THE LITTLE FLOWER- 1
(St. Therese is among the most popular and well-known saints. While most of us already know her story, you are invited to read it again and reflect on how these times can be lived as our own Little Way. We will have Therese’s story spread in the next 3 days)
Each of the statues in the St Patrick Prayer Garden, tell a story. I asked Fr Brian, why her? And he laughed.
He started telling me about “The Little Way” and that triggered my own memories.
While my mother had great devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and The Sacred Heart,
Dad leaned more towards St Patrick (more on that another time) and St. Therese “The Little flower “
In fact, just last week, my brother Richard just sent me the Memorial Prayer Card for my father who died November 1st last, and the card had on the front a picture of St Therese
It was little and BIG things that lead to the statue ending up in our Garden.
Before Meagan and Susan, St Patrick’s had a Director of Religious Education called Sr. Marie-Therese. Fr. Brian was looking to hire someone, she had sent a resume and on the very day, she prayed to St. Therese
He reached out to her. The rest is history.
Fr Brian said that over the years, she would repeatedly, forcefully, but gently suggest that a statue of St. Therese be placed on the grounds.
So, who is she?
Who is Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower?
On Sunday, October 18, 2015, Pope Francis presided at Mass in St. Peter’s Square which included the Rite of Canonization for Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin. The Martins had been beatified earlier on October 19, 2008.
The Pope stated in his homily, “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus." They are the first-ever married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony.
LOUIS AND ZELIE MARTIN
THE WATCHMAKER - Louis Martin
Louis Martin (1823 - 1894) was a watchmaker by trade, and quite a successful one. He also skillfully managed his wife's lace business. But, as with so many men, Louis' life had not turned out at all the way he had planned.
Born into a family of soldiers, Louis spent his early years at various French military posts. He absorbed the sense of order and discipline that army life engenders. His temperament, deeply influenced by the peculiar French connection between the mystical and the military, tended toward things of the spirit.
Eventually, Louis settled down in Alençon, a small city in France, and pursued his watchmaking trade. He loved Alençon. It was a quiet place and he was a quiet man. It even had a lovely trout stream nearby, offering him the opportunity to pursue his favorite recreation.
At twenty-two, young Louis sought to enter religious life at the monastery of the Augustinian Canons of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. The blend of courage and charity the monks and their famous dogs manifested in rescuing travelers in Alpine snows appealed powerfully to Louis Martin.
Unfortunately, the Abbot insisted the young candidate learn Latin. Louis, whose bravery would have carried him to the heights of the Alps in search of a lost pilgrim, got himself lost among the peaks and valleys of Latin syntax and grammar. His most determined efforts failed. He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life.
THE LACE MAKER - Zelie Guerin
Zelie Guerin (1831 - 1877) was one Alençon 's more talented lace makers. Born into a military family, Zelie described her childhood and youth as "dismal." Her mother and father showed her little affection.
As a young lady, she sought unsuccessfully to enter the religious order of the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu. Zelie then learned the Alençon lace-making technique and soon mastered this painstaking craft. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with common sense, she started her own business and became quite successful.
Notable as these achievements were, Zelie was yet to reveal the depths of the strength, faith, and courage she possessed. Most famous of Alençon 's thirteen thousand inhabitants were its lace makers. French people greatly admired the skill and talent required to produce the exquisite lace known throughout the nation as Point d' Alençon.
Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin eventually met in Alençon, and on July 13, 1858, Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life. Within the next fifteen years, Zelie bore nine children, seven girls and two boys. "We lived only for them," Zelie wrote; "they were all our happiness."
The Martins' delight in their children turned to shock and sorrow as tragedy relentlessly and mercilessly stalked their little ones. Within three years, Zelie's two baby boys, a five-year-old girl, and a six-and-a-half-week-old infant girl all died.
Zelie was left numb with sadness. "I haven't a penny's worth of courage," she lamented. But her faith sustained her through these terrible ordeals.
In a letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zelie remembered: "When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through...People said to me, 'It would have been better never to have had them.' I couldn't stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above."
The Martins' last child was born January 2, 1873. She was weak and frail, and doctors feared for the infant's life. The family, so used to death, was preparing for yet another blow. Zelie wrote of her three-month-old girl: "I have no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers horribly.... It breaks your heart to see her."
But the baby girl proved to be much tougher than anyone realized. She survived the illness. A year later she was a "big baby, browned by the sun." "The baby," Zelie noted, "is full of life, giggles a lot, and is sheer joy to everyone."
Death seemed to grant a reprieve to the Martin household. Although suffering had left its mark on mother and father, it was not the scar of bitterness. Louis and Zelie had already found relief and support in their faith.
The series of tragedies had intensified the love of Louis and Zelie Martin for each other. They poured out their affection on their five surviving daughters; Marie, 12, Pauline, 11, Leonie 9, Celine, 3, and their new-born. Louis and Zelie named their new-born; Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin. A century later people would know her as St. Therese, and call her the "Little Flower."
HER SCHOOL YEARS
In October, 1881, Louis enrolled his youngest daughter (Therese) as a day boarder at Lisieux's Benedictine Abbey school of Notre-Dame du Pre. Therese hated the place and stated "the five years (1881 - 1886) I spent there were the saddest of my life."
Classes bored her. She worked hard, and loved catechism, history and science, but had trouble with spelling and mathematics. Because of her overall intelligence, the good nuns advanced the eight-year-old to classes for fourteen-year-olds. She was still bored. Her keenness aroused the envy of many fellow pupils, and Therese paid dearly for her academic successes.
OFF TO SCHOOL
Genius has its price, and the youngest Martin girl was paying it. The ordinary games and dances of other children held little interest for her. She was uncomfortable with most children and seemed to be at ease only with her sisters and very few others. Of all the Martin girls, Pauline was closest to Therese.
Therese thought of her as her second mother. Pauline was the little one's first teacher and ideal. Then one day Therese's second mother told her she was leaving to enter the convent at the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux. Nine-year-old Therese was stunned.
Again, employing the exile theme, she described her sorrow: "...I was about to lose my second mother. Ah, how can I express the anguish of my heart! In one instant I understood what life was; until then I had never seen it so sad, but it appeared to me in all its reality and I saw it was nothing but a continual suffering and separation. I shed bitter tears..."
Our Lady of the Smile statue at Les Buissonnets in France
"OUR LADY OF THE SMILE"
During the winter following Pauline's entrance into the Carmelite monastery, Therese fell seriously ill. Experts have diagnosed her sickness as everything from a nervous breakdown to a kidney infection. She blamed it on the devil. Whatever it was, doctors of her time were unable to either diagnose or treat it.
She suffered intensely during this time from constant headaches and insomnia. As the illness pursued its vile course, it racked poor little Therese's body. She took fits of fever and trembling and suffered cruel hallucinations. Writing of one bout of delirium, she explained: "I was absolutely terrified by everything: my bed seemed to be surrounded by frightful precipices; some nails in the wall of the room took on the appearance of big black charred fingers, making me cry out in fear. One day, while Papa was looking at me and smiling, the hat in his hand was suddenly transformed into some indescribable dreadful shape and I showed such great fear that poor Papa left the room sobbing."
None of the treatments helped. Then, on May 13, 1883, Therese turned her head to a statue of the Virgin near her bed, and prayed for a cure. "Suddenly" Therese writes, "...Mary's face radiated kindness and love." Therese was cured. The statue has since been called "Our Lady of the Smile."
It was shortly after Pauline's departure that Therese decided to join her at Lisieux's Carmelite Convent. She approached the prioress of the monastery and sought entrance. Carefully little Therese explained she wished to enter, not for Pauline's sake, but for Jesus' sake. The prioress advised her to return when she grew up. Therese was only nine years old at the time.
During her long illness, her resolve to join the Carmelites grew even stronger. "I am convinced that the thought of one day becoming a Carmelite made me live," she later declared. After her illness, Therese was more than ever determined to do something great for God and for others. She thought of herself as a new Joan of Arc, dedicated to the rescue not only of France but of the whole world.
With unbelievable boldness the ten-year-old stated, "I was born for glory." And thus another great theme of Therese's life manifested itself. She perceived her life's mission as one of salvation for all people. She was to accomplish this by becoming a saint. She understood that her glory would be hidden from the eyes of others until God wished to reveal it.
At ten years of age, then, she reaffirmed and clarified her life's goals. She was intelligent enough to realize she could not accomplish them without suffering. What was hidden from her eyes was just how much she would have to endure to win her glory.
"Spiritual torment" was to be her lot for years to come, slackening only when she started preparing for her long-awaited First Communion. At the age of eleven, on May 8, 1884, Therese received her first "kiss of love", a sense of being "united" with Jesus, of His giving Himself to her, as she gave herself to Him.
Her eucharistic hunger made her long for daily communion. Confirmation, "the sacrament of Love," which she received on June 14, 1884, filled Therese with ecstasy. Shortly thereafter though, the young Martin girl experienced a peculiarly vicious attack of scruples. This lasted seventeen months. She lived in constant fear of sinning; the most abhorrent and absurd thoughts disturbed her peace. She wept often.
"You cry so much during your childhood," intimates told her, "you will no longer have tears to shed later on!" Headaches plagued her once more. Her father finally removed her from the Abbey school and provided private tutoring for her.
During this time her sister, Marie, became very close with Therese, and helped her to overcome these fears. But Marie in turn, also entered the Lisieux Carmel (on October 15, 1886). This was very hard on Therese, who at the age of thirteen, had now lost her "third" mother.
THE CHRISTMAS CONVERSION
After midnight Mass, Christmas, 1886, the shadow of self-doubt, depression and uncertainty suddenly lifted from Therese, leaving her in possession of a new calm and inner conviction. Grace had intervened to change her life as she was going up the stairs at her home.
Something her father said provoked a sudden inner change. The Holy Child's strength supplanted her weakness. The strong character she had at the age of four and a half was suddenly restored to her. A ten-year struggle had ended. Her tears had dried up. The third and last period of her life was about to begin. She called it her life's "most beautiful" period.
Freed from herself, she embarked on her "Giant's Race." She was consumed like Jesus with a thirst for souls. "My heart was filled with charity. I forgot myself to please others and, in doing so, became happy myself."
Now, she could fulfill her dream of entering the Carmel as soon as possible to love Jesus and pray for sinners. Grace received at Mass in the summer of 1887 left her with a vision of standing at the foot of the Cross, collecting the blood of Jesus and giving it to souls. Convinced that her prayers and sufferings could bring people to Christ, she boldly asked Jesus to give her some sign that she was right. He did.
In the early summer of 1887, a criminal, Henri Pranzini, was convicted of the murder of two women and a child. He was sentenced to the guillotine. The convicted man, according to police reports, showed no inclination to repent. Therese immediately stormed heaven for Pranzini's conversion. She prayed for weeks and had Mass offered for him. There was still no change in the attitude of the condemned man.
The newspaper La Croix, in describing Pranzini's execution, noted the man had refused to go to confession. Then on September 1, 1887, as the executioner was about to put his head onto the guillotine block, the unfortunate criminal seized the crucifix a priest offered him and, the newspaper noted, "kissed the Sacred Wounds three times."
Therese wept for joy, her "first child" had obtained God's mercy.
Therese wept for joy, her "first child" had obtained God's mercy.