To the right and to the left, I throw to my little birds the good grain that God places in my hands. And then I let things take their course! I busy myself with it no more. Sometimes, it’s just as though I had thrown nothing; at other times, it does some good. But God tells me: ‘Give, give always, without being concerned with the results’.S. Thérèse: The Yellow Notebook.
Discover life and say a prayer to obtain grace and favours through the intercession of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Saint Thérèse, aka Marie-Françoise Thérèse Martin, was born on January 2, 1873 in Alençon, France; she was the daughter of Louis Joseph Aloys Stanislaus Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin (usually called Zélie).
Zélie and Louis had nine children not all of whom survived. Their children were:
- Marie Louise (22 February 1860 – 19 January 1940), as a nun, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, Carmelite at Lisieux;
- Marie Pauline (7 September 1861 – 28 July 1951), as a nun, Mother Agnès of Jesus, Carmelite at Lisieux;
- Marie Léonie (3 June 1863 – 16 June 1941), as a nun, Sister Françoise-Thérèse, Visitandine at Caen; candidate for sainthood since January 2015;
Marie Hélène (3 October 1864 – 22 February 1870); Joseph Louis (20 September 1866 – 14 February 1867); Joseph Jean-Baptiste (19 December 1867 – 24 August 1868);
- Marie Céline (28 April 1869 – 25 February 1959), as a nun, Sister Geneviève of the most Holy Face, Carmelite at Lisieux;
Marie Mélanie-Thérèse (16 August 1870 – 8 October 1870);
- Marie Françoise-Thérèse (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897), as a nun, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Carmelite at Lisieux, canonised in 1925.
Thérèse is more popularly known in English as “The Little Flower of Jesus“, or simply “The Little Flower,” and as la petite Thérèse (little Thérèse) in France.
In her youth, both of her parents had wanted to embrace the consecrated life, a desire that neither of them was able to fulfil. Yet a religious dimension had always been present within their marital life. The Martins are revered as saints by the Catholic Church and were canonised at Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City by Francis I, the Bishop of Rome on October 18, 2015.
Soon after Thérèse’s birth in January 1873, the outlook for her survival was considered uncertain due to her frail condition. She was entrusted to an infirmière humide (wet nurse), Rose Taillé, who had already nursed two of the Martin children; Rose had her own children and therefore could not liven the Martins household –as was common in those days–, Thérèse therefore, was sent to live with Rose and her own children in the forests of the Bocage the Semallé a commune in the Orne department.
Thérèse was returned by Rose to her family in Alençon on April 2, 1874, when she was 15 months old and her family surrounded her with a great deal of love and affection.
Thérèse’s transfer to Lisieux
On the death of her mother, her maternal uncle Isidore Guérin, was appointed co-tutor to the five Martin sisters.
On November 15, 1877, Louis Martin moved to Buissonnets, on the outskirts of Lisieux, to be closer to his brother-in-law, who ran his own pharmacy in Lisieux. Her younger cousin, Marie, was Thérèse’s playmate and became one of her pupils when the saint was entrusted with the post of novice mistress.
An almost filial relationship tied Thérèse of her to her older sisters, Pauline and Marie. In 1882, when Pauline entered the Carmelite monastery, a crisis triggered by her mother’s death had intensified and Thérèse came to somatise her psychological state. She would have liked to follow her sister to the convent, but this had been denied her due to her young age. This first crisis was resolved within a few months, but it re-manifested with her sister Marie’s entry into the Carmelite convent in 1886.
On the night of the following Christmas, Thérèse resolved her neurosis and the desire to become a Carmelite nun matured within her, following in the footsteps of her sisters.
Prayers for Henry Pranzini
For about two months, Thérèse Martin had followed in the La Croix newspaper the unfolding of the trial of the Italian Enrico (Henry) Pranzini who worked as an interpreter and translator and traveled widely, who had been accused with the murdered of murders of the courtesan Marie Reginault and her servant, Annette Gremeret and Gremeret’s young daughter; despite the fact that he had no previous history of violence. Pranzini maintained his innocence throughout his trial for the triple murder. Thèrèse, as a sort of personal challenge against evil and to prove to herself the solidity of her faith, assumed the task of converting this “great criminal” by involving her sister Celine into prayerful action.
Thérèse’s efforts were somewhat rewarded when she learned from the newspaper that, upon the gallows, Pranzini repented of his actions and kissed the crucifix after having at first refused.
Therese wrote in her journal:
I heard talk of a great criminal just condemned to death for some horrible crimes; everything pointed to the fact that he would die impenitent… I felt in the depths of my heart certain that our desires would be granted, but to obtain courage to pray for sinners I told God I was sure He would pardon the poor, unfortunate Pranzini; that I’d believe this even if he went to his death without any signs of repentance or without having gone to confession. I was absolutely confident in the mercy of Jesus. But I was begging Him for a “sign” of repentance only for my own simple consolation.
My prayer was answered to the letter! In spite of Papa’s prohibition that we read no papers, I didn’t think I was disobeying when reading passages pertaining to Pranzini. The day after the execution I found the newspaper “La Croix.” I opened it quickly and what did I see? Ah! my tears betrayed my emotion and I was obliged to hide. Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly, seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance.
Thérèse concluded her journal entry “I had obtained the sign I requested.”
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux during her Noviciate
At the age of 14, Thérèse decided, following the example of the Carmelite Saint Teresa of Ávila, to become a nun. Although the nuns of Carmel had given their favourable opinion and her father and with some difficulty also her uncle had finally given their blessing, due to her young age she encountered some opposition from Canon Jean-Baptiste Delatroètte the parish priest of Saint-Jacques, who advised her that she should contact Bishop Hugonin.
In November 1887, The Rt. Rev. Monseigneur Flavien-Abel-Antoinin Hugonin, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, denied her permission and she made the journey to Rome with her father Louis and her sister Celine to petition Pope Leo XIII.
Travel to Italy
In 1887, for the 50 years of priesthood of Pope Leo XIII, the dioceses of Coutances and Bayeux organised a pilgrimage to Rome, from 7 November to 2 December. The trip was attended by a group of 197 pilgrims, including the Martins.
In Rome, during the audience with Leo XIII, despite the ban on speaking in the presence of the Pope imposed by the bishop of Bayeux, Teresa knelt before the Pope, asking him to intervene on her behalf for admission to the convent. However, the Pope did not give her desired order, but replied that if her entry into her monastery was written in God’s will, this desire would certainly be fulfilled.
By the time Thérèse, her father and sister journeyed back to Lisieux, Mgr. Hugonin had had a changed heart about Thérèse and decided to grant his permission. A little over fifteen years old, on April 9, 1888, Thèrèse took the name in religion of “Thérèse of the Child Jesus”, and later added “of the Holy Face” to her religious name.
Her full name as a religious was therefore “Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face“.
Life in the monastery (April 1888 – 1896)
In the monastery she met the founder of the Carmel of Lisieux, Mother Genevieve of St. Therese; this elderly nun was an exemplar of monastic life and a theological reference for Thérèse. In fact, it was Mother Genevieve who urged Thérèse to cultivate the value of peace and around this theme Thérèse weaved her theological conviction.
In 1893 she was appointed vice-mistress of the novices, to assist the prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague whom had called Thérèse “my future little daughter.”
In 1894, after a long convalescence, Louis Martin died and Celine, who had looked after him, entered the same Carmel where his sisters are already.
Enthusiastic about beauty, she would have liked to paint and compose verses of poetry: she was the sacristan in order to remain as close as possible to Jesus, taking care of the sacred linens; her obedience (job in the monastery) commissioned her to wash and mend clothes. The cold was intense for her, and the foods was very plain and meagre. Thérèse, whose state of health had always been and remained fragile, was suffering gravely, yet never uttered a word of complaint, no one knew: with the simplicity of a child she simply explained that she was Jesus’ little toy.
“I’ll die soon”, she said…
She spent nine years in religious life: where obedience, prayer, sacrifice were her order of the day. In April 1895 she had had a premonition of her own departure:
“I think my race will not be long”, she said. I have offered the good God only love, and He will restore love to me. After my death I will make a shower of roses fall upon the world. I want to teach my little way to men, I want to tell them that there is a small but a great thing to do down here: throw the flowers of small sacrifices to Jesus.”
In 1895 Thérèse wrote: “On June 9, the feast of the Holy Trinity, I received the grace to understand more than ever how much Jesus desires to be loved”.
Thérèse wanted to respond to God’s love with all her strength and her youthful enthusiasm.
What she does not know, however, is that love will lead her toward a path of privation and darkness. The following year, 1896, the first signs of tuberculosis manifested, leading toward her death. Even more painful was her experiencing the absence of God (also known as Dark Night of the Soul). Accustomed to living in His presence, Thérèse finds herself shrouded in darkness and it became impossible for her to see any mystical signs.
In the spring of 1897, vomiting, strong chest pains, coughing up blood become daily and Thérèse weakens.
This young Carmelite nun, lying on her death bed, was overpowered by. an immense pain: “I suffer,” she simply said. Its agony without a hint of consolations. “I miss the air of the earth; when will I breathe the air of Heaven? Mother, my cup is full. I would not have believed I could suffer so much.”
Thérèse wrote in her journal “I feel that I am going to enter into rest … But above all I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission is to make the good Lord loved by others as I love Him, to give my little way to souls. If the good Lord grants my desires, my Heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my time in Heaven by doing good on earth.”
Death and worship
It was the evening of September 30, 1897 and as the Carmel bell rang the hour of the Angelus: Sister Thérèse fixed her gaze upon the Immaculate Conception and the Crucifix, and after a short pause she exclaimed: “Oh! God, I love you …” and her lips were silenced forever.
In front of the coffin, relatives, friends and faithful paraded until Sunday evening, touching the lifeless body of Teresa with their rosaries and holy medals, according to the custom. On the morning of October 4, a hearse pulled by two horses took the body to the new Carmelite cemetery and took the first plot.
The next day her body was displayed in the choir behind the grates.
She was beatified on April 29, 1923 by Pope Pius XI and was canonised as a saint by the same pope on May 17, 1925 in Rome.
She has been the patron saint of missionaries (conjointly with St. Françis Xavier) since 1927 (she had dreamt entering the missionary filed in Indochina but due to her illness it would never come be. Yet in spite of that, her unstoppable progress never prevent her from taking care and pray for the missionaries preparing to leave for the south-east) and, from 1944, together with Saint Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Joan of Arc, she became the patron saint of France.
On October 19, 1997, on the centenary of her death, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in Rome, only the third woman to have received that honour after St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila.
The impact of her posthumous publications, including Story of a Soul published shortly after her death, are extremely significant. The originality of her spirituality, also called the theology of the “Little Way” of “spiritual childhood”, has inspired multitudes of believers and also deeply affected many non-believers. Thérèse’s “little way” is understood simply to mean that we only need to do little, hidden, humble, acts of charity toward others in the name of Jesus Christ, and not expect anything in return. One interpret ion would be that we do the washing, peel potatoes, and we smile genuinely at people whom we tend to find disagreeable in order to please the Lord. This is of course true but not entirely; Thérèse’s “little way” of course merits a far deeper understanding on our part.
Miraculous Invocation to Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church.
O Glorious St. Therese, whom Almighty God has raised up to aid and inspire the human family, I implore your Miraculous Intercession.
You, who are so powerful in obtaining every need of body and spirit from the Heart of God. Holy Mother Church proclaims you “Prodigy of Miracles… the greatest saint of our Modern Times.”
I fervently beseech you now to answer my petition (here silently mention the nature of your petition) and to carry out your promises of spending your time in heaven by doing good on earth and allow a Shower of Roses to fall from Heaven.
Little Flower, grant me your childlike faith, to see the Face of God in the people and in the experiences of my life, and to love God with full confidence.
St. Therese, my Carmelite Sister, I will fulfill your plea “to be made known everywhere” and I will continue to lead others to Jesus through you. Amen.
Free books on or by St. Therese for you to download in .pdf format
The unfolding of the Little Flower: a study of the life and spiritual development of the Servant of God, Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus, professed religious of the Carmel of Lisieux by William M Cunningham