St Teresa of Lisieux
My Lord and my God I have realized that whoever undertakes to do anything for the sake of earthly things or to earn the praise of others deceives himself. Today one thing pleases the world, tomorrow another.
What is praised on one occasion is denounced on another. Blessed be You, my Lord and my God, for You are unchangeable for all eternity. Whoever serves You faithfully to the end will enjoy life without end in eternity. Amen.
“The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.”
From an early age it was Teresa’s ambition and desire to be a saint. She was born into a pious and loving Catholic family. She remembers the idyll of her early childhood, spending time with her parents and 5 sisters in the un spoilt French countryside. However this early childhood idyll was broken by the early death of her Mother (from breast cancer). Aged only 4 years old, she felt the pain of separation and instinctively turned to the Virgin Mary for comfort and reassurance. The next couple of years of St Teresa’s’ life was a period of inner turmoil. She was unhappy at school, where her natural precociousness and piety, made other school children jealous. Eventually her father agreed for Teresa to return home and be taught by her elder sister, Celine.
She enjoyed being taught at home, however after a while, her eldest sister made a decision to leave to enter the local Carmel Convent at Lisieux. This made Teresa feel like she had lost her second mother. Shortly afterwards Teresa experienced a painful illness, in which she suffered delusions. The doctors were at a loss as to the cause. For 3 weeks she suffered with a high fever. Eventually Teresa felt completely healed after her sisters placed a statue of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the bed. Teresa felt her health and mental state returned to normal very quickly. Soon after on Christmas Eve 1884, she recounts having a remarkable conversion of spirit. She says she lost her inclination to please herself with her own desires. Instead she felt a burning desire to pray for the souls of others and forget herself. She says that on this day, she lost her childhood immaturity and felt a very strong calling to enter the convent at the unprecedented early age of 15.
St Teresa with the Pope
Initially the Church authorities refused to allow a girl, who was so young to enter holy orders. They advised her to come back when she was 21 and “grown up”. However Teresa’s mind was made up, she couldn’t bear to wait, she felt God was calling her to enter the cloistered life. Teresa was so determined she travelled to the Vatican to personally petition the Pope. Breaking protocol she spoke to the Pope asking for permission to enter a convent. Soon after, her heart’s desire was fulfilled, and she was able to join her 2 sisters in the Carmelite convent of Lisieux.
Convent life was not without its hardships; it was cold and accommodation was basic. Not all sisters warmed to this 15-year-old girl. At times she became the subject of gossip, one of her superiors took a very hash attitude to this young “spoilt middle class” girl. However Teresa sought always to respond to criticism and gossip with the attitude of love. No matter what others said Teresa responded by denying her sense of ego. Eventually the nun who had criticised Teresa so much said. “why do you always smile at me, Why are you always so kind, even when I treat you badly”
Love attracts love, mine rushes forth unto Thee, it would fain fill up the abyss which attracts it; but alas! it is not even as one drop of dew lost in the Ocean. To love Thee as Thou lovest me I must borrow Thy very Love – then only, can I find rest.
– St Teresa
This was the “little way” which Teresa sought to follow. Her philosophy was that; what was important was not doing great works, but doing little things with the power of love. If we can maintain the right attitude then nothing shall remain that can’t be accomplished. St Teresa was encouraged by the elder nuns to ask her to write down her way of spiritual practise. She wrote 3 books that explained her “little way” and also included her personal spiritual autobiography.
“The good God does not need years to accomplish His work of love in a soul; one ray from His Heart can, in an instant, make His flower bloom for eternity…”
– St Teresa
St Teresa died tragically early at the age of 24 from Tuberculosis. However after her death, the writings became avidly read by, first other nuns, and then the wider Catholic community. Although initially intended only for a small audience her books have been frequently republished. In 1997, St Teresa was declared one of the only 3 female Doctors of the Catholic Church (there are 33 doctors of the church in total). Thus after her death she was able to achieve her intuitive feeling that she would be able to do something great and help save souls.
St Teresa was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925, only 26 years after her death.