“Do You See What I See?” – St. Teresa of Liseux : A Friendly Saint

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I met her many years ago in a small chapel in a Carmelite convent school. She stood on a pedestal at the side altar. After all, she was the “little” St. Teresa. The main altar was reserved for the “big” St. Teresa. The little one I was told was from Lisieux, France, while the big one was from Avila, Spain.

The chapel was out of bounds for us day students, except on special occasions, but I found myself quietly climbing the stairs to pray in silence. I was a young student following the curriculum to the best of my ability. However, the seeds sown in that chapel have sprouted flowers over the years, and she, I am sure, has been taking care of me all this time.

The saint who has touched my life is called the “Little Flower,” and is that name ever appropriate for her! In twenty four short years, she blossomed and bloomed where she was planted, even as she suffered intensely. Reading her autobiography The Story of a Soul has taught me the value of being simple and humble.

The stories I heard of this saint awakened in me a desire to know more. Thérèse was the youngest of nine children born to devout Catholics, Louis and Zélie Martin, on January 2, 1873 in Alençon, France. Her mother died when she was only four years old, and soon afterward her family moved to Liseux. Her father and four older sisters loved her dearly.

Raised in a religious atmosphere, she wanted to be a nun at a young age, and this desire intensified when her sisters Pauline and Marie became Carmelites. At just fourteen, she was adamant about entering the convent, and went all the way to Pope Leo XIII to allow her to enter when she was only fifteen years old.

Her determination has impressed me, because she had the ambition to become a saint.

Back then, I was an ordinary girl racing to school dressed in a cream coloured blouse, dark brown skirt, and dreaded maroon tie. While struggling to be a good girl, I realized that there was hope for me, because Thérèse’s sanctity was ordinary, but she did everything with love. She wanted “to love, to love Jesus with great passion,” and that rubbed off on me.

Over the passage of time, I have become more aware of how Thérèse experienced this love through the Gospel, God’s living word: “I only have to look at the Gospels, immediately I breathe in the fragrance of the life of Jesus and I know which path to take.” Reading, studying, and running Scripture courses have enriched my life as I grow in the love of God.

Thérèse’s keen desire to be a missionary in Vietnam was not realized, but from her cloistered home she prayed in her “little way,” and is now Patron of the Missions.

In my youth, I too had big dreams of doing missionary work in Africa, but God had other plans for me, and I now minister to the elderly through music, and evangelize in small ways.

What is astonishing to me is that this young woman is a Doctor of the Church! Hidden in her Carmel, she was a contemplative who intimately knew Christ’s love.

As I pray to her each morning, I echo Ephesians 3:18-19, that I may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that I may be filled with all the fullness of God.

She who experienced the “dark night of the soul,” has helped me through some rough patches.

When the Lord seemed absent, she had to live on pure faith alone, and I have learned to do likewise. Jesus showed her a special road to divine love, and she called that road Surrrender.

As I unwrap the gift of each new day, I try to surrender, as my friend in the Lord did so faithfully.

A few years ago, I was in anguish because my father needed more care than his retirement home could offer, and had to be moved to a long term care facility. Late that night I opened Ralph Martin’s “The Fulfilment of All Desire” at random, and began reading.

Suddenly I smelled a fragrance in the bedroom. So I went to my dresser to check my perfume bottle. It was closed! I came back to my book puzzled. Then it dawned on me, the passage I happened to be reading, was the one describing St. Thérèse’s last moments on earth.

She was comforting me with the smell of roses. I was soon at peace, and my father’s situation was shortly resolved.

To pray with depth was a big learning curve for me. It was easy to rattle off prayers. However, I began to follow her example, for prayer to St. Thérèse was “an impulse of the heart; a simple glance at Heaven; a cry of recognition and love.”

I have discovered the power of praying always from this wise, friendly mystic, who forgave those who deliberately hurt her. St. Térèse’s promise to “let fall a shower of roses” on those who call on her, has prompted me to repeatedly say, “Little Flower, in this hour, show your power.”

She must be smiling every time she hears that! Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and Thérèse is a way leading me to Jesus, a truth reflecting the Gospel, and a life that witnesses to the Resurrection.

Viola Athaide is a student in the Windows of Theology program at Regis College, Toronto. She currently teaches Scripture at her local parish church.

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9 Comments
  • Richard Grover
    Posted at 09:08h, 12 March Reply

    Thank you Viola. Your column is a good antidote to the danger of panic that we are all in now because of the coronavirus outbreak/epidemic/pandemic. Richard Grover

  • Rita Coutinho
    Posted at 10:05h, 12 March Reply

    Thank you Viola for this touching article on St Therese. She is also my favourite saint next to St Francis of Assisi Her simplicity and “Little Way is something all of us can emulate.

  • Sylvia Lee
    Posted at 10:57h, 12 March Reply

    “Little Flower, in this hour, show your power.” I love St. Teresa, The Little Flower, simple and humble as you said. She is a good example and a guiding light for us to follow on our spiritual journey.

    Repentance, surrender and love are the three elements for us to ponder and act on them during Lent.

    Thanks for sharing on this special saint ~ St. Teresa, The Little Flower. Have a blessed Lent Viola !

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 12:08h, 12 March Reply

    Thank you Viola!

  • Ana Maria Rodriguez
    Posted at 17:12h, 12 March Reply

    Thank you my very dear blessed teacher! Learning from you brings me closer and closer to increase my love for Jesus

  • Silvia Girod
    Posted at 22:19h, 12 March Reply

    Beautifully writen..what a pleasure to learn how st therese influence your prayer life and faith. We catholics are so furtunate to have the example of the saints to follow and their guide to Jesus and heaven. I enjoy and learn from your writings. Thank you Viola

  • Teresa Correia
    Posted at 20:05h, 13 March Reply

    Thank you once again Viola for this beautiful posting and the reminder that little things matter and can make a big difference.

  • suzanne renaud
    Posted at 15:17h, 14 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing this powerful essay. “The little things” so simple.

  • Lorella D'Cruz
    Posted at 19:55h, 15 March Reply

    After Peggy Spencer’s excellent article on Avila’s St Teresa, it would seem that there’s more than one canonized saint by the same first name. Viola, as always, your writing has touched me and a host of other readers by your honest portrayal of this simple, innocent young woman of virtue and integrity. You use your God-given talent nobly in His service, Viola, and I look forward to reading many more of your articles. God bless you!

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