(Above: a shower of rose petals at the Pantheon.) St Therese of the Child Jesus or St. Therese of Lisieux, or “the Little Flower” has good news for all of us, we who are neither theologians nor martyrs, neither prophets nor priests. She said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” This “little way” may go unnoticed by all save God, but it surely leads to heaven. And it is a way any one of us can walk.
Therese was the baby of her family and a spoiled child. No one wanted her to grow up and lose her childish ways. So she refused to do housework and indulged herself in fits of tears when she was disappointed or reprimanded. But when she followed her four older sisters into religious life and joined the Carmelites at age 15 she put her childish ways aside. She worked hard to perform unpleasant tasks and eat unpleasant foods and refrain from making unkind comments.
Therese knew a deeper truth: it is the small acts done hour by hour and day by day that constitute a character and build a life.
For the next nine years, until her death of tuberculosis at age 24, she lived what looked like an unremarkable life. She did housework in the convent, she prayed, she battled temptations of temper and taste and preference and mood. Her life wouldn’t make an HBO series, but the fact is that she battled the temptations we all have and which most of us either ignore as unimportant or embrace as charming quirks. But Therese knew a deeper truth: it is the small acts done hour by hour and day by day that constitute a character and build a life.
Two years before she died, Therese was told by her superior — her sister, as well as her Sister — to write an account of her life. After her death it was published as The Story of a Soul. It is a book that has, and continues to, change lives.
The wisdom, and not the scholarship, in this journal led Pope John Paul II to name Therese a doctor of the church on her feast day in 1997. He wrote,
This young Carmelite, without any particular theological training but illumined by the light of the Gospel, feels she is being taught by the divine Teacher who, as she says, is “the Doctor of doctors”, and from him she receives “divine teachings.” She feels that the words of Scripture are fulfilled in her: “Whoever is a little one, let him come to me…. For to him that is little, mercy shall be shown” and she knows she is being instructed in the science of love, hidden from the wise and prudent, which the divine Teacher deigned to reveal to her, as to babes.
In an age when we have learned to enshrine our worst traits as that which makes us particular and, God help us, interesting, let us ask Therese to pray that we, too, might learn “the little way.” After all, she promised before her death, “I will pass my heaven in doing good on earth.”
Therese is known as “The Little Flower,” so if you are celebrating the nameday of another Therese today, consider using edible flowers, like nasturtiums, for the salad or to decorate a cake. Check with your grocery store and inquire as to what edible flowers they sell. If you use flowers from your garden, make sure they are pesticide free.