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St. Thèrése and the Passion of Jesus

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St. Thèrése put two titles to her name after she became a Carmelite nun. She holds those two titles in this photo. One was Thèrése of the Child Jesus, the other was Thèrése of the Holy Face of Jesus. She wished to be known by these two titles: Thèrése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

The titles came from religious experiences she had. The first occurred on Christmas day, 1886, when she was 13 years old. Shorlty afterwards, she had an experience of the Passion of Jesus, which took place one Sunday of the next year, when she was 14. She describes the two experiences  in chapter 5 of her autobiography. Her experience of the Passion of Jesus involved a murderer.

“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground unnoticed. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls.

The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames.”

At the time a notorious murderer, Pranzini had been condemned to death and refused to see a priest. Thèrése was deeply affected by the sensational story and   asked Jesus, “feeling that I myself could do nothing,” to be merciful to him. She had Mass offered for him, she begged God’s mercy.

Afterwards the newspaper reported a priest offered Pranzini a crucifix as he went to his death and he kissed it fervently three times. Thèrése believed her prayers were answered “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”

For Thèrése the Passion of Jesus was a sign of God’s mercy. His words “I thirst,” were more than an expression of physical thirst, they expressed his desire to show a merciful love to the world.

The teen age girl’s experience reminds us that God’s graces can come to anyone, at any time. The experience left her with a lasting conviction, “I myself can do nothing.” One of her prayerbooks carries a remembrance of her experience.

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St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus

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St. Thérèse  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. Thérèse  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. Her feast is October 1.

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.

Thérèse  described herself and her strong desire for life 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

Thérèse  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 all, 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 of her Mass, October 1st)

For us today Thérèse  is an important teacher and Doctor the Church. She lived in a world of growing unbelief and a church that was reaching out to worlds unknown. How shall we live in such a world? She offers  wisdom.

The Carmel of Lisieux has a wonderful website about her.