The Pearl: Faith
The Flower: Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
The Word: “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50)
The Grace: To have faith when everything is dark
The Fruit for the New Evangelization: To be a faithful, persevering witness of faith, hope and love.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, God’s little flower, helps us to re-discover the priceless pearl of faith. She grew into an exemplary model of the theological virtue of faith. Marie-Francoise Therese Martin is well known as Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, O.C.D. Though she died at the tender age of twenty-four, on her brief earthly sojourn she grew to such height of sanctity that the Church canonized her a Saint and designated her Doctor of the Church, a rare distinction among the Communion of Saints.
Therese gives us a beautiful lesson on God’s creation wherein He is glorified by a variety of souls whose single perfection consists in doing His will by being authentically true to self.
Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature. I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wildflowers.
And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daises or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His Will, in being what He wills us to be.
(Quoted in Modern Saints: Their Lives and Faces by Ann Ball, 222)
Therese was content to be herself because she loved the Lord and desired whatever He willed. This is the genius of humility, of self-emptying love. She did not aspire to be an impressive flower in God’s garden since she understood she was chosen to please God by being one of His little ones. She considered her Carmelite Sister, Teresa of Avila, a big flower to be admired and loved. She also had a deep love for heroic Saint Joan of Arc. Therese wisely accepted her unique mission in the Church, quite different from the saints she admired. By being true to herself, she discovered the genius of “The Little Way” and gave the Church a path of sanctity that many, ordinary people can imitate.
Therese is renowned as one of the greatest saints of modern times. What was her secret to sanctity? Therese’s heart is like an open book for us to read since she wrote, The Story of a Soul. What was her secret discovery? She said, “I saw that all vocations are summed up in Love, and Love is all in All.” Her simple discovery describes the vocation of believers. She is speaking of a precise quality of love that is all in All. This means we are all in; that we are sincerely committed to serve God for the sake of love.
Therese’s innocence of soul and generosity of heart captures us. Therese also challenges us to have unfailing confidence in God. She exemplifies the Pope John Paul II New Feminism that means authentic feminism that The Virgin Mary embodies.
St. Therese’s spiritual childhood requires us to resist all false pretense about God, others, and ourselves and to become content in God’s will that is perfectly ordained for our salvation. Therese mirrored the Holy Face of the Christ Child reminding us that, “unless you change and become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).”
The Little Flower suffered very much through severe interior tests of faith and external trials of loss. At one point she suffered great physical illness and hallucinations. The trial and miraculous healing is recounted:
At one point her sister Marie, who was sitting with her in the sickroom, became so desperate over Therese’s illness and hallucinations that she knelt before a statue of the Blessed Virgin and frantically begged for her sister’s life: Therese joined Marie in fervent supplication. Marie then saw Therese “fix her gaze on the statue”; the child grew calm and began to cry quietly. The symptoms soon faded away. Later, Marie pressed Therese for details. The 10-year old Therese said simply that the Virgin Mary had smiled at her. She had been cured.
(Modern Saints, 225)
In 2007, I visited Lisieux, France and toured the home of Saint Therese while on pilgrimage with the Los Angeles Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. I walked into Therese’s bedroom and was delighted to venerate the famous statue of Our Lady of the Smile. It is telling that a smile from The Virgin Mary released torrents of mercy to heal Therese completely. A child responds to a maternal smile that reflects the warmth of a mother’s heart. Our Lady of the Smile may be teaching us to be generous with our smiles since they can become medicinal. Mary’s smile upon Therese was an act of maternal mercy and a testimony to the healing power of joyful charity.
The year after her illness and miraculous cure, Therese diligently prepared to receive her First Holy Communion:
After the careful teaching of Marie, her preparation by studying the catechism, reading and re-reading Pauline’s inspiring and love-filled letters, making hundreds of acts of virtue and aspirations, followed by a retreat for First Communicants, Therese received Jesus for the first time. It was a day of great grace. Therese said she experienced the Eucharist as a “fusion.” “It was a kiss of love; I felt I was loved, and I said, ‘I love You and I give myself to You forever.’”
(Modern Saints, 225)
Therese gives us a wonderful little catechesis on the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Divine Love calling it, “ a kiss of love”. The gem is the phrase, “I felt I was loved.” This is the fruit of Holy Communion—to experience that we are loved and loveable. The encounter of God’s love changes us in the same way it changed the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Our eyes are opened to see Jesus Christ in “the breaking of the bread” so that we can radiate His love outward to the world—like St. Therese did.
Following Saint Therese’s First Holy Communion, she was troubled by scruples and suffered self-doubt so that she became lonely and hypersensitive. Then the grace of Christmas came:
After Midnight Mass, Therese overheard her father remark with impatience that he was glad this would be the last year for the custom of filling Therese’s shoes with Christmas gifts. Ordinarily Therese would have dissolved in tears, but on this night she felt a new inner strength. In order to make her father happy she behaved as if the custom gave her a great deal of pleasure. Therese said, “The work I had been unable to do in 10 years was done by Jesus in one instant.” She had experienced what she called her “conversion”; to her it marked the return of the “strength of soul which I had lost at the age of four and a half.” A new period of her life was beginning.
(Modern Saints, 226)
Therese’s Christmas miracle gives us hope of God’s great mercy. Therese teaches us a great bit of wisdom: “The work I had been unable to do in 10 years was done by Jesus in one instant.” This lesson could save us much frustration. God can do for us in one instant what we tried to do for ourselves over many years.
The Christmas Eve conversion of the Little Flower is a signal grace to prepare her for the next part of her journey. She entered the convent in Carmel and matured beautifully. Then she offered God an act of oblation that reveals a heart full of adult faith, “In order to live in a single act of perfect love, I offer myself as a holocaust to Your merciful love…so let me be the martyr of Your love, O God.” We have here a wonderful example of magnanimity of soul. She is the alabaster jar of expensive ointment broken open for her Beloved Spouse. God accepted her offer as evidenced in the increased, intense suffering she underwent:
The doctor had her moved to the infirmary and forbade all movement but it was too late. The disease, tuberculosis, had riddled her lungs; she began having terrible attacks of suffocations, exhaustion, sweating spells, and was coughing up blood sever times daily. Toward the end, she could breathe only with little cries of pain, and constant vomiting prevented her receiving Communion.
Therese’s spiritual trials during this time were more intense than the physical. She wrote, “God allowed my soul to be enveloped in complete darkness.” It was only sheer faith and unflagging hope that carried her to the end. She had thirsted to save souls, and now God demanded that she live by faith alone. When everything else was gone, love alone remained. Once her nurse found her awake after midnight, she explained that she could not sleep. The nurse asked what she said to God during the long, wakeful hours. Therese replied, “I do not say anything, Sister, I just love Him.”
(Modern Saints, 229)
“Just love Him!” This is a message for the New Evangelization—just love Him in joys and sorrows; in the light and darkness; in everything. Spiritual childhood attains the simplicity of love in the darkness of faith.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, please pray for us.
image: Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com