After being shown a photograph representing Joan of Arc consoled in the prison by her Voices, Saint Therese said: "I too am consoled by an interior voice. The Saints encourage me from above, they say to me: 'So long as thou art in fetters thou canst not fulfill thy mission; but later, after thy death - then will be the time of thy conquests'."
You may not understand it, sometimes I don’t either, but if we listen to our inner voices, they have something to say, lessons to teach, visions to share. Listen to your voices friends, there’s a reason they’re so loud some times.
Recently I shared that Therese of Lisieux (born Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin) was asking for more of my time and that sometimes the Saints ask this of me. She is the 24th icon I have written, and today I understand her awfully specific request.
I’ve discovered that Therese and I have much in common; she was a very sensitive child, much like myself, and was constantly told how over-emotional and overly sensitive she was to the world around her, I was told that too. Most people of her time thought this was a sign of weakness and were quick to help her overcome this “affliction.” But we know better now don’t we? (I hope so).
The Martin family were all extremely religious. All four of Therese’s older sisters became Carmelite nuns before her and she followed in their footsteps. Her parents, Marie-Azélie Guérin and Louis Martin are now the only married couple venerated as Saints in the Catholic church (did they forget about Priscilla and Aquila though?! More on that later). Her parents each wanted to be in ordained and lay ministry, but felt God called them to marriage instead. The Martin family consisted of 9 children (Therese being the youngest), they lost 4 children: 3 in infancy, and one, Hélène, at the age of 5 all to illness. Therese herself was a terribly ill child and faced death several times as an adolescent, her parents were sure she would end the way of her 4 siblings ahead of her.
“Sufferings gladly borne for others convert more people than sermons.”
Although Therese experienced much loss in her young life; four siblings and her mother to breast cancer, she used these profound losses to fuel her call and ministry. When her mother was alive, she used to say; “I wish you were dead!” with such glee, because in her heart she knew that once someone was gone from this earth, they must be in the arms of Jesus, so she was wishing eternity with Jesus in heaven for her beloved parents.
At an extremely young age, Therese knew her call was to the Carmelites. Everyone thought she was way too young for such a vocation and passed her off saying “come back when you’re older.” But she was not the “sit down and shut up” type (and neither am I). At the ripe age of 14 on the Sunday of Pentecost, she approached her father in their garden and said, “I’m ready.” This time her father was quick to stand beside her on her journey even though she was so young. He picked a small flower off the brick wall of their garden and gave it to Therese telling her she is the “little flower of Jesus.” Together they decided to make the pilgrimage to Rome and seek the Pope’s approval since no one else would listen to her. She went straight up to Pope Leo XIII after being told to remain silent in his presence and asked his permission to enter the convent. He was fascinated by her confidence and determination and told her to “do as the superiors decide.” She refused to leave until he made a decision and the guards had to carry her away. The following year, at the age of 15, the bishop confirmed her process, and she became a Carmelite postulant.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “how can a child of that age make such a serious life decision like that? She was way too young.” In modern times – absolutely I agree! But as I reminded a friend of mine when she pointed this out to me with great concern: you have to look at the time period. In the late 19th century in France, girls were betrothed very young, and big life decisions were made for them very young as well. Was she juvenile for a convent? Absolutely, and people gave her a hard time about that. But together with her father, she did not make the decision hastily or lightly. They knew that her call came from God and they went with that.
“I understood that all we accomplish, however brilliant, is worth nothing without love.”
Convent life was not easy for little Therese: many of the nuns there did not approve of her youthful presence among the fellow Carmelites, only one room in the convent was heated, the diet was mostly vegetarian, and life was quite simple, more than she was used to. She was given the most menial tasks that no one else wanted to do; clean the washrooms, scrub the floors, do the dishes, etc. But she did them without hesitation and without complaint. She did “small things with great love.” This is all the basis of Therese’s “little way.” A little way that we can all stand to grow and learn from. A little way that heavily influenced Mother Teresa, or Saint Teresa of Calcutta as she is known today. Many of you have heard Mother Teresa say “do small things with great love.” Did you know that when it came time to choose a holy name, Mother Teresa chose “Therese” after Therese of Lisieux, but another nun in the convent already had that name so she chose Teresa instead?
Therese’s mother, Marie-Azélie Guérin, was an exquisite lace-maker and no doubt influenced her youngest. Therese became a talented artist, writer, and seamstress. She painted many religious works, and even starred in a play that she wrote as Joan of Arc (and y’all know how much I love me some Joan of Arc!), donning an elaborate costume she made herself that is still on display in France where she rests. She used her artistic gifts to minister to others in her “little way,” something I also deeply relate to (except for the sewing part, I can’t even sew a button!).
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (say that five times fast!) spent her last moments bedridden and in such horrible pain that she hid from her fellow sisters, no one even knew how sick she was until it was too near the end. Coughing up blood, suffering from intense fevers, chills, and headaches, Therese succumbed to Tuberculosis at the age of 24. Her last words as she stared at the crucifix upon her death were: “Oh I love him! My God, I love thee!”
Did she have great and wonderous miracles in her presence on earth compared to the “magic” of some other popular saints? No. Was she some extraordinary person who lived an amazing and unbelievable life above all others? No. Did she teach fellow servants of her time and beyond what it means to do great things through small acts of kindness and love? Absolutely, and THAT is what makes her an extraordinary person.
Before she died, her sisters encouraged her to write down her childhood stories, the journey she took as a young aspirant, and the process of her “little way.” Her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” is a true gospel of her time. Some say it is too “touchy feel-y” and pass it off as an overly-descriptive text of a less than extraordinary person. But she is now considered a Doctor of the Church, creating a doctrine we can all recognize and live by; small steps to a greater good, small actions to a happier life. Because as we learn from St. Therese, it is not extraordinary deeds that make us great, it is small acts full of kindness and love as we influence others to do the same – THAT is the true purpose of our lives.
“The splendour 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. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
Be a wildflower friends, quit striving to be a rose or a lily, be a wildflower and go where the wind of the fields carry you. And like Therese, inspire others to do the same.
Therese so desperately wanted to be ordained a priest, but that obviously could not happen for her in the Catholic Church, so she fulfilled her call in another way and became a Carmelite nun instead. She did not enjoy saying the rosary and often fell asleep during the prayers (as a Catholic school girl myself I say “girl, same”). Her life’s goal was to become a Saint, saying that her purpose was to do more for people after her death than she ever did walking among the living. She said, “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
As Therese said, “A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.” I believe that I can help live out what she is called to do in ordained ministry; be an example of the little flowers, the wildflowers of the fields and do small acts with great love, leading by example the best I can, and helping to make and inspire prayers a lot more interesting than “Our Father’s” and “Hail Mary’s” on repeat.
How are you called to do small things with great love? How will you invite Saint Therese of Lisieux into your life today, helping her live out her own call as a Saint – to be with you in her heavenly presence?
Therese of Lisieux was born January 2nd, 1873 and died September 30th, 1897. Her feast day is October 1st. She was canonized in 1925 and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997. She is the patron saint of missions, florists, and gardeners.
“Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy! In a word, it is something exalted, supernatural, which dilates the soul and unites it to God. Sometimes when I find myself, spiritually, in dryness so great that I cannot produce a single good thought, I recite very slowly a Pater or an Ave Maria; these prayers alone console me, they suffice, they nourish my soul.” ~ from Story of A Soul, Chapter X