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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Memorial of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

Today the Church celebrates one our most popular saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. In her brief eight and a half years as a Carmelite nun, she lived a hidden life that would only become known after her death.

In fact, her “little way” of spirituality that was brought to light in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, has been the inspiration for many to follow Christ by doing small things with great love as a way to abandon themselves to God. Thérèse described this interior pathway by saying, “I will seek out a means of getting to heaven by a little way . . . that is wholly new.” She would say that every glance and word done out of love is a way to abandon ourselves as a child into God’s embrace.

The more interesting part of Thérèse’s life, in my opinion, is her time at home with her parents and sisters before she entered the Carmel at age 15. Her parents, Zelie and Louis Martin, who were canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, had nine children. Three of these died as infants and another daughter died at age 5.

The children grew up in a Catholic environment with daily attendance at Mass, frequent fasts, prayers, visits to the sick and elderly, and even an open door policy to wandering vagabonds. Zelie died when Thérèse was four and a half. She was to reflect on it later by saying, “The first part of my life stopped that day.”

Thérèse’s father died in 1897 after battling a mental illness that required hospitalization for three years.

When Thérèse’s sister Pauline entered the Carmelite Monastery, it brought back all the memories of the loss of her mother. She began to suffer from tremors which were only relieved when she moved into a room with a statue of the Blessed Mother. Seeking solace in prayers to the Mother of God, she saw the face on the statue smile. When she reported this to the sisters after entering the Carmel, Thérèse was besieged to tell everyone all about it. It was then that she began to doubt that it truly happened.

This was also a time in her life that she was affected with scruples, a terrible spiritual condition that was also a torment for St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Ignatius Loyola. Thérèse said of it, “One would have to pass through this martyrdom to understand it.”

A pilgrimage with her father and one of her sisters to Italy was formative in her life. It was on this trip to Rome, Assisi, Pisa, Naples, Genoa, and Pompeii that Thérèse saw priests outside of a church setting. She quickly saw that they were not all pure and innocent, that they could say foolish things and be weak and selfish. She began to understand that her vocation was to pray for them to be worthy of their vocations.

Thérèse also took it upon herself to pray for a notorious French murderer to repent of his sins. It took several months for her prayers to bear fruit, but just as the criminal laid his head to the guillotine, he grabbed a priest’s crucifix and kissed it three times. When she read of the account in the newspaper, she knew God had answered her prayers.

St. Thérèse’s death came far too quickly. Her death might have been hastened by a monastery that had only one heated room, provided only one meal a day, and had little free time for rest. After a severe Lent full of penances and fasting, she woke up on Good Friday with tuberculosis. After a prolonged illness with much suffering, her last words were “My God, I love you.”

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.