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Saint Thérèse de Lisieux (January 2, 1873September 30, 1897), or more properly Sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jésus ("Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus"), born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, was a Roman Catholic nun who was canonised as a saint, and is one of only 33 Doctors of the Church. She is also known by many as "The Little Flower of Jesus."

Saint Thérèse at age 16, before entering the Carmelite order
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Saint Thérèse at age 16, before entering the Carmelite order
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Early life

St Thérèse de Lisieux was born in Alençon, France, the daughter of Louis Martin, a watchmaker, and Zélie-Marie Guérin, a lacemaker. Both her parents were very religious. Louis had attempted to become a monk, but a lack of knowledge of Latin hindered him. Zélie-Marie had tried to become a nun, but was told she didn't have the vocation. Instead, she vowed that if she married, she would give all her children to the church. Louis and Zélie-Marie met in 1858 and married only three months later. They had nine children, of whom only five daughters -- Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Céline and Thérèse -- survived to adulthood; the family was subject to tuberculosis. Thérèse was their youngest child.

Her mother died of breast cancer in 1877, when Thérèse was only four years old, and her father, unable to continue to work, sold his business and moved to Lisieux, in the Calvados region of Normandy, where her maternal uncle Isidore Guérin, a pharmacist, lived with his wife and two daughters.

When Thérèse was nine years old, her sister Pauline, who had acted as a "second mother" to Thérèse, entered the Carmelite order of nuns. Thérèse too wanted to enter the Carmelite order, but was told she was too young. At 15, after her sister Marie also entered the same Carmelite convent, Thérèse renewed her attempts to join the order, but the bishop of Bayeux would not allow this on account of her youth. Her father took Thérèse on a pilgrimage to Rome. During a general audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked him to allow her to enter the Carmelite order, but the Pope stood by the decision of the bishop.

Shortly thereafter, the bishop reversed his decision, and in April of 1889 she became a Carmelite nun. In 1889 her father suffered a stroke and was taken to a private sanatorium, where he lingered for three years before dying. Upon his death, her sister Céline, who had been caring for their father, entered the same Carmelite convent that her three sisters were already in; her cousin, Marie Guérin, also became part of that community. (Léonie, after several failed attempts, would eventually become a nun in the Order of the Visitation.)

The Little Way

Thérèse' is known for her "Little Way." Because of her station in a Carmelite convent, Thérèse realized that she would not be able to achieve "great deeds" as saints often did, and so must find another way to express her love of God. She wrote, "Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."

This "Little Way" also appeared in her approach to spirituality: "Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises, in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles in the way and a host of illusions round about it, my poor little mind soon grows weary, I close the learned book, which leaves my head splitting and my heart parched, and I take the Holy Scriptures. Then all seems luminous, a single word opens up infinite horizons to my soul, perfection seems easy; I see that it is enough to realize one's nothingness, and give oneself wholly, like a child, into the arms of the good God. Leaving to great souls, great minds, the fine books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because 'only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet'."

It also is evident in her approach to prayer: "With me prayer is a lifting up of the heart, a look towards Heaven, a cry of gratitude and love uttered equally in sorrow and in joy; in a word, something noble, supernatural, which enlarges my soul and unites it to God.... I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers.... I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands."

Declining health and death

Thérèse's final years were marked by a steady decline that she bore resolutely and without complaint. On the morning of Good Friday, 1896, she began bleeding at the mouth due to a pulmonary hæmorrhage; her tuberculosis had taken a decided turn for the worse. Thérèse corresponded with a Carmelite mission in what was then French Indochina, and was invited to join them, but because of her sickness, she could not travel there. In June of 1897 she was moved to the convent infirmary, where she died later in the year, at age 24. On her deathbed, she is reported to have said "I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me."

L'histoire d'une âme

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Thérèse de Lisieux

St. Thérèse is known today because of her spiritual autobiography, L'histoire d'une âme ("The Story of a Soul"), which she wrote upon the orders of two prioresses of her convent. She began the work as a memoir of her childhood, under orders from her sister Pauline, who was known in religion as Mother Agnes of Jesus, who only gave the order after being prompted by their eldest sister, known in the convent as Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. A second part, a letter to Sister Marie, was written while Thérèse was on a retreat. When the seriousness of her condition became obvious in 1897, Mother Marie de Gonzague, who succeeded Mother Agnes as prioress, gave permission for Thérèse to finish her work. It was published posthumously, and was heavily edited by her sister Pauline. (Aside from considerations of style, Mother Marie de Gonzague had ordered Pauline to alter the first two sections of the manuscript to make them appear as if they were addressed to Mother Marie as well.) It became a devotional best-seller on account of its naïve but appealing style, and on account of her trust in God despite her sufferings. More recently, restored versions of her journals and letters have also been published.

Recognition

Pope Pius X signed the decree for her canonization on June 10, 1914. Pope Benedict XV, in order to hasten the process, dispensed with the usual fifty-year process required between death and beatification. She was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death. Her feast day was celebrated on October 3 until the calendar revision of 1970, when it was moved to October 1.

Thérèse of Lisieux is the patron saint of aviators, florists, illness, missions, and Russia. She is the secondary patroness of France (after Saint Joan of Arc). In 1927 she was made a patron saint for foreign missions. In the Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia ("The Science of Divine Love") of October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a "Doctor of the Universal Church". A movement is under way now to canonize her parents.

Quotations

I am a very little soul, who can offer only very little things to the Lord.
I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth.

External link

eo:Terezo el Lisieux es:Teresa de Lisieux fr:Thérèse de Lisieux it:Santa Teresa di Lisieux ja:リジューのテレーズ nl:Theresia van Lisieux pl:Święta Teresa z Lisieux

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