The Life of the Little Flower

By Matthew August

“God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

The task of becoming holy may seem daunting for many people. We hear story after story of the saints performing tremendous devotions, offering many sacrifices, and enduring much suffering to reach the heights of holiness. But one saint shows us another way.

On Oct. 1, Catholics remember the life of one of the most important saints of the 19th century. Although seemingly unremarkable, her life was eventually revealed to be filled with immense spiritual triumph. She is Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus. Through her life, God has given us a simple and powerful path to winning His Sacred Heart.

Therese was born on Jan. 2, 1873, in Alencon, France. Her parents were Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.

Zelie gave birth to nine children, yet only five daughters survived. Zelie was filled with sorrow when her last child was also found to be tremendously weak. The physicians feared she would not survive, but Divine Providence had plans for the child.

The baby’s name was Therese, and she proved herself to be tougher and more resilient than anyone had anticipated. Therese fought her illness and was well within a year, full of smiles and joy.

She was confident, mischievous, and incredibly stubborn in her younger years. Love for God pervaded the household, so Therese’s ardent love for Jesus grew, and her desire to please Him was nurtured.

However, these times of joy would not last. Therese’s mother died of cancer in 1877, when Therese was only 4. After enduring the trauma of her mother’s death, Therese’s happy and rambunctious disposition changed. She became timid and sensitive. The slightest provocation would send her into tears.

Young Therese was spiritually attacked with scruples and a constant feeling of guilt. She couldn’t escape these overbearing thoughts and believed every action to be a sin against God. She lived in constant fear of offending Jesus, and she couldn’t find any consolation from her misery.

“You cry so much during your childhood,” her peers would tell her. “You will no longer have tears to shed later on!”

After 10 years of this hardship, our Lord gave Therese a new heart on Christmas, 1886. On this day, Therese’s father made a remark that would’ve sent her to tears. Yet when the family braced themselves for the predictable outburst, it did not come. Therese could feel strength being imbued into her.

“My heart was filled with charity,” she recalled. “I forgot myself to please others and, in doing so, became happy myself.”

With her vitality restored, Therese set her sights on becoming a Carmelite and committing herself entirely to her true love, Jesus Christ. When she was 14, she approached the Carmelite Order and asked to enter. The spiritual director of the convent refused her and told her to come back when she was 21.

Refusing to give up, Therese rushed to Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux and pleaded with him to have her enter the monastery. The Bishop responded that they would wait to see what God had in store.

But Therese didn’t stop there.

It was Nov. 1887 and the Church was celebrating Pope Leo XIII’s Golden Jubilee. Therese travelled with her father to Rome, and when she was close enough to the Holy Father, Therese fell at his feet and cried out, “Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you! Holy Father, in honor of your jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of 15.”

He simply responded that Therese would enter if the Lord wills it. The guards had to carry the crying Therese out the door upon her refusal to leave the feet of the Pope.

In April 1888, God granted His daughter’s desire. Therese was admitted into the Lisieux Carmel at 15, where she took the name “Sister Therese of the Child Jesus.”

Upon entering the order, Therese was deeply affected by their practice of Jansenism, which reinforces a vision of God that is harsh and cold, while emphasizing human depravity. This practice would later be condemned by Pope Innocent X and deemed heresy.

The convent’s strict rules and teachings worsened Therese’s struggle with scrupulosity and guilt. She wrestled with her own littleness until she came to a resolve to find her own way to the Heart of Jesus.

“It is impossible for me to grow up, so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections,” she wrote. “But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short and totally new.”

The Little Way of St. Therese is all about performing our day-to-day tasks and actions with great love.

Through Therese, God showed us that when we abandon ourselves to Him like children, we become clean so that the Lord can shine through. We can have the child-like confidence to approach God without fear, knowing He wants to grant our heart’s desires.

That way, the littlest of souls can also be beautiful and holy before God.

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm,” explained St. Therese. “If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”

In 1896, Therese was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She eventually became bed-ridden and was instructed to keep a diary while she rested. The words she wrote would eventually become her world-famous book, the Story of a Soul. She died in 1897 at age 24.

Saint Therese, Little Flower and Doctor of the Church, pray for us!

Photo by Nick Castelli on Unsplash

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