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St. Theresa of the Child Jesus (Little Flower)

By Most. Rev. Donald W. Trautman, STD, SSL
Bishop of Erie
(Reprinted from the Lake Shore Visitor)

What can a 19th century person possibly say to us of the 20th century? What possible relevant message could a cloistered French nun have for us of the high-tech computer age? She teaches us how to love.

This young woman died at 24. Her 24 years were not spectacular — no special accomplishments. And yet this young woman came to be known and revered all over the world in just a few years. Millions of Catholics and non-Catholics called her a saint, and within 30 years she was canonized. This young woman was Therese Martin, who became Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite nun referred to lovingly as the "Little Flower."

She was the youngest of five daughters, whose father was a watchmaker and jeweler. She was just 4 years old when her mother died. It took her eight years to recover from the emotional shock.

Sensitivity and shyness were characteristics of her life at this time. At 10, she became seriously ill, suffering convulsions and comas for three months. Her sudden cure came in answer to her prayers to Our Lady of Victories.

She was to spend only nine years in a convent before she was called to heaven. She did ordinary chores around the convent and the depth of love of God in her soul was not readily noticed. When she died, there was a question about what to put in her obituary, as "she did nothing special."

In her own words, the aim of Therese's life and spiritual work was "to give Jesus pleasure." According to Therese, perfection does not consist in never failing, rather it means always loving. Growing closer to God is not for her a matter of adding up enough good acts to eventually "earn" holiness. Rather, Therese proposes that we learn to accept the love which God lavishly offers us. She goes so far as to claim that God loves us "madly." In her autobiography, she writes, "Love was my vocation."

Her yearning to please Jesus by reaching out to others is not stifled, but intensified. She had entered Carmel, not to be a contemplative, but to be an apostle. In her quest of converting sinners, she offered God the everyday "stuff" of which her simple life was made: prayer, suffering, ordinary tasks. There was nothing glamorous or showy about any of this. No act of hers ever made headlines while she lived. No mystical experiences or other extraordinary favors drew the attention of her sisters to her. This common nun had an uncommon love. Therese does not seek total happiness in anyone or anything, other than the Lord.

The whole world loves a lover. So it is written and maybe that is why the whole world got to love St. Therese of the Child Jesus. She loved God with all her heart, all her mind, all her soul. And now, after death, she is loving her brothers and sisters all over the world more than herself.

She once remarked, "After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses and I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth." The whole world loves a lover. May we fall in love with Jesus the way Therese did.

We rejoice with the family of Therese, her Sisters in the Carmelite Monastery in Erie. Faithful to the example of Therese, this monastery is a citadel of prayer and penance, a powerhouse of grace for the entire diocese. This Carmelite monastery is a great spiritual asset and blessing in our midst.

For many in our day and age, a cloistered life is beyond comprehension. When you are in love, you can do anything. Ask Therese.