Happy Feast of St. Therese!
Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin was born January 3rd, 1873, in Alencon, France, to Zelie and Louis Martin. Her father wrote a rather prophetic poem to commemorate her birth:
Smile and grow quickly
Everything promises you happiness
Tender care, tender Love
Yes, smile at the Dawn,
Bud that just blossomed,
One day you will be a Rose.
After a serious health scare in the first months of her life, she grew healthy, happy and lovely, the openly professed favorite of her sisters and her parents. After her mother died in 1877, Therese entered what she calls the "winter of her life". The death was very hard for her, as she says herself, "I must admit, Mother [Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus], my happy disposition completely changed after Mama's death. I, once so full of life, become timid and retiring, sensitive to an excessive degree." Still, surrounded by a very loving and tender family, her innocence and purity guarded very carefully by her father, she grew in piety and holiness from a very young age.
She remembers very clearly a turning point for her, when she says she "grew up in an intant", leaving behind her childish, overly-sensitive ways, to take on the strength and courage of Christ. "It was December 25, 1886, that I received the grace of leaving my childhood, in a word, the grace of my complete conversion." She says she "felt charity enter into my soul, and the need to forget myself and to please others, and since then, I've been happy."
Her desire to enter Carmel grew rapidly during this time, causing her to even go so far as pleading with the Pope for permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux earlier than normally permitted. After a period of intense waiting, she was finally granted permission by the Bishop, and entered Carmel April 9, 1888, at the age of 15.
St. Therese speaks of two great gifts she received in her years as a postulant and novice. Firstly, soon after her entrance, she made a general confession to Father Pichon, where he said, "In the presence of God, the Blessed Virgin, and all the saints, I DECLARE THAT YOU HAVE NEVER COMMITTED A MORTAL SIN.... Thank God for what He has done for you; had he abandoned you, instead of being a little angel, you would have become a little demon." St. Therese says, "I had no difficulty in believing it; I felt how weak and imperfect I was and gratitude flooded by soul. I had such a great fear of soiling my baptismal robe...."
Secondly, she says that "God permitted that [Mother Prioress Genevieve of St. Teresa] was VERY SEVERE without her even being aware of it. I was unable to meet her without having to kiss the floor, and it was the the same thing on those rare occasions when she gave me spiritual direction. What an inestimable grace!... What if I had become the "pet" of the community as some of the Sisters believed?" Instead, she says, "The little flower transplanted to Mount Carmel was to expand under the shadow of the cross. The tears and blood of Jesus were to be her dew, and her Sun was His adorable Face veiled with tears."
She was professed on September 8, 1890. "Mary's nativity! What a beautiful feast on which to become the spouse of Jesus! It was the little Blessed Virgin, one day old, who was presenting her little flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little that day except the graces and the peace I received...." From then until 1897, just a few months before her death, she participated fully in the life of the Lisieux Carmel, offering up her "little sufferings", learning what it means to love as Jesus loves, welcoming joyfully each and every trial. "Now, abandonment alone guides me. I have no other compass! I can no longer ask for anything with fervor except the accomplishment of God's will in my soul without any creature being able to set obstacles in the way."
In April, 1896, St. Therese had the first clear indication that she was suffering from tuberculosis, though she had been evincing smaller symptoms for two years prior. Knowing that she was in her last months, her sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, asked her to write one final chapter. "You asked me, dear Sister, to write to you my dream and 'my little doctrine' as you call it. I did this in the these following pages...." What follows is the analogy of the little bird, which is the best description of her Little Way. Also, she tells about her final joy:
"I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES... IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL!"
"Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love.... my vocation, at last I have found it.... MY VOCATION IS LOVE!"
Her 'little doctrine' flows from this, and can best be summarized in her own words, "I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love. I desire to suffer for love and even to rejoice through love; and in this way I shall strew flowers before Your throne."
From this time until her death 18 months later, her physical suffering was intense, but it was nothing in comparison to her spiritual and mental suffering due to a great trial of Faith, when she was given the grace to know the darkness of those who refuse to acknowledge the existence and Kingship of God. "During those joyful days of the Easter Season (1897), Jesus made me feel that there were really souls who have no faith, and who, through the abuse of grace, lost this precious treasure, the source of the only real and pure joys. He permitted my soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness, and that the thought of heaven, up until then so sweet to me, be no longer anything but the cause of struggle and torment. This trial was to last not a few days or a few weeks, it was not to be extinguished until the hour set by God Himself, and this hour has not yet come."
Even though burdened by this darkness, St. Therese continued to make many acts of Faith, "...while I do not have the joy of Faith, I am trying to carry out its works, at least."
This severe trial lasted until the day of her death. She was taken to God at about 7:20 in the evening of September 30th, 1897. Her last words, while gazing at a crucifix, were, "Oh! I love him. My God, I love you!"
She was canonized May 17, 1925, by Pope Pius XI.
St. Therese, ora pro nobis!
[This has been condensed from the Study Edition of "Story of a Soul, the Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux", translated by John Clarke O.C.D., prepared by Marc Foley O.C.D. ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, DC. 2005.]