogates); to the pain and loneliness of misunderstandings and social inadequacies in school; to overcoming all the obstacles to entering Carmel at 15 years old. And once she entered Carmel, she said that she experienced, “…more thorns than roses.” Yet, she allowed God to work in her life and soul in such a way that she could face the trials of her life with joy, confidence, trust and love.

At the end of her brief twenty-four years, Therese had passed through the “Dark Nights” and became a living witness to the Passion of her crucified Spouse. She lived a very ordinary life like you and me. She tells us that everything that happens to us can be material for holiness IF we give God permission to work in our lives.

We are all called to union with God, to self-forgetfulness, so that we can be filled with God. St. Therese gives us the hope that the ordinary struggles of life can be sanctifying. She shows us by her beautiful, simple and sisterly way that everything in life is material for love.

Is it time that you read or re-read her “Story of a Soul” with new eyes?

Please help us in our mission to assist readers to integrate their Catholic faith, family and work. Tell your family and friends about this article using both the Share and Recommend buttons below and via email. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors

To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, read their biography in the right sidebar and visit their website.

They publish a beautiful print magazine, Spirit of Carmel, and we encourage you to support the work of the sisters with your prayers and through donations and subscriptions to the Spirit of Carmel.

If you are able to help them, please click on the image of their magazine to visit their subscription and donation page.

If you hear God calling you to the religious life, I encourage you to visit their vocations page. – Deacon Mike

Or for more information, please contact:
Sister Grace Helena, OCD, Vocation Directress
920 East Alhambra Road
Alhambra, California 91801

Print this entry

About the Author

Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

Author Archive Page