‘The Little Flower’
This Thursday we celebrate the feast day of St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) or ‘The Little Flower’ as she is often called. Pope St Pius X said she was “the greatest saint of modern times.” She remains very popular today and I know many of you have a devotion to her. We have a statue of her in our church by the Altar of St Joseph.
In spite of her very short life she wasn’t always a saint. She was a precocious child who would have temper tantrums when she didn’t get her own way, but she had a profound conversion when she was just 13. She felt called to become a Carmelite nun, but she was too young and was told to ask again when she was 16. She asked the Bishop to let her enter when she was 15 but was still unsuccessful. Her father who believed in her vocation took her on a pilgrimage to Rome when she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to allow her to enter Carmel at 15. As she knelt before the Pope he replied, “Go, go! You will enter if God wills it!” And God did will it because the Bishop then gave her permission to enter at 15 and she lived in the convent at Lisieux, where three of her older sisters were also nuns for nine years until her death from tuberculosis at the age of 24. She promised to spend her Heaven doing good on earth. After her death many miraculous cures happened through her intercession.
On the face of it she seemed very ordinary, so how did she become so famous? Before her death, because her holiness and humility were so evident, her Superior ordered her to write an autobiography detailing her spiritual life now known as “Story of a Soul”, a spiritual classic which I would recommend you read. Her “little way” teaches us to become holy through the ordinary things of life. We don’t have to do mighty deeds to be a saint – we can become holy by doing ordinary things with great love. She wrote, “I applied myself above all to practice quiet hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.” She once said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”
Thérèse suffered poor health all her life, but in spite of her frailty she spent many hours in the convent laundry. There was a particular Sister opposite her washing handkerchiefs who would always splash her with the dirty water, but Thérèse refrained from showing annoyance, and on the contrary made great efforts to welcome being splashed so as she would come joyfully “to the happy spot where such treasures were freely bestowed.”
St Thérèse and her “little way” show us that true holiness is within the reach of all of us. She was canonised in 1925, and in 1997 Pope St John Paul II declared her to be a Doctor of the Church, a title given to only a few of the Church’s saints, thus making St Thérèse one of the true guides in the spiritual life for us all.
St Thérèse of Lisieux, pray for us.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC