ST THERESE – Doctor of the Church and Patroness of Missions

António dos Santos

The Catholic Church celebrates today, the 1st of October, St Thérèse of Lisieux. 

Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience in April 2011, talked about Thérèse, known as Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. 

The Pontiff recalled that she lived in this world for only 24 years, at the end of the 19th century, leading a very simple and hidden life but who, after her death and the publication of her writings, became one of the best-known and best-loved saints.

Benedict XVI said that “Little Thérèse” has never stopped helping the simplest souls, the little, the poor and the suffering who pray to her. However, she has also illumined the whole Church with her profound spiritual doctrine to the point that Venerable Pope John Paul II chose, in 1997, to give her the title “Doctor of the Church,” in addition to that of Patroness of Missions, which Pius XI had already attributed to her in 1927.

Thérèse expressed her essence, in which she saw the whole truth of the faith shine out in love, mainly in the story of her life, published a year after her death with the title The Story of a Soul

Of her writings, Benedict XVI tells us, “The book immediately met with enormous success, it was translated into many languages and disseminated throughout the world. I would like to invite you to rediscover this small-great treasure, this luminous comment on the Gospel lived to the full! The Story of a Soul, in fact, is a marvellous story of Love, told with such authenticity, simplicity and freshness that the reader cannot but be fascinated by it! But what was this Love that filled Thérèse’s whole life, from childhood to death? Dear friends, this Love has a Face, it has a Name, it is Jesus!”

Thérèse was born on 2 January 1873 in Alençon, a city in Normandy, in France. She was the last daughter of Louis and Zélie Martin, a married couple and exemplary parents, who were beatified together on 19 October 2008 and canonized by Pope Francis in October 2015. They had nine children, four of whom died at a tender age. Five daughters were left, who all became religious. 

Thérèse, at the age of four, was deeply upset by the death of her mother. Her father then moved with his daughters to the town of Lisieux, where the Saint was to spend her whole life. Pope Benedict XVI remembered a remarkable miracle in the life of the little Thérèse “affected by a serious nervous disorder, was healed by a divine grace which she herself described as the ‘smile of Our Lady.’ She then received her First Communion, which was an intense experience, and made Jesus in the Eucharist the centre of her life.”

The “Grace of Christmas” of 1886 marked the important turning-point, which she called her “complete conversion.” This fact was so important that it led her to assume the name of Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Entering the Carmel of Lisieux at a very young age – at just fifteen, with the permission of Pope Leo XIII – she dedicated herself to praying for the conversion of souls and for priests. However, she had in her heart the great desire to be a missionary, she wanted to spread the gospel to the five continents until she discovered in love a path to perfection. Together with Mary Most Holy, young Thérèse loved, believed and hoped with “a mother’s heart.”

Thérèse died on the evening of 30 September 1897, saying the simple words, “My God, I love you!” looking at the Crucifix she held tightly in her hands. These last words of the Saint are the key to her whole doctrine, to her interpretation of the Gospel the act of love, expressed in her last breath was, as it were, the continuous breathing of her soul, the beating of her heart, emphasized Benedict XVI. 

The Pope added: “the simple words ‘Jesus I love you’, are at the heart of all her writings. The act of love for Jesus immersed her in the Most Holy Trinity. She wrote: ‘Ah, you know, Divine Jesus I love you / The spirit of Love inflames me with his fire, / It is in loving you that I attract the Father.’”

St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us!

(Image: St Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Church of St Lawrence, Macau)