The Mysterious Nun
In the month of October, many non-Catholics scratch their heads as their Papist friends fill their feeds with images and quotes of a nun. She died long ago, and is a Saint in the eyes of the Church. Despite her popularity, many people cannot fathom how a normal-looking girl became a Saint.
Clearly she had a great love for Jesus; it shows in her quotes. Is that enough to have earned her such a devoted following? This Saint’s words are wise and sound, but she doesn’t look like a hero or a martyr.
Her devotion to God is commendable, but what is it about St. Therese of Lisieux that earned her the veneration of an entire religion?
A Blessed Family
St. Therese was not a leader like St. John Paul II or a teacher like St. Augustine–not in the manner that one would expect of a Saint.
Some say that her greatness is due to her simplicity. Her autobiography reads like the words of a regular Catholic girl. She describes similar struggles and emotions, telling her story in a relatable manner.
Born on January 2, 1873, St. Therese was the youngest of five sisters born to Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin. When she married, St. Zelie prayed that she would have many children consecrated to God, and this prayer was answered: all five of her daughters would become nuns.
St. Zelie Martin died of a breast tumor when Therese was four years old. Knowing that her time on earth was soon to end, she told her older daughters to take charge of Therese’s upbringing. This they did with great care; Pauline became a second mother to her.
The First Martin Bride
St. Zelie’s prayer that her children would be holy was answered. The first of her daughters to enter the convent was Pauline, who joined the Carmelite convent in Lisieux in 1882.
We can imagine what a joy it was to her mother in Heaven when Pauline took the habit–but little Therese did not celebrate. In fact, she was miserable. Her older sister who had become mama to her was leaving, and she felt orphaned again: “I said in the depths of my heart: Pauline is lost to me!”
After Pauline left for Carmel, Therese decided that she also wanted to enter. She was far too young; she waited impatiently, growing in holiness with her three remaining sisters.
As the years passed, Therese did not change her mind about her vocation: she wanted to become a Carmelite sister.
Her mother’s prayer continued to be answered from Heaven.
One More Takes The Veil
In 1886, her oldest sister Marie followed Pauline into the Carmelite convent. The Martin house was beginning to feel empty, and Therese could not contain her grief. She missed being surrounded by a large family.
Although she understood that Pauline and Marie had followed Jesus’ call, her loneliness weighed heavily on her. She became prone to tears, and people began to worry that she had a weak character. Time would prove this judgment to be incorrect.
The Martin household now consisted of Louis, Leonie, Celine, and a heartbroken Therese. She sought affection with her sisters, dreaming of Carmel when she was not missing her eldest siblings.
Therese Makes A Choice
By her fifteenth year, Therese’s desire to enter Carmel made her bold. She asked the authorities of the Carmelite convent to let her enter, despite being too young. Her appeal was rejected, but she longed to be a Bride of Christ so ardently that she could wait no longer.
She decided to take her case to the highest authority of the Church at the time: Pope Leo XIII.
In 1887, Louis Martin took his daughters Therese and Celine to Rome on a pilgrimage. During an audience with the Pope, she realized this might be her only chance. She would ask him to let her enter Carmel.
The protocol for this audience was to remain in silence. No one was to speak to the Pope, but they would kneel before him and ask for a blessing. Therese broke this protocol and addressed the Holy Father, telling him about her frustration. “If you give me permission, they will have to let me in,” she told the Pope.
Despite her plea, the Pope’s response was a disappointment: he told her to do what the superiors decided, and to follow God’s will.
Therese persisted until a guard was told to escort her out.
A Wedding In Lisieux
In 1888, Therese’s desire to enter Carmel was granted at last. The Bishop of Bayeux authorized the Carmelites to receive her, and she entered as a postulant on April 9. She wrote of her great joy that day:
At last my desires were realized, and I cannot describe the deep sweet peace which filled my soul. This peace has remained with me during the eight and a half years of my life here, and has never left me even amid the greatest trials.
Her years as a postulant were not lacking in trials. She struggled at first to adjust to the environment, and the superiors were of the opinion that she was slow to complete errands.
Therese accepted these challenges without surprise: “Illusions, the Good Lord gave me the grace to have none on entering Carmel. I found religious life as I had figured, no sacrifice astonished me.”
She persisted through her postulancy and took the habit in January of 1889. As a religious sister, she took the name Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.
Life As A Carmelite
St. Therese of Lisieux enjoyed life as a Carmelite, showing her devotion and love by doing little things.
She was not a martyr, nor was she a great scholar, though she did devote much time to reading. Her life was an example of how little things, done with great love, can sanctify any soul.
Do you sometimes worry that you are not ‘holy enough’ or ‘smart enough’ to live a life that will please Jesus? St. Therese discovered what she would call the Little Way. Holiness can be achieved through obedience to one’s superiors, sacrifices done for neighbors, and spending time with Jesus in Adoration.
She served as a nun quietly, accepting criticism without pride. At times, she would feel very small and insignificant…but that did not discourage her from her goal of becoming a Saint. She learned to lean on Jesus, and remembered that He loved her despite how small she felt.
St. Therese summed up her ‘Little Way’ in this short quote:
Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.
That Nun Is A Saint
Therese always suffered with delicate health. In 1896, after observing a strict Lenten fast, she woke to find her pillow covered in blood. Instead of despairing, she thanked God that soon she would meet Him in Heaven.
She died at the age of 24, leaving her Carmelite sisters with fond memories of her love and holiness. Her last words were, “My God, I love you!”
After her death, her autobiography was published. Miracles were attributed to her and her Little Way, which gave courage to ordinary people. She earned the affectionate nickname of The Little Flower.
Pope Pius X opened the process for her canonization in 1914, and she was canonized in 1925–only 28 years after her death. She had achieved her greatest desire: to be a Saint.
What This Means For You
St. Therese of Lisieux is an inspiration for people who want to be holy but feel inadequate. Her example reminds us that small favors done with great love are leaps on the path to sainthood.
You do not need to be a daring missionary to please Jesus. Do someone else’s chores without telling them; this small sacrifice will increase your charity, sanctifying you.
St. Therese of Lisieux is loved because of her Little Way. Ask her to pray for you; it is said that, when her intercession ends in a miracle, you will find a rose where you least expect to.