"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19: 14)
If we literally analyse the above statement of Jesus in the Gospel, we conclude that children will be in heaven. This tells us that people who have a child-like trust in God as children do with their parents, will enter heaven, or rather heaven will grow in them.
But what makes Thérèse the greatest saint in modern times? She did not perform any miracle in her life. She did not have the stigmata nor was she able to penetrate other people’s hearts. She was not a prophet, nor a teacher. She did not even see people but was a cloistered nun in a simple convent in Lisieux. We, in fact, would not have known anything about her short life had she not written her autobiography on order from her superior.
She was born in 1873 to two pious parents (who have recently been beatified). She was the 9th and youngest child of Louis and Zelie-Gerin Martin, therefore, the most spoiled of their children. Her father used to call her affectionately “My queen”. She was walking with him one night and saw the stars making the letter T in the sky. Amazed she told her dad “Look, my name is written in heaven!” Her mother died of breast cancer when she was only 4. Her father had a stroke and died when she was only 15. Thérèse grew in the atmosphere of a religious family: all her sisters, like her, became nuns. This shows the example of the parents in bringing up their children. They respected their children and loved them. They recognized their dignity and joyfully carried them to become what they wanted to be.
Now little Thérèse was very sensitive – after her mother’s death she adopted her sister Pauline as her second mother. Thérèse wanted to be happy. When as a child she was asked to choose one toy from a basket of toys, she grasped them all. She claims to have been miraculously cured from illness when the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary seemed to smile to her. However, her change from “mine” to “yours” came about when she had an inner conversion experience on Christmas eve when she was almost 14 years old.
Her desire to be with Jesus grew and became an exploding love which led her to plead with Pope Leo XIII to enter the Carmelite order at the early age of 15. Approved on an exceptional basis she was admitted. Here started her “little way” - doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. She wanted to be a saint but saw that she could not imitate the great saints who fought the spiritual wars and “earned” their merits with great deeds. For her, it was enough to do one’s little job but only do it with confidence in God’s merciful love. Thérèse practiced this way to the end. A happy girl, confident in God’s love, finding satisfaction in reading the Bible since she did not understand the great teachers, and doing her daily duties with care, she grew in carrying the cross of Christ. Her doubts of the existence of God and her physical illness did not prevent her from growing in faith, hope and love. She died of tuberculosis at the early age of 24. Her last word was “My God, I love you!”
We know now from history that Pope Benedict XV in 1922 had to break the rule that no cause for sainthood could be considered for at least 50 years after her/his death. She was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. In 1997, on the occasion of the centenary of her death, Pope John Paul the Great, who himself was one of the most learned popes, made her Doctor (i.e. Teacher) of the Church.
The reason was simple: She was simple. She attracted many people to her “Little Way” to sainthood. When her book was published a few years after her death, it became a phenomenal best seller among ordinary lay people. Her popularity became world-wide with “showers” of miracles and conversions attributed to her intercession. Many churches have been consecrated to her, and at Lisieux where she lived and died, there is a shrine of her.
She has been, and continues to be, one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church.
How important is this example for us and our world in this post-modern age where the rule is no rule, love is rather the selfish physical desire, and greed is the driver of souls.
Thérèse of Lisieux – Teacher of the World! That is what I think.