30 Sep St Therese of Lisieux
Today we celebrate the Feast day of our sister St Therese of Lisieux. The following was written by our Sr marie Therese in honour of the saint whose name she bears. Our podcast series will begin in a few days time with a new set of reflections, this time on our sister Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity.
“Therese was destined to become a great saint – but she was not born one. Suffering was the means God used to bring her to sanctity, so it is not surprising that she suffered from the cradle to the grave. At 2 weeks she almost died of an intestinal illness and again at 3 months she was in serious danger. Her Mother wrote to her brother on March 1st 1873, “She is very bad and I have no hope whatsoever of saving her. The poor thing suffers horribly and it breaks my heart to see her”. She improved a little and the doctor advised she go to a wet nurse in the country. She spent one year with this new mother Rosa and bonded well with her. In April she returned home where she was showered with love but the experience left her over-sensitive. She grew very close to her mother and was afraid to let her out of sight for fear of being abandoned again.
On August 28th 1877 her life was dramatically changed with the death of her mother. A period of great suffering followed lasting ten years. Her sister Pauline, whom she turned to as a second mother, entered Carmel, which she would have experienced as a further abandonment. Then she was sent to school, another major suffering as she had become timid and withdrawn since her mothers death and could not play with other children. It was too much and she became ill, – a strange psychological illness which no one understood.
On May 13th the prayers of the family for a cure were answered, Therese looked to our Lady’s statue and it smiled on her and she was healed in body and mind. Her hypersensitivity remained however. For this she needed another miracle, which came on Christmas night 1886 which she calls her complete conversion.
It is not possible to mention all she suffered or the many graces she received, but one special grace is relevant here. Until now she had suffered without love, but on her First Holy Communion Day she understood that she could show her love in suffering and she desired to use every opportunity.
On April 9th 1888 Therese entered Carmel and from the beginning she says “suffering opened its arms to me wide and I threw myself into them with love”. Jesus made her understand it was through suffering that she could save souls. She found more thorns than roses awaiting her and she used everything as a way of growing in love. She said, “Everything is a grace”. The austerity of Carmel, the cold, the poor food, the silence and the rubs of community life were all part of the cross. Above all, there was the humiliating illness of her Father during, “three years of martydom but nevertheless a time of great grace”.
After the death of her father in 1894 her own Calvary began with the onset of her illness. Her sufferings intensified and instead of being filled with consolation she found herself in the darkest night. Psychologically no one wants to die young and Therese was no exception. She was tested in body and spirit to the limit and could say “I never knew it was possible to suffer so much”. Suffering was for her a way of love and she wanted to die of love.
Therese had a mission which she believed would begin after her death, a mission to make Jesus loved, to teach others the Little Way of spiritual childhood. She gives hope to millions of people who feel incapable of sanctity. To millions who suffer she gives meaning and value to the mystery of pain and suffering. Most of all she gives us a God of mercy and unconditional love and she assures us that if we have nothing it is sufficient to give our nothingness. The way of abandonment and love is open to everyone, we only need to acknowledge our need of God as she did.”