The Little Way: Saint Therese (Part 1 of 8)

Boring people do not tend to become saints. People who live small lives, unnoticed, and quiet do not tend to either. When we think of the great saints of Church history, we tend to think about brave martyrs, beaten and burned because of the faith they refused to deny. Or we think of undeterred missionaries who are credited with bringing Christianity to a whole country of lost souls. When those of us not in an orthodox tradition think of saints, we tend to think of larger-than-life evangelists, who lead people to Christ by the thousands, or engaging mega-church pastors, who launch new campuses every other month. These are the spiritual warriors our faith celebrates and the heroic figures that come to mind when we think about a saint. Whatever does come to mind, we typically do not think of boring people. We would never think of a teenage girl, in ill-health, who struggled to find her place in her world. This is because Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin was neither larger than life, adventurous, or for all that matter, very interesting. Yet today millions of Christians the world over remember her as Saint Thérèseof Lisieux. (In the original French, Thérèseis pronounced teh-REHZ. In English, it is pronounced teh-REESE.)

Most people would never think of taking a pilgrimage to honor an adolescent teenage girl, who admittedly found her church duties dull, her fellow Sisters insufferable, and the ability to stay awake during long prayers, unattainable. Yet countless believers across all denominations annually flock to the basilica in northwestern France that bares her name, to pray and to honor this deeply cherished Saint of the Catholic Church… Ordinary people do not tend to receive this honor… small and frail people do not either… but little Saint Thérèse does.

So who is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and how did she make such a big splash in Christian Church History? Well, as I already mentioned, she was not anyone that stood out in her time. She led a short, quiet life as a nun in a Carmelite convent in Normandy, France. She joined Carmel at the young age of 15, having needed special permission from the Pope to do so at such an early age. She was one of five surviving siblings, her parents having lost a total of four children. Thérèse herself ended up loosing her mom to a brain tumor when she was only four years old.

This future saint of the Catholic Faith led a very routine life as a nun in her short stay at her covenant, leaving only to travel to Rome. In her autobiography and letters, she routinely described herself as powerless, little, and meek. Although she dreamed dreams of preaching the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously, and even shedding her blood for the Savior she loved so much,[1]Thérèse’s time at Carmel was spent living in her “cell,” taking long walks through the country, doing laundry, painting, sewing, praying for six hours a day, and repeating a daily routine most would call mundane. This was her whole existence until she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1897. She never would have dreamed that she would one day be granted Sainthood. She never would have dreamed that anyone would have given a second thought to her existence, outside of God and maybe the recipients of her letters… but we do, and this meek little girl is widely celebrated today… We will leave Saint Thérèse here for now.

[1]Thérèse, Story of a Soul, 193.

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