Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (1873-1897) is one of the sweetest and toughest of God’s Saints. This hyper-sensitive and resilient young woman has a lot to teach us about the value of suffering: that if we willingly accept our suffering and offer it up to God, His grace will turn it into something salvific, both for ourselves and for our neighbour.
Thérèse Martin entered Carmel in Lisieux at the unusually young age of fifteen and died there of tuberculosis when she was twenty four. Throughout her nine years as a contemplative nun she experienced intense suffering, spiritually and physically. She learned the hard way that the many pains and sacrifices we have to endure can either overwhelm us and turn our daily lives into a living hell, or we can offer it all to God in union with Christ’s self-oblation on the Cross. In that way our sufferings can become meritorious and co-redemptive.
Shortly before Thérèse died she said “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth”. She also promised that she would shower roses upon the earth. Hence she is often depicted holding a crucifix surrounded by roses. The roses represent the graces obtained from God through her intercession. It also explains the popular title by which Thérèse is often known, ‘The Little Flower’.
Thérèse wondered what was the best way she could serve the Church. Enclosed in a convent she did not go out or meet many people. Reading St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians she was struck by his words that the best gift of all was the gift of love. She also understood that the Church as a body has various limbs and members, including a heart. The heart of the Church is love. So she decided that her task was to be love, deep down within the heart of the Church.
From her place in heaven may this frail, brave, sweet, tough, French Carmelite saint scatter down upon us the flowers of God’s grace, so that we learn to accept whatever crosses the Lord will send us. May she inspire us to be heroic and strong as we strive to live in God’s love, a love both supernatural and human, permeating every part and every member of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Catholic Church.