Oct 1 – Feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor, Patroness of Missions
Born to a pious middle-class French family of tradesmen, Francoise-Marie Thérèse Martin (1873–1897) was the daughter of Blessed Louis Martin and Blessed Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, and all four of her sisters became nuns. Her mother died when Francoise-Marie was only four, and the family moved to Lisieux, Normandy, France to be closer to family.
She was cured from an illness at the age of 8, when a statue of the Blessed Virgin smiled at her. She was educated by the Benedictine nuns of Notre-Dame-du-Pre, and confirmed there at the age of 11. Just before her 14th birthday, she received a vision of the Child Jesus. She immediately understood the great sacrifice that had been made for her, and developed an unshakeable faith.
She tried to join the Carmelites, but was turned down due to her age. She was a pilgrim to Rome for the Jubilee of Pope Leo XIII whom she met, and who knew of her desire to become a nun. She joined the Carmelites at Lisieux on 9 April 1888 at the age of 15, taking her final vow on 8 September 1890 at the age of 17.
She is known by all for her complete devotion to spiritual development and to the austerities of the Carmelite Rule. Due to health problems resulting from her ongoing fight with tuberculosis, her superiors ordered her not to fast. She became novice mistress at the age of 20 and, at age 22, was ordered by her prioress to begin writing her memories and ideas. The material would turn into the book History of a Soul.
She defined her path to God and holiness at The Little Way, which consisted of child-like love and trust in God. She had an ongoing correspondence with the Carmelite missionaries in China, often stating how much she wanted to come work with them. Many miracles are attributed to her, and she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.
“You know well enough that our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
– Patron Saint Index
“…and from my flesh I shall look on God”
Several years ago, on one dark and rainy evening, whilst I was holidaying in Florence, Italy, I popped into a chapel to seek shelter from the cold and the rain. It was quaint (and rather weird too, I thought to myself), that literally in the midst of all the glitz and glamour of the busiest shopping street in Florence, wedged between a fancy world-famous gelato shop and an Armani boutique, was this little chapel. It was a simple chapel in the Romanesque style – dimly lit and simply adorned only with the essential paraphernalia of Catholic worship. It did not have the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, knee-bending mesmerizing grandeur of so many of the typical Catholic cathedrals and basilicas found in Europe, including the Duomo just a few blocks away. Yet, in that serene, gentle, peaceful, austere little chapel – God’s presence was just as undeniable and palpable. As if to say and to remind us that as we go about the business and distractions of this world, He is ever present – silent, sometimes forgotten, but always, present. As we remember the Little Flower, St Thérèse of Lisieux today, my reflection is on finding God in the ordinariness of our lives.
St Thérèse entered the Carmel of Lisieux with the determination to become a saint. Six years as a Carmelite made her realize how small and insignificant she felt. She saw the limitations of all her efforts. She remained small and very far off from the unfailing love that she would wish to practice. She is said to have understood then that it was from insignificance that she had to learn to ask God’s help. That only Jesus could carry her to the summit of sanctity. The smallness of Thérèse, her limits, became in this way, grounds for joy, rather than discouragement.
My reflection turns to the many instances in our faith history that God has chosen the ordinary to do His most extraordinary work – a stable as a birthplace for the Creator of the Universe, the womb of an ordinary girl from the poorest, most despised tribe in Judah, shepherds and fishermen, water, a dove, a donkey, an old rugged cross, five loaves and two fishes, bread and wine, St Francis, a beggar after denouncing everything, to rebuild His Holy Catholic Church. Humble, ordinary, forgettable people and things – to herald the birth of the Son of Almighty God, the Sacrifice of a Savior, His care for His flock, the Proclamation of His Word and His eternal covenant with His people.
So, the next time you approach the Eucharist, bring to the altar of God, the ‘ordinariness’ of your life – the times when you returned that food tray so that the aged cleaner at the food court need not have to do so; the time you gave up your seat to that mother on the MRT with both arms laden with grocery bags, enroute home to cook for her children, after an already exhausting and thankless day at work; the time you bought that cup of Milo for the janitor at your office who is scrimping and saving her pennies as she struggles to support herself in her difficult ‘retirement’ years; the time you offered to tutor a child from a broken, underprivileged home who would otherwise have little chance of ever clearing her PSLE. To spend that extra one hour with your child rather than at the golf course, so that one more hour of her life can be less lonely. Little acts that mean so ‘little’, which seem so ‘insignificant’.
For the initial years of her religious life, St Thérèse felt like she was in her own desert, discouraged by her insignificance. The desert is a place of emptiness and loneliness. And in that regard, can also be a place of despair. This then is a desert – to live facing discouragement, disappointment, despondency and despair. As with St Thérèse, we need to face that reality but never to consent to it. In the words of Thomas Merton: “To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find Him”.
St Thérèse eventually did find Jesus. She did become a saint — one of our greatest. She embraced her nothingness and Jesus was able to embrace her. In lowliness, humility and simplicity, she did great things for God. For that which is lowly, God blessed. And that which is humble, God loved.
If I may borrow from quotes by Oswald Chambers, first cited by Gina in an earlier reflection:
“The real test of a saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples’ feet. That is, doing the things that do not count in the natural estimate of men, but count everything in the estimate of God. Drudgery is the touchstone of character. The great hindrance in spiritual life is that we will look for big things to do. Jesus took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”
God used all of St Thérèse’s nothingness, to show all of His greatness. With your permission, He will do the same for you.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father help us. We often look for all the wrong things in all the wrong places. All things which lead us away from you and towards placing ourselves in the altar of our own pride, unforgiveness and destruction; all things which glorify only ourselves.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the gift of St Thérèse to your Holy Church. For showing us that you are our God who loves us, despite all that is so unworthy in us. Thank you for taking each and every step of our journey with us, ever by our side.