As part of my devotional time I recently read “The Story of a Soul,” the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, “The story of a little flower picked by Jesus.” I don’t pay much attention to Catholic saints and it surprised me that St. Therese of Lisieux was not only so recent but also so young.
St. Therese of Lisieux was born in France in 1873. Her mother died when she was four and she was raised by her father and older sisters. She had four older sisters, all of whom became nuns. Obviously her family was very devout. Therese decided that she wanted to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, but she was too young (only 14) and her priest would not give his permission. Determined, she worked her way up the hierarchy, finally making her plea to Pope Leo XIII in Rome.
Therese entered the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux in 1888 at the age of 15. She became a novice a year later. In this period Thérèse deepened the sense of her vocation; to lead a hidden life, to pray and offer her suffering for priests, to forget herself, and to increase discreet acts of charity. She wrote, “I applied myself especially to practice little virtues, not having the facility to perform great ones.” In her letters from this period of her novitiate, Therese returned over and over to the theme of littleness, referring to herself as a grain of sand, an image she borrowed from her sister Pauline…”Always littler, lighter, in order to be lifted more easily by the breeze of love.”
In 1890 Therese became a Carmelite nun at the age of 17. Therese had entered the convent of Lisieux with the determination to become a saint (perfect in love). But, by the end of 1894, six full calendar years as a Carmelite made her realize how small and insignificant she was. She saw the limitations of all her efforts. She remained small and very far off from the unfailing love that she wished to practice. So she concentrated on the small acts of kindness and charity that she could perform every day. She sought out the most disagreeable sisters and treated them with great love. She helped the nuns who were sick or infirm.
Therese was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1896 and died a year later at the age of 24. During the year she was sick and often bed-ridden, her sister Pauline, who was also the Mother Superior at the convent, asked her to write the story of her life. Therese responded with the short book, “The Story of a Soul.” This book was widely circulated after Therese’s death and became the cornerstone for “The Little Way”: glorifying Christ by forgetting self and participating in little acts of love.
The best thing about “The Story of a Soul” was the way that Therese dealt with things similar to what all of us face in life. The deaths of her mother and father, dealing with jealousy of and from her sisters, working to show Christ’s love to people who seemed unlovable. The last two chapters of the book were the most powerful to me because they dealt with these daily issues. Here are a few quotes from “The Story of a Soul” that I found especially powerful:
“I wanted to love, love Jesus with passion, give Him a thousand signs of love while I could still do it.”
“The closer we come to God, the simpler we become.”
“He doesn’t like to show everything to souls at the same time. Ordinarily He gives His light little by little.”
“I feel more than ever that Jesus is thirsty. He meets only ungrateful and indifferent people among the disciples of the world, and among His own disciples, He finds, alas! few hearts that give themselves to Him without reserve, who understand all the tenderness of His infinite Love.”
“Yes, my beloved, that is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for You than to throw flowers, that is, not to pass up any little sacrifice, any look, any word, to take advantage of all the little things and to do them out of love.”
“Prayer is an upward rising of the heart, it’s a simple glance toward heaven.”
“I want to be pleasant with everyone (and particularly with the least pleasant Sisters) in order to give joy to Jesus.”
“The Story of a Soul” had a tremendous impact for Catholics. Because of this book, the miracles attributed to Therese’s prayers during her life, and the miracles attributed to praying in her name after her death, she was canonized just 28 years after her death.
St. Therese of Lisieux lived a short life that had a powerful influence. Her autobiography was interesting as she learned that it was the little things that represented her greatest acts of love to God. “You see that I am a very little soul who can offer to God only very little things.”