St. Thérèse of Liseux

GREGORY A. SHEMITZ | TLIC
A statue at St. Therese of Lisieux Church, Montauk

“Hidden away in an obscure convent, she sensed she could help people outside those walls, and help the whole world, by being part of a hidden moral heart. And so she bore down in her private life and focused on making every action, no matter how small, pure and loving, believing that some universal power would flow forth from this private, hidden goodness.”

This quote from Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, is a beautiful beginning to the story of St. Thérèse of Liseux. It captures the essence of the spirituality of her “Little Way” to God. This unique soul, often referring to herself as Christ’s “Little Flower,” showed us in 24 short years a simple yet powerful way to live our lives in complete subjection to the will of God, through a vocation of love.
Born January 2, 1873 in Alencon, France, the youngest of five sisters (all to become nuns), little Thérèse was doted on by the entire family. Her mother died when she was only four, and her older sister Pauline cared for her as she would her own child. Thérèse became very attached to her, and when Pauline left the family to become a Carmelite, Thérèse fell into a deep depression and serious illness, having lost her “second mother.” But another mother came to her rescue: the Blessed Virgin Mary, who Thérèse tells us cured her with a loving glance.

Still, little Thérèse had a lot of personality to overcome! She describes herself during this period as “diffident and over-sensitive, crying if anyone looked at me.” Spoiled by a father who loved and protected her, she nonetheless believed in her heart that she also was called to the Carmelite community. Slowly, she learned to trust God more and more.  

After overcoming many obstacles, in 1888 she entered Carmel and became known as “Thérèse of the Child Jesus.” She continued her struggles to humble herself, confident that God loved her as she was: “What joy to remember that our Lord is just, that He makes allowances for all our shortcomings and knows full well how weak we are. What have I to fear then? Surely the God of infinite justice, who pardons the Prodigal Son with such mercy, will be just with me, who am always with him.”

She writes in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul”: “...I have always wanted to be a Saint; but compared with real Saints, I know perfectly well that I am no more like them than a grain of sand trodden beneath the feet of passersby is like a mountain with its summit lost in the clouds. Instead of allowing this to discourage me, I say to myself: ‘God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so, in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a Saint...I must put up with myself as I am, full of imperfections, but I will find a little way to Heaven, very short and direct, an entirely new way.” That Little Way gave hope to the world that we all can become saints: by offering up our trials, successes, joys, humiliations, everything which comes across our path to God, putting it in His hands where it will not be wasted, instead of scattering our pain and happiness indiscriminately on earth.

Thérèse had always said God’s Little Flower would not bloom long in this world; in 1896 she became ill, and died September 30, 1897. Before she died she wrote to Jesus: “Can You not, Yourself, reveal to others what You have revealed to me? I know You can, and I beg You to do so. I implore You, cast Your eyes upon a multitude of little souls; choose from this world, I beg of You, a legion of little victims worthy of Your love.”

Saints and our lives

“Prayer, for me, is simply a raising of the heart, a simple glance towards Heaven, an expression of love and gratitude in the midst of trial, as well as in times of joy; in a word, it is something noble and supernatural expanding my soul and uniting it to God.”

How many people have agonized over their prayers, unsure if they are being heard; yet here our Little Flower confidently tells us her secret — simply lift our thoughts and hearts heavenward, trusting that the Holy Spirit understands and even ennobles our thoughts, giving growth to them which will bless the entire world.

“I see now that true charity consists in bearing with the faults of those about us, never being surprised at their weaknesses, but edified at the least sign of virtue... I see that whenever I am charitable, it is Jesus alone who is acting through me and that the more closely I unite myself to Him, the more I will be able to love all my Sisters.”

How do we love the unlovable? St. Thérèse struggled with this, but she relied on Christ to give her the ability to not only endure, but often seek out those who may have irritated her. She tried to tell herself that if they failed in any regard, there must have been many times they succeeded but did not boast about it. In effect, she tried to look at everyone through the eyes of God, i.e., the eyes of love. We are also called by Christ to love others as He has loved us. Can we give family, friends, and even strangers the benefit of the doubt when we are offended, embarrassed or even betrayed? Thérèse knew we cannot on our own, but must allow Christ to act in us. The more we attempt to do this, the more we will be true evangelizers in the world.

Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Thérèse of Liseux,”  produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization.