Saint Therese of Lisieux (Part 2)
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors' defects--not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.”
Part 1 can be found here.
During her early years at the convent, her excitement at being reunited with her sisters was unfortunately tempered by rarely being able to speak with them. She worried on how she could perform great deeds as a Carmeline nun and 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."
She soon took on these small sacrifices in stride - smiling at sisters she did not get along with , ate all food regardless of its taste without complaint, once even begged forgiveness for breaking a vase (that she didn't break). Soon, her oldest sister Pauline was elected prioress and the local population was becoming more and more concerned that the three sisters were taking over the convent. Pauline asked her to make the biggest sacrifice she had known - to become a novice instead of a professional nun to help allay the fears about the family.
As tough as it was, she accepted and was soon made happier by her youngest sister Celine entering the convent. Now four sisters were together under one roof. She continued to worry about achieving holiness, writing:
" I have always wanted to become a saint. Unfortunately when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new."
She took a particular fascination with Saint Joan of Arc, writing two plays in honor of her- the first about Joan's response to the voices from heaven and another about her martyrdom. She performed them both at the Convent (The mission of Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc Accomplishes her Mission).
During these struggles for Holiness, she kept a small notebook with passages from the Old Testament with her whenever she went. One passage in Proverbs struck her - "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me".
I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight 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.
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
In 1896 Saint Therese coughed up blood but kept it hidden for nearly a year. She was worried she would die so young that she could leave nothing behind and so was writing all of her memories down in a journal so that they could be circulated after her death. Her tuberculosis became too evident to hide. She struggled deeply , often in pain and coughing fits. In July of 1897, she was moved to the infirmary and on August 19th she received her last communion. Laying on her death bed, on September 30th, 1897 her final words were:
"I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me."
Shortly after her death, the rain of roses began. Sometimes roses literally appeared, and sometimes just the fragrance of them.
Two miracles were initially attributed to Saint Therese : Sister Louise of St. Germain was cured of the stomach ulcers she had between 1913 and 1916. The second cure involved Charles Anne, a 23-year-old seminarian who was dying from advanced pulmonary tuberculosis. The night he thought he was dying, Charles prayed to Therese. Afterward, the examining doctor testified,
"The destroyed and ravaged lungs had been replaced by new lungs, carrying out their normal functions and about to revive the entire organism. A slight emaciation persists, which will disappear within a few days under a regularly assimilated diet."
Pope Pius XI began the process of canonization on June 10th, 1914, calling her the "Star of his pontificate". Pope Benedict XV dispensed the normal fifty year delay between death and beatification, declaring her Venerable on April 29th, 1923. Pope Pius XI officially canonized her on May 17th, 1925, five years and a day after Joan of Arc. The celebration was so large it was described in one account as:
"Ropes, lamps and tallows were pulled from the dusty storerooms where they had been packed away for 55 years. A few old workmen who remembered how it was done the last time — in 1870 — directed 300 men for two weeks as they climbed about fastening lamps to St. Peter's dome."
Over 60,000 people came to witness the canonization ceremony at Saint Peter's Basilica. Almost 500,000 pilgrims came alter that evening. Her feast day was added to the General Roman Calendar in 1927 originally for October 3rd, but moved to October 1 by Pope Paul VI in 1969.