The Little Flower

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, often referred to as The Little Flower, although her religious name was Therese of the Child Jesus. Therese, who entered cloistered life at age 15 and died at age 24, might easily have passed into obscurity but for the fact that the sisters of her Carmelite convent published her autobiographical writings, titled Story of a Soul, after her death. (The fact that a number of miracles were attributed to her intercession probably played a role as well).

Therese was an ordinary person who inspired people with her “little way of spiritual childhood.” In an introduction to the Story of a Soul, John Beevers describes Therese’s little way as

based on complete and unshakeable confidence in God’s love for us. This confidence means that we cannot be afraid of God even though we sin, for we know that, being human, sin we shall but, provided that after each fall, we stumble to our feet again and continue our advance to God, He will instantly forgive us and come to meet us. St. Thérèse does not minimise the gravity of sin, but she insists that we must not be crushed by it. . . . God’s love for us must be matched, within our human limitations, by our love for Him. . . . Now this interchange of love does away with the feeling that to please God we must do great and extraordinary things.

Therese’s image of God as a loving parent both aided her confidence in God’s love for us and gave her security that one need not do great things to please God. As to the former, she gave the example of a little child who had “just annoyed his mother by flying into a temper or by disobeying her.” She observes that if the child hides away and sulks, he cannot experience is mother’s pardon. However, “if he comes to her, holding out his little arms, smiling, and saying, ‘Kiss me, I will not do it again,’ will his mother not be able to press him to her heart tenderly and forget his childish mischief?” This is true, says Therese, even though the mother knows full well that her child will, in fact, do it again. That the child will do it again “does not matter; if he takes her again by her heart, he will not be punished.” Therese understood that no matter what we do, when we turn back to our God and open our arms to Him, He is always ready to welcome us into His embrace.