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Thérèse de Lisieux
Saint Thérèse de Lisieux (January 2, 1873 - September 30, 1897), or more properly Sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jésus ("Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus"), born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, was a Roman Catholic nun who was canonised as a saint, and is one of only 33 Doctors of the Church. She is also known by many as "The Little Flower of Jesus."
St Thérèse de Lisieux was born in Alençon, France, the daughter of a watchmaker and a lacemaker. They had nine children, of whom only five daughters survived to adulthood; the family was subject to tuberculosis. Thérèse was their youngest child.
Her mother died in 1877, when Thérèse was only four years old, and her father, unable to continue to work, sold his business and moved to Lisieux, in the Calvados region of Normandy. When Thérèse was nine years old, her oldest sister Pauline, who had acted as a "second mother" to Thérèse, entered the Carmelite order of nuns. During the next year, Thérèse repeatedly expressed her wish to become a nun also, but the bishop of Bayeux would not allow this, on account of her youth. At the age of fifteen, on a pilgrimage with her family to Rome, in which they were given an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked him to allow her to enter the Carmelite order, but the Pope stood by the decision of the bishop.
When Thérèse turned sixteen, the bishop of Bayeux gave permission, and in April of 1889 she became a Carmelite nun, following her three sisters. In 1889 her father suffered a stroke and was taken to a private sanatorium, where he lingered for three years before dying.
The Little Way
Thérèse' is known for her "Little Way." Because of her station in a Carmelite convent, Thérèse realized that she would not be able to achieve "great deeds" as saints often did, and so must find another way to express her love of God. She 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."
This "Little Way" also appeared in her approach to spirituality: "Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises, in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles in the way and a host of illusions round about it, my poor little mind soon grows weary, I close the learned book, which leaves my head splitting and my heart parched, and I take the Holy Scriptures. Then all seems luminous, a single word opens up infinite horizons to my soul, perfection seems easy; I see that it is enough to realize one's nothingness, and give oneself wholly, like a child, into the arms of the good God. Leaving to great souls, great minds, the fine books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because 'only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet'."
It also is evident in her approach to prayer: "With me prayer is a lifting up of the heart, a look towards Heaven, a cry of gratitude and love uttered equally in sorrow and in joy; in a word, something noble, supernatural, which enlarges my soul and unites it to God.... I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers.... I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands."
Declining health and death
Thérèse's final years were marked by a steady decline that she bore resolutely and without complaint. On the morning of Good Friday, 1896, she began bleeding at the mouth due to a pulmonary hæmorrhage; her tuberculosis had taken a decided turn for the worse. Thérèse corresponded with a Carmelite mission in what was then French Indochina, and was invited to join them, but because of her sickness, she could not travel there. In June of 1897 she was moved to the convent infirmary, where she died later in the year, at age 24. On her deathbed, she is reported to have said "I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me."
L'histoire d'une âme
St. Thérèse is known today because of her spiritual autobiography, L'histoire d'une âme ("The Story of a Soul"), which she wrote upon the orders of the prioress of her convent, when the seriousness of her condition became obvious. It was published posthumously, and was heavily edited by her sister, Pauline. It became a devotional best seller on account of its naïve but appealing style, and on account of her trust in God despite her sufferings. More recently, restored versions of her journals and letters have also been published.
Pope Pius X signed the decree for her canonization on June 10, 1914. Pope Benedict XV, in order to hasten the process, dispensed with the usual fifty-year process required between death and beatification. She was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death. Her feast day is October 1.
Therese of Lisieux is the patron saint of aviators, florists, illness, missions, and Russia. She is the secondary patroness of France (after Saint Joan of Arc). In 1927 she was made a patron saint for foreign missions. On October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a "Doctor of the Universal Church".
- I am a very little soul, who can offer only very little things to the Lord.
- I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth.
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