Saint Therese of Lisieux By Ann Walker
"No harm can come to me since, in whatever happens, I see only the tender hand of Jesus."
When I first came across that statement from Saint Therese of Lisieux, I envisioned Jesus reaching out His hand to touch the world…just when we need His loving care the most. Since I started writing some blog entries, I have been amazed at the variety of messages that the Saints have delivered over time.
Saint Therese of Lisieux only lived until she was 24. She realized that since she was young, she couldn’t do many “big” things. Through her intense love of God, she sought to honor Him in her own “small” ways. Her sister encouraged Saint Therese to write an autobiography. From her writings, Saint Therese had some interesting insights that can inspire us to show love in our own big and small ways.
Although she is considered a Doctor of the Church and is often called “Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face,” one of Saint Therese of Lisieux’s best known titles is “Saint Therese, The Little Flower.” My understanding of her presence was that you knew she was nearby when you suddenly saw a bunch of roses or unexpectedly happened to smell roses.
My grandmother would always tell me how she looked everywhere for signs of Saint Therese in the form of beautiful flowers—especially roses. When grandma would encounter flowers unexpectedly, she would feel that it was divinely inspired for her to see them. I always liked that idea of finding God or His messengers in unexpected places.
What makes a rose so special? When one thinks about a rose, different parts of the flower may come to mind. The beauty of the rose—whether it be red, pink, white, yellow or one of many variants—is enhanced when you are delighted by the beautiful scent. Many thorns are found on the strong stem, and they are there to protect the rose. If the stem is carefully held, one can avoid the puncture of the thorn. I tend to think that life can sometimes resemble a rose: Enjoy the wonders that life may bring but be careful to avoid anything that might cause pain to someone. If we slip up—as humans often do—we can try to make amends by offering a peace sign—perhaps something like an offering of a beautiful flower.
Saint Therese experienced sorrow and health problems throughout her brief life, but she always found room to express much love to God. She was extremely sad when her mother died when she was four. She had four older sisters who played different mothering roles while growing up, but as each sister would enter the Convent, Saint Therese would suffer from the “loss” of yet another mother figure. She suffered from bullying that led to anxieties and a desire to be by herself. Some thought she was too sensitive. While suffering from nervous tremors, Saint Therese looked at a picture of Mary and saw Mary smiling at her. She recovered, but her happiness was short lived when questions about the vision led to more self-doubt. Shortly before suffering from Tuberculosis, one of her sisters suggested she write an autobiography. It is from her writings that we can learn about her love for God.
Through it all, she learned of the power of God’s protection. From the earlier phrase (“No harm can come to me since, in whatever happens, I see only the tender hand of Jesus”), we might visualize ourselves as a rose with Jesus’ hands as the protection that surrounds us.
Saint Therese made a point to be kind to people. Every day, we are faced with different concerns. We may encounter people who are less than cheerful around us. How should we respond? With love. Saint Therese alluded to what a simple smile can do. For example, “A word, a kindly smile, will often suffice to gladden a wounded and sorrowful heart.” We often don’t know the hardships or sorrows that a person is carrying around. A simple smile would do wonders…for them and for us. It feels good to smile and feels even better to be the recipient of a smile. What if we aren’t in the mood to smile? If we see someone and glance away, it may appear we are pretending that we don’t see the other person. It is nice to be acknowledged, and a smile is such a simple way to recognize someone. Saint Therese acknowledged, “Even if the fire of love seemed to have gone out, I would keep on throwing fuel in it and Jesus would take care to light it up again.”
Sometimes, it can be hard to act in a lovingly way. Maybe that is when we need to pray. Saint Therese said, “My strength lies in prayer and sacrifice; they are invincible weapons and touch hearts more surely than words can do, as I have learned by experience.” Saint Therese seemed to have realized that sometimes, we can be the ones who aren’t so lovable. It is in the kind deeds of others that bring us to where we need to be. She said, “How often have I thought that I may owe all the graces I’ve received to the prayers of a person who begged them from God for me, and whom I shall know only in heaven.” That gives much food for thought.
Gospa Missions has many materials that can provide food for thought. Come visit us! Your support helps us to provide for our orphanage in India…which transforms lives and leads to more smiles…which follows the lead from Saint Therese.
- By Ann Walker