Written by: Jamie Tompkins, UF Student
Saint Therese was named by Pope Saint John Paul II as the greatest saint of modern times. She died at 24 and was declared a Doctor of the Church for her writings of her “little way.” Who is she and how did this cloistered Carmelite become the patron of missions?
I grew up hearing people rave about their favorite Saints, and while I always admired their holiness and was attracted to the beauty and radical nature of sainthood myself, I never felt like there was a Saint that I felt more drawn to than any of the others. Well, up until this summer.
This past May, I had the opportunity to travel to France with some friends on a pilgrimage to the Marian apparition site of Our Lady of Lourdes. We spent four days in Lourdes, but had time in Paris as well as time to visit Lisieux, a tiny town in the middle of the Northern France countryside.
I didn’t know much about her, but I found myself in the hometown of Saint Therese, touring her childhood home where she had her conversion as a young child, visiting the tomb where her incorrupt body lay in the Carmelite convent, and attending Mass in the Basilica built in her honor on the top of the tallest hill in Lisieux. The town was very humble and small, with nothing more than bakeries, a few roads of store fronts, a train station, and one tiny hotel. I was immediately made very aware that Saints can come from anywhere, from any background. This especially came to light while standing in the chapel where Therese went to daily Mass with her family growing up. It hit me that people grow up in small towns and go to Mass and become Saints; I, too, can come from my small town and go to Mass and become a Saint.
While learning more about her life, I quickly realized that Therese was not an easy Saint to pin down on one claim to fame, but the aspect of her that grabbed at my heart was her Little Way. Saint Therese lived out of the ideology that her littleness was not a weakness, but rather it meant that she could glorify God in the little, seemingly ordinary tasks of everyday life. She spent her life doing ordinary things in the convent, like setting up for Mass, doing laundry, and writing plays for the other nuns, but she did these things out of a great love for God. Since she saw herself as a child of God, she felt free to run into His arms as a child approaches a parent with open arms and profound trust. She never feared the judgement of God, but rather her childlike faith allowed her to have a deep relationship with God rooted in trust and confidence.
While serving as a missionary for a month for teens at a summer camp in Texas, I did the do-it-yourself retreat called 33 Days to Merciful Love, highlighting St. Therese and her Little Way. I learned that St. Therese was able to love God so much because she recognized her own littleness and knew that only God could make her holy and could get her soul to eternal union with Him in Heaven. As she explains in her journal, “It is Your arms, Jesus, that are the lift to carry me to Heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up: I must stay little and become less and less.” This approach to holiness changed everything for me, as I was trying to bring the teens I was serving to Christ. I learned how humility can be the surest way to letting God work through me, as He could do way more through me than I could ever do on my own.
I could talk forever on her, but if you want to get to know more about St. Therese, there are a couple ways you can certainly do this. Her personal journal that grew wildly popular after being published after her death is entitled Story of a Soul and it gives a inside look of the radical way that she loved God with God’s own love. She is also known to be a powerful intercessor, stating on her death bed that she was only beginning her work and she desired to help little souls on Earth from Heaven. A quick google search can provide ample options for novenas that you can give your intentions for. Lastly, make sure to celebrate her feast day on October 1st! Let us all mirror her Little Way as we strive for sainthood.
St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!