On 1 October we celebrate the feast day of St Thérèse of Lisieux, our Carmelite Sister, Doctor of the Church. Long before her Canonisation, Pope St Pius X described her as “the greatest Saint of modern times.”
Thérèse was born in Alençon, Normandy, on 2 January 1873, the ninth and youngest child of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin (née Guerin). The story of her life is well known and can be read in her own autobiography, The Story of a Soul,which was written at the request of her older sister Pauline who at the time was also her Prioress in Carmel (Mother Agnes).
In Carmel, Thérèse led a life so hidden that her extraordinary holiness was unknown even to most of the sisters she lived with. Pauline herself was amazed when she read the first part of The Story of a Soul, which for some time she had left in a drawer, unread and forgotten. Another sister was overheard by Thérèse on her deathbed saying: “I don’t know why people talk about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus so much, she has done nothing remarkable; you never see her practice virtue; you couldn’t even say she was a good nun!” Other members of the community saw that Thérèse was exceptionally gifted. This testimony of Sr Marie of the Angels, who had been Thérèse’s novice mistress, describes a rounded human being with a wisdom beyond her years: “Sr Thérèse of the Child Jesus: Novice and jewel of the community, tall and strong, with the expression of a child, hiding within her a wisdom, a perfection, and an insight of a fifty year old. Her head is full of mischief to play on anyone she pleases. Mystic, comic, everything. She can make you weep with devotion and just as easily split your sides with laughter during recreations.”
Thérèse is now known as the ‘Doctor of the Little Way’, a reference to what she called her ‘Little Way of Spiritual Childhood’. Her lifelong ambition was to be a great Saint but as she matured she realised that one does not need to do great things in order to become a great Saint, only little things done with great love. These are the ordinary deeds of everyday life and little acts of charity for other people, done without complaint.
Thérèse is also a great teacher of God’s merciful love. She often wrote of God as a loving parent who receives his repentant child with an embrace. This knowledge of God’s mercy gave Thérèse the greatest confidence that her ‘little way’ was pleasing to God. She wrote that one particular experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation “launched me full sail on the waves of confidence and love,”. The last paragraph of The Story of a Soul sums up her attitude: “Even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself in to Jesus’ arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him.”
In 1997, Pope St John Paul II proclaimed St Thérèse a Doctor of the Church. This title means that her teachings contribute something original and yet fundamental to our understanding of what it means to be Christian, regardless of place or time. Thérèse is a saint for all times; perhaps most of all she is a saint for our time. To the 21stCentury, when more and more people experience darkness, alienation and despair, she brings a message of hope, love and acceptance. She is all-embracing, non-judgemental and proclaims to everyone: God loves you. Thérèse once wrote that she would not be content with being an ordinary missionary but would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously. Today, her dream is realised.
To learn more about St Thérèse visit the English language website of the Lisieux Carmel Archives
Here you can find translations of all the works of St Thérèse along with facsimile images of the original documents; all the original photographs St Thérèse; Information about the Lisieux Carmel and the life of the Carmelite nuns in the time of St Thérèse; many other interesting documents and images relating to the Lisieux Carmel and the Martin family.