Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, January 2, 1873 – September 30, 1897), or Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, O.C.D., was a French Discalced Carmelite nun. She is popularly known as “The Little Flower of Jesus” or simply, “The Little Flower”.
Thérèse has been a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics and for others because of the “simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life”. She is one of the most popular saints in the history of the church. Pope Pius X called her “the greatest saint of modern times”.
Thérèse felt an early call to religious life, and overcoming various obstacles, in 1888 at the early age of 15, she became a nun and joined two of her elder sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years as a Carmelite religious, having fulfilled various offices such as sacristan and assistant to the novice mistress, and having spent her last eighteen months in Carmel in a night of faith, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.
The impact of The Story of a Soul, a collection of her autobiographical manuscripts, printed and distributed a year after her death to an initially very limited audience, was great, and she rapidly became one of the most popular saints of the twentieth century. Pope Pius XI made her the “star of his pontificate”. She was beatified in 1923, and canonized in 1925. Thérèse was declared co-patron of the missions with Francis Xavier in 1927, and named co-patron of France with Joan of Arc in 1944. On October 19, 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her the thirty-third Doctor of the Church, the youngest person, and at that time only the third woman, to be so honored. Devotion to Thérèse has developed around the world.
Thérèse lived a hidden life and “wanted to be unknown”, yet became popular after her death through her spiritual autobiography. She also left letters, poems, religious plays, prayers, and her last conversations were recorded by her sisters. Paintings and photographs – mostly the work of her sister Céline – further led to her being recognized by millions of men and women.
Thérèse said on her death-bed, “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence”, and she spoke out against some of the claims made concerning the Lives of saints written in her day, “We should not say improbable things, or things we do not know. We must see their real, and not their imagined lives.”
The depth of her spirituality, of which she said, “my way is all confidence and love”, has inspired many believers. In the face of her littleness she trusted in God to be her sanctity. She wanted to go to heaven by an entirely new little way. “I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus”. The elevator, she wrote, would be the arms of Jesus lifting her in all her littleness.
“I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.”
In her quest for sanctity, she believed that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts, or great deeds, in order to attain holiness and to express her love of God. She wrote:
“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”
This little way of Therese is the foundation of her spirituality.Within the Catholic Church Thérèse’s way was known for some time as “the little way of spiritual childhood,” but Thérèse actually wrote “little way” only once, and she never wrote the phrase “spiritual childhood.” It was her sister Pauline who, after Thérèse’s death, adopted the phrase “the little way of spiritual childhood” to interpret Thérèse’s path.Years after Thérèse’s death, a Carmelite of Lisieux asked Pauline about this phrase and Pauline answered spontaneously “But you know well that Thérèse never used it! It is mine.” In May 1897, Thérèse wrote to Father Adolphe Roulland, “My way is all confidence and love.” To Maurice Bellière she wrote “and I, with my way, will do more than you, so I hope that one day Jesus will make you walk by the same way as me.”
“Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles, surrounded by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires. I close the learned book which is breaking my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons; perfection seems simple; I see that it is enough to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself, like a child, into God’s arms. Leaving to great souls, to great minds, the beautiful books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.”
Passages like this have left Thérèse open to the charge that her spirituality is sentimental, immature, and unexamined. Her proponents counter that she developed an approach to the spiritual life that people of every background can understand and adopt. This is evident in her approach to prayer:
“For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus…I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me.”
Thérèse is well known throughout the world, with the Basilica of Lisieux being the second largest place of pilgrimage in France after Lourdes. Together with St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the most beloved Catholic saints since apostolic times. As a Doctor of the Church, she is the subject of much theological comment and study, and, as an appealing young woman whose message has touched the lives of millions, she remains the focus of much popular devotion.
A 7-stage model of human spiritual development has been elaborated here: https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/stages-of-human-spiritual-development/ . Based on that model, many of the mystics featured in this series provide indications through their writings of a realization equivalent to the nondual recognitions of the Sixth Stage. Although Therese’s writings more typically represent the dualism of a fourth stage adept, her writings are nevertheless imbued with a sense of loving selflessness, unconditional devotion, and surrender to the Divine (in the form of Jesus) that grant them an enduring appeal for spiritual aspirants of all ages and persuasions.
Excerpts from her writings:
“How shall I show my love is proved by deeds? Well – the little child will strew flowers…she will embalm the Divine Throne with their fragrance, will sing with silvery voice the canticle of love.
Yes, my Beloved, it is thus that my life’s brief day shall be spent before Thee. No other means have I of proving my love than to strew flowers; that is, to let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a word, to avail of the very least actions and do them for Love. I wish to suffer for Love’s sake and for Love’s sake even to rejoice; thus shall I strew flowers. Not one shall I find without shedding its petals for Thee…and then I will sing, I will always sing, even if I must gather my roses in the very midst of thorns – and the longer and sharper the thorns the sweeter shall be my song.”
“The good God does not need years to accomplish His work of love in a soul; one ray from His Heart can, in an instant, make His flower bloom for eternity.”
“In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell Him again and again that I love Him; that is not difficult and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem extinct I would still throw little straws upon the embers and I am certain it would rekindle.”
“I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Sometimes I seek another word to express Love, but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends (St. Augustine) is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: TO LOVE.
But on whom shall our poor heart lavish its love? Who shall be found that is great enough to be the recipient of its treasures? Will a human being know how to comprehend them, and above all will he be able to repay? There exists but one Being capable of comprehending love; it is Jesus; He alone can give us back infinitely more than we shall ever give to him.”
“How sweet is the way of Love! True, one may fall, one may not be always faithful, but Love, knowing how to draw profit from all, very quickly consumes whatsoever may displease Jesus, leaving naught but humble and profound peace in the innermost soul.”
“Ah! since that day love penetrates me and surrounds me; this Merciful Love each moment renews and purifies me, leaving in my heart no trace of sin. No, I cannot fear Purgatory; I know that I do not merit even to enter with the Holy Souls into that place of expiation, but I know too that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory, I know that Jesus cannot will needless suffering for us, and that He would not inspire me with the desires I feel if He were unwilling to fulfill them.”
“To offer oneself as a victim to Divine Love is not to offer oneself to sweetness – to consolation; but to every anguish, every bitterness, for Love lives only by sacrifice; and the more a soul wills to be surrendered to Love, the more must she be surrendered to suffering.”
“O my God, Thou knowest I have never desired but to love Thee alone. I seek no other glory. Thy Love has gone before me from my childhood, it has grown with my growth, and now it is an abyss the depths of which I cannot fathom.”
“Love attracts love, mine rushes forth unto Thee, it would fain fill up the abyss which attracts it; but alas! it is not even as one drop of dew lost in the Ocean. To love Thee as Thou lovest me I must borrow Thy very Love – then only, can I find rest.”
A Sister was speaking to her of the happiness of Heaven: Therese interrupted, saying:
“It is not that which attracts me…”
“What is it then?”
“Oh! it is LOVE! To love, to be loved, and to come back to earth to make LOVE loved.”
“Love alone have I ever given to the good God; with love He will repay me.”
“On the day of my conversion Charity entered into my heart and with it a yearning to forget self always; thenceforward I was happy.”
“I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”
“True Charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbor, in not being surprised at his failings, and in being edified by his least virtues; Charity must not remain shut up in the depths of the heart, for no man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. (Cf. Matthew 5:15). It seems to me that this candle represents the Charity which ought to enlighten and make joyful, not only those who are dearest to me, but all who are in the house.”
“There is no artist who does not like his work praised, and the Divine Artist of souls is pleased when we do not stop at the exterior, but penetrating even to the inmost sanctuary which He has chosen for His dwelling, we admire its beauty.”
“My whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice, these are my invincible arms; they can move hearts far better than words, I know it by experience.”
“I have not the courage to force myself to seek beautiful prayers in books; not knowing which to choose I act as children do who cannot read; I say quite simply to the good God what I want to tell Him, and He always understands me.”
“Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy! In a word, it is something exalted, supernatural, which dilates the soul and unites it to God. Sometimes when I find myself, spiritually, in dryness so great that I cannot produce a single good thought, I recite very slowly a Pater or an Ave Maria; these prayers alone console me, they suffice, they nourish my soul.”
“Great is the power of prayer – a queen, as one might say, having free access always to the King, and able to obtain whatever she asks. In order to be heard, it is not necessary to read from a book a beautiful form of prayer adapted to the circumstances; if it were so, how greatly to be pitied should I be!”
“Draw me, we will run…”
“To ask to be drawn is to will intimate union with the object which holds the heart captive. If fire and iron were gifted with reason, and that the latter said to the fire: “Draw me,” would not this prove that it desired to become identified with the fire even so far as to share its substance? Well, that is exactly my prayer. I beg of Jesus to draw me into the flames of His Love, to unite me so closely to Himself that He may live and act in me. I feel that the more the fire of love inflames my heart, the more I shall say: “Draw me,” the more also will the souls who draw near to mine run swiftly in the fragrant odors of the Well-Beloved.”
“All the Saints have understood this, and more especially perhaps those who have enlightened the world with the luminous teaching of the Gospel. Was it not from prayer that Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa and so many other friends of God drew that wondrous science which enraptures the greatest intellects?
Archimedes said: “Give me a lever and a fulcrum, and I will raise the world.” What he was unable to obtain because his request had but a material end and was not addressed to God, the Saints have obtained in full measure. For fulcrum, the Almighty has given them Himself, Himself alone! for lever, prayer, which enkindles the fire of love; and thus it is that they have uplifted the world, thus it is that saints still militant uplift it, and will uplift it till the end of time.”
“I do not well see what more I shall have in Heaven than now, she once said. I shall see the good God, it is true; but as to being with Him, I am wholly with Him already upon earth.”
“Time is but a shadow, a dream; already God sees us in glory and takes joy in our eternal beatitude. How this thought helps my soul! I understand then why He lets us suffer.”
“Oh! What mysteries will be revealed to us later… How often have I thought that I perhaps owe all the graces showered upon me to the earnest prayer of a little soul whom I shall know only in Heaven. It is God’s will that in this world by means of prayer Heavenly treasures should be imparted by souls one to another, so that when they reach the Fatherland they may love one another with a love born of gratitude, with an affection far, far exceeding the most ideal family affection upon earth.
here, we shall meet with no indifferent looks, because all the Saints will be indebted to each other.
No envious glances will be seen; the happiness of every one of the elect will be the happiness of all. With the Martyrs we shall be like to the Martyrs; with the Doctors we shall be as the Doctors; with the Virgins, as the Virgins; and just as the members of a family are proud of one another, so shall we be of our brethren, without the least jealousy.
Who knows even if the joy we shall experience in beholding the glory of the great Saints, and knowing that by a secret disposition of Providence we have contributed thereunto, who knows if this joy will not be as intense and sweeter perhaps, than the happiness they will themselves possess.
And do you not think that on their side the great Saints, seeing what they owe to quite little souls, will love them with an incomparable love? Delightful and surprising will be the friendships found there – I am sure of it. The favored companion of an Apostle or a great Doctor of the Church, will perhaps be a young shepherd lad; and a simple little child may be the intimate friend of a Patriarch. Oh! how I long to dwell in that Kingdom of Love.”
“A day…an hour…and we shall have reached the port! My God, what shall we see then? What is that life which will never have an end?…Jesus will be the Soul of our soul. Unfathomable mystery! “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what great things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And this will all come soon – yes, very soon, if we ardently love Jesus.”
“A sister showed her a photograph representing Joan of Arc consoled in the prison by her Voices. Saint Therese said: “I too am consoled by an interior voice. The Saints encourage me from above, they say to me: ‘So long as thou art in fetters thou canst not fulfill thy mission; but later, after thy death – then will be the time of thy conquests’.”
“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of it’s scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”
“The world’s thy ship and not thy home.”
“Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.”
“When one loves, one does not calculate.”
“When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
“My whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice, these are my invincible arms; they can move hearts far better than words, I know it by experience.”
“If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.”
“God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”
“If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.”
“I can nourish myself on nothing but truth.”
“It’s true, I suffer a great deal–but do I suffer well? That is the question.”
“I say nothing to him I love him”
“It is better to leave each one in his own opinion than to enter into arguments.”
“For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.”
“When something painful or disagreeable happens to me, instead of a melancholy look, I answer by a smile. At first I did not always succeed, but now it has become a habit which I am glad to have acquired.”
“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifices to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”
“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.”
“Just as the sun shines on all the trees and flowers as if each were the only one on earth, so does God care for all souls in a special manner.”
“I understand and I know from experience that: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ Jesus has no need of books or teachers to instruct souls; He teaches without the noise of words. Never have I heard Him speak, but I feel that He is within me at each moment; He is guiding and inspiring me with what I must say and do. I find just when I need them certain lights that I had not seen until then, and it isn’t most frequently during my hours of prayer that these are most abundant but rather in the midst of my daily occupations.”
“I must walk right up to my last moment.”
“The science of loving, yes, that’s the only kind of science I want. I’d barter away everything I possess to win it.”
“What a comfort it is, this way of love! You may stumble on it, you may fail to correspond with grace given, but always love knows how to make the best of everything; whatever offends our Lord is burnt up in its fire, and nothing is left but a humble, absorbing peace deep down in the heart.”
“Our Lord’s love makes itself seen quite as much in the simplest of souls as in the most highly gifted, as long as there is no resistance offered to his grace.”