Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
In today’s liturgy we celebrate the feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the church. This young saint entered the Carmelite cloister of Lisieux at fifteen years of age and after only nine years there, died a victim of TB.
We tend to forget about it now, but tuberculosis, TB, was the scourge of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, attacking young and old, rich and poor. In the 1930s when I was a child, nearly everyone had a relative who had died of TB. Then during the 1950s the United States and Europe became dotted with closed buildings–long enclosed porches with many windows all in a row, all facing the sun. These empty sanitariums were the sign of the triumph of penicillin and the mycin drugs over this dread disease. Through the years as these empty "sans" disappeared, so the memory of this killer of millions slipped from our minds.
In the l890s, however, this plague was at its height, and Therese spent the last two years of her life in and out of the cloister infirmary as a tuberculosis invalid–with diminishing strength, constant fevers, and increasing hemorrhaging and coughing up of blood. During these two years, under obedience, she wrote her life story–The Story of A Soul. The theme was simple. We are all God’s children, children of love, flowers in His garden–for God so loved us that He gave His only son to bring us to Him. Let us go then as children to the Lord, loving Him as a simple child, pleasing Him by love in everything we do. We don’t have to do big things or great things–just our ordinary everyday things, doing them with love. To do them as best we can because we love the Lord: this is all we need do to please God. And God in His great love gives us His Spirit–His Spirit of Love–to enable us to do just that.
Luke’s gospel today shows us Jesus breaking into joyful praise over this message of St. Therese: "At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.’"
While writing her autobiography, Therese wrestled with more than her disease. In later writings, after The Story of A Soul, she tells about her prayer life–how for these two years she struggled with her faith without any feelings of affirmation or support, without any spiritual consolation, completely dry and cold. Her great love informed her faith and held her fast; these trials took her more deeply into the great Mystery of God, the Mystery of His Love. As a young nun she had asked God that at her death He would let her spend her heaven doing good upon earth. Let us in faith and love go to St. Therese and avail ourselves of the fruits of that blessed wish.
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, St. Xavier High School, across the creek from Sacred Heart Passionist Monastery in Louisville, KY.