Thérèse Martin was born in France on January 2, 1873, the last of nine children, four of whom died in infancy. After losing her mother to breast cancer at the age of four, Thérèse became a very sensitive child, crying over almost anything. But under the loving guidance of her father and four older sisters, she grew in holiness and wisdom far beyond her years.
By May 1887, Thérèse was determined to enter the Carmelite community at Lisieux. After overcoming objections from Church officials over her young age, the fifteen-year-old Thérèse entered the convent where she would live for the rest of her life with three of her sisters who also became Carmelite nuns (another sister became a Visitation nun). Over the remaining nine years of her life there, Thérèse blossomed in strength and holiness. In 1895, she was ordered to write a memoir of her childhood; this, together with some of her other writings, was published after her death as Story of a Soul. She died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the age of twenty-four.
Story of a Soul quickly became one of the most popular spiritual writings of the twentieth century. Despite its apparent simplicity, many have found in it a profound wisdom, so much so that Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, one of only four women so named.
In Story of a Soul, she tells of how she prepared a spiritual bouquet for Jesus on the occasion of her First Communion:
I shall always remember my First Communion Day as one of unclouded happiness. It seems to me that I could not have been better prepared. Do you remember, dear Mother, the charming little book you gave me three months before the great day? I found in it a helpful method which prepared me gradually and thoroughly. It is true I had been thinking about my First Communion for a long time, but, as your precious manuscript told me, I must stir up in my heart fresh transports of love and fill it anew with flowers. So, each day I made a number of little sacrifices and acts of love, which were to be changed into so many flowers: now violets, another time roses, then cornflowers, daisies, or forget-me-nots—in a word, all nature’s blossoms were to form in me a cradle for the Holy Child.
The story above imagines what kinds of sacrifices Thérèse might have made for her spiritual bouquet. We know from the writing of her mother (as well as her own words) that, as a young child, Thérèse could be “incredibly stubborn,” and sometimes fought with her sisters. We also know that she imagined herself as a little ball for Jesus to play with, and that she was afraid of the dark. And in Story of a Soul, she describes numerous little sacrifices and acts of love that she made for the sake of Jesus.
However, the wheelbarrow incident described in this book is wholly imagined . . . and we don’t really know what she thought of squash.
In the little sacrifices she made for others, Thérèse imitated Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All of us are called to follow Jesus in this way. If Thérèse could do it, so can you!
Saint Therese, Pray for us
Activities to do at home:
Choose which flowers you would give to Jesus.
Read a Gospel story and discuss how it teaches us to follow Jesus.
Say a prayer – this could be “Our Father” or “Hail Mary”
Do a good deed for someone else. Think about how this helps you to follow Jesus.