St. Therese of Lisieux and the statue that smiled!
by Sheila M. Coyle
Author: Sheila M. Coyle
A little girl named Therese is dying on a cold night in France.
Candles flicker in the brick home, rain splattering against the windowpanes in the downstairs sickroom. Therese's sisters, Celine, Leonie, and Marie kneel by ten year-old Therese's bedside, whispering prayers, tears flowing down their cheeks. Upstairs, in his study Louis Martin struggles to accept God's will. How could he bear another loss? He and his wife Zelie had lost four children, his daughter Pauline was gone, having entered the convent, and his beloved wife...he shook his head, unable to bear the memory of her sudden death.
His footsteps, a sign of his dragging pain, are heavy on the staircase. Yet, in a strange way it was almost as if Zelie was with him now in his moment of great sorrow. Therese, the baby of the family...no...he could not bear this alone. That is why Zelie came to him, joining her husband and daughters in prayer in the sickroom.
Louis, a gentle, reverent man, strokes her smooth brown bun tied at the nape of her neck. Her busy hands, those of an accomplished lace-maker, the best in the lace-making city of Alencon, are stilled in prayer. His attention is distracted, and Louis is running his fingers through his beard, his gaze wandering to the blue and white statue of The Blessed Mother on a wooden table next to Therese's bed. Neither Zelie nor Louis Martin know that a miracle is about to take place in that obscure tiny place with flickering shadows dancing into a fast fading night...
Yes, dear readers, this is just a little part of the story of St. Therese of Lisieux, affectionately called "The Little Flower" for her promise of one day showering her love of roses from heaven to those who seek her intercession. And just as Zelie and Louis Martin did not know that little Therese would be a saint, neither did Therese know her shower of roses and her smile would be known throughout the entire world!
Her faith, however, was fostered at an early age by the good example of her parents and their devotion to family and their religion. Therese was the youngest of five daughters, four of whom entered the Carmel at Lisieux, one entering the Visitandine Order. Therese spent her childhood in a vine-covered brick, white-shuttered home surrounded by stone-walled gardens of pink, yelllow and white roses in the charming French countryside of Lisieux, France. Her life seems to be idyllic with devoted sisters and a doting father, and the early example of a hard-working mother with rarely a moment to spare as owner of a successful lace-making business. Louis Martin eventually left his enterprises to help his wife in managing her business.
His fatherly devotion to family perhaps fostered the deep love Therese and her sisters had for Louis Martin, throughout their whole lives. And it seemed to be through this fatherly example that this family of religious based their love and faith in God. How else can children, or anyone, relate to the love of their heavenly Father, or Jesus, or a spiritual form of belief such as nature and the signal of the wind whistling through the trees, if not taught that love and reverence through the power of example?
However, this family full of happy outings and visits from cousins and friends, and picnics in the countryside was marked by suffering as well, not unlike any other family that has ever existed in the world, or in the world to come. You can imagine that stormy night and Louis Martin, confused and uncertain, afraid of what would happen to Therese, fading in and out of consciousness. Even with his strong religious beliefs and this family he took so much pride in, how would he cope if Therese drew her last breath before the light of dawn?
And what did happen that night?
Therese was to remember later, that in one of her moments of consciousness she became aware of her sisters praying beside her, next to the statue of Our Lady. Therese's feverish red-streaked eyes turned toward the statue, the blue and white figure taking on a soft, floating form focusing in Therese's gaze into the beautiful figure of a smiling woman, the movement of her blue gown and the flow of her veil outlined in a soft white light standing against the darkness of the night. Therese gasped! Her heavenly Mother was visiting her graces upon this child and in that moment in the month of May, Therese was cured of her sickness and fever.
Therese would never forget what her Blessed Mother did for her, and Therese, as one receiving such a great grace, eventually wanted to pass it on to the whole world. But the way was not easy for this child who, at the age of 15 wanted to follow her sisters into the Carmel.
This part if her life and her struggles to enter Carmel, even going so far as seeking and obtaining an audience with the Holy Pontiff in Rome at that time, is well known and commonly associated with the story of The Little Flower, Therese. What is not so easily understood when looking at the life of many saints, is their longing for mystical union, as it was with Therese and her "Jesus." The spirituality that perhaps only the very simple can live, or theologians can explain. But it is spirituality with a communion of deep love for God, and neighbor.
Therese had a great love for humanity. She wanted to be a priest, a natural fulfullment to such love as the heart of a priest belongs to everyone, yet no one, as I once heard a priest explain the vocation of priesthood. Yet for a young girl, who due to her determination finally did enter the Carmel at fifteen, and for a woman who lived in the 1800's, the desire for priesthood was an extraordinary statement. And it appears from her writings that if she had lived she fully expected to be a missionary priest. She also declared that she wanted to be a great saint, which put off more than one confessor and her superiors in Carmel. However, they did not see that Therese wanted to be great for God, not for herself. In that sense it was natural for her to declare her desires.
In the Carmel she taught the novices her "little" way, a hidden path of obedience, and small sacrifices made with patience, great things, not big things, done for God. She fell ill, praying for priests and their mission, and missionaries of the world. Perhaps it was these prayers that eventually carried her mission of love around the world in a way she could never imagine. Therese died in the Carmel at the age of twenty-four on September 30, 1897.
God gives gifts to His chosen ones or those who seek Him or their personal Jesus, or light of love. His answers to prayer are not set within the boundaries of earthly time and Therese's life is proof of it. Can you wait for the promise of what is yours, as Therese is now showering her roses from heaven to those who seek her intercession?
Saint Therese, if you ask her, will take an interest in your life. Not only to intercede for you to God, to one day go to heaven, but she is concerned about your earthly problems as well. The saints walked this earth, struggling with human concerns such as sickness, misunderstanding, alienation, and the daily struggles of getting along with others at the office or while shopping at the market, and the sometimes delicate nature of family problems.
Yes, they lived life just as you and I try to live it, this is why it is such a popular practice to pray for their intercession. Sometimes in life we get angry at God, losing the focus of our spirituality. It is easier to relate using the example of those who once walked by His side. The saints were priviledged to do so in the manner in which He came to them, and through their examples show us how to walk beside Him as well.
Now, I'd like to end this little walk with Therese on a lighter note.
Remember I told you Therese never forgot what Our Lady did for her when she was a child, and sick? Well, Saint Therese likes to pass on favors as she did to a little girl named KATIE MARIE on another dark night in this present century...
You can find
out more about KATIE MARIE and ST. THERESE'S WEBSITE at
©Sheila M. Coyle, 2000
The following links and commentaries were also provided by Sheila
Little Flower Rosary - Simple directions for saying the chaplet to St. Therese, with links to Catholic sites and devotions.
St. Thérèse: Formative Relationships by Miriam Hogan - An account by Miriam Hogan of Therese's early family relationships and how with the help of God's grace, they were a formation for her spirituality. This page is part of the Carmel Nuns website from Eldridge, Iowa. The site has other links with good information on spiritual devotion.
The Love of St. Therese for Jesus - Father Augustine Mary, MFVA discusses Therese's sentiments, which are complementary to Our Lord's.
Other resources available on Saint Therese of Lisieux in the Resources for Catholic Educators Website: