St. Thérèse of Lisieux icon
September 2nd 2013
4.5 x 6 inches
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf“Truly I say to you, unless you change your lives and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”- Matthew 18:3"After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will raise up a mighty host of little saints. My mission is to make God loved..." - Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Happy Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus! In this image of the dear Carmelite saint, I tried to capture her likeness (I think I succeeded a little), and I drew her in a fairly traditional pose, holding a crucifix with an armful of roses. Some of the petals are floating downward, reminiscent of her words: “After my death, I shall let fall a shower of roses.”
I also have her holding a little booklet with the two images of her names in religion. She took the name “Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.”:+: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE SAINT :+:Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (January 2nd, 1873 — September 30th, 1897)
, otherwise known as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
or The Little Flower
, was born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in Alençon, France, to Blessed Louis Martin, a watchmaker, and his wife, Blessed Zélie Martin, a lace-maker. The couple had a total of nine children, though four died in their early childhood. The remaining five daughters (Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Céline and Thérèse) were all very tight-knit and affectionate. Surrounded by this trememndous love and affection, Thérèse grew into a beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed child who was everyone’s favorite. As a child, she was incredibly stubborn and threw terrible tantrums that exasperated her parents, but she was also very bright and marked for her honesty and frankness. When she was four, her mother Zélie died of breast cancer. The whole family was heartbroken, and their father moved them to Lisieux, France to be nearer to family. Thérèse later wrote: “When Mummy died, my happy disposition changed. I had been so lively and open; now I became diffident and oversensitive, crying if anyone looked at me.”
Her sister Pauline (twelve years her senior) became her new Mother. She and Marie educated the younger children, until they were sent to school at Notre Dame du Pre when Thérèse was about eight. Though Thérèse did very well academically (history and composition were her best subjects), she hated school because she was bullied and teased by older children. She later wrote: “The five years I spent at school were the saddest of my life, and if my dear Céline had not been with me I could not have stayed there for a single month without falling ill.”
When Thérèse was nine, Pauline entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, and Thérèse was again devastated by this loss of her “second Mother.” Thérèse soon became very ill and had bouts of strange nervous emotional attacks. She was cured of her neurotic illness on May 13th 1883, when a little statue of the Virgin Mary was placed at her bedside. She saw a vision in which the Virgin smiled, and she said: "Our Blessed Lady has come to me, she has smiled upon me. How happy I am."
On the Christmas of 1886, Thérèse experienced what she called her “Christmas Miracle.” The family had just come home, exhausted, from the midnight Christmas Eve Mass at Lisieux’s cathedral, and the thirteen-year-old Thérèse was excited to open her gifts. She was going up the stairs when her father (thinking her out of earshot) told Céline, "Well, fortunately this will be the last year!"
The emotionally fragile Thérèse began to cry, but suddenly seemed to pull herself together, went downstairs and happily opened all of her gifts without any further ado. She wrote later: "In an instant Jesus, content with my good will, accomplished the work I had not been able to do in ten years…I felt, in a word, charity enter my heart, the need to forget myself to make others happy - Since this blessed night I was not defeated in any battle, but instead I went from victory to victory and began, so to speak, "to run a giant's course."
Thérèse heard God’s call for her to become a Carmelite. In November 1887, their father took and Thérèse on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome for the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. Thérèse had asked permission to enter Carmel before, but because of her youth, they had refused her. She was determined to go to Rome and ask the Pope for permission. They managed to see the Pope, and she asked for him to let her enter at fifteen. The Holy Father told her: "Well, my child, do what the superiors decide.... You will enter if it is God's Will.”
Soon afterwards, her Bishop granted permission to the Carmelite prioress, and Thérèse became a Carmelite postulant on April 9th, 1888.
She began her life as a Carmelite postulant by learning the Divine Office, helping in the sacristy and in the refectory. She became a novice in January of 1889. She read many of the writings of the Carmelite mystics, studied the Scriptures intensely, and finally took her new name: Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She made her finally profession in September of 1890 when she was seventeen and a half. She found a great comfort in studying the Scriptures, saying: “It is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my hours of prayer...I am always gaining fresh insights and finding hidden and mysterious meanings.”
When her sister Pauline was elected prioress, she made Thérèse her assistant to the novice mistress. Thérèse had a great talent for teaching the young novices in her charge. On July 29, 1894, her father, Louis Martin died. Céline had cared for him while he suffered from paralyzing strokes and infirmities of the mind. After his death, Céline, too, entered Carmel. In 1894, Thérèse wrote two plays about one of her favorite heroines—Joan of Arc—and they were both performed at Carmel in January of 1985.
While in Carmel, Thérèse developed a spirituality of littleness and loving trust in God. She was greatly encouraged by Proverbs 9:4: “If anyone is a very little one, let him come to me.”
Thus began her “Little Way” of love and trust. On June 9, 1895, she felt inspired to offer herself up as an oblation to the Merciful Love of God. Thérèse also found her vocation as a sister to priests and spiritually adopted priests and seminarians who were serving in the missions, and prayed for them and wrote letters of guidance and encouragement to them. On Good Friday of 1896, she felt blood bubbling up from her lips, and understood that she had tuberculosis. She suffered terribly but with great patience. However, her greatest suffering was the dark night of the soul that enveloped her. She felt a night of darkness and doubts envelop her, so that her soul was tormented with the thoughts that God did not love her, of atheism, and the non-existence after death. Everything became bitterness to her, but she persevered in her love of God with great patience and tranquility, which impressed the other nuns taking care of her in the infirmary. Her last words were: “Oh my God, how I love you!”
She died from tuberculosis on September 30th 1897 at the age of 24. Her autobiography Story of a Soul
was published exactly a year later. She was canonized on May 17th 1925, and was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI on October 19th 1997.
“Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.
I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.
When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognized myself in none of the members which Saint Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favorably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.
Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.” - From the autobiography of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
In my own life, I’ve only recently come to the love the Little Flower. I cannot say I was ever really initially attracted to her. But, well, I think Thomas Merton puts it better than I ever could:
“The big present that was given to me, that October, in the order of grace, was the discovery that the Little Flower really was a saint, and not just a mute pious little doll in the imaginations of a lot of sentimental old women. And not only was she a saint, but a great saint, one of the greatest: tremendous! I owe her all kinds of public apologies and reparation for having ignored her greatness for so long: but to do that would take a whole book, and here I have only a few lines to give away…But what astonished me altogether was the appearance of a saint in the midst of all the stuffy, overplush, overdecorated, comfortable ugliness and mediocrity of the bourgeoisie…I first got interested in St. Therese of Lisieux by reading Gheon's sensible book about her — a fortunate beginning. If I had chanced on some of the other Little Flower literature that is floating around, the faint spark of potential devotion in my soul would have been quenched at once.
However, no sooner had I got a faint glimpse of the real character and the real spirituality of St. Therese, than I was immediately and strongly attracted to her — an attraction that was the work of grace, since, as I say, it took me, in one jump, clean through a thousand psychological obstacles and repugnances.
And here is what strikes me as the most phenomenal thing about her. She became a saint, not by running away from the middle class, not by abjuring and despising and cursing the middle class, or the environment in which she had grown up: on the contrary, she clung to it in so far as one could cling to such a thing and be a good Carmelite. She kept everything that was bourgeois about her and was still not incompatible with her vocation: her nostalgic affection for a funny villa called "Les Buissonnets," her taste for utterly oversweet art, and for little candy angels and pastel saints playing with lambs so soft and fuzzy that they literally give people like me the creeps…And she not only became a saint, but the greatest saint there has been in the Church for three hundred years — even greater, in some respects, than the two tremendous reformers of her Order, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila…
The discovery of a new saint is a tremendous experience…the saints are not mere inanimate objects of contemplation. They become our friends, and they share our friendship and reciprocate it and give us unmistakable tokens of their love for us by the graces that we receive through them. And so, now that I had this great new friend in heaven, it was inevitable that the friendship should begin to have its influence on my life.”
- Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain
Discover this wonderful saint for yourself. She is very eager to help everyone, and beneath the hideous sentimentality that well-meaning people have hedged her in in their bad hagiographies, lies a real treasure of depth and greatness. It's so humble that even from a glance, it's hard to see. I would personally highly recommend Fr. Jacques Philippe's The Way of Trust and Love
. The Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux is celebrated on October 1st. St. Thérèse is the patron saint of missionaries and the missions, France, florists, and those who suffer from tuberculosis. O God,
who opens your Kingdom
to those who are humble and to the little ones,
lead us to follow trustingly
in the Little Way of Saint Thérèse,
so that through her intercession
we may see your eternal glory revealed.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.