Therese Martin was born in Lisieux, France in the year 1873, the youngest of nine children gracing the family of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin. Only five girls survived, four dying at infancy. All five of them became religious: four Carmelites and one Visitandine. Madame Martin died of cancer when Therese was three years old.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus, commonly known as the “Little Flower,” entered Carmel at the age of 15. She became very ill with tuberculosis and died at the age of 24 after living only 9 years as in Carmel. She has become one of the most widely known and venerated Saints of modern times. What was it that led this young simple nun to such great heights?
St. Therese, a true daughter of the great St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, was endowed with wisdom from on high, the wisdom that “God grants to little ones.” Reading her autobiography, the Story of a Soul, we can see clearly the message she wishes to give to the world: She teaches us the “Little Way” of love and confidence, of child-like trust and surrender to our most merciful Father.
However, this “Little Way” can be very demanding. St. Therese writes: “A little child stays very close to the throne of the King and Queen. But how will she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet fragrance, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of love. Yes, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love. While I am strewing flowers I shall sing. . . . I shall sing even when I must gather my flowers in the midst of thorns.”
It was through this offering of the day-to-day “monotony of sacrifice” that she reached such great sanctity. All her life was lived as one continuous act of love. Her sister, Mother Agnes of Jesus (Pauline) saw the holiness which filled her little sister and asked her to write memories of the life they shared at home. Later Mother Gonzague encouraged Therese to continue this by writing about her life in Carmel. After her death, these memories were eventually published as a book entitled Story Of A Soul.
Proclaimed Doctor of the Church and Patroness of all Missionaries (though never leaving Carmel’s enclosure), St. Therese of the Child Jesus is an outstanding model for each of us, and as Pope Leo XIII said, “the greatest saint of modern times.” At her death she promised that she would “spend her heaven doing good on earth,” teaching souls her “Little Way.” Surely she will send a “shower of roses” to all who call upon her, invoking her intercession and aid. Her feast is celebrated on October 1st.