Wednesday, October 1, 2014

St Therese of Lisieux

Therese Martin as a young girl
Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint, called her the "Little Flower", and found in her short life more inspiration for their own lives than in volumes by theologians.
Yet Therese died when she was 24, after having lived as cloistered Carmelite for less than ten years. She never went on missions, never founded a religious order, never performed great works. The only book of hers, published after her death, was a brief edited version of her journal called "Story of a Soul." But within 28 years of her death, the public demand was so great that she was canonized.
Therese was born in France in 1873, the pampered daughter of a mother who had wanted to be a saint and a father who had wanted to be monk. The two had gotten married but determined they would be celibate until a priest told them that was not how God wanted a marriage to work! They must have followed his advice very well because they had nine children. The five children who lived were all daughters.
Tragedy and loss came quickly to Therese when her mother died of breast cancer when she was four and a half years old. Her sixteen year old sister Pauline became her second mother -- which made the second loss even worse when Pauline entered the Carmelite convent five years later. Therese’s parents were eventually beatified in October 2008.

St Therese as a Carmelite nun in Lisieux
When her other sisters, Marie and Leonie, left to join religious orders (the Carmelites and Poor Clares, respectively), Therese was left alone with her last sister Celine and her father. She wanted to enter the Carmelite convent to join Pauline and Marie but how could she convince others that she could handle the rigors of Carmelite life. When the superior of the Carmelite convent refused to take Therese because she was so young, the formerly shy little girl went to the bishop. When the bishop also said no, she decided to go over his head.
Her father and sister took her on a pilgrimage to Rome to try to get her mind off this crazy idea. Therese loved it. It was the one time when being little worked to her advantage! Because she was young and small she could run everywhere, touch relics and tombs without being yelled at. Finally they went for an audience with the Pope. They had been forbidden to speak to him but that didn't stop Therese. As soon as she got near him, she begged that he let her enter the Carmelite convent. She had to be carried out by two of the guards!
But the Vicar General who had seen her courage was impressed and soon Therese was admitted to the Carmelite convent that her sisters Pauline and Marie had already joined.
Her romantic ideas of convent life and suffering soon met up with reality in a way she had never expected. Her father suffered a series of strokes that left him affected not only physically but mentally. As a cloistered nun she couldn't even visit her father before he died.
She knew as a Carmelite nun she would never be able to perform great deeds. Therese took every chance to sacrifice, no matter how small it would seem. She smiled at the sisters she didn't like. She ate everything she was given without complaining -- often given the worst leftovers.

An unusual photo of Therese's exhumation  in March 1923, before her canonization
When Pauline was elected prioress, she asked Therese for the ultimate sacrifice. Because of politics in the convent, many of the sisters feared that the family Martin would take over the convent. Therefore Pauline asked Therese to remain a novice, in order to allay the fears of the others that the three sisters would push everyone else around. This meant she would never be a fully professed nun. Upon their father’s death, now Celine also entered the convent. Four of the sisters were now together again. In this small convent they now made up one-fifth of the population. Despite this and the fact that Therese was a permanent novice they put her in charge of the other novices.
Then in 1896, she coughed up blood. She kept working without telling anyone until she became so sick a year later everyone knew it. She died on September 30, 1897 at the age of 24 years old. After she died, Pauline put together Therese's and sent 2000 copies to other convents. Within two years, the Martin family had to move because her notoriety was so great and by 1925 she had been canonized.

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