Saint Therese is a “Doctor of the Church and teacher of the spiritual path. With her virtue, this great Carmelite has bequeathed to the world an excellent treatise on how to supernaturalize the ordinary. She is the Patroness of the Missions.”
Her fragile appearance and way of expressing herself in some of her writings, which can be regarded as somewhat infantile, at this stage and with what is known of her, cannot confuse anyone. The great Therese of Lisieux was a woman of uncommon spiritual strength. She was a Doctor of Love to a sublime and certainly heroic degree. She supernaturalized little daily things, addressing with an irrevocable decision, out of love for Christ, those that were hardest, which interrupt the flow of love of God and others in seemingly trivial and subtle questions, but which conceal a certain degree of suffering not to be disdained. The spiritual path she traced with her virtue is an excellent treatise on how to overcome them.
She had a short, intense, and surrendered life, brimming with tenderness and of such richness that it would have been irreparable had one not been able to count on her impressive testimony of love. Fortunately, she left her passion in her formidable “Story of a Soul,” in addition to doing so in her letters and writings, a passion that flooded her whole being in a supreme gesture of generosity, culminating her work just before dying. She sowed love until she exhaled her last breath. This famous Carmelite, Patroness of the Missions, continues to perfume the entire globe with her exquisite charity.
She was born in Alencon, France on January 2, 1873. She had the privilege of being born in a home of two genuine children of God, Louis and Zelie, raised by the Church to the altars. She saw her sisters Mary, Pauline, and Celine precede her in entering the Carmel. She dreamt ardently of following in their steps and entreated so much that she finally got what she wanted.
In addition to divine grace, she had her father’s support; her mother had already died. Leonie, another sister, chose the nuns of the Visitation. As her faith was boundless, in July of 1887 she obtained with her prayer the conversion of Pranzini, who had been condemned to death. She marked that Christmas with fire. She understood that the Child God had made Himself little out of love for her, to infuse courage in her to follow Him. And, although she was only 15, her father did not hesitate to take her to Pope Leo XIII, to express to him firmly her desire to enter the Carmel, which she did in 1888.
She made her profession in 1890, when her father was already ill, but having very clearly the objective of ascending to the highest summit of love. The time was urgent, as if she knew she would not be granted much more, praying and doing penance and taking advantage of every moment to mortify herself with any circumstance propitiated by living in community. Delicate, sensitive, and exquisite in her manner, she suffered gestures that went against her vision of how religious life should be and offered them up to Christ. In keeping with the evangelical precept, she sought out expressly the more difficult Sisters and gave them the best of herself. “Now I understand that perfect charity consists in enduring others’ defects and not being surprised by their weaknesses, but being edified by the littlest act of virtue that we see them exercise. However, I understood especially that charity must not remain closed in the depth of the heart.” She bore with an exemplary spirit the low temperatures in the convent: “I have suffered from the cold in Carmel to the point of dying,” she silenced her horror of some insects and endured with sweetness unfounded accusations without justifying herself. And when she realized that her weakness could lead her to a lack of charity, she fled, suppressing with this gesture her dominant tendency. It was an expression of her constant prayer. ”For me, to pray means to lift my heart, to raise my eyes to Heaven, and express my gratitude and love both in joy as well as trial.”
She longed for martyrdom. “Jesus wanted to grant me martyrdom of the heart or martyrdom of the flesh. I would prefer if He granted me both.” The first was granted to her. However, at a given moment of her life, she said: “I have reached a point in which it is impossible for me to suffer because all suffering is sweet.” In 1893 she was appointed helper of the Mistress of Novices. They were unaware that she was living intense aridity, as she was so centered in the Eucharist that it was very difficult to imagine it. She knew that the living of virtue without God’s grace is impossible. She wrote humbly: “I am a minuscule soul, who can only offer little things to our Lord.” With those “little things,” she illuminated the path of perfection and became the teacher of spiritual childhood. “Holiness doesn’t consist in this or that practice, but in a disposition of the heart, which makes us humble and little in God’s arms, conscious of our weakness and confident to the point of boldness in the Father’s goodness.”
Her father died in 1894 and, at the end of that year, she began writing the “Story of a Soul,” at the request of Mother Agnes of Jesus, her sister Pauline. In 1895 she felt called to offer herself to merciful love. Shortly after she experienced the highest intensity of it, the “wound of love.” She accepted enthusiastically the mission to accompany Belliere spiritually, who was preparing to be a missionary and, in 1896, that of Father Rolland, who was on mission abroad. During Holy Week of that year, she suffered the first attacks of hemoptysis and entered the “night of faith,” which lasted until the end of her days.
In 1897, now gravely ill, Mother Mary of Gonzaga asked her to continue the manuscript of her life. She was taken to the Infirmary on July 8 of that year. Verified in her yellow notebook was the immense richness she continued to bequeath from her bed of pain. She died on September 30, exclaiming: “Oh, I love Him . . . “As she promised, after her departure a “rain of roses” fell. Pius XI beatified her on April 29, 1923, and canonized her on May 17, 1925. John Paul II proclaimed her Doctor of the Church on October 19, 1997.
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