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St. Therese of Lisieux

At our baptism, something majestic happened, but in an unseen, humble and yet powerful way. This seems to be the mode of operation for God the Father. God’s life-giving grace washed away original sin and the Holy Spirit entered our soul to plant the divine seed of faith, hope and love. Like a small mustard seed, the divine seed of faith can grow into a huge tree of divine love through daily prayer, study, service and weekly worship.

Through our baptism into Jesus Christ and his Church, we were made children of God and are called to become saints. Everyone who has the life of sanctifying grace in their soul is a saint with a small “s”, but God wants us to be saints with a capital “S”, like the saints in heaven.

Most of us can relate to St. Therese of Lisieux who was small and insignificant. Therese Martin was raised by a loving father and mother, but when her mother died when she was 4, she was traumatized. Her older sister Pauline became like another mother for her, but 5 years later Pauline entered the Carmelite Community of religious sisters.

Therese had many emotional struggles. She would become easily upset and sometimes burst into tears when someone gave her constructive criticism. Through mental prayer, that is, thinking about Jesus’ love through his words and deeds for her and everyone, she realized that only Christ could help her overcome her emotional disorder.

After years of prayer and study, Therese had a conversion of her emotional state. It occurred on Christmas. It was a custom in France that young children would place their shoes near the fireplace on Christmas to find a small gift placed in them by their parents. Most children gave up this practice at age ten, but Therese practiced this until age 14.

When she came home from Christmas Mass she overheard her father say to himself that he was glad that this was the last time he would fulfill this custom.

It seems he was hoping that she would rejoice in Jesus’ birth more so than any other gift.

Even though her emotions began to turn to self-pity, she sensed that Jesus was asking her to think about her father’s feelings and situation. With God’s grace,

Therese was able to order her emotions rightly. Instead of crying, she thanked her father for the small gifts, and that he no longer needed to fulfill this custom.

The seed of faith, hope and love was nurtured by her father’s good example of daily prayer and study of the faith, and soon she desired to join her sisters in the Carmelite convent. Since she was still young the Mother Superior did not accept her. Therese appealed to the bishop, but he agreed with the Mother Superior. Therese and her father went on pilgrimage to Rome and were able to see the Pope. Breaking all protocols, Therese ran up to the Pope and pleaded that he give her permission to enter the convent. Instead, two guards intervened and took her away.

However, an important priest, the Vicar General, saw a fiery love for Jesus in her bold actions. He convinced Mother Superior to give Therese a chance, and soon she was admitted into the convent. Her religious name became Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

Sister Therese wanted to do great things for God, but she was given menial jobs. She then realized that it was not so much the nobility of the work that made her holy, but rather her deep openness to God’s love for her and others as she fulfilled her work.

She did many little things and penances with great love for God, and so grew in holiness. This is called “the little way.” She loved prayer, but sometimes had dry spells, especially when her father had suffered a stroke. Because she was in a strict cloister she could not visit him. She offered up this sacrifice to God as well as other humiliations with great love, advancing on “the little way.”

At age 23 she suffered from tuberculosis and united her sufferings to Christ crucified. She was tempted to think that she was a failure. As she meditated on Christ’s Passion, she realized that the world saw Christ as a failure, but that this apparent failure on the cross had won salvation for all humanity. St. Therese died a year later, September 30, 1897, in the peace and sanctity of Christ. She was canonized on May 17, 1925. St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower, would practice her little mustard seed of faith with great love. Her union with Christ reflected her parents’ marital union of loving devotion to God and family through the joys and trials of life.

Her father Louis and her mother Zelie, both of whom pursued the religious life in their young adult years but were denied, put “God first” as a couple. They dedicated their marriage to God as a “virginal marriage”, much like St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, a priest encouraged them to build up a family for God’s glory. Although two boys and two daughters died, the other five daughters would become religious sisters. Louis made the attic of their home into a monasticlike hermitage where he prayed and studied regularly. His children were only to enter to have spiritual conversations and be quizzed about the Christian life. What a wonderful example of reflecting God the Father in his wise hiddenness. Since Louis and Zelie faithfully and heroically put God first in their life, which had a great influence on their children, they became Saints, the first couple to be canonized together on Oct. 18, 2015.

Peace in Christ and a

Blessed Father’s Day,

Fr. Thomas McCabe


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