I’m preaching at a novena honoring St. Thèrése of Lisieux in Johnstown, Pa, at St. Therese Parish, until her feastday, October 1. A novena is a series of 9 days of prayer and reflections asking the Holy Spirit for guidance into the mysteries of God revealed in Jesus and his saints. A novena is modeled after the 9 days the early Christian community prayed before Pentecost.
St. Thèrése of Lisieux was born January 2, 1873 in Alençon, France, the youngest of 9 children. She died in 1897, only 24 years old. Her father, Louis Martin, was a watchmaker; her mother Zelie, a talented lace maker. Pope Francis declared them saints on October 18, 2015, praising them as Christian parents who created “ day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Thèrése of the Child Jesus.”
St. Thèrése is one of three women doctors of the church, along with St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena. A few months before her death September 30, 1897 she said, “I feel that my mission is about to begin, to make God loved as I love him, to teach souls my little way…It is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” From the time of her death, Thèrése has been teaching her “little way” to countless numbers here on earth.
We know a lot about her, thanks to her own writings and the witness of those who knew her. Her mother, who died when she was 4, wrote of her intelligence and strong spirit. As a little girl, she climbed onto a swing outside their home and demanded to be pushed ever higher.
Therese described herself in a simple story from childhood: “One day, Léonie, thinking she was too big to be playing any longer with dolls, came to us with a basket filled with dresses and pretty pieces for making others; her doll was resting on top. ‘Here, my little sisters, take something; I’m giving you all this.’ Céline took a little ball of wool that pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out my hand saying: ‘I want it all!’ and I took the basket without further ceremony
Thèrése wanted it all. Her “little way” “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender” let God be the creator of her destiny, for she knew God wanted her to have more than she could ever dream. God would give her everything.
She called herself the “little flower,” one among many flowers in God’s garden. God was the sun that gave her light and the soil that nourished her. She would grow as God willed.
The Lord led her and taught her,
and kept her as the apple of his eye.
Like an eagle spreading its wings
he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.
The Lord alone was her guide. (Entrance antiphon, October 1st)