The Greatest Saint
of Modern Times!
When Pope Pius X (1903-1914)
described Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus (who died
in 1897) as "the greatest saint of modern times", in a
private audience with a missionary; his words were prophetic. He
himself was canonized in 1954.
Is there any saint apart
from perhaps, from Saint Francis of Assisi, who is better known
and loved in the world than this young girl who was canonized in
1925, made Patron Saint of the Universal Missions in 1927, Second
Patron Saint of France, with her "beloved sister", Joan
of Arc, in 1944 and has been declared a Doctor of the Church.
There is hardly a church
without her statue. Her picture has been sold in millions throughout
the world, and since 1961, 47 authentic photographs have revealed
her true face, which is totally unlike the picture postcard portrayals
giving her the insipid delicacy of a juvenile film star.
To English speakers,
Thérèse is the "Little Flower", to the Spanish
speakers, "Teresita", to the Portuguese "Teresinha",
to the Muslims in Cairo Saint Fatma.
Her thoughts, set down
on her superiors' instructions and published as " Story of
a Soul" in 1898, are a worldwide bestseller and have been translated
into countless languages (more than 60 languages and dialects).
Successive teams took forty years to prepare the critical edition
of the original texts. On February 18, 1993, Pope John Paul II was
presented with the eight volumes of the "Complete Works",
on which all future research will be based.
Pius XII called her "the
greatest healer of modern times". In fact between 1910 and
1925, the Lisieux Carmel published seven volumes of the "Shower
of Roses" (3750 pages), detailing amazing cures, apparitions
and conversions, described by people throughout the world who experienced
them. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Many of those who owe
Thérèse so much have never actually told anyone how
she touched their lives. This bears out the mysterious words she
spoke on July 17, 1897, while she was dying of tuberculosis in the
Infirmary; "I shall spend my heaven doing good on earth".
She added, "I feel that my work is just beginning, my work
of making people love God as I love Him, of giving my "Little
Way" to other souls".
Another important fact,
her special message, that "Way of Spiritual Childhood",
which she discovered around the age of 22, when she turned into
a spiritual leader who has guided millions throughout the world,
inspired thousands of religious vocations and paved the way for
the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II); a return to the Word of
God, Christology, Ecclesiology, Mariology and so on. In her quiet,
unobtrusive way, she brought about a spiritual revolution, which
marked the transition from a Jansenist form of religion marked by
fear of a God seen mainly as a God of vengeance to a daring confidence
in God as the essential source of Love, Life and Joy.
In 1937, a pamphleteering
psychiatrist claimed that the "Glorious Hurricane" (Pius
XI) unleashed by Thérèse was an infallible sign that
the Catholic Church was in its death throes. The universal exaltation
of an insignificant "neurotic" was proof that a masochistic
religion was on the way out at last. Fifty years on, today's psychologists
and religious writers know a great deal more about Thérèse
Martin and her world, and are quick to acknowledge the wonders wrought
by grace in the mind and heart of a child stricken by the loss of
her mother when she herself was only four and a half years old.
Indeed, Thérèse's path to sainthood is a source of
comfort and inspiration to countless victims of emotional or other
crises today. Sainthood is not reserved for "normal" people.
The "Little Way"
is not some sleight of hand for getting to heaven on the cheap.
It is the modern realization of the Gospel injunction, "Except
ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter
into the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18, 3).
On June 2, 1980, Pope
John Paul II, the first Pope to make the pilgrimage to Lisieux,
put it strongly: "The `Little Way' is the way of `Holy Childhood'.
It is a way which both confirms and renews the most fundamental
and universal truth. After all, which of the Gospel's truths is
more fundamental and more universal than this, God is our Father
and we are His children?".
In 1897, 18,600 people
lived in Lisieux. Today, this small town in Normandy has become
an international crossroad. From all over the world, pilgrims flock
to the town where Thérèse lived. Despite the pessimists,
a basilica was built with the help of worldwide donations between
1929 and 1937, at the very heart of the economic crisis. For this
is only the beginning! As early as 1932, one of Thérèse's
most ardent admirers, the Carmelite Father Marie Eugéne of
the Child Jesus declared, "She, a little child, will teach
the souls who will make up the army of the last days to give themselves
over entirely to God's mercy. We are at the start of her mission.
The great works are still to come, and they will show her at last
for what she really is, great among all the saints!"
Time will tell... But
there are many signs that a demoralized society is turning again
to the Gospels, and that faith, hope and love are being renewed
among the directionless young - signs which show that the life and
message of a young girl who "died for love" of God and
humanity will always bear fruit. For she has promised to work for
us here on earth, "to the end of time". This is plain
enough. God always finishes what He begins.
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Auxiliary Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux.