Tag Archives: Little Flower

St. Theresa of Lisieux

September 29, 2017

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St. Theresa of Lisieux

October 1 is the memorial of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. She is also known as “St. Theresa of Lisieux” and the “Little Flower.” Her life story is also the subject of the feature film “Therese” released by Xenon Pictures in 2006.

St. Theresa was born on January 2, 1873 at Alencon in Normandy, France. She was the youngest of nine children. Five siblings died during infancy, and only Theresa and three older sisters survived.

After Theresa’s mother died when she was four, her older sister Pauline helped to raise her and taught her about Jesus and the gospel. Pauline entered the convent when Theresa was nine, and at that point Theresa decided that she wanted to be like her older sister. Theresa suffered a life-threatening illness when she was ten but she miraculously recovered, a cure attributed through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Two years later another sister, Mary, also joined the convent. Then on Christmas Eve, 1886, when Theresa was thirteen, she had a profound mystical experience in which the child Jesus brought light to the darkness of her soul.

The following year Theresa announced her intention to join her sisters Pauline and Mary in the convent. Her father approved but the mother superior and the bishop refused, citing her age. Subsequently, she accompanied her father on a pilgrimage to Rome and attended a papal audience. While kneeling before Pope Leo XIII she asked for his permission to enter the convent, but the delay continued only a short while longer.

The local bishop relented and gave Theresa permission to enter the Carmel at Lisieux in 1888 when she was fifteen. She was guided by Jesus’ words, “Unless you change your lives and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 18:2).

At first Sister Theresa wanted to be a martyr, but she discovered “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31), love. Her plan was to perform ordinary kindnesses throughout the day, small good deeds done frequently, humbly, generously, quietly, and without fanfare, a spirituality that she called the “Little Way.” She practiced this herself, and her example served as an inspiration for others to do likewise.

She was appointed director of novices when she was twenty, but three years later contracted tuberculosis. During her final 18 months she wrote her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, in which she explained the way of doing little things with great love. She died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI twenty-eight years later in 1925.

St. Theresa is the patron saint of florists, airline pilots, Vietnam, and religious freedom for Russia; as well as the co-patron saint of missionaries with St. Francis Xavier and the co-patron saint of France with St. Joan of Arc. She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997.

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Going up? St. Thérèse was confident in her elevator to heaven

October 1, 2013

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Elevators aren't always reliable but St. Therese had great confidence in hers--the arms of the Lord lifting her to heaven. Photo/kio. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Elevators aren’t always reliable but St. Thérèse had great confidence in hers–the arms of the Lord lifting her to heaven. Photo/kio. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I’m not as eager to take an elevator as I was before I got stuck in one with five other people on a hot July night. We waited only 40 minutes before the power was restored but it seemed like a lot longer as we called for help on the elevator phone, wondered if rescuers were coming and worried about whether the elevator had an air vent.

One saint who had more confidence in her elevator was St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast day we celebrate on October 1. Elevators must have been more novel in the late 19th century. I’m not sure how many St. Thérèse actually rode on or if she had any experiences like mine.

The Little Flower’s elevator wasn’t designed to take her from floor to floor in a building; it was meant to take her to heaven—on God’s power, not her own. The “button” she pushed to call the elevator was her confidence in the Lord, especially in light of her littleness and weakness. It was this confidence in God that would be a centerpiece of her much loved and imitated spiritual work, the Little Way. She wrote in her autobiography:

We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs … I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. … The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.

The foundation of St. Thérèse’s confidence, as her autobiography states, was recognizing her own nothingness and expecting everything from God as a small child expects everything from its father.

Our misery attracts God’s mercy, St. Thérèse believed. “She regarded her faults as “reminders of her weakness and of her essential need for Our Lord’s constant support; they caused her to turn more completely to Him that He might alone be her sanctification. … her confidence, now unhindered, carried her swiftly towards perfection.” (Spiritual Childhood by Vernon Johnson, p. 103)

St. Thérèse became so confident in the Lord through the assistance of the indwelling Trinity, according to Johnson, who states, “Confidence is a gift of the Holy Spirit, refused to none and granted in proportion to our faith.”

This confidence is the key to Jesus’ Heart and He opens His arms, but it doesn’t disregard our shortcomings. The Lord continues that work of purification. (I Believe in Love by Père Jean du Coeur de Jésus D’Elbée)

In order to purify and sanctify us, Jesus needs only our humility and confidence, D’Elbée writes.

And your confidence will be in proportion to your humility because it is to the extent that we realize our need of Jesus that we have recourse to Him, and we sense this need to the extent that we justly realize our unworthiness.

We need this confidence when receiving the sacraments, including confession, according to D’Elbée.

We think about examining ourselves, yet we do not think, before the examination, during the examination, and after the examination, to plunge ourselves, with all our miseries, in the consuming and transforming furnace of his Heart, which is open to us through a single humble act of confidence.

St. Thérèse’s faith in the Lord’s love for her gave her complete confidence. At the same time she didn’t forget that He was doing the good in her.

When someone told St. Thérèse near the end of her life that she was a saint, she pointed to the tops of the trees in the garden, which looked golden in the setting sun.

“My soul appears to you to be all brilliant and golden because it is exposed to the rays of Love.  If the Divine Sun stopped sending me His fire, I would immediately become dark and full of shadows.”

(Autobiography, D’Elbée)

Our elevator eventually brought us to our destination and of course, St. Thérèse’s brought her to heaven. During her elevator ride through life, her autobiography reveals that she also had to wait sometimes. Even so, St. Thérèse never lost confidence in the One running the elevator.

St. Thérèse, help me to have complete confidence in God’s care for me today.

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