Today we honor St. Therese of Lisieux born in Normandy in 1873. That was a time when France could boast of few middle-of-the road Catholics. While Enlightenment figures like Voltaire and Rousseau turned many Catholics into free-thinkers, devout Catholics reacted by becoming very devout.
Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelllie were of that sort. Both failed in their attempts to enter Religious orders. They came together then, resolved to live as brother and sister; but on orders from the local priest they had nine children; losing three little boys and a girls to an intestinal disorder, with Therese and her four older sisters surviving.
After being let out to a wet nurse for a year and a half, Therese became abnormally attached to her mother. Coming down the stairs, she would call to her mother from each stair, refusing to budge before her mother called back. Therese was four when her mothers died, and she cried for her until she was nine when she felt she saw their statue of Our Lady of Victories smiling at her.
Overcome by the sins of which she felt guilty, Therese longed for her first confession when she felt that through the priests she would speak directly to Jesus. With that in mind, when the priest slid open the grating on her side of the confessional she stunned him by confiding, “I love you!”
Her father had catered to his youngest daughter’s frail health. Like, he always put a present in her shoe at the mantel on Christmas Eve; but when she had turned thirteen Therese overheard Louis asking her next oldest sister Celine when Therese was going to grow up. Stunned for a moment, she suddenly found the strength to afterwards face the world as an adult.
Her second oldest sister, Paulina, who had been a mother to Therese, entered the severe Carmelite convent in Lisieux, then a year later her oldest sister Marie entered; and Therese began experiencing a strong desire to follow them.
When Therese was fourteen in 1888 she and Celina, the sister next to her accompanied their father on a month-long pilgrimage to Rome. At Leo XIII’s public audience Therese ran up; and she clung to his feet, begging to be allowed to immediately enter Carmel. On that pilgrimage the French people of noble blood were always give superior accommodations, and Therese was surprised at seeing they were not superior people. She was even more surprised at seeing that some of the priests on the pilgrimage were also quite ordinary people.
Permitted to enter Carmel at fifteen, Therese was a happy postulant and novice, and after profession, she served as novice mistress. In that role she excelled in leading her young ladies to love Jesus even more when things were going wrong. She asked each to think of herself as a little rubber ball, much loved by Jesus, but at times seemingly forgotten and left in a corner.
After her age twenty Therese’s health increasingly gave way to tuberculosis which took her to heaven when she was twenty-four.