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.

Guy Gaucher
Auxiliary Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux.

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