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NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church and our Holy Father. This "little work" is purely a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu. ~ Peter


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saint of the Month - October 2011: Saint Therese of Lisieux


"I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth..."

St. Therese Martin of Lisieux
The Little Flower of Jesus - Feast: October 1st

Born in Alencon, France, on January 2, 1873, Marie Francoise-Therese Martin (Therese) was the youngest daughter of Louis and Marie-Azelie (Zelie) Martin.  The couple originally had nine children but only five daughters lived past their childhood.  These worthy parents were such excellent examples of piety to their daughters, all of them entered into religious life (4 were Carmelites, 1 became a Visitation nun)... and Louis and Zelie were eventually declared “Saints”, themselves, by the Catholic Church in October 2015; the first married couple to ever be canonized.

Our Lady of the Smile
Going back to St. Therese, she was self-described as somewhat stubborn and overly-sensitive as a child, characteristics which became more pronounced after her mother passed away from breast cancer when she was just a little girl of 4.  A few years later, at 10-years-old, a debilitating illness brought the child close to the brink of death, but she was miraculously cured through the intercession of Our Lady after a family statue of the Holy Virgin (right) smiled at her.

Three years later, a Christmas conversion experience instilled in Therese a new-found maturity and a sense of reflection, and she resolved to join two of her older sisters - Pauline and Louise - who had entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux.  She pleaded repeatedly with her father, and after finally obtaining a special dispensation to do so from her bishop, Therese entered the monastery in April 1888 at the age of 15-years-old; she professed vows on September 8, 1889.  (A fourth sister - Celine - later entered the same Carmel)

Therese acclimated well to religious life but faced challenges with a few of the other nuns who treated her condescendingly because of her age. Her sister, Pauline, was elected prioress (superior) of the monastery, and Pauline had a sense that there was something special about her younger sister.  The prioress ordered Therese to write her autobiography, which the novice reluctantly did.  It proved to be providential, as it was through this document that the world first came to know of the greatness of Therese’s soul.

In her writings, Therese referred to herself as a “little flower of Jesus”, and she laid out her personal plan on how she was going to sanctify her soul.  Fully aware of her limitations and frail health, she resolved to be childlike in her spirituality; to grow in holiness not by aspiring to do grand things for Jesus, but rather, by conscientiously doing “little” things for Him and accepting suffering in its various forms with all the love that she had to offer God.  Therese once wrote:

“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love?
Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering
flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word,
and the doing of the least actions for love.”

The nun's autobiography is filled with many examples of her day-to-day efforts to live out her “little way” such as times when she returned harsh criticism from other nuns with kind words, or endured some sort of discomfort or suffering without complaint.  By the time Therese’s early death occurred from painful tuberculosis on September 30, 1897, her soul was completely ablaze with the fire of Divine Love.  Her final sentence before dying was a heartfelt, “My God, I love you.”; words that summarized her manner of living.

"My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death."

The radiant face of a Saint in death: a photo taken shortly after St. Therese died in the
Carmelite Monastery of Lisieux, France.

Therese was just 24-years-old when she died, but her writings revealed a wisdom and maturity that was far beyond her youthfulness.  Her sister, Pauline, was convinced that her autobiography - “The Story of a Soul” - needed to be published and it was - one year later, on the anniversary of Therese's death.  It was first distributed within the network of Carmelite monasteries, where it quickly became a spiritual success before spreading outside the walls of Carmel and throughout the world.  Countless readers - past and present - found encouragement through Therese’s innovative mode of spirituality, which essentially reaffirmed the notion that holiness is indeed attainable for all.

“Holiness consists simply in doing God's will, 
and being just what God wants us to be.”

Prophetically recognizing the profound, positive impact Therese's teaching was having on souls during his time and would have in the future, Pope Pius X (d. 1914) was prompted to acclaim her, "The greatest saint of modern times."

Moreover, as Therese's life story began to circulate, her fame of sanctity also grew and the Carmel of Lisieux was inundated with reports of favors and cures attributed to her intercession.  This wave of wonders eventually led to the Little Flower being declared a Saint in 1925 and further recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1997.  Arguably, she remains one of the most popular Saints in Church history... and the favors she obtains from Jesus, her Divine Spouse, show no signs of abating even in our time.  It's become quite apparent that the Saint kept her word... and is spending her Heaven "doing good on earth".

A beautiful stained-glass window, depicting
St. Therese, in the Cathedral-Basilica of Honolulu.

"... I will let fall a shower of roses."

~ Words of St. Therese, the Little Flower

A Reflection
“…Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love at which we do them.”  ~ Words of St. Therese

A Short Prayer
Dear St. Therese, help us to follow your holy example through the little way.  Amen.

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