By Fr. Joy Prakash, OFM –
Carmelite nun. Patron of the missions. St Therese was born in 1873 in Alencon in France. When she was 15 she told her father she was so devoted to God she wanted to become a nun. The Carmelites and her bishop thought she was too young, but she persisted and eventually got her way.
Therese loved life. She had many dreams and wanted to go to the Far East as a missionary. But it wasn’t to be. In 1896 she began to cough up blood. She had contracted a very virulent form of TB and suffered a very painful illness, without complaining, before she died at the age of just 24, in 1897. Her last words were: “My God I love you.”
St Therese might have been forgotten. But her superiors asked her to write her autobiography, called the Story of a Soul. They published it after she died (with some of their own sentimental additions) and the appeal of the book was astonishing. The book was translated into many languages and became an instant best-seller.
Therese’s attraction lies in her simplicity. No scholar, or great student of the Bible, she simply longed to be a saint as she thought any ordinary person could.
“In my little way are only very ordinary things. Little souls can do everything I do.”
Her influence helped to lead many to a rediscovery of first principles, and the primacy of ordinary duties of the religious life over personal initiatives, which so often cloak self-will.
St Therese was full of fun. She devised a coat of arms for herself and Jesus with the initials MFT and IHS and enjoyed making up jokes and funny stories.
In art she is represented in a Carmelite habit holding a bunch of roses in memory of her promise to “let fall a shower of roses” of miracles and other favours. She was canonised in 1925.
The Little Theresa has much to teach our age of the image, the appearance, the “sell”. We have become a dangerously self-conscious people, painfully aware of the need to be fulfilled, yet knowing we are not. Theresa, like so many saints sought to serve others, to do something outside herself, to forget herself in quiet acts of love. She is one of the great examples of the Gospel paradox that we gain our life by losing it, and that the seed that falls to the ground must die in order to live.
Preoccupation with self separates modern men and women from God, from their fellow human beings, and ultimately from themselves. We must learn to forget ourselves, to contemplate a God who draws us out of ourselves to serve others as the ultimate expression of selfhood. These are the insights of Saint Theresa of Lisieux, and they are more valid today than ever.