I recently began reading 33 Days to Merciful Love, a book that focuses on and explains St. Thérèse’s consecration to God’s merciful love. I didn’t know much about Saint Thérèse until a few years ago. Since then she and I have grown to be good friends, but she’s always been in my life. When I was little, I was talking to one of my daycare teachers and she unexpectedly pulled an envelope out of her purse. She wasn’t Catholic, but somehow she got sent a little statue of St. Thérèse in the mail. She gave it to me, claiming it “reminded her of me” and that she wanted me to have it. Before I started reading 33 Days to Merciful Love, I was thinking about her and wondering why I, and millions of other Catholics, love St. Thérèse so much. To the world, she accomplished practically nothing, yet she is one of the most important saints to come out of the twentieth century. I thought about it and came up with four reasons, out of so many, why people love St. Thérèse so much.
1. She’s incredibly human. Her story, though miraculous, is incredibly relatable to everyone, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey. She was born into a devout household in 1873 and was “stubborn” as a child and had her fair share of scuffles with her family and her nurse. Throughout the trials and tribulations of her life, from her mother’s death at age four, to the departure of two of her sisters to the Carmel she would later join, Thérèse experienced the joys and the sorrows that come with a life of faith. She endured great spiritual torments as well as great spiritual joys. Though it was difficult, she remained faithful, which is something all Christians can and should aspire to.
2. Despite her frailties, she readily answered God’s call. She began to feel called to Carmel when she was quite young, first asking the prioress of Carmel at Lisieux for entrance at age nine. She encountered multiple obstacles to being able to realize her vocation as a Carmelite nun. Since she was so young, she was told to come and ask for entrance when she had grown up. Yet as she grew up, little Thérèse felt that call become more and more immediate. When she and her father went on a pilgrimage to Rome and she even asked the Holy Father (Pope Leo XIII) that she could enter Carmel. He originally told her to obey her superiors, yet when he saw her distress about this, he told her to go and that God would allow her to enter if he wished it. She entered at age fifteen and began living the life she had desired from a young age.
3. She shows us how to be a martyr of love. St. Thérèse always wanted to be a saint. But as she once wrote: “I have always noticed that when I compared myself to the saints, there is between them and me the same difference that exists between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and the obscure grain of sand trampled underfoot by passers-by.” I think it’s a pretty safe assumption to say that most Catholics have felt this way at some time or have felt a similar discouragement at some point along their spiritual journeys. Yet that shouldn’t stop us from giving our lives to the Lord. It certainly didn’t stop St. Thérèse. Her spirituality, called the Little Way, shows us how to do just that—to give our lives to him as a sacrifice of love. While the Little Way sounds like it’s complicated, it’s not. In fact, I boiled it down two sentences ago. The Little Way is about offering ourselves as little souls (brokenness, weakness, and sins included) to God as a sacrifice, while we live for Him and draw closer to Him here on earth. It combines the deep theology of the contemplative life with the sacrificial nature of the active life. It is a spirituality of the entire person and entrusts the heart, mind, and soul to God. St. Thérèse called it an “elevator” to holiness since God would stoop to lift up her little soul to Himself. She sought God with all her being and she left us her Little Way to help us with our search, too.
4. She’s a powerful intercessor and a Doctor of the Church. Before she died, she wrote: “I will spend my Heaven doing good upon earth.” If you do even a tiny amount of research on St. Thérèse, you’ll learn that there have been many miracles attributed to her. How amazing is that desire! And how amazingly she’s carried that out! She’s also a Doctor of the Church, one of the saints responsible for making extraordinary contributions to the Church through their holiness and through their works. Here is a link to some prayers to this beautiful saint. She has helped me grow in faith and I pray she does the same and even more for you.
So those are the four reasons I thought of that explains why people love St. Thérèse. I hope these have given you some food for thought and have taught you a little more about her. If you’re interested in learning more about St. Thérèse, her life and her spirituality, I definitely recommend the book that I mention at the beginning of the post, 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC. Two more are Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s St. Therese: A Treasured Love Story, which is a collection of lectures Fulton Sheen gave about her while preaching in Ireland, and her spiritual autobiography, The Story of A Soul.