Memorial of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5
She was, by all measure of judgment and estimation, a remarkable woman. It was not due to longevity. Length of days, of course, has its place. Certainly we all aspire to it. But the quality of person and the depth of character trump longevity. She was, according to her own writings and the testimony of kin and kith, a fragile woman. Her health was never good. Born in 1873, Therese Martin lived with bouts of illness and TB. Death came all too soon. She was only twenty-four. Terribly sad! Such a gifted life cut so short.
Therese Martin was born into a family steeped in piety and love. She entered the Carmel in Lisieux as a young teenager. Such a joy, she felt. To be the beloved of Christ. During these years she lived a consecrated life in the cloister. I say this because her parents lived a holy and consecrated life in the world. Unlike her contemporary, Bernadette of Lourdes, who saw visions of our Lady, Therese lived without notoriety.
So why has she been so acclaimed as a saint? Why has she so influenced many Catholic women of my mother’s generation? Why was this contemplative Carmelite declared a patronness of the missions? Was this all fin de siecle French piety and saint-making propaganda?
I think there are two qualities that Therese, also known as the "Little Flower," embodies and exemplifies. First, she was a woman of extraordinary faith and profound love. Her intimacy with Christ in prayer, her devotion to God, and her living out of the consecrated life brought her to a depth quite remarkable for such a young woman. Love trumps longevity. Love is the goal. What kind of love? Self-emptying and self-donative. This kind of love is fashioned in the crucible of suffering, illness, and generosity. It manifests a discipleship formed in the heart of Christ Crucified.
The second quality, one that is enduring about Therese, is that she did the ordinary extraordinarily well. She paid attention to the matter at hand. She offered a "little way." She showed that living the challenge of daily life — attending to the beggar with coin and kindness, sharing a cup of soup with the homeless old lay, listening to a lonely, burnt-out teenager — made a difference. She inspired Dorothy Day. Dorothy wrote one of her longest pieces on Therese. Pretty good example of one saint influencing another, eh?!
Quite a woman! Quite a life! Quite possibly worth emulating, eh?!
Father John J. O’Brien is a Passionist priest living in Framingham MA. He teaches and writes, preaches and prays. He also serves in local parishes and prisons.