October 1st fell on a Sunday this year. Since, the Lord’s Day takes precedence over memorials of the saints, the feast day of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus was not celebrated. However, the month of October should not be allowed to pass, without some reference to this Carmelite nun, also known as “The Little Flower.
Marie-Therese Martin, as she was known before she entered the convent at 15 years of age, captured the imagination of much of the Catholic world during most of the 20th century thanks to the posthumous publication of her journal, The Story of a Soul. She only wrote in obedience to her confessor; but, thanks to his foresight, we are able to know of this young woman who otherwise would have remained in the obscurity of the cloister.
She lived, of course, in the last two decades of the 19th century – at a time when in Europe, the intellectual elites were convinced that human society could be organized without reference to God, a time when people began to believe that they could live as if God did not matter.
But, for her – and this is, I believe, - the reason for her appeal, nothing else mattered but God. Living the spirituality of Carmel – a spirituality that has given the world such giants of mysticism as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Theresa of the Child Jesus lived always in the presence of God. And, this God mattered because it was his Love that sustained the world. Even if her contemporaries no longer thought to care about God, Theresa reminded us that God still cared about us – and that the secret for true happiness was found in us caring enough to seek to please him in all things.
She taught us the “little way” – that is, the road to sanctity is found in turning what a worldly viewpoint might considered insignificant or unimportant into opportunities to do God’s will. To be a saint one did not have to do heroic things or work wonders. One could achieve sanctity by doing ordinary things with great love.
“Keeping ourselves little”, she observed, “means not to lose courage when we are conscious of our faults. We have no fear of telling Jesus that we love him even when we don’t feel it.” The Story of a Soul is a sure guide for anyone seeking to devote themselves more faithfully to the Lord. In fact, six years ago, Pope John Paul II declared Theresa– who died at the young age of 24 – a doctor of the Church. .
To a world that thinks it is good to be important, she teaches us that it is more important to be good. “I wish to teach souls,” she wrote, “the means which I have found so successful, to tell them that there is only one thing to do here below – to offer to the Lord the flowers of our little sacrifices and to capture him with our caresses.” Her “little way”, the way of spiritual childhood, the way of confidence and total abandonment to God, is the perfect antidote to the secularism of our age.
If we can learn from her example that only God matters; if we can teach our children to place their confidence in God who loves us; if we continue to seek through her intercession a “shower of roses”, the roses of God’s grace; then, the fervent wish of her short life will come true – that she spend her time in heaven doing good on earth.