The story of the Little Flower, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, is well-known. This great lover of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who received special permission to enter the convent at Carmel in France at the age of fifteen, spent nine years devoting herself to serving the Church by means of her "little way," performing ordinary, mundane tasks perfectly for the love of God. Her cheerful demeanor, which was exhibited even in the midst of her intense sufferings, exhibited the joy and serenity that must characterize all true followers of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the true Church, the Catholic Church, that He founded upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope.
What I would like to focus on in this brief reflection on the Little Flower is the extent to which her father, Louis Martin, sought to protect his daughters from the influences of the world as they were growing up. Obviously, Louis Martin was aided by his wife Zelie while she was alive. However, Louis Martin, who had studied for a time to be a priest, knew that he had the obligation to get his daughters home to Heaven by shielding them as much as was possible for any and all influences that could interfere with the salvation of their immortal souls. It is absolutely no accident that five daughters become nuns and one of those five was canonized by Pope Pius XI. (See the Papal Bull Vehementer Exultamus Hodie, May 17, 1925, at the conclusion of this brief reflection.) Louis and Zelie Martin together--and then Louis Martin alone on earth while aided by Zelie's prayers from eternity--helped to create an atmosphere of sanctity in their home. The Catholic Faith was everything to Louis and Zelie Martin as they sought to raise canonizable saints.
A preface to Saint Therese's The Story of a Soul written by the late Francis Alphonus Cardinal Bourne summarizes this very well:
A few years after the vain quest of Louis Martin, a similar scene was enacted in Alençon itself. Accompanied by her mother, Zélie Guérin--an attractive and pious girl--presented herself at the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in the hope of gaining admission. For years it had been her desire to share the Sisters' work, but this was not to be. In the interview that followed, the Superioress--guided by the Holy Ghost --decided unhesitatingly that Zélie's vocation was not for the religious life. God wanted her in the world, and so she returned to her parents, and to the companionship of her elder sister and her younger brother. Shortly afterwards the gates of the Visitation Convent at Le Mans closed upon her beloved sister, and Zélie's thoughts turned to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. "O my God"--she repeated constantly-- "since I am unworthy to be Thy Spouse, like my dear sister, I shall enter the married state to fulfill Thy Holy Will, and I beseech Thee to make me the mother of many children, and to grant that all of them may be dedicated to Thee."
God gave ear to her prayer, and His Finger was visible in the circumstances which led to her becoming the wife of Louis Martin, on July 12, 1858, in Alençon's lovely Church of Notre Dame. Like the chaste Tobias, they were joined together in matrimony--"solely for the love of children, in whom God's Name might be blessed for ever and ever." Nine white flowers bloomed in this sacred garden. Of the nine, four were transplanted to Paradise ere their buds had quite unfolded, while five were gathered in God's walled gardens upon earth, one entering the Visitation Convent at Caen, the others the Carmel of Lisieux.
From the cradle all were dedicated to Mary Immaculate, and all received her name: Marie Louise, Marie Pauline, Marie Léonie, Marie Hélène, who died at the age of four and a half, Marie Joseph Louis, Marie Joseph Jean Baptiste, Marie Céline, Marie Mélanie Therèse, who died when three months old, and lastly, Marie Françoise Thérèse.
The two boys were the fruit of prayers and tears. After the birth of the four elder girls, their parents entreated St. Joseph to obtain for them the favour of a son who should become a priest and a missionary. Marie Joseph soon was given them, and his pretty ways appealed to all hearts, but only five months had run their course when Heaven demanded what it had lent. Then followed more urgent novenas.
The grandeur of the Priesthood, glorious upon earth, ineffable in eternity, was so well understood by those Christian parents, that their hearts coveted it most dearly. At all costs the family must have a Priest of the Lord, one who would be an apostle, peradventure a martyr. But, "the thoughts of the Lord are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways." Another little Joseph was born, and with him hope once again grew strong. Alas! Nine months had scarcely passed when he, too, fled from this world and joined his angel brother.
They did not ask again. Yet, could the veil of the future have been lifted, their heavy hearts would, of a surety, have been comforted. A child was to be vouchsafed them who would be a herald of Divine love, not to China alone, but to all the ends of the earth.
Nay, they themselves were destined to shine as apostles, and we read on one of the first pages of the Portuguese edition of the Autobiography, these significant words of an eminent Jesuit: "To the Sacred Memory of Louis Joseph Stanislaus Martin and of Zélie Guérin, the blessed parents of Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, for an example to all Christian parents."
They little dreamed of this future apostolate, nevertheless they made ready their souls day by day to be God's own instruments in God's good time. With most loving resignation they greeted the many crosses which the Lord laid upon them--the Lord whose tender name of Father is truest in the dark hour of trial.
Every morning saw them at Mass; together they knelt at the Holy Table. They strictly observed the fasts and abstinences of the Church, kept Sunday as a day of complete rest from work in spite of the remonstrance of friends, and found in pious reading their most delightful recreation. They prayed in common--after the touching example of Captain Martin, whose devout way of repeating the Our Father brought tears to all eyes. Thus the great Christian virtues flourished in their home. Wealth did not bring luxury in its train, and a strict simplicity was invariably observed.
"How mistaken are the great majority of men!" Madame Martin used often to say. "If they are rich, they at once desire honours; and if these are obtained, they are still unhappy; for never can that heart be satisfied which seeks anything but God."
Her whole ambition as a mother was directed to Heaven. "Four of my children are already well settled in life," she once wrote; "and the others will go likewise to that Heavenly Kingdom--enriched with greater merit because the combat will have been more prolonged."
Charity in all its forms was a natural outlet to the piety of these simple hearts. Husband and wife set aside each year a considerable portion of their earnings for the Propagation of the Faith; they relieved poor persons in distress, and ministered to them with their own hands. On one occasion Monsieur Martin, like a good Samaritan, was seen to raise a drunken man from the ground in a busy thoroughfare, take his bag of tools, support him on his arm, and lead him home. Another time when he saw, in a railway station, a poor and starving epileptic without the means to return to his distant home, he was so touched with pity that he took off his hat and, placing in it an alms, proceeded to beg from the passengers on behalf of the sufferer. Money poured in, and it was with a heart brimming over with gratitude that the sick man blessed his benefactor.
Never did he allow the meannesses of human respect to degrade his Christian dignity. In whatever company he might be, he always saluted the Blessed Sacrament when passing a Church; and he never met a priest without paying him a mark of respect. A word from his lips sufficed to silence whosoever dared blaspheme in his presence.
In reward for his virtues, God showered even temporal blessings on His faithful servant. In 1871 he was able to give up his business as a jeweller, and retire to a house in the Rue St. Blaise. The making of point-lace, however, begun by Madame Martin, was still carried on.
In that house the "Little Flower of Jesus" first saw the sunshine. Again and again, in the pages of her Autobiography, she calls herself by this modest name of the Little Flower emblematic of her humility, her purity, her simplicity, and it may be added, of the poetry of her soul. The reader will learn in the Epilogue how it was also used by one of her favourite martyr-saints--the now Blessed Théophane Vénard. On the manuscript of her Autobiography she set the title: "The Story of the Springtime of a little white Flower," and in truth such it was, for long ere the rigours of life's winter came round, the Flower was blossoming in Paradise.
It was, however, in mid-winter, January 2, 1873, that this ninth child of Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin was born. Marie and Pauline were at home for the Christmas holidays from the Visitation Convent at Le Mans, and though there was, it is true, a slight disappointment that the future priest was still denied them, it quickly passed, and the little one was regarded as a special gift from Heaven. Later on, her beloved Father delighted in calling her his "Little Queen," adding at times the high-sounding titles--"Of France and Navarre."
The Little Queen was indeed well received that winter's morning, and in the course of the day a poor waif rang timidly at the door of the happy home, and presented a paper bearing the following simple stanza: "Smile and swiftly grow; All beckons thee to joy, Sweet love, and tenderest care. Smile gladly at the dawn, Bud of an hour!--for thou Shalt be a stately rose." It was a charming prophecy, for the bud unfolded its petals and became a rose--a rose of love--but not for long, "for the space of a morn!"
On January 4, she was carried to the Church of Notre Dame to receive the Sacrament of Baptism; her eldest sister, Marie, was her godmother, and she was given the name of Marie Françoise Thérèse
All was joy at first, but soon the tender bud drooped on its delicate stem: little hope was held out--it must wither and die. "You must pray to St. Francis de Sales," wrote her aunt from the convent at Le Mans, "and you must promise, if the child recovers, to call her by her second name, Frances." This was a sword-thrust for the Mother. Leaning over the cradle of her Thérèse, she awaited the coming of the end, saying: "Only when the last hope has gone, will I promise to call her Frances."
The gentle St. Francis waived his claim in favour of the great Reformer of the Carmelite Order: the child recovered, and so retained her sweet name of Thérèse. Sorrow, however, was mixed with the Mother's joy, when it became necessary to send the babe to a foster-mother in the country. There the "little rose-bud" grew in beauty, and after some months had gained strength sufficient to allow of her being brought back to Alençon. Her memory of this short but happy time spent with her sainted Mother in the Rue St. Blaise was extraordinarily vivid. To-day a tablet on the balcony of No. 42 informs the passers-by that here was born a certain Carmelite, by name, Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Fifteen years have gone since the meeting in Heaven of Madame Martin and her Carmelite child, and if the pilgrimage to where the Little Flower first saw the light of day, be not so large as that to the grave where her remains await their glorious resurrection, it may nevertheless be numbered in thousands. And to the English-speaking pilgrim there is an added pleasure in the fact that her most notable convert, the first minister of the United Free Church of Scotland to enter the True Fold, performs, with his convert wife, the courteous duties of host.
Saint Therese describes the Catholic household that formed her so well in the Faith before her mother's death in the year 1877:
All the details of my Mother's illness are still fresh in my mind. I remember especially her last weeks on earth, when Céline and I felt like poor little exiles. Every morning a friend came to fetch us, and we spent the day with her. Once, we had not had time to say our prayers before starting, and on the way my little sister whispered: "Must we tell her that we have not said our prayers?" "Yes," I answered. So, very timidly, Céline confided our secret to her, and she exclaimed: "Well, well, children, you shall say them." Then she took us to a large room, and left us there. Céline looked at me in amazement. I was equally astonished, and exclaimed: "This is not like Mamma, she always said our prayers with us." During the day, in spite of all efforts to amuse us, the thought of our dear Mother was constantly in our minds. I remember once, when my sister had an apricot given to her, she leant towards me and said: "We will not eat it, I will give it to Mamma." Alas! our beloved Mother was now too ill to eat any earthly fruit; she would never more be satisfied but by the glory of Heaven. There she would drink of the mysterious wine which Jesus, at His Last Supper, promised to share with us in the Kingdom of His Father.
The touching ceremony of Extreme Unction made a deep impression on me. I can still see the place where I knelt, and hear my poor Father's sobs.
Saint Therese later described her First Confession and the joy that she had assisting at Mass each Sunday:
Shortly after this I made my first confession. It is a very sweet memory. Pauline had warned me: "Thérèse, darling, it is not to a man but to God Himself that you are going to tell your sins." I was so persuaded of this that I asked her quite seriously if I should not tell Father Ducellier that I loved him "with my whole heart," as it was really God I was going to speak to in his person.
Well instructed as to what I was to do, I entered the confessional, and turning round to the priest, so as to see him better, I made my confession and received absolution in a spirit of lively faith--my sister having assured me that at this solemn moment the tears of the Holy Child Jesus would purify my soul. I remember well that he exhorted me above all to a tender devotion towards Our Lady, and I promised to redouble my love for her who already filled so large a place in my heart. Then I passed him my Rosary to be blessed, and came out of the Confessional more joyful and lighthearted than I had ever felt before. It was evening, and as soon as I got to a street lamp I stopped and took the newly blessed Rosary out of my pocket, turning it over and over. "What are you looking at, Thérèse, dear?" asked Pauline. "I am seeing what a blessed Rosary looks like." This childish answer amused my sisters very much. I was deeply impressed by the graces I had received, and wished to go to confession again for all the big feasts, for these confessions filled me with joy. The feasts! What precious memories these simple words bring to me. I loved them; and my sisters knew so well how to explain the mysteries hidden in each one. Those days of earth became days of Heaven. Above all I loved the procession of the Blessed Sacrament: what a joy it was to strew flowers in God's path! But before scattering them on the ground I threw them high in the air, and was never so happy as when I saw my rose-leaves touch the sacred Monstrance.
And if the great feasts came but seldom, each week brought one very dear to my heart, and that was Sunday. What a glorious day! The Feast of God! The day of rest! First of all the whole family went to High Mass, and I remember that before the sermon we had to come down from our places, which were some way from the pulpit, and find seats in the nave. This was not always easy, but to little Thérèse and her Father everyone offered a place. My uncle was delighted when he saw us come down; he called me his "Sunbeam," and said that to see the venerable old man leading his little daughter by the hand was a sight which always filled him with joy. I never troubled myself if people looked at me, I was only occupied in listening attentively to the preacher. A sermon on the Passion of our Blessed Lord was the first I understood, and it touched me deeply. I was then five and a half, and after that time I was able to understand and appreciate all instructions. If St. Teresa was mentioned, my Father would bend down and whisper to me: "Listen attentively, little Queen, he is speaking of your holy patroness." I really did listen attentively, but I must own I looked at Papa more than at the preacher, for I read many things in his face. Sometimes his eyes were filled with tears which he strove in vain to keep back; and as he listened to the eternal truths he seemed no longer of this earth, his soul was absorbed in the thought of another world. Alas! Many long and sorrowful years had to pass before Heaven was to be opened to him, and Our Lord with His Own Divine Hand was to wipe away the bitter tears of His faithful servant.
To go back to the description of our Sundays. This happy day which passed so quickly had also its touch of melancholy; my happiness was full till Compline, but after that a feeling of sadness took possession of me. I thought of the morrow when one had to begin again the daily life of work and lessons, and my heart, feeling like an exile on this earth, longed for the repose of Heaven--the never ending Sabbath of our true Home. Every Sunday my aunt invited us in turns to spend the evening with her. I was always glad when mine came, and it was a pleasure to listen to my uncle's conversation. His talk was serious, but it interested me, and he little knew that I paid such attention; but my joy was not unmixed with fear when he took me on his knee and sang "Bluebeard" in his deep voice.
About eight o'clock Papa would come to fetch me. I remember that I used to look up at the stars with inexpressible delight. Orion's belt fascinated me especially, for I saw in it a likeness to the letter "T." "Look, Papa," I would cry, "my name is written in Heaven!" Then, not wishing to see this dull earth any longer, I asked him to lead me, and with my head thrown back, I gazed unweariedly at the starry skies.
I could tell you much about our winter evenings at home. After a game of draughts my sisters read aloud Dom Guéranger's Liturgical Year, and then a few pages of some other interesting and instructive book. While this was going on I established myself on Papa's knee, and when the reading was done he used to sing soothing snatches of melody in his beautiful voice, as if to lull me to sleep, and I would lay my head on his breast while he rocked me gently to and fro.
Later on we went upstairs for night prayers, and there again my place was beside my beloved Father, and I had only to look at him to know how the Saints pray. Pauline put me to bed, and I invariably asked her: "Have I been good to-day? Is God pleased with me? Will the Angels watch over me?" The answer was always "Yes," otherwise I should have spent the whole night in tears. After these questions my sisters kissed me, and little Thérèse was left alone in the dark. I look on it as a real grace that from childhood I was taught to overcome my fears. Sometimes in the evening Pauline would send me to fetch something from a distant room; she would take no refusal, and she was quite right, for otherwise I should have become very nervous, whereas now it is difficult to frighten me. I wonder sometimes how my little Mother was able to bring me up with so much tenderness, and yet without spoiling me, for she did not pass over the least fault. It is true she never scolded me without cause, and I knew well she would never change her mind when once a thing was decided upon.
To this dearly loved sister I confided my most intimate thoughts; she cleared up all my doubts. One day I expressed surprise that God does not give an equal amount of glory to all the elect in Heaven--I was afraid that they would not all be quite happy. She sent me to fetch Papa's big tumbler, and put it beside my tiny thimble, then, filling both with water, she asked me which seemed the fuller. I replied that one was as full as the other--it was impossible to pour more water into either of them, for they could not hold it. In this way Pauline made it clear to me that in Heaven the least of the Blessed does not envy the happiness of the greatest; and so, by bringing the highest mysteries down to the level of my understanding, she gave my soul the food it needed.
Doesn't this sound like a pretty good model for own families, especially for those of us with young children to form in the crucible of the Holy Faith as the consecrated slaves of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart? Saint Therese stressed the importance of proper formation in The Story of a Soul:
About this time Our Lord gave me the consolation of an intimate knowledge of the souls of children. I gained it in this way. During the illness of a poor woman, I interested myself in her two little girls, the elder of whom was not yet six. It was a real pleasure to see how simply they believed all that I told them. Baptism does indeed plant deeply in our souls the theological virtues, since from early childhood the hope of heavenly reward is strong enough to make us practise self-denial. When I wanted my two little girls to be specially kind to one another, instead of promising them toys and sweets, I talked to them about the eternal recompense the Holy Child Jesus would give to good children. The elder one, who was coming to the use of reason, used to look quite pleased and asked me charming questions about the little Jesus and His beautiful Heaven. She promised me faithfully always to give in to her little sister, adding that all through her life she would never forget what I had taught her. I used to compare these innocent souls to soft wax, ready to receive any impression--evil, alas! as well as good, and I understood the words of Our Lord: "It were better to be thrown into the sea than to scandalise one of these little ones."
How many souls might attain to great sanctity if only they were directed aright from the first! I know God has not need of anyone to help Him in His work of sanctification, but as He allows a clever gardener to cultivate rare and delicate plants, giving him the skill to accomplish it, while reserving to Himself the right of making them grow, so does He wish to be helped in the cultivation of souls. What would happen if an ignorant gardener did not graft his trees in the right way? if he did not understand the nature of each, and wished, for instance, to make roses grow on peach trees?
This reminds me that I used to have among my birds a canary which sang beautifully, and also a little linnet taken from the nest, of which I was very fond. This poor little prisoner, deprived of the teaching it should have received from its parents, and hearing the joyous trills of the canary from morning to night, tried hard to imitate them. A difficult task indeed for a linnet! It was delightful to follow the efforts of the poor little thing; his sweet voice found great difficulty in accommodating itself to the vibrant notes of his master, but he succeeded in time, and, to my great surprise, his song became exactly like the song of the canary.
Oh, dear Mother, you know who taught me to sing from the days of my earliest childhood! You know the voices which drew me on. And now I trust that one day, in spite of my weakness, I may sing for ever the Canticle of Love, the harmonious notes of which I have often heard sweetly sounding here below.
The formation that Saint Therese received in her home equipped her soar to the heights of spiritual perfection, enduring her final agonies, at age twenty-four, mind you, with such total surrender to the will of God. The Epilogue to The Story of a Soul:
But more surprising than all, was her consciousness of the mission for which Our Lord had destined her. The veil which hides the future seemed lifted, and more than once she revealed to us its secrets, in prophecies which have already been realised.
"I have never given the Good God aught but love; it is with Love He will repay. AFTER MY DEATH I WILL LET FALL A SHOWER OF ROSES."
At another time she interrupted a Sister, who was speaking to her of the happiness of Heaven, by the sublime words: "It is not that which attracts me."
"And what attracts you?" asked the other. "Oh! it is Love! To love, to be beloved, and to return to earth to win love for our Love!"
One evening, she welcomed Mother Agnes of Jesus with an extraordinary expression of joy: "Mother!" she said, "some notes from a concert far away have just reached my ears, and have made me think that soon I shall be listening to the wondrous melodies of Paradise. The thought, however, gave me but a moment's joy--one hope alone makes my heart beat fast: the Love that I shall receive and the Love I shall be able to give!
"I feel that my mission is soon to begin--my mission to make others love God as I love Him . . . to each souls my little way . . . I WILL SPEND MY HEAVEN IN DOING GOOD UPON EARTH.
Nor is this impossible, since from the very heart of the Beatific Vision, the Angels keep watch over us. No, there can be no rest for me until the end of the world. But when the Angel shall have said: 'Time is no more!' then I shall rest, then I shall be able to rejoice, because the number of the elect will be complete."
"And what is this little way that you would teach to souls?"
"IT IS THE WAY OF SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD, THE WAY OF TRUST AND ABSOLUTE SELF-SURRENDER.
"I want to point out to them the means that I have always found so perfectly successful, to tell them that there is but one thing to do here below: we must offer Jesus the flowers of little sacrifices and win Him by a caress. That is how I have won Him, and that is why I shall be made so welcome."
"Should I guide you wrongly by my little way of love," she said to a novice, "do not fear that I shall allow you to continue therein; I should soon come back to the earth, and tell you to take another road. If I do not return, then believe in the truth of these my words: We can never have too much confidence in the Good God, He is so mighty, so merciful. As we hope in Him so shall we receive."
We should resolve to imitate the little way of love in our own families, teaching our children to aspire to holiness, taking them to the Immemorial Mass of the ages on a daily basis (moving, yes, there's that "m" word again, if we need to do so), frequently the Blessed Sacrament in prayer, praying as a family at least three sets of mysteries of Our Lady's Most Holy Rosary each day, reading about the lives of the saints, and having one's home adorned with Crucifixes and images of Our Lady and Saint Joseph and the other saints. Reading The Liturgical Year was good enough for the Martin family. It should be good enough for us. Indeed, the Martins' flight from the alleged pleasures of this world should inspire us to do the same, eschewing anything and everything (and anyone and everyone) that poses a threat to the right formation of our children's souls unto their eternal salvation.
May we invoke the protection of the Little Flower, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, so that Our Lady will send us the graces to love her Divine Son with the purity and fervor that she, Saint Therese did, imitating the Mother of God as far as is possible for a human being to do in this mortal vale of tears. Saint Therese will indeed shower roses upon us as she continues to spend her Heaven doing good upon earth. May we never be slow to invoke her loving intercession. May we spread her "little way" far and wide as apostles of love for Love Incarnate, Love Crucified and Resurrected.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and Holy Face, pray for us.
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
Our Holy Guardian Angels, pray for us and protect us.
The Papal Bull Vehementer Exultamus Hodie, May 17, 1925, Pope Pius XI
Vehemently do We exult this day, and We are filled with the greatest joy, because it is granted to Us who beatified the daughter of Carmel -- Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and proposed her as a model, to celebrate now her canonization, under the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the holy Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and under our own authority.
This Virgin, truly wise and prudent, walked in the way of the Lord in the simplicity of her soul, and being made perfect in a short space, fulfilled a long time. Thereafter while still in the flower of her years, she was called to Paradise to receive the crown which her heavenly Spouse had prepared for her. During her lifetime she was known only to a few, but immediately after her saintly death her fame spread abroad in marvellous fashion throughout the whole Christian world, on account of the innumerable wonders wrought by Almighty God at her intercession. Indeed, it seemed as if, in accordance with her dying promise, she were letting fall upon earth a shower of Roses. Hence it came to pass that Holy Church decided to bestow upon her the high honors reserved for the Saints without observing the statutory delays.
The child was born at Alençon in the diocese of Séez, in France, on January 2, 1873, of a father and a mother remarkable for their piety -- Louis Stanislaus Martin and Marie Zélie Guérin. On January 4 she was baptized, receiving the name of Marie Françoise Thérèse.
Scarcely had she passed the age of four years and a half when she was bereft of her mother, and so became a prey to the deepest sorrow. Her education was thenceforth entrusted to her sisters, Marie and Pauline, whom she strove to obey perfectly in all things, the while she lived under the watchful care of her well-beloved father. Thanks to her teachers, Thérèse hastened like a giant along the way to perfection. From her earliest years it was her chief delight to talk frequently of God, and she always kept before her mind the thought that she must not inflict the slightest pain on the Holy Child Jesus.
Inspired by the Holy Ghost she longed to lead a most holy life and promised earnestly that she would refuse God nothing He should seem to ask of her, a resolution she endeavored to keep until death. As soon as she had reached the age of nine she was given into the charge of the Benedictine nuns of Lisieux, with whom she spent the day, returning home at nightfall. Though younger than the other scholars, she outstripped them all in progress and piety, studying the mysteries of our Faith with such zeal and insight that the chaplain of the convent styled her his "theologian," or the "little doctor." As time passed she learned by heart the whole of that admirable book, The Imitation of Christ, while the Sacred Scriptures became so familiar to her, that in her writings she used them aptly, frequently, and with authority.
In her tenth year, she was long afflicted by a mysterious and deadly disease from which, as she herself narrates, she was freed through Our Blessed Lady, to whom she had been making a novena under the invocation of Our Lady of Victories, and who appeared to her with a smile upon her lips. Thereafter, filled with angelic fervor, she made her soul ready for the sacred Banquet in which we partake of the Body of Christ.
As soon as she had tasted of the Eucharistic Bread, she felt an insatiable hunger for that heavenly Food, and, as if inspired, she begged of Jesus, her sole delight, to "change for her into bitterness all human consolation." Then, all aflame with love for Christ and His Church, she had a most keen desire to enter among the Discalced Carmelites, so that by her self-denial and continual sacrifices "she might bring help to priests and missionaries and the entire Church," and might gain innumerable souls for Jesus Christ At the approach of death she promised that when with God she would continue this work.
While yet but fourteen years old, on account of her tender age, she met with serious opposition on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities regarding her vocation to the cloister. These difficulties she surmounted with a strength of soul well-nigh incredible, and in spite of her natural shyness, she revealed her intention to our predecessor, Leo XIII of happy memory. The Pontiff remitted the matter to the decision of the Superiors. though balked of her desire, and stricken with grief, nevertheless she was perfectly submissive to the divine will.
After this stern trial of her patience and her vocation, on the night day of April 1888, with the approval of her Bishop, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of Lisieux. In Carmel God wonderfully trained the heart of Thérèse, who, imitating the hidden life of Our Lady at Nazareth, like a well-watered garden put forth the flowers of every virtue, but most of all those of a burning love for God and most ardent charity of her neighbor, inasmuch as she had thoroughly understood that commandment of the Lord: "Love one another as I have loved you."
In order more and more to give pleasure to Jesus Christ, having dwelt upon the invitation given in Scripture: "If anyone is little, let him come unto Me," she desired to be a little one in spirit, and thenceforth with a childlike and perfect trust she surrendered herself entirely and for ever to God, as to a most loving Father. This way of spiritual childhood, in keeping with the doctrine of the Gospel, she taught to others, especially to the novices, whom out of obedience she had undertaken to train in the exercise of the virtues of the religious life, and then filled with a holy and apostolic zeal [by her writings] she enthusiastically opened up the way of evangelical simplicity to a world puffed up with pride, "loving vanity and searching after falsehood."
Jesus, her Spouse, set her completely on fire with a longing to suffer both in body and in soul. Realizing with the utmost sorrow how Divine Love was on all sides forgotten, two years before her death she offered herself wholeheartedly as a victim to "God's Merciful Love." Then, as it is reported, she was wounded by a flaming dart, so that, consumed by the divine fire, rapt in ecstasy, with the cry of "My God, I love Thee!" upon her lips, she went to her reward at the age of twenty-four. It was on September 30, 1897, that she took flight to her Spouse, and thus, according to the well-known eulogy of Holy Scripture: "having been made perfect in a short space, she fulfilled a long time."
The funeral rites were duly carried out, and she was buried in the cemetery of Lisieux. From there her fame spread throughout the world and her sepulcher became glorious. Scarcely had she entered Paradise than she began to fulfill by innumerable miracles -- as she still continues to fulfill -- her promise of sending down to earth a perpetual shower of Roses, that is, of graces. The high esteem which she enjoyed among those who knew her in life was wonderfully increased after her death.
Urged by her great reputation for holiness, many Cardinals, Bishops, and Religious Superiors sent petitions to Pope Pius X, begging that her cause of canonization would be introduced. the Holy Father hearkened to the many prayers, and on the ninth of June, 1914, signed the decree of the Commission of the Introduction of the Cause, which was entrusted to the Postulator-General of the Discalced Carmelites, Reverend Father Rodrigo of Saint Francis of Paula.
The Process having been carried through its various stages, and the heroic nature of the virtues practiced by Thérèse having been duly inquired into, the General Congregation was held on August 2, 1921, in presence of Pope Benedict XV. His Eminence, Cardinal Vico, Ponent of the Cause, submitted for discussion the question of the heroism of the Servant of God in practicing the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, as also the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance. The Cardinals and Consulters present gave their vote, and after delaying in order to obtain further light from God, Our Predecessor promulgated his decision on the eve of the Assumption, to the effect that the Venerable Thérèse had practiced the above virtues to an heroic degree.
So rapid and triumphant was the progress of the Cause that at once two miracles were proposed for examination, chosen out of a multitude of prodigies said to have been wrought throughout the Christian world by the powerful intercession of the Venerable Thérèse. The first concerned Sister Louise of Saint Germain, of the Daughters of the Cross, victim of an organic disease, namely, a grave ulcer in the stomach, of hemorragic nature. On having recourse to the intercession of Thérèse, she was restored to perfect health, as three eminent doctors have unanimously testified at the request of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The second miracle, somewhat similar to the first, was the cure of the young seminarist, Charles Anne, victim of pulmonary haemoptysis, of the cavitary stage. He confidently invoked the aid of the Servant of God and was perfectly cured. This is clear from the testimony of the three doctors, and from the reasons on which they based their decisions.
After the Antepreparatory and Preparatory Congregation, the General Congregation, on January 30, 1923, discussed in our presence the miraculous nature of three cures. According to custom, We reserved our decision in order to obtain further assistance from God, and on Quinquagesima Sunday, February 11, 1923, Feast of the Apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes, and eve of the first anniversary of our coronation, We decided to make it known. In the presence of Cardinal Vico, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, and others of its members, We solemnly declared the above instantaneous and complete cures to be beyond doubt miraculous, and We gave orders for the promulgation of a Decree to that effect.
Shortly after, on March 6, Cardinal Vico, at another general reunion of the Congregation of Rites, put the question: "The virtues of the Venerable Servant of God and the two miracles required having been formally recognized, can the beatification safely be proceeded with?" The decision was unanimously in the affirmative. After a brief delay, on the Feast of Saint Joseph, We solemnly declared that in all safety Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus could receive the honors of beatification, and We ordained the publication of the Brief for the ceremony in the Vatican Basilica. In the same Patriarchal Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles amid an outpouring of universal joy, the Servant of God became Blessed Thérèse.
Hearing of the fresh prodigies accomplished by Thérèse of the Child Jesus, We commissioned the Sacred Congregation of Rites on July 27, 1923, to take up anew the Cause of the Beata. On July 11, 1924, We ratified a decree of the Sacred Congregation which declared that the examinations in the dioceses of Parma [Italy] and Malines [ Belgium], concerning miracles attributed to Blessed Thérèse were valid processes.
Gabriella Trimusi, who at the age of twenty-three had entered the Convent of the Poor Daughters of the Sacred Heart in Parma, began in 1913 to suffer in her left knee. She was in the habit of breaking the firewood across her knee, and this caused a lesion at the joint which prepared the way for a tuberculous infection. The trouble began with a dull pain, then the knee became swollen, and finally loss of appetite brought about emaciation. She was attended by two physicians, but without success, so that three years later she was sent to Milan, where injections, sunbaths, and various other forms of treatment were tried in vain; at the end of four years the spine itself became affected. The invalid returned to Parma, where several doctors diagnosed it as a case of tuberculous lesion, and prescribed general remedies. A radiograph of the knee revealed at this period the existence of periostitis at the head of the tibia. Taken to the hospital, she was once more subjected to X-rays, but while there was attacked by Spanish influenza, and began to suffer fresh and constantly increasing pain in the vertebral column. All remedies proving ineffective, she was recommended by a priest on June 13, 1923, to join in a public novena in honor of Blessed Thérèse. She joined in the prayers, more concerned, however, over the health of the other nuns than her own. The close of the novena coincided with the close of a triduum in a neighboring Carmel, and several of the nuns -- Gabriella among the rest -- sought permission to attend the ceremony. On her return, after slowly and painfully effecting the short journey, she entered the chapel of the Community, where the others were already assembled. The Superioress exhorted her to pray with confidence, and bade her go to her place. Strange to say, the invalid knelt down unconsciously on her knee without feeling the slightest pain, nor did she realize what she had done, on account of the increase of suffering at the moment in the spine. She next went to the refectory with others, and, the meal finished, slowly mounted the stairs. Going into the first room she saw, she took off the apparatus she wore to support the spine, and cried out loudly: "I am cured, I am cured!"
Sister Gabriella Trimusi returned at once to her labors and the exercises of religious life, without either pain or fatigue. The doctors appointed by the Sacred Congregation discussed the miracle at great length, and decided that the lesion at the knee was chronic arthrosynovitis and the spinal trouble was chronic spondulitis. These two lesions, rebellious to all other treatment, yielded to God's power, and Sister Gabriella by a miracle recovered the health which she still enjoys.
The story of the second miracle is more brief. In October 1919, Maria Pellemans was a victim of pulmonary tuberculosis, and this was followed by gastritis and enteritis, both of them likewise of a tuberculous nature. She was medically attended at home, then in a sanatorium. In August 1920, she went to Lourdes, but all to no purpose. In March, 1923, she accompanied a small band of pilgrims to Lisieux, and while kneeling at the tomb of the Blessed Thérèse she was suddenly restored to perfect health. Three specially appointed doctors made a favorable report to the Sacred Congregation on both miracles.
In these cures, the reality of the miraculous nature admitted of no doubt whatsoever, indeed it shone with unwonted splendor on account of the special circumstances in which the prodigies occurred. For that reason, on 17 March 1925, in a General Congregation, Cardinal Vico sought the verdict of the Cardinals and Consulters, based on the unanimous decision of the medial experts. We ourselves reserved our opinion until March 19, Feast of Saint Joseph, when in the presence of the Cardinal Prefect and other dignitaries of the Sacred Congregation of Rite We solemnly proclaimed the two cures to be of a certainty miraculous. On March 29, after having received the unanimous vote of the Cardinals and the Consulters, We solemnly declared the Canonization of the Blessed Thérèse could be proceeded with in safety.
After all these preliminaries, in order to comply with the prescriptions laid down by our Predecessors, and to enhance the splendor of the august ceremony, We convoked a Secret Consistory of the Cardinals on March 30, to ask their advice on the question of the solemn canonization. Cardinal Vico spoke eloquently on the life and miracles of Blessed Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and warmly begged that she be raised to the highest honors. Each of the Cardinals expressed his opinion on the matter in question. On April 2 We held a Public Consistory, at which after an able discourse by the Consistorial advocate, John Gusco, all the Cardinals exhorted Us to give a final decision. We, however, invited by special letters not merely the neighboring Bishops, but also those most remote to come to Us and pronounce their opinion. Many came from various countries, and on April 22 took part in a semi-public Consistory, after having acquainted themselves -- by means of an abridgment -- with the life and miracles of the Beta, and all the process gone through by the Congregation of Rites. Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops united themselves to the Cardinals , urging upon Us to celebrate this canonization.
We therefore decided to celebrate it on May 17, in the Vatican Basilica, and exhorted the faithful to redouble their prayers, both for their own spiritual benefit and for our guidance by the Spirit of God.
On this most happy and desired day, the secular and regular clergy of Rome, the Prelates and Officials of the Curia, and finally all the Patriarchs, Bishops and Abbots then in the Eternal City gathered in the Vatican Basilica, the same being magnificently decorated. We ourselves brought up the rear of the procession. Then our Venerable Brother, Anthony Cardinal Vico, after a speech by Virgil Jacoucci, Consistorial advocate, set forth to Us the desire of the Episcopate, and the Order of Discalced Carmelites, that We should place among the Saints Blessed Thérèse of the Child Jesus, whom already We had proclaimed the patroness of the Missions and Noviciates of the Order. A second and third time they renewed their petition. Then after earnest prayers for light: "In honor of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the glory of the Catholic Faith, by the authority of Jesus Christ, of Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, after mature deliberation and at the request of the Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops, We declared that the professed nun of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, Thérèse of the Child Jesus, was a Saint and was to be inscribed in the calendar of the Saints, memory of her to be kept on October the third of each year. [With the change of the liturgical calendar, Saint Thérèse's feast day was moved to October 1st .] Finally, We returned fervent thanks to God for so great a favor, celebrated the Holy Sacrifice, granted a Plenary Indulgence, and ordained the publication of the Decree, to be signed by all the Cardinals and by ourselves.
Today, faithful flock of Christ, the Church offers a new and most noble model of virtue for all of you to contemplate unceasingly. For the peculiar characteristic of the sanctity to which God called Thérèse of the Child Jesus lies chiefly in this, that having heard the Divine call she obeyed with the utmost promptness and fidelity. Without going beyond the common order of things, in her way of life she followed out and fulfilled her vocation with such alacrity, generosity, and constancy that she reached an heroic degree of virtue. In our own day, when men seek so passionately after temporal goods, this young maiden lived in our midst practicing in all simplicity and devotedness the Christian virtues in order to honor God and to win eternal life. May her example strengthen in virtue and lead to amore perfect life, not only the cloistered souls but those living in the world.
In our present needs let us all invoke the patronage of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, that by her intercession a shower of Roses, that is, of the graces we require, may descend upon us. All of which We solemnly affirm out of the fullness of the Apostolic authority, and if anyone contravene our Decree -- he shall incur the wrath of God and of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, May 17, 1925, in the fourth year of our Pontificate, I, Pius, Bishop of the Catholic Church, et cetera. (Pope Pius XI, Papal Bull Vehementer Exultamus Hodie, May 17, 1925.)
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachin and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, pray for us.