Today is Therese’s Feast Day, and as the sun sets where I live, still gently casting light through the trees in the woods behind my house, I think of how much Therese loved nature, and of how everything reminded her of God.
She once remarked, “I don’t think I have ever gone more than three minutes without thinking of Him.” An amazing statement, and she was not yet a nun.
There is no denying that Therese is a superstar among Saints. I would dare to say that more has been written about her than perhaps any other Saint who passed our way. Her statues abound in churches throughout the world — even in places like Russia. We are all familiar with the countless holy cards and novenas bearing her image.
Therese herself knew it would be so. In spite of the night of faith she dwelled in during her last 18 months on earth, she once told her sister, Mother Agnes: I know full well that everyone will love me.
Earlier in her life she had said, I feel that I was born for glory. I would like to become a great Saint.
But I doubt that even Therese ever dreamed of the “Storm of Glory,” that her Beloved Jesus was preparing for her.
Why do we love Therese so much? What IS it about her?
Here we have a Saint born into a family of means, surrounded by love from her first memories, possessed of an attractive appearance and exceptional intelligence, who while prodigious in holiness from an early age, did not dwell in a world of mysticism as one might expect, but led quite an ordinary life.
Therese climbed to the heights of sanctity by doing little things with great love. That makes her so approachable. And, she writes about it all with such charm, and the romantic phrasing of a young girl, still at an age when dreams of great deeds and great love seem possible.
It was so lovely of God to give us this girl-Saint with the sweet face of youth concealing a soul possessed of such Divine Wisdom that she is now a Doctor of the Church.
In the early years of her ascendance to greatness, many did not know what to make of her. In her own convent, some sisters wondered what her obituary would say about her; she seemed so ordinary. One of those nuns was cured of cerebral anemia – even before Therese was buried — by pressing her head against the feet of Therese shortly after her death.
As Therese’s star continued to rise, scholars, theologians, bishops and even popes realized that Therese’s genius is deceptively simple.
Therese rejoiced that God needs nothing from us…but our love. He is not impressed with great intellects or magnificent deeds. He much prefers a little act of kindness done out of love for Him. Therese was famous for her sweet smile, and she called it her “alms.” Since as a nun she had no money of her own, she loved to give away her smiles at every opportunity.
She was so convinced that love alone can exalt even the smallest effort, that she would even stoop to pick up a pin, “just to please God.”
She was a student of the gospels, and Jesus was her great model. “Jesus, make me resemble You…” she prayed.
She sought out the least loved sisters and spent her recreation time with them. She gave up all of her precious free time, so scarce in monastery life, to write poems and do other little favors requested by her fellow nuns.
Perhaps her greatest discovery was her realization that her own nothingness qualified her to depend on Jesus for everything. She counted on His Merits, His Charity, His Purifying Love to enrich her own soul.
In the evening of this life, she wrote, I will appear before you with empty hands… for all of our good works are stained in your sight….be Yourself my Sanctity.
Therese threw herself into the arms of God with the complete trust of a little child, knowing that Jesus had said, “…of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”
While on pilgrimage in Paris at age 15, she encountered her first elevator. She was fascinated, and as usual made a connection to God: The arms of Jesus will be my elevator to Heaven.
She slept in His arms quite literally — often falling asleep during her thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Undisturbed, she observed that, Doctors put their patients to sleep to operate on them. She was quite sure that Jesus was not disturbed if she slumbered while He transformed her soul.
Even Purgatory did not deter her. She was convinced that those who truly love God do not go to Purgatory. Still, she said that if she should find herself there, she would walk among the flames singing the canticle of love like the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace.
While Therese’s little way of spiritual childhood may at first glance seem an easy one, it requires a will of iron…which is one reason I have never liked her famous Little Flower title. She is much more, (to copy one author), a steel magnolia who refused to bend to the natural desires for rest, attention, self-indulgence, complaining and the whole host of faults so difficult for most of us to resist.
Day after day, year after year, Therese faithfully picked her flowers for Jesus — her metaphor for her continuous life of self-denial and acts of charity. It is extremely difficult to adhere to such a program of virtue even for a day or two, much less for a lifetime, and under extreme physical and spiritual suffering such as she endured for the last 18 months of her life.
Most of all, Therese loved God. She loved everything else in Him. She loved Him because He was so Worthy of her Love — not for any reward or favor. She liked to say, I love what He does. If she received consolations (rarely), she was happy. When he plunged her into an almost unbearable trial of faith, she wrote out the Creed in her own blood, but never asked Him to take away her suffering.
For her, Heaven would equal possession of God. I want no other throne or crown than You, O my Beloved..
And she did not wish to rest until the last soul had been saved. She wanted to return to earth after her death, to make souls love God as I love Him.
Therese, one biographer wrote, was obsessed with the happiness of God. She cared for nothing else.
Ah Therese, how your Beloved Jesus has heaped glory on glory upon you! You were not mistaken! It is love alone that counts!
O precious Saint, as you once implored Our Lady, teach me the secrets of loving Jesus, I implore the same of you. And imitating your prayer to those “eagles” the great Saints, I beg you, now yourself an eagle, for a double portion of your love for God!
My life is but an instant,
an hour that passes by,
A single day that slips my grasp
and quickly slides away.
O well you know, my dearest God,
to love you,
I only have today.
(by St. Therese)
Thank you, Therese! Happy Feast Day my dear Sister.